Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Towneley, Charles
TOWNELEY or TOWNLEY, CHARLES (1737–1805), collector of classical antiquities, was the eldest son of William Towneley (1714–1741) of Towneley Hall, by his wife Cecilia, daughter of Ralph Standish of Standish, Lancashire, and granddaughter of Henry, sixth duke of Norfolk. He was born on 1 Oct. 1737 at Towneley, the family seat, near Burnley, in the parish of Whalley, Lancashire. He succeeded to the estate on his father's death in 1742, and about this time was sent to the college of Douay, being afterwards under the care of John Turberville Needham [q. v.] About 1758 he took possession of Towneley Hall (see views in Whitaker's Whalley, ii. 186, 187). He planted and improved the estate, and lived for a time the life of the country gentleman of his day.
A visit to Rome and Florence in 1765 led him to study ancient art. He travelled in southern Italy and Sicily, but made Rome his headquarters till 1772. In 1768 he bought from the Dowager Princess Barberini the marble group of the Astragalizontes, and began to form a collection of antiquities. In spite of the competition of the Vatican Museum he rapidly increased his collection, chiefly by entering into an alliance with Gavin Hamilton (1730–1797) [q. v.], and more cautiously with Thomas Jenkins, the banker at Rome. He shared in their risks and successes in making excavations in Italy.
In 1772 he came to live in London, and after a time purchased No. 7 Park Street, Westminster (now, with Queen Square, renamed Queen Anne's Gate). He complained of his noisy neighbours in the Royal Cockpit, but, having purchased the house as a ‘shell,’ he was able to fit it up suitably for the reception of his statues and library. He still occasionally visited Rome, and continued to receive fresh acquisitions for his collection till about 1780, partly from Italy, through his agents Hamilton and Jenkins, and partly by purchases in England from Lyde Brown and others. In addition to marbles, Townley's collection contained terra-cotta reliefs (many of which were procured by Nollekens), bronze utensils, some fine gems, and a series of Roman ‘large brass’ coins purchased for more than 3,000l. Townley, like his friend, Sir William Hamilton, imbibed with eagerness the fanciful theories of P. F. Hugues (‘D'Hancarville’), most of whose ‘Recherches sur l'Origine des Arts de la Grèce’ was written at Townley's Park Street house. Townley himself published nothing beyond a dissertation in the ‘Vetusta Monumenta’ on an ancient helmet found at Ribchester. His delight in his collections remained keen. In 1780, when his house, as that of a Roman catholic, was threatened by the Gordon rioters, he hurriedly secured his cabinet of gems, and conveyed to his carriage the famous bust known as Clytie, which, being an unmarried man, he used to call his wife. He had his favourite busts of Clytie, Pericles, and Homer engraved for an occasional visiting card.
In 1786 Townley became a member of the Society of Dilettanti, and in 1791 a trustee of the British Museum. About 1803 his health began to decline, but he amused himself by designing a statue gallery and library for Towneley Hall. He died at 7 Park Street on 3 Jan. 1805, in his sixty-eighth year, and was buried in the family chapel at Burnley in Lancashire. His estates passed to his surviving brother, Edward Towneley Standish, and afterwards to his uncle, John Towneley of Chiswick (d. 1813). The male line failed on the death of Colonel John Towneley in 1878, when the property was divided among seven coheiresses, the daughters of Colonel John's elder brother Charles (1803–1876) and of himself.
The Towneley marbles and terra-cottas were purchased in 1805 from Townley's executors by the British Museum for 20,000l. Edward Towneley Standish was then appointed the first Towneley trustee, and a new gallery built at the museum for the collection was opened to the public in 1808. Townley's bronzes, coins, gems, and drawings were acquired by the museum in 1814 for 8,200l. Townley's manuscript catalogues are preserved in the department of Greek and Roman antiquities, British Museum, and his collections, as deposited in the museum, are described and illustrated in Ellis's ‘Townley Gallery.’ A portion of Townley's collection of drawings from the antique passed into the hands of Sir A. W. Franks. John Thomas Smith (1766–1833) [q. v.] and many young students of the Royal Academy had been employed by Townley to make drawings for his portfolios.
Townley is described as a man of graceful person and polished address, with a kind of ‘Attic irony’ in his conversation. He was liberal in admitting strangers to view his collections (Picture of London for 1802, p. 216), and on Sunday used to give pleasant dinner parties in his spacious dining-room overlooking St. James's Park. In this room his largest statues were ranged against the walls and columns which were wrought in scagliola in imitation of porphyry, with lamps gracefully interspersed. Sir Joshua Reynolds, Nollekens, Zoffany, and the Abbé Devay, whom Townley called his ‘walking library,’ were among his guests. A picture formerly at Towneley Hall, painted by Zoffany about 1782, and engraved by Cardon, shows Townley in his library, surrounded by books and statues, conversing with his friends D'Hancarville, Charles Greville, and Thomas Astle.
There are the following portraits of Townley: 1. A bust by Nollekens, in the British Museum, from a death-mask; this is considered by J. T. Smith a good likeness, though the lower part of the face is too full. 2. A less successful bust by Nollekens, bequeathed to the British Museum by R. Payne Knight. 3. A bust from life by P. Turnerelli, exhibited at Somerset House in 1805. 4. A stipple print engraved by James Godby from a Tassie medallion, 1780 (Gray, Tassie, p. 152). 5. A profile, as on a Greek coin, prefixed to D'Hancarville's ‘Recherches,’ p. 25.[Nichols's Literary Illustrations, iii. 721–47; Ellis's Townley Gallery; Michaelis's Ancient Marbles in Great Britain; Whitaker's Whalley; Edwards's Lives of the Founders of the British Museum; Smith's Nollekens, pp. 257–66; Guide to the Exhibition Galleries of the Brit. Museum, Introduction; Burke's Hist. of the Commoners, ii. 265 f.]