Diary of a Special Collections Intern: Week Six

By the sixth week of my internship at Liverpool Hope University I had become familiar with my surroundings, understood the nature of the project and my role within in it, gained confidence in my research skills, demonstrated that I am not an intern in need of constant supervision in order to get the job done, and mastered the art of multi-tasking between three different departments (History, English, the library). There is so much more to a twenty first century internship than making cups of tea for everyone and it is such a hands on experience at Hope. However, although I set tasks and deadlines for myself, in addition to those set by my mentor, flexibility is still an essential part of the job. I have to be able to think on my feet at all times, and adapt to any changes that need to be made should the project require it.

Liverpool History Books

Week six required and brought change for me. For the past five weeks I have been cataloguing and entering religious and ecclesiastical texts into the History database I have been expanding for the university’s undergraduate students. Conscious of repeating the same information, and potentially boring the students with it, I sought out a new section from the Special Collections department’s Gradwell Collection. As I only have a few weeks left of my internship, and plenty of loose ends to tie up in the final week, I had to be careful about selecting a large section which would not be completed in time. After consulting with my mentor from the History department, and investigating several potentially interesting sections, I decided on the local history section as it is full of volumes about the North West of England, and has many interesting and useful texts on the history of Liverpool and the surrounding areas. Although I will not be able to get through the entire section before I finish, I can leave notes of my progress for my mentor and whoever is lucky enough to continue the project in the near future.

These texts are especially useful as many of them are not historical accounts, points of view, or memoirs that are potentially biased towards certain political or religious movements of the time, but rather they are records of history, of people, of places, and they speak for themselves whilst providing the reader with facts, figures, and information. They cover a variety of topics that can be used as a starting point for research projects for students at any level, from municipal and local government records to information on populations, births, marriages, wills, and records of the land, landowners, and prominent local families.

What is particularly interesting about many of these volumes is that they are not written and collated by distant and disinterested academics, but by local historians who have not only a deep interest in the information, but also in their own heritage, and a sense of pride in their city. This is evident from the beautiful covers of many volumes which proudly feature the gilded coat of arms of Liverpool.

James Picton’s Liverpool Municipal Records

The authors themselves could also provide a starting point for students’ research projects as several are notable figures in Liverpool history, such as Sir James Picton, author of texts including the two volumes of the Gradwell Collection’s Liverpool Municipal Records. Not only are these texts fascinating insights into Liverpool’s history, Picton himself is a prominent figure in the history of Liverpool. A Liverpool architect and council member, in the ninetenth century, Picton campaigned for a public library for the borough, and lends his name to the beautiful Picton Reading Room which is now a part of Liverpool Central Library.

Another prominent but less well known Liverpool historian is James Touzeau, author of the Gradwell Collection’s The Rise and Progress of Liverpool from 1551 to 1835. Touzeau worked as a government officer in the city’s Town Clerk’s office and aided by the Finance Committee, produced almost 900 pages of what has been called an “uncritical, antiquarian perspective” of Liverpool (John Belcham, Merseypride: Essays in Liverpool Exceptionalism, 2000) To put it bluntly, Touzeau’s work is full of facts, figures, and information that can open up many different avenues of research for students.

In addition to these volumes, there are other interesting texts on the history of Liverpool including John Hughes’ Liverpool Banks and Bankers 1760-1837. In addition to covering a lot of material on public buildings, architecture, and Liverpool’s economy, this text also takes a closer look at the lives and families of individual bankers, again providing a glimpse into a lost and historic piece of the city’s past. The text also has some beautiful illustrations, which are of interest to book history students, including a coloured frontispiece depicting a Liverpool banker in the 18th century.

I also found many volumes on Lancashire history this week and although there were a lot of facts and figures such as parish registers, there were also texts full of anecdotes, customs, traditions, and historical Lancashire culture which have been passed on from generation to generation over the centuries. These texts really do provide a more personal and human view of history and cover a variety of topics from ballads and songs to buildings and monuments, and superstitions and witchcraft. There is so much history crammed into individual texts and the students’ research could benefit enormously from a visit to the Special Collections department. I just hope that this project will succeed in its attempt to entice them in by providing a snippet of the different types of information they could uncover.

Some other highlights this week have included more wonderful ephemera including beautiful and elaborate bookplates, a leaflet advertising Liverpool Catholic Truth Society lectures and newspaper cuttings of random facts found inside a volume of David Sinclair’s The History of Wigan. Did you know that walruses are gentle except when attacked, or that to rest our bodies we should stand up for ten out of every thirty minutes? I certainly didn’t.

Another highlight for me was finding a booklet for the official opening of St. Dominic’s secondary school in Hutyon which took place on 22nd April 1956. This booklet was printed by Cecil Dromgoole of The Modern Press, Bickerstaffe Street, St. Helens, a printers in my home town that is no longer in business, but one which my mother can recall from her childhood. Although this is a more recent piece of history, the differences between classrooms and school rooms of the 1950s and now is remarkable. I especially love the photograph of the library which looks different to any library I have ever been in, and the staff photograph at the end of the booklet. It would be fascinating to trace the history of these teachers, but that will be a project for another time.

The text that I have quoted from above entitled Merseypride: Essays in Liverpool Exceptionalism by John Belcham contains information about many texts that can be found in the Sheppard-Worlock’s Special Collections department (Gradwell Collection). There are several copies of Merseypride on the shelves of the Sheppard-Worlock library for students to consult before visiting Special Collections if necessary.

By Nicola Friar a.k.a. The Brontë Babe

All photos appear with the kind permission of Liverpool Hope University. Please do not copy or share any of these images.


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