Lacock in Wiltshire is a place where time has stood still, its houses, shops and pubs preserved in a bygone age. It is also special for its role in films and photography. It was home to William Fox Talbot, one of the early pioneers of photography. And it has often been on the other side of the camera, starring in many films and TV productions.
Lacock and the National Trust
Lacock was a medieval wool town. It was mentioned in the Domesday Book as a small settlement with a vineyard and mills, but it later grew big enough to be allowed a market. The village gradually came under the influence of Lacock Abbey and after the abbey was dissolved in the 16th century the whole estate moved into private hands. In 1944 it was bequeathed to the National Trust.
There had been virtually no building in Lacock since the 18th century. So the National Trust had a unique opportunity to preserve the village as an example of how an English town would have appeared in the past. Today its old streets and period feel make it attractive to both tourists and filmmakers.
Exploring the Village of Lacock
There are more than 200 historic buildings in Lacock. These include the Abbey and the Norman church of St Cyriac, as well as the 14th century Tithe Barn. This was originally used by the nuns of the Abbey to store grain, but was later in use as a market hall.
The oldest pub is the George Inn, dating back to 1361. Look out, too, for the 18th century lockup on East Street, and the medieval packhorse bridge across the River Avon. Also notable is the shop at No 2, High Street, whose window has a preserved display of goods from the early 20th century.
A particular feature of the village is the items for sale outside individual cottages. You might find anything from plants to jams and pickles to jewellery and gifts, with an honesty box for payment.
Dating from the 13th century, Lacock Abbey was originally a nunnery. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it was converted to a private house in the 16th century. Later additions and alterations contributed to the eclectic mix of architectural styles that you see today.
Visitors can explore the grand reception rooms as well as the original cloisters and chapter house. The Abbey also has extensive gardens. These include a walled botanic garden with a greenhouse, an orchard and a rose garden.
William Fox Talbot and the History of Photography
William Fox Talbot owned and lived in Lacock Abbey from 1827 to 1877, and it was his heirs who gave the estate to the National Trust. Fox Talbot was a scientist and inventor who is credited with having discovered many of the major techniques of photography, including the invention of photographic paper.
Inside the Abbey is the Fox Talbot Museum, devoted to the history of photography. It includes objects from the early years of photography as well as special exhibitions. Of particular interest is the original of a very early photograph that Fox Talbot took of an oriel window in the Abbey.
Film and TV Productions in Lacock
The well preserved streets and buildings make Lacock an ideal setting for period dramas. If you are a film buff then several locations, including the pubs, church and lockup, are likely to look familiar to you.
The 2007 BBC drama The Cranford Chronicles, starring Judi Dench, was filmed in Lacock. For this production, the Sign of the Angel Hotel was used as Cranford’s pub – The Hearts of Oak – and the Red Lion Inn became the village shop. Other classic dramas filmed here include Pride and Prejudice (1995) and Emma (1996). More recently, it has featured in Downton Abbey and The White Princess.
Lacock has also played a part in full scale feature films. It made a cameo appearance in the 2008 horror film The Wolfman, where frozen corpses were stacked up in the Tithe Barn. Parts of The Other Boleyn Girl (also 2008) were filmed at Lacock Abbey.
Harry Potter and Lacock
It is probably the connection with Harry Potter that is best known. The cloisters of Lacock Abbey were the setting for the Mirror of Erised and for the scene where Harry frees the house elf Dobby in the Chamber of Secrets. Rooms off the cloisters became classrooms, particularly for Professor Snape’s potions lessons.
Some outdoor scenes for The Half Blood Prince were filmed in the village. Houses lived in by Professor Slughorn and by Harry Potter’s parents are also in Lacock.
- Lacock is 14 miles from Bath. The easiest way to get there is by car, although it is possible to travel by bus via Chippenham. Alternatively, Lacock is included in a number of day tours from Bath or London.
- There are a number of places to eat and drink in the village. These include the George Inn and the Sign of the Angel. King John’s Hunting Lodge is a good choice for afternoon tea.
- Hotels and self-catering accommodation are available.
- The Abbey grounds are open all year round, but the house is closed in the winter months and on Tuesdays.