The Liverpool Institute High School's Artefacts

Tracking down the S.S. Demodocus Ship's Bell

Jim Lycett writes (5-Mar-2012):

During my recent long stay on Merseyside I took a trip to the Merseyside Maritime Museum (MMM) at the Albert Dock, especially to see the Demodocus Bell from school. It wasn't on display nor could the assistant on the desk tell me anything about it - I was disappointed.

I then checked the the MMM's website and found their write-up on the bell. (Note: You may need to enter Demodocus in the search box.)

I also checked this site and found that the Bell was on display at the Sudley House Museum. I rang Sudley House to see if it was in fact there - but NO - although after some research by a very pleasant female there, they rang and told me it had been on display for a relatively short period some years ago, but had been returned to the MMM.

I returned to the MMM to find someone who would know more about it and was directed to an office outside of the old warehouse building (directly opposite the Pump House), to be confronted by a security man at the desk - strictly no entry without an appointment! I explained that I was looking for information and wanted to know who best to talk to - he said "It’s lunchtime now - he may be at his desk" - and rang the person he thought would be best for me to talk to. The person said he would come and talk to me if I could wait a few minutes.

Ian Murphy, Curator of Maritime History/Deputy Head of MMM came down to talk to me in the small lobby of their admin office building. The Security Man had told him on the phone that I was interested in what had happened to the Demodocus Bell, and he explained to me that it was "in storage" following its display at Sudley House and its earlier short period of exhibition at the MMM itself. The MMM had no current plans for further exhibition of the Bell.

I explained my being ex LI and reason for enquiring about it, and stated that if the Museums had no plans to exhibit it, I would like to see it back at the Inny under LIPA rather than it just sitting "in storage". He told me there was no possibility of the MMM allowing it to be returned back to the Inny - but they might consider a loan of it back to the Inny given a suitable official application and the proper conditions of security and insurance. Hurrah - progress!

I then made contact with Mark Featherstone-Witty at LIPA - and asked him would LIPA like to have it there on display - the answer was Yes.- Further progress!

I rang Ian Murphy to tell him that LIPA would like to have it there and to discuss how we should go about it - he replied that he was very sorry - and that on examining MMM's records - the Bell actually belongs to LIEF and was held by the MMM on LIEF's behalf. I would first have to receive permission from LIEF for MMM to be able to loan it to LIPA. Note: This is a different situation to that explained to Snellie by Jan Clein as on the Liobian's Demodocus Bell web page:

"Jan Clein (Councillor for Arundel Ward, Liverpool City Council & "Old" Girl of Blackburne House, tells me that the Bell of the Demodocus was never owned by LIPA. The Bell never disappeared nor was it stolen. The Bell was owned by the Liverpool Institute High School and was sold to the Liverpool Museum (NMGM) - where it resided when the school closed - for £500. The money went into the Liverpool Institute Educational Foundation Trust (set up by the Charity Commission). Thanks for that Jan!"

LIEF is the Liverpool Institute Educational Foundation - the Trust who manage the LI's old scholarship funds and Margaret Bryce Smith Scholarship Funds (MBSS) - please bear with me.

When the school was closed in 1985 by the Liverpool City Council, it seems the building was closed up and just left to deteriorate - with all the stuff still in it. - from Wiki:

"After closure of the Liverpool Institute for Boys, the building stood empty and neglected, the roof leaking and the walls crumbling. In 1987 it was announced that the LI Trust (under control of Liverpool Council's Education Department) would grant use of the building and site to a new educational establishment. Paul McCartney had returned to his old school when with Wings he had played a concert there in 1979. After the school's closure in 1985, McCartney returned one night to reminisce about his school days, while he was writing his 'Liverpool Oratorio'. This visit is tellingly captured in 'Echoes'; a DVD the accompanies the 'Liverpool Oratoria' box set. McCartney was determined to save the building somehow. What was needed was an idea that could secure the building's future. As it happened, during a conversation with Sir George Martin, the idea if a 'fame school' emerged since Martin was helping Mark Featherstone-Witty start a London secondary school with an innovative curriculum. McCartney and Featherstone-Witty joined forces to create The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA). The new company took over the Liverpool Institute Trust established in 1905 ".

There were two LI trusts which had been set up up under the control of the Liverpool City Council: The Liverpool Institute Trust - which dealt with the LI building (and fixed property?) - the control of this Trust went over to LIPA when they took over the Inny Building. The Liverpool Institute Educational Foundation - which controlled the moveable property and moneys from the various donations made to the Inny for scholarships, grants etc Also there was the Margaret Bryce Smith Trusts which controlled our 11+ scholarship scheme for very bright young lads’ "assisted" entrance to the Inny.

The LIEF scheme was initially registered on 5 November 1964 and was reorganised on 5 August 2002 by the Charity Commission following Liverpool Council's longstanding neglect of the scheme, and a new set of trustees established - most of whom are also trustees for the Margaret Bryce Smith Scholarships Trust (MBSS) - see LIEF and Charity Commission websites.

One of LIEF's trustees - a Liverpool City Councillor appointed by them to the Trust, is Mrs. Jan Clein - ex Blackburne House Girl, who had told Snelly the Demodocus Bell was now owned by Merseyside Maritime Museum, and, until very recently (May 2011), her husband had since 1984 also been a Liverpool City Councillor.

I contacted the LIEF contact (from web page) and spoke to Mr. Brian Hodson, the Treasurer, very very helpful - he was not aware of the Demodocus Bell.

