Revealing a hidden gem

I recently wrote an article that was published in ARC magazine in December and have the pleasure of sharing it with you below:

Revealing a hidden gem

Giants of industry, commerce, politics, arts and literature have graced the grand winding staircase to the stately library and many of them left papers relating to their triumphs and disappointments in life.

The Athenaeum is hidden away in the heart of Liverpool, tucked back from the city centre. A Gentleman’s (and now Ladies) club dating from 1797. The Athenaeum was founded by a group of Liverpool’s leading gentlemen looking for somewhere congenial to obtain and read the latest news.  A prospectus was written and circulated promising “to procure a regular supply of newspapers, both town and country; all the periodicals of any value, and all the pamphlets that have reference to subjects of local or general polity or commerce”. There was also to be a library “for the acquisition of general knowledge and for entertainment”. On 1st May 1800 the Athenaeum was opened on Church Street.

I started working at the Athenaeum Library in January 2016 as part of a Heritage Lottery Fund project to set up an archive and improve access to the collections. My first task was to undertake a survey of the archives where I very quickly realised the immense amount of work that was ahead and the vast amount of treasures that were lurking in the stacks and strongroom.

The survey revealed that the Athenaeum housed not only its own collection of archives built up through the daily running of the club but also several large collections that had been donated by Proprietor’s over the course of its 200-year history. These have included the collections of Robert Gladstone Junior, Charles Hutton Lear and Nicholas Monsarrat.

The archive collection paints a vivid picture of Liverpool’s history through its content of: share books, minute books, account books, architectural drawings, legal documentation, scrapbooks, coins, bank notes, watercolour paintings and correspondence.

The collections reflect the range of member’s interests over time. Mr William Roscoe (1753-1831), banker and a leading slave abolitionist was one of the first Proprietors’ of the club. On his declaration of bankruptcy his friends clubbed together to buy his book collection and donated it to the Athenaeum on the understanding Roscoe would have access to it for the rest of his life. The collection is housed in the Committee room and includes original manuscripts and a debtors list compiled upon Roscoe’s bankruptcy.

Dr James Currie (1756-1805), a slave abolitionist and a distinguished Proprietor of the period, was a physician known for his reports on the use of water for treating fevers and as the biographer of Robert Burns. Upon his death in 1805 he had in his possession Burns’s Glenriddell manuscripts which were subsequently donated to the Athenaeum in 1853 by his daughter-in-law Mrs W Wallace Currie. In 1913 the Athenaeum needing to raise money for the Library sold the manuscripts at auction to Mr John Gribbel, an American gentleman. This caused public outcry in Scotland on the grounds the manuscripts would be lost to Scotland forever. Mr Gribbel agreeing that the manuscripts should not be lost to their homeland donated them to Scotland, where they reside in the National Library of Scotland.

Another large collection donated by a Proprietor was by Robert Gladstone Junior. Robert Gladstone Junior was the great nephew of the Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. He left an assortment of papers covering a wide range of topics; one would even go so far as to say he was a bit of a hoarder!

In his archive we have found correspondence dating from the early 20th century regarding; the duties of the RSPCA, British Fasciti, Suffragette movement and the building of the Mersey Tunnel along with ephemera such as Liverpool to Manchester railway centenary ties, special constable buttons off his uniform and a campaign rosette from his political career.

Interestingly, Gladstone’s archive included a large collection of minute books, correspondence and reports of the work of the Civic Service League. A voluntary organisation ran by prominent Liverpool gentlemen and women throughout the First World War. The work of the league included; drill practice, driving ambulances, aiding injured soldiers, sending candles and darned socks to the front line and providing care packages of food to prisoners of war.

The above illustrates a sample of the collections found within the Library of the Athenaeum along with 60,000 books, sketches, maps and charts. Many of the books are rare and reflect the interests of Proprietors’.

In 1848, Washington Irving wrote in his Sketchbook:

“One of the first places to which a stranger is taken in Liverpool is the Athenaeum; it contains a good library and a spacious reading room and is the great literary resource of the place”.[1]

This statement is still true today.

Nicola Hubberstey

Archivist, The Athenaeum



[1] W Irving, Sketch Book, (London 1848)

News from the Archive

Roll up, roll up!! We have another open day on Sunday 11th September and tickets are selling out fast. Due to this exciting event taking place shortly, I thought I would write a little teaser piece on one of the archives that will be on display, Miss Mabel Rich’s scrapbook.

