Using Primary Sources: new open access e-textbook launched

Special Collections & Archives has been a key contributor in “Using Primary Sources”, a newly launched Open Access teaching and study resource that combines archival and early printed source materials with high quality peer-reviewed chapters by leading academics.

Edited by Dr Jonathan Hogg, Senior Lecturer in Twentieth Century History at the University of Liverpool, with over 30 academics contributing, this project is a collaboration between Liverpool University Press, the University of Liverpool Library and JISC, and is available for free on the BiblioBoard platform.

Special Collections & Archives has provided images for several chapters across the Medieval, Early Modern and Modern anthologies. Dr Martin Heale’s chapter on Popular Religion features high resolution images from some of SC&A’s illuminated medieval manuscript treasures, including the Dance of Death scene in MS.F.2.14, a French Book of Hours from the late 15th century.  Death is represented as a rotting corpse, followed by a procession of a pope, an emperor and a cardinal. The depiction is intended to have a moral message: a reminder the end is the same for all, regardless of their wealth or status. The accompanying chapter provides the context for the interpretation of such primary sources, so as to better understand attitudes to popular religion during this period.

Dance of Death, Book of Hours (Use of Chalons), LUL MS F.2.14 f82r

Both the Cunard archive and the Rathbone papers feature in Dr Graeme Milne’s chapter on Business History, whilst items from our children’s literature collections have been selected for Dr Chris Pearson’s chapter on the Environment. Some of these items are also used in teaching classes, where students have the opportunity to see and interpret the volumes for themselves.

A. Johnston, Animals of the Countryside, 1941. Oldham 485

Title page of A. White, The instructive picture book, 1866 JUV.550.2

From the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament ephemera collected by Science Fiction author John Brunner to a 14th century English Book of Hours, “Using Primary Sources” is both a valuable showcase for SC&A’s collections, and an important open access resource for students.

The textbook can be accessed via the Library catalogue, or directly from:

You can read more about the project on the Liverpool University Press website, as well as an interview with editor Dr Jon Hogg.

Follow “Using Primary Sources” on Twitter @LivUniSources to find out when new themes are added to the e-textbook. Forthcoming chapters for launch in 2017 include Science & Medicine, Gender and Political Culture.

2016 retrospect

Heading into the Chinese New Year, Special Collections & Archives pauses to look back at another busy year of collecting, conserving, communicating and celebrating our rich and diverse resources.

  • January – SC&A started the year as formally part of Libraries, Museums and Galleries, looking forward to sharing curatorial expertise and exploring new collaborative ventures with colleagues in the University’s Museums and Galleries. The exhibition Utopia Calling: Eleanor Rathbone Remembered opened, we hosted visiting archivists from Japan, and we made great use of housekeeping week, including a programme of cleaning and reboxing some of our tiniest treasures. SPEC 2016 t1-01_3G-R resizing and cleaning 1 G-R resizing and cleaning 2
  • February – 24 Feb was Eleanor Rathbone day, with a memorial lecture; the Utopia Calling exhibition was advertised as part of a national Remembering Eleanor Rathbone programme; Andy Sawyer, our Science Fiction Librarian, was interviewed on Radio Merseyside; Cunard came to film items from their offical archive, and teaching classes got underway for the new semester, with enthusiastic students sharing their experiences on social media.
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  • March –- activities shared with our colleagues at the Victoria Gallery & Museum included a gallery talk on the Cunard Archive, and a talk on book conservation to accompany the Knowledge is Power exhibition on early Liverpool Libraries.
  • April – Professor Eve Rosenhaft and a colleague from Germany visited the Hanns Weltzel collections to prepare an exhibition on the Nazi persecution of Romani families and a session on ‘Using Primary Sources’ looking at case studies from University archives ran as part of Libary’s Researcher KnowHow training programme.GypsyNazi-4w
  • May – as part of LightNight VG&M visitors could meet a plague doctor and other characters interpreting the world of the Micrographia exhibition, SC&A mounted Something in the water? Liverpool and the Literary Fantastic: an exhibition on Liverpool science fiction and a busy Andy Sawyer was in demand for both LightNight and WoWfest’s History of Sci-Fi in 10 Objects.


