One small step…

The Artemis 1 mission successfully launched from the Kennedy Space Center at 6:47am GMT (1:47am EST) on Wednesday 16th November, marking NASA’s renewed mission to explore the lunar environment and deep space possibilities. The mission will extensively test the Space Launch System and the Orion module, which will travel out into deep space at a distance of approximately 65,000 miles beyond the moon before returning to Earth and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on December 11th 2022. Although this flight is unmanned, it heralds a renewed drive for space exploration.

If we cast our minds back some 53 years, we can recall another feat of trailblazing space travel. This momentous event occurred on July 20th 1969. Three men – Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins – had piloted Apollo 11 to the moon and two of them – Armstrong and Aldrin – had landed the Lunar Module on the moon’s surface at Mare Tranquillitatis – the Sea of Tranquility. Its safe landing was announced to Mission Control and the waiting world by Mission Commander Armstrong with the words,

‘Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed’. 

The following day, July 21st 1969, saw Neil Armstrong take the first steps on the lunar surface, when he delivered the immortal line:

‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’

It was. Who can forget being enthralled by the grainy black and white television images of these heroes as they explored the barren wastes of the moon, pictures beaming almost impossibly from space into our homes, schools and workplaces? Everyone stopped and watched, or so it seemed…

Back on earth, the local newspapers were busy reporting the day-to-day goings on of the communities they served. Delving into the Archive to look back at the microfilmed Kirkby Reporter, we can see that in the run up to the Apollo mission, the edition of Thursday 15th May 1969 ran a feature which looked at a local school’s contribution to the Merseyside Science Fair to be held in June 1969 at Liverpool University, under the headline ‘In the name of Science’. All of the 335 pupils from St. Michael’s Junior School, Westvale, were involved in carrying out detailed scientific research for inclusion in the Fair. For example, one group studied the comparative heights and weights of girls and boys; pupils followed and plotted the progress of their teacher’s new born baby and one boy created a questionnaire to find out about blood, interviewing a local G.P. before putting the questionnaire together. Even the school budgie and Smokey the rabbit got involved – they had their pulses taken and recorded by pupils.

The period before the moon landing was an exciting time in Kirkby: the first Kirkby Show was held over two days on Friday 11th and Saturday 12th July and the Reporter was there to capture the fun in the giant marquee, declaring ‘It’s a Hit!’ in its headline from the 17th July edition. 14,000 visitors attended the Show – reportedly a fifth of Kirkby’ population.

The front-page headlines of 24th July featured the visit by Princess Margaret to Fazakerley Hospital’s new £740,000 maternity unit (she had been unable to attend the official opening in May due to an attack of gastro-enteritis) – and the moon landing inspired a number of witty advertisements from local companies. Don’t worry that you can’t book a seat on Apollo 11 – Phythians Travel Agency of St. Helens will put your name down in their Lunar Flight Register for early booking once moon flights are available (we’re still waiting…). In a tongue in cheek feature article, Budget Rent-A-Car International, a subsidiary of Trans International Airlines, appears to have beaten them to it, offering commercial charter flights on the TIA ‘949’ Super Spacecraft, luxury accommodation at the Hotel Luna in the Sea of Showers and, of course, lunar vehicle hire. The space race certainly inspired the imagination!

The Kirkby Reporter is also the source for some interesting accounts of sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects and alien beings. In December 1970, the Reporter put out a call for anyone who had witnessed several incidents involving U.F.O.s flying over Kirkby and the Industrial Estate that had been reported back in 1964. A man who was working as a security guard at the time of the phenomena was writing a book about the encounters and wanted to gather people’s evidence. He had witnessed unidentified objects flying singly and in formation, at times at very high speeds, throughout July and August 1964. The book – U.F.O.s Over Kirkby by John Parkinson – was published in 1972 and contains very detailed accounts of the mysterious craft sighted in the Kirkby area. It is available to view in the Archive.

Other sightings have been captured in the Kirkby Reporter.

As reported on Friday 24th May 1963, two local teenagers were stunned when a beam of light lit up the sky close to Kirkby Fire Station at around 10:30pm. One witness stated that ‘…it was a funny shape and a beam was coming from it at intervals’. The featureless object was hovering about 100 feet from the ground and circled the area for about an hour.

The front page headline on Friday 6th January 1978 declared ‘Serious Sighting Shocker’. Four young men had been driving along Old Cut Lane in Simonswood when they were confronted by an eight foot tall monster. The creature, described as wearing ‘an asbestos-like spacesuit’, blocked the road and approached the vehicle, at which point the men fled the scene, calling the police from a nearby farmhouse. The police took the sighting very seriously and emphasised that there was no indication that the men were drunk or that they were the victims of a prank. However, this didn’t deter the Reporter’s journalists from doing their own investigation – the following week’s edition featured a Reporter staff journalist dressed as an alien and parading around the town to get reactions from the local residents!

Whether sightings of other-worldly crafts and beings were prompted by the excitement of the space race of the 1960s and 1970s, or even the impact of Hollywood blockbusters like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the Star Wars franchise, we continue to look to the stars. With advancements in technology – the James Webb Space Telescope is capturing the most incredible images of the earliest galaxies in the universe – we continue to find inspiration in space travel and exploration.  


