Lacock Abbey

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Lacock Abbey from the south

Lacock Abbey in the village of Lacock, Wiltshire, England, was founded in the early 13th century by Ela, Countess of Salisbury, as a nunnery of the Augustinian order. The Abbey remained a nunnery until the suppression of Catholic institutions in England in the 16th century. It then served as a residence for the nobility, and was fortified and occupied by the Royalists during the English Civil War. During the 19th century, it served as the residence for William Henry Fox Talbot, an important pioneer in photography. It is now the property of the National Trust.

Throughout the life of the Abbey, many architectural alternations, additions, and removals have occurred, including the removal of the original church building in the 16th century.


A latticed window in Lacock Abbey, photographed by William Fox Talbot in 1835. Shown here in positive form, this may be the oldest extant photographic negative made in a camera.

Lacock Abbey, dedicated to St Mary and St Bernard, was founded in 1229 by the widowed Lady Ela the Countess of Salisbury, who laid the abbey's first stone 16 April 1232, in the reign of King Henry III, and to which she retired in 1238.[1] Her late husband had been William Longespee, an illegitimate son of King Henry II. The abbey was founded in Snail's Meadow, near the village of Lacock.[2] The first of the nuns were veiled in 1232.[3]

The chapter house survives unaltered.

Generally, Lacock Abbey prospered throughout the Middle Ages. The rich farmlands which it had received from Ela ensured it a sizeable income from wool.[4]

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the mid-16th century, Henry VIII of England sold it to Sir William Sharington for £783, who converted it into a house starting in 1539, demolishing the abbey church. Few other alterations were made to the monastic buildings themselves: the cloisters, for example, still stand below the living accommodation. About 1550 Sir William added an octagonal tower containing two small chambers, one above the other; the lower one was reached through the main rooms, and was for storing and viewing his treasures; the upper one, for banqueting, only accessible by a walk across the leads of the roof. In each is a central octagonal stone table carved with up-to-date Renaissance ornament.[5] A mid-16th century stone conduit house stands over the spring from which water was conducted to the house.[6] Further additions were made over the centuries, and the house now has various grand reception rooms.[4]

The internal courtyard of the cloisters

In the 16th and early 17th centuries, Nicholas Cooper has pointed out, bedchambers were often named for individuals who customarily inhabited them when staying at a house. At Lacock, as elsewhere, they were named for individuals "whose recognition in this way advertised the family's affinities": the best chamber was "the duke's chamber", probably signifying John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, whom Sharington had served, while "Lady Thynne's chamber", identified it with the wife of Sir John Thynne of Longleat, and "Mr Mildmay's chamber" was reserved for Sharington's son-in-law Anthony Mildmay of Apethorpe in Northamptonshire.[7]

During the English Civil War the house was garrisoned by Royalists. It was fortified by surrounding it with earthworks.[8] The garrison surrendered (on agreed terms) to Parliamentarian forces under the command of Colonel Devereux, Governor of Malmesbury, within days of Oliver Cromwell's capture of the nearby town of Devizes in late September 1645.[9]

The Abbey also underwent alterations in the 1750s under the ownership of John Ivory Talbot in the Gothic Revival style. The architect was Sanderson Miller.

The house eventually passed to the Talbot family. It is most often associated with amateur scientist and inventor William Henry Fox Talbot, who in 1835 made what may be the earliest surviving photographic camera negative, a view of the oriel window in the south gallery of the Abbey.[10][11] Talbot's experiments eventually led to his invention of the more sensitive and practical calotype or "Talbotype" paper negative process for camera use, commercially introduced in 1841.[12]

The Abbey houses the Fox Talbot Museum devoted to Talbot's pioneering work in photography.

Lacock Abbey and the surrounding village were given to the National Trust in 1944. The Trust market the abbey and village together as Lacock Abbey, Fox Talbot Museum & Village.

The cloisters of Lacock Abbey

The Abbey in film[edit]

Some interior sequences in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets were filmed at Lacock, including the cloister walk (illustrated, left) where Harry comes out from Professor Lockhart's room after serving detention and hears the basilisk. During four days in October 2007 Lacock was also used to film some scenes for the sixth Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

The Abbey was one of two major locations for the 2008 film version of the historical novel The Other Boleyn Girl.[13]

Lacock appears in the "Robin Hood and the Sorcerer", "Cromm Cruac" and "The Pretender" episodes of Robin of Sherwood. It was also used in the 1995 BBC/A&E production of Pride and Prejudice.

In the Spring of 2012, it was a filming location of the fantasy adventure movie The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box, released in 2013.

Scenes for the BBC's historical TV serial Wolf Hall were filmed there in 2014.[14]


  1. ^ The Book of Lacock mentioned by heralds, passed into the Cottonian Library, where it was apparently lost in the fire of 1731 (William Lisle Bowles and John Gough Nichols, Annals and Antiquities of Lacock Abbey: in the county of Wilts... London, 1835:v).
  2. ^ Bowles and Nichols 1835:171; on the same day she founded the Carthusian priory of Henton, in Somerset, fifteen miles distant.
  3. ^ Date given by Bowles and Nichols 1835:81, correcting as miscopied a date MCCXXII in the lost Book of Lacock.
  4. ^ a b Lacock (Wiltshire County Archives) accessed 28 September 2009
  5. ^ Mark Girouard, Life in the English Country House 1978:106.
  6. ^ Girouard 1978:248.
  7. ^ Nicholas Cooper, Houses of the Gentry 1480–1680 1999:265.
  8. ^ Wroughton 2011.
  9. ^ Bowles & Nichols 1835, p. 359.
  10. ^ Anthony Feldman, Peter Ford (1989) Scientists & inventors p.128. Bloomsbury Books, 1989
  11. ^ William H. Fox Talbot, inventor of the negative-positive process p.95. Macmillan, 1973
  12. ^ BBC – History – Historic Figures: William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877) BBC
  13. ^ "Behind the scenes". National Trust. Retrieved 16 April 2008. 
  14. ^ Frith-Salem, Benjamin (20 January 2015). "Wolf Halls: take a look inside the properties where the new BBC series is filmed". BBC History Magazine. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 


  • Bowles, William Lisle; Nichols, John Gough (1835), Annals and antiquities of Lacock abbey: in the county of Wilts, J.B. Nichols and son, p. 359 
  • Wroughton, Dr John (17 February 2011), The Civil War in the West, BBC 
  • Rogers, K. H., ed. (1979), "Lacock abbey charters", Wiltshire Record Society, 34 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°24′53″N 2°07′02″W / 51.41475°N 2.11718°W / 51.41475; -2.11718