William Henry Fox Talbot

1800 - 1877

and his life in



   Photograph of Talbot taken by John Moffat in 1864

Talbot's connection with Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire is well known.  This was originally a nunnery, founded  in 1232.  Talbot's family had lived there since the sixteenth century, but due to the family's financial circumstances, they were not able to afford to live there at the time of his birth.

William Henry Fox Talbot's home, Lacock Abbey

Talbot later returned to Lacock Abbey, and there he carried out many of his early photography experiments.  The building now houses a museum dedicated to the work of Talbot.

Talbot is best remembered for his photographic discoveries, but he also had expertise in mathematics and optics and was a keen astronomer and archaeologist, with a good knowledge of ancient Greek and Hebrew.

Talbot's photographs, negatives documents and equipment were donated by his grand-daughter in 1937, some to the Science Museum , some to the Royal Photographic Society.

1800 Born at Millbury, Dorset.  His father heavily in debt a few months later, leaving WHF Talbot as the only child from this marriage.
1804 Talbot's mother, Lady Elizabeth Fox Strangeways, married Rear Admiral Charles Fielding.  Talbot had two half-sisters from this marriage.
1808 - 1811 Attended Rottingdean boarding school.
1811 - 1815 Attended Harrow school.
1815 - 1817 Given private tuition.
1817--1821 Attended Trinity College, Cambridge.
1827 Returned to the family's ancestral home, Lacock Abbey.
1832 Elected Fellow of Royal Society, having written many papers on mathematics and optics.
1832 Elected Member of Parliament for Chippenham.  He chose not to seek election for the following parliament in 1835, to leave more time for his other activities.
1832 Married Constance Mundy of Markeaton
1833 Honeymooned in Italy, where he drew Lake Como using his camera lucida.

Sketch of Lake Como in Italy by Talbot  -  October 1833

 He determined to find a way to fix these pictures on paper.


Experimented and managed to fix images on paper.

Shadowgraph of a leaf fern produced by Talbot in 1836


Produced his first camera image on paper the lattice window at Lacock Abbey. 

Cameras used by Talbot  -  1835 to 1839

His surviving negative is dated August 1835.  It is about one inch square.

Print made from the oldest negative in existence  -  The Latticed Window at Lacock Abbey, photographed by Talbot in 1835

1839 Announced his discovery of photography (photogenic drawing), displaying his work at the Royal Institution on 25 January and presenting a paper to the Royal Society on 31 January.
1840 Found a way to reduce the exposure needed for his  pictures by using gallic acid to develop his images before fixing them.
1841 Patented his Calotype Process.  He was to take out further patents in the 1840s and 1850s, for engraving, photography and the internal combustion engine!

Patented his Calotype Process and continued to take  photographs in and around Lacock Abbey

William Henry Fox Talbot   - Portrait 1842       William Henry Fox Talbot  -  Lacock Abbey Coachman


Set up his printing works at Reading.

Talbot's Printing Establishment at Reading, photographed around 1846

This enabled him to produce large numbers of photos to be tipped in to his book, Pencils of Nature, the first book to be published with photographic illustrations.

1851 Turned his attention and knowledge of Hebrew and Greek to translating the Assyrian cruciform inscriptions.
1851 Scott Archer published his wet collodion process, which superseded both the Daguerreotype and calotype processes.
1860 Retired to Lacock
1877 Died, aged 77.


Many books have been written on the life of Talbot.  I found the following two small illustrated publications to be particularly helpful and readable:

Fox Talbot (John Hannavy)  Shire Publications Ltd:  Lifelines 38  3rd edition 1997
ISBN 0 7478 0351 X

The First Negatives (D B Thomas)  A Science Museum Monograph  2nd Impression.1970
SBN 11 290089 5

-   Peter Marshall's About Photography web site gives some of the early family details listed above.  However it says that Talbot's attendance at Harrow School from age 11 lasted for one year only, during which time he was elected Head Boy and expelled from chemistry lessons for causing an explosion. 

-  However, In the timeline above, I have assumed that the dates given in Prof. Larry J Schaaf's Talbot Correspondence web site are correct and that Talbot attended Harrow for four years before being taught privately for two years then attending



William Henry Fox Talbot

Discovery of Photography

Life in England

Connections with Edinbrugh


Photos, Sketches and Engravings

Pencil of Nature