The village and parish of Lacock lies between the towns of Melksham and Chippenham. The parish of Lacock consists of the village of Lacock and surrounding areas, including Bowden Hill, Notton and Reybridge. The Lackham estate lies directly north of Lacock and is now an agricultural college. The River Avon also runs through the Parish.
At the time of the Domesday Book, 1086, the settlements at Lacock and Lackham were roughly similar in size although Lacock possibly had a small church. Estimating population from the Domesday returns is difficult but modern interpretation of the record would suggest a population for Lacock of between 160 and 190 and for Lackham between 170 and 200. Lacock had 2 mills and 1/2 an acre of vineyard while Lackham also had 2 mills.
In 1232, Ela, Countess of Salisbury, founded a nunnery at Lacock and proceeded to build an Augustian house, now Lacock Abbey. Ela, herself became a nun and then abbess at Lacock. The nunnery continued to run until the dissolution of the abbeys whereby Lacock was handed over to Sir William Sharington in 1540 who converted the abbey into a manor house. Over the next 400 years the abbey passed to the Talbot, Davenport and Fielding families. Various alterations were made to the Abbey and grounds, primarily by John Ivory Talbot who added the Gothic entrance hall. The most notable owner was Henry Fox Talbot who is seen as the father of photography and produced one of the first photographic images of the Oriel Window in Lacock Abbey. In 1932 Matilda Talbot held a medieval pageant at the abbey to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the founding of the abbey. Villagers and participants dressed up as various Medieval professions from peasants to lords and ladies. In 1944, Matilda Talbot handed over the Lacock Abbey and Estate to the National Trust due to the financial difficulties of managing and maintaining the Abbey and village.
The village of Lacock originally thrived during the time of the nunnery and afterwards due to the local wool industry until the 18th century. Thereafter, the village relied on the tannery industry and in more recent times the tourist industry. In 1935 the Little Byde Brook flooded causing a large amount of damage to the village, washing away part of one of the bridges. To this day the Little Byde still floods regularly, including in 1968 and most recently in 2014. Lacock was, to all intents and purposes, a self sufficient village with various shops, grocers, blacksmiths, carpenters. coal merchants etc located in the village and serving the surrounding areas. In 1968 the by-pass was built, reducing traffic through the village; however the rise of the motor vehicle led to the decline of the village shops which were replaced by those in Chippenham or Melksham.
Today Lacock is very much a preserved village, mostly owned by the National Trust, and with very few structures in the main village later than the 18th century. There are no television aerials or other obtrusive features of modern life and this has made it an ideal setting for period films and television programmes. Despite being a National Trust tourist attraction most of the houses are lived in by people (who rent from the National Trust) whose families go back several generations in the village. The village also still has a school, shop and post office and a bakery. A family business of goldsmiths and silversmiths, now spanning two generations, has been in the village since 1972, there is a pottery, good inns and tea-rooms. Apart from visitors to the village, Abbey and the Fox Talbot Museum of Photography this is a thriving local community, a fact that is often forgotten.
Lacock is also a famous film set with BBC adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and Cranford being filmed there. Scenes from Harry Potter and the Philosophers’ Stone and Half-Blood Prince, including Harry Potters’ family house Godric Hollow, were filmed in the village and cloisters in the Abbey. Most recently the village has been used for the upcoming season of Downton Abbey in 2015.