Liverpool Philomathic Society Archive

Scope and Content

The archive of the Liverpool Philomathic Society includes incoming and outgoing correspondence, 1894-1929, primarily concerned with membership matters and arrangements for debates and dinners, but also documenting the Liverpool Civic Service League Intelligence Bureau in Bold Street, Liverpool. This was run by LPS members during 1914, and was set up as a contribution to the War effort, to provide an information service "to applicants for relief and assistance". The correspondence files also record members' reactions to postwar strikes and the admission of women, and document the drift of successful former members from business in Liverpool to London or colonial postings. Nomination papers have been extracted into a separate, chronological series.

The printed records of the LPS include historical accounts given in Presidential addresses, catalogues of the Library prior to its sale in 1925, and periodical revisions of the Society's Laws. The Proceedings of the Liverpool Philomathic Society and copies of addresses are kept with the book collections of Liverpool University Library.

Records of the Society's dinners include toast lists from 1885 and detailed seating plans from 1899. Some menu cards, accounts, tickets and programmes also survive; there was music at the dinners of 1907, 1908 and 1926.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Liverpool Philomathic Society, the "twin sister" of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Liverpool, was founded in 1825 as a debating society for "the attainment of knowledge by discussion". The original rules were strict, confining membership to gentlemen "established in business on their own account", debarring "controversial theology" as a topic, and excluding written papers until 1855. In common with the Lit. and Phil., it was concerned to prove the compatibility of commerce and culture, and to upgrade Liverpool's cultural image. The exclusion of women, who were not granted membership until 1920, marked it out after 1900 as "one of the few remaining bulwarks against the flood of feminine invasion of men's privileges and prerogatives".

Meetings were held in the Liverpool Royal Institution from 1826 - a privilege extended to societies "whose objects are in perfect harmony with the design of [the RI]", and reciprocal debates were held with local societies with similar aims. The original members are thought to be: Robert M'Adam, President; C.T. Dunlevie and James Aikin, Vice-Presidents; Joseph Shipley, Treasurer; William Hurry, Honorary Secretary and W.A. Brown. The Society incorporated the Liverpool Chatham Society in June 1873, a move which helped to increase the slowly-growing membership, which stood at about 60 in 1846, 300 in 1879, and was reckoned to be over 400 at its highest level. Membership was aimed at men "who follow the busy vocations of life, whose time is devoted to commercial, and the more active professional pursuits" and included JPs, MPs, medical men, local government officials, and businessmen.

The standing of the Society in the nineteenth century was reflected in the prominent place it was afforded in Liverpool's Legion of Honour (1893), which asserted that "at the Philomathic meetings most of the well-educated Liverpool gentlemen now in public life have been frequent speakers". By 1907, however, the "Who's Who" of Liverpool published in Littlebury's Liverpool and Birkenhead official red book made no mention of membership of the Society amongst its list of "municipal, political, and university worthies". In a letter of 14 Jan. 1907, Glynn Whittle, a long-standing member, declared, "A blow has fallen on the prestige of the Philomathic Society ... the overwhelming grandeur of the University seems likely to wipe us out... We gave £100 to Univ. Coll. Just think of helping to endow a college, which snuffs us out!". During the First World War, members were allowed to introduce ladies as visitors, and membership was opened to women following the war and the partial franchise of women in 1918. The first woman to open a debate was the wife of the President, Mrs Martindale, in 1919. Despite this modernizing move, G.J. Hodgson, preparing for a debate on the Victorian age in 1922, could still declare the Society "the most Victorian thing I know!". The Society celebrated its centenary in 1926, and survived into the last third of the twentieth century. It was never formally wound up, but succumbed to the pressures of modern life on its members' time and lifestyles.


The collection has been arranged under the following headings:

  • LPS 1 Correspondence and administrative records
  • LPS 2 Library and printed records
  • LPS 3 Annual and centenary dinners

Access Information

Access is open to bona fide researchers.

Acquisition Information

The collection was deposited c.1956

Separated Material

The Proceedings of the Liverpool Philomathic Society, 1855-1956 are housed separately, as part of the Library's general collections, and the separate volumes are recorded in the Library's online catalogue (callmark AP4.L5). Copies of some of the printed papers and addresses delivered to the Society are held in the printed collections of the Special Collections and Archives; there are records for individual items in the online catalogue.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction and Licensing Rules available on request

Related Material

The Bodleian Library (Oxford) MS. Eng. th. e. 182: Journal of -? Williams (b 1798), a Methodist preacher of Liverpool, containing biographical material and spiritual reflections, 1 May 1818-19 Aug. 1825. The entry for 6 May 1819 (p. 53) states that he founded the Liverpool Philomathic Society on 30 April 1819, 'for the acquisition and diffusing among its members of general knowledge'.


  • Kidman, James, A Philomathic Retrospect (Liverpool, 1899),
  • Ormerod, H.A., The Liverpool Royal Institution: a record and retrospect (Liverpool University Press, 1953)
  • letter from Glynn Whittle, 14 Jan. 1907
  • Arline Wilson, `The cultural identity of Liverpool, 1790-1850: the early learned societies', Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, vol. 147 (1998)
  • B.G. Orchard, Liverpool's Legion of Honour (Birkenhead, 1893)