Over the past year, Grace Belcher has been working as a Digital Archivist intern from Metal at Edge Hill Station, Liverpool. After completing her work with the extensive (analogue) archives, Grace kindly wrote a blog post about her experience, and the time spent in the realm of Littlewoods, particularly its catalogues down the ages. Here’s her writing.
Hello, my name is Grace and I’ve been working for Metal Liverpool with the Littlewoods Heritage Project as an intern. Originally I am from Exeter, a little city in Devon, but I have been living in Liverpool over the last two years studying for university. My Granny is from here and like many others across the country, my Grandad ritualistically inscribed his numbers on the pools coupons every week.
Admittedly before starting this job my knowledge of Littlewoods and the Moores brothers was limited, but I was eager to know more. When I saw the opportunity to get involved with preserving the history embedded within the Edge Lane building through archiving catalogues that came out of it, I was instantly captivated. I could see the towers facade from my bedroom window, looming over roofs of houses in the distance. Before long, the enormity of the Littlewoods world would smother/encompass/engulf me too.
The project aims to curate a selection of archive content that depicts the fabric of life both inside and outside the Littlewoods empire. The instructions given to me were quite simple, record the catalogues and provide brief descriptions relating to the social history of the given extract. So I was given access to twelve catalogues dated c.1934 to 2011, and had complete freedom to browse and record extracts as I pleased, creating a narrative through the decades. Although there are a few pieces that are personal to me, such as an advertisement for a Classic Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong, I have been consistent and comprehensive in what I record. This way there should be an extract for everyone, something you recognise or can relate to, while allowing the presentation of trends and subtle differences to be observed over time.
My role as Digital Archivist allowed me the opportunity to explore the history of the building, the people who worked there and the business in operation in great detail. As a sociology student, I see great value in documenting the past in order to help us come to terms with the present and look into the future. By utilising this approach, I have been able to create an archive that best encapsulates Littlewood’s in all its life stages.
Through my work I have tried to capture a succinct representation of the sorts of fashion, household items and technology that were in circulation at the time of printing. From this, we can peer into the everyday lives of people across the UK from almost a century ago, reigniting old memories and sparking new interests. It is fascinating how material items can provides some insight into those people’s fears, desires and behaviours.
During my internship, I prepared a photographic presentation for the Littlewoods Above All: Inside the Littlewoods Dream Factory film screening at Liverpool John Moores University Screen School. For me, this was the most enjoyable aspect of my internship. From spending most of my time gathering knowledge through books, articles and the internet, it was invaluable and so gratifying to learn from those who spent their days in the Edge Lane building, Walton Hall and other sites across Liverpool – the Littlewoodies. I brought a selection of extracts from the catalogues, and they brought their stories, photographs and lived experiences. They reflected on their time at Littlewoods, sharing their impression of the business and answering my questions about the atmosphere among the workforce and other queries that arose from my research.
The Edge Lane building will no longer house Littlewoods and the Littlewoodies, it will be home to a Hollywood standard filming complex restoring the Art Deco building to its former glory. All will not be forgotten though, LJMU students will create interactive digital storyboards (? I’m not sure if that’s what you call them) that will occupy transition spaces in the building consisting of extracts from the catalogues and other research to keep the buildings memory alive. As for the archive, it will be preserved at LJMU, available on request and the digital archive will be open for all to see.