William Shipley – Founder of the Royal Society of Arts

William Shipley was an English drawing master and social reformer who, in 1754, launched what became The Royal Society of Arts.

William Shipley was born in 1715 in Maidstone, and grew up in London. His father died when he was just three years old and William went to live with his maternal grandfather. At the age of 21, he inherited 500 pounds and used that money to practice as a painter and drawing master. It’s at this time that he also joined the Northampton Philosophical Society,where he began his philanthropic life by raising funds in order to buy fuel for the poor. He worked in Northampton before striking back to London. In 1755 He operated a private drawing school in the Strand. Many students under his charge subsequently became famous artists.”

Every year, his pupils contended successfully for the premiums put up for textile design by the Society of Arts, and prizes were awarded to the most promising child artist,and sculptor.

The society was established in Rawthmells Coffee house in Covent Garden in London on March 22, 1754. It was first called “Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce”.

In 1761 the society opened up its premises in London to the first large-scale public exhibition of domestic art ever organized in London.

William Shipley’s concept was to make Great Britain a center for intellectual advancements in the areas of arts and sciences. In the daily and evening papers the society would have a notice announcing premiums or awards for different discoveries and inventions. For example, the Society offered premiums for the discovery of cobalt and the raising and curing of madder.

These were not just scatterbrained concerns but issues of Britain’s most critical industry, namely, textiles. According to Colley, “Cobalt dyes a brilliant blue and the madder was the principal source of all red dies until the 19th century. Quite simply, the society wanted to enable Britain’s most important industry, its textile manufacturers, to be able to dye their cloth at home rather than send it abroad.

The Society also tried to address the problem of obtaining enough domestic lumber for the building of ships. This was a matter of Britain’s national defense. Without timber, the Royal Navy could not build ships.The Society carried out this purpose by establishing prizes for the growing of trees, such as Chestnut, Oaks, Firs, and Elms.

They even offered a premium to anyone able to develop a scheme to transport breadfruit from the East to the West Indies. Shipley raised the money for the enterprise through subscriptions.

There’s no doubt that Shipley’s contributions to both England’s economy and England’s security through the Society were substantial.

Although William Shipley had many students who went on to become famous artists, such as William Hodges, and Francis Wheatley, he himself was not remembered for his artwork. However, Shipley was an innovate inventor in his own right. He came up with original ideas on how to provide cheap fuel for the poor, a floating light (Bouy) in order to save those lost in the sea, a way to establish new species of fish in ponds around England, and possibly strangest of all, a method of lining your shoes with tinfoil in order to keep them dry.

This quote might help to shed some light on the following question: Why was Shipley so historically significant?

“Shipley’s life included in its span the surge of English Commercial self-confidence which Defoe celebrated and which was to be feared by Napoleon, the spectacular first stage of the industrial Revolution from the flying shuttle to steam-powered cotton mills, the flowering of English genius in the arts from Hogarth to Turner, and the growth of English philanthropic endeavor from the first county hospitals to Hannah More’s ‘Age if Benevolence.'”

In the shaping of these momentous developments many credit Mr. Shipley with helping to establish the role of private organizations to serve the public; the Crown of England was so preoccupied with war and money dealings, it had little resources to further enhance culture at the time. “Merely by existing,the society challenged the way that the British state was organized. To begin with, by taking on certain tasks, they underlined just how much the state left undone.

These days with some 27,000 Fellows developing networks to find innovative practical solutions to the most pressing social issues affecting our communities today, The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce, is often simply referred to as The Royal Society of Arts, and its members as Fellows of the RSA (FRSA). Recognition of The The Royal Society of Arts immense contribution to society over the past 250 years recently included a Royal Garden Party hosted at Buckingham Palace by HM the Queen, the issue of commemorative stamps by the Royal Mail and a series of 5 radio programmes broadcast by BBC radio 4.

The Royal Society of Arts archive is full of contributions from such notable figures as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Robert Stephenson, William Hogarth, Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Chippendale, Karl Marx, William Wilberforce, Joseph Hume, Michael Faraday, Rowland Hill, Edwin Lutyens, Joseph Banks, Robert & James Adam, and Joshua Reynolds.

In 1990 the RSA completed the restoration and conversion of its Georgian vaults. These are now the hub of the Society’s conference facilities and include a distinctive restaurant for fellows.

Source by Brian M Barghout

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