Charles Townley  

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Charles Townley or Towneley (1733–January 3, 1810), English antiquary and collector of marbles, famously represented in Charles Towneley in the Park St. Gallery a conversation piece by German painter Johann Zoffany.


He was born at Towneley, the family seat, near Burnley in Lancashire, on the 1st of October 1737. (He regularly spelt his name Townley, so this is the spelling usually used in modern literature.) From a Catholic family and thus excluded both from public office and from English universities, he was educated at the college of Douai, and subsequently under John Turberville Needham, the physiologist and divine. In 1758 he took up his residence at Towneley Hall, where he lived the ordinary life of a country gentleman until 1767, when he left England on the Grand Tour, chiefly to Rome, which he also visited in 1772-3 and 1777. He also made several excursions to the south of Italy and Sicily. In conjunction with various dealers, including Gavin Hamilton, artist and antiquarian , and Thomas Jenkins, a dealer in antiquities in Rome, he got together a splendid collection of antiquities, which was deposited in 1778 in a house built for the purpose in Park Street, in the West End of London, where he died on the 8th of January 1805. His solitary publication was an account of a Roman cavalry helmet found at Ribchester.

The trustees of the British Museum obtained from parliament a grant of £20,000, probably not half the original cost; and for this sum his marbles and the larger bronzes and terracottas were purchased from the family in 1805, and still form the core of its Graeco-Roman collection. The small antiquities, including coins, engraved gems, and pottery, followed in 1814.

A large archive of Townley's papers, including diaries, account books, bills, correspondence, and catalogues, was acquired by the British Museum in 1992.

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