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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Test your Knowsley Sports Knowledge!

As part of the Knowsley Sports and Culture Awards, which were held on Friday October 13th, 2017, Knowsley Archives put together a sports quiz based on items from our archive collections. Thanks in particular should go to our super volunteer, Michael, who has been scouring our newspaper cuttings to find interesting sports-themed stories.

Huyton Cricket Club, 1955

We’ll be exploring some of those stories, and looking for people’s memories, memorabilia and experiences, as part of our Heritage Lottery funded sports project. Look our for more information about that project in the local press and on our social media pages – and we’ll be adding another blog here all about the sports project very soon.

In the meantime, follow the link below to have a go at our quiz!

 

The Malayan Connection

“The most important thing about your stay in England must be the development of yourself as a more mature and far-seeing person. When you go home, as a graduate, you will be expected to work miracles – and only you may be aware how little you really do know – but you will have the means and the initiative to study further on your own and to adapt yourself.”

There’s a word I’ve removed from that statement above. Without it, many readers could assume the author was talking about graduates of a prestigious University, an Oxbridge one perhaps, or maybe an elite private school that churns out leaders of the future.

Margaret Hodge (right) with some of her students, 1953

The quote is taken from a notebook that belonged to Miss Margaret Hodge, an art tutor at the educational institution in question during the 1950s. The students she was preparing this address for had travelled to study in England from Malaya (which would later, in 1963, become Malaysia). During a ten year period, from 1952 to 1962, something like 1900 Malayans arrived to study a broad range of subjects. The students represented the multi-ethnic diversity of their country and many, like the products of England’s famous private schools, would indeed go on to be leaders of the future; as politicians, royalty, lawyers, and numerous esteemed professions that would mark them as pillars of their communities.

It’s the location of this remarkable, ground-breaking establishment that is missing from the extract above. The place that became a temporary home to some of Malaya’s brightest and best was the Malayan Teacher Training College in Kirkby, near Liverpool. It may still not be an internationally famous town, but to alumni of the college, Kirkby was the centre of a life-changing experience that would resonate across the world and ensure that the town would remain a symbol of innovation, transformation and hope. At the time the Malayan College was first opened, Kirkby was a small town, much of it still rural; a relatively small Lancashire community that few outside of the region would have been aware of. After the Blitz of the Second World War devastated so much of Liverpool, Kirkby would become one of the ‘overspill’ areas for the city as it embarked on a programme of slum housing clearance and establishing new out-of-city housing estates. The lifetime of the Malayan College coincides with the beginning of Kirkby’s rapid expansion into an urban town when the Lancashire accent would be edged out to be replaced by the very different scouse twang. You can hear some of the memories we hold in the ARK about this period on our Soundcloud page, including memories of rural Kirkby and interviews conducted as part of our Heritage Lottery funded work with Kirkby residents about the 1940s-60s in the town.

Students and staff at the Emergency Teacher Training College, 1948

Prior to the college taking over the site, the buildings which would accommodate the college had been used as the location for an Emergency Teacher Training College (a location which included the repurposing of a former hostel for the Royal Ordnance Factory during the Second World War). Like others set up around the country after the close of the War, Kirkby’s Emergency College, which opened in 1948, was a response to a national shortage of teachers and a much-needed way of providing men returning from the War with a qualification and career. By 1951, the college was closing down and the Malayan Government were invited to take over the site for their own Teacher Training College.

The impact of Kirkby’s Malayan College is truly remarkable. For students, it offered a high quality education, an international perspective and a sense of cultural awareness, with the reality of studying, living and socialising with Malayans of many different backgrounds seen as an ”opportunity to view and study the Malayan political and social scene with at least some degree of detachment.” (Panduan, the college magazine, July 1953). For the Kirkby residents and the schoolchildren and teachers who came into contact with the students, the college provided a rare chance to meet people from abroad and share in their culture; an experience that the students recognised as mutually beneficial. Perhaps the most significant thing about the college is its importance in international history. Regarded as a flagship example of Malaya’s ambitions for a harmonious society, it was fitting that, on 7th February 1956, Malaya’s Chief Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, chose the college, rather than a government building in London or Kuala Lumpur, as the venue to make the momentous announcement that the British colony was being granted independence.

