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History of Lacock Abbey

An adult and child explore the medieval cloisters at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire
Visitors exploring the medieval cloister at Lacock Abbey. | © National Trust Images / James Dobson

In its 800 years of history, Lacock Abbey has been many things. It started as a nunnery in the 1200s before becoming a Tudor family home. Since then it has evolved with every owner and in 1835, the first photographic negative was captured in the Abbey. Today Lacock is a well-known location for a host of film and TV productions including Harry Potter and Downton Abbey.

1200s: Lacock Abbey was founded

One of the most powerful women of the Middle Ages, Ela, Countess of Salisbury, founded Lacock Abbey on the morning of 16 April 1232.

The cloister and rooms are a rare example of medieval monastic architecture. Ela’s original cloister was demolished in the 1400s and replaced with what you see today.

Stonework details in the walls at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire
Stonework details at Lacock Abbey | © National Trust Images / Mark Bolton

1500s: Lacock's Tudor transformation

Sir William Sharington, Tudor courtier, purchased the abbey after the Dissolution of the Monasteries and turned it into his country house. He incorporated the cloister into the design of his home, an unusual move, and added Italian-inspired Renaissance architecture, including an octagonal tower.

1700s: Gothic alterations

John Ivory Talbot inherited Lacock in 1714 and over 58 years transformed both the Abbey and its garden. He was inspired by the Gothick taste and worked with architect Sanderson Miller to add features such as the entrance arch and Great Hall.

A visitor uses a mirror to admire the ceiling at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire
Visitor using a mirror to admire the ceiling in the Great Hall at Lacock Abbey. | © National Trust Images / John Millar

1800s: Lacock, the Victorian home

William Henry Fox Talbot and his family lived in the Abbey much as it looks today. In August 1835 Talbot captured the first photographic negative, an invention which would change the way we see the world.

The family remodelled the South Gallery, including the window where he famously captured that first negative image.

1900s: Lacock after the Second World War

Matilda Talbot was surprised to inherit Lacock in 1916. She was conscious of her duties towards all who lived and worked on the estate.

During times of hardship Matilda sold some of the Abbey collection to improve the homes of her tenants in Lacock village. In 1944 she gave the estate to the National Trust.

Lacock Abbey today

The abbey has been used as a backdrop for many films and TV dramas, including Harry Potter, Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey. The timeless nature of the architecture makes Lacock Abbey the perfect location.

Timeline of Lacock Abbey


The story begins...

Lacock Abbey was officially founded on 16 April 1232 by Ela, Countess of Salisbury, one of the most powerful women of the Middle Ages. 

She had previously served as Sheriff of Wiltshire and her 1225 copy of Magna Carta was kept at Lacock until 1946 when it moved to the British Museum. She was Lacock's first abbess and served for 17 years before dying in 1261.

Row of cottages in the village at Lacock, Wiltshire

Discover more at Lacock Abbey and the Fox Talbot Museum

Find out when Lacock Abbey and the Fox Talbot Museum are open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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A visitor explores displays at the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire

Discover the history of photography at the Fox Talbot Museum 

Learn about the history of photography at the Fox Talbot Museum, with a collection spanning photographic developments up to the present day.

A close up of handwritten text from the manuscript of William Brito's Expositiones Vocabulorum Bibliae held at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire

Treasures to see at Lacock Abbey 

Three prized items in the collection at Lacock have been included in a special National Trust publication. Discover why they are so unique and where you can find them.

A close up of pink and white apple blossom on a tree in the orchard at Lacock Abbey. The sun is shining and a grassy path dotted with yellow flowers leads off into the woodland in the distance.

Visiting the garden at Lacock Abbey 

Lacock Abbey's peaceful garden is a place to relax. Discover the Botanic Garden, greenhouse, orchard and woodland along with the sounds of nature at this green natural setting.

A visitor takes a photo of a half-timbered house in Lacock village, Wiltshire on a summer day

Exploring the village at Lacock 

Explore the historic streets of Lacock, a quintessential English village with timber-framed cottages and local shops. With its central grid of four streets, Lacock today looks much as it did 200 years ago.

Close-up of a girl holding a sandwich close to her mouth

Eating and shopping at Lacock Abbey 

The Stables café is ready to welcome you for refreshments, while the High Street Shop stocks a wide range of gifts and souvenirs.

A family explore the parkland at Lacock, two adults look on as two children play at the base of an old tree, a willow sculpture representing the sun in its branches.

Family-friendly things to do at Lacock 

Spring blooms, activity trails, medieval architecture and photographic discovery: have a fun-filled adventure at Lacock Abbey. Watch the gardens come to life, explore the nature and wildlife of the season and share the joy of blossom. Explore the abbey rooms and discover the window with a unique link to the invention of photography, find out more in the Fox Talbot Museum and feel inspired by the latest exhibition.

Overhead view of an octagonal table with the figure of Silenus, a drunken follower of Bacchu, in The Library at Claydon House in Buckinghamshire


Learn about people from the past, discover remarkable works of art and brush up on your knowledge of architecture and gardens.

Inside the Pulpit Room at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire

Lacock's collections 

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Lacock on the National Trust Collections website.