by Janis on 9th August 2022 / 2 comments

Where photography was born

Beautiful Lacock Abbey and the well-preserved, dream-like village of Lacock are located in the county of Wiltshire in the southwest of the UK. The historic National Trust abbey is within touching distance of the Cotswolds (AONB) and a perfect accompaniment to a Cotswolds tour.

When you visit Lacock Abbey, not only will you be enjoying centuries of history within the ancient manor and the abbey cloisters, but you’ll also be able to stroll around the beautiful estate and gardens.

Lacock Abbey is impeccably managed by the National Trust; the enthusiastic team members dotted around the house are passionate about the abbey and so well-informed they can't wait to answer any of your questions.

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Where is Lacock Abbey

How to get to Lacock Abbey

- By Train
You can catch a direct train from London Paddington to Chippenham Station, 3 1/2 miles from Lacock Abbey. The journey time is around 70 minutes.

- By Car
Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire is 3 miles south of Chippenham. M4 exit 17 follow the signs for Chippenham and pick up the A350 signposted Poole/Warminster until you reach Lacock. There’s a free car park for National Trust members, or parking charges apply to non-members.

A little knowledge of Lacock Abbey

800 fascinating years of history
Lacock Abbey was founded in April 1232 as an Augustine nunnery by Ela, Countess of Salisbury. Lacock Abbey continued as a convent for more than 300 years until King Henry VIII disagreed with the Catholic Church. This led to the Dissolution of the Monasteries, where all convents and abbeys were closed and often destroyed.
The corner of the cloisters in Lacock Abbey with its ornate fan arches and stone windows onto a central courtyard
The cloisters in Lacock Abbey

Lacock survived as a medieval nunnery until 1539, and the following year was sold to William Sharington. Sharington demolished the sacred abbey church and converted the convent into a grand family home. Fortunately, the cloisters survived. The stone acquired from the ruined church was used to build the octagonal tower on the corner of the country house.

Upon William’s death in 1553, Lacock was then owned by his brother Henry who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I, following her stay at Lacock abbey.

Lacock was handed down to Henry’s daughter Olive and her husband, John Talbot; then the abbey continued to stay within the Talbot family.
The exterior of Lacock Abbey with its grand staircase leading to the entrance
The front of Lacock Abbey

William Henry Fox Talbot inherited Lacock Abbey from his father at a very young age in 1800, when the estate was in debt. William and his family eventually moved into the manor house in 1827, and the famous scientist and ground-breaking photographer lived in the abbey until his death in 1877.

Lacock Abbey continued to pass down through the Talbot family until the artist Matilda Theresa Talbot donated the charming home and Lacock Village to the National Trust in 1944.

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Fox Talbot Museum, Lacock Abbey

The birthplace of photography
When you arrive at Lacock Abbey’s visitor reception, you’re instantly welcomed to explore the Fox Talbot Museum and indulge yourself in the world of photography. The museum is dedicated to William Fox Talbot and is full of fascinating items and possessions from William’s years at Lacock Abbey.
An information board detailing the history of photography inside the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock Abbey in Wilshire
Inside Fox Talbot Museum

The delightful museum is housed in a 16th-century barn on the estate and was once used as stables. You’ll find an ever-changing photographic exhibition as well as the fascinating photography museum on the ground floor in the Upper Gallery.

The scientist, inventor, and polymath William Henry Fox Talbot was a pioneer of his generation. William was born in 1800 in Melbury, Dorset and inherited Lacock Abbey from his father.

The window in the nook used in the famous Fox Talbot negative at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.
The Oriel window in Lacock Abbey

It was from within Lacock Abbey in 1835 that the Victorian photographer created the earliest surviving photographic negative.

While strolling around the manor house, you’ll see the exact spot and latticed Oriel window where the image was captured after many experiments. Incredibly, the tiny image is not much larger than a postage stamp.

Where to stay in Lacock

The Red Lion – This charming pub located in the heart of the tiny village of Lacock makes a perfect base for visiting Lacock Abbey and exploring the countryside beyond. Breakfast is included, and free on-site car park.
The George Inn – This delightful pub is also in the centre of Lacock, offering adult-only accommodation and within easy walking distance of Lacock Abbey.

