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:

2pm-5pm – HALEWOOD LIBRARY

Saturday 25th November:

10am-1pm – HUYTON LIBRARY

  • 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.

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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.

Family History Help Desks 2017

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.

Sessions 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 remaining for the rest of 2017 are as follows:

PRESCOT LIBRARY

Tuesday

10am-1pm

STOCKBRIDGE LIBRARY

Tuesday

2pm-5pm

KIRKBY LIBRARY

Thursday

10am-1pm

HALEWOOD LIBRARY

Friday

2pm-5pm

HUYTON LIBRARY

Saturday

10am-1pm

14th March 14th March 16th March 17th March 18th March
11th April 11th April 13th April 21st April 15th April
9th May 9th May 11th May 12th May 13th May
6th June 6th June 8th June 9th June 10th June
4th July 4th July 6th July 7th July 8th July
1st August 1st August 3rd August 4th August 5th August
29th August 29th August 31st August 1st September 26th August
26th September 26th September 28th September 29th September 30th September
24th October 24th October 26th October 27th October 28th October
21st November 21st November 23rd November 24th November 25th November
12th December 12th December 14th December 15th December 16th December

Mr. Clark’s Wonderful Album

If I tell people that we have Victorian family photographs in the ARK, many imagine they know what to expect: stiff collars, stiff backs, stiff upper-lips and stiff poses. Whilst there are indeed photographs in our archives that show Victorians staring firmly at the camera or looking as though they would rather be anywhere but in front of a camera; we are also lucky enough to have some wonderful 19th and early 20th century photos that gleefully disregard their period’s reputation for dour frowns and rigid stances. One such collection is Mr. J.R.J. Clark’s photograph album, containing pictures taken between 1899 and 1900, which has recently been catalogued and digitised thanks to our Heritage Lottery funding. To highlight the work done during the digitisation process of the album, a small exhibition of images from the album has been put together in Kirkby Library.

Mr. Clark’s group portraits are almost always of people laughing and enjoying themselves

Mr. Clark and his young family lived in Huyton during this period and were clearly a wealthy family. Mr. Clark’s father had been the proprietor of the Lancashire Gazette newspaper and his son, it seems, had trained and worked in law before retiring from the profession at a relatively young age. As our photograph album demonstrates, Mr. Clark used much of his free time to take holidays, enjoy sporting and leisure activities, and pursue an interest in photography. It should be noted that at least some of the pictures are likely to have been taken by other photographers, particularly as Mr. Clark features in some of the images.

CLAR-1-1 p38 a

This photograph shows three children with two adults who we assume to be household servants. Mr. Clark’s album unfortunately provides no information as to who they were or what their household roles were.

Mr. Clark’s photographs are all exterior shots (where the light, of course, was better) and so all of the images of his Huyton home are outside and usually in the garden. Judging by the fruit and vegetables growing in pots – not to mention the types of clothing people are wearing – these garden photos were taken on warm spring or summer days. As well as family members and friends, household servants weren’t safe from Mr. Clark’s roving camera. Amongst the photographs in the album, there are shots of servants on their own and some where they are shown alongside family members, especially the children. The handwritten captions within the album are unfortunately very erratic, with very few details provided beyond the odd date and location, so we cannot easily identify all of the individuals in the pictures, including the servants and their specific roles.

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Holidays, both overseas and in the UK, were clearly something of a regular occurrence for the Clark family. The majority of the photographs have been taken whilst on holiday although, as mentioned above, it isn’t always easy to identify locations because most of the pictures don’t have captions. Confirmed locations for holidays include: the Isle of Man; South Devon (Dartmouth, Dawlish, Teignmouth and Exeter were all photographed); York; Fountains Abbey, Ripon; and Paris. Holiday photography provided Mr. Clark (and any other unidentified photographers) with the opportunity to try their hand at landscape images and many of these are very interesting as compositions in their own right and for the wealth of historical information they convey. Despite this, however, the camera’s gaze is still normally focussed on the family and friends’ enjoyment of their time together and the varied activities they involved themselves in.

CLAR-1-1 p20 d

This photograph was probably taken somewhere in South Devon, c. 1899

An enthusiasm for sport and other leisure activities, including hunting, is evident from Mr. Clark’s photographs. There are pictures that have been taken of friends and family taking part in sports and images of sporting events, such as show jumping and cricket matches at Aigburth Cricket Club, Liverpool (including a match between Liverpool and District and an Australian team). In other pictures, people pose with golf clubs or croquet mallets, and there is a whole series of photos of people with their hunting guns.