We Shall Remember…

At 11:00pm on 4th August 1914, Great Britain, under the leadership of Herbert Henry Asquith, entered into what was to become known as ‘the war to end all wars’ [H.G. Wells].

Few would have imagined the full horror of what was to follow, and many men willingly volunteered to join the ranks of soldiers fighting for King and Country in the trenches on the Western Front and other theatres of war.

The townships that make up the borough of Knowsley also offered up their men, many of whom did not return after the Armistice, which was declared on 11th November,1918. They are commemorated on war memorials throughout the borough.

One such memorial stands at Eccleston Lane Ends, Prescot. The Eccleston Lane Ends War Memorial on the corner of St Helens Road and Burrows Lane pays tribute to the men of the old West Derby Hundred of the County Palatine of Lancaster for their service during the Great War. It was commissioned by Frederick Richard Dixon-Nuttall, of Ingleholme, Central Avenue, Eccleston Park.

F R Dixon-Nuttall inherited his father’s glass bottle making company (in Ravenhead Road) and was later instrumental in the formation of the United Glass Bottle Company (UGB) later United Glass. He was a respected local figure, being a founder member of Windle Bowling Club and Lifetime President of Grange Park Golf Club. He was a past Mayor of St Helens (1891, 1902), an Alderman until 1923 and he was involved in the establishment of the new St Helens Church in 1926.

His middle son, Lieutenant John Frederick, was killed on the night of 20/21 May 1915 whilst serving with the 1st West Lancashire Field Company Royal Engineers. He had joined the unit straight from Repton School in Southport, where he had been in the Officer Training Corps (OTC) and is buried in the New Irish Farm Cemetery near Ypres, Belgium.

Eccleston Lane Ends war memorial
Eccleston Lane Ends memorial

Following John’s death, F R Dixon-Nuttall commissioned the Eccleston Lane Ends war memorial which was unveiled on 23rd July 1922 by the then Bishop of Liverpool.  The monument is said to be modelled on eldest son Major William Francis Nuttall-Dixon, of the Royal Engineers, and his wife. Youngest son Thomas also served in the Royal Engineers, as a 2nd Lieutenant.

Kirkby’s Municipal Memorial stands in the Civic Square after being relocated from its original position outside the now-demolished Civic Buildings. The fallen from conflicts spanning the years from the First World War to Afghanistan in 2011 are commemorated. One name on the memorial is that of John Beesley.  

From information found in the Archive, we can piece together some of the story behind the name. John Beesley was born in Kirkby in 1881 and was baptised at St Chad’s Church, Kirkby on 13 March 1881. His parents were James Beesley, born in Simonswood in 1857 and Elizabeth Beesley nee Smith, born in Netherton in 1858.  Married on 16th August 1880, they lived in Kirkby for a short while before moving to Liverpool for several years, prior to returning to Kirkby, where the family lived on Ribblers Lane in a 4 roomed house. Over the years, James Beesley supported his family through working as a labourer, a carter and a forester. Sadly, Elizabeth Beesley died on 12th November 1892, at the age of 34, shortly after the death of her youngest child, Hannah, who passed away aged one year old in 1891.

In 1911, the family, headed by James, was listed in the census as living at the family home on Ribblers Lane. John, the oldest of the surviving siblings, was recorded as working as a labourer at the local stone quarry. His sister Ellen was born in January 1883 in Liverpool. Interestingly, in the England and Wales register of 1939, she is recorded as being employed as a 2nd Housemaid at Croxteth Hall, family seat of the Molyneux family, the Earls of Sefton. It seems that she never married and died in 1960. Brother George was a Christmas baby, born 23 December 1884 in Liverpool and he also saw active service, serving in the Royal Navy from 9th Jun 1905 until 13th May 1919. The youngest member of the family recorded in the 1911 census was Charles, who was born in May 1888, with his baptism taking place in June 1888 at St Peters, Everton.

St Chad's burial register entry for John Beesley
St. Chad’s Burial Register entry for John Beesley

However, times were changing and in 1914, John Beesley signed up for military service with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. His service number was 2012 and he served as a Private in the 2nd Battalion, before gaining promotion to Rifleman in 1916. He was killed on 3rd February 1918, his burial taking place in St Chad’s graveyard where he rests in the family grave.

Copy of an extract from Anthony Bolton's attestation form
Extract from A. Bolton’s attestation form

Another of Kirkby’s WWI fallen whose name appears on the Kirkby Municipal Memorial was Anthony Bolton. He enlisted on 7th September 1914 at Seaforth and was posted to ‘B’ Company, 14th Battalion King’s Liverpool Regiment on the 17th of that month. He was killed in action whist serving as a Sergeant in the 18th Battalion King’s Regiment on 4th November 1918, the location listed as ‘France & Flanders’ in the ‘Soldiers died in the Great War 1914-1919’ listing compiled in the War Office and originally published in 1921.  

