30.11.11

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)

1 comment:

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LT475.
The image can be seen at wahooart.com who can supply you with a canvas print of it.