Most Notorious Pirates… and Highwaymen

I thought it would be worth posting at least a short review of this pair of books which came out in late 2020 from the British Library. I was sent review copies of both books by the Library, for which I’m very grateful, but this review remains unbiased, and contains all my own opinions!

There are two books from this new series of reprints:

  • A General History of the Lives, Murders and Adventures of the Most Notorious Pirates
  • A General History of the Lives, Murders and Adventures of the Most Notorious Highwaymen

They were originally published in 1724 and 1734 respectively, and these new editions (hardbacks) present them in gorgeous new packaging. The design is modern, but with a heavy nod towards designs of the times. The front covers both make use of one of the c.25 engravings within, and the books look great standing next to each other on the shelf.

Inside, the text has been re-set, so although they preserve the (sometimes tricky) language and spelling of the originals, they don’t suffer the readibility problems of similar books that reproduce the text, almost photographically, as it originally appeared. These are enjoyable books to read.

However, that’s just appearances really, and I can be a book snob! When the publisher approached me, they must have had an inkling that my dear readers would have some interest in the topics. But does that stack up in reality?

Most notorious lives

These two volumes are not just interesting for their content, but also their context. They are early examples of journalistic writing in a longer form. They don’t shy away from highlighting the less respectable aspects to the lives in question, and you could certainly imagine these entries appearing as obits in the modern tabloids! These books were designed to sell by the cartload, and the tone is designed to draw the reader in. Indeed, most of the lives do end with the death of the subject, more often than not on the gallows. The apparent author, Captain Charles Johnson, is probably a pseudonym, and has been believed to be Daniel Defoe (of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders fame)

The books were originally published at the height of interest in their subjects, and it feels like the right time to re-release them.

The introductions to the books, by Sam Willis (him off t’telly) explain all this, and help to place the books in their time. For that, we’re warned to take the bios as entertainment rather than encyclopedic, but as every good historian knows, examining how a source writes about its topic is as instructive as any authorititative take!

Pirates and Highwaymen

Having warned you about the source of the stories, it’s got to be said that the author pulls no punches. Blackbeard (Edward Teach) comes to life as an extremely unpleasant and cruel man. We get details of rivalries and a variety of backgrounds (Stede was supposedly a bored nobleman). And we hear everything up to and including the almost inevitably trial and execution. This, if nothing else, reminds us that Pirates and Highwaymen were, with a few exceptions, criminals.

One unexpected aspect is that the lives of two female pirates are recounted. The original author is upfront about including these women because they were unusual, and their lives are as colourful as their male counterparts.

Liverpool, high seas and highways

I might not have picked up these books if they hadn’t been flagged up to me. As I’ve said, they’re beautiful objects and I am enjoying working my way through them. They’re like small encyclopedias: each chapter is a separate life story. This isn’t to everyone’s taste, and doesn’t offer a rounded view of ‘piracy in the 18th century’ or anything like that. However, judging it as a book which has come down to us from 300 years ago it’s a definite thing of interest.

There are no direct links to Liverpool history as such, but of course …Pirates gives a glimpse of maritime life at a time when Liverpool was just beginning to come into its own as a trading port. If you want a fun pair of volumes that will while away many a dark evening, or if you’re a fan of swashbucking adventure tales told in an engaging fashion, then these are books you’ll enjoy. For those who need a Liverpool history angle on their reading, Pirates might be a good place to get the wider picture.

Buy the books

Both these books are published by the British Library (£20), and so are available to buy directly from them.

Alternatively, to help your local bookshop, you can buy them both from Hive (£14.95 at time of writing). (Buying from Hive also sends a few pennies to help keep Historic Liverpool online.)

A General History of the Lives, Murders and Adventures of the Most Notorious Pirates British Library | Hive

A General History of the Lives, Murders and Adventures of the Most Notorious Highwaymen British Library | Hive

Courts and Alleys by Elizabeth J. Stewart

This book is part of the output of the ‘Galkoff’s and the secret life of Pembroke Place’ project. (See my article on a talk by Liz Stewart, this book’s author). It doesn’t cover the court houses archaeological excavations which took place as part of the project, which will come in a later publication.

Court houses and the Victorian city

Court houses were a feature of the very dense residential areas of Victorian cities. They consisted of a set of houses facing onto a courtyard (hence the name), which was accessed at one end through a narrow alley or archway.

They remain notorious for the number of people who were housed in them – sometimes multiple families to a room – and the poor quality of their construction. For many people today, court houses typify the class divisions of Victorian society, but they were also a hot topic for contemporary commentators. Hugh Shimmin, of the satirical Porcupine magazine, was perhaps the most prominent but, as this book shows, plenty of people had much to say on the problems for the people living in them.

History of court houses

Courts and Alleys charts the whole history, from the earliest appearance to the remnants on Pembroke Place. It’s fully referenced, but the tone is very readable and not too academic.

The number of references makes this a useful reference book for research, and I’ve bought at least one book on the back of reading about it here. The long bibliography is a great jumping off point if you want to, for example, research your family history locations more closely.

Photo showing the illustrations in Courts and Alleys
Courts and Alleys is a wonderfully illustrated book

It’s great strength is the level of illustration. It’s a colourful book in any case, but there are dozens of photographs and maps that let you get to the heart of the issue. There are some classics which you might have seen before, but plenty you won’t have, both inside and outside shots, some of which are truly shocking, especially when you take into account their recency. Many are from the Liverpool Record Office, accompanied by quotes from their oral history collection.

There are also potted biographies of the people who played important roles in the history of court housing, such as George Buchanan who went some way to dispelling the myths about Irish laziness and immoral living as root causes of the problems in courts.

Photo of potted biography of Geroge Buchanan, from Courts and Alleys
The book contains biographies of important personalities

Improving living conditions

One of the many fascinating extra snippets of information that the book provides is that some of the courts were built by converting old large houses. Their entrance halls became the archway through which many courts (not just the converted ones) were entered.

