2015 in retrospect

Burns Night is a suitably celebratory prompt to look back on the Auld Lang Syne of 2015 in Special Collections & Archives and remember some of its highlights – the enthusiasm of students, staff, and visitors; new accessions and new discoveries in the collections; and collaborations with colleagues around the University, throughout Liverpool and further afield.

  • January – our first external visitors were the North West branch of CILIP, visiting the Science Fiction collections.
  • February – SC&A hosted a visit for volunteers from the National Trust’s Jacobean Speke Hall.
  • March – the grandaughters of Basque nationalist Manuel Irujo de Ollo visited the Irujo collections after attending a seminar in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures. The great-nephew of Irujo’s contemporary, Professor of Spanish Edgar Allison Peers, visited with a current Liverpool Spanish student who worked at his publishing company on her year abroad.


Other visitors in March included authors Neil Gaiman and Cheryl Morgan, who explored the worlds of fantasy and comics with Science Fiction Librarian Andy Sawyer, and volunteers at the George Garrett archive.


IMG_0917At the University’s School of the Arts, Jenny Higham, SC&A Manager, introduced SC&A’s Renaissance resources at the Department of English seminar ‘Making Knowledge in the Renaissance.’

Inc. Ryl. 63.OS Claudius Ptolemaeus Cosmographia

  • April – Preparations for 2015’s Cunard 175 celebrations got underway in April with the BBC Inside Out team filming material from the official Cunard Archive; SC&A’s new exhibition cases were installed and our copy of Robert Hooke’s Micrographia was measured up for exhibition at the Victoria Gallery and Museum, to celebrate its 350th birthday.

SPEC Y81 3 1637

  • May – Liverpool’s annual Light Night on 15 May launched the LOOK/15 International Photography festival including Gypsy portraits from the Fred Shaw photograph collection. Cunard 175 culminated in the Three Queens choreographed sailing on the Mersey over the Bank Holiday weekend, with news items and interviews with Jenny Higham on the BBC North West Tonight and Granada News.








  • June – the Cunard theme continued with a creative writing workshop inspired by the Cunard Archive, and both the Fairbridge Archive and the Science Fiction collection hosted external visitors.
  • July – LIHG, CILIP’s specialist Library history group took advantage of the CILIP conference at Liverpool’s St George’s Hall to include a visit to SC&A, visiting the Cunard exhibition and seeing highlights from the early printed book collection chosen for their provenance history.
  • August – the family of Sir Harold Cohen, eponymous founder of the Harold Cohen Library saw his Library, his archive, and the pen that made it all possible.

Phil Sykes with Mrs Penny Gluckstein and Amanda Graves in the Library Special Collections and Archives

  • September – the ships have sailed, but the posters on display in the Victoria Gallery & Museum keep the Cunard glamour alive.


  • October – more well-travelled visitors included Stanisław Krawczyk from the University of Warsaw, to give a talk on fantastic fiction in Poland, and Eric Flounders, Cunard’s former Public Relations Manager, spoke to a packed Leggate theatre audience on his 27 years of experience of Cunard.
  • November – as part of Being Human 2015, Will Slocombe (English Department) and Andy Sawyer presented Being Posthuman at FACT, and the Knowledge is Power exhibition opened at the VGM.

Knowledge is Power

  • December – SC&A hosted a thank you visit for the Friends of the University, who generously funded a programme to clean and box the incunable collection

Sydney Jones incunables 1

New accessions and newly catalogued collections, now available for research and teaching use, include: University Archive EXT – 70 years of papers from the Extension Studies Dept. 1935-2005 and D1042 (1968-2013) papers of the Academic Institution Management Service; CNDA – Cunard memorabilia from the Cunard Associated Deposits; D709/6 – new additions to the David Owen Archive; LUL MSS and LUL Albums – listings of scrapbooks, commonplace books and other individual volumes previously donated to the University Library; foreign language science fiction; 17th-century pamphlets from Knowsley Hall and 19th-century pharmacological books. Find all these and more by searching the Archive and Library catalogues on the SCA website


Harold Cohen (LL. D) (1873-1936)

Harold Cohen. Portrait from the VGM collection.

