Blog: Celebrating 200 years of the Athenaeum building

Members who attended the first ‘Athenaeum Social’ had an opportunity to hear about some of the exciting events coming up in 2019 to commemorate 200 years of the Athenaeum building.

Those present raised a glass to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the opening of the John Foulston-designed Athenaeum on Thursday, 11th February 1819 and had a chance to see some fascinating images of the Athenaeum buildings over the last 200 years.

Here are a few of the things we are doing to celebrate the building’s bicentenary:


As part of the celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of the opening of the original Athenaeum building, we are commemorating members of the organisation who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the organisation or to the betterment of society generally.

We will be creating a “Wall of Fame” which will be situated on the walls leading from the Lower Foyer to the Library level of the building.

In addition to celebrating those who have contributed to The Athenaeum’s distinguished history, the Wall of Fame will provide an opportunity for visitors to the building to experience and learn about the history of the organisation.

There are 14 places available in the Wall of Fame and each commemorative picture will contain an image and brief biographical information.

Half of those inducted into the ‘Wall of Fame’ will be chosen by The Athenaeum’s Library Committee, the other half by members.

Nomination forms will ONLY be available from the Library and must be returned to the Library by Friday, 12th April 2019 at 5pm.

Following the closure of the nomination period, members will then have the opportunity to vote on the candidates to be inducted into the Wall of Fame. Voting details will follow when nominations have closed.

Some of the candidates members might want to consider include:

Henry Woollcombe: our founding father and frequently President of the Society from 1812 to 1846.

Sir William Snow Harris: twice a President of the Society, but also designer of a lightning conductor system fitted on the ships of the Royal Navy, the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. His system saved thousands of lives around the world.

Emma Scott: a headmistress and the first woman to be elected President of the organisation in 1917.

John Foulston: architect and town planner and the man who designed the original Athenaeum building.

Charles Darwin: the great scientist undertook preparatory work at The Athenaeum in 1831 ahead of his Beagle voyage and later became a member of the organisation.

Sidney Gordon Monk: President in the 1930s, but more than importantly he was a figure who never wavered in his determination that the organisation’s Post War re-built home would be a worthy one and contribute much to the cultural life of Plymouth.


This year’s Anniversary Evening on Thursday, 2nd May will also form part of the bicentenary celebrations.

The buffet will be followed by a quiz on the 200-year history of the Athenaeum building.

Tickets for this event will be available following the Easter closure.


Throughout May we will be telling the story of the 200-year history of the Athenaeum building in the Lower Foyer. The exhibition will be part of the 2019 Plymouth History Festival and will be on display for members and the public when the building is open.


The Athenaeum’s Art Group is working on a project inspired by the anniversary of the building and we look forward to seeing the fruits of their endeavours in the Lounge in the coming months.


Later in 2019, as part of the 2019/20 Talks programme, we hope to have a talk by one of the construction team who worked on the building of the second Athenaeum in the early 1960s. More details will follow later in the year.

It promises to be an exciting way for all of us to celebrate 200 years of the Athenaeum building!