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

Thanks to our Heritage Lottery funding, we have been able to explore the history of this fascinating, and often overlooked, part of Knowsley’s history. Staff and volunteers are busily gathering memories and memorabilia from local people who remember the college; many of whom have wonderful memories of being taught by the students from the college as part of their teaching placements. In addition, we have been extremely fortunate to develop strong links with the alumni association of the college – who refer to themselves as ‘Kirkbyites’ – and they have been very generous with their time and with donations of a wealth of superb documents, photographs, magazines and films relating to the history of the Malayan College. A highpoint of the project was a visit to Kirkby by almost 40 of the Kirkbyites and their families, travelling from all over the world, to help us commemorate the college with the unveiling of a plaque to mark the original location (now an area known as Granbourne Chase). The alumni, who were all septuagenarians and octogenarians, were fantastically energetic and their enthusiasm and affection for the college and Kirkby was infectious for everyone who was lucky enough to meet them. Whilst in Kirkby, they were also able to be the first to see our new exhibition, in Kirkby Library where the ARK is based, about the Malayan College. We were relieved that they gave it their seal of approval! The exhibition was at Kirkby Library until 31st October 2017. In this blog, I’ll give a very brief overview of our collections relating to the Malayan College and an idea of our exhibition for those of you unable to visit. You can also see the exclusive film we made to mark this project and the visit of the Kirkbyites at the bottom of this post.

The Malayan Connection exhibition in Kirkby Library

One of the largest collections relating to the Malayan College is the personal archive of Margaret Hodge. This includes lots of photographs and college-related documents, along with her own lovely artwork. Here you can find portraits of college students and her beautiful illustrations for a Malayan government commissioned children’s book, Tijah, Mat Dan Nor. Also amongst her papers are her notebooks that include draft lesson plans and points for discussion with students. Miss Hodge’s archive, alongside the many donations and memories we are gathering from local people and college alumni, help us to gain a much clearer understanding of life at the college and the huge impact that Kirkby and the college had. Some of Margaret Hodge’s photographs can be see in the galleries in this blog and you can see more on our Flickr site.

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The first group of 149 Malayan students arrived at the college on 2 January 1952. For many students, this wasn’t just a place to gain a teaching qualification; it was also an opportunity to bring the many Malayan cultures, races, languages and religions together, looking towards the vision of a multi-ethnic, diverse and tolerant Malaya that they hoped for. Panduan embraced this optimism as a “challenge to work for a united, progressive and harmonious Malaya, having its roots in and drawing its sustenance from the [country’s] several diversities.”

The Malayan students had a busy social life. We know from the memories of former students and articles in Panduan that many of them would regularly visit local towns and cities and very much enjoyed eating fish and chips and to Kirkby’s pubs! Within the college, students were able to become part of a wide variety of clubs and societies, organising a packed calendar of dances, film nights, sporting and charity fund-raising activities. Drama and musical productions were also a fixture of college life, as well as celebrations of religious festivals that brought all of the students together to recognise and enjoy the many different faiths represented within the college.

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During the two year course, the students were expected to study a broad range of subjects, including English, Education and Mathematics. Alongside their studies, students also had to gain teaching experience and would be placed with schools across the region to develop their classroom skills. We are delighted that we have been contacted by people with childhood memories of meeting the young, Malayan teachers and being introduced to new cultures and even foods (one gentleman remembered seeing a pineapple for the first time!).

This project has helped us to learn so much more about the history of the college, the lives of the Malaysians who studied there and their impact on local communities. The exhibition is an opportunity for us to share this extraordinary history and remind people of Kirkby’s international significance and why it is held in such high affection by alumni of an exceptional and distinct college.

Rock The ARK: Capturing Knowsley’s Music Memories

Do you have an interesting story to tell of artists or groups that you’ve seen or heard? Maybe you were in a band, a choir, an orchestra, or remember songs your grandparents used to sing?

If so, the ARK (Archive Resource for Knowsley) wants to know about it!

Your story could be of an artist or group from Knowsley, or from anywhere else, so long as you yourself live or work in Knowsley (or have done in the past).

Classical, pop, rock, jazz, soul, folk, disco, blues, gospel, techno, house, hip-hop – whatever music has been a part of your life, it’s important to the ARK.

The ARK wants to find out what music means to people and build a community collection of memories and memorabilia that traces Knowsley’s music history.

Each of Knowsley’s libraries (Halewood, Huyton, Kirkby, Prescot and Stockbridge Village) has an exhibition with information about artists and groups from Knowsley during the past 100 years or so. Each library in Knowsley focuses on different artists so, if you can, go and visit them all.

