North Devon Athenaeum
Discover & Explore North Devon’s Rich Past

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Our Founder and Barnstaple’s Great Benefactor

William Frederick Rock

Born in 1802 William Frederick Rock was the son of Henry and Prudence Rock. Henry Rock was a shoemaker in Barnstaple High Street who became a freeman of the borough and thus able to vote at the parliamentary elections.

It was through this position that Henry and William came into contact with William Busk a parliamentary contestant who briefly stayed with the family. He took an interest in William and was able to present him to Christ’s Hospital’s London Bluecoat School.

On his return from School, Rock was offered a job at a Bank in Bideford, but it was a job which did not suit. Getting into trouble several times for writing poetry and verse at work, he resigned and went to London, where another ex parliamentary candidate for Barnstaple, Alderman Atkins, offered him a job at his bank.

Later on Rock left the bank and went to work with printer and inventor Thomas de la Rue where Rock made enough money to set up a printing business with his brothers and future brother-in-law. The business prospered and Rock became a wealthy man, but with no wife or children to support he decided to give generously to his birth place.

At first he founded the Literary and Scientific Institution in 1845 and then, later the North Devon Athenæum in 1888. He also financed the purchase of land for Rock Park in Barnstaple and he set up a Convalescent Home in Mortehoe.

William Frederick Rock died on February 8th, 1890, at his home in Blackheath leaving a large collection to his Athenæum.

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