William Brown Free Library and Museum

Wednesday, 18 October 1871 - Liverpool, England

William Brown Free Library and Museum
Today I visited the William Brown Free Library and Museum. It was named for a local merchant who made a fortune in American trade and paid for this handsome building. Indeed Liverpool was so grateful they even renamed the road out front William Brown Street. (Formerly Shaw’s Brow for the owner of a nearby pottery factory.)

Liverpool is full of wealthy men leaving their rare collections of books, paintings and objects to the city. Indeed it had become so extensive that the city couldn’t afford to make a facility large enough. That’s when William Brown came to the rescue. He laid the corner stone himself in the spring of 1857. Three and half years later the Library and Museum opened, free to the public.

Newspaper clipping of opening in 1860
The library’s collection in 1871 is over 6,000 volumes of rare and costly works. None of these can be lent out, but anyone can borrow one book at a time to peruse if it stays in the library. Each book is to be checked out on a slip of paper, then returned before leaving the reading room. No one can hand over the book to another reader; they must check out the book for themselves. No one complains about the rules, for while they are strict, they are fair. Besides, there are two lending libraries connected with this library over on Great Nelson Street and on Parliament Street

Walking through the reading room I noticed not only the students I expected, but quite a few chaps that looked to be working class. This public library belongs to them as much as to the wealthy merchants. I also observed a section set aside just for the ladies. This might seem like segregation, but Victorian ladies are ill at ease sitting with strange men. Except for a bit of whispering, everyone is well behaved, whatever their social class.

Entrance Hall
The attached Museum has an impressive selection. The present Lord of Derby donated his late father’s countless natural history specimens. Here too is the “Jackson Collection” of rare British coins. There are several aquariums, an art gallery and plaster casts of famous statues.

The greatest contributor to date though has been Joseph Mayer, a very successful goldsmith. He was quite the collector of Ancient and Medieval Art. There are numerous ceramic pieces, from Wedgewood’s ware to Vauxhall, Staffordshire and Liverpool pottery. Also among the collection are medieval manuscripts, ivories and enamels; Egyptian, Roman and Etruscan artifacts; as well as jewelry, clocks, watches, bronze medals and armour.

Kingston Brooch
I was especially impressed by the Kingston Brooch. Dating from about 630 A.D. it was found last century by Reverend Bryan Faussett in a Saxon grave. It’s made of gold and set with red garnets, shells and blue glass--830 tiny pieces in all, carefully placed by an unknown master craftsman. This is one of the most valuable treasures of Anglo-Saxon England ever found. Thank heavens it finally fell into the hands of the generous Mr. Mayer.

Mayer’s entire collection is appraised at $100,000--a fortune in this day and age. His treasures could fill a museum and indeed did. In 1852 Mayer opened a museum in Colquitt Street. His aim wasn’t to make money, but to show off his collection. After all, what good was it if he was the only one who got to admire it? He freely gave it all to the Liverpool Museum here at Brown’s library in 1867. His dream was for Liverpool to have a great museum like London's British Museum.

Egyptian Hall after Blitz
As for the future of the Brown Free Library and Museum, in 1875-79 the Picton Reading Room will be added and in 1901 the College of Technology and Museum Extension will be opened. Sadly the building will not escape the Blitz. A German firebomb in World War II will gut the building. Luckily most of the collection will be hidden in a safer location and will survive. The Museum will be rebuilt and at the beginning of the 21st century it will be expanded and renamed the World Museum Liverpool.

Even in 1871 it is very impressive. Just don’t come on Tuesdays and Fridays because they close the museum for cleaning. That’s a lot of work for a custodian with a feather duster. (No janitor-bots in the Victorian Age, you know.) I came here when they opened at ten this morning and plan to stay until they close at ten tonight. So much to see.

Picton Reading Room (1879)
College of Technology and Museum Extension (1901)

Lord Derby's Natural History collection with additions

Video of dinosaur roaming future World Museum
(No children were eaten in the filming of this.)

free book: Liverpool’s Museum: First 150 Years
(takes a moment to download)


Edward Rushton's School

Wednesday, 11 October 1871 - Liverpool, England

Today I visited the Liverpool School for the Blind on Hope Street. This building was built in 1851, but the school itself dates back to 1791.

Liverpool School for the Blind built in 1851
This is the very first school for the blind in Great Britain and in the English speaking world. The only one older is the Institute for Blind Youth in Paris founded in 1784. However, Liverpool’s School for the blind is the first in the world to accept students of all ages.

Edward Rushton
The Liverpool school was founded by Edward Rushton, writer, poet and fighter for abolition. He knew that blind people could learn to work around their disability and become more than just beggars. After all, Rushton had.

Born in Liverpool in 1756, Edward Rushton enrolled in the Liverpool Free School when six years-old, until he was nine. At eleven he became a sailor with a local shipping firm. At 17 he found himself on a ship with a shocking cargo--slaves. Rushton was appalled at the conditions the poor captives were shackled in. He would sneak them down food and water. Unfortunately, opthalmia was running rampant through the prisoners. He caught it too and became blind.

Despite his disability, Rushton became a successful writer. Despite his abolitionist politics in a town that made money in the slave trade, he was able to collect enough to start the school for the blind.

Liverpool School for the Blind in 1812
The school now teaches everything from basic marketable skills like knitting, basket weaving and rope making, to classes on music, Braille and liberal arts. Many of the teachers are blind themselves. Perhaps the greatest thing taught here is confidence.

In 1807, a surgeon was able to return Edward Rushton’s sight to one eye. He was able to see Isabelle, his wife of twenty-three years, for the first time. She would die four years later. He would follow her three years later at the age of fifty-eight. Rushton’s school however outlived him and continued on for as long as it was needed, educating generations of blind people.

