The Athenaeum & Slavery

Thank you to the Liverpool Black History Research Group (LBHRG) who have recently shared the findings of Phase 1 of its investigation into the business activities of founding Proprietors of The Athenaeum and their connections to the trade in enslaved people. Full details of their research can be found at the LBHRG’s website The Athenaeum pledges its support for Phase 2 of the groups research and would welcome the LBHRG to present its findings to the public here at the Athenaeum.

A statement in response to the findings can be found below.

June 19th 2024

The Athenaeum is one of the Country’s oldest and prestigious private members club and is very much aware that a number of its early founders were involved in the slave economy.

We are currently working with Liverpool University to explore these links with this abhorrent economy and its impact on the wider industrial revolution of the city and region.

In addition, we are looking forward to working closely with the International Slavery Museum, ensuring our library and archive may become a resource for study and research, to support a clear understanding of Liverpool’s role in the slave economy.

Our recently appointed Curator of the  library & collection has an objective to develop access and engagement for all communities, and we welcome the findings of the Liverpool Black History Research Group, whom had access to our archive, in informing our plans for the interpretation of our history alongside that of the true role of  abolitionists, radicals and freethinkers, that were  also early  founders  of the Club.

Today the Athenaeum is very different place, reflecting the diversity and vibrance of the city of Liverpool. The recent allegation of racism was investigated both externally & internally and were unfounded, though such matters are taken seriously by the Institution.

The Club remains a special and unique place in the city and welcomes both its members and thousands of visitors from all over the world and from all walks of life.

Guided tours are available throughout the year for everyone to enjoy the building and its collections.

From Roger Phillips, Chair of the Governing Board  “ Many thanks to the Liverpool Black History Research group for the excellent research they’ve done. We will ensure that this part of the Athenaeum’s history is fully recognised”

From Dr Paul Burns, President of the Athenaeum “Laurence Westgaph and the LBHRG have done an excellent job in researching the history of the Athenaeum’s links with the transatlantic trade in enslaved people.

This is an important part of our history and the history of our city. It is essential that we acknowledge and engage with it.  I myself have had several fascinating conversations with Laurence while he was researching at the club, and he  kindly shared some of his findings with us in a very enlightening talk two years ago. I look forward to reading the results of his research in full.

As with our predecessors, our current members include people of many different backgrounds and diverse (often opposing) views. Of our first four Presidents, two were slave traders and two were abolitionists. We cannot change our history, but we can, and must, learn from it. 

 At the Athenaeum today we seek to create a welcoming environment for all, a place where we study, engage in discussion or simply enjoy each other’s company.  ”