KNOWSLEY ARK - A miscellany of memories

An archive such as Knowsley Archives Service holds an important place in maintaining the collective memory of the communities that make up the borough of Knowsley, and in telling the stories that the collections reveal. 

Our mission statement reminds us every day, that our goal is ‘ collect, preserve and organise archive materials relating to the people and places of Knowsley, creating a collective memory for the borough that is accessible for research and consultation…’.

Behind the enduring story of Knowsley, with the heritage of its townships reflecting the diverse paths each has taken through time, is the story of the archive itself and the fascinating collections it holds, each with a story to tell. 

Knowsley's Archive Service has its roots in the 1970s, when circumstances and the enthusiasm of Mr A T Smith, ALA, FRSA, Principal Librarian, Reference and Information Services, saw the proposal for an archive and local studies library come to life. The old Carnegie Library on Westmorland Road in Huyton Village had been the home of Huyton Branch Library under Lancashire County Council, until the Local Government Act (1972) saw the creation of the Metropolitan Borough of Knowsley in 1974.

The opportunity arose, in the form of a partnership with Asda, to create a new, spacious Central Library for the new Borough on Derby Road in the heart of Huyton. The new library was opened by Lady Wilson on 17th April 1978, and Mr Smith established a significant Local Studies Collection and Archives Room within the Reference Service.  

The Archive flourished. One of the earliest acquisitions was the Kirkby Local History Society Collection. The Society was formed in 1964 and met in the lecture theatre on the 1st floor of Kirkby Branch Library. Minutes and correspondence from the setting up of the Society, the inaugural meeting in1965 and onwards, plot the activities of the Society and record the research done into the history of the township by the members.

The collection includes slide shows, publicity material, research and reference materials belonging to, or used by, society members and oral history recordings. The collection had been gifted to the Library Service when the Society closed, and was transferred to the Archive for permanent preservation. 

A fascinating addition to this collection has recently come to light in the form of a beautifully crafted sampler depicting a scale map of Kirkby. 

Another early acquisition also included the oldest document currently in the Archive. One of two land records transferred from Lancashire Record Office, this parchment records a Grant of Land made by Henry of Huyton to Richard Couper of Huyton, of two ‘places’ - or plots -  of land in Huyton. The document was sealed and witnessed by local lords and noblemen including Lord Robert of Lathom, Richard Wulfall of Wulfall, John le Norres, Henry Travers, Lord John of Roby and many others.

Although there is some debate regarding the date – 1287 or 1337 –
it seems that the later date is more likely to be correct.

With the growth of the collections and the acquisition of public records such as the Whiston Hospital registers, the Archive achieved Place of Deposit status in 1991, steered by Mr Smith’s successor, Mr T W Scragg.

This recognises that the Archive Service can hold specific government records locally on behalf of the Lord Chancellor under the Public Records Act 1958. Other public records followed – Magistrates’ Court registers, sample case files from Rainhill Hospital, land records and Charity Commission records.

Alongside these, donations from private individuals continued to take their place in the Archive, with everything from photographs and letters, to maps and plans and everything in between finding a place in the story of the borough and its people. Indeed, some very personal histories can be found in the collections when we delve into the records. 

Take the Tarbock Township Papers. This collection of documents concerns Tarbock and dates back to 1708. Included in the records are documents recording the local Overseers of the Poor and Tarbock Workhouse, in addition to other local institutions, clubs and societies.

Within these records can be found an apprentice indenture that tells part of the story of a young girl, Ellen Owen. Aged just 10 years old, she was an orphan – her mother, also called Ellen, had died – and it fell to the parish to see that young Ellen was provided for. To this end, she was placed with Thomas Johnson, a husbandman (or farmer) from Widnes as an apprentice in housewifery.

For seven years, she was to be occupied in all aspects of housekeeping and domestic work, with the indenture setting out her board and lodgings and clothing allowances for the term. Unfortunately, we don’t know Ellen’s fate or even whether or not she completed her apprenticeship.

A new flagship Library building was commissioned for Huyton. Designed by architects and urbanists Mills, Beaumont, Leavey and Channon of Manchester, the new building opened in August 1997, with an official opening in 1998 - replacing the Central Library on Derby Road which had served the community since 1978. The Archive needed a new home, so the collections were transferred to Kirkby Library in Newtown Gardens.

The building was a good example of a typical Lancashire County Council library from the 1960s (the library opened in 1964) and the collections were housed in a secure, environmentally stable strongroom on the premises, where they remained until the service moved to the newly-refurbished Kirkby Centre, opening to the public on 3rd March 2014. 

Since relocating to the Kirkby Centre, the Archive has grown considerably in the breadth and depth of the collections held. The repository itself is known as The ARK: Archive Resource for Knowsley – a legacy of the National Lottery Heritage Fund supported projects that kick-started a range of community activities and events and brought some important new collections into the Archive, from contemporary photographs of our townships, to internationally recognised collections such as the Malayan Teachers‘ Training College collection.

The service attained accredited status in 2017, giving us added impetus to strive to meet the lofty ideals of our mission statement. Don’t forget: if you have any items – photographs, letters, or other collections of materials that you think might add to the collective memory of the borough – do get in touch.  

 Find out more about our heritage by visiting our website email or call 0151 443 4291/4365. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and find Knowsley Archives on Flickr, WordPress and Soundcloud

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