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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

A new exhibition will be coming to the Fox Talbot Museum at the end of June 2024, featuring works from the Royal Photographic Society's International Photography Exhibition.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Family-friendly things to do at Lacock 

Spring blooms, activity trails, medieval architecture and photographic discovery: have a fun-filled adventure at Lacock Abbey. Watch the gardens come to life, explore the nature and wildlife of the season and share the joy of blossom. Explore the abbey rooms and discover the window with a unique link to the invention of photography, find out more in the Fox Talbot Museum and feel inspired by the latest exhibition.