This is no ordinary scrapbook, it contains a collection of letters, autographs and seals from leading figures of the Victorian period.  Miss Mabel Rich was born in Salford in 1856 to Mr Jabez Rich and Mrs Ann Rich, nee Musgrave. Mr Jabez Rich was the Postmaster of Liverpool and due to his position we think he had a hand in helping Mabel with her collection.

The scrapbook contains several pages of letters, seals and autographs. I have listed a few highlights below:

A letter from Sir Robert Peel.

Sir Robert Peel was Prime Minister, twice and is considered the founder of the modern British Police Force. In 1829 he set up the Metropolitan Police Force – it was so successful at cutting crime in London its introduction led to the creation of obligatory Police Forces in all UK cities.

Autograph of Florence Nightingale.

Florence Nightingale was a social reformer, statistician and the founder of modern nursing. Affectionately termed the ‘Lady with the Lamp’, referring to her nightly rounds tending to wounded soldiers during the Crimean War.

Passage by George Eliot.

George Eliot, aka Mary Anne Evans, an author and a contributor to the Realism movement.  In using a male pen name, she ensured her works received the attention they were due.  Notable works include Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss and Middlemarch.

Letter from Elizabeth Gaskell.

Elizabeth Gaskell was a writer famous for her novels North and South, Cranford and Ruth.  She also famously authored a controversially received biography of her friend, Charlotte Bronte.

Letter from Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a poet and author and, along with Wordsworth, a major contributor to and ‘founding father’ of the Romantic movement in England.  His works include ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and the ‘Kubla Khan’.

Autograph of Jefferson Davis.

Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. A proud advocate for slavery, he was a poor leader whose quick temper and obsession with detail is thought to have contributed to the downfall of the Confederacy.

The above is just a taste of the people held within the pages of the scrapbook.

News from the Archive

The Curious Cuttings of Charles Hutton Lear

This week in the archives we have been sorting through a collection of drawings, paintings, prints and letters produced by or relating to the accomplished Liverpool-based artist Charles Hutton Lear (1818-1903).  The collection is eclectic and ranges from folders stuffed full of ephemera (including receipts and library tickets) to individual sketches and artworks hidden in a centuries old newspaper.

The Hutton Lear collection contains a large assortment of drawings inspired by the sea and many studies of figures and faces, but one of the most striking parts of the collection is a group of paper cuts or silhouettes, each of which have been carved entirely by hand.

Silhouette art required artists to draw or more commonly cut and mount black figures which were then set against a pale background.  Typically associated with less well-off artists (portrait miniatures were the trend amongst the wealthier illustrators) the art of paper cutting experienced a surge in popularity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries wherein an artist would cut figures in fairgrounds and busy public areas for a small fee in the manner of a modern-day caricaturist.

Perhaps the most enduringly well-known artist who favoured this style was Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish writer of fairy tales, poetry and plays, who cut cards for hosts in thanks and at dinner parties for the purposes of entertainment.  One particularly extravagant piece of Andersen’s work is produced in the negative and contains a hand carved poem in the centre of the cut, and can be viewed in the Royal Library, Copenhagen, where it is currently held.

Hutton Lear’s own silhouettes are incredibly detailed and include leaves and foliage as small as 2mm in diameter.  His scenes range from the exotic (gazelles, panthers, fairies) to familial portraits of close relations painstakingly produced in miniature and mounted on cream card.  Charles Hutton Lear produced a large number of remarkable landscapes and sketches but there is something unique about a collection of art which is simultaneously featureless and expressive.  Although more commonly remembered for his detailed paintings, we feel as though these deceptively complicated silhouettes are the real gem at the heart of the Hutton Lear material.


Written by Stephanie Bushell

News from the Archive

The archives have been very busy this past month. We have been working on our new database which has enabled us to start cataloguing our collections. We have started with the Athenaeum’s own collection including minute books, accounts and building plans. It doesn’t mean we haven’t been finding any special and unique treasures though!

In a box hidden in the back of the stacks we have found a rather interesting copy treatise with a little handwritten note accompanying it:

‘Early copy of a brief declaration of the Lords Supper written by the singular learned man and most constant martyr of Jesus Christ, Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London, Prisoner in Oxford, a little before he suffered death for the live testimony of Christ’.

This piqued our interest so the archive team set about researching Bishop Nicholas Ridley.

Nicholas Ridley b. c1500 was made Bishop of London and Westminster on 1 April 1550 and was Bishop during the reign of Edward VI. In 1553 Edward VI became ill and started considering a successor to his throne. Bishop Ridley was a strong advocate for Edward’s cousin, the protestant Lady Jane Grey to be named successor over the Roman Catholic Mary (Edward’s half-sister).  At a sermon at St Paul’s Cross, Ridley even went as far as proclaiming the princesses Mary and Elizabeth bastards.

