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Tangye family were big supporters of the arts

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: July 08, 2014

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I READ with interest the two articles in The Bugle on the Tangye Brothers Engineering Company by Bill Pace.

Part of my family come from Smethwick and my long-time interest in stained glass and glass making has led me back to that area, with the firms of Chance Brothers, Thomas Camm and Co and Samuel Evans all working within a mile or two of each other in Smethwick in the 19th and early 20th century.

The Tangye's firm produced many fine inventions, but the one which has always interested me most was the hydraulic jack and the use of it to launch Brunel's steamship The Great Eastern sideways when all conventional launching methods had failed.

As they are reputed to have said: "We launched The Great Eastern and The Great Eastern launched us!"

But the reason for my letter is to publicise an aspect of the Tangye Brothers (Sir Richard as he became and Mr George) which is less well-known, namely their philanthropy and public spiritedness.

In the late 19th century a movement was growing in Birmingham to provide an art gallery and museum. This was generously supported by the Tangyes. In 1880 they offered £5,000 towards the acquisition of works of art, if the corporation would undertake to build an art gallery, and promised a further £5,000 if their gift was matched by other donations. This provided the impetus for the council to build the gallery and other industrialists in the area to donate funds, paintings and objects to display in it.

The architect was H. Yeoville Thomason and the gallery opened in 1885. The first keeper was Mr Whitworth Wallis. Additionally the Tangyes bought for the Wedgwood Gallery, a collection of fine pottery formed by John Bragg of Birmingham in the 1870's.

The hope was that these and other examples of fine craftsmanship would inspire the artisans and craftsmen in the area to produce high quality goods and objects. To emphasise this, a memorial stone in the entrance hall has the words By the gains of industry we promote art. On the landing on the main staircase is a memorial tablet to the Tangyes, acknowledging the great part they played in the building and providing items for display in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Having retired from teaching I worked part-time for ten years at the gallery as a guide and often pointed out the Tangyes' Memorial to visitors. I hope this letter sheds some light on a lesser-known aspect of the lives of this notable Black Country family.

Robert L. Mills,

Great Barr.

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