  • June – SC&A hosted BBC Radio 4’s My Muse who visited to record a programme with Professor Deryn Rees Jones and the singer/songwriter Kathryn Williams in the presence of manuscripts of Sylvia Plath’s poetry; a group visit from the HLF-funded project ‘history of place’ charting lives of the disabled through history to view resources relating to history of the Liverpool School for the Blind; and Ohio State University students studying science fiction. We welcomed sixth formers on work experience placements, and attendees of the Science Fiction Research Association and Current Research in Speculative Fictions conferences.
  • July – students from the other side of the Pacific – Sociology summer school students from Singapore – came to see a reprise of the Eleanor Rathbone exhibition.
  • August – the University Archivist, Jo Klett, worked hard over the summer on the migration and cleaning of data – 100,000 records – and arranging training in the new archives system EMu, in preparation for the launch next year of a new archives catalogue; items from the John Fraser collection were loaned to the  Richard Le Gallienne exhibition in Liverpool Central Library, advertised nationally and internationally.Fraser 248 sm
  • September – we welcomed three new members of staff at the beginning of the month: two Graduate Library Assistants, Beth Williams and Robyn Orr, and an experienced rare books cataloguer and children’s book specialist, Lucy Evans, who spent a busy week running the national Rare Books & Special Collections Group conference with SC&A Manager Jenny Higham on its first visit to Liverpool, including of course a visit to SC&A.

Margins and mainstream books display at the University of Liverpool Special Collections and ArchivesThe same week brought members of the Challenger Society to see some particularly well-preserved marine illustrations.

Challenger Society

  • October – SC&A’s Local Literary Landscapes exhibiton, curated by Special Collections Librarian Katy Hooper and Archives Cataloguer Josette Reeves, opened to promote the Liverpool Literary Festival – including 200 Years of Frankenstein with the indefatiguable Andy Sawyer in conversation with Miranda Seymour. The Reading Room was opened for the final University Open Day, following on from open days in June and September at which we welcomed potential students.
  • November – we were very pleased to welcome Lord Derby, President of the University Council, and to spread the word about our collections far and wide: Siân Wilks, Cunard Archivist, attended the UK Maritime Archives Initiatives Day at the National Maritime Museum; Andy Sawyer contributed to the University of Liverpool hub for the Being Human festival on the theme ‘Fears of the past, hopes for the future’ with a workshop on Olaf Stapledon; and Jenny Higham gave a presentation on careers in Special Collections & Archives for a University Career Insights session on heritage.
  • December – the #LivUniSCA Twitter feed featured a special #SCAdvent hashtag to brighten up the dark days at the end of the year.

Behind the scenes, the team has continued its work to make new accessions and newly catalogued collections available for research and teaching use, including early Liverpool printing, the Matt Simpson archive, and additions to the Cunard Archive. Find all these and more by searching the Archive and Library catalogues on the SCA website and browsing the accessions2016 tag.

Saving the Children in the 1930s

In 1948, United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This significant declaration is now used as a guideline for many nations around the world when implementing laws or adopting policies. As Human Rights Day commemorating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights takes place in December, we thought it fitting to show some of the material we have in Special Collections and Archives that champions the rights of children and refugees across the world.

Eleanor Rathbone

Portrait of Eleanor Rathbone [c. 1910].

Portrait of Eleanor Rathbone [RP XIV.3.96, c. 1910].

In particular, social reformer and M.P. Eleanor Rathbone was instrumental in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of those affected by war and any subsequent geographic displacement. As she formed the Children’s Minimum Committee in 1934 to actively campaign for the eradication of children in poverty, it is perhaps very fitting that the Declaration of the Rights of the Child was further expanded in 1946, the year of Eleanor’s death. This promoted the safety and welfare of children across the world.

In the later 1930s, she was an active participant in campaigning for peace and the safety of Spanish civilians during the Spanish Civil War. Here at Special Collections and Archives we hold material in the Rathbone Collection (RP XIV.2.13) that relates to Ms Rathbone’s attempts to ensure that the British government were doing all they could to assist refugees and injured civilians in Spain. The below telegram to the future Prime Minister Clement Attlee outlines Eleanor’s attempts to persuade the government to protect refugee ships leaving Spanish and French ports.

