Lacock, is a film producer’s favourite location and no wonder. All the buildings date from before 1800 and many date from centuries earlier. Almost every building is listed for its special historic and architectural interest and all the houses are occupied. The oldest house, dating from the early 1200s, is King John’s Hunting Lodge, beside the church. Here King John, the royal owner of Melksham Forest, stayed on hunting trips. Timber from the forest provided building material for many of the cottages you can see today. Lacock is a medieval town laid out on a grid pattern of four streets, the earliest being Church Street. The inhabitants of Lacock were poor tenants who paid their rent to the nuns from the Abbey by work and goods, e.g. corn, wool or hides. These were collected in the glorious Tithe Barn in East Street.
Lacock as a filming location
The name ‘Lacock’ is derived from the Saxon name, “Lacuc”, meaning little stream, referring to the Bide Brook, which runs through the village. Little has changed in over a hundred years, apart from the influx of the motor car. BBC television productions of Jane Austen’s, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (1967 and 1995) and ‘Emma’ (1996), Thomas Hardy’s, ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ (2003) and more recently, Mrs. Gaskell’s, ‘Cranford’ (2007 and 2009), were located here. ‘Moll Flanders’ (1996), ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ (2008) and ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ (2008), were also filmed in Lacock, the latter extensively using the Chapter House.
Harry Potter and Lacock
Fans of Harry Potter’s film, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, will recognise Lacock as being his home and see Lacock again in ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ (2009). Warner Brothers, producers of the Harry Potter films, used Lacock Abbey extensively to create on film the Hogwarts School for Wizards. It is interesting to note that a real life Harry Potter was the postmaster in the village from 1927 until 1966. The Old Post Office was at number 19 High Street.
The preservation of Lacock is directly related to its history. Lacock Abbey is on the edge of the village. It was founded in the early 13th century by Ela, Countess of Salisbury. She was married to William Longespee, one of the most powerful barons of the time and founded Lacock Abbey in his memory. In 1539, Lacock was the last of the religious houses in England to be dissolved by Henry VIII. It was sold to Sir William Sharington for £783, who adapted it as his manor house, but retained all the Abbey’s features. He died, childless, in 1553, and was succeeded by his brother, Henry. Henry’s daughter, Olive, married John Talbot. The family retained ownership of the Abbey until 1944, when Miss Matilda Talbot donated her property, which included most of the village, to the National Trust. Although this ended ownership of the Abbey by the same family for over 400 years, the National Trust’s tenants in the Abbey are descendants of the family.
Fox Talbot and the invention of photography
It is fitting that Lacock is one of the most photographed villages in England. For at Lacock Abbey, William Henry Fox Talbot invented the negative/positive process. Lacock is widely regarded as the home of photography and his Photographic Museum, housed in a 16th century barn at the Abbey gates, displays his photographic achievements. The earliest surviving negative, taken in 1835, is of a window in the South Gallery of Lacock Abbey. The negative is now in the Science Museum, Kensington, in London. Lacock is a living village, not a museum. It has a school, which now contains the old market cross in the playground, and represents seven hundred years of the village’s right to hold a weekly market.
Inns and the oldest buildings in Lacock
There are several inns. The oldest is The George, in West Street, renamed after King George II. The Red Lion, in High Street, dates from 1740, and the Angel, in Church Street, was built at the time of Edward IV. It was named after a gold coin, called an “angel”. It displays one of the finest horse passages in the village, allowing the animal to be led from the street to the stables at the back. Parts of King John’s Hunting Lodge, beside the church, date back to the 13th century and is reputed to be the oldest building in Lacock. The workhouse, behind the church, built in the 1830s, closed in 1861, but in 1840, it had 146 inhabitants.
Many regard St. Cyriac’s Church as a glory of Lacock. A dedication to Cyriac in this country is unusual. St. Cyriac was a child martyr in the 3rd century. The church is mainly 15th century, with very high arches in the nave.