In all five of the libraries, you can listen to a selection of songs from Knowsley artists and vote for your favourite – this will create a Knowsley’s Top 10! Don’t worry if you can’t make it to one of our libraries – you can also vote right here using our poll below and see videos of each of the songs to help you choose your favourites.

How about sharing your music memories in writing with us to help us build our music memories archive? There are lots of ways to share your memories with us. You can send any memories to us via email or post (see below). Or, if you prefer, you can also share your stories on ARK’s Facebook and Twitter pages and use #RockTheARK so we can find you! Alternatively, you can leave comments below this blog. Every so often, we’ll be adding some of the best stories to our Rock The ARK music timeline – take a look!

Or maybe you’d be willing to be recorded talking about your music memories and experiences? If so, the ARK would love to hear from you – these recordings will be added to our oral history archive collections and be preserved for future generations!

The ARK is also keen to capture any memorabilia that you might have, and be willing to part with or share a copy of, such as photographs, tickets, flyers, posters etc. Help us create a wonderful resource that will mean people in the future will discover why music was important to you. We’ll add #RockTheARK images to our Flickr page so that they’re all in one place and can be easily viewed.

Rock The ARK is one of the ARK’s community history projects funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Everything that is captured during the project will be kept in Knowsley Archives for posterity.

As well as social media, here are the other ways to contact the ARK:

Tel: 0151 443 4365

Email: infoheritage@knowsley.gov.uk

Post: Rock The ARK, Archive Resource for Knowsley, 1st Floor, Kirkby Centre, Norwich Way, Kirkby. L32 8XY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s all about the analogue…

During our recent stock take, we uncovered a forgotten slide show presentation mounted in a carousel. After a quick inspection, we realised that we also had a script, dated 1990, filed away in a cabinet which just might offer information on the slides. Indeed, the script described, in great detail, the listed buildings and conservation areas of Knowsley as they were in 1990, compiled by T.W. Scragg. Tom was for many years the Library Service’s greatly respected Principal Reference Librarian, who during his career had taken a great interest in local history and was something of an expert in the field.

 

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This view of Market Place, Prescot in 1809 is from a painting presented by F W Halsall Esq. and is one of the slides in the presentation

Fortunately, Mr Scragg had left a complete list of the slides alongside the script and we found, to our great delight, that the images matched perfectly – to a point. The carousel was full, but according to the printed material, there were still a further 11 slides, representing the townships of Tarbock and Halewood, missing from the sequence. What to do? There are many slides in the archive, a number of which are unlisted. In time, we will catalogue all of the slides, but in that moment, it seemed to be an almost insurmountable task to identify and retrieve the missing images.

So began the process of reviewing the collection, starting with a box of miscellaneous items curiously entitled ‘Somebody’s Holiday Snaps.’ Within the box was a folder of obviously library focused material and a small slide box which was unlabelled, but contained individual slides bearing Library Service reference numbers. Could these be the missing slides from Mr Scragg’s tour of Knowsley? An inspection of the slides revealed that they were indeed the elusive 11, and we promptly set about reuniting the collection.

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Not all of the listed sites in Knowsley are buildings: the Stocks at Cronton, pictured in 1906, are Grade II listed and feature in the presentation

It is fascinating to compare the properties singled out for consideration 27 years ago with Historic England’s National Heritage List for England, the current register of nationally protected historic buildings and sites in England. In Knowsley, there are some 121 listed buildings and monuments, ranging from the Grade II listed Dovecote – known locally as the Pigeon House – on Whitefield Drive in Kirkby and the grand family seat of the Earls of Derby, Knowsley Hall (Grade 2*) to the only Grade I building in the borough, the Church of St Mary on Church Street, Prescot. To break the numbers down, there is 1 Grade I building (St Mary’s, Prescot); 4 Grade II* (Church of St Michael, Huyton; St Chad’s Church, Kirkby; St Mary’s Church, Knowsley and Knowsley Hall) and the remaining 116 listed at Grade II. Some of the buildings noted by Mr Scragg have since been demolished or re-purposed whereas others, such as St Chad’s, have seen their heritage status enhanced. The presentation gives us an opportunity to reflect on how the borough’s building stock has evolved through the intervening years and how our historic buildings add value to our understanding of the past and offer a real,tangible link to our heritage.

