Discover, Explore, Learn

Discover, Explore, Learn is a new initiative funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund to support the digitisation of key pamphlets in our library collection making them accessible to the general public for the first time in the history of the library.  Anyone with an interest in history, the arts and politics will be able to access the pamphlets free of charge.

In addition to digitising part of the collection, the project will enable us to hold a series of open days, workshops and seminars for the public in the library.  We will also create an exhibition displaying some of the library’s rich ephemera including paintings, pamphlets, books and artefacts.  The exhibition will also be free to attend and will be held at the Victoria Gallery & Museum, Ashton Street, Liverpool, L69 3DR Liverpool from 3rd December – 18th June.  Exhibition opening times are: 10am-5pm Tuesday-Saturday.

To take part in the open days, talks, seminars or for more information about Discover, Explore, Learn, please contact: and continue to check for updates on events and activities on our website .




Lottery Update from The Library Chairman

Since we got the good news at the end of September that our bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund had been successful a great deal has been happening.

There are two main planks to our proposal, both with the same aim of opening the wealth of our Library collections to the public. First, we are organising the digitisation of most of our pamphlet collection.  These booklets which have been collected methodically since the opening of the Athenaeum in 1797 cover a huge range of topics and are the equivalent of Twitter and Facebook.  These were places individuals express their views, concerns aspirations and plans.  They are the authentic voice of the people and our collection is rare, covering a wide range of topics including economic, political, religious and plain bizarre – such as the plan for eliminating drunkenness in Liverpool!  The pamphlets are an invaluable source for historians and we are making them available to the world.

The second major part of our plan is to appoint a Community Engagement officer who will visit schools, colleges and universities demonstrating the wealth of material which we can make available, inviting visits and, hopefully, setting up projects like those undertaken by Alsop High Scholl where the teaching staff and the library co-operate to open up lost worlds to the students.  We also intend to appoint a part time professional archivist to help with the organisation of our collection. We have received applications for both these posts and interviews will be held shortly.  Watch for further details.

On 19 November the exhibition ‘Knowledge is Power, Private Libraries in Liverpool 1770 – 1850’ which is largely concerned with our collection and is supported by Investec opened at the Victoria gallery and museum of the University of Liverpool.  Open daily Tue – Sat free admission.




From a Proprietor

Before the ‘Windrush’: Race Relations in 20th-Century Liverpool has been written by John Belchem, Athenaeum proprietor and Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Liverpool. The volume was published by Liverpool University Press in 2014. Liverpool’s cosmopolitan society of transients and settlers from various locations date back several centuries. This book concentrates on the twentieth century and black Liverpudlians. It considers the racial discrimination that they faced, despite pioneers initiatives in race and community relations. Many blacks continued to regard themselves as marginalised and disadvantaged throughout the twentieth century. A variety of source material is used in the book to establish the historical context and the debates about ‘empire’, as well as to investigate Liverpool’s own situation.

Janet Hollinshead

For Music Enthusiasts

The Athenaeum Library is grateful to Her Honour Judge Elizabeth Steel (Christie) for donating to the institution quite a number of her late husband’s books. They range over a number of topics and include several with a musical flavour. One of these is the autobiography: Sir Geraint Evans: A Knight at the Opera – published by Michael Joseph in 1984. The Welsh miner’s son became an international opera star. He made his debut in 1948 after wartime service with the RAF. He studied at the Guildhall School of Music and then auditioned successfully for Covent Garden Opera Company. The book recounts the baritone’s experiences and roles in opera houses all over the world. This volume appeared in 1984 to coincide with Geraint Evans’s farewell performances.

Janet Hollinshead

You thought you knew the Port?

If you thought that you knew the port, Adrian Jarvis’s book Liverpool: A History of ‘The Great Port’ (Liverpool History Press, 2014) is bound to have something new to say. The volume is full of detail with many illustrations, some in colour. Jarvis concentrates on the period after 1672 when the land that became the first dock was acquired. Many factors that supported the development of the port are examined. An intriguing part of the book deals with the problems of running a port-city, as well as coping with the interests of the ship-owners. Issues such as what to do with obsolete docks are included. This story of the port is brought right through the twentieth century and up-to-date in a most comprehensive way. Available in the Athenaeum library and in Liverpool Central Library.

Janet Hollinshead

The Roscoe Collection

One of the important treasurers of the Library is the William Roscoe collection of books and manuscripts. They were purchased by his friends at a book sale in 1815 and presented to the Athenaeum. This important collection is often the subject of enquiries and recently we have welcomed several overseas visitors who are interested in seeing particular items for their field of research. William Roscoe was a founder member of the Athenaeum in 1797.


