The History Of BRLSI

In the 19th Century some prominent residents proposed that a permanent Literary and Scientific Institution be created in Bath. In 1824, after a devastating fire had destroyed Bath’s lower assembly rooms, the first incarnation of the BRLSI was set up on Terrace Walk. The initial site, elegantly designed by George Allen was spacious enough to accommodate the Institution’s vast collection of Roman antiquities, expensive books and geological specimens. Bath at this time was considered the home of geology. Such was the sudden prestige of the Institution that in 1830 the man who was later to become King William IV, conferred royal patronage on the Institution and in 1837, under Queen Victoria, the Royal was added to the Institutions name.

In the 1850’s the public’s curiosity for natural history saw the founding within BRLSI of both a geological museum and Natural History Museum. Original photographs exist of BRLSI in its premises at Terrace Walk and they are breathtaking.

Plans to renovate the Terrace Walk site were met with frustration because of a new road building scheme in the center of the city that made a compulsory purchase necessary. Consequently, in 1932, new premises were taken up in BRLSI’s current site at Queen Square. A site incidentally where the house of Dr William Oliver, eminent Physician and co-founder of the Mineral Hospital once stood.

The premises were perfect but another obstacle in BRLSI’s fortunes arose when during World War II, the Institution’s headquarters in Queen Square were requisitioned and used by the Admiralty until 1959 when the institution’s assets, including the building were transferred to Bath City Council. Many of the museum objects were put in storage during the war and others were transferred to other museums. The BRLSI was in hibernation.

So how is it that we recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the reestablishment of BRLSI. In 1988 the Friends of BRLSI steering group who had not given up on the institutions fortunes, fostered hopes for a revival and their efforts resulted in their acquiring trusteeship in 1993.  A re-launch exhibit in 1993 attracted much public interest and for the first time in over 50 years new members were enrolled.

Incrementally, the BRLSI as we know it today evolved. What started off as a setting for social events for the likeminded gradually evolved into the home of a world class lecture programme and a collection rich in a diverse number of areas. These areas include archaeology, zoology, mineralogy, botany, ethnology and paleontology. BRLSI also have a historic library which encompasses exploration, history, philosophy and religion.

BRLSI’s mission to provide a cultural hub for the people of Bath and the surrounding area is served further by the provision of a home for Local Nature Studies and for many likeminded groups such as the Jane Austen Society and the Gaskell Society. Each year the Bath Shakespeare Society hold their annual celebration to mark Shakespeare’s birthday in the Institution’s Elwin Room. BRLSI also rent out rooms at a discount to groups sharing the Institutions charitable and educational ethos. And if that was not enough, BRLSI hold weekly coffee mornings for those with a passion for the arts and sciences.

And BRLSI is still growing! Always looking for further ways in which to deliver their mission to provide the people of Bath with new stimulus and a platform for debate. As BRLSI pass the 25th anniversary of their re-opening and negotiate another interesting fork in the road in terms of a global pandemic, they take the spirit with which their founding fathers set up their initial home in 1824 and make sure it is relevant for the 21st century. Digital platforms enable our programme and collections to reach you wherever it is you may be sat in the world and Digital apps bring that same collection to life and broaden access to treasures that once sat buried to all but those in the immediate vicinity. 

In this section you will find information on Key figures and forerunners of the BRLSI located in Bath, from 1777 to 2002:

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