Harold Cohen. Portrait from the VGM collection.

Harold L. Cohen was born in Liverpool in July 1873, the son of Louis S. Cohen, an alderman of Liverpool who had served as the city’s Lord Mayor.

After being educated at Liverpool College, Clifton College, and overseas, Harold returned to Liverpool to a job at Lewis’s Ltd., the largest department store chain of its day. This was the beginning of a 45-year connection with Lewis’s, during which time Cohen would rise to become the company’s chairman, and a well-known figure in Liverpool’s business community.

Cohen played an active role in the city’s public life, albeit by all accounts in a modest way. He was made a magistrate in 1924. Among many other roles, he served as chairman of the Liverpool Conservative Club and joint treasurer of the Liverpool Unionist Association. He also founded the Harold House Jewish Lads’ Brigade, and was President of the Prince’s Road Synagogue.

To members of the University, his name is a familiar one due to the library which bears it. He followed in his father’s footsteps as a benefactor of the University, as Louis had endowed the Chair of Dental Surgery in 1920. Harold made several gifts to the University, including £2,500 for equipment for the Students’ Union library in October 1930. It was his final gift, however, that would prove to be the most generous of all.

In the early 1930s, the University was suffering from a crisis of library space and resources, as the old Tate Library in the Victoria Building could not keep up with increasing student numbers. By March 1933, the situation was noted by the Senate as requiring urgent attention. In July the following year, Cohen stepped forward with a munificent gift of £100,000, the largest the University had received up to that date, for the construction of a new library. University Treasurer R.H. Armstrong later recounted his meeting with Cohen at which the gift was signed over: “He unlocked a drawer in his desk, and took out a pen in regard to which he said that, though of no monetary value, the pen so exactly suited him that he kept it under lock and key, for his experience had taught him that, if a good pen were left exposed, it generally disappeared.”

The pen with which Cohen signed his gift of £100,000 over to the University. Held in the University Archive.

The pen with which Cohen signed his gift of £100,000 over to the University.

University Council met on 6th November and accepted the gift, agreeing that “Mr Cohen’s generosity makes possible the full solution of the University’s most urgent and most anxious problem, and affords the prospect of a notable addition to the University’s resources, both in teaching and research.” Council suggested that the new library bear Harold Cohen’s name, and he agreed. He was present at the first meeting of the New Library Building Committee, which approved architect Harold Dod’s design for the building.

On 19th May 1936 University Council proposed to confer an honorary law degree upon Cohen. The ceremony was to take place on 27th July, the same day as the foundation stone for the new library would be laid by Cohen himself.

Having travelled up from his home in London to Liverpool the night before the ceremony, Cohen was suddenly taken ill, and died the following morning. The University community and the city as a whole were profoundly shocked by his sudden death. Tributes spoke of a modest man who acted not out of personal ambition but from a desire to improve the lives of the citizens of Liverpool.

In November, the University conferred upon Cohen his LL. D. This was the first case of an honorary degree being conferred posthumously by the University of Liverpool.

The Harold Cohen Library was opened by former Prime Minister Earl Baldwin of Bewdley on May 21st 1938. Mrs Cohen was presented with book-end replicas of the symbolic figure of learning above the library’s entrance, carved by sculptor Eric Kennington. The Vice-Chancellor, Arnold D. McNair, gave the following oration:

“Alike for Science and for Letters, the inmost shrine of a University is to be found in its library, and it will not be forgotten that the builder of that shrine for us was Harold Cohen.”

“Myself I am of that baser metal which Lord Baldwin referred to, and I am going to leave it to the plaque to tell Mrs Cohen of the gratitude we feel to her late husband. It will stand longer than any spoken word, telling successive generations of students what we owe to his generosity.

The Cohen family have given much to Liverpool in peace and war, and we are grateful to look upon them as the most generous donors that any city has ever had.”