Sunday, June 7, 2015

Lacock Village, a Town Preserved in Time

by Diane Scott Lewis

In 2000, when I was traveling through England researching my eighteenth century novels, my husband and I visited the city of Bath. I discovered that an eighteenth century village, perfectly preserved, was nearby along with Lacock Abbey; unfortunately the abbey was closed. We took the tour of this fascinating step back in time.

A settlement had existed here in this rural county of Wiltshire since the Iron Age. The Saxons called the Bide Brook, which flows through the village, “lacuc” meaning “little stream.” In the Domesday Book, Lacock is said to have belonged to Edward Salisbury, Sheriff of Wiltshire.

Though touted as an eighteenth century village, several buildings date to an earlier time.

Lacock Abbey was founded in the early thirteenth century and most of the inhabitants of the village were tenants of the abbey. They were expected to perform various duties on the manor lands in return for their holdings, such as spreading dung over the fields. At certain times the village folk might be granted milk from one cow for eight days. They paid their rents in kind: corn; hides; and fleeces were collected in the still-standing fourteenth century tithe barn.

The tithe barn is of cruck beam construction, (a curved beam, one of two, which supports the roof of a building) as is the Cruck House on the corner of Church Street. The curved beam can be seen on the outside of the Cruck House, and is a rare example of this construction in south England.

During the Middle Ages, Lacock thrived with its wool industry. In the fifteenth century wide looms were introduced and many houses were built with broad first floor rooms to lodge them. The large size of several houses shows the wealth of these inhabitants. Some of the dwellings still have their “horse passages.” These narrow passages allowed for horses to be led from the street through the house, and to the stables in the backyard.

At the Dissolution of the Abbeys, Sir William Sharington, from a wealthy Norfolk family, bought the property in 1539 for £783. After nefarious dealings with coinage that involved Lord Thomas Seymour, Sharington confessed, blamed Seymour (who was beheaded) and had to buy the properties back at £8,000. His sixteenth century brewery remains in the Abbey courtyard.

Sharington’s holdings passed to his brother Henry, and Henry’s youngest daughter Olive married Sir John Talbot. Talbot’s family has been connected with Lacock ever since.

Talbot made many changes to the Abbey and the village changed as well. Brick buildings were added in the eighteenth century, or facades were simply bricked-over.

This included the Red Lion public house which dates from 1740.

The oldest public house in Lacock (700 years) is the George Inn in West Street, which holds the longest continuously held liquor license in the West Country. My husband and I had lunch there. If I remember right, there was a dog wheel built in the wall, where dogs were once “encouraged” by hot sticks to run and turn the spit for roasting meat in the huge hearth.

Lacock’s wool trade came to an end with the general decline in the West Country during the Industrial Revolution.

In 1916 Charles Henry Fox Talbot bequeathed the Lacock estate to his niece, Matilda Gilchrist-Clark. She took the name of Talbot. In 1944, she gave the estate, 285 acres, the Abbey and the village to The National Trust.

Sources: Lacock, an illustrated souvenir, The National Trust, 1999

Lacock photos taken by George Parkinson (author's husband)


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  1. Interesting and informative. I love old buildings, and I especially like the idea of a village preserved as it once was. What a wonderful place for your research.

  2. Thank you for your interesting article. How wonderful it would be to visit a village and know that you are walking where people have walked for centuries! Thrilling.

  3. This is a wonderful little town. We stopped here for lunch on our last trip to England. Frozen in time.


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