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Children in Paris, c. 1899-1900

One of the other notable things about many of the photographs is their spontaneity and creativity. The photographer[s] tried to capture events and moments as they saw them, often resulting in some dynamic and impressive images, such as the photo (right) of children running along a street in Paris. Experimentation is also evident in some of the photographs. In particular, there is a photograph (below) that is a double-exposed image of Norwegian naval cadets in Dartmouth combined with a picture of a lifeboat in Teignmouth.

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Double-exposed image, Dartmouth and Teignmouth, Devon, October 1899

The people in almost all the images in Mr. Clark’s photograph album always seem to be enjoying themselves, often laughing at some unknown joke or antic. Perhaps Mr. Clark, or whoever else was taking the picture, has said something to make everyone laugh or pulled a funny face. Whilst we will never know, I believe that seeing faces from the past showing their enjoyment of their environments and each others company is somehow more powerful and resonant than a formal photograph taken in a studio. It reminds us that whilst our surroundings, haircuts and clothes may have changed, when we’re snapping pictures of family, friends and holidays on our smart phones and digital cameras, we’re not really all that different from the people taking photographs over 100 years ago.

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The exhibition of images from Mr. Clark’s photograph album is currently on display at Kirkby Library during its normal opening hours.

Listening to Postcards

As detailed in an earlier blog, one of the collections that is being digitised and catalogued thanks to our Heritage Lottery funding is the personal collection of a family who used to live in Huyton and was deposited by a member of the family who had been born in 1914, shortly before the outbreak of war. Luckily for us, she was an habitual hoarder – keeping correspondence between herself, family members and friends, as well as various other family-related items. Included amongst the family’s business and personal documents are some fantastic postcards sent and received from the First World War through to the Second World War. My earlier post on this collection described how powerful and insightful these are and how they provide a fascinating glimpse into the relationships family members had with each other and their wider friendship and community networks. The combination of image and words that postcards bring together has a wonderful way of evoking voices, allowing us a rare opportunity to listen to the past.

Now that the digitisation and cataloguing of the postcards have been completed, we decided to put up a small display of duplicates, with labels providing interesting contextual information.

girl holding dog postcard 1918

Postcard from 1918 showing a young girl holding a dog

Four of the postcards are part of a chain between a father who was serving in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War and his young daughter (whose personal collection all of the items in the display come from). As described in an earlier post (‘Postcards from the Past’), the pair used to enjoy trying to outdo each other with cards that made them laugh or they found particularly cute – usually meaning pictures of little girls or sweet animals or, even more ideal, animals and children together!

Also from the First World War period, we have two cards that portray the devastation wrought by battle in Europe. Postcards with images of bombed ruins in France were popular towards the end of the First World War with British soldiers sending word home or to be purchased as a souvenir of the war. The postcard of Peronne we have selected (below, top) is one of several in this collection that was not sent to anyone, but brought back to England as, presumably, a memento. As ever, humorous cards were very popular to send home and our other card of war damage (below, bottom) provides a brilliantly incongruous image of a British soldier taking a nap on a bed amongst the ruins.

the little house postcard 1917

‘The Little House,’ Peronne, 1917

Tommy sleeping in the ruins postcard 1917

‘A Tommy Does A Sleep Amongst the Ruins,’ 1917

The postcards we have selected from the inter-war years reflect the social life of our depositor as she became a young woman who was lucky enough to travel across the country and visit parts of mainland Europe. From 1928, her elder sister, sends a beautiful image of the Blackpool Illuminations back home to her then-teenage sister, a reminder of both the long history of the Illuminations and the popularity of Blackpool as a short break destination for residents of Merseyside and the surrounding areas.

blackpool illuminations front

The Blackpool Illuminations, 1928

Our young woman’s correspondents during the 1930s include a German man who would send her postcards in English, French and German. Amongst these are two postcards of great historical significance. The first (below, top), from April 1938 and written in English with an image of Semmering, Austria, was sent from Vienna, Austria, shortly after Adolf Hitler had annexed the country and paraded triumphantly through the city. The sender uses apostrophes when writing how ‘happy’ his friends are to see Hitler there, possibly indicating that they were exactly the opposite. The second (below, bottom) has an image of the Rheinhotel Dreesen in Bad Godesberg, Germany, and was sent on 22nd September 1938. The German text contains references to Hitler and the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, as it was written and sent whilst historic meetings were taking place at the hotel between the pair that would, with hindsight, bring the Second World War one step closer.

