Rosie Young, left, co-owner of Bridport Old Books, architectural historian Tim Connor, and Phyllida Culpin, chair of Bridport Area Development Trust, with the poster in the courtyard at the LSi


July 18th, 2023

In a touching twist of fate, a historic connection has bridged almost 200 years.

Purely by chance, present-day lecturer Tim Connor discovered a 19th-century counterpart.

Browsing in a Bridport bookshop, the architectural historian spotted a poster advertising a series of talks at the Mechanics’ Institution in East Street.

In March, Connor presented his own sold-out illustrated talk, The Making of Bridport, in the same building, which was only recently rescued, restored and reopened as the LSi, having formerly been renamed the Literary and Scientific Institute.

The Bridport-printed poster promoted James Silk Buckingham’s “six popular lectures, descriptive of his travels in Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Babylonia and Assyria”, which were delivered in the institution’s lecture room in November 1835, just two years after it was built.

Rosie Young, co-owner of Bridport Old Books, in South Street, described how the poster came to light: “We bought a six-volume set of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, at The Auction House in Bridport. The books originally came from Joseph Gundry of the local rope-making family, and the poster was folded into the pages of volume one.”

Connor alerted Bridport Area Development Trust, the LSi’s owner, to the find and the Trust acquired the poster for display in the historic building. 

Phyllida Culpin, chair of BADT, said: “The chance discovery of this link to the LSi’s earliest days is a wonderful story. 

“We are delighted to be able to display an original, historical artefact that is so relevant to our own narrative. It illustrates that the LSi remains true to its founding principles and that the restoration project has ensured the continuation of the building’s educational and cultural roles for the benefit of the community. The LSi will continue to be used for lectures and public events, just as it was in 1835.”

Connor has written several accounts featuring West Dorset, its churches and monuments. His book The Literary and Scientific Institute is an enthralling history of the revival of one of Bridport’s most distinguished buildings, telling the colourful story from its 19th-century origins as the Mechanics’ Institution to its rebirth as an innovative charitable-commercial hybrid with a prominent role in the social and business wellbeing of the town.

James Silk Buckingham (1786-1855), author, journalist, traveller, lecturer, was born into a seafaring family in Falmouth, Cornwall, and spent much of his youth at sea. When ashore he worked part-time as a compositor for printing businesses. He published several works on his extensive travels before settling in India where he established the Calcutta Journal in 1818. 

The periodical proved successful but Buckingham’s criticism of the East India Company led to the closure of the Journal and his expulsion from India. His case was brought before a select committee of the House of Commons in 1834, and a pension of £500 a year was awarded to him by the East India Company as compensation. 

Between 1832-36, Buckingham served as MP for Sheffield and, as a social reformer, campaigned for libraries and reading rooms for educating the working class, introducing a bill in parliament enabling local authorities to levy a tax to fund their establishment. 

He put his theory into practice and, as the poster shows, was very active on the lecture circuit.