The Papers of William Crabtree: the Peter Jones building

William Crabtree graduated from the School of Architecture at the University of Liverpool in 1929, having studied under Professor Charles H. Reilly. His final year thesis was a design for a department store in Oxford Street.  

As a result of Crabtree’s work during his degree, Charles Reilly suggested to his friend John Spedan Lewis, chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, that Crabtree be given the commission to design the new Peter Jones building.

Crabtree’s papers dating from 1933 to 1940, covering the period when Crabtree worked as an architect on the Peter Jones building and Crabtree’s time as a consultant architect for the John Lewis Company, have recently been added to the University Archive.

Print of the Peter Jones building.
CRB/2/7. Print showing the Peter Jones building.

The Peter Jones building is named after Peter Rees Jones (1842–1905), the son of a Carmarthenshire hat manufacturer who developed a flourishing retail business, the success of which was reflected in the five-story red-brick store that stood on the site of the present Peter Jones building. After Peter Jones’s death in 1905, the business faltered and the store was purchased by John Lewis, who handed it over to his son John Spedan Lewis in 1914. 

By the early 1930’s, Spedan realised that Peter Jones, with its old Victorian layout, needed refurbishment. John Slater and Arthur Moberly were appointed as joint architects, together with Crabtree, with Charles Reilly engaged as consultant.

The Peter Jones building, completed in 1939, is celebrated as an example of the Modern Movement in Britain. Crabtree was influenced heavily by leading Modernist designers, having studied Mendelsohn’s Schocken stores in Germany. Peter Jones was the first property in London to use the glass curtain wall effect, creating a fluid exterior, and the interior was illuminated by lightwells.

CRB/1/2. Examples of letters from manufacturers, including discussions of samples of glass and other materials.

William Crabtree’s papers, donated to Special Collections and archives in November 2019 by Crabtree’s son (Dr. John Crabtree), include correspondence between Crabtree and manufacturing and engineering companies, discussing topics such as the building design and materials, as well as many letters between Crabtree and Charles H. Reilly

Letters from Charles Reilly
CRB/1/3. Examples of correspondence between William Crabtree and Charles Reilly, discussing details of the design of the Peter Jones building, the design of the John Lewis building in Oxford Street, London (never built) and other architectural projects.

Also included are minutes, agenda papers and memorandums from committees governing the development of John Lewis building projects, that offer a fascinating insight into the design and building process.

Building Committee Agenda Papers
CRB/2/2/1. John Lewis Partnerships Building Committee agenda papers.

The catalogue for the papers of William Crabtree is available online.

Richmond, P., ‘Later Architectural Work: 1918–1939’, in Marketing Modernisms: The Architecture and Influence of Charles Reilly (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2001), pp. 162-176.

‘Retail therapy: with sympathy and imagination, a well-loved London landmark has been given a new lease of life by radical alteration and thorough internal revision.’ The Architectural Review, vol. 215, no. 1288, June 2004, p. 88+.

The Graduate papers of Norah Dunphy. Architectural Drawings.

Twenty-eight architectural drawings from Norah Dunphy’s time as a student at the University of Liverpool and in employment in the North-East have recently been added to the University Archive.

Norah Dunphy was a student of the Liverpool School of Architecture. Graduating in 1926, she was the first woman to obtain the degree of Bachelor of Architecture in the country. She studied architecture under Professor Charles Reilly and obtained a first-class certificate in civic design under Professor Abercrombie. Norah Dunphy was also the first woman in the country to be employed as a town planner, appointed as Town Planning Assistant to the Tynemouth and North Shields Corporation in 1931.

The drawings were donated by Norah Dunphy’s daughter, who attended an event organised by the School of Architecture to highlight the achievements of their female graduates (,1123305,en.html ).

The catalogue for Dunphy’s architectural drawings is available online. If you would like to book an appointment to view these drawings, or if you have material that you wish to donate to the University Archive, please email us at

Thomas Rickman (1776-1841) Architect and Antiquary

The first staging post of the travelling Thomas Rickman exhibition to commemorate the bicentenary of the 1817 printing in Liverpool of Thomas Rickman’s epoch-making book An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of Architecture.

