A Vision of Learning

Last night I attended the launch of a new book about the history of Edge Hill University. It was co-authored by Fiona Montgomery – author of the last two books published in 1985 and 1997 – and Mark Flinn who retired as Pro Vice Chancellor (Academic) last year.

Coinciding with the launch of the book (which is available from Blackwells online or in the Library – that’s my corporate bit out of the way!) there’s an exhibition in the foyer of the Faculty of Health detailing the Edge Hill’s journey from a teaching college for 41 women in a district of Liverpool, through the move to Ormskirk in the 1930s, the admission of men in 1958 and the push for university status. There’s also a fascinating promotional video which I’ll try to get permission to publish here.

Helena Normanton

Helena Normanton

She was a passionate believer in social reform, a pioneer in the legal profession and a champion of women’s rights to rival Emmeline Pankhurst. But for Edge Hill graduate Helena Normanton, there is no statue in London or picture in the National Portrait Gallery to celebrate her achievements.

So, why is this remarkable woman so overlooked in women’s history? Alumni Magazine spoke to Judith Bourne, who is writing her PhD on Normanton, to find out.

“The sad truth is that very little is known about her,” says Judith, barrister and Senior Lecturer in Law at London Metropolitan University. “I teach a course on women and law and even I only came across her by accident.

“The fact that her achievements have been so neglected in the past is a real tragedy as, for me, she is up there with the Pankhursts and Rose Heilbron in terms of her contribution to women’s history.”

Helena Normanton was the first woman to practise at the English Bar in 1922, the first female barrister to lead the prosecution in a murder trial, to conduct a trial in America, and to represent cases in both the High Court and the Old Bailey. She was also one of the first two women, along with Rose Heilbron, to become Kings Council, the highest qualification awarded to a barrister.

She scandalised the legal profession, first by wanting to be part of it, then by insisting on practising in her maiden name. A prolific campaigner for equality within marriage, Normanton was the first married woman in the UK to be issued a passport in her maiden name. Speaking about Anne Boleyn, she once quipped, “she may have lost her head, but at least she was allowed to keep her name!”

“It was very difficult for her because a lot of people wanted her to fail,” says Judith. “She faced discrimination from within the legal profession; many male solicitors refused to brief a female barrister, and she was the subject of vitriolic hate mail, some, seemingly, from other women in the profession.

“Helena was also accused of advertising her services, which was illegal and could have seen her debarred. She demanded a full enquiry and, although she was completely exonerated, she never became as successful a lawyer as she should have been and had to supplement her income by writing and renting out rooms in her house.”

Very little is known about Normanton’s life before her legal career. She is known to have been a trainee teacher at Edge Hill, graduating in 1905, but how or why she came to be studying so far from her home town of Brighton is a mystery.

“I’m really looking forward to exploring the Edge Hill connection,” says Judith. “Edge Hill was known to be a hotbed of early feminist thinking and had connections to the Suffragette movement. We don’t know whether she was radical before she went to college or was radicalised by her experiences and the people she met there. It will be interesting to try and find out.”

Helena Normanton epitomises the spirit and ethos of Edge Hill that still exists to this day. The child of a working class single parent, with no family history of participation in higher education, Helena still managed to rise above her circumstances and succeed, thanks, in part, to her education at Edge Hill.

The causes that she fought for – social justice, equal pay, women’s rights – are still important to Edge Hill and form the basis of some of the cutting edge research undertaken by staff at the institution today.

Now the library is the social rendezvous

From the Changing Face of Ormskirk series:

Ormskirk Library

By Clifford Rimmer, Librarian

When the Lancashire County Library opened its first library centre in Ormskirk in 1926, it was housed in a room adjoining the old Fire Station in Derby Street, and opened for four hours a week.

Borrowers visiting the library would see on the opposite side of the road a very fine example of Georgian architecture, Knowles House, and it is intriguing to note that on the site of this house, only a few yards, but 34 years away, from the place it began, the Ormskirk library came to its present home.

Before that time, however, the library was moved in 1940 to converted shop premises at 42 Aughton Street, where the adult library was housed upstairs in the “front bedroom” and the children’s library In the “bark bedroom”.

Although this move, with its much improved selection of books, was greatly appreciated by the readers of Ormskirk, some of whom will still remember with nostalgia the homely atmosphere of the adult library, with its cheerful open fire during the winter months, it was not very long before its inadequacy was being felt.

The Ormskirk library became the divisional headquarters for the surrounding district, including the libraries at Maghull, Rainford, Skelmersdale and Burscough, and a large number of library centres in the smaller villages.

