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The Athenaeum
Rob Ainsworth   17 November 2006

The Athenaeum
Church Alley, Liverpool. L1 3DD.  Tel & Fax:   0151 709 7770

The Athenaeum is a haven in the heart of Liverpool that offers a distinguished setting and an atmosphere unrivalled in the city of Liverpool. It was founded in 1797 to provide a meeting place where ideas and information could be exchanged in pleasant surroundings. Today, the Athenaeum continues to provide this facility in the elegant building erected in 1928 near the famous Bluecoat Chambers in Church Alley. In addition to its newsroom, the most splendid room of its kind in Liverpool, the Athenaeum has a justly renowned library, a very attractive dining room and a smaller meeting room. The Institution is normally open from 10am to 4pm each day. The premises are also open for occasional evening functions. There is no overnight accommodation but special rates can be obtained from nearby hotels.

The Athenaeum has a distinguished membership of proprietors drawn from every walk of life across the city of Liverpool and the North West of England. Early proprietors took a major part in the national movement to end slavery. Past proprietors have included Nobel Laureates. Today the proprietorship is drawn among others from those engaged in commerce, the church, the law, the city’s large academic community, public service and the armed forces.

The heart of the Athenaeum is its library, one of the greatest proprietary libraries in the United Kingdom. In 1848, Washington Irvine 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."

The "good library" of 1848 has grown considerably. Containing books, prints, maps and charts, it is one of the most important regional history resources in the country. Although the privileges of the Athenaeum are primarily reserved for its proprietors, arrangements can be made for researchers and others, if introduced by a proprietor, to make use of the library under conditions agreed by the committee.

The Athenaeum was founded on 22nd November 1797. For the twelve months following November 1997, proprietors have been attending a number of functions commemorating the splendid achievement of their 200 years of existence. Events will have included a banquet in the Town Hall, when the principal guest was the Lord Chief Justice of England. This was followed by a luncheon attended by the past and present Lord Mayors of the city of Liverpool, when the present Lord Mayor presented a scroll in recognition of the bicentenary. There will have been two lectures whose themes have shared a common thread of millennium issues, a concert and a final celebration luncheon honoured by the presence of His Royal Highness the Duke of York.

The Library

The heart of the Athenaeum is its famous library. The Reading Room has been called ‘one of the handsomest rooms in Europe’. It is frequently used as a film and television location. The library has some 60,000 items in stock in the reading room, on two floors and a glass floor. A further three bookcases stand in the newsroom and the committee room houses rare books and the Roscoe collection (see below). The library covers all subjects and is arranged Dewey order. The collection of books and pamphlets dealing with local matters is of great importance. It includes bequests made by notable antiquarians. There is also a good collection of local maps and charts. The library also houses a fine collection of drawings of Liverpool buildings made by James Brierley between 1828 and 1830 and also pencil sketches of eminent Liverpool personalities by Thomas Hargreaves, the pupil of Sir Thomas Lawrence.

There are no newspaper files. Archive material relates to the club only and not to Proprietors (except for a name index).

One of the most important parts of the library is the Roscoe Collection. William Roscoe was one of the founding proprietors. After his bankruptcy in 1815 and the forced sale of his library, his friends purchased certain volumes and presented them to the Athenaeum thereby ensuring that Roscoe had continued use of these books.

Questions by non-proprietors about the Athenaeum and in its area of interest – largely historical and now mainly local – may be answered at the discretion of the staff and the committee. No responsibility can be taken for the accuracy of replies. No genealogical research is carried out. Where appropriate, photocopies may be supplied at a cost of 15 pence per sheet. Search and access fees may be charged for the use of material owned by the library, additional to any copyright fees involved. All items will be despatched post free within Europe. Outside Europe, postage will be charged.


Of the many distinguished Proprietors it is perhaps unkind to mention only four. Nevertheless their service to Liverpool and their country marks them out as setting the standard to which all Proprietors may strive to achieve.

WILLIAM ROSCOE 1753-1831 MP, slavery abolitionist, botanist, historian, poet, lawyer.
"Liverpool`s Greatest Son"

WILLIAM H DUNCAN MD 1805-1863 Physician and first Medical Officer of Health in Britain

SIR RONALD ROSS 1857-1932  1902 Nobel Laureate in Medicine
First Nobel prize awarded for Medicine

SIR CHARLES SHERRINGTON 1857-1952 1932 Joint Nobel Laureate in Medicine with E D (later Lord) Adrian.