Telegram from Eleanor Rathbone to Clement Atlee, dated 19th June 1937 [RP XIV.2.13(26)].

Telegram from Eleanor Rathbone to Clement Atlee, dated 19th June 1937 [RP XIV.2.13(26)].  “Will you consider moving [adjournment?] [Monday?] to consider Spanish petition and protest against Government’s refusal to protect ships taking refugees from Bilbao to Spanish ports and also from Santander to French ports – stop latter prohibitions…”

Telegram from Eleanor Rathbone to Clement Attlee, dated 19th June 1937 [RP XIV.2.13(26)]. "on private information [privately?] confirmed [&?] Foreign Office [It?] closes the last door as Bilbao [?] understood to be almost unusable."

Telegram from Eleanor Rathbone to Clement Attlee, dated 19th June 1937 [RP XIV.2.13(26)]. “…on private information [privately?] confirmed & Foreign Office It closes the last door as Bilbao understood to be almost unusable.”

Eleanor was also instrumental in lobbying for the safe removal of refugees from those countries whereby the threat of Nazi Germany was prominent, and further their safety and ensuring the best treatment whilst in Britain [RP XIV.2.17]. In particular, she was keen for those families that were separated across international borders to be reunited in Britain as soon as possible. Eleanor wrote to the Home Secretary in reference to the Government’s regulations on allowing refugees into the country, which she described was “as though one were to throw a child out of the top window for fear of catching cold through leaving the door open”. [RP XIV.2.17(3), Letter to Home Secretary dated 3rd February 1940].

Current support for child refugees can be found in December through Christmas Jumper Day, in aid of Save the Children. This was certainly a cause close to Eleanor’s heart, and as the page below taken from The Girl’s Own Annual demonstrates, children in the 1930s should be safe and showing off their rounders positions!

SPEC JUV 573 1935-6 Edition p. 202

SPEC JUV 573 1935-6 Edition p. 202

See here for an overview on the Rathbone Collection. As always, the material is available to view here at Special Collections and Archives. We are based in Sydney Jones Library, Liverpool University, and open Monday to Friday, 9:30am until 4:30pm.

New Exhibition: Local Literary Landscapes

This year sees the exciting launch of the inaugural Liverpool Literary Festival, running 2830 October 2016. To celebrate, a new exhibition at Special Collections & Archives is highlighting the work of those literary figures who have sought inspiration from Liverpool and the surrounding area, particularly local poet Matt Simpson. His newly-acquired archive provides the bedrock for the exhibition and reveals just how much his work was influenced by Liverpool; his verses are full of the city and its people.

Matt Simpson returns to his childhood street

Matt Simpson returns to his childhood street

Simpson (1936-2009) grew up in Bulwer Street, Bootle, where he attended the local grammar school.  He went on to study English at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and returned to Liverpool in the 1960s after his marriage to German actress Monika Weydert. He taught in various schools and colleges, including Christ’s College (now Liverpool Hope University). He published many collections of poetry, including some for children, as well as critical essays and monographs. He also undertook a poetry residence in Tasmania, which inspired his collection, Cutting the Clouds Towards (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1998). But it was the city where he grew up and lived most of his life which would be his most enduring inspiration.

SPEC Merseyside Poets I.S615.M23 : Matt Simpson, Making Arrangements (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1982)

SPEC Merseyside Poets I.S615.M23 :
Matt Simpson, Making Arrangements (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1982)

The exhibition also includes impressions of the city recorded in the poems, autobiographies and travel diaries of a host of others, from novelist Daniel Defoe to physicist Oliver Lodge, social reformer Josephine Butler to poet Donald Davie.

The exhibition will run until the end of the year. In 2017 we’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Mersey Sound, the anthology of poems produced by the ‘Liverpool Poets’ Brian Patten, Roger McGough and Adrian Henri.

