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Lacock Abbey: Historic Home and Former Nunnery

See also Lacock Village

Lacock Abbey exterior by Barbara Ballard Lacock Abbey is a stately home that takes its name from the religious abbey once on the site. The religious abbey was founded by Ela, Countess of Salisbury in 1232 in memory of her husband, William Longespee, illegitimate son of Henry II, and one of the most powerful barons of the time. The abbey was a nunnery for Augustinian canonesses.

Lacock Abbey exterior detail by Barbara Ballard The Countess joined the order in 1238 and became the first Abbess in 1241. The Abbey provided, during the middle ages, a place for education of girls and a shelter for the needy. After the dissolution of the abbeys in 1539, the nuns were pensioned off, and the house and lands granted by Henry VIII to William Sharington for the sum of £783. He converted it into a home, destroying the church to build a stable courtyard. He also added an octagonal tower and brewery and re-used the refectory carved beams. The cloister court, walks, chapter house, sacristy, chaplain’s room, and warming room were kept.

Lacock Abbey entry stairs by Barbara Ballard The Talbots, relatives by marriage, became owners before the civil war. John Talbot rebuilt the great hall in 1753 and that is what we see today. In the mid 19th century William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-77) remodelled the south elevation and added three new oriel windows. He was the best known of the owners due to his photographic research and inventions, most notably that of the negative. His work is shown in the Fox Talbot Museum of Photography by the Abbey grounds. His negative of the oriel window is the oldest in existence.

Miss Matilda Talbot donated Lacock Abbey, together with most of the village of Lacock, Manor Farm, and Bewley Common to the National Trust between 1944 and 1946.

Lacock Abbey exterior detail by Barbara Ballard The house contains many portraits, fine furniture and stone carvings. The carvings are of particularly high standard by John Chapman, a stonemason to Henry VIII.

House Tour

The Hall is an 18th century gothic revival built 1754-1756 by John Talbot. The architect was Sanderson Miller. On the ceiling is a collection of coats of arms of his friends. Also in the hall are terracotta figures, 18th century hall chairs and tables.

The Dining Room This once was the abbess’s private quarters. It experienced several alterations over the centuries.

The South Gallery One end of the gallery was a private chapel for the abbess. Sharington altered it to a narrow gallery with six windows and a tiled floor. Fox Talbot put in three oriel windows with the middle one being related to his early 1835 negative. The gallery contains portraits of family members. A cabinet contains some Meissen china.

The Blue Parlour is accessed by a set of steps from the South Gallery and was thought to be part of the abbey dormitory used by ladies who came to stay. Family portraits, a desk presented by Queen Victoria, and an Aubusson carpet are furnishings of note. There is also an 1815 harp in the room. There are three small ante rooms leading off this room: the Painting Room where Talbot’s daughters did watercolours, and two other rooms with hand printed 19th century wallpaper.

The Tower Room is reached with a narrow slanting passage. This was used as a strong room and has locking cupboards. The ceiling is stone vaulted. There is a carved table in the room.

The Stone Gallery was once the nuns’ dormitory. A dividing wall and ceiling were changed made by William Sharington. Medieval stained glass was added by John Talbot. There are six 17th century painted chairs and two 18th century leather chests. A renaissance fireplace is thought to be by John Chapman.

The Brown Gallery was once the medieval refectory and had the ceiling added by Sharington. Stone and wood corbels still exist at one end, and there is a glimpse of the medieval stone floor. Also in this room are geological specimens and a telescope of Fox Talbot’s stepfather.

The Nunnery Buildings

Lacock Abbey cloisters by Barbara Ballard The Cloister Court, dating from the 14th and 15th centuries has bosses of mythological figures. There was once a walkway surrounding the cloister and this had a wooden roof and columns of Purbeck marble.

The South Walk The abbey church used to be next to this walk. There is now a modern terrace door taking the place of the former processional doorways. Look for masons’ marks on the south wall.

Lacock Abbey Former Chaplain Room by Barbara Ballard The Chaplain’s Room has a 14th century doorway on the west wall, an original fireplace, and bits of a medieval wall painting.

The Abbess’s Stairs was a spiral staircase that led to the private space of the abbess. A ‘squint’ was provided halfway up the stairs so she could see the cloister secretly.

The Tomb This is thought to be an old stone but the tomb may date from only the 18th century.

The East Walk shows two medieval building periods. The rooms were much changed by John Talbot in the 18th century. Charles Talbot, in 1894, restored some of the 13th century gothic designs.

The Night Stair is only one of a former flight which led from the abbey church to the nuns’ dormitory.

Lacock Abbey Sacristry by Barbara Ballard The Sacristy dates from the 13th century but is much changed. The floor was tiled and there were two chapels originally.

Lacock Abbey Chapter House by Barbara Ballard The Chapter House is entered through a triple archway and was the place of business for the abbey. The current tile flooring is 19th century. A passageway once led to the infirmary. The Chapter House featured in a Harry Potter film.

Lacock Abbey Warming Room by Barbara Ballard The Warming Room is at the end of a passage with stone coffins (found in the garden). The original fireplace and lamp bracket as well as a window seat still exist.

The Rere Dorter was where fuel was kept. Past the room was the garderobe.

The North Walk has two bays used for the lavatorium. This area was much destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries.

Lacock Abbey inner courtyard and clock tower by Barbara Ballard Lacock Abbey Brewhouse by Barbara Ballard After leaving the house and cloisters visit the 16th century stable courtyard with its clockhouse, brewery and bakehouse. A National Trust shop and other facilities are found in the conservation village.

Essential Information

Lacock Abbey
Lacock, Wiltshire
Tel. 01249 730 459
Open: cloisters, grounds and garden, March-end Oct, daily, 11am-5.30pm; abbey, mid-March-end Oct, daily except Tue, 1-5.30pm
National Trust property

Getting there: Lacock is signposted off the A350 about three miles south of Chippenham.

Note: The National Trust does not allow photos of the interiors of its properties.

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