Greenbank House and its legacy at the University of Liverpool

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Greenbank House

In May this year, the University marked the 150th birthday of Eleanor Rathbone, one of the most exceptional women of the 20th Century; a prominent humanitarian activist and welfare reformer, her life’s work of fighting against social injustices to make life better for those in need was her legacy gift to many. The impact of her tireless campaign work resulted in the passing of the Family Allowances Act in 1945.

Born into the notable Rathbone family, her father was a liberal politician and business man who was noted for his philanthropic and public work. The Rathbone family legacy is interwoven into the history of the University of Liverpool; Eleanor lectured in public administration, and helped establish the School of Social Science. Her links to the University are still recognised today, by the Eleanor Rathbone building, lecture theatre and Chair of Sociology. 

The family residence, Greenbank House and its lands, were gifted to the University by members of the Rathbone family in 1944. The beautiful Grade II listed building, can be found within the University’s Greenbank Student Village. 

The fascinating history of Greenbank House, from its origins as the Rathbone family home to latterly its use as a University Hall of Residence and a staff and student club, through to its recent major restoration, has been chronicled by alumnus and retired University Archivist, Adrian Allan (Diploma in the Study of Records and Administration of Archives, 1965), in his book Greenbank House and the University of Liverpool published by Liverpool University Press. 


The challenge to produce a history of Greenbank House, to celebrate and commemorate the University's major conservation of the former family home of the Rathbones, was one I was happy to accept, given that the contribution of successive members of the Rathbone family to the education and welfare of the wider community is one which should be better known and is one which the University, which inherited the property in 1944,  has endeavoured to follow, as enunciated in such as the plaque on the University's Victoria Building which records that it was erected 'for advancement of learning and ennoblement of life'.

Adrian Allan - Author of Greenbank House and the University of Liverpool published by Liverpool University Press.

Adrian’s book is illustrated with plans, engravings, photographs, and a Rathbone family tree, and draws on the archives of the Rathbone family to observe the wider political, social, religious and literary relationships they enjoyed, as well as considering the observations of visitors, including John Dalton, the eminent chemist, and John James Audubon, the American naturalist and painter.

Recollections of alumni and former University staff contribute to the account of Greenbank’s service as an Annex of Derby Hall of Residence, 1947–63, and then as a popular staff-student club, 1963–88.

Greenbank House has recently undergone a major programme of repair and restoration of its distinctive 18th century, Gothic, and Victorian wings, that has brought the building back to its former glory.

You can purchase Adrian’s book, Greenbank House and the University of Liverpool, through Liverpool University Press.


Since its foundation in 1881 legacy gifts have played an integral part in the University of Liverpool’s history.  By placing the University at the very heart of a will, alongside family and friends, our legacy supporters have helped shape and enhance many of the most prominent University buildings, fund campaigns and research programmes, scholarships, prizes and bursaries which have allowed students to study at Liverpool, who otherwise would not have been able to.

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