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Lacock Abbey was originally founded in 1232 and for over 300 hundred years functioned as a nunnery with up to around 25 nuns. The fine medieval cloisters, sacristy, chapter house and monastic rooms of the Abbey have survived largely intact. Today the property is owned by the National Trust and the public can visit.
Lacock Abbey is also home to a fascinating exhibition of the discoverer of photography - William Fox Talbot. You can see the actual window where the earliest surviving photographic negative ever was taken.
Lacock Abbey survived its original purpose as a nunnery for around 300 years until Henry VIII transformed England in the 16th Century during the reformation, Lacock like nearly all similar establishments were closed down and Lacock Abbey reverted to being a Country House.
The Sharington/Talbot family subsequently lived in the Abbey right up until about 50 years ago when the National Trust took over Lacock.
Today Lacock Abbey is a popular destination for Harry Potter fans on a quest to visit filming locations for the Harry Potter films.
Lacock Abbey was used as a film location for three Harry Potter films: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009).
In addition Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald was filmed at Lacock Abbey in 2018.
The Abbey's cloisters were used in many scenes from the Harry Potter films including when Harry visits the restricted section at Hogwarts Library, hidden under an invisibility cloak, (Philosopher's Stone); when Professor McGonagall introduces Harry to Oliver Wood to talk about joining the Quidditch team (Philosopher’s Stone); and finally when Harry hears the basilisk moving behind the walls before discovering Ginny has been captured (Chamber of Secrets).
It is also worthwhile to spend a bit of time imagining the nuns that would have walked those hallways for so many centuries; in deep study and contemplation. It is said that looking up to the green through the arched windows (see photo) gave their weary eyes a rest from studying.
These cloisters are amongst the best preserved in the country.
In the Warming Room (Professor Quirrell’s Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom), there is a giant cauldron where Snape might have cooked up a famous brew - but he didn't; this item isn't a prop at all. It is in fact an authentic 16th-century item, allegedly used by Queen Anne's people during her visit in the 1700s.
It is worth knowing that the Warming Room was so named because back in the 13th century, it was once the only room in the Abbey where a fire could be kept for warmth!
The Chapter House at Lacock Abbey was used for filming the Mirror of Erised; see the vaulted ceiling and columns for yourself. The room now has a 'modern' Victorian floor - if you go further into the room you can see actual 12th century tiles and try to imagine how it would have looked eight centuries ago.
This room was used as Snape’s Potions Classroom from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; although the room looks in real life dramatically different from how it appears in the films as it has windows letting light in (in the films they covered them over to simulate a dungeon underground).
Originally its purpose would have been for storing vessels for church services.
While you are in the village of Lacock you can also visit some of the other film locations for some of the subsequent films: Lily and James Potter's house (privately owned), Professor Slughorn's house and The Sign of the Angel inn - used as a backdrop in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
The National Trust have a printed leaflet which you can pick up from just inside the entrance of the Abbey called 'Filming locations in Lacock' which has a map of the whole village, with all the popular filming locations, including Harry Potter.
William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-77) was one of the Fox Talbot Family who lived and owned Lacock Abbey. He is remembered for his pioneering work with photography. There is a museum to Fox Talbot, part of the entrance complex to Lacock Abbey and is part of the Lacock Abbey attraction.
William Henry Fox Talbot carried experiments in the mid 1830s led him to discover the negative/positive photographic process.
The story goes that Fox Talbot was frustrated by his inability to paint and draw, and so he wanted to find a way to ‘fix images’.
Famously he wrote: "How charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durable and remain fixed upon the paper! And why should it not be possible? I asked myself."
In 1834, Talbot experimented with a process which he called photogenic drawing: coating drawing paper with salt solution and after it had dried, adding a solution of silver nitrate. By placing a leaf, or fern, or a piece of lace, on the paper's surface and exposing it to the sun, he obtained an image.
In 1835, Talbot made the earliest known surviving photographic negative using a camera, a small photogenic drawing of the latticed window in the south gallery of Lacock Abbey.
Talbot's findings were announced on 31st January 1839, one of the first official announcements of the birth of photography.
He discovered that paper treated with a coating of silver iodide, exposed in camera, and developed in gallic acid mixed with silver nitrate and acetic acid would bring out a latent image.
With elation and wonder on 23rd September 1840 he watched a picture gradually appearing on a blank sheet of paper.
Outside the National Trust have created their very own 'Camera obscura' (Latin for "dark chamber") that you can walk into, and see for yourself an upside down live action sequence of what's going on outside (as long as it's day time).
When inside the Abbey, as you go around you will come to the modern extension of the Abbey where Fox Talbot made his famous discovery.
National Trust have signed the very oriel window where Fox Talbot made his discovery that would change history forever.
If you want to know even more about the man and his discoveries there is a dedicated museum just inside the entrance to the abbey that will guide you through the story with stunning photography. Set in a sixteenth-century barn once used as stables, you can see Fox Talbot's mousetrap camera and discover how photography came to be.
The Upper Gallery of the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock has a programme of changing photography exhibitions.
The Abbey itself is in large grounds immediately adjacent to Lacock Village. Its sweeping lawns often with sheep on them go down to the River Avon.
There are often fields of buttercups in summer with mown tracks where you can walk and appreciate the beauty of the fine views.
The gardens are exquisite and the groundsmen make an effort to label and educate. There is a botanic gardens with greenhouse as well as rose gardens and herbs gardens.
Dogs are allowed in the grounds in the winter season only - from 1st September to until 31st March.
You can also visit the Tudor brew-house and bakehouse in the attractive courtyard, a place people like to sit and relax.
The Stables cafe' can be found across the road from the visitor reception offering a range of meals, snacks, cakes, drinks and ice-cream.
It is hard to gauge how much time the typical person spends at Lacock. For those who just want to see the Harry Potter connection you can easily be in and out in 30 minutes.
Most visitors touring the house and museum and a walk around the house may take a couple of hours. If you wanted to do the Fox Talbot Museum as well you could easily spend upwards of 3 hours.
A lot of people laze out and just watch the world go by in the extensive grounds.
Full opening hours are at the official National Trust website. Check opening of the Abbey itself as times might be different to the grounds.
The National Trust have lots of free printed leaflets you can pick up which will guide you round both the village and and Abbey.
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