Back at home, men who were perceived to be shirking their duty to fight ‘for King and Country’ would come under pressure to enlist: women would present men out of uniform with a white feather to publicly shame them. The ‘On War Service’ badge was issued during the First World War to identify men who were employed in essential war work and to protect them from such accusations of shirking and slacking. These badges were initially issued ‘unofficially’ by the companies who employed the men, but the scheme was adopted by the War Office in 1915, when the unofficial badges were withdrawn.

An 'On War Service' badge
‘On War Service’ badge

A badge for female munitions workers was issued by the War Office from May 1916. Over 270,000 ‘On War Service’ badges were issued to women between May and December 1916. An example of one of these badges can be found in the Archive. Issued by the War Office in 1916 to a female war effort worker, it was made by J R Gaunt and Sons Limited with the serial number 765152. J R Gaunt and Sons Limited was established in 1750, producing military and uniform buttons since 1870 in Birmingham and in London from 1899.

The impact of the Great War was massive: never had there been such tragic loss of life on all sides and the social and political ramifications were to be felt for many years to come.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”

[From For the Fallen by R.L. Binyon]

Huyton’s Forgotten School and Landing Ground

Written by Rob O’Brien

On leaving his post as senior English Master at Liverpool College in 1926, a position he had occupied for the previous five years, Hubert Desramaux Butler set his sights on opening a school of his own. Hubert was born at Farnworth, near Bolton on 9th March 1899, the third son of a Church of England clergyman. Educated initially at Rossall School, he later gained a B.A. Honours degree in English at Oxford University.

The school H.D. Butler envisaged (of which he became both headmaster and owner), was to be unlike the normal preparatory school of its time. He was a man of vision, a modernist, with many unique ideas that he incorporated within his new venture.

Huyton Hill Boys’ Preparatory School began in a small way, comprising just a handful of pupils in a large semi-detached villa at the extreme end of Victoria Road, Huyton. As pupil numbers increased, the adjoining villa was bought to accommodate them and later a third property was added. The popularity of the school was such that by 1939 there were 53 pupils of whom 27 were boarders.

Ranging in age from five to fifteen years, the pupils at Huyton Hill received not just a rounded academic education but they were involved in decision making and encouraged to develop a sense of individual responsibility. On Saturday mornings, boys took part in collective work not only around the school grounds, but also carrying out half an hour’s work for the local community. In turn, the boys learnt about the use of tools by accompanying the school handyman when repairs were necessary on the premises. In the garden area of the school, pupils had the use of a swimming pool, a small boating pool and a large summer house which they had helped to construct.

1926 Huyton Hey Trust Plan

Huyton Hey Trust Plan 1926

(Ref: KA23/P/P1- Knowsley Archives)

Apart from purchasing the school buildings, Mr Butler had also bought the land adjoining the school which comprised an area of some thirty acres. Part of this land was used as a recreational area and the rest eventually used as a landing ground for aeroplanes. Once more the headmaster’s ability to plan ahead was in evidence. The school landing ground opened on 1st July 1932, an event reported in the local press:

Evening Express – 1st July 1932

© Liverpool Evening Express
(The Master of Sempill shows boys of Huyton Hill School, Liverpool, how to start an aeroplane after opening the school aerodrome today)

Liverpool Daily Post – 2nd July 1932

© Liverpool Daily Post
(Headmaster H.D. Butler with Colonel, the Master of Sempill addressing the boys of Huyton Hill School, Liverpool, yesterday, after opening the school aerodrome)

Later that month as the summer holidays approached, one of the pupils was picked up from the school by a parent in a light aircraft. Huyton Hill was the first school in the country to have its own landing ground!

Prescot Reporter – 29th July 1932

To enable pilots to confirm the airfield’s location, yet again pupils were involved. They helped to construct a series of markers on the landing ground itself. Concrete letters depicting ’H H’ and measuring thirty-feet in size were set into the earth in the middle of the landing ground together with a second concrete marker stating HUYTON HILL in ten-foot letters, which was set into the corner of the landing ground in order to show incoming aircraft the line of approach.

A 1930s postcard below shows the scene: the landing ground and completed concrete markers, with the school buildings shown in the background:

Huyton Hill School and landing ground, Huyton

© Aero Pictorial Ltd, London

By the start of the Second World War, Huyton Hill Boys’ School had left Huyton for new premises in the Lake District, firstly at Newby Bridge, then in 1942 a further move to Pull Wood House, beside Lake Windermere near Ambleside. Similarly, most of the pupils at Liverpool College for Girls, Huyton, also moved to the Lake District for safety reasons following bombing raids on the Liverpool docks area; inevitably, some bombs did fall within the Huyton district.

After the war, the girls’ school pupils returned to Huyton College (it had been renamed in 1945), but Huyton Hill Boys’ Preparatory School remained operational in the Lake District until its closure in 1969.

Huyton Hill School – Lake District

© Aerofilms Ltd, London

Postscript: The Master of Sempill (who officially opened the landing ground at Huyton in 1932), had previously been investigated by the authorities for alleged national security breaches but that’s another story…



Family History Help Desk Dates 2020

Every month throughout the year, Knowsley Archives offers a series of Family History Help Desks in libraries across the borough. They’re ideal if you are new to family history research, or are trying to find your way through the maze of information and resources: expert advice and guidance is available to help you on your way.