On the death of Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey became de facto monarch for nine days being deposed by Mary. On Mary’s accession to the throne, Ridley was taken to the Tower of London along with the other religious leaders of the English Reformation; Thomas Cranmer and Hugh Latimer. They were later transferred to Bocardo Prison in Oxford to stand trial for heresy.  Whilst in prison, Queen Mary sent Cardinal Pole to examine Ridley and give him the chance to recant his protestant beliefs. Ridley would not alter his position and refused to recant. As a result Ridley was declared heretical and sentenced to degradation from ecclesiastical office and to be burned at the stake for heresy. On 16th October 1555, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were burned at the stake for being heretics.

Nicholas Ridley, Thomas Cranmer and Hugh Latimer are known as the ‘Oxford Martyrs’ for their support of the English Reformation and the separation of the Church of England with the Roman Catholic Church.

The full account of ‘A brief declaration of the Lords Supper’ can be found in our Library in a book entitled ‘The Works of Nicholas Ridley’.

Our copy extract is thought to be an early copy of the declaration as it is written in secretary hand of the same period. We are still trying to investigate who could have written ours but it is known that John Jewell (later Bishop of Salisbury) was notary to Nicholas Ridley during his time in Oxford, could it be him?

News from the Archive

Sir Francis Walsingham’s Letter-Book.

This month we discovered a 17th century copy of the letter-book of Sir Francis Walsingham taking us through the years 1569-73 and 1581. It includes copies of not only letters from Walsingham but also letters to him from key Elizabethan figures such as William Cecil (otherwise known as Lord Burghley) and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. There is even correspondence from Queen Elizabeth I herself, referring to him as ‘our fruitful and well-beloved Francis Walsingham’.

During the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary, the Protestant Walsingham (1532-90) went into voluntary exile, travelling around Europe.  As he met influential foreign individuals and experienced different cultures, he picked up their languages and grasped an understanding of their politics. All of these were assets that were noticed by Lord Burghley and subsequently, after Walsingham become Member of Parliament for Lyme Regis in 1562, he started working for Cecil in 1568. From here on, Walsingham started to play more and more of an important role in Queen Elizabeth’s court.

In 1570, two years after he had started working for Cecil, Walsingham’s language and political skills contributed to his appointment as Ambassador to France. This position lasted for three years during which Walsingham’s objective was to arrange a marriage between the Queen and the Duke of Anjou (the brother of the French king, Charles IX). However, this marriage was not meant to be and Walsingham, motivated by the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s (1572) during which many French Huguenots were killed, returned to England.  In 1573 Walsingham was appointed as Principal Secretary of State (a position which he held until his death in 1590) and in turn became a member of the Privy Council.  His appointment as Elizabeth’s ‘Spy Master’ placed him in charge of a network of agents throughout both England and Europe. This network provided him with information regarding potential invasions and assassination plots. Consequently, Walsingham was able to uncover both the Throckmorton Plot (1583) and the Babington Plot (1586) both of which involved Catholics planning to assassinate Elizabeth and put her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne. Ultimately, Walsingham’s discovery of the Babington Plot resulted in the execution of Mary a year later.

Many of the letters found in the letter-book correspond to Walsingham’s time in France and indeed both Anjou and the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s are mentioned. Meanwhile, the letters from 1569 refer at times to the Northern Rebellion of the same year (also referred to as either ‘The Earls’ Rebellion’ or ‘ The Rising of the North’). Across the time-span, there are also, and rather unsurprisingly, many referrals to Mary, Queen of Scots. Overall then, this letter-book may prove to be a fascinating insight into the world of politics and religion during the Elizabethan era.


Katie Byron


News from the Archive

We have been busy within the archives in the past couple of weeks culminating in the open day on Saturday. What a brilliant day!

In the lead up to the day we had many discussions on the amount and type of archives we should get out and how to display them. Luckily I had help from Steph and Jane. We settled on displaying the Nicholas Monsarrat Collection, including photographs and a film script from the film ‘The Cruel Sea’. We also displayed several items of memorabilia including his binoculars, typewriter, cigar case and manuscripts for several books.

Other archives on display included the passport from 1832, an early copy of Bishop Nicholas Ridley’s treatise, Miss Rich’s scrapbook of letters and autographs and our gruesome propaganda poster warning young women not to stray from the path of righteous and seemly behaviour.

One of our PEOs, John Corbett, spoke about the first Athenaeum minute book and those famous figures that were original members.

