Liverpool Civic Service League Report



The Liverpool Civic Service League was established three years prior to the First World War in response to the 1911 General Transport Strike.  Headed by a Managing Committee comprised of leading members of the business and civic community, the League was described by the inaugural Chairman, Frank J. Leslie, as an “organisation of Citizens willing to assist the Authorities in preserving the health, safety and well-being of the City in time of need”.  Minute Books and local news sources detail how the organisation worked tirelessly to offer drill training, engineering and street cleaning services during the workers’ action and later to organise ambulance and medical services, messengers and the distribution of goods as the “Labour troubles” gave way to the reality of life at war in the summer of 1914.

Here at the Athenaeum we have been fortunate enough to discover the complete collection of League Minute Books and associated paraphernalia including correspondence, application forms, index cards detailing the “special qualifications” of prospective members (i.e. the training necessary to operate heavy machinery, existing medical experience and so on), a Financial Sub-Committee Minute Book and cash books (including one belonging to the King’s Liverpool Regiment Visiting Committee).

The Minute Books, of which there are six, were found amongst a collection originally belonging to Robert Gladstone Jr and span from August 1911 right through to the conclusion of the war in 1918.  The books contain minutes from both the main body of the League and also from the Women’s Branch, and detail the efforts of its members to uphold the spirits of both locals and external parties during a time of great social and political upheaval.

The History of the League

The decision to formulate the League was an ambitious and not entirely uncontroversial one.  Initial plans to enrol “voluntary helpers” who might act in the capacity of special constables attracted the displeasure of the Head Constable who suggested that the League lacked the authority to advertise for assistance of the sort ordinarily organised by the Justices proper.  The Head Constable also expressed a concern that the League might struggle to remain impartial in light of the sort of tasks that their volunteers were undertaking, “namely the performance of work abandoned by strikers”, and warned that the completion of neglected labour must surely be perceived “as taking one side as against the other”.

Although F. J. Leslie emphatically denied ‘taking sides’ the League were to encounter other teething difficulties in a similar vein.  In a report dated December 18th Mr Leslie speaks of an administrative division within the ranks of the League itself:

There are those who believe that] the main purpose of forming such a League as this is to create a body opposed to strikes and strikers […] a “strike breaking organisation” [aimed at] repressing strikes by aggressive measures.

Divergent voices in the League were eventually silenced by Mr Leslie’s insistence that the organisation was to remain an entirely neutral one; the repercussions of the debate, however, almost led to the resignation of the Lord Mayor, Edward Stanley, Earl of Derby, and placed a significant strain on the relations between the League and the local constabulary.

The League met infrequently at the Town Hall from 1911 up until the war but its supporters were nevertheless extremely active in their outreach activities and, by May of 1913, had recruited in excess of 2,500 members.  Amongst them were horse drivers, electricians, medics, and steam and marine engineers.

Upon the eve of the war the League immediately called a meeting and set about obtaining additional premises in order to expand their operations.  Based within the G3 Exchange Buildings and later also placed at Gambier Terrace and 30 Bold Street, the League began to organise the distribution of supplies to those in need, including Belgian refugees, soldiers and sailors and the economically disadvantaged.

Meanwhile Robert Gladstone Jr submitted for the consideration of the Committee a scheme “by which he would bear the cost of drilling five hundred men, over the army limit, to be ready for such services as they might be required for”.  The proposal met with unanimous approval and Gladstone was appointed Honorary Secretary for the Drill section of the League.  The League, in collaboration with the Liverpool Meat Importers’ Association, constructed a miniature rifle range in the basement of the Meat Market (Great Newton Street).  On the 10th of August 400 men reported for drilling and by the 12th of August 100 more had enrolled.  The unprecedented popularity of the instruction led to the establishment of the Volunteer Rifle Corps and secured the League’s reputation as a “pioneer in the matter of civilian drill”.

With some negotiation the League was granted permission to forward goods for the Front, via Southampton, “free of carriage”, and shortly thereafter set to work supplying men with pipes, cigarettes, chocolate, candles, playing cards and toothbrushes along with socks, mufflers and mittens, many knitted by volunteers from the community including local children who were taught to knit and sew through the interventions of the Women’s Branch.

Ambulance training was also on-going, alongside Nursing classes and instruction in First Aid.  The League, with the assistance of local doctors, ran courses culminating in medical certification.  Many of the newly qualified were enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps and many more became employed in tending to the sick and wounded who were arriving into Lime Street Station and elsewhere in the city.