Eleanor Rathbone Public Lecture: Wednesday 24th February

Susan Pederson, 'Eleanor Rathbone and the politics of conscience', 2004

Susan Pederson, ‘Eleanor Rathbone and the politics of conscience’, 2004

The life and legacy of the MP and social reformer Eleanor Rathbone, who died 70 years ago this year, is currently being celebrated in the Remembering Eleanor Rathbone series of commemorative events.  These include the Utopia Calling exhibition currently on display in Special Collections & Archives.

The University’s School of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology is also contributing by hosting the Eleanor Rathbone Social Justice Public lectures, 2015-16.  The next lecture in the series will take place on Wednesday 24th February at 5pm.  Professor Susan Pederson (Columbia University, New York) will speak on “Women and the Quest for Equal Citizenship”. Professor Pederson will examine Rathbone’s unflagging effort to secure ‘equal citizenship’ for women, exploring what she meant by the term and the campaigns she launched, first in Liverpool and then nationally and internationally, to achieve it.

Attendees of the lecture are encouraged to visit the exhibition in Special Collections & Archives between 2 and 4 pm.  The lecture will take place on campus in the Hearnshaw Lecture Theatre, Eleanor Rathbone Building, a short walk from the Sydney Jones Library.

Attendance is free, though registration is required.


Utopia Calling – Remembering Eleanor Rathbone

January 2016 sees the 70th anniversary of the death of the celebrated social reformer Eleanor Rathbone. To commemorate this event, an exhibition of items from Special Collections & Archives’ Rathbone Papers seeks to highlight her life and times.  Eleanor’s political career, social campaigning, family and legacy are examined through photographs, political manifestos, correspondence, publications and ephemera.

Eleanor Rathbone (centre) and other Liverpool suffragists campaigning in support of the pro-women’s suffrage candidate in the Kirkdale by-election, 1910. RP XIV.3.101

Eleanor Rathbone (centre) and other Liverpool suffragists campaigning in support of the pro-women’s suffrage candidate in the Kirkdale by-election, 1910. RP XIV.3.101

Born in Liverpool and educated at Kensington High School, London and Somerville College, Oxford, Eleanor was the second daughter of William Rathbone VI (1819-1902) and his second wife Emily Lyle (d.1918).  The Rathbone family were a Liverpool dynasty of non-conformist merchants and ship-owners, philanthropists, politicians and social reformers, artists and patrons of the arts.  From 1788 until 1940 the Rathbone family home in Liverpool was Greenbank Hall, which was bequeathed to the University in 1944.

In 1909 Eleanor Rathbone became the first woman elected to Liverpool City Council, standing as the independent councillor for the Granby Ward until 1935.  During this period she was a prominent campaigner for the cause of women’s suffrage, and in 1909 helped to establish the Liverpool Women’s Suffrage Society.  In the years after the First World War, Eleanor became a leading voice in the movement which saw the introduction of widows’ pensions in 1925 and the equal franchise legislation of 1928.

In 1929 Eleanor Rathbone was elected as the Independent MP for the Combined English Universities, a position she held until her death in 1946. She was one of the first politicians to realise the potential danger from the Nazi party in the 1930s, and was a relentless critic of the government policy of appeasement. Instrumental in the establishment of the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees in late 1938, Eleanor was a formidable campaigner on behalf of refugees from Francoist Spain and Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Building on her earlier social work, Eleanor was a vocal advocate for the introduction of family allowances, more commonly known as ‘child benefit’.  The Family Allowance Act was passed in 1945, with Eleanor instrumental in ensuring the benefit was paid directly to mothers.

The exhibition is open during SCA opening hours (Monday to Friday, 9.30am-4.45pm), and is also accessible at weekends during the core Sydney Jones Library opening hours of 12pm to 5pm.  Please ask for access at the main Sydney Jones Library reception desk.  The exhibition runs until April 11th 2016.

Election fever

With a general election fast approaching, we have identified some material from our collections which can help to show how elections in the past were, fought, won, and lost.

Special Collections and Archives contains collections relating to a number of political figures, some of whom served as members of parliament, including Eleanor Rathbone, Sir John T. Brunner, and Lord David Owen.

In some ways, the basic materials of an election campaign appear to have changed little over the last century. Leaflets explaining a candidate’s position, flyers advertising public meetings, and small cards on which the key slogans of a campaign are put across are all still used today. In Brunner’s papers, such material survives from his 1887 by-election victory over the Liberal Unionist Lord Grosvenor in Northwich, Cheshire.

