Michelle Girvan 

Postgraduate Research Student


Thesis Title

Charity, Piety and Commerce: The Liverpool Blue Coat School and Pragmatic Politeness, 1708–1796."


BA (Hons) History, MRes Modern History: Liverpool John Moores University; PGCE in Secondary History: Liverpool Hope University.   

Research Interests

Today, Bluecoat exists as a flourishing centre for contemporary arts, yet was originally constructed as a charity school for destitute and orphaned children during a period of vast physical expansion within the eighteenth-century town of Liverpool. As one of very few surviving infrastructures dating to Liverpool’s early commercial expansion, Bluecoat consequently offers a rare reflection of the Georgian town’s growing self-confidence, civic-mindedness and humanitarian impulse. 

My thesis seeks to examine the architectural symbolism, meaning and significance inherent within the eighteenth-century Blue Coat building, and the people, spaces and experiences which shaped the school’s early history. Through its socio-cultural examination of Liverpool’s Georgian environment, my research aims to analyse the institution’s interactions with a burgeoning urban landscape, an elite mercantile clique, an expanding sociable arena and flourishing international trade. It will shed new light on the collective consciousness of Blue Coat’s hegemonic trustees, whilst also the multi-faceted purposes for individual exchanges with a fledgling institution. It also importantly aims to recover traces of Blue Coat’s marginalised female patrons and childhood experiences. 

This project will facilitate interdisciplinary methodological and theoretical approaches, as well as a plethora of primary sources. It will specifically focus on papers left by the institution, the Church and the Corporation, to recover a complex network of charity, piety, commerce and pragmatic politeness, acting through a Blue Coat Charity School.  

This thesis is a collaboration between the University of Liverpool and Bluecoat: Liverpool’s Centre for the Contemporary Arts.  

My primary research interests include: socio-cultural history in the long eighteenth centuryparticularly in connection to mercantile communities; space, place and environmentthe recovery of marginalised histories; and digital humanities. 

Research Funding

Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) – North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership (NWCDTP)