If you would like help with your family history research, staff at the ARK – Knowsley Archives’ base in The Kirkby Centre– are available to help during our normal opening hours, but the Family History Help Desks are an opportunity to get support at a time and location that may be more convenient for you.

Sessions are free of charge and they are run on a drop-in basis. We will do our best to answer your questions on the day, but more complicated queries may need to be followed up after your visit or require an additional appointment.

Women and children packing the potato crop, Kirkby

Packing the potato crop, Kirkby c.1910

The dates for 2020 are as follows:


Tuesday 10.00 -1.00


Tuesday        2.00-5.00


Thursday 10.00-1.00


Friday        2.00-5.00


Saturday 10.00-1.00

14th January 14th January 16th January 17th January 18th January
11th February 11th February 13th February 14th February 15th February
10th March 10th March 12th March 13th March 14th March
14th April 14th April 16th April 17th April 18th April
12th May 12th May 14th May 15th May 16th May
9th June 9th June 11th June 12th June 13th June
7th July 7th July 9th July 10th July 11th July
4th August 4th August 6th August 7th August 8th August
1st September 1st September 3rd September 4th September 5th September
6th October 6th October 8th October 9th October 10th October
3rd November 3rd November 5th November 6th November 7th November
1st  December 1st  December 3rd  December 4th December 5th December

Underneath the Hazels: Unravelling the Past of C.F. Mott College

With the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Knowsley Archives have been busy cataloguing, conserving and preserving the archives of C.F. Mott College that are stored in the ARK. This remarkable and innovative college had a campus that straddled the Huyton and Prescot border and at its heart was the Hazels, a stately 18th century building that had been owned by, amongst others, members of the Pilkington family and is still standing. The college was named after a distinguished former Director of Education for the City of Liverpool, Charles Francis Mott.

The Hazels
The Hazels

Founded in 1946 in response to the national shortage of teachers following the end of the Second World War, C.F. Mott College would eventually go on to become one of the largest and most successful teacher training colleges in the country with a reputation for academic innovation. By the 1970s, the college was also offering degree courses in the arts, humanities, social sciences and science, before finally merging with Liverpool Polytechnic (which later became Liverpool John Moores University) in 1983.

Three students, 1952
Three students in a halls of residence bedroom, 1952

At first, the college was women-only and relatively small. In 1951 Dr. D.M. Farr replaced Miss Whiting as Principal and she would lead a rapid expansion of the campus, with additional buildings, sports and leisure facilities, as well as accommodation for students and staff. As the campus developed, student numbers increased and the social life of the students evolved. Dr. Farr would later write proudly of the “acquisition of a good dance floor [that] changed the whole outlook of college life.” She was keen to ensure that students from the University of Liverpool were invited to take part in activities at the college (and vice versa) so that social events received a new impetus. This enthusiastic encouragement of the students’ social and leisure life was regarded by Dr. Farr as “a welcome prevention of the ‘cosiness’ which can overtake a small women’s college.”

The student choir rehearsing, circa 1966
The student choir rehearsing, circa 1966

In 1959 the college became a mixed college and male students were admitted for the first time. This was another period of rapid expansion for the college, with new postgraduate courses being added to the curriculum and a surge in staff and student numbers.

As innovative as Dr. Farr appears to have been, college life during the 1950s and 1960s can seem strangely archaic to our modern eyes. Among the college archives are House Committee minute books that reveal the very serious and lengthy debates the staff would have about aspects of the students’ lives. Over the course of several years, from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s, the use of gramophones was a hot topic at House Committee meetings: how loud should they be (not very)? Should students be allowed them in their own bedrooms (can’t they just make do with the wireless and gramophones in the common rooms?)?

Even sunbathing was raised at the House Committee meetings. The sight of female students catching a few rays was resulting in “visitors being embarrassed” in 1956 and students were instructed to sunbathe only where there was no risk of them being spotted! Who these visitors were and why they were looking in the first place is never mentioned!

A student teacher with pupils, circa 1976
A student teacher with pupils, circa 1976

Another common debate that pops up time and time again in the House Committee minutes concerns the clothing students were allowed to wear. It is worth bearing in mind that, for much of its history, the college was purely a teacher training college, so students will have been working on placements in schools. For the college staff it was important that trainee teachers were perceived as smartly dressed and positive role models for children. However, it may come as a surprise to learn that this extended to what clothing was acceptable for students to wear at any time. In summer 1956, staff were reminded that no one should be wearing jeans. However, “special permission would be given to cyclists if they asked for it.” This debate would rumble on for the next few years with change only coming in 1960, when it was decided that new or clean jeans could be “presentable,” although old ones looked “scruffy and untidy.” It was agreed that smart jeans would, for the first time, be officially allowed…sort of: this change would only apply to male students!