Visiting Lacock Abbey

The Fox Talbot family home
Climbing up the ornate stone steps of Lacock Abbey, you enter the Gothick Great Hall. The imposing fireplace that stands opposite still bares the marks of a well-used open fire, and the striking ceiling is inlaid with crests and coats of arms.
A large fireplace set in a stone wall surrounded by statues and busts set in nooks in the Great Hall of Lacock Abbey
The Great Hall
All around the great hall high above are statues and busts standing in decorative alcoves and sitting on ornate plinths. You’ll see spiritual and wizard-like figures and mythical beings.
A stone statue of a wizard holding a lantern in the grand hall of Lacock Abbey
Wizard-like figure
A stone bust of a wizard in the grand hall of Lacock Abbey
Statues within Lacock Abbey

Strolling out of the great hall into the Brown Gallery, you’ll see lovely works of art, particularly the impressionistic piece of Lacock Abbey painted in 1942 by John Piper, an official war artist in World War II.

Along this corridor of the house, you’ll find the Cooking Room, Pulpit Room and Yellow Room. Many of the rooms and much of the home you see today are how the Fox Talbot family lived.

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A tour of Lacock Abbey

The famous Oriel window
The room that I found fascinating was the Blue Parlour, full of beautiful, lacquered furniture, both English and Oriental. On the desk of William Henry Fox Talbot were scientific instruments, charming box cameras and leather bounded reference books.
A traditional desk filled with late 19th-century scientific equipment in the blue parlour of Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.
The Blue Parlour
I especially loved the old maps and armillary sphere perched on a travel box. It gives a glimpse into the insight of the mind of a scientist and inventor.
An armillary sphere, set on a map of the earth, within the blue parlour of Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.
Armillary sphere

Leaving the Blue Parlour, we step down into the South Gallery, and the light in this section of the house was uplifting. The shimmering reflections on the Venetian Murano chandelier were amazing.

Here the Fox Talbot family would gather and enjoy playing music on their piano and listening to the enchanting melodies from the harp.

A mahogany veneered baby grand piano and harpsichord in the south gallery of Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.
Instruments in the South Gallery

The South Gallery is lined with historic pieces of art, magnificent wooden bookcases, and family artefacts.

Wandering along the South Gallery, you’ll arrive at the Oriel lattice window; this famous window introduced the world to photography in August 1835. William Henry Fox Talbot created the calotype process and invented the paper-based photographic procedure of salt print.

As mentioned above, the image from the Oriel window is believed to be the earliest surviving photographic negative.

The window used in the famous Fox Talbot negative at Lacock abbey in Wiltshire.
The window used in the famous Fox Talbot negative
The last room we visit on the first floor of Lacock Abbey is the elegant dining room. This stylish dining room would have been used by the Fox Talbot family during their daily lives and for entertaining their guests.
The eight-place dining table in the centre of the sage-coloured, Victorian-styled dining room at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.
The dining room

Hiking the Wiltshire Countryside

Lacock Abbey and Village are located in the lush county of Wiltshire. This region of England, along with the beautiful county of Somerset and the Mendips, is perfect for hikes. To explore 28 delightful circular walks in this region, you’ll want the Ordnance Survey Pathfinder guidebook no. 21.

Alternatively, why not purchase and download the OS Maps App, which covers all of Great Britain.

Visiting Lacock Abbey cloisters

A medieval treat
After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, the Augustine nunnery was sold to Sir William Sharington, who converted the convent into a grand country home. He integrated the enchanting cloisters into his house’s design and added the octagonal tower on the corner of Lacock Abbey.
Looking through Lacock Abbey's cloisters windows to the inner garth
Peering through to the garth

Lacock Abbey’s original cloisters were destroyed in the 1400s, although the magnificent medieval arcades you can visit today are spectacular.

The ornate cloisters surrounding the internal courtyard are so thought-provoking that you can imagine the resident nuns sweeping through the open corridors to prayer.