I contacted Councillor Jan Clein - she was very helpful and then sent me a set of copies of documents relative to the closure of the Inny. She also told me that Blackburne House had a similar ships bell as the Inny's. In the 90s she was not yet a Councillor but was told by her husband about the Council's plans to auction off the remaining "artefacts" of the Inny and BBH, and to sell those more valuable/interesting ones to the Liverpool Museums at a competent valuation. She saw on the list that there was a ship's bell and assumed it was BBH's bell and requested via her husband that it not go to the Lpool Museums - but be offered to the new Hope University for return to the Blackburne House premises. And so it was not included in the sale of assets to the Lpool Museums, nor placed in the auction which took place at John Crane's Auction Rooms. But then Hope University turned down the offer of sale of the Bell to them - and so the the ownership actually remained with the LIEF Trust although, the Bell itself had been transferred with the other valuable assets soon after school closure to the storage and safekeeping of the Museums - and forgotten about. LIEF received the moneys from the auction sale of the lesser artefacts and also the valuation for the more valuable ones transferred to Museum

The Liverpool City Council eventually in 2002 had the LIEF Trust and the MBSSS Trust taken from them by the Charities Commission for not being "controlled/operated" in a satisfactory manner (my words) - and a new set of Trustees was appointed to look after them - (Current LIEF and MBSSS set up) with a new set of rules to make the Scholarship funds work in the present time (2002). The new LIEF trustees it seems were not made aware that the one remaining artefact - The Demodocus Bell - remained under their control - they were unaware of its existence except for Jan and Paul Clein - who had assumed it had been included in the settling of the account of the sale to the Museums.

And so the bell has been sitting in MMM storage for about 27 years except for two relatively short spells on exhibition by the Liverpool Museums.

I verified the Jan Clein's story by contacting the Liverpool City Council Solicitor and the Charities Commission.

I then emailed the LIEF Secretary Mr. Brian Davies, and spoke to him, informing him of the existence of the bell - and LIEF's ownership of it, requesting that the LIEF Trust consider giving permission for MMM to allow a semi permanent loan of the bell for display at LIPA.

I suggested 3 basic overruling conditions:

  1. The Bell should be considered a historical Liverpool artefact and should never leave Liverpool.
  2. That the Museums have first call on the bell at any time they wish to place it on public display.
  3. That LIPA provide an appropriate place for display, with full security and insurance.

I was then informed that the bell would be discussed at the next LIEF Trustees meeting in late November 2011. I also informed Ian Murphy of MMM of what I was doing - he replied that he would prefer to return the Bell to LIEF and for them to make the loan to LIPA.

The Bell was discussed and I received the negative decision email copied below from Jan Clein in January:

From:Jan Clein, 19-Jan-2012
To:Jim Lycett
SS Demodocus Bell - decision

Hi Jim,

I write on behalf of the Trustees of LIEF.

The issue of the location of the SS Demodocus Bell was discussed at a meeting of the Trustees on 28th November 2011. A unanimous decision was taken that the Bell should remain where it is in the Maritime Museum.

I know you will be disappointed by this decision but it was taken in what we considered to be the best interests of the Charity.

Sincere apologies for not notifying you of this decision earlier - it was entirely my fault.

Best wishes, Jan.

From:Jim Lycett, 19-Jan-2012
To:Jan Clein
SS Demodocus Bell - decision

Good morning Jan, thanks for your email,

Yes I'm a bit disappointed at your message - but I see it as your Trustees have made an initial decision - and we can move on to the next part of the exercise - how to convince all your Trustees that a return, on loan, of the Bell to the Inny is good for the interests of many more people than the basic interest of the LIEF Charity - and of no harm at all to the Charity itself - far better than it just lying in dusty storage doing nothing at all.

It would be great to have it returned this year and celebrating it being 100 years old. I will probably also be returning in April for another stay - we intended to stay 6 months the last trip and stayed for a year.

I will now pass on your message to the Liobians Membership and also to LIPA. Thank you - maybe we'll meet again later in the year.

Jim Lycett

I have also notified Mark Featherstone-Witty and recieved his thoughts:

From:Jim Lycett, 19-Jan-2012
To:Mark Featherstone-Witty
SS Demodocus Bell - decision

Good morning Mark

I have just this morning received an email from the Jan Clein on behalf of LIEF, advising of the negative decision made by the LIEF Trustees at the end of November regarding the return of the Demodocus Bell to the Liverpool Institute Building.

Before I begin to press on with the Liobians to try and convince the LIEF Trustees to change their initial decision, I must first ask you, "How enthusiastic is LIPA to have the historic Bell returned to the building and placed on display, semi permanently, on loan?" - based on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being Polite and not wanting to refuse the suggestion and 10 being Very enthusiastic to have it returned.

I do not want to press on if LIPA is not keen to have it there - but regardless of the rating of your reply - we have already hopefully done some good by making LIEF aware of the Bell and that they are its Legal Owners.

I look forward to your reply.

Best wishes

Jim Lycett

From:Mark Featherstone-Witty, 19-Jan-2012
To:Jim Lycett
SS Demodocus Bell - decision

Nice question and nicely put: I’d say : 10.

We have a few artefacts (very few) from the old building (LCC scandalously sold many artefacts through auction, artefacts that were part of the fabric of the building i.e. the clock above the auditorium; it beggars belief.

Thanks for all the hard work you are putting in, Jim.

All the best,