Mobiles take to the road

The problem became acute when, in 1948, the first of the mobile libraries began operating from the library, to serve an area of some 130 square miles of South-West Lancashire.

The facilities for the storage of books were almost non-existent, and the condition of the premises was such that books allowed to remain -on the store shelves for more than a few weeks mildewed or, at the least, became musty.

The present library did not make its appearance without complaints from some Ormskirk residents, who felt, not without justification, that they should do all in their power to preserve the best of the old town, among which was included Knowles House.

It was suggested that the facade and some proportion of the house should be retained and extensions added at the back of the house.

Apart from the architectural difficulties, this conflicted with the functional requirements of a modern library and it was necessary to demolish this fine house which is preserved only in photographs in the possession of the library.

The building which, in 1960 seemed to be the last word in library architecture, already appears dated, its air of solidity, both inside and outside, contrasts strangely with the lighter and less stolid libraries now being erected in the county.

But despite occasional criticisms from the architectural standpoint, the consensus of opinion, particularly among newcomers to the town, is one of surprise that a relatively small town such as Ormskirk has so impressive a library.

A visit to the present library, particularly on a busy Saturday, shows it to be not just a place for borrowing books, but a social rendezvous for all the family to visit and a workshop for the student, who possibly regrets occasionally that perfect silence is no longer possible or indeed desirable.

Copyright Liverpool Daily Post

How to beat the problem of traffic

Town Centre

Continuing a series of posts from the Liverpool Daily Post’s Changing Face of Ormskirk supplement is this map of Ormskirk Town Centre showing plans for pedestrianisation.

The problems facing Ormskirk are similar to those facing most towns large and small in this country – problems created and aggravated to a large degree by the motor vehicle.

[T]he Ormskirk town centre control map was prepared in 1964. This plan endeavours to retain the character and atmosphere of the existing town whilst encouraging redevelopment and revitalisation of those parts of the central area which are less attractive or in danger of becoming rundown from a business point of view.

The four chief factors which have governed the preparation of the plan are:

  1. The segregation of pedestrians and vehicles within the shopping centre.
  2. Circulation of traffic
  3. Rear servicing
  4. Adequate car parking facilities.

The article goes on to suggest some of the more outlandish ideas of the time including the M59 running from Bickerstaffe to Preston!

College pride in achievement

Edge Hill College of Education

On a recent visit to the archives I came across some copies of a supplement to the Liverpool Daily Post titled “The Changing Face of Ormskirk”. Published on Monday 10th June 1968, there are a few articles that may be of interest to you, dear readers. First up is one from our own principal.

By P. K. C. Millins, Principal

In the spring of 1882 the chairman of Liverpool School Board, Mr. S. G. Rathbone, called together a number of gentlemen interested in the progress of education to confer as to the advisability of establishing a training college, interdenominational in character, for about 80 young ladies.

A committee was formed and later a large house was purchased in Durning Road in Liverpool which, together with an additional wing for classrooms and dormitories, cost £16,483.

The College started in January, 1885 with 40 students, five resident staff and four visiting lecturers. A further 40 students came a year later.

In 1894 selected students were allowed to rcad for degrees and 10 years later 68 had graduated; 64 at Liverpool and four at London.

After 1918, however regulations precluded this possibility and it was to be nearly 40 years before Edge Hill students were to be able to take a degree course whilst still studying in College.

Twenty years after its foundation, the College had trained some 1,600 teachers 56 of these were engaged in training teachers and at least 175 were known to be headmistresses.

Came back to college

On October 14, 1965 the oldest surviving former student. Mrs. Agnes Sutton, aged 91, came to College. She recalled incidents during her course in 1893-94.

Each student then had a basin and jug of cold water in the bedroom and was allotted 20 minutes weekly for a bath.

The quilts which covered their beds were known as white elephants and had to last the whole term.

On Thursday evenings students were allowed to attend a gymnasium in Liverpool, clad in thick blue serge tunics, buttoned up to the neck, with long sleeves to match.

Over this tunic, winter and summer, dress skirts had to be worn, for, in he words of Mrs. Sutton, it was considered indecent to show even our ankles.

A move in 1933
In 1933, the College, having been acquired by Lancashire County Council moved into imposing new buldings on St. Helens Road at the outskirts of Ormskirk.

From 1941-46 the College was evacuated to Bingley the West Riding, and shared premises with the training college there. Its buildings were converted into a hospital.

Tangible evidence still remains of the occupation, from a number of temporary wooden huts to a small brick building firmly believed to have been used as a mortuary.

