On Thursday, I arrived early at Lacock. I needed to check something out before the meeting. I opened the gate and walked down the drive to the Abbey. It was quiet. The lull before opening. Bright sunlight in a clear blue sky.
Good to pick out the stonework on the south side. The light and shadow revealed the various phases of building and redesign of Lacock Abbey from its creation in 1232 until William Fox Talbot’s early 19th century gothic bay windows. I stood on the lawn, where the monastic church used to be and looked up. Yes, that’s the window, the subject of his first pioneering photograph (Lacock, the birthplace of photography).
I said hello to the gardener and jumped over the terrace wall, crossing the meadow to the river. Was there really much of the bridge left?. I’d seen it on an 18th-century landscape sketch of the Abbey.. and that bridge had looked rather flimsy. I pushed aside the nettles and peered through the trees. There it was… and the stone bridge abutment foundations were massive. The river was low so I could see a pile of collapsed stone crossing the width of the Avon.
The banks were too steep. The grips on my shoes weren’t good enough. I went back to the Manor Barn for the conservation meeting. Graham the GM agreed to find money to record the bridge remains before the river took it away. I would ask Jane and Tony to create scale drawings, photograph the stonework and report on the evidence.
In the afternoon I went back, this time with my boots on so that I could climb down to the river edge. The stonework looked medieval. The river had cut into the east side of the bridge abutment revealing layers of bridge construction.
When was it built?
The road bridge, a few hundred metres to the south, had been on the site for hundreds of years. 250 years ago, even when the old main road was moved to enlarge Lacock park, the new road still used the old bridge.
Is the ruined bridge earlier than this one? Was it there before the Abbey or was it built for the Augustinian nuns to cross the river? Perhaps it was built for William Sharrington when he acquired the buildings after the monasteries were closed and sold by Henry VIII. The first map of the park was drawn for John Ivory Talbot in 1714 and the bridge was certainly there then.
Let’s hope Jane and Tony can work it out before the river washes away more of the structure. Of course, rivers like the sea are a non-negotiable force. Archaeological preservation by record is usually the only solution.