In profile: Brenda Murray
Former teacher Brenda Murray (BA Social Sciences 1945) is a passionate local historian who devotes her time to the promotion of Seaforth, a North Liverpool district she has seen deteriorate from the fashionable, elegant seaside village of her childhood to a patch of dockland that has gradually fallen off the Liverpool tourist trail.
In an effort to turn Seaforth’s fortunes around and attract tourists back to the area, 86 year-old Brenda is campaigning to erect a six foot stone memorial of former Prime Minister and Seaforth resident William Gladstone, whose father John built Seaforth House, the first property in what would become the village of Seaforth.
You joined the University during the Second World War, how different was the campus back then?
It was 1942 when I started at the University, so luckily the worst of the bombings in Liverpool were over. I travelled in to campus every day by bus from Crosby, where we were living at the time, and our lectures were all held in the buildings around Abercromby Square. Back then there were still trams running through that part of Liverpool and I remember them being incredibly noisy; sometimes it would be loud enough to completely drown out the lecturers!
Why did you choose to study Social Sciences?
My brother, my two sisters and most of my cousins were teachers, and my mother said to me: “Will you please try to find a different career - all I hear is teaching, teaching, teaching!” Then my best friend heard about this Social Sciences course at the University and we both thought it sounded interesting – and not a teaching course - so we applied.
What did you do after you graduated?
I went to work for an association that looked after the welfare of families who’d been affected by relatives being placed into mental institutions, and then from there I joined the Catholic Children’s Society where I was involved with child play therapy. I enjoyed that very much and decided I’d like to do some further study in psychiatric social work, but then in 1946 I met my husband and we settled down together and had three children, so I didn’t take it any further.
How did you get into teaching?
There was no thought of returning to work until my youngest, Philip, was about four and a half. By then the other two children were at school and I knew he was miserable at home; he was such a bright, sociable little boy, he hated having no one to play with. Then my husband and I heard of an opportunity to work as a supply teacher for Litherland Education Committee, so I went along to the interview and took Philip with me and they said they would give me the job and Philip could join the nursery – it was the perfect solution.
I worked at around 13 schools in total, doing a month here and there, then one day I saw an advert for a part-time teacher at a girl’s grammar school called Waterloo Park so I applied there to teach English. I stayed at the school until about 1975, then did some further education teaching at Hugh Baird College and at a night school in Waterloo, working for the Workers’ Educational Association. I carried on teaching until I was 81, and I only stopped then because I was doing so much local history volunteer work by that time that I didn’t have enough hours left in the day!
Have you always been passionate about local history?
Oh yes, but I suppose my involvement as a campaigner really stepped up when I joined the campaign to save the Old Christ Church in Waterloo from demolition. On the strength of our campaign the church was taken over by the Churches Conservation Trust and we’re still regularly holding events to raise awareness, so that it can be preserved for future generations. In fact my voluntary work takes up all of my time now; I’m involved with 18 societies and sit on the committees of eight of them, so my days are filled with appointments and meetings!
Why is Seaforth so important to you?
Well I was born in Seaforth and our family lived there until 1941 when it was badly bombed during the war. Before that it was very much the place to be; everyone wanted to live there, but sadly it was badly affected by the bombings - most people ended up moving out to Waterloo or Crosby and I think that’s when the problems really started for the area.
But I think the main reason for Seaforth’s decline was the prosperity of the Liverpool Freeport. Better communication was needed between the docks and the motorway, so a new road was built called Princes Way which basically divided Seaforth in two. That had a very negative effect because the people that lived there felt as if they didn’t matter anymore, or they didn’t really belong. Then in 1984 there was a reorganisation of the constituencies in Liverpool and one half of Seaforth went to Sefton and the other half to Bootle, which completely destroyed its personality.
What are you doing to help?
Well it was about three years ago that I really became aware of how much the area was going into decline, so I organised a local history display which attracted around 600 people and was a great success. But I knew that much more had to be done, so I had this idea of erecting the Gladstone memorial. I thought if I could get it to become well known on the tourist trail, people would come to see it in the same way that they come over to Crosby to see the Antony Gormley statues on Crosby beach and it would really help to start raising Seaforth’s profile again.
Why William Gladstone?
William Gladstone – who was four times Prime Minister of Great Britain -was born in Rodney Street, but he lived in Seaforth for 17 years. His father, John, bought 100 acres of land in Litherland and built Seaforth House there, and within a couple of years other fashionable families had followed suit and the area then became known as Seaforth village.
By organising this monument, my hope is that it will raise awareness of this important aspect of Liverpool’s history, but it will also encourage people to visit Seaforth to see the monument for themselves. So far I’ve raised enough for the bust of the memorial to be made, but I need to raise enough for the 6ft stone column too which costs £18,000. I think if we can do this, it’ll make a huge impact in the area. I was 17 when we moved to Crosby, but I’ve always thought of Seaforth with enormous affection and I have a lot of happy memories of my childhood and the time that I spent there. It would be awful to let such a wonderful area fall of the radar and I hope that people will join us in our efforts to save it from declining any further.