Life must have been pleasant and comfortable for the 250 residential students and 25 staff in 1957. It seemss to have been a close-knit, efficient and happy community. But many surprises, even shocks, were around the corner. In 1958, 41 men students were admitted. In 1960 an extra year was added to the two-year course.

In 1961-62 a significant expansion took place and many new buildings were added. By 1963 nearly 600 men and women were at Eage Hill, of whom about 500 were in residence.

Growth goes steadily on

The College has continued to grow ever since, until last September 944 students. 310 men and 634 women, as well as 112 staff were on the 45-acre campus, 508 students were in residence, 274 in approved lodgings and 162 lived at home. Some were of maturer years and the oldest student was in fact 56. Edge Hill is now among the ten largest of the 160 colleges of education in England and Wales. Next September it will have over 1,000 students.

Recent years have seen many important developments. The College is no longer fully residential. All second year students have to live out. Many homes in Ormskirk, Aughton and Burscough have been opened to them and the College is grateful for all the kindness and understanding which have been so readily shown. The hostesses are firm friends of the College and are represented on the joint staff-student lodgings committee.

Other links too are being steadily forged with the locality through such bodies as the Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Ormskirk and District Schools’ Sports Association, Rotary and U.N.A.

In College all areas of study are under incessant review. Departments responsible for the “traditional” subjects are constantly re-shaping the content of syllabuses, redesigning fresh approaches and evolving more flexible modes of examination.

New subjects have been introduced: inter atia, careers guidance, drama, the educa-tion of immigrant children, the education of slow-learning children. French. German, international studies, social work three-dimensional studies, as well as woodwork.

Exchange with other countries

Since 1948 Edge Hill has been a constituent college of the Institute of Education of Liverpool University and in 1965 its students were permitted to study for a four year B. Ed. degree.

This term 23 students from France and Germany are studying here for six weeks and Edge Hill students have taken their places abroad.

Each year thousands of teachers undertake further study in College. This term [..] are studying full-time. Others come for a day, a week-end or a week. Some attend one day a week over a period of months. In January this year a curriculum development centre, under the uidance of a teacher of Lancashire Education Authority was opened in one of the College houses on Ruff Lane.

In 1966 the College took the initative of offering the accommodation to County Hall.
At the beginning of the year too a new education block and multi-purpose hall were completed. Both buildings are wired for closed circuit television within the last few weeks.

© 1968 Liverpool Daily Post.

Thanks to Alison Gow, Executive Editor (digital) for Liverpool Daily Post & Echo for helping me get permission to republish bits from the supplement.

75 years in Ormskirk


From the first issue of Campus Link, the news letter aimed at keeping local residents up to date with what’s going on at Edge Hill:

Edge Hill University is preparing to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the opening of its Ormskirk campus next month.

The University, then a teacher training college for women, first came to Ormskirk on 2nd October 1933 after relocating its main campus from Durning Road in Liverpool.

The H-shaped main building, which is still the centrepiece of the campus today, was unveiled by Lord Irwin in a tree-planting ceremony, who then unlocked the door of the main entrance and declared the college open.

The building housed 176 students, 13 staff, a matron, a secretary and two cooks in four residential halls – Clough, Stanley, John Dalton and Lady Margaret – all named after members of the Derby family.

An article published in the Ormskirk Advertiser just prior to the opening of the campus says: "Ormskirk has now become an important centre for Higher Education. A stretch of the green fields between St Helens Road and Ruff Lane was chosen as the site of the college, and here during the last two years the buildings have been slowly rising until today they stand as one of the finest and most modern of their type."

The ladies attending the new 1930s college had very different experiences to Edge Hill students today. Their days started at 6:15am with ‘lights out’ by 10pm and any spare time was spent on morning prayers and cooking classes.

Edith Greenwood, 84, who studied in at the college during its first year in Ormskirk, says: "I must have been one of the first to use the new building in Ormskirk. It was a tremendously exciting time – everything was so new and modern. It was obviously built well if it’s still being used by students today.

"It was a big change for the girls who had come from Liverpool. They were used to all the noise of a busy city and then they found themselves in what felt like the countryside!"

Tribute to Miss Jenkins

Miss Jenkins c. 1933The archives have dozens of copies of the Edge Hill College News Letter but this post is drawn from a copy of No. 65 from 1956 passed to me by my colleague Jenny Jordan.

The issue is a tribute to Miss J. A. Jenkins who joined the staff fifty years earlier, on – according to Fiona Montgomery’s book – a salary of £100.

