Explore Your Archive: Papers of David Owen

Archive Discovered

As part of the 2015 Explore Your Archive campaign, this post looks at the David Owen Archive and reveals the scope of material we hold that can be consulted for research. Lord David Owen was a prominent political figure in the later 20th century for both the Labour Party and the later founded Social Democratic Party. Lord Owen has had a varied political career, from Minister of Health 1974-1976 to Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs 1976-1979, these rolls fulfilled under the Labour Party. Prior to co-founding the Social Democratic Party in 1982 with the ‘Gang of Four’, including Baroness Shirley Williams. Later Lord Owen was leader of the SNP from 1983-1987.

The archive contains papers relating to Lord Owen’s early life as a medical student at Cambridge University through to his retirement from political parties before he stood in the House of Lords as an independent social democrat. Lord Owen was Chancellor of the University of Liverpool from 1996 until 2009. Lord Owen thus chose the University of Liverpool in which to place the initial material of his archive during his chancellorship. Lord Owen has published many books and is still politically active. Currently Lord Owen is reflecting his policies and beliefs from his time as Health Minister in 1974 in his active role in the NHS Reinstatement Bill 2015 Campaign. Lord Owen also still campaigns for international peace relations, showing his steadfastly held beliefs throughout his entire political career.  The archive not only allows researchers a unique insight into the evolving and developing personal and professional life of a politician; but also gives a snapshot of a country’s political attitude in context.

Owen Cartoons

The David Owen Archive has a large variety of material types. Even including items of political satire, as seen above.
[Left: D709/3/21/2/19 Copyright of Sunday Times Magazine 1981. Top right: D709/3/21/2/10 Copyright of Nicholas Garland 1987. Bottom left: D709/3/21/2/17 Copyright of Gibbard undated]

The David Owen Archive is fairly comprehensive – material ranges from personal correspondence to notes on draft parliamentary bills. One of the many research uses of the archive is the study of schisms in political parties exemplified by  Owen’s personal and professional transition from the Labour Party to the SDP. With a signed copy of the Limehouse Declaration of 1981 and drafts and correspondence leading to its finalisation, a clear narrative can be seen for the process of political change in British politics.

D709-2-17-1-3 final ed

A signed copy, by the ‘Gang of Four’, of the Limehouse Declaration 1981. [D709/2/17/1/3]

Furthermore, the David Owen Archive can be used to examine the establishment of new parties in British politics, especially relating to liberal beliefs. The papers relating to Owen’s co-founding of the Social Democratic Party show both support and criticism for the political move, thus reflecting the more private and back of house scene of politics through correspondence – something not often released into the public world of national politics.


Papers relating to the creation of the SDP. [D709/3/1/1/13]

Explore Your Archive: Women in Higher Education

Archive Discovered ImageAs part of the 2015 Explore Your Archive campaign, this post delves into the University Archive to focus on the formative years of the University of Liverpool. In particular, we examine a series of records documenting the experiences of the earliest women students and staff to enter higher education here during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The University of Liverpool was part of the vanguard for progressive gender equality in nineteenth century higher education, and the evidence is available in the University Archive. Provisions for female education, hitherto sparsely availably, were incorporated in the federal Victoria University’s Charter from the beginning.

Women’s Access to Education

Established in 1881, the federal University from which Liverpool would later emerge admitted both male and female students from its opening session in 1882. In his comprehensive history of the University, Thomas Kelly remarks on the “important and surprising feature [of] the high proportion of female students’, being about two-fifths of the total number of day students in the first session, and over half in the second and third sessions (1882-4)”[1].

Liverpool obtained its Charter as an independent provincial university in 1903. Convocation was carried over from the original Charter, but the education of women was now extended to all faculties, without the previous exclusion from the Faculty of Medicine. The first female medical student was Phoebe Mildred Powell from Knotty Ash, who is listed in the Register of Undergraduates[2] as matriculating on October 27 1905, aged 19. After completing her initial studies in 1911, she became a Doctor of Medicine in 1912.

The amended Charter of 1903 also confirmed that women were not only eligible to take up any place as students, but also as members of staff. The first female staff members were Miss S. Dorothea Pease, appointed Mistress of Method in 1899, and her successor in 1902, Miss C. C. Graveson[3]. Miss Pease was also the Warden of University Hall from 1899 to 1900.

Women’s Accommodation

Although early provision of student residences at Liverpool was minimal, one of the earliest available Halls was in fact a residence for female students. University Hall – initially home to just five residents when opened in 1899 – was originally situated on Edge Lane, but was relocated in 1904 to nearby Holly Road, Fairfield. Within the Archive is a collection of materials pertaining to the Hall, including publications from the students’ University Hall Association, plans for building redevelopments, correspondence regarding operations and finance, student membership of the Association, Committee Minutes and – most interestingly – the press coverage of the Hall’s building extension in 1927.

As noted above, the female student population grew healthily along with the newly-independent University of Liverpool, and by the end of the 1920s the accommodation at University Hall needed to expand. In the inaugural publication of the Magazine of the University Hall Association at Whitsuntide 1927, contributors Nancy Nixon, a senior student, and Marian Poppleton, a fourth-year representative, noted the swelling ranks of the Hall (now housing almost 130, rather than a meagre five) and what this meant for the mark made on the wider University by its female cohort:

“[W]e intend to hold our own at the University. In games and swimming, we have already done so, and we have moreover won the Silver Cup this year in the University Competition in choral singing”. […] As it is our boast that we can rival any residential Hall in existence, we have a high standard to maintain.”[4]

Extension plans for the Hall came to fruition in November 1927, with the extension being officially opened by Sir Oliver and Lady Lodge on 11 November. Photographs from the occasion held in the University Archive show Sir Oliver being presented with a Louis XV snuffbox by MP and former Treasurer of the University Hugh Rathbone, and Miss Emma Holt, one of the many female benefactors of the scheme.

