Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Carlisle’s First Learning Centre: Tullie House by Denis Perriam and David Ramshaw. P3 Publications. £15
Railwayman, naturalist and author, Ritson Graham, considered Tullie House “his spiritual home and university”. For him, and many others the city library, art gallery, museum, art and technical school was essential for personal and social development. It was a remarkably diverse and complex institution and, in the mid-twentieth century, it was the beating heart of all intellectual life and culture in the city.
The institution had grown, as these things do, by a series of chances and opportunities. Carlisle Subscription Library was established in 1768 to lend books to ladies and gentlemen. New Public Reading Rooms were opened in 1831 at the corner of Devonshire Street and sixty years later, facing financial problems, the library found new accommodation in a reading room at Tullie House.
In 1841, the “job lot” of a museum acquired by the Literary and Philosophical Society and the Mechanics Institute was “displayed” in the fine Atheneum building in Lowther Street. It was “in disorder and covered with dust” according to Mary Smith. The Atheneum also held art exhibitions in the 1840s. It was taking over the role begun by the Carlisle Academy, a school of art, founded by Paul Nixson in Finkle Street, which held eight exhibitions in the 1820s.
The Academy joined the Mechanics Institute in new premises in Fisher Street in the 1850s. Forty years later, these organisations were brought together in a seventeenth century mansion then known as Abbey Street House. In 1893 after £22,000 had been spent on its restoration and conversion, Tullie House was opened. The School of Art moved in a year later. There is a wonderful photograph of five elegant ladies in neat hats, sitting on boxes carefully observing and painting the portrait of a motionless man, who is also seated on a wooden box. The School was joined by the science and technical departments and there were classes in chemistry, French, German, shorthand and typing.
Robert Bateman became the first librarian. He was followed in 1898 by Archibald Sparke, who received a salary of “£140 p.a. with a house, gas, etc.” Linnaeus Eden Hope, from Penrith, curated the natural history collection. In 1904, Walter Travers McIntire became the Director of Technical Instruction and Principal of Tullie House.
The museum and library expanded as private citizens bequeathed their collections. The Jackson Collection laid the foundation for a fine local studies section. In 1934, George Bell Routledge’s valuable stamp collection was given to the museum. His collection of local insects was, perhaps, more instructive, as it provides a “time-sample of local fauna before the effects of modern agriculture”. Gordon Bottomley donated a collection of paintings of national importance and these were supplemented by an astute purchase policy pursued by eminent artists and critics such as Charles Holmes, John Rothenstein and Carel Weight buying the work of young artists. In 1938 the museum received the Williamson China Collection and another of botanical specimens.
All-in-all, Tullie House came to acquire a rich and diverse range of materials which put it on a par with the best of regional museums in the country.
In those years it was ably led by men such as Robert Hogg and Ernest Blezard, who did much to encourage young people such as Ritson Graham and Derek Ratcliffe.
In the decades after the war, the all-purpose Tullie House became the museum we know today. The Art school left to eventually become part of the University of Cumbria. The Technical School became Carlisle College and the Library moved to the Lanes.
Denis Perriam and David Ramshaw have brought together this compendium of information, pictures and documents to commemorate 25 years of the new Tullie House. Over the years, Tullie House has served the city well and hugely enriched the lives of the citizens of Carlisle.