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British Industrial History

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Henry Tate

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Memorial in West Norwood Cemetery (detail)

Sir Henry Tate, 1st Baronet (March 11, 1819 – December 5, 1899) was an English sugar merchant from Chorley, noted for establishing the Tate Gallery in London.

1819 Tate was born in Chorley, Lancashire, the son of a clergyman.

1832 When he was 13, he became a grocer's apprentice in Liverpool.

1839 After a seven-year apprenticeship, he was able to set up his own shop. His business was successful, and grew to a chain of six stores by the time he was 35.

1859 Tate became a partner in John Wright and Co, sugar refinery

1861 He sold his grocery business.

By 1869, he had gained complete control of the company, and renamed it to Henry Tate and Sons.

1872, he purchased the Langen patent on a method of making sugar cubes, and in the same year built a new refinery in Liverpool.

1889 Tate rapidly became a millionaire, and donated generously to charity. In 1889 he donated his collection of 65 contemporary paintings to the government, on the condition that they be displayed in a suitable gallery, toward the construction of which he also donated £80,000.

1897 The National Gallery of British Art, better known as the Tate Gallery, was opened on July 21, 1897, on the site of the old Millbank Prison. Henry Tate was a modest rather retiring man, well known for his concern with workers’ conditions. He refused a knighthood more than once until - after he had spent over £100,000 to build the Millbank Gallery, endowed it with his personal collection, and presented it to the nation - he was told the Royal Family would be offended if he refused again.

Tate made many donations, often anonymously, and always discreetly. They included £42,500 for Liverpool University, £3,500 for Bedford College for Women, and £5,000 for building a free library in Streatham; additional provisions were made for libraries in Balham, South Lambeth, and Brixton. There was £10,000 for the library of Manchester College, Oxford, and, also to Manchester College, £5,000 to promote the ‘theory and art of preaching’. In addition he gave £20,000 to the (homoeopathic) Hahnemann Hospital in Liverpool in 1885, £8,000 to the Liverpool Royal Infirmary, and £5,000 to the Queen Victoria Jubilee Institute, which became the Queen's Institute for District Nurses. In 1887 he gave £5,000 to the Tate Institute in Silvertown.

Tate was made a baronet in 1898, the year before his death. He lived at Park Hill by Streatham Common, south London, and is buried in nearby West Norwood Cemetery, the gates of which are located opposite a public library that he endowed. Park Hill became a nunnery after his death until refurbishment as housing (c.2004)

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