The history of courts melds into the introduction to better public services like sewerage, gas lighting and running water. Courts, of course, often provided only one or two standpipes to two dozen people, and were dimly lit.

The night soil men (those who collected and cleared the latrines) were only contracted to wash courts and passages if their was a water hydrant within 30 yards.

But the earliest attempt to keep the town clean came as early as 1748, attesting to the tardiness of attempts to provide decent accommodation to court residents. The list of 19th century Acts which tried to improve housing is 65 years long!

Opposition came from landlords, who benefitted from cheap building costs, the House of Lords had no remit to raise taxes to pay for improvements, and fretting over the perception of government interference resulted in watered-down measures.

Even the sainted Dr. Duncan comes across as critical of the people in courts, edging on xenophobia (against the Irish again) or snobbishness towards the working class.

Here, there and (nearly) everywhere

The book goes on to put Liverpool in the national context. Courts were mainly a feature of the north of England and the Midlands. Cellar dwelling, often seen as the lowest of the low, was a Liverpool ‘speciality’, though not much less common in London and Birmingham.

But the book ranges further, comparing not only the courts of different cities in Britain, but looking across the pond to Manhattan and other US examples.

Photo of Courts and Alleys showing a map of cholera mortality in Liverpool
The landscape of Liverpool was a crucial factor in shaping the lives of its residents

Liverpool’s landscape seems to be part of the issue: the river created a western barrier to development, while at he same time the docks attracted thousands of workers who needed to be housed within walking distance.

Victorian Commentary

I’ve mentioned the Victorian discussions which surrounded the scourge of court houses, and the fates of the people who lived in them. Stewart discusses this too, concluding that the residents were constrained to live in these awful conditions because they simply had no other options.

They couldn’t afford anything better, and there were few other house types – as Marx noted for Manchester – close enough to the mills were they worked.

Not all court houses were created equal. Build quality, standards of maintenance and the living conditions experienced by people living in them all varied. But even at the time the press tarred them all with the same brush: uniformly bad, and generally the fault of the residents.

There was a heavy anti-Irish slant to commentary back then too. Our modern ideas of court houses suffer the same generalising principles; more nuance is needed, and this book attempts to introduce that to us.

After the courts

Of course, things did eventually improve. The first council houses, St. Martin’s Cottages, were built in 1869. Other ‘enlightened’ settlements were built at Port Sunlight and Bournville.

The two Liverpool examples embodied the controversy over whether housing was a public or private concern, a local or a central one. The housing by-laws can be seen as a compromise, where government set the standards that private developers had to adhere to. Hence when we refer to ‘by-law houses’ we mean those which were built in accordance with these pieces of legislation.

Photo of Courts and Alleys showing illustration of Duke's Terrace
The history of houses is brought right up to date

What impresses about this book is that it covers the period right through to the post-war clearances of ‘slum’ houses, linking the issues of the courts with more recent worries about approaches to housing thousands of people in suitable places.

Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not just the Pembroke Place courts which survive from this class of small dwelling. There are still back-to-backs in Liverpool, as illustrated by a modern photo of Duke’s Terrace, off Duke Street. These houses have, as you might expect, been converted into modern dwellings, by knocking them through so the building has two ‘fronts’. If nothing else, this proves that not all these small houses were poorly constructed.

As this book demonstrates, it was the factors surrounding living conditions – the number of people in each house, the lack of amenities, and social attitudes to the working class – that shaped these places.

Buy the book

The book is available now for £7.99. There are two good places to get it from:

(Disclosure: if you buy via Hive, this website gets a small commission to help keep it running).

Ghost Town: A Liverpool Shadowplay, by Jeff Young

This book is a memoir, and many of those have been published over the years (and a couple reviewed on this very site). Like some of those other memoirs, it is a series of reminiscences on family and place. But it’s a slightly different beast to the other memoirs. It’s main selling point is that it comes from the pen of Jeff Young, a writer with TV and theatre credits to his name, such as the play Bright Phoenix.

The book has a dream-like quality, with reality, dream and (science) fiction becoming intertwined and difficult to separate. The young Jeff walks unharmed through gangs of older boys you’re sure are going to pounce. His solitariness, the muse for his writing, may be a shield.

Strangeness and time

The book isn’t chronological, as such, and neither are the wonderful photographs that separate each chapter. We see Jeff and a friend wandering Everton in recent years, a suburb which has largely disappeared since their boyhoods. Here they experience something of a timeslip. A revenant from a previous era floats through the scene and heads towards town. We’re following (maybe literally) De Quincy’s travels through the city, but through the eyes of a Scouser. These are geographic travels around town that summon old things, memories and people. This isn’t the last time slip; neither is it the last time Jeff will look up from his reverie and find the city emptier – cleared, demolished – than he remembers it.

View of Liverpool from Everton Park
Everton Park, where Jeff Young and companion meet a revenant

Dreams invade the narrative, and shape it. Russian tanks are rolling into Prague. Or are they only doing this in dream? Remembrances of coinciding events prove false – the moments occured years apart, but are forever significantly linked somehow in Young’s mind. He distinctly remembers seeing Daleks: Invasion Earth (1966) at the Grosvenor cinema… which closed in 1963. A dramatic incident on matchday years before, involving a police horse, is burned indelibly on his mind… except he wasn’t there; he’s absorbed a tale his mother must have told to a neighbour. The important thing to state is that he knows all this, and it’s part of the story.

Science Fiction writer China Mieville gets two mentions, with one for his City and the City. Young doesn’t mention the fact that the TV version was filmed in Liverpool, but at least for me this is a story through which reality and fiction become blurred.

Landscape and memory

At some point in Young’s life the family move (are moved?) from the inner city to Maghull, and there’s a whole new landscape to explore. The boy takes to it naturally, and the terraces of yore are replaced with fields, jiggers with ditches and the canal.

