In memory of William Roscoe (1753-1831)

William Roscoe portrayed by Martin Archer Shee

William Roscoe portrayed by Martin Archer Shee

William Roscoe was a man of many talents and interests, but he is known particularly for being a historian and abolitionist. He was the son of a market gardener who also owned a public house, the Bowling Green, in Mount Pleasant – then a semi-rural location on the outskirts of Liverpool. He left school at 12, but continued to educate himself – and others – throughout the rest of his life.

Initially, he worked alongside his father, during which time he bought his first book which was to be the start of a renowned collection. He also developed an interest in the fine arts and taught himself to read Latin, French and Italian.

Articled as a solicitor in 1769, he went into business by himself in 1774 and went on to marry the daughter of a Liverpool tradesman. Together, they had ten children.

In many ways, William was ahead of his time. For example, he founded a Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Painting and Design in 1773, the first society of this kind outside London, and organised the first exhibition of painting in Liverpool featuring local artists. He also wrote a biography of Lorenzo de Medici, one of the patrons of the Renaissance, which encouraged him to promote cultural development in Liverpool to counterbalance the city’s thirst for trade. He also played an active part in the founding of the Liverpool Royal Institution and the Athenaeum Library.

But one of his lifelong passions was denouncing the slave trade, which at this time played a huge part in Liverpool’s wealth. It was a brave move which could have seriously damaged his career, but he stood firm. He published pamphlets arguing against it and voted for a motion to abolish the slave trade during the one year he represented Liverpool as an MP in the House of Commons. After this, he came home to face a riot orchestrated by local slave traders. However, he calmly continued his work with Liverpool Society for the Abolition of Slavery for the remainder of his life.

Disillusioned with the law, he pursued business interests in banking which almost resulted in bankruptcy during a period of severe economic depression in 1816. Sadly, he was forced to sell off his art and book collection, although his many friends bought what they could and donated them to the Liverpool Royal Institute and Athenaeum.

Many remember him for the poems he wrote for children, the most famous of is The Butterfly’s Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast, which reflected his lifelong interest in botany – among his many other accomplishments, he also established the Botanic Gardens in Liverpool.

Copy of a picture of Roscoe's monument by Stewart Dale, 1931

Copy of a picture of Roscoe’s monument by Stewart Dale, 1931

In 1831, aged 78, he died of influenza. He was interred in the burial ground next to Renshaw Street chapel, where as a devout Presbyterian he had worshipped, and close to the Old Bowling Green House Tavern where he had been born. Among many reminders of his work that remain in memory of him to this day in Liverpool, a monument stands in the cloisters of Ullet Road Church.

Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.

In Memory of Arthur Dooley

Remembering a Liverpool sculptor ‘privileged never to have had an art education’

Arthur Dooley and one of his works

Arthur Dooley and one of his works

Born in Liverpool in 1929, Arthur left school at 14 and took up an apprenticeship at Cammell Laird’s shipyard, where he contributed to the construction of the Ark Royal. On being finished up, he worked briefly on a tug-boat, then joined the Irish Guards.

Having served in Europe and the Middle East, his army career began to draw to a close after an impulse decision to desert and join the Palestine Liberation Organisation – not then associated with terrorism – as a mercenary. Promoted to colonel in its ranks, he was soon after caught and returned to the Army, who tried and imprisoned him in a detention centre in Egypt. He amused himself during his time in prison by modelling sand and sculpting rock. But he never forgot his time at Cammell Laird’s and later at Dunlop in Speke, where he began to learn about the metals, fabricating and building which formed the cornerstone of his work in later years.

On his return to the UK, he sought out a job as a cleaner at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London. Seeing the students’ work, he had a strong conviction he could do better and began working with discarded scraps of metal. By 1955, he’d returned to Liverpool and established himself as a sculptor, working at a variety of jobs, from stage hand at the Liverpool Playhouse to park policeman in Sefton Park, to fund his life and work.

He had converted to Catholicism while in the Army, and was also a devout communist, but in later years, he turned away from both his faith and his political allegiance. Despite this, he retained strong views about both and is perhaps best known for a number of religious works, including The Stations of the Cross for St Mary’s Church in Leyland, The Risen Christ in Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral and The Resurrection of Christ at Princes Park Methodist Church in Toxteth.

Politics remained at the heart of his work throughout his life and in later years. Becoming something of a personality, he often appeared on national television, not only promoting his work but also his strong views on the plight of the working classes in his home city. He was an ardent campaigner for the redevelopment of the South Docks, the abolition of high-rise housing and ongoing support for the long-term unemployed.

In 1974, he created the much-loved tribute to the Beatles in Mathew Street, a sculpture picturing the Madonna and the band with the inscription ‘Four Lads Who Shook The World’ beneath. In the 80s, his work grew less fashionable, but he himself continued to be energetic in his two favourite causes, establishing a workshop for the unemployed in Kirkby and helping to found the Liverpool Academy of Arts.

He died suddenly in 1994, having given away much of the money he had earned throughout his lifetime. His workshop remains preserved as he left it, in memory of the great man himself, and short videos from 2008 can be seen here.

Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.