The Rathbone family library

Our current exhibition – “A gift from Greenbank”: reconstructing the Rathbone library – is the result of a project to trace and record books donated to the University of Liverpool by the Rathbones: a Liverpool family of non-conformist merchants and ship-owners, philanthropists, politicians and social reformers, artists and patrons of the arts. Today, the family name is perhaps best known in association with the remarkable suffragist, politician and social reformer, Eleanor Rathbone; who currently has an exhibition dedicated to her at the Victoria Gallery and Museum.

The exhibition space in Special Collections and Archives focuses on two significant donations of books to the University from Greenbank: which was the Rathbone family home from 1787 until 1944. These donations were made towards the end of the Rathbones’ time at Greenbank, and include books that belonged to several generations of the family. Each book has a story to tell, offering a glimpse into the lives of its owners, revealing a family with wide intellectual and artistic interests and varied reading habits, and with strong connections to the wider Liverpool literary and intellectual scene.

An image from the Rathbone family copy of “Cornelis de Bruins Reizen over Moskovie, door Persie en Indie” (1714), which contains c.260 engravings.

Currently on display in the Harold Cohen Library, this image is from “Les liliacées”, a magnificent work by Pierre Joseph Redouté, who was the most celebrated botanical illustrators of his day. The copy contains the ownership inscription of Benson Rathbone (1826-1892).

Highlights of the exhibition include a family Bible containing a list of family births, deaths, marriages and christenings; a copy of Tennyson’s In Memoriam with hand-drawn illustrations added on every page – which is accompanied by a pressed leaf taken from Tennyson’s garden; and a self-published book of Verses for Valentines written anonymously by Richard Rathbone for his wife, Hannah, who herself is responsible for another anonymous work on display: a compilation of poems about birds, with corresponding hand-painted, coloured illustrations:

The exhibition runs until late January 2019, in the Grove Wing of the Sydney Jones Library. We welcome any comments and enquiries to scastaff@liverpool.ac.uk.