Students playing pool, circa early 1980s
Students playing pool, circa early 1980s

For female students, clothing restrictions would be more stringently applied for several more years. While men were strolling around campus sporting their smart new jeans, the female students were fighting for the right to wear slacks in the TV room. This was eventually allowed in 1960, but there remained a great concern about how female students were presenting themselves to the outside world and “apart from hiking and college expeditions, women students must not wear slacks outside college.”

Of course, the times they were a-changin’ and the college would become more and more liberal in its approach to student life, with late 1960s, 70s and 80s photographs in the archive showing both male and female students in jeans, slacks and all manner of clothing that would probably have appalled the House Committee of a generation before.

The traditions of constant evolution, expansion and adaptation that Dr. Farr had begun would continue with her replacements, Mr. Clarke (1965-1974) and Mr. Cane (1974-1983). The college had a number of minor name changes during its history and, following the addition of degree courses validated by the University of Lancaster, it became the C.F. Mott campus of the City of Liverpool College of Higher Education (COLCHE) in 1978. Within a few years, the college merged with Liverpool Polytechnic and the campus closed, but its expertise in arts and humanities would make a significant contribution to the Polytechnic’s fine reputation in these areas, maintained by the current Liverpool John Moores University.

Get in touch! We’re keen to hear from former college students and staff who would be interested in having their memories recorded for future generations or would like to deposit any mementos of the college with the archive.

Students relaxing on campus, circa early 1980s
Students relaxing on campus, circa early 1980s

An exhibition about the college will be at Kirkby Library from 14th November 2019 – 31st January 2020. A private view event will take place at Kirkby Library on Wednesday 13th November 2019, 6-8pm, and will be a chance to see the exhibition first and hear a short talk about the archive collection. Please note, this is an RSVP-only event. Please reserve your place by emailing or calling Knowsley Archives on 0151 443 4291.

The Dude Comes to Kirkby

“I can see us in for some lively times…”

– Jack Pulman’s diary, December 1915

Last December we wrote on here about Jack Pulman’s incredible First World War diary and photographs. Since then, thanks to a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we have been able to continue with the conservation, preservation, cataloguing, transcription and digitisation of the collection. In addition, we wanted to introduce people to Jack, his diary and photographs and we’ve done this through talks, workshops and a soon-to-open exhibition.

photograph of Huyton U3A members with the diary

Huyton U3A members with the diary

Huyton and Halewood’s U3A (University of the Third Age) groups have been marking the centenary anniversary of the First World War through a series of events and research undertaken by their members. Some of this had already involved coming to Knowsley Archives to hear about and see our collections, but this project has provided us with the opportunity to introduce a new aspect to their research and knowledge of local people’s wartime experiences. We delivered a specially-tailored talk for U3A members about the diary, which included an opportunity to see the diary up close. Another tailored talk was presented to residents of Priory Court retirement properties, generating a lot of animated discussion and excitement about Jack’s diary.

One of the most exciting aspects of this project has been working with Comics Youth

CIC, a youth-led organisation who support marginalised and disadvantaged children and young people to express themselves through creating and publishing comics and zines. Almost 20 children and young people have been learning about Jack’s life during wartime and inspired by portions of Jack’s diary and his photographs to create some spectacular and beautiful artworks.

Photograph of a child creating an artwork at one of the sessions run by Comics Youth

One of the Comics Youth artwork sessions

Our exhibition, Diary of a Dude: Bringing Jack Pulman’s First World War Diary to Life, brings together extracts and photographs from the diary with the new artwork, demonstrating the work that has been undertaken as part of this project, as well as introducing Jack and his diary to new audiences. The original diary and many original photographs will be on display and there will be opportunities to find out about where Jack travelled during the War, the kinds of social activities he took part in (including the unique games of donkey football!), and the members of his musical group, the Deolali Dudes.

“1914, October 30th Hong Kong. Volunteers wanted for Royal Navy to complete various ships company…Enquired terms of service and finding them satisfactory, volunteered.”

With this very matter of fact entry, Jack Pulman began writing his diary over 100 years ago. It’s a tone of grounded realism that continues throughout the 129 pages of the diary. There are no dramatic flourishes or flights of fancy. It’s rare that he stretches a description of a remarkable event – such as a battle, the death of a colleague or a new development in the War – over more than a few sentences. And so I wonder what this seemingly reserved man, who would go on to drive Liverpool trams for 40 years and raise a small family, would make of our celebration of his diary, photographs and life? How would he react to finding himself the subject of talks; being drawn and painted as a comic book figure; and being the subject of an exhibition 130 years after he was born? It’s been a privilege to see the excitement and interest generated by sharing Jack’s diary and the world he saw and captured through his photography. These may not be the “lively times” Jack was foreseeing in 1915, but it seems a good description of the project he has inspired.

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The ‘Diary of the Dude’ exhibition is in Kirkby Library from 23rd April – 4th June 2019. Please check Library opening times before visiting.

Family History Help Desks 2019

As previous blogs have described, Knowsley Archives provide a series of Family History Help Desks in libraries across the borough every month. If you are new to family history research, or are trying to find your way through the maze of information and resources, expert advice and guidance is available to help you on your way.