 Special Collections and Archives, Sydney Jones Library and Harold Cohen Library. 

In 1817 Rickman, a Quaker accountant in a Liverpool insurance firm, wrote An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of Architecture, the first accurate history of English gothic architecture, which became a nineteenth-century bestseller. Rickman’s Attempt was a scholarly milestone which resulted in greater understanding and appreciation for medieval architecture; its clear schematic illustrations of the varied styles of Norman and gothic architecture enabled architects to employ the styles more knowledgeably in their executed buildings. In 1818 the second Church Building Act was passed by Parliament, creating demand for his services as a recognised expert in gothic architecture with a strong financial background. Thanks to the Church Commissioners, Rickman went on to have a large and varied architectural practice.

 Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • An original first edition of Rickman’s An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of Architecture (1817) and copies of every subsequent edition
  • The handwritten text of Rickman’s lecture on modern church architecture delivered to the Liverpool Literary and Philosophical Institute
  • A manuscript letter from Thomas Rickman to Matthew Gregson
  • The copy of Rickman’s book owned an annotated by his friend William Whewell, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge
  • William Roscoe’s proprietor’s ticket for the Liverpool Royal Institution
  • Etchings of churches by John Sell Cotman (1782-1842).


Discover more about Thomas Rickman 


New Accession: student portfolio of architect Michael Bottomley

In September 2015 the University Archives received the student portfolio of the late architect and artist Michael Bottomley. Michael was a student of the Liverpool School of Architecture between 1945 and 1949. He was elected an associate member of The Royal Institute of British Architects in 1949.


He later became a partner in Haigh Architects of Kendal, with whom he had worked a student placement during 1947. In addition to his work as an architect he was also an accomplished artist, working in watercolour and pastel and capturing the changing character of the historic town of Kendal during his lifetime.


Michael’s student portfolio contains architectural drawings and plans for various projects on which he worked during his time at Liverpool University. The drawings form a diverse and interesting collection, often showing a high level of draftsmanship,  they stand not only as testament to his artistic talent but also represent a fascinating snapshot of the teaching practices and high quality of student architects’ work during this period.



Symbol of the City?

LUL MS106(11) St George's HallST GEORGE’S HALL, LIVERPOOL, 1841-2015

The current exhibition in Special Collections and Archives has been curated by two groups of first-year History students as part of the coursework for module HIST 106 ‘Exploring History’. This project-based module encourages students to identify and use primary sources to research a Liverpool-related topic, in this case, the architecture and sculpture of St George’s Hall. The topic was selected to highlight the rich holdings of Special Collections and Archives on this theme, including recently catalogued drawings by architect Charles Robert Cockerell for sculpture and decorative fixtures and fittings. Cockerell had been appointed to oversee the completion of the building following the death of its original architect, Harvey Lonsdale Elmes, in 1847.

cases left 1Group A (left hand case) identified materials from Special Collections and Archives to explore how St George’s Hall has represented the city, both through the choices of those responsible for its design and in its subsequent use. As the group discovered, although from the outset the building has functioned as a symbol of Liverpool, it has been the focus of both celebration and protest, community cohesion and social segregation.



cases right 1Group B (right hand case) chose to explore who was represented in the sculpture in the Hall and St John’s Gardens and who was omitted. Notably, until the introduction of a statue of Kitty Wilkinson in 2012, the only statues of women in and around the building were symbolic representations of Liverpool and civic virtues, whilst the only representation of a person of colour was a freed slave in the Hall’s pediment (now demolished). However, as the group discovered, Kitty Wilkinson herself is a near-mythical figure, with little surviving evidence of her activities. Why, they wondered, was she chosen over the human rights campaigner Eleanor Rathbone, whose activities are well documented in the Rathbone papers in Special Collections?

Through collaboration on their projects, the groups have gained first-hand experience of historical research and its challenges, including the non-existence of evidence and limitations of primary sources. They have also grappled with the practical and intellectual problems of representing their findings through objects rather than textual narrative.

