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A BRIEF HISTORY

BEginnings

Although it is possible that there was a small Saxon church in Lacock, it is certain that a Norman church was built on the present site towards the end of the 11th century by the two landowners, Edward of Salisbury (Lacock) and William of Eu (Lackham). The dedication to Saint Cyriac commemorates a favourite Norman saint. Not far from the church, Edward’s great great granddaughter Ela, Countess of Salisbury, founded her nunnery in 1229 (Lacock Abbey).

The oldest parts of the building today are the transepts and crossing, from c.1300, which are unusually spacious and high though they were blocked up at higher levels for a long time. Lacock became prosperous through the Cotswold wool and cloth trade and was advantageously sited on the London to Bath road. It was this prosperity that brought about the great rebuilding of the church in the 15th century and created the Perpendicular church on a cruciform plan that we see today.

Left: Sir William Sharington’s tomb. Right: South side of St Cyriac’s.
TUDOR and jacobean TIMES

The Lady Chapel at the north-east end of the church presents a glorious piece of highly carved, and originally highly-coloured decoration, probably dating from 1430. It was built by the Bonham and Croke families, and houses the ornate Renaissance tomb of Sir William Sharington (c.1495-1553), which Pevsner describes as ‘one of the finest pieces of mid-sixteenth-century decoration in England’. Sharington was a member of King Henry VIII’s court, master of the mint, architect, and patron at St Cyriac’s; he was also the first lay owner of Lacock Abbey in 1539 when the monasteries were dissolved. His family’s wealth undoubtedly contributed to the Chapel’s elaborate styling, which continues outside with highly decorated battlements, gargoyles and grotesques.

On the south side of the church, the gabled annex, or ‘Church Cottage’, comprising two storeys and an attic was built in the 17th century. In a rusticated style it was described as the ‘new Yle’ in 1619. It is now the vestry and a meeting room. It was around this time that the recessed octagonal spire of the church was also added to the older tower. Inside are housed St Cyriac’s six bells, of which the earliest two also date from this period. The bells bear dedications to those who sponsored their making, including church wardens, and the foundries that cast them such as originally at Aldbourne, 30 miles east of Lacock. 

VICTORIAN AND Modern Times

There was a substantial restoration of the whole of the interior in 1861 by Sir Arthur Blomfield. The transept roofs were raised, the high box pews and floor slabs remodelled, and the three ‘singing galleries’ removed. Blomfield also presented the church with a 19th century font, and repositioned the organ from the west end to the north transept. Other Victorian additions include stained glass in the south transept (John Hardman), or Lackham Aisle, named after the nearby land-owners.

In 1902, the chancel was remodelled by Sir Harold Brakspear as a memorial to the photographic pioneer (and owner of Lacock Abbey) William Henry Fox Talbot. Early twentieth-century stained glass was also added to the south aisle and tower: in memory of the Awdry family, and of James Wild, headmaster of Lacock School 1879-1917. Later developments included electricity, heating, and adapted vestry space.

Top left: tower window to James Wild, c.1920. Below left: Awdry window, east end, 1904. Right: Lackham window, 1855.