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 daniel.copley@knowsley.gov.uk or calling Knowsley Archives on 0151 443 4291.

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.