Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The Warrington Academy

The Warrington Academy was an non-conformist Academy that opened in 1757 and attracted such ground-breaking tutors as scientist Joseph Priestley, botanist Johann Reinhold Forster and poet and critic John Aikin, the Academy creating an intellectual scene during the later eighteenth century in the Lancashire Market town. The first building to house the Academy can still be seen, though much altered, it was moved back from the road during the early 1980s then rebuilt altogether, becoming the Guardian offices.

Johann Reinhold Forster joined the Academy as a tutor in 1768, his eldest son Georg becoming a student there. He stayed in Warrington until 1770 when he left the Academy to reside in London, where he wrote A Catalogue of the Animals of North America. Forster, who had befriended Joseph Banks, the botanist who had accompanied Captain Cook on his first voyage, was offered the position on Cook’s second voyage instead of fellow Academy tutor Joseph Priestley. It is thought that Priestley, who was a Dissenter, may have been rejected on his religious grounds as the Board was mainly made up of Anglican Clergy. Banks like Forster was also a Freemason and these two men of science may have known of each other’s membership. Johann was to be the ship’s Naturalist and his son Georg was to accompany him.

The voyage which was a resounding success, began on 1772 and returned to England in 1775, stopping at countries such as Easter Island, Tahiti, and the Tonga Islands. On his return, Forster became resentful towards the Admiralty, who had forbid him to write about the voyage, so he gave the task to his son, who published his findings in the book A Voyage Around the World.  The book became a best seller and sealed the reputations of both Johann and his son Georg. Despite the disagreements, Forster continuously wrote to Joseph Banks, who became President of the Royal Society in 1778, indicating that he had been mistreated, and had not been paid in full. Banks responded to the letters by supplying a loan to Forster, which was never repaid.

The second Academy building was located on what is now Academy Way, and it remained there until it closed in 1786. This second building is long gone, but we still have the original Georgian building to remind us of the importance that the Academy had on what has been referred to as the British Enlightenment. 



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