by Barbara Ballard
Wander into the 18th century. Feast your eyes on thatched and stone cottages. Revel in Tudor, half-timbered black and white buildings. Lacock, on the southern edge of the Cotswolds, was once a centre of the medieval wool trade. Today it still reflects those times, and no TV aerials, overhead cables or yellow lines on its streets spoil the scene.
The village started its life in Saxon times. Norman lords then ruled the area and built a church in honor of St. Cyriac. Lying on the direct London to Bath route, the village prospered, and the church was rebuilt in the Perpendicular style in the 15th century.
The black and white timbered 15th century wool merchant's house, now "The Sign of the Angel",occupies pride of place on the main street. Wander inside to partake of old beams, low ceilings, creaking floors and crooked walls.
Cruck House continues the feast with its bent wooden beams leaning to hold up the roof. The Tithe Barn, also constructed in the cruck beam manner, retains its dirt floor.
The Packhorse Bridge, built in the 18th century, plied its trade on what was the main road from Lacock in medieval times. It solved the problem of passage when the Byde Brook was in flood.
Lacock Abbey, in the village, was founded in 1232, by Ela, Countess of Salisbury, This unusual lady-she was the first and only female sheriff of Wiltshire-built the Abbey as a tribute to her husband and became its first Abbess. At the dissolution of the monasteries, the Abbey was turned into a country house and its church was destroyed. Fortunately, it still retains its cloisters, sacristy, chapter house and monastic rooms. Fine furniture, portraits, and stone carvings please the eye's palette.
Enjoy the 16th century stable courtyard with its half-timbered gables and bakehouse. Wander in the Victorian woodland garden amidst its spring flowers and roses. At the entrance to the grounds is the Fox Talbot Museum dedicated to William Henry Fox Talbot, who invented the positive-negative film process and is known as the father of modern photography. Thanks to his granddaughter, who presented the Abbey and village to the National Trust, we can, today, partake of the past.
Lacock is located just off the A350, 3 miles (5km) south of Chippenham.
By road from London: leave the M4 motorway at junction 17, take the A350 south. Follow signs for Chippenham, then for Melksham.
By road from Bath: leave Bath on the London Rd. and follow signs to A4 to Chippenham. Before reaching Chippenham, turn right at roundabout following signs for A350, Melksham.
By rail: Chippenham has a train station on the main line from London Paddington and Bath Spa and Bristol. From there a bus or taxi for 3 miles to Lacock.
Museum, Cloisters and Garden
Open end Feb.- end Oct., daily 11am-5:30pm. Museum open winter weekends, except Christmas holidays. Abbey: 1st April-end Oct., daily except Tues., 11am-5:30pm.
Accommodations (personally experienced by the writer)
The Sign of the Angel
The Red Lion Pub