Sunday, 8 January 2017

William Brown Street, Liverpool

Sir William Brown, 1st Baronet DL (30 May 1784 – 3 March 1864) was a British merchant and banker, founder of the banking-house of Brown, Shipley & Co. and a Liberal politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1846 to 1859.

In 1809 established a branch of the firm in Liverpool, and they shortly afterwards abandoned their exclusive linen business and became general merchants. The transactions of the firm soon extended so as to require further branches.  Brown persuaded the Bank of England to advance him £2,000,000 to tide matters over the 1837 international financial crisis. Brown only needed half the amount, which he repaid within six months. His business, both mercantile and banking, continued to increase, and in 1844 he held one sixth of the trade between Great Britain and the United States and acquired immense wealth.. "There is hardly," declared Richard Cobden at this period, "a wind that blows, or a tide that flows in the Mersey, that does not bring a ship freighted with cotton or some other costly commodity for Mr Brown's house."

In 1825, William took an active part in the agitation for the reform in the management of the Liverpool docks. He was elected an alderman of Liverpool in 1831, and held that office until 1838.  In 1846, Brown was elected Liberal M.P. for South Lancashire, and held the seat until 23 April 1869.
His name is probably best known by the munificent gift which he bestowed on his adopted town. He erected the Free Public Library and Derby Museum at Liverpool, which was opened on 8 October 1860, at a cost to himself of £40,000, the corporation providing the site and foundation and furnishing the building.

Nowadays his name is best known for the Street named after him.  It runs alongside St George's Hall and has some of Liverpool's best buildings on it.  These include the library and museum.

Above the Technical college, museum and library on William Brown Street.

The frontage of the Liverpool Museum (now called the World Museum).

The next building up William Brown Street is the circular Picton Library.

Higher up are the Walker Art Gallery and the County Sessions.

The statue of the Spirit of Liverpool was located on top of the Walker Art Gallery on William Brown Street for more than a century from 1877. It had to be removed in 1993 as the marble had deteriorated so badly that the sculpture was no longer structurally safe. It was a possibility that large chunks might fall off and through the glass dome into the entrance foyer of the Walker Art Gallery.

This is the original - I photographed it in the 1960s.

A replica Spirit of Liverpool was carved from a 41 ton piece of Chinese marble in 1993-1994. The replica was put back in place of the original on the roof of the Walker Art Gallery and is still sitting proudly above the streets of her city today.

The original sculpture was conserved and is now safely kept under cover in a secure store. The statue had to be installed in the building before the construction work was finished, as once the doors were fitted there was no way the huge sculpture would be able to get in.

Below - the County Sessions House.

William Brown was created a baronet 'of Richmond Hill in the County Palatine of Lancaster' on 24 January 1863.  He did not, however, live long to enjoy his honours, as he died at Richmond Hill, Liverpool, on 3 March 1864. 


  1. He sounds like a typical high achieving businessman who believed it was important to support charitable institutions in his area.

  2. Considering his wealth, £40,000 does not sound all that much. Still, he did a lot more for "his" city than many others who never used their wealth for anything else than their own benefit.

    I think I will send the link to this post to my niece. She studied Egyptology in Liverpool and loved her years there.

    1. Meike from what I can discover £40,000 in 1860 is worth between £35,000,000 and £85,000,000 at today's prices depending on the indices used.

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed that post CJ. Given my professional involvement with the museum I am ashamed to say that I never knew that it was originally called the Derby Museum (unless I did and have forgotten which may be worse).

  4. My great grandfather was William Brown from Liverpool. States him as a gentleman on my grandfathers marriage certificate. Ooh . .wonder if he's a relative?


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