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Another image from the slide show: the Norman font, St Chad’s Church, Kirkby

So: we aim to recreate the presentation in the ARK to share with local historians, using the original script, slides and slide projector, as part of Local History Month. The 1990 Pop-Up Slide Show will take place on Wednesday 19th April 2017, starting at 10:30am until 12:30pm. The session will run for up to 2 hours, with light refreshments available and an opportunity to discuss comparisons with today’s landscape and to explore original archive materials.

The event is free of charge, but as space is limited in the ARK search room, you can avoid disappointment by booking a place in advance. Contact the ARK, 1st Floor, The Kirkby Centre, Norwich Way, Kirkby L32 8XYon 0151 443 4291 or email infoheritage@knowsley.gov.uk.

 

Roll Out The Barrell: Discovering the Huyton Cricket Club

Anyone who has been following our Twitter (@knowsleyarchive) posts over the past few months may have been bowled over by a sudden surge of cricket related tweets and images popping up on our timeline. As you may have spotted, the reason for them is because, thanks to our Heritage Lottery funding, I have been cataloguing and digitising the wonderful records of the Huyton Cricket and Bowling Club. Despite having always been stumped by cricket and my Dad failing to hand over his love of the game to me, this is a collection that’s really hit me for six (okay, okay, I promise that will be the last cricket pun).

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Huyton Cricket Club First XI, c. 1886

Huyton Cricket and Bowling Club was formed at a meeting on 7 May 1860, with their first match taking place just a few weeks later against Bootle Cricket Club and they would go on to become a successful club in the Liverpool and District Cricket Competition (as it would become known). Nicknamed ‘the Villagers’, they were moderately successful at different points in their history, with the early 1920s an especially triumphant period. The club was established as a ‘gentlemen’s’ club and during the majority of its history the membership would have been regarded as of a higher social status than some of the other Huyton cricket clubs, such as the Huyton and Roby Working Men’s Cricket and Bowling Club or Huyton Recs.

The records in the collection include committee minutes, some very colourfully decorated scrapbooks (see slideshow below), photographs from across the history of the club, fixture books, and correspondence. The minutes, particularly from the first eighty or so years of the club, are filled with tantalising glimpses of some of the intriguing characters involved in the club, on and off the field. They also offer fascinating insights into how the club reacted to major events, both close to and far away from Huyton, including the First and Second World Wars. It is during the First World War that we have the first mention of a man who would become a central part of the cricket club’s most successful playing period and remain with the club, in various roles, until his retirement: Ben Barrell.

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Barrell was signed up as a cricket professional at some point close to the outbreak of the First World War and he is referenced in the committee minutes of June 10th, 1915:

“the secretary mentioned that he had received complaints about the club employing two men of military age. The recruiting sergeant had visited the two men in question and urged them to join. It was decided that Mr. H. Eccles [the Chair] should quietly tell the men it was their duty to join, but that no pressure would be put upon them.”

Barrell was one of those two men and he did indeed soon leave to fight in the war. Both men survived the war and Barrell would return to Huyton Cricket Club. It is easy to see from the club’s committee minutes and crammed scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings that Barrell was a very talented player and an essential part of the club’s greatest successes. He was often the only professional player at the club and was an asset they were proud of. It is rare to find a page in the scrapbooks of the 1920s and 1930s that doesn’t feature a headline or article proclaiming this all-rounder’s name, typically in the matter-of-fact and understated tones of sports journalism in this period: “Barrell Bowls and Bats Well” or “Barrell in Bright Batting Display.”

In photographs, Barrell has remarkable, intense eyes that could suggest he was an intimidating opponent and teammate, but the picture of him created by the records in our collection instead show him to be a popular and well-liked presence both on and off the pitch. According to P.N. Walker’s book The Liverpool Competition, Barrell was made “a life member of the Club, became 1st XI umpire and played bowls there until his death at the age of 80” and was also groundsman and a coach. Alongside these duties and being the club’s professional (and best?) player, Barrell’s other responsibilities included preparing and cleaning the team’s kits and packing their bags before matches.1

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Ben Barrell, 1926

Ben Barrell, and other professionals who were signed up by Huyton, may have had relatively humble beginnings, but most of the amateurs who played for the team (at least during its first 100 years or so) were solidly middle or upper-middle class. In many of the photographs we have from the club’s early days and most successful periods, players appear relaxed and confident, with an air of leisurely comfort; a cigarette may be hanging casually between the fingers of one or two, or they lounge at the side of a road on the way to a match, a beautiful motor car in the background. A selection of these photographs are in the slideshow below.