If you would like support with your family history research, staff at the ARK – Knowsley Archives’ base in Kirkby Library – are available to help during our opening hours (see sidebar on the right), but the Family History Help Desks are an opportunity to get support at a time and location that may be more convenient for you.

There is no charge for sessions and they are run on a drop-in basis. We will do our best to answer your questions on the day, but more complicated queries may need to be followed up after your visit or require an additional appointment.

Sessions for 2019 are as follows:
















22nd January 22nd January 24th January 25th January 26th January
19th February 19th February 21st February 22nd February 23rd February
19th March 19th March 21st March 22nd March 23rd March
23rd April 23rd April 25th April 26th April 27th April
28th May 28th May 30th May 31st May 1st June
25th June 25th June 27th June 28th June 29th June
23rd July 23rd July 25th July 26th July 27th July
20th August 20th August 22nd August 23rd August 24th August
17th September 17th September 19th September 20th September 21st September
15th October 15th October 17th October 18th October 19th October
12th November 12th November 14th November 15th November 16th November
10th December 10th December 12th December 13th December 14th December


Discovering the Dude

Fans of the classic Coen Brothers film, The Big Lebowski, will remember Jeff Bridges’ brilliant performance as the Dude. However, let me introduce you to a much earlier – and very different! – Dude. Our Dude is called John (or Jack) Pulman and served in the British Navy during the First World War.

Photograph of Jack Pulman, 1917

Jack Pulman, 1917

Thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery, we are currently undertaking a project, called Diary of a Dude, revolving around Jack’s incredible First World War diary and the many photographs he took during the War. Having been a merchant seaman, Liverpool-born Jack signed up for the Navy in October 1914 whilst working in the Hong Kong area, which is when his journal entries begin. His first two entries read:

“October 30th,1914. Hong Kong. Volunteers wanted for Royal Navy to complete various ships company. Enquired terms of service and finding them satisfactory, volunteered. October  31st, accepted and signed on for the period of the war.”

All very interesting, you may be thinking, but why the ‘Diary of a Dude’ title? As we first looked through the diary, we were delighted to find that – as well as a seriously talented photographer – Jack was a musician and he formed a band with a few fellow sailors, calling themselves the Deolali Dudes and performing at various entertainment concerts the men would put on for each other. The Deolali part of their name comes from one of the army camps that Jack and some his fellow sailors went to for rest and recuperation. The Deolali transit camp was in the Nashik district of Maharashtra, India and had been a British camp since 1849. It continued to be used by the British during the First and Second World Wars and became a camp notorious for both being unpleasant and for the psychological problems of the many service personnel that passed through it. This latter part of its reputation gave birth to the phrase ‘gone doolally’ (a derivation of Deolali). Whatever Jack made of the camp, he and his friends performed under the band name at various social events there and elsewhere. Included in the diary are copies of hand-drawn (possibly by Jack) programmes for concerts, where we can find out exactly what tunes the Dudes played and what other entertainment the evening offered.

Photograph of Jack Pulman and the rest of the Deolali Dudes, circa 1916

The Deolali Dudes, c. 1916, with Jack back row, far right

As you can imagine, whenever we have something like Jack’s diary donated to the archive, we’re desperate to look inside and find out more about the people associated with the document. However, the first priority has to be making sure we can preserve the document as well as possible and make it available to the public for research and study. In the case of Jack’s diary, it was clear that a lot of work was needed before making it available for research.

An example of a badly damaged photograph from the diary with parts of the image ripped away

An example of a badly damaged photograph from the diary

The journal was in a poor state, with extensive water damage (appropriately for a naval diary!) and the spine of the volume was very weak, meaning that the diary could not be opened fully without causing further damage. Included with the diary are almost 150 photographs and images. The majority of these have been glued directly onto pages of the diary and many of these were also in poor condition. Over time, most adhesives cause damage to paper and, combined with water damage, this had added to the condition problems we now faced. Where photographs had been glued to opposite pages, many of them had stuck to each other and then someone had tried to prise them apart, leaving images with portions missing or torn.

We knew that we needed to bring in a professional conservator to make sure that the diary and its remarkable contents could be repaired as best as possible. Thanks to the Heritage Lottery funding we were able to do this and it was a joy to have the diary return looking fantastic and to be able to open it (thanks to a new spine!) and discover more about Jack and his experiences during the War.

Jack also seems to have played a role in inventing a new sport to keep people entertained during shore leave: donkey football! The diary comes with a set of rules for the sport that include: “donkeys must not charge the goalkeeper” and “should one donkey mount another, a foul is given against the mounting donkey”! Who knows what the donkeys made of this, although the rules do state that “no sticks [are] to be used against donkeys, or cruelty of any kind.”

Photograph of a game of donkey football, circa 1917

A game of donkey football underway! c. 1917

As we’re into the Christmas season, it’s worth highlighting Christmas 1915 on board Jack’s ship, as what Jack calls a “catastrophe” had happened: they’d run out of spuds. “Pity our Christmas dinner,” Jack writes. The dinner ended up being:

“a proper scrape up…a little bit of tough mutton and a few half cooked marrowfat peas…while the sweets consisted of a bit of workhouse duff that we had managed to knock up. The wines (don’t skit): one whole bottle of bulldog beer per man.” 