Photo of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal
The Leeds-Liverpool Canal, where Jeff Young spent part of his childhood

If his TV work (including EastEnders and Doctors) brings creativity to coverage of the ‘everyday’, then this talent is brought to bear when recalling memories of the 1950s and 60s in Liverpool and then Maghull. I was reminded by the tone of the thing of Ronnie Hughes of A Sense of Place, especially of Ronnie’s own ‘checking up’ on his home town. The tone conjours feelings of nostalgia and warmth towards its subject, without the cloying ‘we-wuz-happy’ of many memoirs.

As he grows up, he haunts new landscapes, like Mathew Street and its various popular and mythical inhabitants. Liverpool in the 1970s experienced a creative boom, giving life to Eric’s and Ken Campbell’s Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun. The landscape is often of dreams and whimsy – important whimsy – populated by Ken Campbell, Bill Drummond and more. It’s a timely reminder that Liverpool’s culture didn’t die with Merseybeat.

Historic Architecture

The thing that surprised me is just how closely Jeff Young’s life and work has intertwined with the historic Liverpool landscape. In Bright Phoenix kids break into the old abandoned Futurist cinema, breathing new, if temporary life into something that meant a lot to them and their parents. Young has an ‘architectural hero’ in the form of Peter Ellis. His mum sneaks into Oriel Chambers with him (or rather he sneaks in with her), and he has moments trying to understand its strange (and, at it’s opening, unappreciated) beauty.

There’s an example of his insight into architecture and change when it comes to Rowse’s tunnel ventilation building. He notes it looks more futuristic, with its streamlined statue of ‘Speed, the Modern Mercury’ than anything that came after, like the car parks, the (late) flyovers and the footpaths in the sky. And he’s got a good point. He rues the possibility that the Tipping Buckets fountain in Beetham Plaza might be relocated, replaced with a hotel for visitors at the very moment a reason to visit the plaza is removed.

Photo of George's Dock Building, Liverpool
Speed, the Modern Mercury, on George’s Dok Building

It turns out that Alfred Shennan, architect of many Liverpool cinemas (including the Grosvenor) was once his mum’s boss. As Young himself says, the map of Liverpool is in his blood – “This place is myself” (p133). It’s as much an admission as a realisation. So when a little of that landscape is destroyed, it saddens him. Referring to the replacement of the Futurist with a Lidl, he points out:

“No one will ever again say that last night they went down Lime Street, unless in a story about buying a bumper pack of toilet rolls.”

And this just about sums up how a playwright can articulate something about changing Liverpool better than most of us. (And maybe such stories will be all too common in 2020!)

The book

This is a book which recalls a childhood and adolescence that may not have happened quite this way. But that just means that it evokes the nature of memories so much the better. There’s an admission all the way through that any of the recollections could be subject to change.

True, there are people in desperate circumstances, like the market scenes where the items for sale are as in deepened straits as the customers. But this balance lends further realism, a way of witnessing dark times through the eyess of a young person who knows – expects – nothing more. A boy who wants nothing more than “whatever we have” to never end. Ignorance is bliss, even with 20:20 hindsight.

The book unexpectedly provides great insight into what it’s like to witness the changing of a city. Sometimes it’s gradual, changing with the viewer, and sometimes it’s sudden, as when he returns after an absence to an unrecognisable landscape. He’s expanding outside what we might expect of him, and he proves himelf up to the task, as we all are.

The book itself is a beautiful object, a perfect size for long reading sessions – and I nearly absorbed the whole lot in a couple of hours! It’s beautifully produced, let down only by the low resolution maps (I know!) on the inside covers. In some ways it’s similar in feel to Our Liverpool by J.P. Dudgeon, but more positive, perhaps more honest, but capturing more truth of life because of  it. It balances the hindsight of adulthood with the genuine memories of a child.

Many years ago, Young swore to leave Liverpool behind forever. But times, and people, change, and this cements his return.

Get the book

Book cover of Ghost TownDisclosure: I must give my thanks to Little Toller Books for sending me a copy of this book for review.

Ghost Town by Jeff Young was published in 2020 by Little Toller Books. You can get it from the Hive network of independent bookshops (affiliate link) or direct from Little Toller’s website.

Images

All photographs are released under Creative Commons licenses. Follow the links to find out more details.

Views of the city from Everton Park by Radarsmum67, via Flickr.

Leeds & Liverpool Canal Towards the M58 Bridge by Ian S via Geograph.

Liverpool: detail of Queensway Tunnel building by Chris Downer via Geograph.

Book cover of Liverpool, by Hugh Hollinghurst

Liverpool: unique images from the archive of Historic England

Historic England are the government’s adviser on the historic environment, so they have a duty to encourage the enjoyment of England’s history. Part of this remit is to manage the Historic England Archive, from which a new series of books takes its content. The volume I review here is, you’ll be shocked to learn, Liverpool.

The Historic England Archive holds over 12 million photographs, documents, plans and drawings covering the whole country. They run a public service where you can contact them to find out what they have, and get copies made for you.

But you don’t need to do that right now, as Hugh Hollinghurst has put together a neat little collection published by Amberley.

Old photographs of Liverpool

There are literally a billion books containing archive photographs of Liverpool. I’ve reviewed some of the best (and some of the worst) on here. I judge the books by their cover, and also by their content, and most importantly by the captions on the images.

Many books are content to give you about 15 words on the old photo, giving very little context or detail, and often getting things wrong. It’s not that this book is entirely error free (there’s one big blooper in there) but the length of the captions and the lack of nostalgic rose-tinted spectacles mean they’re not an issue.

Photograph of St George's Hall, Liverpool, from the historic England Archive
A ‘salted paper print’ of St George’s Hall, thought to date from 1854. This might be the oldest photographic image of Liverpool

The book is 95 pages long and has photos and also paintings from a wide gamut of Liverpool’s history. The earliest photograph is possibly the earliest photograph of Liverpool – St. George’s Hall, in 1855. (What we would recognise as photography had barely been around for a decade and a half by this point).

