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.

Libraries in the Atlantic World

Featured at #3 in Rough Guides’ Top 10 Cities to visit in 2014, Liverpool is being hailed for its “full-blown cultural renaissance”. From the 18th century onwards, libraries have been part of that culture, as shown in a new display in Special Collections & Archives.

Designed to accompany the Liverpool colloquium on ‘Libraries in the Atlantic World’ on January 24-25 – the launch event for a new international research network on community libraries – it showcases some of the books in SC&A’s collections which provide physical evidence of historic libraries around the city, selected by Dr Mark Towsey, from the University of Liverpool’s School of History.

Liverpool Library bookplate

A map of Liverpool shows the libraries’ locations, whether they have long since disappeared, or still form part of Liverpool’s rich architectural heritage. Liverpool firsts include the Liverpool Library, founded in 1758 and one of the first subscription libraries. It moved to the Lyceum building at 1, Bold Street (built 1800-02) which can be seen in the fore-edge painting (c.1813) by William Ball on a copy of the 1801 catalogue.

Nearly one hundred years later, in 1850, the Liverpool Free Public Library was established, followed in 1852 by one of the first major libraries to open under the Public Libraries Act (on Duke St) and in 1860 by the first purpose-built public library. This is Liverpool Central Library, recently splendidly refurbished in its original building on William Brown Street, which was renamed for the Library’s benefactor.

First class Library onboard the CaroniaWe could not resist extending the Libraries in the Atlantic World theme into the 20th century, to show photographs of libraries actually on the Atlantic, onboard the Cunard Line ships documented in the Cunard Archive.


Advent and After: 14. Christmas Angel

Image:  SPEC OLDHAM 739

Fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen (1872)


Traditionally during Christmas angels were placed upon the top of a Christmas tree to represent the heavenly host, this was a custom which began in the Upper Rhineland during the 18th Century, and was introduced to the United Kingdom by Prince Albert.  The Angel in the picture was illustrated by Eleanor Vere Boyle, one of the most famous female artists of the 1860’s.  She was the first British artist to illustrate the stories of Hans Christian Andersen, and set a standard for all other Andersen illustrations.  As a wife of an aristocrat (Richard Cavendish Boyle, the Earl of Cork), and a woman, she famously used her initials, rather than her full name to mask her identity.

Hans Christian Andersen wrote ‘The Angel’ about a dead child and an angel gathering flowers to carry to heaven in response to the death of the eldest daughter of his dearest friends – Edvard and Jette Collins in 1843.  ‘Fairy tales’ by Hans Christian Andersen is part of the Oldham Bequest acquired by the Library in 1973, which makes up a large section of the Children’s and Juvenile Collections.

A Summer in Spain

Special Collections and Archives are looking forward to receiving the library of Manuel de Irujo Ollo (1891-1981), leader of the Basque Nationalist party, for which he was Deputy and Minister of the Second Spanish Republic (1931-1936). His collection of around 300 volumes is to be transferred during the academic session 2013-2014, and will support Basque modules within the Hispanic Studies department.

The University of Liverpool was chosen as the library’s destination because of its existing strong Hispanic collections, notably the collections of Edgar Allison Peers, an exact contemporary of Irujo’s. These comprise 154 books (classmark SPEC Peers) and 73 pamphlets (classmark SPEC Peers (P.C.) on the Spanish Civil War which were part of Peers’s personal library and over 300 books and pamphlets (SPEC Peers.Add and SPEC Peers P.C.Add) which were bought later to enhance Peers’s collection or donated by Peers’s colleagues, including Professor Frank William Walbeck (former Rathbone Professor of Ancient History and Classical Archaeology at the University) and Professor Derek William Lomax (former Professor of Spanish at the University). The Marx Memorial Library in London and the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in Iowa City have also donated pamphlets to the Peers collection.

Archival materials in the Peers Collection include press cuttings, lecture notes and correspondence, relating both to Spain during the Civil War and its aftermath, and to Peers’s work on the Spanish Mystics.

Image from Nova Iberia SPEC Peers F/13

Nova Iberia (SPEC Peers F/13)

Edgar Allison Peers (1891-1952) was born in Leighton Buzzard, the son of a civil servant who, due to his work, travelled abroad frequently, which gave his young son a passion for Spain and all things Spanish. Peers was educated at Dartford Grammar School, and then went on to Christ’s College Cambridge. He gained a BA in English and French from the University of London, and a First in the Modern Languages tripos at Cambridge, and then went on to study for a teacher’s diploma, teaching Modern Languages at Millhill School, Felstead School in Essex and then at Wellington College.

Portrait of Peers from Redbrick Revisited

Peers was appointed Lecturer in Spanish in 1920 and Gilmour Professor of Spanish in 1922 at the University of Liverpool, where he remained for the rest of his life. He was quick to recognise the importance of Spanish Studies in Great Britain after the First World War and in 1923 founded the Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, which included his column of contemporary analysis, ‘Spain, Week by Week’. Peers had a warm relationship with Spain, and looked upon it as a second home, spending four months out of every twelve there. He produced a number of travel books, including Santander (1927) reissued in a Spanish edition in 2008.

Map from Nova Iberia

Map from Nova Iberia

When the Spanish Civil War began in July 1936 Peers was well placed to interpret the underlying causes of the war to the English-speaking world. He did this in The Spanish Tragedy (1936), The Spanish Dilemma (1940), and Spain in Eclipse (1943). More dramatically, he also helped to bring a group of stranded Liverpool University students who had travelled to a summer school in San Sebastian safely back home after they were caught up in the outbreak of the Civil War.

Peers paper cutting
SPEC Peers IX Press Cuttings

Peers was the author or editor of some 60 books, including Studies of the Spanish Mystics (1927-1930), The History of the Romantic Movement in Spain (1940) and translations of the complete works of San Juan de la Cruz and Santa Teresa, as well as Spain, the Church and the Orders (1939). Under the pseudonym `Bruce Truscot’, he published two controversial and highly influential books, Redbrick University (1943) and Redbrick and these Vital Days (1945). Edgar Allison Peers died of heart failure on 21 December 1952, and his executrix gave the University their selection of books from his library in 1953.

The School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies (SOCLAS) sponsors a Peers Visiting Writer in Residence scheme in honour of Edgar Allison Peers, and there is also a Peers Memorial Prize.