Skip to content

Discover the history of photography at the Fox Talbot Museum

A visitor explores displays at the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire
Visitor in the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire. | © National Trust Images / Arnhel de Serra

Discover the important contributions made to early photography by a former resident of Lacock, William Henry Fox Talbot. The museum celebrates his world-changing breakthroughs in photography and hosts a changing programme of photography exhibitions.

Who was William Henry Fox Talbot?

One man’s scientific curiosity changed the way we see the world, forever. William Henry Fox Talbot was a polymath whose interests ranged across chemistry, botany, astronomy and mathematics, and a pioneer of Victorian photography.

Born in 1800, he was only five months old when he inherited Lacock Abbey. In 1835, he created the earliest surviving photographic negative, taken of a small window in the abbey’s South Gallery.

The first photographic negative

In the early 19th century, images could only be created through the medium of painting and drawing. Frustrated by his lack of artistic ability, William Henry Fox Talbot began searching for a way to 'fix images'.

After some experiments Talbot took an image of a window at his home, Lacock Abbey, in 1835. This image, not much bigger than a postage stamp, is now celebrated as the world’s earliest surviving photographic negative.

Talbot's reaction

Talbot notes that, 'When first made, the squares of glass about 200 in number could be counted'.

This tells us that when the image was first taken it was clear enough to be able to count all the individual panes of glass that make up the window. This window has not changed and can still be seen today inside the Abbey today.

A visitor takes a photo of a half-timbered house in Lacock village, Wiltshire on a summer day
Visitor taking photos of Lacock village | © National Trust Images / James Dobson

The Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock

The Fox Talbot Museum is housed in a 16th-century barn once used as stables. It tells the story of the birth of photography with objects and technology from the early years of photography.

Through the museum, go back in time to see Fox Talbot's small mousetrap camera. Discover how photography developed and the chemistry behind Talbot's process. Find out how two men entered into a race to claim the title of 'inventor of photography'.

Photography exhibitions

The Upper Gallery of the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock houses changing photography exhibitions throughout the year, with a wide range of images and photographers.

From May 27 the Fox Talbot Museum will be hosting Light Struck, a solo exhibition of works by artist and photographer Ellen Carey. Named by the Royal Photographic Society in 2019 as one of their 'hundred heroines' of photography, Carey's work explores two centuries of photographic invention, celebrating colour, light and paying homage to Fox Talbot's early experiments with photograms. She works with a supersized instant camera, using Polaroid technology to marry original photographic techniques with modern processes. Light Struck aims to prompt the viewer to ask 'how is this made?' and 'what is photography in the 21st century?'

Featuring a piece created especially for Lacock in response to Fox Talbot's photogram 'Cascade of Spruce Needles'. The exhibition runs until 31 March 2024.

A group of visitors on a garden tour at Standen in West Sussex on a sunny summer day

What's on at Lacock Abbey and Fox Talbot Museum

From guided tours to exhibitions, family trails and Christmas lights, see what's coming up at Lacock Abbey and Fox Talbot Museum.

You might also be interested in

An adult and child explore the medieval cloisters at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire

History of Lacock Abbey 

In its 800 years of history, Lacock has been an Augustinian abbey, a Tudor family home, a birthplace of photography, and a film and TV location.

A close up of handwritten text from the manuscript of William Brito's Expositiones Vocabulorum Bibliae held at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire

Treasures to see at Lacock Abbey 

Three prized items in the collection at Lacock have been included in a special National Trust publication. Discover why they are so unique and where you can find them.

A view through woodland trees towards the Sphinx Lawn at Lacock, it is foggy and the Sphinx pillar can be seen in the background

Visiting the garden at Lacock Abbey 

Lacock Abbey's peaceful garden is a place to relax. Discover the Botanic Garden, greenhouse, orchard and woodland along with the sounds of nature at this green natural setting.

A visitor takes a photo of a half-timbered house in Lacock village, Wiltshire on a summer day

Exploring the village at Lacock 

Explore the historic streets of Lacock, a quintessential English village with timber-framed cottages and local shops. With its central grid of four streets, Lacock today looks much as it did 200 years ago.

Person holding a hot drink in their hands

Eating and shopping at Lacock Abbey 

The Stables café is ready to welcome you for refreshments, while the High Street Shop stocks a wide range of gifts and souvenirs.

Two children sit in the reindeer sleigh at Lacock, they are laughing and their adult carer stands behind them joining in the fun.

Family-friendly things to do at Lacock 

Have an outdoor adventure at Lacock this winter. Christmas comes on the 25 November when you'll find decorated trees in the Courtyard, a North Pole post box, family activity trail and Storytimes with Mother Christmas in the grotto.