The Committee wrote to employers and requested that they reserve the positions of those absent overseas.  They received around 500 replies agreeing to the upkeep of wages and also to the holding of the temporarily vacant positions.  The League also campaigned to raise the numbers of enlisted; posters were produced and ladies would regularly distribute flyers on a house to house basis.

A great deal of charitable work was conducted by the League and its affiliates.  Large numbers of foreign soldiers were arriving into Liverpool along with their wives, the latter of which were left to fend for themselves once their husbands were transferred.  The League communicated with the Cunard S. S. Company and secured lodgings for the families in Great George Square, with Miss Eleanor Rathbone agreeing to cover any surplus costs incurred.

Significantly, the League’s Committee was comprised of many local dignitaries and was assisted in various ways by many more; Sir Sydney Jones is reported to have donated several vehicles for use as ambulances, and Mrs Herbert Reynolds Rathbone, Ex-Lady Mayoress, granted the League permission to use the Depot at Gambier Terrace for distribution purposes.

Whilst this report has thus far dealt mainly with the work undertaken by the male-led branch of the League the efforts of the Women’s Branch should not be understated; the women’s division remained active throughout the war and was involved with the dispensing of clothing and other materials, the arrangement of Nursing classes, the provision of entertainment and of “Christmas Cheer for the Troops” and the housing of Belgian refugees, amongst many other things.

That the League’s work was both far-reaching and of the utmost significance to many thousands of individuals is made clear not only through the regularity with which they met and the meticulous documentation of work carried out but also through the endless expressions of thanks they receive from wives, workers and soldiers.  On the 27th of April 1916 Mr Leslie tells the board of a meeting he has had with the Prisoners of War Committee:

The Chairman reported that he had attended a meeting […] at which Vincent Howard, who had escaped from a German Internment Camp, had been present.  Howard had informed the Meeting that he had received parcels from the Civic Service League quite regularly, and that he considered that they had kept him alive, as he had been unable to eat the food provided in the camp.

The Minute Books provide a wonderful glimpse into the solidarity of a city which has pulled together despite enormous external pressure, and the charitable efforts of the League’s members are reflected in the thoughtful responses they provoke from those they help.

Further Particulars

This collection represents the culmination of many years of dedicated work over a crucially significant timespan and would, we hope, be of assistance to researchers of the period or indeed to other interested parties who would like to study the links between the Civic Service League and affiliated individuals and organisations such as the Red Cross, St Johns Ambulance Association, local universities and hospitals etc.  As we learn more about the collection we will update the available information accordingly.  In the interim those who might like to learn more about the collection are encouraged to contact the Athenaeum archivist at

Real or Fake?

The survey on Robert Gladstone’s collection continues and still manages to surprise us! Whilst looking through yet another card index box I found an unassuming envelope with a ‘Christ Medal’ contained within.


A Christ medal was worn to show a sign of faith and ours shows Jesus on one side and Hebrew text on the other which I am led to believe is translated as ‘Christ the King has come in peace: God was made man’.

The original was made in the first century and worn to identify believers and signify their faith. However, it seems that in the late 19th and early 20th century a stove manufacturer made copies of the original and sold them in markets to the masses. So do we have a real one or a stove manufacturers copy? Why not come in to the Library and make your own mind up.

News from the Archive

We are currently in the process of surveying the Athenaeum’s collection of archives and we have found some real treasures. Within Robert Gladstone’s collection we have found a complete series of minute books from the Liverpool Civic Service League. It seems nobody knew we had these lurking in our stacks and we think they could be a fantastic resource for those of you interested in Liverpool throughout WW1. The Civic Service League was a volunteer association that was made up of influential men and women of Liverpool and ran from 1911 – 1921, amongst other things they:

· organised civilian drill classes for those too old to enlist in the army,
· acquired and drove ambulances to transport wounded soldiers,
· collected and sent candles and socks to the men in the trenches,
· recruited and helped with special constables,
· met families off transport ships whose men were fighting, and
· held classes to teach men and women first aid which prepared them to take nursing examinations.

If anyone is interested in seeing the minute books, then get in touch by email at Steph our Archive Assistant is currently researching through the books so check back regularly for an update on her progress.

