The Village and Abbey

Grid Ref: ST 917 686
9 June 2005

High St & East St.   Church St.
Corner of High Street & East Street      Church Street
East Street   War Memorial
East Street   War Memorial in West Street
High Street   Church
High Street   St. Cyriac's
Lacock Village and the church of St. Cyriac

Lacock is a very picturesque village laid out in square with High Street on the south, East Street, Church Street and West Street. The historic buildings in the village have made it popular with film makers and it has featured in productions of Pride and Prejudice, Moll Flanders, Emma and The Mayor of Casterbridge. Among the features of the village are a large tithe barn, a lock-up, the village hall, small shops, a post office, pubs, restuarants and tea rooms.

The parish church is St. Cyriac's, an unusual dedication in England but found in Normandy. The first church in Lacock may have been in the Saxon period but a Norman church was built by Edward of Salisbury and William de Ow. Only a few fragments of this church survive; the were found during 19th century restoration work. By the 15th century the West Country was a wealthy area from its wool trade and the church was largely rebuilt about 1450. The ornate Lady Chapel, dating from 1420-30 was retained as part of the new structure. The spire dates from the 16th century. The former box pews were removed in the restoration of 1861 and the transepts were raised. The chancel was rebuilt in 1903 as a memorial to William Henry Fox Talbot of Lacock Abbey; Sir Harold Brakespear was the architect. The south transept, also known as the Lackham aisle was rebuilt by Mr. Caldwell of Lackam in 1860. It contains memorials to the Baynard family who were Lords of the Manor of Lackham and other families who lived there.

The church has many noteworthy features including the cottage for ministers, added in the north east corner in the 16th century. The carvings in the lady chapel still retain some of the original colouring and some of the figures on the roof bosses are very fine. Other notable features include the window above the chancel arch which catches the eye immediately on entry and a double squint in a pillar giving a view of the Lady Chapel and main altar. There are a number of interesting monuments in the church including the Baynard Brass of 1501. The ministers of the church are known from 1318.

The Advowson of St. Cyriac's was jointly owned by the Salisbury (and later Longspee) families of Lacock and the Bluet family of Lackham. Ela Longspee, Countess of Salisbury gave the manor of Lacock and her half of the advowson to Lacock Abbey, which she founded in 1232. In 1316, the abbey obtained the other half of the advowson. The Abbess and Chapter became the rectors and appointed vicars to run the church. The first of these was Nicholas Skarpenham in 1318.

The Abbey
Abbey   Corridor
Lacock Abbey      Corridor Vaulting
Ceiling bosses   Warming Room
Ceiling Bosses   Warming Room and Mechlin Pot
Domestic Wing   Vaulting
Domestic Wing   Missing column in front of the door
Floor Tiles   Chapter house
Collection of floor tiles   Chapter House


East of Lacock village lies a great barn which serves two purposes. It is the entrance to Lacock Abbey, owned by the National Trust, and houses a museum for the work of William Henry Fox Talbot, one of the 19th century owners of Lacock and the pioneer of negative based photography in the 1840s.

The ground floor of the mansion is based on buildings of the original Augustinian Nunnery and includes a cloister, chapter house and warming room. Photography was allowed in this section when I visited.. The Nunnery was founded by Ela Countess of Salisbury in 1232. She was the daughter of William, Earl of Salisbury, and her great, great grandfather, Edward of Salisbury was the owner of the Manor of Lacock at the time of the Domesday survey in 1086. Ela was born in Amesbury in 1188 and on her father's death in 1196 she inherited great wealth. Her mother took her to France for safekeeping but two years later she returned and as was the custom of the time, as an heiress she was made a ward of the King. This enabled Richard I to marry the heiress to his stepbrother, William Longspee or Longsword, the illegitimate son of Henry II and Rosamund Clifford. William became through his marriage the Earl of Salisbury. The marriage took place in 1198. William went on the Crusade but eventually returned and became one of the witnesses of the Magna Carta in the reign of King John. William and Ela laid the fourth and fifth foundation stones of Salisbury Cathedral. William was the first person to be buried there in 1226 and Ela founded two religious houses in his memory on the same day. One was for Carthusian monks at Hinton Charterhouse and the other at Lacock for Augustinian Canonesses. In 1238, Ela became a nun and in 1241 became the first Abbess of Lacock. She died in 1261 and was buried under the high altar of the abbey church.

At the Dissolution in 1539, the abbey was acquired for £763 by William Sharrington (c. 1495-1558) who had made a fortune as Vice Treasurer of the Mint in Bristol by reducing coin sizes and pocketing the difference. He was knighted at the coronation of Edward VI. The church was pulled down, and the remainder was modified into a dwelling with the addition of stable courtyard, brewery and and octagonal tower. He spent 2,000 marks on the house in addition to the purchase price. The original nunnery walls were surrounded by new buildings in an Italianate style then gaining in popularity. In the late 18th century much of the abbey was modified to the Palladian style.

Sir William Sharrington was closely associated with Thomas Seymour who as Earl of Somerset acted as Protector during the first part of the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553). Somerset was accused of treason and executed whereas Sharrington was allowed to purchase his freedom for £8,000 and subsequently regained his property. Sharrington died in 1566 and his tomb is in the Lady Chapel of the parish church. He married three times but had no son so the estate proceeded via his brother's daughter who married into the Talbot family of Shropshire, who were ancestors of the Talbot Earls of Shrewsbury at Alton in Staffordshire. The Talbot family, with one descent through the female line, retained the house until it was given to the National Trust in 1944.

Examination of the cloisters shows various phases of building. When a fan vaulted ceiling was built the new arches were not in synchrony with the earlier ones and would have required a column in front of a door. The column was omitted leading to the improbable result shown in my photograph. The former nunnery buildings were used in filming Harry Potter.

The photographs of the exterior of the house show two Oriel windows. One of these was the subject of William Henry Fox Talbot's first photographic experiments.


National Trust information boards at the abbey.
St. Cyriac's Church, Lacock, Wiltshire, a booklet available in the church prepared by the Friends of Lacock with photographs by Sue Ferris, Paul Freeland, Roger Robilliard and Oliver Menhinick, published in 2003, ISBN 1 903025 14 1
Late Mediaeval England
, a course of six weekends at Wedgwood Memorial College, Winter 2004/5, by James Bond and Mike Higginbottom.


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