Andrew Williams, B.A., on Friday 11 February 2022


Our speaker, Andrew Williams, who works for the Victoria Gallery and Museum at the University of Liverpool recounted the fascinating history of these two institutions. Andrew delivered an excellent and enjoyable talk.

Neither of their early buildings is in their original use, though they go back many years. The Liverpool Royal Institution (L.R.I.) was founded in 1799, in Colquitt Street, (which runs between Bold Street and Duke Street); the Gregson Memorial Institute (and Museum) was built in 1895, in Garmoyle Rd (parallel to Smithdown Road) at the junction with Avondale Road, as a memorial to members of her family by Miss Gregson. It was originally in an area with little housing, but is now surrounded by streets of small terraced houses. (The Institute only operated for about a decade). The Liverpool Royal Institution acquired much of William Roscoe’s collection as well as the books displayed in the Audubon Exhibition of 1826 (most of this collection was sold to the Walker Art Gallery in the 1890s). Roscoe and Matthew Gregson, the senior member of his family agreed that design “shouldn’t be divorced from utility”. Gregson wrote a book, Portfolio of Fragments relative to the History and Antiquities of the County Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster.

Roscoe and Gregson, who knew one another, differed on the abolition of the Slave Trade, Roscoe supporting abolition, which put him in the minority in Liverpool. Roscoe, though he favoured a gradualist approach to abolition, was even jostled at the docks by sailors opposed to a measure which was unpopular in the city. Roscoe was elected to Parliament in 1806 but stood down the following year. Andrew was able to reveal pictures of Roscoe and Matthew Gregson, the former a remarkably learned banker and lawyer, whose books were widely known. Turning from the two individuals, Andrew Williams told us about the Silver Tickets and medallions designed by Roscoe, which were sold to early members of the L.R.I. to support its setting up: they were then used to gain admission to lectures and exhibitions in the Institution. A board at 19 Abercromby Square, now owned by the University of Liverpool, lists the holders of silver tickets, while Gregson’s silver ticket is in the Victoria Gallery and Museum. Andrew spoke about the business interests of the members of the Liverpool Royal Institution, many of them merchants supportive of the slave trade. Among the former slaves brought to Liverpool was a famous “Black Girl”, a servant of the Coupland family whose picture, drawn in silhouette, survives and is in the Gregson collection.

Liverpool has the distinction of the largest collection outside the USA of John James Audubon material, as a result of Audubon’s connection with Roscoe and his circle. The Central Library’s copy of Audubon’s Birds of America cost a relatively trivial £168 – a brilliant investment, as it would bring a much greater sum if sold today. (The Rathbone Family Trust helped with the purchase). A hint of romance came with the information that Hannah Rathbone was a favourite of Audubon whilst he was a resident of the family and he was very attracted to her, though he had a wife at home in the USA. She was clearly a charming young woman.

The Sydney Jones Library holds archives and special collections and rare printed books from the Liverpool Royal Institution, and some Gregson collection items.

J. Cowell

A Louisiana Heron painted by John James Audubon.

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