Before blind schools, the blind had to try to figure out how to manage in a sighted world all on their own. These schools taught them the skills they needed to make their own lives. I’m happy to say the Victorians have set up many more of these schools for both the blind and deaf, and are continually improving their teaching methods.

Victorian doctors are making strides in medicine to find cures to prevent these disabilities. It is thanks to the groundwork laid down by our 19th century ancestors, that blindness and deafness no longer exist in the 27th century. Just one more reason to love the Victorians.

Poems by Edward Rushton

Rushton’s letter to George Washington
criticizing him for owning slaves.

The Liverpool Royal School for the Blind


The Wandering Botanical Gardens of Liverpool

Saturday, 2 October 1871

Wavetree Park with wall around the Botanical Gardens
Today I visited Wavetree Botanical Gardens and Park in what was once the village of Wavetree and is now a suburb in southeast Liverpool. Until recently, with the opening of Stanley Park and the near opening of Sefton, Wavetree was one of the few parks in an urban area desperate for open spaces.

William Roscoe
The Botanical Gardens themselves date way back to 1802 and another part of town. William Roscoe created the Liverpool Botanical Garden near Mount Pleasant on the then edge of town. This was not Britain’s first botanical garden but it was the first subscription one. Wealthy patrons not only contributed money, but more importantly many contributed new plants. Those that owned shipping firms instructed their captains to bring back interesting specimens they ran across from all around the world. Liverpool soon had a Botanical Garden envied by the rest of Europe.

Roscoea Purpurea
William Roscoe is an interesting chap in himself. Lawyer, banker, historian, writer, poet and philanthropist, he was elected Member of Parliament, despite his controversial abolitionist stand. After all, the slave trade was a huge chunk of the local economy. Roscoe collected Renaissance art, rare books and plants. Perhaps it was in his blood, being the son of a market gardener, but Roscoe’s biggest passion was botany. He was so well respected by other botanists that his great friend, Sir James Smith, the founder of The Linnean Society, didn’t just name a flower after him, but an entire genus--the Roscoea, from the ginger family.

Layout of new Garden
By 1836 the city had encroached, and the pollution was effecting the plants. Roscoe had already passed away five years earlier, so his friends, dug up every plant and moved them to the new edge of town at Edge Lane in Wavetree. The eleven acre garden, that included a large greenhouse, was enclosed by a brick wall.

By 1841 most of the subscribers had their own greenhouses. The Botanical Gardens were threatened with extinction when the Corporation of Liverpool bought it to make it a public garden. A large piece of land was bought next door and turned into Wavetree Park.

Wavetree Botanical Garden Greenhouse
Sadly the greenhouse was destroyed in the Blitz in 1941. It wasn’t that Hitler hated orchids, but the Luftwaffe missed the nearby railway. The remains of the Botanical Gardens will be moved again in 1964 to Harthill at Calderstone Park only to be closed twenty years later.

Gardens look tough, but they are delicate things that can disappear when forgotten. I recorded these down to the last orchid and Roscoea. With my data, Liverpool will be able to reproduce a virtual Botanical Gardens. Or if the city gets really energetic, they could reproduce an exact replica with real flowers. That would be fantastic. Gardens are works of art that should be preserved.


Liverpool Sailors' Home

Friday, 22 September 1871 - Liverpool, England

Liverpool Sailor's Home
Liverpool’s fortune is built on the back of sailors. It’s a dangerous life. Storms can sweep you overboard, accidents are common, disease and malnutrition a constant threat. However the perils of the sea are nothing compared to the hazards in port.

Everyone knows sailors get paid when they come into port, and everyone is ready to cheat them out of their money--or kill them for it. Alcohol is watered down with water if they are lucky, toxins if they are not. “Drunk for a penny, blind for two” as the old saying goes. “Judies” are there to take a lonely sailor home...or to an alley to get him rolled by her friends. Inns are dirty, expensive and often unsafe.

sailors near the docks
Authorities shrug their shoulders--they are sailors after all and we all know their reputation. Sailors often come from the desperate lower classes and therefore have no political clout and get no respect. Sailors are usually from somewhere else and don’t know anyone in town.

Inside of the Sailor's Home
Liverpool however knows what she owes these drudges of the sea. And so in 1844 the Mayor of Liverpool called a public meeting to help these exploited fellows. It was decided that a hostel should be built to help sailors. In 1846 Prince Albert himself laid the foundation stone and in 1852 the Liverpool Sailors Home was opened for business.

Railing inside
Now sailors have a clean, safe, and inexpensive place to stay and eat. Liverpool is not the only port to build a Sailors Home, but this city may have the grandest one. The outside is very palatial, but it is even fancier on the inside. The five stories of rooms are arranged around a courtyard under a skylight and ringed by cast iron columns and rails done in nautical themes of dolphins, mermaids and anchors.

There is also a very ornate iron gate out front. It closes promptly at ten every night and is meant to reinforce the curfew. No unruly behavior allowed. Gentlemen only--and that status is determined by conduct rather than social class. Despite the restrictions the sailors are only too happy to comply. There are often 200 guests here every night from all over the world.

Sailor's Home Gate out front
Another accidental service the Home provides is connections. Sober seamen can meet reputable ship captains and secure better and safer employment on seaworthy ships. The Home also offers sick sailors medical attention. And it has a bank for seaman to keep their money safe while in port.

Most importantly though the Sailors Home is just that--a home away from home--a safe port while in port.

A Picture Gallery of the Liverpool Sailors' Home