The book includes brand new photography, as well as images from the 1980s and 90s to give context. (And because, it pains me to say, those are now decades themselves part of history…)

Landscape history in archive photographs

It’s no secret that old photographs are a great reminder of the layout of the former city. It’s fascinating to see places like the Pier Head without its Three Graces. George’s Dock was divided into three and filled in around the turn of the 20th century, and Liverpool’s three gems erected over the next two decades.

The photos are in batches, so we see a couple charting the development of the Pier Head from the 1990s to today. We also see the Goree Piazzas from different angles, revealing the changing waterfront. There are explicit links between the captions, so this is much more than a scattershot ‘photo album’ approach.

There’s a fascinating panorama in the new book which shows a golden skyline, almost completely uniform in height. The only things that venture above the general roofline are the Customs House and St. Nicholas’s church. The age of the photograph and this uniformity lend it the appearance of Venice.

Photograph of Liverpool waterfront from 1887, from the Historic England Archive
The SS America anchored on the Mersey with the Liverpool skyline beyond

It’s a post-Blitz image which opens the book, and the first section, ‘Docks’. An aerial image, the most surprising thing about it is the neatness of it. It’s much like you’d expect a post-nuclear city to look. No life, no rubble, just clean squares where buildings once stood and the Customs House’s foundations like an I-beam embedded in the Earth.

Changing Liverpool landscape

Both the Customs House and the Sailor’s Home are some of Liverpool’s most famous and regretted losses. Hollinghurst talks about these demolitions with admirable neutrality. The Customs House had been identified as a difficult building to use or re-use as early as 1910, and the ‘prison-like’ interior of the Sailor’s Home condemned it once it required telegraph poles to shore up its frontage (see page 8 for that striking image). No doubt counter-arguments can and will continue to be made, but its interesting to hear the evidence.

Historic England’s Aerofilms archive has a wealth of aerial shots of the docks, and a couple are in this book. Here we’re treated to some of the less well-known docks, like Bramley Moore and Huskisson in the north. We see handsome liners and hefty cargo ships coming and going. We’d do well to remember that it isn’t just the Albert Dock that Liverpool’s wealth rested on.

Historic details

As well as the wide shots of historic landscapes, Liverpool includes interiors and details. There are high quality shots of windows in the Port of Liverpool Building, and carvings on the Cunard Building. Photos show lavish Edwardian interiors of the Cunard and White Star Buildings, including an office in the latter, beautifully neat with gorgeous brass lamps and elaborate ceiling mouldings.

Archive photograph of view over Liverpool from Adelphi Hotel
Looking out from the fifth floor of the second Adelphi Hotel, towards Birkenhead

A favourite of mine was the view out of the fifth floor of the second Adelphi Hotel. It looks south west down Ranelagh Street and you can make out Central Station. There’s the faint outline of the Customs House (that place again!) and, according to the caption, Birkenhead. (Perhaps that’s easier to see on the full size negative.)

Which of the great and good of previous centuries might have looked out on this vista, waiting for their ship to come in?

Trams and railways in old Liverpool

As well as buildings and docks, the old photos take in stations and rails. The Overhead Railway features on an impressive aerial shot, snaking like a giant Scalextric past Herculaneum and the other northern docks.

Other photos show ground-based scenes. There’s a busy intersection on the Strand in one. Little more than the stanchions which held the rails up remaining in another. (This allows Hollinghurst to date that particular image to 1957).

History of Liverpool in eight chapters

Hollinghurst divides the book into eight chapters (amongst them Transport, Docks, Leisure and Homes), but it’s clear to see the connections between them. Even the Homes chapter includes archive images of Goodison Park and the industrial landscape of Aintree (with its Hartley’s Village).

The book brilliantly captures the intertwining elements of Liverpool’s history. The amount of information in the captions makes them almost more than mere captions. Some of the photos are rarities or otherwise unusual.

As someone who has seen hundreds of old images of the city over the years it’s getting harder to find something new. I think the depths of the Historic England Archive have yet to be fully plumbed! My only real gripe is that it’s not easy to cross-reference this book with the archive itself. The images from Historic England are labelled as such, but the reference numbers are not here. You’ll have to do an intelligent search on the Historic England Archive website to find them.

Get the book

Book cover of Liverpool, by Hugh HollinghurstLiverpool: unique images from the archives of Historic England is written by Hugh Hollinghurst with Historic England. It was published in 2018 by Amberley Press.

You can get it from Amazon UK (affiliate link) or direct from Amberley’s website.

Two disclaimers: I used to work for the Historic England Archive (when it was the National Monuments Record, part of the then English Heritage), and also I was honoured to see my own book, Liverpool: a landscape history recommended in its opening pages, next to my favourite Liverpool volumes. Still, I think this book is worth checking out, even if you think you’ve see every old photograph of Liverpool.

Cover of Beatles Landmarks book

The Beatles’ Landmarks in Liverpool, by Daniel K. Longman

A lot of local history revolves around nostalgia: people’s memories of 50 years ago are filled with family, friends, making-do and getting by, as well as reconnecting with old communities on new digital forums (including this one!). Being a mere whippersnapper, I’m not often caught up in this, with a couple of exceptions. I grew up beneath blue suburban skies, and my school bus terminated at Penny Lane.

More than any other band, the Beatles are tied to their landscape. In fact, David Lewis’s book The Beatles – Liverpool Landscapes saw the landscape from a personal viewpoint, through Beatles stories, and the Magical Mystery Tour probably couldn’t do the same thing in the Kinks’ London nor in Elvis’s Tupelo, Mississippi.

Dan Longman’s latest book does something slightly different to Lewis’s, in that he takes individual sites on Merseyside and views their history through a Beatles lens. In some examples, this brings a little context to the Beatles’ own history and origins, while at other times the sites in question are largely insignificant except for the part their played in the greatest pop story ever told.

Like many of these slim volumes by the History Press and Amberley Publishing, there are then-and-now photos of the key locations, the modern versions taken from as near as possible to the historical image.

However, in this book there is much more historical detail in the text itself, with article length descriptions of people, places, and their interaction. To me, this is a welcome feature, as photo-heavy books rarely produce something you’ve not seen before.