Sir Oliver Lodge at the 1927 University House Opening Ceremony

Sir Oliver Lodge at the 1927 University House extension unvieling. (Archive reference P8/4).

Sir Oliver’s impassioned address to his student audience was reported in the Liverpool Post and Mercury the following day, and clippings have been retained in the University archive alongside the photographs. Lodge spoke of his belief in female enfranchisement and access to opportunities:

“[Women] are taking their place in the work of the world, and they are entitled to share in such responsibility as is common to citizenhood.”

The Archive holds further evidence that, even aside from the occasional visiting dignitaries, life in Hall for these women was not without excitement: “The year was not without its thrills,” reports student Kathleen Wheelock, in her précis of the 1925-6 academic year. “We had a great scare one night, when a man was found under a fresher’s bed […]!”[5]

The 1926-7 cohort of University Hall residents.

The 1926-7 cohort of University Hall residents. (Archive reference P489.)

This archive comprises an array of record types, formats, ages and topics. A little exploration can take you a long way into history, be that history institutional, cultural, social or personal.

Here we have explored a mere snippet of those histories documented in the University Archive. More information about the University Archive and its arrangement can be found online at the SC&A website. What might you discover?

[1]Kelly, Thomas. For Advancement of Learning. The University of Liverpool 1881-1981. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press (p. 58).

[2] Archive reference S2012.

[3] Kelly (p. 116).

[4] Archive reference P8/6 (p. 9).

[5] Archive reference P8/6 (p. 7).

Explore your Archive

 Archive Unearthed Title

Ness Gardens2

Ness Gardens: Spec R/Sb466.G73.N46

Now in its second year, this month sees the launch of Explore Your Archive campaign a national event to promote archival collections within the UK.

This year our display will feature Archive Unearthed based on The Liverpool University Special Collections & Archives records of the historic Bulley family and documenting their historical involvement in creating Ness Botanic Gardens.

d.693/4 Bulley bird

Bulley Family Greeting Card D693/4

The award-winning Ness Gardens are situated on the Wirral peninsula overlooking the Dee Estuary and were founded in 1898 by Arthur Kilpin Bulley. With a history of innovation in the botanical field, Ness Gardens is one of the leading Botanic gardens in the United Kingdom winning the ‘Sustainable Tourism Award’ at the Liverpool City Region Tourism Awards, in 2014. Ness also has a long-standing background of academic research culminating in a RHS Gold Medal award-winning garden ‘Ness Botanische’

The foundations of Ness Gardens were created by Liverpool cotton merchant Arthur Kilpin Bulley in 1898 when he began to build his own garden. He was particularly interested in rare plants and his belief that foreign plant species such as Himalayan and Chinese mountain plants could thrive in the British soils led to him hiring renowned British ‘plant hunters’ George Forrest and Frank Kingdon Ward. Thousands of plant seeds were collected abroad and were returned to the Wirral to be successfully cultivated.

D693/4 Porridge poem

D.693/4 A poem by Arthur Bulley about porridge


As a direct result of innovative plant hybridisation programmes, the use of Rhododendron griersonianum and Camelia saluenensis, has resulted in many hybrid plants common in Britain today. In particular, two species introduced by George Forest, Rhododendron griersonianum and Camelia saluenensis underwent successful hybridisation and are now common in the United Kingdom. Indeed, the great successes in seed cultivation and hybridisation led to the foundation of the Bees Ltd plant and seed company that was based within Ness Gardens, the records of which are contained within the archives.

Arthur Bulley wished to share his passion for plants and insisted on opening the ornamental grounds of his garden for public viewing. After his death, Bulley’s daughter Lois presented the Gardens to the University of Liverpool in 1948. She stipulated that the land should remain a botanical garden open to the public, a fitting tribute to her father.

D761/2 Female Gardeners

 Female Gardeners at Ness Gardens D791/2

Over time Ness Botanical Gardens has undergone many transformations. In the early years of the 1900s the gardens were maintained by 48 members of staff, but this dwindled to just two; during the First World War Josiah Hope and his assistant, Bill Cottrell were left to care for the Gardens. The Liverpool University archives contain many photographs of members of staff and the public enjoying the gardens and vividly documents its changing landscape over the years.  This includes the successful creation of a visitors centre, greenhouses and many changes to the environmental landscape, followed by an opening ceremony at which Lois Bulley and the mayor of Liverpool were present.

Lois Bulley and MayorLois Bulley at the opening of the visitor Centre at Ness Gardens D791/2

When Ken Hulme became Director of Ness Gardens in 1957 he removed the sections to the garden Arthur Bulley had installed in favour of a more natural single environment for the plants. Today the Ness Botanic Gardens covers some 64 acres, and boasts a collection of 15,000 plants many of which were early introductions from China, the Himalayas, Tibet and Burma.

Highlights from this collection can be viewed in our display cases adjacent to the Special Collections and Archives.


Colin Smith

Graduate Library Assistant