Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Shipley, William (1714-1803)
SHIPLEY, WILLIAM (1714–1803), originator of the ‘Society of Arts,’ the son of Jonathan Shipley (d. 1749) ‘of Walbrook, Middlesex, gent.,’ by his wife Martha (Davies), was born at Maidstone, Kent, in 1714. His brother, Bishop Jonathan Shipley [q. v.], is separately noticed. Having acted for some years as a drawing-master at Northampton, he migrated to London about 1750, and set up a drawing-school near Fountain Court in the Strand (at the east corner of Beaufort Buildings), which was known first as ‘Shipley's Academy’ and afterwards as ‘Ackermann's Repository of Arts.’ The school proved highly successful, and among Shipley's pupils were Richard Cosway, William Pars, and Francis Wheatley. From Shipley's school, moreover, germinated the ‘Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce.’ Shipley projected the society in 1753, and his plan was carried into effect by a few noblemen and gentlemen, among them Lords Folkestone and Romney, Drs. Isaac Maddox and Stephen Hales, and Thomas Baker, the naturalist, who convened their first public meeting at Rawthmell's coffee-house, on the north side of Henrietta Street, on 22 March 1754. A ‘plan’ of Shipley's devising was published in 1755 in folio, where the aims of the society are stated, ‘to promote the arts, manufactures, and commerce of this kingdom by giving honorary or pecuniary rewards, as may be best adapted to the case, for the communication to the society, and through the society to the public, of all such useful inventions, discoveries, and improvements as tend to that purpose.’ In the application of science to practical objects it took up ground not occupied by the Royal Society, and soon met with enthusiastic support. Its success prompted the inception of the Royal Academy of Arts, and a preliminary exhibition of pictures was held in the society's rooms in 1760. Next year, however, most of the artists seceded, and the society's picture exhibitions dwindled and died. In 1761 the machinery which gained the premiums of the society was exhibited, and the event formed the germ of the industrial exhibitions of modern times. The society moved from the corner of Beaufort Buildings to its present quarters in John Street, Adelphi, in 1774. A fresh start was made on a new career in 1847, when it obtained a charter and the presidency of the prince consort. The society took an important part in the promotion of the great international exhibitions (1851 and 1862), the photographic society took its rise from an exhibition held under its auspices in 1852, and it has more recently developed an Indian section (1869), a foreign and colonial section (1874), and an applied-art section (1887).
Shipley was elected a ‘perpetual member’ of the society in February 1755, and was presented with a gold medal by the society in 1758. But it is probable that he was less interested in the society as its sphere gradually became more technical and industrial. At any rate, he resigned his post as registrar of the society in 1760, and he seems to have retired to Maidstone about 1768, and there, under the auspices of Lord Romney, to have founded a local institution, ‘the Kentish Society for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge,’ on the lines of the Society of Arts. In 1783 the society was instrumental in improving the sanitation of Maidstone gaol, and so effectually rooting out the gaol fever, which had committed terrible ravages in the county. In the following year the grand jury publicly thanked Shipley and his coadjutors for their humane exertions (cf. J. M. Russell, Hist. of Maidstone, 1881). Shipley died at Manchester, aged 89, on 28 Dec. 1803 (European Mag. 1804, i. 78). A monument was erected to his memory in the north-west corner of All Saints' churchyard, Maidstone. A fine oil portrait by Richard Cosway is in the rooms of the Society of Arts, and a portrait, drawn and engraved by William Hincks, was prefixed to the Society's ‘Transactions’ (vol. iv. 1786). There is a mezzotint by Faber of a painting by Shipley of a man blowing a lighted torch.[Roget's Hist. of the ‘Old Watercolour’ Soc. i. 138, 360; Foster's Alumni Oxon. s.v. ‘Shipley, Jonathan;’ Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Bryan's Dict. of Painters and Engravers; Thornbury and Walford's Old and New London, iii. 133; Wheatley and Cunningham's London; Penny Cyclopædia, s.v. ‘Society;’ European Mag. November 1813; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. v. 275; Rowles's Hist. of Maidstone, 1809, p. 85; Soc. of Arts Journal, 18 Aug. 1882 (paper by Mr. H. B. Wheatley).]