From a Proprietor

Before the ‘Windrush’: Race Relations in 20th-Century Liverpool has been written by John Belchem, Athenaeum proprietor and Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Liverpool. The volume was published by Liverpool University Press in 2014. Liverpool’s cosmopolitan society of transients and settlers from various locations date back several centuries. This book concentrates on the twentieth century and black Liverpudlians. It considers the racial discrimination that they faced, despite pioneers initiatives in race and community relations. Many blacks continued to regard themselves as marginalised and disadvantaged throughout the twentieth century. A variety of source material is used in the book to establish the historical context and the debates about ‘empire’, as well as to investigate Liverpool’s own situation.

Janet Hollinshead

For Music Enthusiasts

The Athenaeum Library is grateful to Her Honour Judge Elizabeth Steel (Christie) for donating to the institution quite a number of her late husband’s books. They range over a number of topics and include several with a musical flavour. One of these is the autobiography: Sir Geraint Evans: A Knight at the Opera – published by Michael Joseph in 1984. The Welsh miner’s son became an international opera star. He made his debut in 1948 after wartime service with the RAF. He studied at the Guildhall School of Music and then auditioned successfully for Covent Garden Opera Company. The book recounts the baritone’s experiences and roles in opera houses all over the world. This volume appeared in 1984 to coincide with Geraint Evans’s farewell performances.

Janet Hollinshead

You thought you knew the Port?

If you thought that you knew the port, Adrian Jarvis’s book Liverpool: A History of ‘The Great Port’ (Liverpool History Press, 2014) is bound to have something new to say. The volume is full of detail with many illustrations, some in colour. Jarvis concentrates on the period after 1672 when the land that became the first dock was acquired. Many factors that supported the development of the port are examined. An intriguing part of the book deals with the problems of running a port-city, as well as coping with the interests of the ship-owners. Issues such as what to do with obsolete docks are included. This story of the port is brought right through the twentieth century and up-to-date in a most comprehensive way. Available in the Athenaeum library and in Liverpool Central Library.

Janet Hollinshead

Nevil Shute: Engineer and Author

Many Proprietors may well be familiar with the books, and the films based on them, written by Nevil Shute. Parallel Motion: A Biography of Nevil Shute Norway by John Anderson is a new book into the Athenaeum library. The volume was published by The Paper Tiger Inc. in 2011. It covers Shute’s remarkable career as both an engineer and author. The volume deals with his childhood and education, his early work for de Havilland, and contribution to the R.100 airship. Then Shute began writing novels and continued the activity during wartime whilst working for the Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development, and the Ministry of Information. Not until the late 1940s did he go to Australia where he and his family eventually settled. After quite a prolific output of books, Nevil Shute died in 1960. A volume well worth a look to find out more about a well-known name.

Janet Hollinshead

Lightnight 2015

On Lightnight at the Athenaeum visitors were welcomed in to view the Newsroom and the Library and see some of the many treasures from the book collection that span the centuries.

Amongst the books on display a volume of the Atlantic Neptune attracted a great deal of interest. The two volume work contains maps and charts of the North American coastline enabling mariners to recognise the salient points of their destination. It was completed at the end of the 18th Century by Naval Hydrographers and has been in the Athenaeum Library since 1800. Many people are surprised to find this beautiful building right in the heart of the city

Joan Hanford


Helicopters in Paradise Street?

A scheme in the 1950s and early 1960s saw city-centre helicopters as the way to promote urban mobility and inter-city travel. New technology would get this form of transport right to the heart of Liverpool. An article in the 2014 (volume 163) of Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire examines the plans for heliports. Liverpool’s City Engineer considered the possibility of such a heliport on top of a multi-storey car park or bus station. Why did the scheme disappear? Read the article in the Athenaeum Library or in Liverpool Central Public Library.

Janet Hollinshead

Not just Books………….

In addition to over 60,000 books and thousands of pamphlets (many rare or unique) the Athenaeum Library is rich in many non-book materials: maps, prints, manuscripts, autographs, watercolours, photographs and playbills.

In this note I will draw attention to an important example, which I hope will whet the appetite for discovery in the readers of this occasional library publication.

Ordnance Survey of Liverpool, 1848/9, 5ft to the mile

This impressive example of the map-maker’s art, allied to Victorian skills in lithographic printing, shows the area of the then town centre in a number of large sheets including, in many cases, the interiors of large public buildings and churches. The excerpt below locates the Athenaeum in its original setting in Church Street.

Old Athenaeum

Reprinted from an article by

John Tiernan