The narrow corridor of the cloisters at Lacock Abbey with its ornate fan ceiling.
Lacock Abbey cloisters
A close-up of the detail of the ceiling of Lacock Abbey cloisters
Ceiling of Lacock Abbey cloisters
Although the convent church has long disappeared, there are still many of the original rooms to visit. The stone vaulted Warming Room is recognised by the iron cauldron sitting on a plinth; this would have been one of the few rooms in the nunnery that was heated.
The vaulted ceiling of the warming room at Lacock Abbey with a large iron cauldron resting on a plinth.
The Warming Room
You can also explore the Chapter House, which was used for meetings and gatherings, and the Sacristy, where the nuns would have kept their vestments and an infirmary. However, I just loved wending my way along the three cloisters enjoy the view of the enveloped garth.
The Sacristy with its stone columns and vaulted ceiling in Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire
The Sacristy
All along the ceiling of the cloisters are beautifully detailed carvings that lead your eye down the passageway to tempt you into discovering what lies beyond.

Escape for a few days

Are you in search of a tranquil hideaway to relax and unwind in, while you discover the beautiful British countryside?

Browse through the handpicked properties and unique retreats at Holiday Cottages.

Discover the Tudor stable courtyard

There’s even a brewhouse
After visiting Lacock, Abbey and cloisters, stroll into the charming Tudor stable courtyard, with its eye-catching clocktower.
Tudor buildings line one side of the stable courtyard at lacock abbey in wiltshire
The stable courtyard

The clock mechanism dates from 1880 and is still wound up by hand today every week. The two weights inside the clock are gravity run and slowly drop over seven to eight days to keep the mechanism turning.

Every week the weights are wound back up by the National Trust team, and incredibly the clock only loses around 1 minute a week. The hands are adjusted so that the ‘dongs’ are accurate, and the job is done for another week.

The Tudor stables have retained most of their original features, including the brewhouse and bakehouse.

A couple of barrels in the brewhouse decorated with dried hops at lacock abbey in wiltshire
Brewhouse in Lacock Abbey
Take a peek inside the old stone rooms to see how rudimentary the facilities were, although it’s quite impressive to have your own in-house brewery.

Exploring Lacock Abbey Gardens

Relax in the tranquil surroundings
Ensure you visit the gorgeously kept gardens at Lacock Abbey. The surrounding estate is full of lush countryside and includes an orchard, parklands, and woodlands.
A garden bench in the corner of the walled garden at Lacock Abbey
A walled garden at Lacock Abbey

You’re also able to visit Lady Elizabeth’s rose garden, the botanic garden the thoroughly used greenhouses where you’re allowed to step inside. Also, there are lovingly manicured English country garden borders.

Sit back, relax and soak up the peaceful surroundings.

Discovering more National Trust gardens

We’ve visited many National Trust sites and explored their gardens, which are always meticulously kept. A few places that particularly stand out for me are Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Scotney Castle, Chartwell in Kent and Bateman’s in East Sussex.

Lacock Abbey on the silver screen

Harry Potter to Wolf Hall

Lacock Abbey is a popular location for filming period dramas, Hollywood classics and, of course, the perfect site for the renowned wizard Harry Potter.

Lacock Abbey has featured mainly in The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets.

The cloisters in Lacock Abbey doubled as the corridors in Hogwarts on numerous occasions. Various rooms within the ancient convent were used as classrooms at the wizardry school. Professor Snape’s potions classroom and Professor Quirrell’s Defence Against the Dark Arts class.

The Chapter House with its vaulted ceiling in Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire
The Chapter House

Another of J.K. Rowling’s novels to be filmed in Lacock Abbey was Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, starring Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston. This adventure fantasy movie also used the atmospheric rooms around Lacock Abbey cloisters.

A couple of other productions shot at Lacock Abbey were the BBC2 award-winning series The Hollow Crown, starring the wonderful Dame Judi Dench and Benedict Cumberbatch. Also, the BBC’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.

These are just a few.

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  1. I get no photos when I scroll down which is a shame as I am very interested in the Abbeys and Monasteries of England and Wales

  2. Hi Brian,

    Can you tell me what type of device, and the browser, you are accessing the site from?

    I have checked from our end on the following devices;

    Windows 10 PC – Google Chrome
    Windows 10 PC – Edge
    Macbook Air – Safari
    iPad – Safari
    iPhone – Safari

    Everything seems okay.

    The only thing is the images ‘lazy-load’, which in English means some of the later images load after the rest of the page has completed, so it may take a moment for them to appear.

    Let me know if you still have problems, and I’ll see if there is anything else we can do from this end.

    Thanks so much for letting us know though; it’s always good to check out any problems we may have with the site.

    Kind Regards,

    Gary Williams

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