It seems the most popular item we had out for viewing was the little book entitled ‘A Topographical view of Liverpool’. This treasure was recently found and holds beautiful views of famous Liverpool Streets as they would have appeared in the early 1800s. We had it open to the page that showed the original Athenaeum building in Church Street along with St Peter’s Church and the Blue Coat school.

However, we were just a tiny part of the day’s activities. The ladies from NADFAS had a wonderful table demonstrating their techniques for the conservation of the Library’s books and explaining the tricks involved in producing natural adhesive. There were also tours around the building, talks in the Newsroom, the Librarians Joan and Vin in the committee room displaying the Library’s treasures, a Poet reciting his work, merchandise on sale and, of course, refreshments in the Dining room.

Thank you to Mr Brazendale and to the PEOs, John and Anna, for organising the event, and to everyone who helped and supported us on the day.


A Surprising Find: The Savage Girl of Champagne

One September evening in 1731 a young girl in search of water stumbled out of a forest and into the outskirts of the village of Songi, near Champagne, France.  As she wandered towards the centre of the settlement the country people slammed doors and windows at the sight of her, whispering of the devil.  Reluctant to approach her, one man set his bull dog loose in the hopes that it might frighten her away; instead she clubbed it to death and climbed a nearby tree where she remained for several hours.  When the villagers worked up the courage to approach her they discovered she could not speak and was dressed in skins and leaves.  The locals (after confirming that she was not, in fact, a demon) gradually adopted the feral girl, and over time they documented her likes and dislikes, along with many of her stranger behaviours, such as her preference for raw meat and her attempts to serve the villagers an apron full of frogs she had caught for dinner.

The story of the girl and her eventual fate is contained within the pages of a little chapbook we found lurking in a corner of the stacks entitled: ‘The Surprising Savage Girl, who was caught wild in the woods of Champagne, a province in France.’  Chapbooks, similar to early broadsides, were popular printed booklets often illustrated with woodcuts and sold for a penny to passers-by.  Our chapbook was produced by T Johnston around 1821 in Falkirk.  The Johnston family had been printing material since 1767 and obtained their first newspaper (The Falkirk Herald) in 1846.  170 years later they are still regularly producing papers such as The Yorkshire Post and The Scotsman.

Chapbooks grew in notoriety throughout the 16th century as printed materials became more accessible and continued to sell well into the 17th and 18th centuries.  The paper was often cheap and tattered and the stories often wildly inaccurate; however, they were often based on truth and some were even historically faithful.  ‘The Surprising Savage Girl’ likewise insists that it contains ‘a true and faithful narrative’.  In researching the feral girl we came across numerous articles and stories, many of which were more expansive than the chapbook’s version of events, but none which suggested that the story was entirely fictional – could it be possible that ‘The Surprising Savage Girl’ is built on a kernel of fact?

Written by Stephanie Bushell

News from the Archive 12 April 2016

We have unearthed some more strange and unusual treasures from Robert Gladstone’s collection. A large amount of parchment slips written in Latin and relating to the late 16th century found in a shoebox!

What are they? Luckily I had Dr Hollinshead and Mrs P Cox to help me solve the mystery. It seems they are receipts/dockets signed by the four Tellers of the Receipt of the Exchequer.



Dr Hollinshead researched the role of the Teller:

The Tellers receipted money paid in, noted the amount in a book, and sent a copy of the entry (called a Teller’s Bill) to the Tally Court so that a tally (reckoning) could be made. At the end of each day, money that had been received was removed from their chests to be deposited in the Treasury.

The Auditor of the Receipt of the Exchequer was responsible for filing and entering the Tellers’ Bills and certifying the monies received to the Lord Treasurer. In the later 16th century the title of Auditor was combined with that of Tally Writer. Again, this office was abolished in 1834.

The Athenaeum dockets all appear to relate to widely different parts of Cheshire and Chester city at a time when the county was a County Palatine with its own royal offices and administration.

The signatures on the slips relate to each of the four Tellers, however, one signature stands out more prominently. Richard Stonley was Teller of the Receipt of the Exchequer between 1554-1597 and was found guilty of embezzlement to the sum of over £12, 600, the equivalent in today’s money of £1,578,654.00. He is also the earliest known purchaser of a Shakespeare work having purchased Venus and Adonis on 12th June 1593. When his illegal activities were found out he was given a reprieve by the crown to sell all he owned to pay back the debt. It is thought he died in prison in February of 1600.

We have already had some interest from researchers into this collection and Ashleigh Hawkins a student studying an MA at Liverpool University will be transcribing a selection of the receipts and using them in her dissertation.

If you interested in the receipts or any other archive collection featured, please email to make an appointment to come in.