Lacock Abbey

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Lacock Abbey, a country house with monastic roots, once home to Mr. Henry F. Talbot, the father of photography.

So William Henry Fox Talbot, commonly known these days as Henry Fox Talbot or simply Fox Talbot hated the Fox bit of his name and preferred to be called either H F Talbot or Henry F Talbot. He was a very clever man and a bit of a polymath.

So who invented photography? Well, I can tell you two people who definitely did not. One who didn't was Louis Daguerre who developed a working version of his process circa 1835 (and announced it fully in 1839) from one invented much earlier in 1826 by his business partner Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. The other one was Henry Talbot, he did't invent photography either, though he did invent the very first negative in 1835 and the negative/positive process which was the forerunner of film photography which was the most common and successful form of photography ever until digital took over in the 2000's.

Thus why call Henry F Talbot the father of photography? Simply because his negative/positive process was the one that opened up the world of photography as we know it with its ability to produce multiple positive prints from a single negative image. The Daguerrotype was a dead end technology as each image, no matter how beguiling, was unique and could not be reproduced.

Anyway, Lacock Abbey is where the great man resided and where his invention was created and that very first negative image was made of this window with this type of "mousetrap" camera from this mantlepiece. So, more about the house.

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. She was Lacock's first abbess and served for 17 years. She died in 1261.

Lacock closed in 1539, after 300 years as a religious institution, as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries ordered by King Henry VIII after his break with Rome in 1533. The abbey was bought by William Sharington in 1540 for £730. He transformed the abbey buildings from a convent into a country house. Happily, he chose not to demolish the stone cloisters and its side chambers, which date from the 1400s, thus they still exists today.

He demolished the church and the lady chapel and built the curious octagonal tower on the corner of the abbey in the process.

In 1714, Lacock was inherited by Georgian gentleman, John Ivory Talbot. He lived at Lacock for 58 years and dramatically altered the architecture of the building to fit with the then fashionable 'Gothic' style. 

He added the classically proportioned Dining Room and along with the Gothic Arch in the grounds.

He also added the dramatic Grand Hall and even removed the windows from the eastern rooms of the cloister to create a trendy ruin.

Henry F Talbot inherited Lacock from his father in 1800 when he was just five months old. A pioneering scientist and keen mathematician, he lived at the abbey from 1827 until his death in 1877 having been discovered slumped over his desk in his study. He was buried in the village churchyard.