Propaganda card from the Northwich by-election, 1887

Propaganda card from the Northwich by-election, 1887 [Brunner/3/2/14/4]

Eleanor Rathbone’s papers give us an insight into a long-gone quirk of the British electoral system: the existence of university seats. These were not physical constituencies, but electorates made up of university graduates, wherever they happened to be living.

Eleanor Rathbone represented the Combined English Universities, as one of two Members, from 1929 until her death in 1946. Although from a family largely aligned with Liberal politics, she sat as an Independent. This non-party approach clearly appealed to the electors of this seat, including Liverpool University graduates, who returned her four times.

An address to women voters of the Combined English Universites constituency [RPXIV/3/3(10)]

An address to women voters of the Combined English Universites constituency, 1929 [RPXIV/3/3(10)]

This year there is much talk of political realignment and the emergence of new parties. This in itself is nothing new. The Labour Party was once an insurgent political organisation battling for every vote against the main parties of the day. The early 20th century election material contained in the papers of Katharine and John Bruce Glasier, founder members of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), reminds us of this.

Leaflet attacking the voting record of John Bruce Glasier's Conservative opponent, Bordesley, 1906 [GP/5/2/2(10)]

Leaflet attacking the voting record of John Bruce Glasier’s Conservative opponent, Bordesley, 1906 [GP/5/2/2(10)]

Almost a century later, David Owen’s Social Democratic Party (SDP) was heralded as bringing about a political realignment upon its split from Labour in 1981. Lord Owen’s papers contain material from the general elections and by-elections fought by the party in alliance with the Liberals throughout the 1980s. Despite some good results, by the late 1980s the Alliance began to split. In 1988, the Conservatives narrowly held Kensington from Labour, while separate Liberal Democrat and Social Democrat candidates came third and fourth.

Conservative Party window poster, Kensington by-election, 1988 [D709/3/5/2/10]

Conservative Party window poster, Kensington by-election, 1988 [D709/3/5/2/10]

As well as archival material, our collections contain various printed political pamphlets, some dating from before the political party system as we know it developed. In the 18th and 19th centuries, supporters of candidates would pen songs and rhymes set to popular tunes to extol their virtues. Tracts such as this one published by John Wilkes satirised the practice of corruption during a Hampshire election, but references to “freeholders” and “brave boys” are a reminder of how tightly the franchise was restricted to male members of the propertied classes.

Election tract published by John Wilkes, 1780 [SPEC Thomson 13(12)]

Election tract published by John Wilkes, 1780 [SPEC Thomson 13(12)]

These days, of course, things are very different. Gone are the university seats and the limited franchise. Over the last century political parties such as the ILP and SDP have risen and fallen. Nevertheless, some of the material here indicates that the bread and butter of electoral campaigning has perhaps not changed as much as we might think.

A selection of election material from SCA collections can currently be seen in our display cases in the Grove Wing of the Sydney Jones Library.


Edd Mustill

Graduate Library Assistant




Edward Rushton, Blind Eye-witness

As Liverpool continues to celebrate Edward Rushton (1756-1814) “Liverpool’s most radical son” with the bicentennial conference, Edward Rushton and Romantic Liverpool, some notable contemporary works are on display in Special Collections and Archives, alongside the two newest works on Rushton, published by Liverpool University Press: a new edition of the Collected Writings of Edward Rushton, prepared by Paul Baines of the Department of English, University of Liverpool, and a critical study of Rushton, Talking Revolution, by Franca Dellarosa of the Università degli Studi di Bari ‘Aldo Moro’, Italy.

rushton122 November 2014 marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Edward Rushton (1756-1814). Born in Liverpool and apprenticed as a sea-boy at the age of 11, Rushton contracted a devastating eye infection on a slave ship and returned, blind, to Liverpool to live on a small allowance from his father, a vintner and dealer in spirits. At various times he ran a pub (in Crooked Lane), a newspaper, and finally and most successfully a bookshop (in Paradise Street).

