Saturday 18 October 2014

Lacock Abbey

I'm a bit like Shania Twain when it comes to National Trust properties that have appeared on TV or in films - they don't impress me much. However, I'm going to make an exception with Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.

Lacock Abbey stood in for Hogwarts in many of the Harry Potter films. The cloisters below, for example, were used in numerous scenes, and the Sacristy was Professor Snape's laboratory. 

Lacock is a fantastic place, whether it has Harry Potter connections or not. The abbey was built in the 1200s by Ela, Countess of Salisbury. She sounds quite formidable: she was the only child of the Earl of Salisbury and became a ward of King Richard I when her father died. She married William Longespee and when he died she built Lacock Abbey, where she lived as its first abbess until she died in 1261. Her tomb can be seen in the cloisters.

Lacock survived as an abbey until 1539, when it was closed during the final wave of Henry VIII's Dissolution. It was bought by William Sharington, who turned the abbey into a country house. Lacock was relatively small, so Sharington built on top of it rather than knocking it down. 

Lacock Abbey

And that's what makes Lacock Abbey quite fascinating - it's a house on top of an abbey and you can see the joins all over the place, as in the South Gallery:

Lacock ended up being passed to Sharington's niece, Olive, who had married a John Talbot. The house then remained in the Talbot family until it was passed to the National Trust in 1944.

The most famous Talbot inhabitant of Lacock was the snappily named William Henry Fox Talbot, who changed the world when he invented the photographic negative.

I love the story behind WHFT's invention, even though it makes me feel completely inadequate. Basically, he was on honeymoon on Lake Como and feeling annoyed by his inability to draw or paint the beautiful scenes he was seeing. "There must be a way of committing these images to paper," he thought, and so went home to Lacock and invented a way. I've said it before; if the world had relied on me to invent things, we'd still be sitting in caves in the dark. It would never even occur to me to try and create such a thing.

Anyway, there's a museum that explains WHFT's work and his rivalry with Louis Daguerre. I am still absolutely none the wiser as to how photography actually works, but that's not the museum's fault at all. I could have stayed in there for the next 20 years, with WHFT himself taking me through it, and I would still be clueless.

Lacock also has a Great Hall, which gets another big tick from me, as I do love a Great Hall:

Lacock Abbey Great Hall

There's more. Lacock village itself is also a star of TV and film - Cranford was filmed there, Pride & Prejudice, Moll Flanders, Emma, Tess of the d' name it and Lacock's 18th century houses have been in it. The village is also owned by the National Trust.

But now it's time to move onto the scones. I spent far too much of my time this week on a side project called Scone Forensics. I invented SF to help me work out the age of a scone - I wanted to be a bit more informed on my scone visits, so instead of me saying 'It was a bit dry' I wanted to be able to say 'This scone was 3.48 days old! Give it a bus pass!'.

Using Scone Forensics for the first time (eek), I would say that the Lacock scone was at least a day old and had been kept in an airtight tin. It looked and tasted quite dry, and it had that soft, slightly damp texture that you get from keeping a scone in airtight conditions. I'm not sure why people do it, to be honest. 

I was too scared to go and ask the staff behind the counter if I was right. I once had to take a scone back because it was the wrong flavour and the girl serving seemed so traumatised that I felt guilty for days afterwards.

HOWEVER. Lacock scores very highly for its generous cream portion and for the size of its scone - I reckon you could fit two Cliveden scones into one Lacock scone. It also tasted really nice, despite being a bit dry - it was buttery and very tasty. AND there was a choice of plain or fruit, which is always a treat. 

Lacock Abbey National Trust Scone

On the subject of Cliveden, a correspondent went there recently and tells me that the scones are still very small and don't taste very nice. I'll be honest: this depresses me. I'm not claiming to be some sort of Gordon Ramsey of scones but if someone told me, in a polite and constructive way, that I was selling something that wasn't great value for money, I would change it.

But never mind that: Lacock is fantastic and I highly recommend it.

Lacock: 5 out of 5
Scones: 3.5 out of 5
Sightings of Hedwig the owl: 0 out of 5


  1. I visited Lacock in April. It was tipping it down that day, but I still enjoyed it nonetheless. And your assessment of the scone is spot on. Really enjoy your blog.