In Beatles Landmarks the photographer of the modern images is Bob Edwards, well known to anyone who keeps tabs on the various Liverpool history Facebook pages and Bob’s own Liverpool Picturebook. The Picturebook is one of the best resources for old photos of the city, but Bob is also an excellent photographer in his own right, and his skills raise the photography in this book well above the rest.

Another player drafted in to help is Bill Harry (archived website). Harry introduced John Lennon to Stuart Sutcliffe, played in bands with Lennon, and, more famously, founded and edited the newspaper Merseybeat with his partner Virginia. His foreword gives a quick overview of his career and his links with the Beatles, and although it doesn’t seem to have much to do with Beatles places, it helps put the later historical chapters into some wider context.

Beatles images

After the foreword we’re straight into the images, which open with the iconic Pier Head and the Three Graces. This first entry is more of a scene-setting one, telling us how Liverpool grew from a tiny village into a world powerhouse, and a place where cultures mixed and clashed and gave birth to a group who incorporated everything from American rock ‘n’ roll and northern skiffle into their acts.

From here on in the images are roughly chronological, so the Pier Head takes in the emerging 1960s in Liverpool, and then we’re shown four childhood homes, as well as Woolton Church, the Casbah, and the NEMs offices, as they appeared on Whitechapel. In between these are probably lesser known sites (and all the more informative for that) such as Stanley Street, where John was bought his first guitar, Litherland Town Hall, venue of an early and key post-Hamburg gig, and Hulme Hall, Port Sunlight, where Ringo first played live with his new band-mates.

Finally, we get to Penny Lane and Strawberry Field, two world-famous spots and typical of the ‘ordinary’ landscapes the boys inhabited before they became a band.

My favourite entries are those, like Stanley Street and the Majestic Ballroom in Birkenhead, where Daniel explores the normal landscape of the city, escaping from those hotspots like Mathew Street and Penny Lane that we know so much about. Dan’s experience as a historian (and a tour guide to boot) as well as a journalist with the Echo shows through in his details of the builders of Menlove Avenue, and similar levels of detail of buildings and gig venues from Liverpool to the Wirral. Some of the older photos in here have come from the Mirrorpix archive too, which Dan must have delved deep into to recreate the then-and-now pairs.

One detail which struck me was the fact that quiet and leafy West Derby, where I grew up, was some sort of rock hotbed in the 1960s! I knew of the Casbah, and went to a birthday party there many years ago, but Lowlands, now home to the West Derby Society amongst other things, was apparently a rival venue!

I also learned that the Eleanor Rigby statue in Stanley Street has had calls for it to be moved somewhere more central. But it’s a monument dedicated to all the lonely people, so…

I won’t reveal too many more nuggets of information that you’ll get from this book, but suffice to say the length of the chapters is just long enough to create those ‘one more before bed’ feelings, and I got through the book in a couple of decent sittings. It’s great to see a photo-centric book where the history text is fleshed out well enough to get your teeth into. A lot of the new books I read content themselves with a caption and no more. This is much more of a proper history book.

Beatles landscapes

What with the inclusion of the Beatles Story at the Albert Dock, and the publicly accessible nature of the places mentioned in the book (plus the map at the front), I could see it being useful for tourists visiting the city. Anyone else who’s interested in seeing how Liverpool made the Beatles will also find this a great read, but you needn’t be a massive Beatles fan to get a lot out of it.

There’s little to complain about, except perhaps the multiple times the Beatles are referred to as a ‘boy band’. OK, so Lennon’s wedding to Cynthia was kept secret for commercial reasons, the lads’ looks and clothes were heavily managed as part of the marketing, and … well, fine, there are similarities. But I’d expect plenty to scoff at that kind of label for such a pioneering group!

Also, there’s one photo which is much later than the caption mentions (‘1960s’) because there’s a D reg Mini in, but that’s a tiny typo in a book which has few, if any, others.

Buy this book if you want to discover how a place like Liverpool can extend its influence across the globe through the culture of the people. It’s not a comprehensive view of Liverpool, nor Beatles, history, but it’s a fascinating way of looking at the intersection of both.

Buy the book: The Beatles’ Landmarks in Liverpool, by Daniel K. Longman (Amazon UK)

If you liked this, take a look at some of Dan’s other books:

Photograph of the cover of 50 Finds from Manchester and Merseyside

50 Finds From Manchester and Merseyside: Objects from the Portable Antiquities Scheme

Modern administrative areas have little meaning when we go back even a short time. But they can make all the difference when it comes to modern heritage work. So that’s why we have this book on finds from Manchester and Merseyside, which span the ages, and covers objects discovered through the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS).

The PAS was begun in 1997 to deal with the thorny issue of random finds discovered by metal detectorists, ramblers and anyone else stumbling across historic artefacts outside of a formal archaeological investigation.

Until then, the law surrounding what happened to buried artefacts depended on what they were made of. Things deemed ‘treasure’ were generally those which were judged to have been buried with the intention of the owner coming back for them, and this was generally taken to mean coins and precious metal.

So, for example, the famous Sutton Hoo ship was not treasure, because no one intended to recover it, and it was largely wood and iron. However, there’s no doubt that any chance finds from that feature would have been immensely important to archaeologists!

So today, if you find something of historical interest, you can report it to your local PAS officer who will record it and add it to the database. Merseyside’s officer (as well as being the officer for Cheshire and Greater Manchester) is Vanessa Oakden, who’s based at the Museum of Liverpool, and it’s a new book of her’s I’m looking at here.

50 finds from Manchester and Merseyside

This book is just one in a series covering all the counties where the PAS operates, all published by Amberley Press. It takes some of the best finds from the two counties to display the good work of the Scheme.

The book’s not only here to show off the best finds, however, but also to remind readers of the importance of reporting chance finds, and of making a note of where exactly something was found. This is of particular importance if the find is a piece of flint, as often the exact distribution of a scatter of flint debris is what gives archaeologists the important clues.