With the help of various assistants he read as extensively as he could and began writing poems in about 1780, publishing them in newspapers. He thus came to the attention of the small group of intellectuals and radicals in Liverpool centred on the figure of William Roscoe. In 1787 the West-Indian Eclogues appeared as a separate publication, and many of his marine ballads (notably The Neglected Tar) were sung in taverns, at theatres, and in the streets.

Rushton was a staunch support of radical causes including the French revolution and American Independence (though he continued to berate both countries for their involvement in imperialism and slavery). He protested against the use of press-gangs, British violence in Ireland, the Russian domination of Poland, and any neglect of the poor by the rich. He also wrote charity songs for the Blind School and other humanitarian institutions. Many of his poems appeared in chapbooks or as single-sheet items; some were finely printed by the Liverpool-based printer and poet John M’Creery, who also printed his Poems of 1806.

At around the same time Rushton was operated on, five times, by the Manchester eye-surgeon Benjamin Gibson, who managed to restore some sight in one of Rushton’s eyes, allowing him to see his wife and children for the first time. Rushton was well-known in the radical and intellectual societies of Liverpool. He had a wide range of political connections in Belfast and Manchester, and was much reprinted in America. He suffered from gout – the subject of some of his more comic poems – and his death in November 1814 appears to have been brought on by a proprietary gout medicine. He was buried in St Johns’ Cemetery, Liverpool, and in 1824 his son (also Edward, later a Liverpool magistrate) and the Unitarian minister William Shepherd, edited a further volume of his Poems, and Other Writings.

Copies of Rushton’s work and other material from Special Collections and Archives can be seen at the Victoria Gallery & Museum as part of the city-wide Unsung exhibition.




Edward Rushton


From Sat 1 Nov 2014 until 10 May 2015, Liverpool is celebrating the bicentenary of Edward Rushton (1756-1814) “Liverpool’s most radical son”. Contemporary volumes of Rushton’s poems, letters and other writings from Special Collections and Archives are on loan to exhibitions at the International Slavery Museum (opens Fri 7 Nov) and the Victoria Gallery & Museum, as part of Unsung, a city-wide project celebrating the bicentenary, activism and legacy of Edward Rushton. Funded by the Heritage Lottery and led by DaDaFest as part of DaDaFest International 2014.

The Rathbones and the First World War

The Rathbones of Liverpool were a family of non-conformist merchants and ship owners, whose sense of high social consciousness led to a fine tradition of philanthropy and public service.  Their family home was Greenbank House, on the Toxteth Park estate, from the late 18th century until 1944, when it was donated to the University for student accommodation.  The Rathbone Papers in the University of Liverpool’s Special Collections and Archives are the records of several generations of the Rathbone family, incorporating papers relating to their works of social and political reform, their business ventures, and their family life, dating from the late 18th to the late 20th centuries.  For a family with such wide reaching concerns and interests it is not surprising their archive provides a fascinating insight into the impact of the First World War, on both those who fought and those who remained on the home front.

Image form Rathbone papers RPXXV.7.208 Red Cross nurses

RPXXV.7.208: Red Cross nurses (Elena Rathbone on left, second row from front).

Hugh Reynolds Rathbone (1862-1940) – a grain merchant who served as a member of the Royal Commission on Wheat Supplies during the First World War – collected notes and correspondence relating to Rathbones serving in the military, which are now held in the archive (RPXIX1.51-60).  His son, Richard Reynolds Rathbone, served in the 6th King’s Liverpool Rifles, and was considered lucky by his family to have been wounded in action and brought to a London hospital.  He later received the Military Cross for bravery.  Another, more famous, familial recipient of this prestigious award was the actor, Basil Rathbone, who was commended for “conspicuous daring and resource on patrol” after conducting daylight raids in 1918.  Basil’s younger brother, John, was killed in action in the same year.  Their cousin Gilbert Benson Bolton was similarly unfortunate.  A Lieutenant in the 8th North Staffordshire regiment, he was reported missing in November 1916 after the battle of Grandcourt.  Gilbert’s servant wrote to his mother Nina Rathbone Bolton describing how he became a “most popular officer & presented all the qualities of a true British soldier…I still hope that he may be alive & that the family may hear news of his safety”.  Nina herself was more realistic about the chances of a happy ending in her letter to Hugh of 9 February 1917, writing movingly that,

to me he was a kind of second daughter…one of his great qualities was cheerfulness & that is how I always saw him even during the last leave at home and going back… I have recently found a Louis Stevenson sentence which entirely applies “a good influence in life while he was still among us; he had a fresh laugh; it did you good to see him; & however sad he may have been at heart, he always bore a bold and cheerful countenance & took fortune’s worst as it were the showers of Spring.


