If the streets and buildings of Lacock in Wiltshire seem familiar, it will be because you have seen them in Harry Potter movies, but the town has scientific importance as the birthplace of photography in Britain. It has also been used as a setting in other films including Downton Abbey, The White Princess and Cranford.
The historic village of Lacock is mentioned in the Domesday Book, then with a population of 160–190, two mills and a vineyard. It grew in prosperity in the Middle Ages due to it having one of the few crossings on the River Avon, with a market and a thriving woollen industry and was developed as a medieval village from the 13th century onwards. Today, many of original houses remain, along with the tithe barn, the village lock-up (prison cell) and St Cyriac’s Church with its fine carvings from the 14th century.
The Abbey was also founded in the 13th century, as a nunnery of the Augustine order and prospered until the dissolution of the monasteries, when it was sold and eventually a house was built over the old cloisters (in which Harry Potter has also been filmed). The house’s main claim to fame relates to when it came into the ownership of the Talbot family and was the location of William Henry’s Fox Talbot’s photographic experiments, with one of its windows being the subject of possibly the first photographic negative ever made.
Today the house and village is owned by the National Trust and includes the Fox Talbot Museum of Photography, housed over two floors in a 16th century barn which is currently also displaying a photographic exhibition ‘Another Way of Telling’ by Karen Knorr features structures, colours, textures, nature and local fables from her visits to India and Japan. The Museum also houses the Fenton photographic collection, transferred to it from the British Film Institute.