A post mainly of interest to anyone who’s ever been one of the humans connected to the Eleanor Rathbone Building at the University of Liverpool over the past fifty years or so. Probably quite a lot of us then?

Also, a suggestion for what the new building most of us are moving into might be called.

On this quiet Friday before Christmas in 2019 I’ve come to say farewell to Eleanor. Not to Eleanor Rathbone, my guiding spirit, but to her building that’s been my place of sociological study from the 1970s to now, with a forty year gap in the middle. I confess to never having much liked the building, but there’s some sadness in all leavings isn’t there?

Eleanor Rathbone
Charles Booth

Until this week the Eleanor Rathbone Building has been home to Sociology, Criminology, Law and Psychology, with only the Psychology School remaining as all of us others pack up. Some have already gone and there are signs of moving and leaving behind all around the familiar corridors as I take one more walk. Past where I’d come to see Stan Clarke, my tutor when I was a boy, then Paul Jones and Nicole Vittelone since my return here last year.

I’ve sometimes thought of this building as brutalist but in this leaving I can see that it isn’t, not really. Or perhaps it’s brutalism after that system of architectural thought had begun to sacrifice its courage and style to administrative convenience?

Anyway I’m not sorry to be leaving, though I am sorry to be leaving the name. Eleanor Rathbone and her father founded the School of Social Science at this university in 1905 but it seems we’re not taking her name with us to our new place. Which is a shame but I’ve got an idea we can come back to about that.

Going back to my first time here, in the 1970s, Eleanor Rathbone was also honoured and remembered in the name of the nearby library. Now called something else and no longer a library. It seems to be something time does, this organised forgetting.

‘Entrance’ by Maurice Cockrill

But time also creates new places and here it is. The new gold dream that will be the School of Law and Social Justice once we’ve all moved in after Christmas. All empty and waiting for its humans as I nose around the corners and corridors we’ll all bring to life. All new and waiting to see what we do with it. Including, maybe, give it a proper name?

Now I get that the new building houses the School of Law and Social Justice for now and for as long as any of us can envisage. But university departments come and go and change their names over time, as the Eleanor Rathbone Building might remember, pretending for the sake of an argument that it’s a sentient being? So I’d say a deeper, more permanent, inspirational and ‘who was that?’ sort of name now needs thinking up for the new place. I also know there have been discussions about this and that several names are possible. Two of which I’ll now talk about and neither of whom are Eleanor Rathbone. That name staying firmly attached to its own building to help guide it to whatever its future might be.

So the two possible names I want to talk about are Margaret Simey and Dorothy Kuya. Late on in Margaret’s life I knew her for a few years and she’d often talk about having known Eleanor Rathbone and what an inspiration she’s been in her own political work. But she’d more often talk about Dorothy Kuya and how much she admired and respected her. You can read about Dorothy here, and if you’ve not previously heard about her work on law and social justice, then isn’t that why we should name buildings after people? So their work and ideas can live on after them?

For myself, only knowing Dorothy very briefly before she died and in the early years of my work with the community at Granby 4 Streets where she lived in Jermyn Street, I know we all generally hold the belief that there would have been no Granby neighbourhood for us to work on at all without the work done by Dorothy Kuya and the Granby Residents Association before us. A very great woman.

Dorothy Kuya

So that’s my suggestion and preference. That the new home of the School of Law and Social Justice at the University of Liverpool be known as ‘The Dorothy Kuya Building.’


After walking around I went and sat in the building that’s the library these days, the Sydney Jones, wrote all of this down, sorted my photographs and walked one last time through the Eleanor Rathbone Building on my way home.



And I know this takes some temerity but here goes, I think Margaret Simey and Eleanor Rathbone would agree with me about The Dorothy Kuya Building.

More of my university writing here at ‘Field notes for utopia’

Published by Ronnie

Writing about life, Liverpool and anything else that interests me. As well as working with others to make the world a fairer and kinder place: http://asenseofplace.com.

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  1. The Eleanor Rathbone Building may have been architecturally undistinguished, but people designed it, people built it and people worked in it. For forty years or so, it was a focus for its own community; a community brought together by circumstance, but a community nonetheless, and that should both be remembered and perpetuated in its new home. If the building is to be re-purposed, then a new community will settle there and in time come to call it their home; otherwise, it runs the risk of being demolished and forgotten, as many buildings of the 1950s, 60s and 70s are. So well done for documenting just a little of this.

    1. I appreciate your sentiments Robert but I still don’t like the place and am glad to be leaving. Going back into it after my long absence has been a spirit sapping experience at times, only relieved by the welcome and friendship of sociology colleagues who’ve put up with its bleakness for more years than I could.

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