Image of RPXXV.5.17 (6): Elena Richmond’s certificate from the Red Cross Society

RPXXV.5.17 (6): Elena Richmond’s certificate from the Red Cross Society

Other female members of the Rathbone clan took a more active role in the war. Lady Elena Richmond (née Rathbone, 1878-1964) exemplified the family’s tradition of social service, and was a supporter of District Nursing, as her father William VII and grandfather William VI had been.  The Rathbone archive contains correspondence relating to Elena’s war service with the Red Cross Society (RP XXV.5.17.1-33), as well as a service medal and certificates she received in recognition of the ‘valuable service rendered’ and in commemoration of her being inscribed upon the Red Cross Roll of Honourable Service.  Elena worked as part of the Enquiry Department for the Wounded and Missing, and after the war received a letter from the Red Cross outlining the scale of the work she had helped to accomplish.  From April 1915 until March 1919, the department had received 342,248 enquiries from relatives and friends, and produced 384,759 reports, a process which had entailed the interviewing of between four and five million soldiers.  As the case of Gilbert Benson Bolton illustrates, these reports did not often bring the recipient the news they were hoping for, but the Director of the Red Cross wrote,

It is abundantly evident from thousands of grateful letters…that our work has been thoroughly appreciated.  If you could see these letters, I’m sure you would realize that the work you have carried out…dull and wearisome as it must often have seemed, has not been in vain, for it enabled us in very many cases to alleviate terrible anxiety and substitute certainty for suspense.


Image: Portrait of Eleanor Rathbone (RPXIV.3.96)

Portrait of Eleanor Rathbone (RPXIV.3.96)

Elena’s aunt Eleanor Florence Rathbone (1872-1946) is often considered to be the true heir of her father, the social reformer and Liberal MP William Rathbone VI (1868-95). As the secretary of the Women’s Industrial Council in Liverpool before the war, she campaigned against low pay and poor conditions, and in 1909 she became the first women to be elected to the City Council.

Once war broke out, the social dislocation which resulted brought into focus the inadequacy of provisions for the dependents of soldiers and sailors, a situation Eleanor was already aware of through her social work as a home visitor for the Liverpool Central Relief Society, which often entailed working with the wives of dockers.  Eleanor’s cousin, Herbert Rathbone, was the Lord Mayor during this time, and turned to Eleanor to expand the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Association; the Liberal government had approved ‘separation allowances’ for the families of volunteers but had organised no machinery with which to administer them.  Eleanor used her contacts to ensure advance payments in the hope that the War Office would honour them.  That not only did they do so, but in time formalised and centralised payments through the new Ministry of Pensions, was testament in large part to Eleanor’s organisation in Liverpool.

Even after central government had stepped in, the organisation carried on, and at the end of the war Eleanor helped create the Liverpool Personal Service Society to act as a model for this type of family-based social work.  Eleanor herself met a huge number of people through these channels, as she conducted a good deal of the practical work herself and often heard problem cases.

Throughout the war I had to investigate and report to the War Office…on practically every case in which a Liverpool soldier deserted his wife.

In 1917 Eleanor Rathbone established the Family Endowment Committee to look into the nature of this type of poverty.  Its report Equal Pay and the Family: a proposal for the National Endowment of Motherhood (1918) launched the campaign for family allowances.  Eleanor’s experiences in Liverpool in the First World War led directly to the introduction of these payments in the aftermath of the Second World War. What we today know as Child Benefit sprang from Eleanor’s desire to help those women who had endured the hardships of managing households on the irregular wages of the casual worker, only to be left vulnerable to widowhood or desertion in wartime.