postcard Semmering Polleroswand 1938

Semmering, Austria, 1938

bad godesberg front

Rheinhotel Dreesen, Bad Godesberg, 1938

The mini-exhibition of postcards can be viewed at Kirkby Library, Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays: 10am – 5pm; Thursdays and Saturdays: 10am – 1pm. For any more information about the collection or to view the originals, please contact Knowsley Archives.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…

It’s that time of year again: the leaves on the trees have turned autumnal gold, red and brown and the clocks have turned back, giving us a delicious extra hour to spend, whether it be a golden hour of additional sleep or time to get involved in leisure activities. Here at The ARK, our thoughts have turned to Explore Your Archive and we are busy making plans for some exciting events and activities which will take place throughout November.

The Explore Your Archive campaign is led by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association. This national  campaign gears up in mid-November, with archives from different sectors across the UK and Ireland taking part to raise awareness of the value of archives to society and of the rich variety of content that is held, preserved and made available to users. The campaign aims to encourage people to take a closer look at their local archives and to discover the treasures that reveal the stories, facts, places and people that are at the heart of our communities.

The ARK events are all free to attend and kick off on Tuesday 10th November with our ever-popular Family History Help Desk drop-in sessions. Find us at Prescot Library, 10:00am – 1:00pm and later at Stockbridge Village Library between 2:00pm and 5:00pm. The ARK, Kirkby Library will be the venue for the session on Thursday 11th November, between 10:00am and 1:00pm and on Friday 13th November we’ll be offering genealogical help and advice at Halewood Library between 2:00pm and 5:00pm. The final Help Desk of the month will be at Huyton Library on Saturday 14th November between 10:00am and 1:00pm.

The ARK holds a number of fascinating oral history interviews made during the 1970s, featuring local politicians as well as ordinary people who recorded their recollections of times gone by. This year, supported by HLF, we have been able to develop the collection through the Talking Kirkby project undertaken by Kirkby U3A, when local residents shared their memories of Kirkby in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s with members of the U3A. On Monday 16th November, we’ll be showcasing the audio collections, old and new, in The ARK through Sounding Out the Past. Sessions will run from 10:00am – 12:00pm and 2:00pm – 4:00pm. There’ll even be an opportunity for you to record your own memories!

Tuesday 17th November is Explore Your Archive Day, with an afternoon of exploration and information about how the archive ticks. From 1:00pm – 2:00pm and then from 3:00pm – 4:00pm, the cry is Your Archive Needs You! You will have the opportunity to find out how you can get involved in our HLF projects as a volunteer. Nestled in between these sessions, there will be a short presentation and Tour of The ARK – giving you a behind the scenes glimpse of how the archive works and a rare opportunity to view close up some of our most precious treasures.

Explore Your Archive has given us a wonderful opportunity to work with the Prescot Townscape Heritage Initiative and MATE Productions to engage local primary school children in an exciting initiative which will bring the archive alive through drama and interactive learning. Pupils from Our Lady’s Catholic Primary School, Prescot will be joining us on Wednesday 18th and Thursday 19th November for A Morning (or Afternoon!) in the Archive, when they will discover the rich history of their home town.

Friday 20th November brings the focus back to The ARK and a spot of refection with the TV Time Travellers.  Join us from 2:00pm – 3:30pm for a single showing of 3 of our most popular local history films: Kirkby: Portrait of a Town; Knowsley Today and Bridge Over the Bluebell. There’ll also be a chance to chat to our HLF Project Co-ordinators about volunteer opportunities.

So: there’s lot’s happening this November, and all of our public events are free to attend – so go on: Explore Your Archive!

Just call us on 0151 443 4291 or email infoheritage@knowsley.gov.uk for more information or to book a place. We look forward to meeting you!

A seasonal image from the archive... A Kirkby farmer using a horse drawn plough to prepare for another year's crop [n.d. circa 1930]

A seasonal image from the archive… A Kirkby farmer using a horse drawn plough to prepare for another year’s crop
[n.d. circa 1930]