Charles Rogers

Charles Rogers FRS FSA (1711-1784)

A portrait of a well dressed man in the late 1700sCharles Rogers was not born into a family of great privilege, but acquired his knowledge and wealth through study and good fortune. He was born on 2 August, 1711 to parents William and Isabella, in the district of Soho, London.

As a young man he was befriended by William Townson (1682-1740) and his sisters, who also knew Rogers sister and mother. He was a likeable young man and soon absorbed into the Townson household. Townson held the post of Clerk of the Certificates at the Custom House in London and later managed to secure a junior post there for Rogers which he took up in 1731. Though Rogers had attended school, he later made frequent references to the inadequacy of his early education and it is probable that he was partly self-taught. Certainly Rogers was successful in his career, later succeeding Townson to the position of Clerk in 1746, a post he held until his retirement in 1780, only a few years before his death.

The friendship between the Rogers and Townson families brought Charles considerable fortune. He inherited the estates firstly of William in 1740, and then his spinster sisters, in 1742 and 1755. The inheritance included large houses at Laurence Pountney Lane, off Cannon Street and in Richmond, Surrey.

Many influential people worked at the Customs House, a number of whom were interested in the arts. Several were fellows of the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Antiquaries – Rogers himself became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries in 1756. He started collecting as early as 1737. It was through the contacts made in the Long Room at the Customs House that enabled Rogers to pursue his passion for collecting. Associates and friends such as Charles Townley and Arthur Pond purchased prints and drawings for Rogers on their travels to the Continent. Rogers never travelled abroad, but remained in the capital all his life.

The core of Rogers collection were the prints and drawings and the accompanying library from Townson. However, to this he added extensively over the following 40 or so years gaining a considerable reputation amongst his contemporaries. Over the years his wide circle of friends included many art lovers and benefactors such as Horace Walpole, Reynolds, Paul Sandby and Romney. This social circle, the substantial inheritance coupled with his own fascination and interest in the pursuit of knowledge provided the basis on which he amassed an enormous collection of prints, drawings and library.

Rogers died on 2 January, 1784, a bachelor, leaving his collection to his brother-in-law William Cotton, the first of three by that name through whose hands the collection passed from Rogers to Plymouth.