Matthew James Tickle, Tickle ‘of the Tech’

Matthew James Tickle (or “Pop” as he was known to me) was my paternal grandfather. He was the first member of the family to obtain a university degree, an outstanding teacher, and eventually the Head of Liverpool Nautical College.

Unfortunately, I don’t know as much as I would like about my grandfather’s life apart from a few anecdotes. This post covers what I have been able to find out.

His Family and Early Life

Matthew James was born in Liverpool on 30 March 1881 to Matthew Tickle and his wife, Elizabeth Lewis. Elizabeth, like so many Liverpudlians, was of Irish descent. Matthew James was the fifth of nine children (two earlier children died in infancy).

His father, Matthew, ran a successful blacksmith and farrier business with his brother, James, close to the Liverpool Docks. They had contracts to shoe many of the thousands of horses working in the docks and became relatively prosperous. The family are featured in the photograph on the Home page of this website. Matthew James is the boy standing in the centre row, to the right of his mother.

George Lewis Tickle, his oldest brother, seen standing on the right at the back, eventually took over the family business. The younger sons and daughters followed other careers – several becoming teachers.

My second cousin had a collection of documents relating to the family, including Matthew and Elizabeth’s original marriage certificate. One corner had been torn off. She couldn’t understand why anyone would do this, until she obtained a copy of the certificate. When Elizabeth married in 1867, she was a 17 year old from a poor Irish family … and illiterate. She had ‘made her mark’ with a cross, rather than signing the register. She did learn to read and write later in life but was possibly embarrassed to think her children might see the certificate and know the truth.

Pupil Teachers and Pleasant Street School

Matthew James and his siblings were well educated compared to their parents. At least two of the sisters trained to become teachers, as did Matthew James. In those days, you began your training as a pupil teacher, with a 5-year apprenticeship, normally starting at the age of 13, which was the age at which most children left school. I have a record of Matthew James being admitted to Pleasant Street School as a pupil teacher in 1895, when he would have been around that age.

Pleasant Street School was founded in the early 19th century by The Benevolent Society of St Patrick for “the instructing in Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic; the clothing and apprenticing of poor children descended of Irish parents”. It was non-denominational and was described by the local MP as a model school where “Catholic and Protestant have been there educated in perfect harmony together”. Religion was very important in Liverpool at that time, possibly because of the large numbers of Irish citizens.

Cazneau Street

Matthew James lived with his parents and siblings in Cazneau Street, in the Scotland Road area of Liverpool. This was a largely Irish Catholic neighbourhood, near to the Liverpool docks, and with many slums and poor areas close by. The Tickle Bros, Farrier and Blacksmith business was also based in Cazneau Street. I imagine the family may have lived ‘above the shop’.

Cazneau Street was among those devastated by the “May blitz” of Liverpool and Merseyside in 1941, when, for eight days, the city was bombed by the Luftwaffe.

The devastation caused by the bombing of Liverpool in 1941

The Tickle family left the area well before the war but he would have been very aware of what had happened to his childhood streets. Most of what was left of Cazneau Street was later demolished to make way for a motorway interchange.

Victoria University

Once they had completed their apprenticeship, pupil teachers could apply for certification and move on to other educational establishments. In 1899, when he was 18, Matthew James attended Clarence Street Pupil Teachers College, located next to Pleasant Street School. He was allocated a post at Queens Road Boys School. He also undertook further study, becoming an undergraduate of Victoria University.

Founded in 1880, Victoria University awarded degrees for colleges based in the north of England. Until its foundation, students at these colleges were required to take external degrees of other universities, mainly the University of London. I have found a record of M J Tickle as a student in London but am unclear as to whether this was Matthew James. I shall do more research on this.

The University’s charter authorised it to admit both male and female students to its courses and degrees, and the University was an important stimulus to co-education. 

On 8 February 1900, when Matthew was 19 years old, his father died suddenly at the age of 56, following a fall on the ice. Matthew James appears in the 1901 census, still living at 9 Cazneau Street with his mother and other family members. He is shown as an undergraduate of Victoria University.

His widowed mother may have found it difficult to support her student son without sacrifices from the rest of the family. His older brother, John, who was a shipping clerk, was not allowed to marry and leave home until Matthew James had graduated. John eventually married his sweetheart of many years, Lilian Maud Booth, in 1905, when they were in their late 20s. Tragically, John died of tuberculosis just four years later.

Melling Road

By 1911, the family had moved to Melling Road in Aintree. Melling Road is best known for its association with the Grand National. The National course crosses Melling Road at two points and, on National Day, the road was covered with sand and straw to allow the horses to cross safely. I have vivid childhood memories of visiting Liverpool to attend the Grand National.

Matthew appears in the 1911 census, shown as a Schoolmaster Assistant in a Secondary School.

