Blog of BRLSI Thoughts

Victor and I first heard about BRLSI from Karl Jaeger who visited our business, Camden Books, to invite us to a public meeting concerning the disposal of 16-18 Queen Square.    Don’t know the year but must have been 1993 or before.
At that time as the City Centre community correspondent for the Bath Chronicle I reported weekly in the local paper frequently including items about BRLSI.  My coverage started with the relaunch exhibition in May 1993, in August I mentioned a meeting on the 19th to discuss the progress so far with a slide presentation by Bob Whitaker.  Over 100 people attended this first meeting chaired by Rodney Cross and much enthusiasm was shown.
In September 1993, BRLSI Avon County Council refused permission for BRLSI to use the Reference Library space for a centenary lecture on Dr. Jenyns and so it was moved to the Bath and County Club.  The following meeting, 27 October, 1993, also at the Bath and County Club, focused on constitutional and organizational issues under the chairmanship of Michael King, the then honorable secretary.
November 22, Dr. Donald Charlton discussed how BRLSI could address the humanities.  There was a break for the winter when small discussion groups began to form around topics from architecture to science.  Then on 1 March 1994 Stephen Bird talked about A Museum Policy for Bath.
Linda Wigley, recently appointed Development Manager, presented her proposals for displaying the collections on 23 March, the various small groups that had formed during the winter explained what they had been doing  and Bob Whitaker discussed the BRLSI Library.  The audience was fascinated by the plans for refurbishing the Institutional headquarters in Queen Square.  Linda showed some of the Insitution’s suggestion books from the 19th and early 20th century and highlighted a few complaints about heat and lack of drinking water.
On April 21 Rob Ainsley spoke on Humour in Music followed on May 25 by Brian Cassidy on the construction of the Sydney Opera House.  In June Linda Wigley talked about Guatemalan and Mexican textiles.
On September 5 Jane Coates discussed 19th century literary personalities and the meeting in October reviewed  the progress of the Institution.  In Oct. the Trustees of the BRLSI were revealed.
On November 4, 1994 there was a joint lecture with Bath University, featuring Dr. Richard Robert, Nobel prize winner for medicine, followed also in November by another progress report from Linda Wigley.
With the renovations complete on 22 March, members could return to 16 Queen Square.  Graham Tingay spoke on the Collapse of the Roman Empire.  Later in 1995 Joe Black on Changes of Technology The Artists Vision 15th to 19th century.  Two other 1995 talks were Louis Hodgkins on Nelson’s visits to Bath and Alex Kolaczkowski on Jerom Murch.
The first committee on which I served was the activity committee chaired by Rodney Cross. Only fundraising and social activities were organized until Dr. Donald Charlton suggested having talks.  Victor was most excited by this suggestion and various small groups were formed (noted above).  I particularly remember the science meetings were held at the home of John Bulman.  Those who attended enjoyed the groups so much that when the building in Queen Square had been renovated, the talks transferred there.
The Queen Square building had been the reference library and the geology museum. Since Victor and I were booksellers, Martha Inskip, who served on the BRLSI Asset Identification, Tracing and Recording Group, set up to locate Institutional property, consulted us several times to try and establish the value of the books from BRLSI’s collection that were sold off.  I did some research in the Guildhall archives and found Council records of the book sales.
I also joined the Archive committee at one stage under Jane Coates’ chairmanship.  At my first meeting, I agreed to write a piece on George Grabbe, who attended the 19th Century inaugural celebration.
With Don Lovell as chair, I served on the Publicity committee for a number of years.  The first newsletter was written by Dorothy Brown and Rodney Cross in 1993, followed by Linda Wigley and then Don Lovell. After Don resigned I continued with Jean Brushfield as chair.  The first copy of the Proceedings was issued with Newsletter number 14 and covered January-March 1997.  We started partipating in Heritage Week.  The biggest and most successful session featured plasticine.  It was invented by William Harbutt and his granddaughter and great-granddaughter both attended the BRLSI event and received much coverage in the local press.  The plasticine was donated by the company that now mades a version of it and the Bristol based firm who created Wallace and Gromit donated various posters and other promotional items.  Over 150 people attended.
Victor’s AGM resolution that BRLSI declare the lecture programme to be considered on par with the collections in the BRLSI mission statement passed.
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Victor started the Christmas lectures in 1998 and Sir Michael Berry was the first speaker.  These have continued and have been named in Victor’s honour.
He started the John Wood Architectural Lectures  and initiated a number of series such as the Architectual Masterclass. One speaker, George Ferguson, has been elected the first mayor of Bristol.  The Einstein year series in 2005 was very popular.  Victor advocated  and organized several public Forums on the spa, Western Riverside and issues relating to the future development of Bath.
Victor also invited Louise Cochrane to give a lecture on Adelard in 1999.  Today BRLSI has an Adelard archive thanks to Michael Davis and is in the process of reprinting Louise’s book.
My favorite lecture was by Roy Porter on Enlightenment, the 4th joint Bath Literature Festival/BRLSI lecture, the most popular was the Christmas Lecture with the then Sir Martin Rees, Astonomer Royal.  Also extremely well received were lectures by John Harvey-Jones and Asa Briggs and much more recently Andrew Graham-Dixon.
I enjoyed being a convenor for the lunchtime talks for a brief period especially launching the Treasures of Bath series plus working on Intellectuals in Bath and a joint programme with the American Museum.
The development of BRLSI has been wonderful to witness and the 20th anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on its role in the next 20 years.

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