And what better way to have another round of rivalry with our Manchester neighbours than to compare impressive finds? 😉 (Turns out there are more prehistoric finds, and better ones, from Merseyside!)

The book is a heavily illustrated volume containing colour photos of all the finds mentioned, from different angles, including similar finds from elsewhere which give a bit of context. The impressive thing is that Vanessa shows a wide ranging knowledge, which must be a requirement for the job, at least to some extent. That must be the best thing about the role – coming into contact with different eras of human history each day!

Where does the landscape interest come in? Well, with a county-wide remit, the distribution maps in this book show that it’s not just the individual finds which bring through the knowledge, but how they’re ranged across the land. A national map of terrets (a type of harness fitting) show that they’re particularly common in the north east of England, and therefore all the more interesting when they turn up in south Lancashire.

The challenge for Liverpool and Manchester, however, is that the built-up areas will have destroyed a lot of early archaeology in the digging of cellars and foundations. The most fruitful areas for finds are rural (that’s where the metal detectors go, as well) but it should be remembered that the absence of a certain find type from the urban part of Liverpool doesn’t mean it wasn’t there once. It’s complicated, this stuff!

I don’t have many problems with the book. It’s a good overview of highlights from the PAS in this region, and is a fantastic advert for the scheme (along with the other books in the series). Hopefully it will encourage someone to bring in finds they might otherwise have kept to themselves.

If I had to say anything against it, it might be that the maps could have been a little more consistent. They came from different sources, but could easily have been standardised to help comparisons. There were also a couple of terms I didn’t understand, such as ‘rowells’, mentioned in an entry on a find of broken spurs from Bebington (they’re the spiky wheels on the heel of the spur).

Still, that doesn’t take away much from what is a handy archaeological overview of the counties covered, and finds-centred books are rare on the popular bookshelf.

You can buy 50 Finds from Manchester and Merseyside from Amazon UK

Related book: 50 Objects from Lancashire

If you’ve got a book that you’d like me to review, please get in touch via the Contact page.

Candles, Carts & Carbolic: A Liverpool childhood between the wars

Is this the best Liverpool memoir? It’s certainly different to all the rest.

There are plenty of memoirs and autobiographies written by people who lived through some of Liverpool’s darkest days (or, at least, they lived in Liverpool’s darkest areas – not many memoirs by the Victorian gentry). Some are semi-fictionalised, like Her Benny, and Helen Forrester’s Twopence to Cross the Mersey, while others form the basis of photo books, like Scotland Road: the old neighbourhood, by Terry Cooke. Still more are dotted around the Web, shared on Facebook and passed around. Continue reading

Belated, retrospective book review: Culture of Capital by Nicky Allt

In this post I’m going to take a look at a book which was published eight years ago, but which I only got a copy of over Christmas 2013. And it’s taken me another 12 months to get around to reading it! Despite (or because of) it’s age, it makes an interesting read. Continue reading

Photo of Liverpool Central Station

Liverpool in the 1950s

The 1950s were a turning point in the history of Liverpool’s urban fabric. In fact, it marked a point in time just before some of the most wide-ranging changes the city had ever seen. A new book by Robert F. Edwards casts light on this era through a selection of photos under the banner Liverpool in the 1950s. Continue reading

Liverpool: A landscape history (or Historic Liverpool: the book)

I can’t deny it – I’ve waited a long time to be able to say this: I have written a book, and someone has agreed to publish it.

At the time of writing, Liverpool: A landscape history is due in shops imminently, although I’ve not had confirmation of the exact date yet. There’s only 1000 to be printed, so get yours as soon as you can! Continue reading

Maps of Landscapes

I recently visited that there London, popping into the London Review Bookshop (a bricks-and-mortar relative of the London Review of Books – definitely pop in if you’re in the area!), where I stumbled across Maps, the first in an annual series of compilations by Five Leaves Press. It’s one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in ages, and I had to share it here. Continue reading

Covers of the books Ghost Signs of Liverpool and Along the Mersey

Liverpool Ghost Signs and Along the Mersey

I’ve got another two books for you today. This time they are Liverpool Ghost Signs by Caroline and Phil Bunford, and Along the Mersey by Jan Dobrzynski. The first pair of names are familiar through their presence on Twitter and with the Liverpool Ghost Signs Project, whereas Dobrzynski is a new name to me. A quick look at Amazon shows Jan has written a lot of books like this, from all over the country (Severn, Conwy, Cotwolds…). They’re two very ‘landscapey’ books, but let’s see how the two volumes fare against each other… Continue reading

The Liverpool Book of Days by Steven Horton

This is a simple book with a simple premise: 365 historical stories of Liverpool, attached to their dates. The whole thing is presented in an attractive hardback, and is just the thing for flicking through when you’re waiting for the kettle to boil. The format and title almost give it the look of a compact Bible, though it clearly aims to conjure up the Chambers’ Book of Days, which had a very similar, if wider ranging, remit.

Continue reading

Not a Guide to Liverpool & Merseyside War Years by Daniel K. Longman

There are two new books out by journalist and historian Daniel K. Longman. Both are short books, and part of larger series, but take two different views of the city of Liverpool. They both cover history, but are they both for you? Continue reading

Little Book of Liverpool, and Bloody British History: Liverpool

The two books here, both published by the History Press, have been written by authors with previous well-known Liverpool books under their belts. Alexander Tulloch wrote the general history The Story of Liverpool, while Ken Pye is best known for his coffee-table book Discover Liverpool. Continue reading

Our Liverpool, by J.P. Dudgeon

Cover of the book Our Liverpool, by J.P. Dudgeon

Our Liverpool (subtitled Memories of Life in Disappearing Britain) is part of the Disappearing Britain series from Headline Publishing, and the third oral history volume from author J.P. Dudgeon, whose previous include Our Glasgow and Our East End.