Joan Hanford.

From Charleston to Constantinople

On the days from 4th June until midday on June 6th Proprietors and visiting academics heard interesting accounts of the use tea, coffee chocolate in the 18th century. From Charleston to China, Uppsala near Stockholm to the highlands of Ethiopia, discussion and talk in the library has, for three days, been concerned with the epochal moment when hot drinks apart from mulled ale became widely available. These new colonial products changed life in many ways and their use brought about movements in the artistic filed, in economy, in politics and society.  They enjoyed enormous popularity but also came with medical warnings of the dire effects of excessive consumption.

The workshop organised by 18th century Worlds, the University of Liverpool and the Athenaeum, brought young academics from Uppsalla, Frankfurt am Oder, Salzburg and Liverpool to tell of their researches into these magical beverages.  The Athenaeum was not neglected and I was able to relate some of the nuts and bolts details of setting up our own Coffee Room.

The workshop opened with a keynote lecture by Professor Markman Ellis from Queen Mary’s College in London who described the development of the trade in tea between Britain and China in the Seventeenth Century.

As well as the formal sessions plenty of opportunity was give for informal discussion over the refreshments provided by our catering team and the dinner, hosted by Professor Eve Rosenhaft on the Thursday night.

If you missed this event and are interested in attending future study sessions they show every sign of becoming an annual highlight of our calendar.

Nevil Shute: Engineer and Author

Many Proprietors may well be familiar with the books, and the films based on them, written by Nevil Shute. Parallel Motion: A Biography of Nevil Shute Norway by John Anderson is a new book into the Athenaeum library. The volume was published by The Paper Tiger Inc. in 2011. It covers Shute’s remarkable career as both an engineer and author. The volume deals with his childhood and education, his early work for de Havilland, and contribution to the R.100 airship. Then Shute began writing novels and continued the activity during wartime whilst working for the Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development, and the Ministry of Information. Not until the late 1940s did he go to Australia where he and his family eventually settled. After quite a prolific output of books, Nevil Shute died in 1960. A volume well worth a look to find out more about a well-known name.

Janet Hollinshead

Lightnight 2015

On Lightnight at the Athenaeum visitors were welcomed in to view the Newsroom and the Library and see some of the many treasures from the book collection that span the centuries.

Amongst the books on display a volume of the Atlantic Neptune attracted a great deal of interest. The two volume work contains maps and charts of the North American coastline enabling mariners to recognise the salient points of their destination. It was completed at the end of the 18th Century by Naval Hydrographers and has been in the Athenaeum Library since 1800. Many people are surprised to find this beautiful building right in the heart of the city

Joan Hanford


The Light Shines In The Dark

On the night of Friday 15th May the Athenaeum Library once more took part in the annual Lightnight Festival when libraries, galleries and museums, not usually open at night, welcome visitors.  Our library offered a series of guided tours; visitors saw the Library reading room, the stacks and the Committee Room where a large number of our rare books were on display.  After a brief introductory talk and a look around the Library the guests moved to the Committee Room where Mrs Joan Hanford and our volunteer Jane Wilkinson talked about and displayed a few of our treasures.  Afterwards a many took advantage of the refreshments and food available in the News Room.

Well over a hundred people paid to take the tour and it is a good indication of the interest in the Athenaeum that exists on Merseyside.  It is worth noting that several of our visitors expressed interest in becoming Proprietors or joining the Friends of the Library.

I am sure that all Proprietors will appreciate that the considerable success of the evening depended largely on the unstinting efforts of our staff, who as usual gave up their time and energy to ensure success.  Can I also thank the Proprietors who came to help welcome the visitors and guide them around the building.

The next Library event is the Antiques Evening on June 11 when we welcome Jeremy Lamond, well known on television antiques programmes. During the course of an informal supper with a Spanish tapas theme Jeremy will examine, and appraise at least some of the objects that you bring it (he can talk about most things but asks that you do not bring jewellery.  The cost is £28.50   This is expected to be a very popular event and early booking is advised.

On June 4 -6 the Athenaeum will be hosting an international seminar organised by Eighteenth Century Worlds study group base at the University of Liverpool with a keynote speaker on the night of June 4 and papers and discussions on the Friday.  The theme for this annual event is the social, artistic and economic history of tea, coffee and chocolate drinking in the long 18th century.  As the Athenaeum was one of the first Liverpool coffee house it has a special significance for us.  Proprietors are welcome to attend the opening keynote lecture and other parts of the seminar on payment of a fee.  Details Prof. Eve Rossenhaft, University of Liverpool