MARSH, Irene Mabel [1875 - 1938]

The name I.M.Marsh is fairly well known in the city, the college campus bearing the name having been a feature of Aigburth for many years. Few, however, probably know much about the pioneering woman who was behind its establishment.

Irene Mabel Marsh was born on 3rd December 1875, at 13 Grey Road, Walton L4, the second daughter and third of ten children of sack merchant Peter Walter Marsh and his wife Anne Caroline (née Fowler). Her father was a strong churchman and served as a town councillor. The family later moved to27 Orrell Lane L9 and then to Waterloo.

She was educated privately by a governess and was an outstanding athlete, tennis player and fencer and a very accomplished and strong swimmer. In 1893 she entered the Southport Physical Training College and Gymnasium and her first teaching post was a Freshfield School. She became director of Bootle Gymnasium and then director of the YMCA gymnasium in Myrtle Street Liverpool, a post she held until her death. By careful saving she accumulated enough to rent a house in Bedford Street L7 and duly opened her own training establishment.

Founder in 1900 and first principal of the Liverpool Physical Training College she was determined to offer opportunities for girls to train as physical education teachers, a profession then in its infancy. Starting with small numbers of students (her first pupil was her sister Salome) the college gradually grew, taking on resident and visiting staff and by 1919 having 120 students in training. Her efforts received strong support from two eminent citizens, the Bishop, F J Chavasse, and the orthopaedic surgeon Robert Jones.

A major expansion of the college came about following Marsh’s purchase in 1920 of Barkhill House, a mansion standing in 18 acres of grounds in Aigburth. In 1920 she moved the junior part of the college to the new location. Marsh was anxious to ensure that the training had a thorough academic base and students attended technical colleges for lectures in hygiene and physiology and Liverpool University for anatomy demonstrations. She was determined that her students would be eligible to sit the examinations for the London University diploma in the theory and practice of physical education and her efforts came to fruition when in 1936 three third-year students were awarded the diploma.

Whilst a pioneer for women in her chosen field, the running of the college owed much to the Victorian family atmosphere of her childhood. When, in 1917, the college set out the desirable qualities for entrants they highlighted that “intending students should be gentlewomen, of good social position, refined, with ease and charm of manner, a nice appearance, good taste in dress, a pleasant speaking voice with no trace of accent, educated at a high class public or private school, with an attainment of senior Oxford or Cambridge examinations or equivalent.”

Irene Marsh died at Barkhill House on 3rd April 1948. In 1947 the college was renamed the I.M.Marsh College of Physical Education, the first state-maintained specialist college for women in the country. The college became part of Liverpool Polytechnic in 1981.

The first location for Irene Marsh’s college is generally given as 100 Bedford Street L7 (now demolished)  but her ‘abode’ in the 1911 and all the electoral registers until her death is given as 171 Bedford Street South L7.

13 Grey Road L4

The Marsh family home at the time of her birth in 1875

27 Orrell Lane L9

The Marsh family home in 1881, now the Monte Carlo fish and chip shop.

171 Bedford Street South L7, recorded as Marsh's 'abode' from c.1911 until 1938 (left)
Barkhill House, Barkhill Road L17 (right)


There is a comprehensive entry for Marsh in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The Wikipedia entry gives basic information.