Of course, the majority of the diary is concerned with Jack’s time on board ship and is filled with descriptions of skirmishes and battles, as well as their daily routine of stopping and searching local shipping traffic in the Red Sea and off the east coast of Africa. His photographs include images of enemy ships, prisoners and local boats being searched, as well as weaponry and serious-looking officers. Jack also demonstrates that his artistic skills extended to watercolours and he includes a couple of paintings in the diary. One of these is a map showing the North Africa and the Suez Canal area, with ports Jack visited, and another shows how a skirmish with enemy forces played out, with the positions of the combatants marked on a painting of the coastline.

A watercolour map of the North African coast and Suez Canal, painted by Jack Pulman, circa 1915

A watercolour map of the North African coast and the Suez Canal, painted by Jack Pulman, c. 1915

As the diary continues through the War, Jack’s descriptions of daily activity become more and more brief, perhaps reflecting how normal and mundane these extraordinary circumstances were becoming to him. The emphasis in his entries shifts from describing naval activity to taking more pleasure in describing places they pass through or the free time that he and his colleagues clearly relished. His photographs also begin to reflect this, with some beautiful landscape and architecture photography, images of local people he encounters on his travels, and an increasing number of images showing colleagues relaxing and enjoying themselves. Jack even shares his camera with colleagues, resulting in his friend Kerrison providing an early example of the selfie: photographing himself looking in a mirror!

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Of course, as much as we find Jack’s descriptions of the War fascinating, he will have spent much of his time wanting to get home to his wife and young child. This sense of frustration is made plain by an entry that reflects on the three years he has been with the Navy:

“October 31st 1914 to November 14th 1917: 3 years of wasted time.”

If you would like to read more extracts from the Diary and follow Jack’s journeys, we have a dedicated Twitter page where we are posting extracts and images on a regular basis: Diary of the Dude

Aspirations and Accreditations

What a year 2017 was!

The ARK started the year in a very purposeful manner, closing its doors to personal visitors so that all of the collections could be inspected for condition, packaging and location during the 2 week stock take. It was the first time that we had undertaken such a task, which, although a full-on experience, was one that we found incredibly useful as it gave us a greater insight into the condition and status of the collections, so much so that the process will be repeated in 2018 (put 22nd January-2nd February in your diary…)

At the same time, the ARK loaned exhibition material to the Council of Christians and Jews in Liverpool, which was shown at Liverpool Cathedral to mark Holocaust Day. This opened up the information gathered as part of our HLF supported Huyton Camps project to yet another diverse audience who were able to connect with the experiences of internees.

February was a busy time, which saw a team effort result in the local history reference stock held at Huyton Library being transferred to the ARK, where these books are now safely stored for posterity (and researchers to study!). We also opened our doors to staff from Knowsley’s branch libraries, who were given an insight into the workings of the archive service and a chance to see some of the wonderful treasures in the collections.

The Heritage Lottery Fund supported projects have made great progress during 2017. The retro-conversion of the paper-based catalogue to Calm, an online, accessible database and the community engagement projects both gained momentum, aided by our magnificent volunteers, who regularly and generously give their time and expertise to support the ARK.


Children from St Anne’s Catholic Primary School

Children from St. Anne’s Catholic Primary School in Huyton worked incredibly hard, researching the history and impact of the railways in Huyton. The result was a stunning documentary which is both informative and entertaining. Watch it here, if you haven’t already:

Meanwhile, our borough-wide music project, ‘Rock the ARK’, got off the ground with some eye-catching exhibitions in our library spaces and an invitation to vote for your favourite Knowsley related pop song. It was an impressive roll call of Knowsley talent, with T’Pau, The La’s, Black, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and more besides in the running for the top slot. Who won? Well, we’ll find that out later…

The ARK hosted many visits from students, school pupils and local societies over the course of the year, providing an introduction to the ARK, research sessions and interactive explorations to enable people to access the collections and interpret that information in an appropriate manner. We also went out on road, visiting groups in their own spaces – for example, we helped Beavers, Cubs and Scouts in Prescot to achieve their Local Interest badge, entertained Halewood U3A with our 1990 Pop-up Slide Show (which recreated an original local history talk delivered by the former Principal Reference Librarian, the late Mr. T. W. Scragg) and evoked musical memories at Stockbridge Library’s reminiscence coffee morning. In another first for us, we were delighted to be invited to present a talk on the ‘Highlights from the Prescot Archives’ to the 13th Annual Prescot Festival of Music and the Arts.