Nine pages of the newsletter are dedicated to Miss Jenkins but I’ll just print this one from former Principal E.M. Butterworth.

Although I still enjoy the valued friendship of Miss Jenkins, it was during our last years at Durning Road, Liverpool, that I knew her as a colleague. If, in a short space, I am to write of her in this relationship, what stands out in my mind most clearly is her sympathetic awareness of people, of conditions, of circumstances; and because of this awareness her ability to help. Miss Jenkins as a colleague was alert. She knew what she wanted to achieve, she knew what her colleagues hoped to achieve, and she could always be counted on to help. She had a personal knowledge of the schools, their conditions, their respective difficulties. As Tutor in Education she knew what she was asking a colleague to undertake, the condition of the work, and the effort spent in travelling to do it. Her arrangements in consultation with the Principal, could therefore be accepted without dissension—a great asset in matters as involved as School Practice. What I, personally, valued very much, and I think that I speak for many other colleagues in this, was the practical help that Miss Jenkins gave us in our particular branches of the training. Whether it was in methods of teaching Geography, as in my case, or History, Nature Study, or anything else, Miss Jenkins was quick to perceive what each of us was hoping to do. She knew how short the hours possible for demonstration and group work were and how precious the even shorter time for discussion after-wards. Her practical help, therefore, in coming to these demonstration afternoons was invaluable. When precious time was ebbing away in some real, but minor, point of criticism, raised by a student, and tenaciously followed up by others in the way that students have, Miss Jenkins came to the rescue, perhaps with a touch of humour, perhaps by a question herself: “What did you have in mind when you did this rather than that?” or a comment: “I was most interested by the way the children reacted to this, or that! Did you expect that?” Side issues were thus dropped; real values were perceived and an atmosphere was produced in which useful discussion could follow. In times of School Practices, too, it was a relief to talk over the difficult cases with Miss Jenkins, and the easy ones, too, for when there is so much that is immature and seemingly hopeless during the early struggles of the average teacher, a Tutor was apt to be carried away too enthusiastically by the apparent brilliance of what she might think was “a born teacher.” In talking things over with Miss Jenkins a more balanced view was achieved. The value to her colleagues was that Miss Jenkins could always find time to do this evaluation, and therefore was often called upon to find it. Indeed we used to say that she lived with her door open. Yet there must have been many hours of late work, for piles of Students’ Reports of lessons seemed to succeed each other in her sitting-room waiting for perusal. Not the least service Miss Jenkins did for her colleagues was the supervision of these reports in addition to the reading of them by individual tutors. Miss Jenkins thus put herself in a position to co-ordinate in her own Education lectures what was being done in different departments by the Lecturers and to draw examples from experiences the students themselves had had. This gave a colleague confidence that her work fitted well into place in the educational plan.

Miss Jenkins was great fun as a fellow-traveller. I enjoyed many holidays abroad with her. Whether in the mountains of France or Austria, in Bruges or Dinant, in Paris, Geneva, Grasse, Arles, Nimes or Avignon, in all our many journeyings we never missed a bus, boat, coach or train! Invariably when I was ready for breakfast I found that Miss Jenkins had finished her correspondence, probably having written six or more postcards, and while I made up my belated file, she would be buried in the local time-tables, planning an itinerary by the little vehicles which brought us into such delightful contact with the daily life of peoples. And there was always “delight in simple things.” Whether it was the roosting peacocks at Avignon, the colourful market stalls of Grasse, or the “plus fours” of little Belgian “Willee” were there was fun and laughter; and memories were stored, to be recalled during strenuous terms that followed, and still to be recalled in letters since retirement, and at times when we meet now. A bientot, Miss Jenkins!

E. M. Butterworth.


Dredge was the name of Edge Hill’s rag magazine from – I believe – 1969. At least that’s the only date written in there and seems to fit in with the principal’s reign. Ken Millins introduces the mag with a poem:

I wish Dredge well,
Just Rag hilarity,
It deserves to sell,
In the cause of charity.

P. K. C. Millins,

Flicking through there are quite a few adverts for companies you might recognise. Ormskirk Motors is still going strong on County Road.  Taylor’s seems to have had it’s spot on Moor Street since The Dawn Of Time (although I’d be interested to know what Fancy Goods they sell!).  The Ormskirk Advertiser closed its office and moved production to Southport a couple of years ago while Woolworth’s old building is about to become an Iceland.  The award for most fitting advert (considering it’s in a rag mag) has to go to Hattersley Valve Company.

If you enjoy reading Dredge why not donate some money (at least 2/-) to Rag?