An interview with Karen Backhouse, Special Collections Librarian at Liverpool Hope University.
One of the reasons we’re able to look back on Hope’s pictorial history through the years is thanks to the work of Karen Backhouse, Special Collections Librarian at the University.
Karen has been involved in the digitisation of Hope’s historical archive, moving them from dusty old boxes and forgotten albums to online collections.
And after spending endless hours pouring over the snaps, it’s no surprise that Karen, based in the Sheppard-Worlock Library, has her favourites.
To celebrate Hope’s Foundation Day, here are her own personal highlights:
Warrington Training College, 1911. ‘Staff photograph with Principal Revd. Morley Stevenson’
Karen: “There are so many photos in the archives that look similar to this - formal, staid with no smiling, but this one makes me smile simply because of the addition of the dog sitting on Mrs Stevenson's knee. Having a dog myself I know how wonderful it would have been for the students to have 'College' dog living onsite. It conveys a real sense of homeliness and family life. There’s another picture of Hilda Constance Allen (Principal of Liverpool Hope University between 1926–1956) on the quad with a different dog, so four-legged friends regularly featured in the days of Warrington Training College and S.Katharine's. I love the team photo of the girls relaxing having a quarter of orange at half time, during a netball match, with Hilda's excitable dog in shot too. I just wish we knew what the dogs’ names were - if anyone can help, please drop me a line!’
Warrington Training College, 1936. L-R: Ethel, Elsie, Peggy, Annie, Gwen
Karen: “This photo caught my eye because it's spontaneous and playful, and we can put names to faces - Ethel, Elsie, Peggy, Annie and Gwen - most likely maids who worked in the houses. I don't know why they were out on the parapet, perhaps they were watching the girls play netball, they certainly had a good viewing spot.
S. Katharine’s College, country dancing in the Quad
“I like seeing images of the quad, it was often used for dancing on special occasions or for amateur dramatics. Now it's reserved for quiet contemplation for students in the library and only really comes alive at graduation, for the traditional hat throwing photo and celebratory drinks with students and their families and tutors. It's a lovely time of year for the librarians and library assistants to be able to see the students they've supported over the three years, dressed in their finery and to be a part of their memorable day.”
S. Katharine’s College, Library, October 1966.
Karen: “This is clearly a posed shot of the library for promotional purposes but it holds a special significance for me. Each year, at graduation time, we have a photographic display showing changes in the library through the years. And in July 2018 an old boys’ reunion came to visit us in the library. One of the chaps, Ian Chapman, said, ‘That’s me in the middle of that picture!’ He’s the one at the back and centre of the photo, his dark jumper rolled up to his elbows. You can also see Ian in the photo (below) showing him as captain of S. Katharine’s College’s first ever football team. Men were only introduced to the college in 1966 - so they were the first year of boys in S. Katharine’s history. They absolutely loved their time at college and had many reminiscences to share, although I suspected there were also a few they were unwilling to divulge!
And, for me, it’s one thing to see a picture but it’s something else entirely when you get to meet and speak to the person in the photo. It immediately means a whole lot more.”
(Ian Chapman, above, second from left)
(Ian Chapman, with the ball at his feet)
Small-leaved Lime (Tilia cordata) planted by Venerable C.F.T. Witchett, Archdeacon of Liverpool, with with Principal Hilda Constance Allen, to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary, May 6 1935
Karen, herself a former gardener, says: “This photo was taken outside the entrance to the library. I think this is an aspect of the Hope University archive that needs nurturing, an historical record of the planting, with design drawings and photographs of the changes over the years. This tree is still here. You might walk past it all the time without realising it. Directly opposite the entrance to the library there’s a car park, with shrubberies either side. The tree is on the exit road out of the car park, just there on your left hand side. In the photo, you can also see Hida Constance Allen with her back to us.”
Sisters of Notre Dame Mount Pleasant Training College. Graduating students - Sheila, Jenny, Hattie, Quinnie.
Karen: “I wanted to choose a photo from each of our Founding Colleges and this comes from the Mount Pleasant Training College archives and dates back to 1920-21. These ladies are graduating and are a reminder of what we're all about at Hope; teaching and supporting our future educators.
We have their names, which I like, and it’s also playful, not staged. There were probably some other, more sensible photographs, but this shows them having fun. It’s a ‘mates’ shot, with close friends rather than the year group. And to me it’s saying, ‘these are the people who got me through it’.
From the shadows you can see, perhaps, dad with this hat on taking the photograph, and you’ve also got other proud parents standing on either side.”
Mount Pleasant Training College, Bookbinding 1947
Karen: “This is a very good quality image which leads me to believe it was another commissioned publicity shot. Inevitably at Colleges for Girls, there is often mention of weaving and needlework coursework, and examinations in Hygiene, it's a sign of the times. But this one is brilliant - a bookbinding workshop! I would have loved to have taken this class, what better thing to learn? (although I may be biased).”
Sister Mary Luke Keitch (Biology) – Christ’s College
Karen: “This is probably my favourite of the lot. I have it on good authority, from a former colleague, that Sister Mary Luke, was an exceptional Biology Tutor, and was held in great esteem. However, this photo just really makes me smile! I guess having not been educated at a Catholic school, the picture of a nun 'doing normal things', will always have an amusing connotation. Nuns have always been concerned with education so it isn't an especially unusual thing to see, and I don't mean any disrespect, it's merely the juxtaposition of her habit in a biology lab that makes for such a striking, wonderful image. I imagine Biology lessons at Christ's College were very informative and fun!”
** If you can help Karen name any of the historical Hope dogs, you can reach her on