When I first picked up this book I wondered how an outsider would portray the city, and how they’d get into the community. I also wondered whether it would have much to say about the landscape of Liverpool, as that’s what this website is all about. I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised. Although it takes some time to settle down, Dudgeon pulls together interviews new and old (as well as some written sources) to paint the landscapes of Liverpool in vivid strokes. This book has added a new layer to what I think of as the landscape of Liverpool.

Memories, Maps and personal histories

The main body of the book consists of interviews with local residents. Some were conducted by the author for this book while others were found in the archives of Liverpool Record Office. The book opens with a Beatles anecdote (perhaps inevitably) from a chap in a town centre pub. After that it takes in stories from dozens of other Scousers, including professional historians like Eric Lynch and Mike Royden. These experts give both historical detail as well as personal accounts, and add a variety and sheen that might otherwise be missing from an ordinary oral history.

The first thing that surprised me was just how far back this history goes. There’s a sketch map of Liverpool in the 13th Century, and discussion surrounds the older important places such as Toxteth and West Derby, as well as the Vikings and the Norman invasion. These early book chapters take the reader through to the end of the nineteenth century, the call of the sea (a recurrent theme) and the horrors of the slave trade.

Unfortunately, I found a couple of odd bits of history in these pages. This is George Lund’s take on the origins of the name Toxteth:

“The first settler was a Viking man called Tokey, and “teth” means “settlement”, or “landing place”. Well, they couldn’t call it Tokeyteth, so they substituted an “x” and called it Toxteth.”

I’m not sure who ‘they’ are, but their scientific approach to name creation seems a little out of place (perhaps I’ll let him off as this is a quote in an oral history after all!). Another odd one is the Toxteth riots, briefly introduced on p8:

“Toxteth, at its zenith, marked out Liverpool-born black people as being at the forefront of change on a world scale, a fact that so troubled the then recklessly conservative Establishment that they brought the whole scene to a violent close, triggering the infamous riots of 1981”

This summary of the causes of these riots seem to have lost something in the editing process. The origins of the riots are discussed in more detail later on, but finding this near the beginning of the book worried me as to the extent of Dudgeon’s historical knowledge.

The first few chapters suffer a bit from this over-keenness to buy into the spirit of the town, and the odd skipping around topics (Williamson’s Tunnels are tossed in just after slavery, perhaps just to maintain chronological order), but once the book gets going, it settles into a pacey, emotional, passionate and compelling story of the city told through the eyes of its inhabitants.

Liverpool through the ages

Our Liverpool is a people’s history of the city. While not consisting of landmarks (as such) or maps, what comes out is exactly what historians of pre-writing periods have been trying for years to achieve: a psychological landscape of the region.

What are the landmarks, boundaries and territories in people’s minds? These are of huge importance to local people (as the book successfully shows); they are shared and they help bind and separate communities. Where prehistorians are completely lacking in this type evidence, Our Liverpool ensures that we will never wonder what it felt like to live in Liverpool up to the 21st Century.

For me the book depicts ‘landscapes’ like Scottie Road, the Seamans’ Home, even the Pier Head and the sea herself as stages on which life takes place. The sea especially takes a starring role: it pulls young lads to the navy, it bounds the city on one side, it brings in people and steals them away and it is the lifeblood of trade.

The chapters covering the 1930s, 40s and 50s are coloured with some nostalgia. The 1940s especially seem to have been a golden age in Liverpool. Maybe this is because certain interviewees have particularly fond (childhood) memories of this time, or perhaps because this was just before communities were ripped apart and shipped to the four corners of Merseyside in the following decades. As you can see, location (landscape) is everything to society in tough times.

Chapter 11, ‘Sixties Transformation’, is the longest chapter, as the decade was perhaps the one which most shaped the people of Liverpool for years afterwards. Whereas earlier chapters show the importance of large areas, suddenly ‘territories’ are the clubs you go to, the pubs you drink in and the community centres you frequent. Race and religion become increasingly divisive (and inclusive) as area-based community solidarity was broken up by the Council wrecking ball.

This theme carries through to the end of the book. Scotland Road is turned into a sterile dual carriageway devoid of housing. People move away and where you live seems to become less important as family ties to an area are broken. It’s implied that this is a major contribution to the breakdown of society, and I for one wouldn’t argue against it being a factor.

It may be through rose-tinted spectacles, but people paint a picture of a lost time where violence was honest, short lived and bare-fisted, and no grudges were held. These days, it seems, knives, guns and drugs put a new edge on gangland rivalries which the community cannot absorb, as there is no community left.

By this point in the book Dudgeon seems to know his subjects much more closely. He becomes a passionate neo-Scouser giving voice to the people he found in Liverpool, a voice often lost or ignored. Perhaps his initial outsider status helped him gain the trust of the people he spoke to.

Conclusion

So is this a book for the local historian, or a nostalgia-fest for the armchair sociologist? I was a bit sceptical at the start, and was worried by the strange historical details in early chapters. But having read through the trials and tribulations of these Liverpudlians, and seen how the roads, streets and lanes of their city create the psychological landscapes which shape every aspect of their lives, it’s like a new layer has been added to the maps found in the archives. The territories walked by these people are just as real and clear cut as the boundaries on a ward map, as enabling and constricting a feature as was the Pool itself which lent life to the young town.

It’s a book which will be of interest to those who enjoyed the Lost Tribes of Everton, and is a document which will be of invaluable help to present and future historians wanting to know how people used the landscape, how they crossed it during their daily movements, and how it shaped the people they are.

New book on Liverpool’s buildings, and how cities make us

Looking up at the interior of the Roman Catholic Cathedral, Liverpool
Liverpool Metropolitan RC Cathedral, by Jonathan Gill via Flickr

A new book is released this month by Stephen Bayley, and published by RIBA.

Liverpool: Shaping the City is a large and colourful exploration of the city’s built history. It includes development, old and new and brings in photographs from the early 20th Century when some of Merseyside’s most iconic buildings were being constructed.