Matthew James’s Family

Matthew James married Florence Meginn at the Church of the English Martyrs, Wallasey, Cheshire on 7 January 1915. His occupation is listed on the marriage certificate as a ‘Secondary School Master’. Florence was the daughter of Frederick Edward Meginn, a house and church painter, who was also an artist of some repute. I have a couple of his paintings. It was a controversial marriage in the Tickle household. Although, historically, many Tickles were Roman Catholic, Matthew had been brought up as Protestant by his mother, who was from Northern Ireland. Florence Meginn was Catholic. I understand only Matthew’s youngest brother, Albert, attended the wedding, although the family were eventually reconciled to the couple.

Matthew and Florence had three children. The oldest was Richard Carton, my father. His mother was inspired to give him his unusual middle name, Carton, by the character Sidney Carton in ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. (My father certainly enjoyed a drink as much as Sidney Carton …) He was born on 6 September, 1916 in Wallasey. His brother, Frederick Bernard “Barney” Tickle, followed in December 1918, and Maureen in September 1922. On my father’s birth certificate, Matthew James’s occupation is ‘Science Master (Secondary School)’. I believe that he was working at St Francis Xavier College at this point.

St Francis Xavier College and the Burnham Scale Protest

One of the few details I know of my grandfather’s career is a story told by my father. This took place In 1922, when Matthew James was a science teacher at St Francis Xavier”s College. SFX, as it was known, was (and still is) a prestigious Catholic secondary school. At that time it was run by Jesuits, and was a stone’s throw from the former family home in Cazneau Street. When the school was opened in 1842, it became the first Catholic secondary day school in the country. The school catered for the increasing Catholic population of the city, most of whom had come from Ireland. Most Arts subjects were taught by the Brothers, but Physics and Chemistry, along with other ‘technical’ subjects, were the province of the laity. These lay teachers were well qualified but poorly paid.

There were no standard rates of pay for teachers at this time; it was up to the individual employer. The Burnham Commission was established in 1919 to set the levels of teachers’ pay in England and Wales. In a series of reports over the next years they set pay scales for different grades of teacher, which became known as the Burnham Scale. These pay levels were much higher than those paid by the Brothers; they were also due to be paid retrospectively. However, the Brothers decided that no retrospective payments were to be made. The youngest members of lay staff at the school objected to this and drafted a letter of protest. They approached Matthew James, who was the most senior lay teacher at the time, and asked him if he would sign it first to add weight to their protest. Although he had no part in writing the letter, he sympathised with the sentiments expressed, and signed.

This infuriated the Brothers, who decided to make an example of him and ordered him to resign. Although a mild-mannered man, Matthew James stood his ground and refused, saying he had a wife, two young sons, and a third child on the way. The Brothers then dismissed him from his post, citing as a reason the fact that he was not a Catholic, although his wife and children were. This must have caused major financial problems and some despair in the family, and the incident stuck in my father’s mind all his life.

As often happens, one door closing eventually led to another opening. At some point, he accepted a position teaching in the Liverpool Nautical College, or the ‘Tech’ as it was known locally.

Liverpool Nautical College

The Nautical College was established in 1892, with the aim of offering Deck Officers and Marine Engineers ‘the means of obtaining a thoroughly complete and scientific training in all the subjects embraced in a liberal technical education‘.

Initially, not everyone was in favour of shore-based teaching for ships’ officers, with several older captains complaining that the skills and knowledge required could only be gained at sea. Eventually, they began to see the advantages of having a solid basis of mathematics and science upon which to build.

I am unsure what date Matthew James began work at the Nautical College, but I know he rose to become its Head in 1936. It’s possible he had taught there for 14 years prior to this. In his new position, he soon earned the nickname of ‘Tickle of the Tech’.

The White House

At some point, Matthew and his family moved to the White House, Barnston Road, in the Wirral, Cheshire, a large detached house with a graden. This was a big step up from their previous housing in a working class ‘housing estate’.

Sadly, Florence Tickle died of breast cancer at 50 years old in 1936, the same year that her husband became Head of the Nautical College.. Matthew James continued living in the White House until he retired, with a housekeeper to look after him. He then moved in with his daughter, Maureen, and her husband, who were both doctors.


His career as Head of the Nautical College lasted until 1944. The image at the top of this post is from the Liverpool Echo of 25 May 1944, marking his retirement.

My father worked abroad and then lived in the south of England, so I did not see much of my grandfather, apart from rare visits north. I remember him as a quiet, gentle man. I clearly recollect sitting on his lap when I was around 7 or 8 years old. He entertained me by showing me how to draw x-y graphs! Possibly unconventional entertainment for a child of that age, but I have been fascinated by graphs and functions ever since.

Matthew James Tickle passed away on 21 December 1964. He had 14 grand-children and several great grand-children. I hope they find this account interesting and, if they can add anything to the story, that they will get in touch with me.

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