History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
It is hard, if not impossible, to select any one place as the birthplace of photography, but Lacock Abbey, nestled in water meadows beside the meandering River Avon, comes as close as any. It was here in the early 1830s that William Fox-Talbot performed his experiments into the properties of light, and it was here that Fox-Talbot took his first "photograph", a rather unremarkable composition of an oriel window, The window can be seen, looking much the same as it did when posing for its history-making photo.
Lacock began life as an Augustinian nunnery, and many of the underpinnings of the house show its monastic origins. It was the very last religious house disbanded during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries.
You can walk the (rather chilly) cloister surrounding a green square, and delve into the old chapter house and warming room. This part of the house tour is bleak, if interesting for the glimpse it provides into the lives of the nuns who made Lacock their home for three centuries.
Rather more comfortable are the "modern" Tudor rooms, begun by Sir William Sharington in 1539. Sharington was a bit of a scoundrel, and nearly lost his life when it came to light that he had been involved in debasing coins. When Sherington took over Lacock he destroyed the church, and built his new house out of the nun's dormitory, refectory, and ranges.
The most remarkable of the interior furnishings is a massive stone table in the tower strong room. The table is supported by leering satyrs while the Sherington scorpions gambol about the base.
The hall is notable for the whimsical terracotta statues decorating niches around its perimeter. These were commissioned by John Ivory Talbot in 1754 as part of his attempt to transform the hall into a mock-Gothic fantasy. Judge for yourself the aesthetic success of his efforts.
Lacock is worth visiting as much for the village that surrounds it as for the house. The entire village has been purchased by the National Trust, and preserved intact from the ravages of modern civilization. Here you will find no television aerials or other blatant signs of the modern world.
It is easy to imagine yourself transported back several centuries in time as you walk through this relaxed village. The cottages are built of wonderful honey-toned Cotswold stone, and the whole village exudes an aura of charm and relaxed timelessness. Movie-makers have recognized its charms, and Lacock was featured in the recent film adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
There is an excellent museum of photography at the gates of the Abbey, and a fine stone tithe barn in a nearby alley. Lacock boasts several good bed and breakfasts and pubs. It is a popular destination for tour buses, but overall, Lacock Abbey repays a visit many times over. Highly recommended.
About Lacock Abbey
Address: Lacock, Chippenham, Wiltshire, England, SN15 2LG
Attraction Type: Historic House
Location: off A350
Website: Lacock Abbey
Phone: 01249 730 459
Fax: 01249 730 501
National Trust - see also: National Trust memberships (official website link)
OS: ST919 684
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
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Great Chalfield, All Saints Church - 4.8 miles (Historic Church)
Great Chalfield Manor - 4.9 miles (Historic Building)
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