Thomas Robinson Ferens
The name of Ferens is well-known throughout Hull. The
city’s Art Gallery bears his name, and 'Ferensway' is one of
the main roads through the city. He was a generous benefactor,
successful businessman and M.P. in the city.
Thomas Robinson Ferens was born, in County
Durham, on 4th May 1847 and was the son of a Miller. At the
age of 19 he moved to Hull to work as a clerk to Mr
James Reckitt. He progressed through the company of Reckitt and
Sons, eventually rising to Chairman.
Ferens became very wealthy but his
Methodist up-bringing meant that he used his wealth for
the benefit of others. He made gifts to the city
totalling over £1m (equivalent to
£45m today) funding a variety of causes including the
city's art gallery and the formation of Hull University.
Ferens had a
great love of art and he believed that it could have a
moral and spiritual effect on the viewer. In 1905 he gave
money to the city for the purchase of new works of art
and started a campaign for the city to have its
own dedicated art gallery.
In 1917 he gave £35,000 and the site of
St John’s Church, Queen Victoria Square for the construction of a
new art gallery and the Ferens Art Gallery was opened in November
1927. The following year he gave additional
money for the purchase of new works of art
and donated more than thirty paintings from his own
generously gave £250,000 towards the founding of Hull’s new
University College and also supplied the original 18 acre site
on Cottingham Road. The foundation stone for the new University
College was laid in 1928, by the Prince of Wales. Once the College
was built, Ferens endowed a further £240,000.
Ferens served the
city as Liberal Member of Parliament for East Hull
between 1906-1918 having first stood for election in 1900
but was defeated by 836 votes. However, six years later, he
won with a majority of 2,362 votes and celebrated this by
giving a sovereign to each Reckitt
In October, 1911, Ferens was presented
with the Freedom of the City of Hull. In the following year he
was made a member of the Privy Council by King George V and later
in the year, he was also made High Steward of Hull. Although
Ferens was honoured in these ways, throughout his life he never
sought recognition for his efforts.
Following a few weeks of illness, Ferens
died on Friday 9th May 1930. Two funeral services were held at
the same time in the city – one at Brunswick Church and the other
at Holy Trinity Church. As his wife Esther had died eight years
previously and they had no children, their home ‘Holderness House’
was left to be used as a ‘home for poor gentlewomen’.
It is clear from sentiments expressed in
Hull’s newspaper obituaries that Ferens had been held in great
respect and affection. The Hull Times had the headline ‘Hull Loses
a Lovable and Sterling Character’. The pages contained many
tributes, one of them by the Principal of the Hull University
College, who remarked that ‘Hull will seem empty without him’.
Although Ferens was not born in Hull, it
was his home for over sixty years and it became his ‘adopted city’.
It is said that when he first moved to Hull, he had only two
shillings that his mother had given him. He amassed great
wealth through ability and hard work and then used this
fortune to help others. As a result, thousands of people in the
city and the surrounding region have benefited over the years.