Dreamer Whose Legacy Has Delighted Thousands; He Is an Almost Forgotten Figure but Joseph Mayer Is One of the Great Men Behind Merseyside's Cultural Development. David Charters Reports
Byline: David Charters
THE little boy was a bit of a dreamer with an appreciative eye for paintings and sculpture, rather than the evil smells which arose from the family tannery which supplied straps and harnesses to potteries.
But one day, shortly after his eighth birthday, when following the furrows of a plough, his world was changed.
There, in the mud, Joseph Mayer saw some Roman coins and pottery.
That discovery began an interest, which would turn Mayer into one of Britain's foremost collector of antiquities and a great benefactor of what has become the National Museums and Gal-leries on Merseyside (NMGM) - a man whose collection of classical relics, Egyptian art, prehistoric metal objects and pottery, medieval artefacts and later pottery, has been compared to the treasure troves of Glasgow's Sir WilliamBurrell and the first Viscount Leverhulme of Port Sunlight.
Some would give an even higher place to Mayer, the silversmith and jeweller, who donated his vast collection to Liverpool Corporation in 1867.
If Liverpool is successful in its bid to be the 2008 European Capital of Culture, the name of Mayer, which hasIONEL Burman, research fellow of history at Liverpool University and former curator of decorative arts with NMGM, rates Mayer among Britain's most important collectors of antiquities, whose influence spread to both sides of the Mersey.
In 1860, Mayer moved to Bebington, calling his substantial home Pennant House, after Thomas Pennant (1726-98), the em in en t Welsh traveller, naturalist and and zoologist.
``He made an enormous difference to Bebington, Bromborough and the area around it,'' said Mr Burman. ``He built and developed the Mayer Library, stocked with 20,000 of his own volumes, and paid for the staffing of it, involving the whole society. He even made fireworks for celebrations. ``He then purchased property and five acres of land around Pennant House. Within weeks it was open to the public,as the park now called Mayer Park. Between the library and the park,he demolished a barn and built Mayer Hall, where important exhibitions and a series of lectures were held. ``When he endowed the lectures he stipulated that there should be no mention of religion or politics. He created in that part of the Wirral a cultural scene which continued. '' But it was in Liverpool that Mayer's main reputation was established. At the age of 19, he left his native Newcastle-underLyme and came to the bustling port, where he worked with his brother-in-law, gaining a name for himself as a dealer in precious stones, Sheffield plate and time-pieces, and as a heraldic engraver and designer, based in Lord Street.
During this time, young Mayer frequented the gentleman's clubs like the Lyceum and the Athenaeum. …