Lacock Abbey, dedicated to St Mary and St Bernard, was founded in 1229 by the widowed Lady Ela the Countess of Salisbury, who laid the abbey's first stone 16 April 1232, in the reign of King Henry III. Her late husband had been William Longespee, an illegitimate son of King Henry II.
Generally, Lacock Abbey prospered throughout the Middle Ages. The rich farmlands which it had received from Ela ensured it a sizeable income from wool.
Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the mid-16th century, Henry VIII of England sold it to Sir William Sharington, who converted it into a house starting in 1539, demolishing the abbey church. Few other alterations were made to the monastic buildings themselves: the cloisters, for example, still stand below the living accommodation. About 1550 Sir William added an octagonal tower containing two small banqueting chambers, one above the other; the lower one was reached through the main rooms, the upper one only accessible by a walk across the leads of the roof. In each is a central octagonal stone table carved with up-to-date Renaissance ornament.
The Abbey also underwent alterations in the 1750s under the ownership of John Ivory Talbot in the Gothick Revival style. The architect was Sanderson Miller.
The house eventually passed to the Talbot family. It is most often associated with William Henry Fox Talbot. In 1835 Talbot made the earliest known surviving example of a photographic negative, a photogenic print of the oriel window in the south gallery of the Abbey. Talbot continued with his experiments at the Abbey and in 1840, discovered the negative/positive photographic process, upon which modern photography is based.
The Abbey houses the Fox Talbot Museum devoted to Talbot's pioneering work in photography and the original photograph of the oriel window he developed.