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When trying to get an idea of Huyton Cricket and Bowling Club at different points in its history, the many scrapbooks in this collection are excellent resources. Alongside the match reports, articles, fixture books, and photographs, there are a number of delightful newspaper caricatures of Huyton’s cricket players: a frequent feature of sports columns in local papers at the time. As well as being amusing to look at, they also offer an insight into which of the players were catching the eyes of the local sports reporters and, presumably, the spectators. Some of the cartoons make use of curious illustrations that may be references that would have made more sense to the readers of that period, or could be references to cricketing terminology that goes over my head! The donkey and teddy bear in the Bootle v Huyton cartoon in the slideshow below, for example, could be references to the players’ performances or something else entirely! And what of the white mice in the Wallasey v Huyton cartoon?

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The Huyton Cricket and Bowling Club collection is a wonderful and evocative set of documents. At some point during the next year or so, one of our Heritage Lottery funded community projects will be focused on Knowsley’s sporting heritage, so I am sure we will be making use of the collection and hopefully giving people the chance to see more of the treasures within it. To not make use of it when such an opportunity presents itself would be…well, it just wouldn’t be cricket, would it?

1Walker, P.N. 1988. The Liverpool Competition: A Study of the Development of Cricket on Merseyside. Birkenhead: Countyvise Limited, p. 77

Calling St. Gregory’s School for Girls, Kirkby…

Earlier this year, we were very fortunate to receive an interesting donation which recalled the work of Miss Mary Thomas, the former Head of the House Craft Department at St. Gregory’s Roman Catholic Comprehensive School for Girls in Kirkby. Born in 1925, she was a dedicated teacher and later, founder in 1987 of the older peoples’ charity, Dark Horse Venture. She spent many years at St. Gregory’s and this collection recalls her work there.

Invitation to attend the 'A Right Handful' exhibition, 1979

Invitation to attend the ‘A Right Handful’ exhibition, 1979

After gaining her teaching qualification, Miss Thomas began her career at the Bovington Secondary Modern School in Dorset, followed by a spell in Tunbridge Wells and then a stint at a rural school in Sussex. St. Gregory’s Girls’ School opened in September 1958 on the same site as St. Laurence’s School, which had previously opened as a mixed establishment for boys and girls in the newly developed town of Kirkby in 1956. The two came together in 1963, when Miss Thomas was offered and accepted the post of Head of the Housecraft Department at St. Gregory’s, where she was responsible for 12 housecraft rooms, 6 needlework rooms and a team of 14 teaching staff. She introduced ‘Mothercraft’ as a taught subject, educating the pupils in all aspects of parenthood, from conception within marriage to all aspects of caring for a child – often using the girls’ baby brothers and sisters to demonstrate the practical skills required. An exhibition – ‘A Right Handful’ – organised by Miss Thomas at the Kirkby Civic Buildings (now the Kirkby Centre, home of The ARK) celebrated the International Year of the Child, 1979 and highlighted the students’ achievements.

Volunteering with Meals on Wheels

Year Four pupils volunteering with the W.R.V.S. Meals on Wheels Service

Miss Thomas also made sure that the pupils were involved in their own community. She organised the Fourth Year girls in volunteering with the W.R.V.S. Meals on Wheels Service in Kirkby, helping to deliver hot meals to older people and also fundraising for the cause: it was reported that the students raised £33.00 and purchased a large aluminium food container and dishes which were presented to the W.R.V.S. by Miss Thomas and a group of pupils.

She eventually retired from  the school in 1983, but not before she had established a vibrant, forward thinking department which prepared the students for real life. Many will remember her saying: ‘If you want to make something of yourself you can. Take command of your life.’

The collection of materials looks at her time teaching at the school, including a scrapbook, colour and black and white photographs and negatives, newspaper cuttings and examples of posters for a child care exhibition involving pupils from St. Gregory’s as part of the Year of the ChilMary Thomas collection, Kirkbyd in 1979. Miss Thomas has also deposited a copy of her autobiography, ‘So there you are…’ published through the Small Wonders Community Programme. Thanks are due to Mike Ravey, who deposited the collection on behalf of Miss Thomas.

We are currently holding an an exhibition of items from the collection which can be viewed at Kirkby Library during normal opening hours – and with Mike’s assistance, we’ll be hosting an open afternoon for ex-pupils which will be attended by Miss Thomas herself. This will take place on Thursday 9th June 2016 – do get in touch if you’d like more information.