Henry Arthur Bright was representative of a not insignificant number of Liverpool citizens who, whilst nominally engaged in their family business, took advantage of their substantial wealth to pursue a wide array of intellectual interests and philanthropic causes.
He was born on 9th February 1830, the son of a merchant, Samuel Bright, and his wife Elizabeth Anne (née Jones) , daughter of a prominent Liverpool banker. The family lived in a substantial mansion, Sandheys, situated on Mill Lane L12, which still stands and was once part of the Holly Lodge campus. Henry Bright lived there until his marriage in 1861.
His education began at Rugby School, followed by Trinity College Cambridge (1847-51). Being a non-conformist and unwilling to subscribe to the thirty-nine articles of the Church of England he was not able to graduate until after the repeal of the Test Act in 1856. On leaving Cambridge he was made a partner in his father’s firm of Gibbs, Bright & Co which had recently started the Eagle Line packet-ship service to Australia using Brunel’s famous Great Britain converted into a four-master using auxiliary steam.
He seems to have played a minimal part in the running of the business but busied himself with other pursuits, He was a prolific writer, publishing in the Athenaeum for over a decade, and pieces for religious publications such as the Unitarian Enquirer, the Christian Reformer and Christian Life. A member of a number of literary societies he produced several significant papers of literature and history and a book on his family history The Brights of Colwall (1872). The only book which was well-known at the time was A Year in a Lancashire Garden (1879) subsequently republished as A Year in a Victorian Garden.
In 1852, on a visit to the USA, Bright met the celebrated writer Nathaniel Hawthorne and their friendship continued when he was made American Consul in Liverpool. He learned from Hawthorne of the brutal treatment meted out to American sailors and was moved to involve himself in work on behalf of seamen. He was elected chairman of the Sailors’ Home in Canning Place in 1867 and 1877 and was credited with bringing about the opening of a dispensary opposite the Sailors’ Home in1877, and the opening of a second home, in Luton Street in 1878.
In 1861 Henry Bright married Mary Elizabeth Thompson. Initially living at Needwood House, Laurel Road L7, in 1869 he built a substantial mansion, Ashfield, located in Thomas Lane, Knotty Ash L14. In 1921 the Bright family bequeathed the house to the city of Liverpool on condition that it was held in trust to be used as a home for ‘girls of feeble mind’. The house was renamed Thingwall House and remained in use until the 1990’s. There then followed many years of discussion and proposals for its future, during which the building became dilapidated and the extensive grounds overrun. At one time Ken Dodd, who lived nearby, wanted it to become a museum of comedy, offering his own collection of artefacts. In the end, following a fire caused by arson, the building was demolished in 2004 and now only the lodge remains.
In 1882, his health declining, Bright moved to France hoping the climate would improve his condition. He returned to Liverpool in 1884, dying at Ashfield on the 5th of May. His estate was valued at £45,552 (about £7 million in 2022).
In his monumental work, Liverpool’s Legion of Honour  B. Guinness Orchard described him as “a man of rare talent, culture and refinement”.
This was Henry Bright's home until his marraige in 1861.
Built in 1869 this was Bright's home until his death in 1884.
A memorial plaque in the Unitarian Church, Ullet Road.
© Liverpool Footprints