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October Half Term at Bluecoat

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Beginnings of Bluecoat

As Liverpool city centre’s oldest building and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bluecoat will celebrate 300 years in 2017. But what are the origins of the Queen Anne style building which is now recognised as a leading centre for the contemporary arts? Sophie Jones, PhD Candidate in Early American History at the University of Liverpool, finds out.

As part of a joint project between Bluecoat and the University of Liverpool, I sought to uncover the story of how Bluecoat came to be in Liverpool: in particular, to identify the people who funded its construction, and to question how they derived their incomes.

The current Bluecoat building was purpose-built in 1717 by Liverpool’s master mariner Bryan Blundell (pictured above) as a charity school for Liverpool’s poor children. Blundell and the Reverend Robert Styth, rector of the Parish of Liverpool, had joined forces to open the Blue Coat School (so-called because of the blue uniforms worn by the children, blue being the colour denoting charity) in 1708, in a modest building in the grounds of St. Peter’s Church (located on modern-day Church Street). Styth took responsibility for running the school, while Blundell returned to the sea, pledging the profits of his future voyages to the school’s accounts.

By 1714, Styth had died and the school had outgrown its original location. After taking control of the school, Blundell pledged to build a new Blue Coat which could provide schooling, meals and lodging for even more of Liverpool’s poor children under one roof. Paid for by Blundell and Liverpool’s “persons of ability”, the Bluecoat was constructed in 1717.

As is the case with many of Liverpool’s eighteenth- and nineteenth-century buildings, questions remain regarding the financing of these buildings and their links to the transatlantic slave trade which was operating out of Liverpool during this time. This is especially important for Bluecoat, which was located less than half a mile away from Liverpool’s pioneering enclosed wet dock (completed in 1715 and now preserved under Liverpool One).

Using the account books kept by Bryan Blundell as Treasurer of the Blue Coat, I identified a core group of supporters who each pledged an annual subscription to the school. Between 1714, when Blundell began to raise funds for the new school’s construction, and 1725 when it was fully completed, these individuals (and often their extended families) were Bluecoat’s most regular and consistent supporters. Having identified these subscribers, I was able to uncover their occupations and sources of income.

The surviving information relating to the subscribers is particularly limited, and it is even more difficult to determine whether the money they gave to the Blue Coat School came directly from their involvement in the slave trade or from their other mercantile activities. However, the information which is available suggests that between 1714 and 1725 the school consistently received a source of its regular income from the profits of slavery.

To find out more about Bluecoat’s earliest years and the subscribers who helped to finance the school, come along to our heritage talk, Subscriptions, Schooling and Slavery at 2pm on 19 Mar. This event is part of our Heritage Weekend, on 19 & 20 Mar.


Bryan Blundell, master mariner, founder of Blue Coat School (Image Courtesy of Blue Coat School)


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About the Bluecoat

Bluecoat is Liverpool’s centre for the contemporary arts, the oldest in the UK. Our landmark building, located in the ...

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October Half Term at Bluecoat

published by Barry

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