The Cotswolds are renowned for quaint little villages, beautiful cottages and Cotswold stone to name a few things, however little do people know that actually the Cotswolds, in particular Lacock in Wiltshire, is also renowned for being the birthplace of photography.
I was one of the many people who were unaware of this fact so as an ameteur photographer myself, I thought a trip to Lacock would be extremely worthwhile.
Lacock is located 5 miles South of Chippenham and the entire village has been under ownership by the National trust since 1944. Within the village lies a 13th century Abbey which was originally a nunnery before it was sold to William Sharington following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536. Sharington converted the convent into a family residence and in the 18th century the property was sold to the Talbot family. It wasn’t until 1835 that the most famous Talbot, William, changed the way that we see things today (quite literally!).
William Henry Fox Talbot was a chemist and mathematician before becoming a pioneer of Victorian photography. He moved to Lacock Abbey in 1827 and it was a photo of one of the Abbey’s latticed windows that gave the world it’s first photographic negative. The photo was no bigger than a postage stamp but is arguably the most important artifact in photographic history. It wasn’t until 1839 that Talbot decided to tell the world of his invention. This was following French photographer Louis Daguerre’s claim earlier on that year that he was actually the first person to invent the photograph, however despite this claim from Daguerre, Talbot came up with the invention 4 years previous.
Following on from our trip to Castle Combe in the morning, we decided to take the 15 minute drive to the village. The main car park in Lacock is owned by the National Trust which therefore means that if you are a member you can park for free but if not, a charge will apply. We were given a map of the village on arrival and headed straight for the Abbey. Entrance into the Abbey for an adult is £14.50 and for a family of 4 the entrance fee is £36.20.
The Abbey may be familiar to fans of Harry Potter. The cloister rooms were used for several interior scenes including the Mirror of Erised scenes and Professors Snape and Quirrel’s classrooms. Other locations around the village were used for scenes in the Philosophers Stone and the Chamber of Secrets.
We made our way to the courtyard which contains a tea room, second hand bookshop, brewhouse and bakery. The brewery was built at Lacock when William Sharington acquired the property in 1539 and is potentially the earliest country house brewery to survive. The beer in the 16th century had poor keeping qualities so was drunk as soon as it was brewed, but because it had high nutritional value it became an important part of everyday diet. I have never visited a brewery before so I found it fascinating to find out the steps required to make beer.
After wandering around the grounds we then entered the Abbey through the cloisters. The cloisters were actually a lot smaller than I thought! After watching the Harry Potter films I expected them to be at least as big as the cloisters at Salisbury cathedral but you
know what they say… big things come in small packages! We were advised by a member of staff that we couldn’t wear our backpacks on our back and we later found out that the reason for this was because a previous visitor to the Abbey had actually smashed the frame of an old painting because they were wearing their backpack on their back.
In one of the rooms was an old book known as the ‘Brito’ book. The book is a dictionary of theological words that were used by the nuns of the Abbey and their copy was hand written by a group of scribes in the mid 13th century. The book contains red letters which were used to start new paragraphs or highlight important information and this is where the phrase red letter day originates from.
There is also a whole room dedicated to watercolour paintings. William Talbot became frustrated at his own artistic abilities as he was constantly surrounded by such talent. His wife Constance was skilled in all genres of painting but particularly excelled at
botanical painting and his daughters also shared a love for painting. This frustration led him to find another way to fix an image on paper, hence the invention of the first photographic negative.
Within a small tower of the Abbey lies a replica of the Magna Carta. This document is the actual Lacock Magna Carta which was issued by King Henry III in 1225. There are only 3 original copies of the Magna Carta in England and they are located at Lincoln cathedral,
Salisbury Cathedral and the British Library. When I visited Salsibury in 2017 I was lucky enough to actually see this copy of the Magna Carta!
As we entered the Great Hall we were surprised to see over 40 coats of arms on the ceiling! The Great Hall was rebuilt in the 1750’s by John Talbot who was the owner of the estate at the time. The work was finished by 1755 and in that year Talbot invited the friends whose coats of arms he had put on the roof of the hall to a commemoration event at the Abbey to celebrate the completion of the work.
After exploring the wonders of the Abbey we decided to take a look around around the Fox Talbot Museum. The Museum is a homage to the wonderful legacy of William Fox Talbot and includes the history of photography, the chemistry behind Talbot’s process and the race to be crowned the inventor of photography. One thing in particular that I did find really interesting was the evolution of the camera; starting with Fox Talbot’s mousetrap camera in 1835 to the IPhone in 2019. It was amazing to see how photography has evolved over the years!
We then began to explore the village itself. Walking into the village is like walking into a scene from a Harry Potter film. As well as the cloisters being used for several scenes within the films, other locations within the village were used too. Harry’s parents house in the Philosophers Stone was set in the village as was Horace Slughorn’s house in the Half Blood Prince.
The Sign of the Angel pub was also used as a backdrop in the Half Blood Prince. The pub is a 15th century coaching Inn which provides great food and drink in front of a large open fire with rooms available for those that wish to stay overnight. The food is all from
local suppliers which makes for great tasting dishes. Another pub in the village, the Red Lion, was used as the assembly rooms in Pride and Prejudice and also offers great food and drink.
As we were walking down the main street we noticed signs for a chocolate shop. CoCoChemistry provides hand crafted artisan chocolates made locally in Wiltshire by real scientists. The shop is open 7 days a week and sells a range of different truffles, boxed chocolates, luxury gifts and hot chocolate. Unfortunately I had just eaten so I didn’t really fancy anything else to eat, but I’m sure if I was to visit again I would definitely treat myself to a chocolate bar or two!
After passing the Sign of the Angel pub we arrived just outside the Lacock Bakery. This bakery was used as the location of the bakery in Cranford and serves a range of different pastries and cakes. The Cornish pasties were huge! A half of one would be enough for me
so in the end I decided to go for a pork pie (it was a very nice pork pie too!). Pasties included cheese and onion, traditional Cornish pasty and vegetable pasty. The bread is also made with organic flour using local ingredients and they offer a range of gluten free products too.
The Bakery is located along Church Street so we were hoping that we would be able to take a look inside the Church but unfortunately it was closed for repair work.
Not long after the heavens opened and that brought to a close what had been a fantastic day exploring the Cotswolds.
Lacock is far more than your average Costwolds village and it is easy to see why once you have visited this gem of a place. This is a must see place for any fan of Harry Potter and any National Trust member, so if you are looking for a place to visit in the Costwolds
then I wouldn’t think twice about visiting Lacock!
Until next time,