That's a Wrap!
PUBLISHED: 12:28 10 March 2008 | UPDATED: 15:03 20 February 2013
Get out the clapper boards, because the heritage village of Lacock and Lacock Abbey, as English as they come, could have been purpose-built by Hollywood for their period drama productions, as many a film company has found out.
Ignore the cars if you can, imagine the odd horse and cart in their place and then take in the scene. This is Olde Englande as it used to be, for many how it still should be, and, for the lucky residents of Lacock, how it still is in terms of the fabric of the village at least, if not in more tangible terms. In appearance, the village is little changed from what it was in the 18th century, although many of its buildings are a good deal older than that and hidden beneath later facades, notably Cantax House and the Red Lion Pub in the High Street. Lacock is an exceedingly well-cared for settlement and the perfect example of a medieval village that grew organically over time before planning legislation was even thought of. In part its remarkable state of preservation may well stem from the village and abbey being linked under single ownerships (and few of them) since the abbey was founded in the 13th century. Certainly throughout the middle Ages, Lacock prospered on the wool trade, being well placed for communications by road and river. Weaving was a major cottage industry with many of the houses being built with wide first floors to accommodate the new broad looms which were developed during the 15th century. That evidence still shows in the houses in the High Street today and the size of some of the dwellings in Lacock point to its wealth.
The overall impression one gets of Lacock is of the untrammelled roads and, even in real life, the streets are relatively free from cars, even if only because they are so narrow (apart from the High Street). But it seems it was ever thus. The transport of the day - horses - would similarly have been kept off the streets with 'horse passages' being built into the houses to facilitate the stabling of the animals in yards at the rear of the properties. Some houses still retain the passages and one particularly well-preserved specimen is found at 'The Sign of The Angel', now a hotel and restaurant in Church Street (and named after a coin rather than the metaphysical being). In a village of old properties, one of the oldest is the George Inn, dating from 1361, a popular pub with tourists and locals alike. Both the George Inn and the Red Lion feature in the Good Pubs Guide.
At the Reformation, the Abbey passed into private hands, first to Sir William Sherrington, then his brother, and later through marriage to the Talbot family from Worcester. The village and abbey came into the National Trust's ownership in 1944 and it goes without saying that they have maintained that same meticulous attention to preserving the village's special character which has been perpetuated throughout its life. Perhaps the most well-known member of the Talbot family in popular memory was William Henry Fox Talbot, the pioneer of photography who invented the negative-positive process and came to live at Lacock Abbey in 1827. Lacock is certainly a photographer's and film-maker's paradise. That fact alone is a huge draw for the village. When I was there, the National Trust Shop was besieged with people wanting information about which locations had been used during the filming of 'Cranford', which was still being screened at the time. The shop itself was a location, and across the road, the Red Lion was a major feature in 'Cranford' as the Universal Stores where the ladies chose their drapery, although you would hardly recognise it since a complete new frontage was specially constructed by the BBC for the duration of filming. The post box outside the village post office was disguised as a water pump and, although the village does possess an authentic (although rebuilt) lock-up it is difficult of access for film-making so a mock-up was constructed in the middle of the High Street. All the doors in shot were also disguised by mock-ups. It might be thought that having a film crew descend on a whole village could be disruptive in the extreme, the villagers are fully consulted whenever a shoot is mooted. The Trust obtains as much information as is possible from the film company concerned and the proposals are put to specially convened village meetings. If it is something that they feel they can live with for the duration, then it gets the go-ahead. If not, then the crew has to think again because the process is that democratic. The village has the complete veto because Lacock is, after all, their home. Not that I suspect they ever use the veto much because the sense I got from a brief visit there was that everyone enjoys the spectacle enormously and revel in the fame that their beautiful village brings them. At the time this article was being prepared, for instance, the villagers had just agreed, in principle, to accommodating Antony Hopkins's new film, a reworking of the 1940s classic, 'The Wolf Man' in the village, where the Tithe Barn will feature as an ice house where bodies are stored.