Kirkby College Reunion 31.8.17

Former students of the Malayan College return to Kirkby, August 2017

The Heritage Lottery Fund supported projects continued to grow throughout the year. Links with the Alumni of Kirkby’s Malayan Teachers’ Training College, which operated on the site of the former Royal Ordnance Factory hostel in Kirkby Fields from 1952–1962, culminated in an emotional return of some 38 of the former students, many of them now octogenarians, to the site of the College to unveil a commemorative plaque which describes the history of the site. This visit, on 30th – 31st August, coincided with the 60th anniversary of the announcement of Merdeka (independence) for Malaya (now Malaysia). Old friendships were rekindled and new associations forged in what was a most inspiring and uplifting experience for the Alumni, local residents, ARK staff and volunteers. The legacy of this project is clear: links between residents and former students and their families have been created, and the ARK is now recognised as the official repository for material relating to the MTTC and the Alumni Association, underlining the international importance of the collections, which will continue to be a focal point for researchers of the College in the future. Watch the events unfold in this short film:

Malayan Christmas Card, 1954

A beautiful Malaysian Christmas card design from the Margaret Whitaker collection, described in December’s Challenge article

August saw The Challenge newspaper publish the first of a monthly series of articles submitted by the ARK which explore different aspects of the collections. So far, we’ve covered diverse topics such as the Malayan Teachers’ Training College, Knowsley’s sporting legacy, tales of mystery and celebrating Christmas. The January issue is due out now – look out for our article on sales and shopping in Knowsley, explored through the prism of the archive collections.

The big headline for 2017, however, has to be the ARK’s attainment of Accreditation from The National Archives, which was announced in November.

The Archive Accreditation Scheme is a national award Accredited Archive Service logowhich is only given to archive services after a rigorous inspection process which closely examines all aspects of service delivery, from policies and procedures and conservation work through to customer service, access to the collections and community engagement. Happily, the ARK was awarded full accreditation status, giving our communities that quality assurance that the archives are being managed, cared for and made available to the very highest standards.


Getting ready to show Erich Kirste’s moving account of life as a POW in Huyton

November was also time to join in with the national campaign, Explore Your Archive. We ran an open day and 2 film show sessions, which featured the short films created through our HLF supported projects – Erich Kirste’s moving recollections of life as a WWII Prisoner of War in Huyton, ‘Chuffed to Bits’ which explores the impact of the railways on Huyton and Roby through the eyes of pupils from St Anne’ Catholic Primary School and ‘The Malayan Connection’ which celebrates the return of the former students of the Malayan Teachers’ Training College to Kirkby.

Our HLF supported projects continue into the 3rd year of the programme, with more exciting opportunities for our communities to get involved in activities around sport (our sporting heritage project, ‘This Sporting Life’, is about to kick off…) and education (‘History Detectives’ will create local history materials for use in schools) plus our music project, ‘Rock the ARK’ will be finalised (by the way – the La’s won the public vote).

The collections will be much easier to search and be much more visible as we go live with the catalogue – keep a look out for details of the launch of Calmview, which will allow researchers to explore collections online.

So: 2017 was definitely a landmark year for the ARK – but there’s so much more to come in 2018!

Find Out More About Knowsley’s Incredible History!

Photo credit: John Wakefield

It’s that special time of year again! No, not quite Christmas, but it is coming up to the Explore Your Archives Launch Week (18-26 November 2017).

Explore Your Archives is a campaign coordinated jointly by the National Archives and the Archives and Records Association to promote awareness of the fantastic treasures and remarkable histories housed within archives across the UK. Many archives take the opportunity to promote different aspects of their collections and encourage people to come and find out more about their local repositories – and we’re no exception!

This year, visitors can find out more about Knowsley Archives and some of the amazing things we look after by coming along to a few different activities at our base, the ARK, in Kirkby and across the Knowsley borough. See below for a list of what’s on offer, with times and locations.

  • Our popular Family History Help Desks will be visiting each of Knowsley’s Libraries. No appointment is necessary, you can just call in during the times and venues below and get some expert advice on exploring your family tree. Whether you’re just starting out, have reached a particularly tricky point in your research, or want to talk over your findings, our expert, Rob, will be able to help you out!

Tuesday 21st November: 

10am-1pm – PRESCOT LIBRARY                2pm-5pm – STOCKBRIDGE LIBRARY

Thursday 23rd November:

10am-1pm – KIRKBY LIBRARY                2pm-5pm – HALEWOOD LIBRARY

Friday 24th November:


Saturday 25th November:


  • If you’d like to find out more about the ARK and the wonderful archive collections we hold there, why not come along to a guided introduction, where you will have the chance to explore some of our most interesting items!

Tuesday 21st November:

10am-1pm or 2pm-4pm at the ARK, KIRKBY LIBRARY in the Kirkby Centre

  • If sitting down and watching films is more your thing, we’ll be showing a selection of Knowsley-themed films from our collections, including some of the films made as part of our Heritage Lottery funded community projects that explore our borough’s rich and varied history with local communities. We’ll also be sharing some rarely-seen archive footage from across the borough.

Friday 24th November:

10am-1pm or 2pm-4pm at the ARK, KIRKBY LIBRARY in the Kirkby Centre

We hope you’ll be able to join us at some point during the week, but if you can’t make it and want to come and visit the ARK another time, just get in touch! If you’re not local to the ARK and are wondering what is going on for Explore Your Archives closer to home, take a look at the Explore Your Archive website.