Throughout the project, the students have made heavy use of the materials in Special Collections and Archives, which has taught them how to search for items using the catalogues, how to select useful resources and the preservation problems associated with displaying old books and documents. I’d particularly like to thank Special Collections Librarian, Katy Hooper, for introducing the theme and Archives Assistants Edd Mustill and Colin Smith for installing the exhibition.

New Year, new resources

New online listings of the architectural plans of University buildings, and of the manuscripts and albums of pictorial material given to the University Library, will soon be available in the searchable database of finding aids on the Special Collections & Archives website and on the Archives Hub, making records for this valuable research material searchable online for the first time.

Ashton Building

Ashton Building

The collection of architectural plans (ref: University of Liverpool Archive, A38 and A259) comprises approximately 1800 items including blueprints and plans dating from 1871 to 1996 of the Leverhulme Building – School of Architecture, Victoria Building, Carnatic and Greenbank Halls of residence, Abercromby Square, and the Walker and Harrison Hughes Engineering Laboratories amongst others.


18th century recipe for  curing a cold, from commonplace book LUL MS.148.

18th century recipe for curing a cold, from commonplace book LUL MS.148.

The manuscripts and albums include material given to the University Library from its foundation in the 19th century. The manuscripts collection contains over 150 items dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries, including historical manuscripts, letters and deeds collected by the former School of Local History and Records, diaries, commonplace books and notebooks. A number of items in Welsh, Manx and Cornish reflect the interests of the former department of Celtic Studies. There is a separate small collection of albums of pictorial items including postcards, photographs, Christmas cards, prints, and Chinese paintings on rice paper.

19th century Christmas card from LUL Album 3/4

19th century Christmas card from LUL Album 3/4

A small selection of the newly-listed manuscript and pictorial items are on view in the Special Collections and Archives display cases during January.

Liverpool to London

Several of the library’s Architecture books are currently on loan to the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA):

  1. Drew, Jane, Village Housing In The Tropics. With Special Reference To West Africa (1947)
  2. Fry, Maxwell and Drew, Jane, Tropical  Architecture In The Humid Zone (1956)
  3. Drew, Jane, Architecture For Children (1945)
  4. Fry, Maxwell and Drew, Jane, Architecture and  the environment (1976)
  5. Drew, Jane (ed.), Architect’s year book (1945, 1st ed.; 1947, 2nd ed.; 1949, 3rd ed.)

They have gone on a trip to London to take part in an exhibition at the ICA looking at the work of the British architect Jane Drew.

Specialising in tropical architecture, Drew worked on  several projects in West Africa and India, most notably the design of the city of Chandigarh with her partner Maxwell Fry and Swiss Architect Le Corbusier. Fry, born in Wallasey, was a graduate of the University of Liverpool’s School of Architecture and studied under Professor Charles Reilly.

Running from 12th Feb 2014 to 23rd March 2014, the exhibition includes artwork, books and other objects and will be accompanied by several talks and other related events.
It is part of a long-term research project into New Towns conducted by Inheritance Projects.

For more information, see:

Library, University of Ibadan designed by Jane Drew

Library, University of Ibadan designed by Jane Drew


Designing libraries

A new finding aid is available for the papers of Janet Gnosspelius (University of Liverpool Archives D1090) deposited in March 2013 by her cousin Teresa Smith.

This week sees the opening of the new Liverpool Central Library. The library has undergone a complete redesign to ensure the running is more efficient and practical, functions that Janet Gnosspelius had to consider when designing a public library for Coventry as part of her Thesis.

D1090: Sketches made by Janet Gnosspelius during the course of studying a module entitled ‘Theory of Arches’

Janet Gnosspelius (1926-2010) studied Architecture at the University of Liverpool between 1943 and 1948.

This new listing contains her lecture notes and examination preparation from her undergraduate course.

The lecture notes cover a wide range of topics including the History of Architecture, a module that covered ancient architecture.

This collection also includes preparation, notes and a draft copy of her final year thesis entitled, ‘A Public Library for Coventry’. The thesis discusses the requirements, both architectural and practical, of a public library. Liverpool University Special Collections also holds the Gnosspelius Book Collection.