Friday, 24 July 2009

In Which There is a Day Out

My parents came to visit at the weekend. They didn’t really come to see me, I just happen to have a conveniently placed house, so the first evening was:

6.15: parents arrive. I give them cups of tea and biscuits
6.30: parents leave
8.15: father returns. I give him supper
9.30: father leaves again to fetch mother
11.00: I lie in bed, listening anxiously for them to return home, in a weird reversal of roles.

Then the next day I went to work.

But on Saturday we went out for the day, to Lacock Abbey.

It’s nice. I like it.

It started life, as the name suggests, as an Abbey - a nunnery, in this instance – ‘abbey’ was a not a gender-specific term in 1229 when Countess Ela of Salisbury founded it. She was a tough cookie.

She was the Countess in her own right, and was married at the age of 9. Her husband (illegitimate son of Henry II) was one of the Barons who signed Magna Carta. They had 8 or 9 children, Her husband was reported to have died while on crusade, but she refused to believe it, and was vindicated when he eventually returned,( possibly to be met with a slightly miffed wife asking ‘what time do you call this?’. ) and promptly died.

The pair of them laid two of the foundation stones for Salisbury Cathedral, and later, after being widowed she established Lacock Abbey and 9 years after establishing the abbey she became a nun there, becoming Abbess about 2 years later. Who knew that fast-track promotion was available in medieval monasteries? I imagine having founded the place did not hurt her prospects.
The nuns then spent the next 300 doing nun-stuff, until Henry VIII came along. Apparently when the Abbey was inspected by the King’s Commissioner he couldn’t find any excuse to dissolve it – the nuns were living within their means, abiding by the Rule of their order, and just going around praying, doing good works and being all poor, obedient and chaste. They got shut down the following year anyway.

Lacock is unusual in that a lot of the original abbey survived – the cloisters and chapter house are almost untouched, and other rooms were converted rather than being destroyed. In the cloisters, there are lots of decorative bosses in the ceiling - I like the the mermaid-goat best. No idea what it was intended to be!

It’s very popular with film makers. The cloisters/chapter house were used in film Harry Potter 1,2 & 6 (the scene where Harry frees Dobby’ f’rinstance, and the classroom scenes) and in ‘The other Boleyn Girl’.

One of the later owners of the house was William Henry Fox-Talbot, who lived in the 19th C. and who was the inventor of modern photography, having worked out the negative/positive process and also how to treat paper to create light-sensitive paper and then to fix images. Because of this, the Abbey often has exhibitions of photographs – currently Aberlado Morell – I hadn’t heard of him, but enjoyed his pictures, many of which use the camera obscura technique to project inverted images on the walls of rooms, and photographing the results.

We also enjoyed the gardens, which included some weird and wonderful plants - Alliums, I think.

They were full of bees – mainly bumble bees, in two sizes, but also honey bees. And Painted Lady butterflies – these are extraordinary insects – apparently they hatch in Morocco, in the foothills of the Atlas mountains. They then (little butterflies, remember?) fly all the way here, then they mate and die. The eggs they lay here in England hatch, and the new butterflies fly all the way back to Morocco and start again.

They seem so fragile it seems impossible that they can make, or survive, such a journey. I wonder whether these are Moroccan butterflies in the twilight of their lives, or young, thrusting butterflies gorging on nectar in preparation for their marathon journey?
In what was the stable block there is a (sadly disused) brewery - origianlly 15th Century, it was still in use until the turn of the 20th Century. Now it is on display, and they keep spare gargoyles on the walls.

Lacock village is also very pretty. It is owned by the National Trust which has kept it’s appearance free of most modern alternations – this means that it is very picturesque, and also very popular with the BBC and filmmakers, (Cranford, Pride & Prejudice etc)

And the tea-shop sells yummy organic ice-cream. Mine was rhubarb & custard, and it was lovely. Lots of little chunks of rhubarb.

Did I mention it was a very good day?


El said...

So if I were to mysteriously show up at your door and expect to move in and have awesome adventures, that would totally be okay, right? :D

Marjorie said...

Well, I can't guarantee the awesome adventures, and you'd have to speak to the cat about who gets to sleep in the spare bed, but other than that...

Ticia said...

What fun! And that ice cream sounds divine!

Kalipha Linden said...

I do adore your photographs of the world as you bimble around it. Makes me feel I should start carrying a camera!

And wow, rhubard and custard icecream? That sounds glorious.