Results 1-3of 3 Reviews
by Barbara Styles
July 9, 2009
by GB from Devizes
Devizes, United Kingdom
September 1, 2006
The first area that you approach is the Botanic Garden. Work was started here by William Fox Talbot in the 1820s, for his inquisitive mind was also very interested in plants, trees and shrubs. He was a founder member of the Royal Horticultural Society, with his most lasting legacy being the creation of the botanic gardens at Kew. He avidly collected plants and seeds and obtained plant specimens from foreign travellers. His letters to his family and friends throughout this period displayed well the enormous expansion and development of botany and horticulture during the mid-19th century.
When Fox Talbot came to Lacock in 1827 to live with his mother, he converted the old stable yard into his botanic garden. He filled it not only with indigenous plants to the British Isles, but also exotic specimens from the four corners of the Earth. When he died in 1877, the garden was abandoned, the exquisite lean-to glasshouses were demolished, and the land became used as allotments by the local villagers during the Second World War.
Restoration commenced in 1999, utilising an old estate map from 1885 to position the pathways and flowerbeds correctly. It is plain to see that much work still needs to be done, not least of all the rebuilding of the old glasshouses. The gardens are planted with many of the plants that Fox Talbot favoured, such as geraniums, campanulas, euphorbias, digitalis and alliums.
To the southeast of the Botanic Garden is Lady Elizabeth’s Rose Garden. This is currently undergoing extensive renovation and re-planting. It is a small, secluded area of the gardens, surrounded by hedges and tall trees, no doubt a place to sit and contemplate. Several gardeners were at work as I passed by. Adjacent to the Rose Garden is the Orchard, a large area full of apple, pear and plum trees that at this time of the year were so laden with ripe fruits that some of the boughs were literally rubbing on the grass below. The Orchard is a walled garden with just a narrow pathway leading to the interior. The north wall is overlooked by St Cyriac’s Church, whose clock-tower bell was striking 1pm as I entered the garden. No doubt the fruit here would have been used in the Abbey brew house to ferment into ciders and perries for the monks to enjoy in days gone by.
Leaving the Orchard now and heading for the Abbey, a strange statue appears before your eyes, known as the Sphinx. Its twin Tuscan columns are in fact old chimneys from the Abbey that were removed by John Ivory Talbot when he built the new hall in 1755. The Sphinx was carved by Benjamin Carter, who saw fame as one of the principal designers of Stourhead Gardens near Frome. He worked extensively on other large estates, although his actual trade was that of a mantelpiece designer and sculptor.
Finally, to the east of the gardens is the Woodland Walk. This lovely, peaceful area consists of several acres of thick woodland bisected by narrow, secluded pathways. Talbot planted many exotic shrubs and trees here during his lifetime, most of which are still in evidence alongside the more traditional oaks, elms, chestnuts and rowans.
He was a keen amateur artist, and it is said that whilst on holiday at Lake Como in Italy, the basic principles of photography came to him as he used the camera obscura and camera lucida as drawing aids. Talbot made the earliest known photographic negative on paper in 1835, this being an image of one of the windows at his home in Lacock. Prior to this point, he had been experimenting with what was called photogenic drawing. This involved coating normal drawing paper with salt solution and, after it had dried, adding a solution of silver nitrate. If he then placed an object on to the paper and exposed it to the sun, an image of that object would appear.
Talbot’s early experiments were read to the Royal Society in 1839, this being considered as the first official announcement of the birth of photography. Talbot’s road of experimentation culminated when he eventually discovered how to form what we would now call a proper or latent photographic image. He achieved this by finding that paper coated with a solution of silver iodide, then washed in gallic acid along with silver nitrate and acetic acid, would allow the image to be seen. In September 1840, he watched as the first picture appeared before him on a sheet of paper. He called his process "Calotype",from the Greek "kalos" meaning beautiful.
Most of his early work was of regular domestic life at his home and many of these images appeared in his book "The Pencil of Nature", the first book ever to be illustrated with photographs. Talbot’s enquiring brain saw him continue his studies in mathematics, chemistry, philosophy, botany and archaeology whilst he continued to improve his Calotype procedures.
He died in 1877, and in the later stages of the 20th century, the museum here was founded. It holds a large collection of his images, notebooks, diaries and journals, as well as much of the experimental equipment he used. There is also a wide collection of all types of cameras, from the early camera obscuras through to the development of the SLR cameras in the 1950s. The upper gallery of the museum regularly plays host to exhibitions of contemporary and 19th century photographers. The museum itself is housed in what was originally a large barn on the Abbey grounds, a fitting showcase for the man who invented modern photography.