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Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Through cloisters and gardens

Lacock Abbey, Ela, Countess of Salisbury, nunnery, Wiltshire

A garden walk takes us past pastel-shaded cottage-garden style borders, through a community allotment area, an orchard, rose garden and bosky wood.  The allotments are bursting with produce and colour, the fruit trees heavy and pendulous.  Beyond the woods, the Wiltshire landscape beckons: a flock of sheep cotton-balls its way across lush, green, fields; we merely await the imminent arrival of Little Bo-Peep to turn the whole place into a pastoral idyll.  A step along tree-lined paths to what might have been an old fish-pond ends abruptly at a ha-ha, where a couple sit, deep in intimate conversation; like guilty voyeurs, we turn quickly away and are relieved to be confronted with a wonderful view of Lacock Abbey.

Worcester apples, Lackock, orchard


Pastoral idyll, Wiltshire

Lacock Abbey was established between 1229 and 1232 by Lady Ela, Countess of Salisbury.  Ela founded two religious houses: Lacock, for Augustinian nuns, and Hinton Charterhouse in Somerset for Carthusian monks.  Both were in memory of her late husband, William Longespee who, in addition to his little problem (sometimes a sleepless knight?), was an illegitimate son of King Henry II.  So William was half-brother to kings Richard I and John.  He and Ela were a well-connected, powerful, couple and, rather disappointingly, Longespee actually means ‘longsword’.  Anyway, Lady Ela became Abbess of Lacock in 1240, lived to 74, a ripe age in those days, and was buried in the abbey church.  Much later, her tombstone was moved to the cloisters and reads: "Below lie buried the bones of the venerable Ela, who gave this sacred house as a home for the nuns.  She also had lived here as holy abbess and Countess of Salisbury, full of good works."

Cloisters, Lackock Abbey, Harry Potter, film locations, Britain

The abbey prospered through the Middle Ages, largely due to revenue from wool - occasionally referred to as ‘white gold’.  It sustained a community of between 15 and 25 nuns, mostly ladies from well-to-do families, as well as the lay sisters who did most of the menial work.  When Lacock Abbey was dissolved during the reign of Henry VIII, it was bought by a Sir William Sharington in 1540 for the sum of £783.00.  Sharington, an ambitious courtier, demolished the abbey church and converted the remaining buildings into an elegant home – though he largely left the ground floor intact. 

Cloisters, Lacock Abbey, dissolution, Henry VIII Wiltshire


There is a story that Olive Sharington, William’s niece, was looking out of an upper window being serenaded by her lover, John Talbot, from below when, for some reason (possibly to elope), she jumped.  Allegedly, her skirts acted as a parachute, and she managed to land on her boyfriend.  You couldn't make it up, could you? He was knocked unconscious, but fortunately he recovered.  In any event, the property passed to the Talbot family by marriage sometime before the English Civil War, during which time it was garrisoned by the Royalists.  The Talbots survived.  The most famous, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-77) was an accomplished scientist and inventor of the negative/positive photographic process.  Fox-Talbot’s grand-niece, Matilda Talbot, donated the abbey, and most of the village, to the National Trust in 1944.

Warming room, cauldron, Harry Potter, Quirrell, Lacock

Thanks to the Sharingtons and Talbots, you can wander about the preserved abbey cloisters and adjoining rooms. And, as you do so, you can picture yourself at JK Rowling’s fictitious Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; for Lacock Abbey’s film credits include ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ and ‘Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince’.  The sacristy, where the abbey’s valuables would have been kept, was turned into Professor Snape’s potions class; the chapter house was where Harry found the unsettling Mirror of Erised and the Warming Room (which contains a real Tudor cauldron) became Professor Quirrell’s defence against the dark arts class.  You might recognise the cloisters, too, where Harry, his friends and Mrs Norris the cat, wandered.  Lacock Abbey has also been featured in other film and TV productions, including ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ and 'Wolf Hall' as well as episodes of ‘Robin of Sherwood’.

Chimneys, Lacock abbey

Once you’ve done with all that, you can tour what is now a largely Victorian mansion on the first floor and pop into Fox-Talbot's photography museum.  Lacock is about 3 miles south of Chippenham in Wiltshire, and a magnet for tourists from all over the world.  The village, seemingly suspended in time, has featured in countless period dramas, including Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Moll Flanders and Cranford.

Medieval floor tiles, Lacock Abbey

Visit Lacock’s pages at the National Trust website.

Linking to InSPIREd Sunday.

22 comments:

  1. What a beautiful place and exactly the sort of place I would love to visit.

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  2. beautiful place! jumping from above not recommended...

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  3. What a gorgeous place, Mike! You make such a fine tour guide. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  4. This place ticks all the boxes, and with its film history obviously shows that its atmosphere has permeated the minds of the producers. One for my list I feel. Thanks for the tour once again Mike.

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  5. What a magnifient place. Tom The Backroads Traveller

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  6. What a gorgeous place to stroll through. Yes, the cloisters felt familiar.

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  7. A lovely old place and those cloisters are quite magnificent.

    Diana

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  8. Wonderful pictures of a special place I'd love to visit.

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  9. I always feel so much smarter after visiting you.

    Longsword, eh. Go figure.

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  10. Thank you Mike another p[lace on my listto visit and this one not so far from me.

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  11. I also recall reading about Lacock in one of Robert Goddard's books, Caught in the Light. Thanks, for reminding me, Mike. One day, one day . . .

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  12. I think we tried to visit Laycock once but the place was so busy we gave up. It has an interesting history as you've explained.

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  13. There seems to be a never-ending supply of these beautiful properties in England. I've never visited this one, but now that I know about it, it will be on 'the list.' Thanks, Mike.

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  14. Wonderful architecture. Thanks for sharing.

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  15. Hi Mike,

    What an impressive abbey this is. We visited the little village and abbey several times now, but we always enjoy it!

    Madelief

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  16. just breathtaking!! sorry i am late commenting ... i have been away. ( :

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  17. WoW...what a lovely place!! i would love to see this!!!

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  18. Beautiful photos and a fascinating tour, thank you. It's really not very far from me so it's on my list of places to visit now.

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  19. An amazing place, can't imagine it being bought for the princely sum of £783! Marvelous history which comes alive in this beautifully written post and your photos are beyond outstanding. Thank you for this and also for your visit and kind words to mine.

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  20. Lacock was a very nice place to visit, it was years ago that I was there, but they also had an excellent photography exhibition on at the time.

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  21. A nice set of shots using the light. I had no idea of it's existence which is a shame considering I've had occasion to visit Chippenham 3 or 4 times as a car passenger from Bristol several years ago.

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.