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.

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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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

A Small Taste of the Archives

CPatwVMWgAAwDoYFollowing our previous exhibition of artworks and archive materials relating to our first two Heritage Lottery funded projects, we have used some of the exhibition space here at Kirkby Library to display a small selection of the archive documents that have been digitised as a result of our Heritage Lottery grant.

Our three year Heritage Lottery grant has allowed us to develop the community engagement side of our work: facilitating nine projects that relate to different aspects of our archive collections and will be planned and delivered in partnership with a diverse range of Knowsley’s communities. Alongside this, we are in the process of creating an online catalogue and digitising a large portion of our collections. The nine items currently on display are part of this digitisation programme.

The display highlights documents from the 14th to the 20th century, covering different aspects of Knowsley’s history and the people who have lived and worked here.

Included is a 1715 list of taxes collected from Tarbock land-owners that provides antax collection thumbnail
example of local Catholics (or ‘Papists’ as they are referred to) having to pay twice as much as other rate-payers. This includes the Catholic at the head of the list, the Right Honourable Lord Molyneux.

The little-known Kirkby Amateur Dramatics Society are represented with a scan from their home-made 1935-36 photo album, chronicling the construction of sets for their plays and the performances themselves. The members have added a charming touch to the album by selecting quotes from the plays they staged to caption the photographs.

As with so many repositories, Knowsley Archives has a significant number of Bastardy Bonds. On display is an order from 1734 identifying one Richard Quick of Halewood as the father of Tarbock resident Ann Wyke’s unborn child and ordering him to pay towards the upbringing of the child.

huyton reel thumbnailAnother less well-known item in our collection we are drawing attention to is a music book handwritten and compiled at some point in the mid-19th century by a surveyor in Huyton called Thomas Watkin. The book is a beautiful document put together with real love and care and provides a fascinating glimpse into the folk tunes that ordinary people living in the area may have been listening and dancing along to.

Whilst only a small display, we hope this temporary exhibition will give visitors a hint of the diversity of our collections and encourage people to come and ask us questions and view some of the original documents.