We learn in the Foreword by RIBA’s president Ruth Reed that Liverpool can lay claim to three world firsts in architecture: the first building to use skyscraper technology (Oriel Chambers in Water Street), the first wet dock (no prizes for guessing where) and the first hydraulic cargo-handling system.

Perhaps I’ll come back to a full review of this book once I’ve read it (it only arrived this morning!), but suffice to say it looks to include good coverage of how Liverpool has developed as a city, and how it does and will continue to change as the years progress.

Meanwhile, you can read a column in the Times by Stephen Bayley, How Liverpool returned from the dead which introduces some ideas from the book. His main point is that you can ‘design your way out of a depression’ by building cities which bring joy to people. From a personal point of view, I whole-heartedly agree (though my cynicism would reword it as ‘design yourself towards the end of a depression), which is why I – and others – get so animated when an ugly construction is plonked down in a beloved vista.

My favourite quote from the article, and one which almost single-handedly justifies this blog and my interests in Liverpool’s buildings, is “We make our environments and then our environments make us”. He suggests putting it on a T-shirt, and I just might.

Local History on the Ground and The English Semi-detached House

I’d like to review two books recently added to the NMR’s Library, which both have use for the local historian, and yet which are very different approaches to explaining their field. The first is Local History on the Ground by Tom Welsh (The History Press, 2009). I picked up this book hoping to recommend a good starting point for learning how to approach local history research. Instead, it’s a much more informative lesson on how not to approach the study of your local area.

Local History on the Ground, by Tom Welsh
Local History on the Ground, by Tom Welsh

Dr. Tom Welsh is a senior lecturer in Geography.* This shows in his clear writing style, good structure and approachable tone. He also has a number of good tips to help the amateur landscape historian gain access to places often difficult to see. However, the man has a bee in his bonnet, and over the course of the book this bee gets in the way of his point, and it becomes increasingly obvious over time just what the problem is.

The clues come early on with Welsh’s keenness to separate ‘archaeology’ from ‘local history’. To Welsh, archaeology is systematic, scientific and prescriptive to the point of boredom. Local history is emotional, following-your-nose and instinctive, to the point of passion. Archaeologists get bogged down in the minutiae of sites and objects, and ignore the wider landscape, and are obsessed with the “scare story” that is stratigraphy. Another issue is their insistence of walking in straight lines over the ground (“systematic survey”) which is done to remove any biases and ensure objectivity when identifying features (“Why does ecology not get bogged down with this?”). He’s clearly unaware that the specific technique of field walking has the aim of identifying finds on recently-ploughed land, and has little concern with features. Systematic survey is something different altogether.

After distancing himself from archaeology (the study of the past through interpretation of material remains and environmental data, including architecture, artifacts, features, biofacts, and landscapes (Wikipedia)) he soon begins to reveal just how much vitriol he has for the profession. Archaeologists are defensive of their data, and of the historic environment in general (“a lot of heritage goes unnoticed as a result”). Amateurs are a nuisance to them, and they never (ever) let an amateur contribute to, say, the Historic Environment Record. By Page 91 it has been revealed that archaeologists seem to have snubbed Welsh’s own attempted contributions over the last 30 years. In one example of his work, he suggests that a hilltop site at Auchingoul is not a quarry, as the archaeologists suggest, but a Roman camp (an interpretation dismissed by OGS Crawford 60 years ago). He has done the fieldwork to prove it, and his neat little sketch shows a series of ponds, more ponds, a double pond, and an ‘access to pond’ track. Not sure where the Romans where meant to actually live, or why the famously standardised Roman camp template was abandoned. Perhaps because this site was 150 miles from the edge of the Roman empire.

So having never heard of landscape archaeology, or possessing any understanding of archaeological stratigraphy (he should realise it’s not just between sites, but within sites, and within features!) or fieldwalking, or geoarchaeology (archaeologists ignore geology, apparently), what has Welsh brought to the table in terms of technique? He clearly realises that landscape is the key to interpreting sites, but it seems that houses, tarmac and recent buildings get in the way of this. Despite his great contributions to the field of landscape history, W.G. Hoskins also made the mistake of seeing modern development as a muddying of the archaeological record, rather than an intrinsic part of it. And perhaps some archaeology is too concerned with classification (it certainly was when the majority of Welsh’s sources were written, in the 60s and 70s). But when you are working at a national scale, such similarities between far-flung settlements are actually informative, and help take the researcher further.

Tom Welsh has clearly had a lot of trouble over the years trying to convince archaeologists that his interpretations of sites are superior to the ‘official’ one. However, that is no reason to let your problems get in the way of your book, and in this case it really does. Another author, Margaret Gelling, writes in a similar way when looking at place-name research. While her books are excellent, invaluable texts, her insistence on constantly reminding us that we should keep such research in the hands of the professionals is almost the equal and opposite of Welsh’s idea. It spoils the readability of her work, and should be left out.

History on the Ground is a useful book. It has many great ideas on how to overcome barriers to research in your local area (get on the top deck of a bus for a better look), and goes systematically through the various elements of the landscape which you should examine in local history fieldwork. However, don’t let it put you off doing your own research. What we know today has benefited from the input of amateur researchers, and will continue to do so for as long as the past is of wider interest. But it will continue to be subject to peer-review, from other amateurs as well as professionals , as how else can quality be maintained? And contrary to what Welsh implies, do join your local archaeology society, and learn from people who have been doing it for years, rather than making it up as you go along and moaning when others suggest you might be in error. And certainly don’t criticise techniques of a practice that you clearly know little about, and have no intention of learning from.

The English Semi-detached House, by Finn Jensen
The English Semi-detached House, by Finn Jensen

In complete contrast to this style is The English semi-detached house: how and why the semi became Britain’s most popular house type by Finn Jensen (Ovolo Publishing Ltd, 2007). Jensen has written a survey of the developments of the semi-detached house in England over the last 500 years, starting from the large urban villas of the elite, and the country cottages of the working class, and brings the history right up to date with the housing developments in large estates during the 20th Century. Thankfully he neglects to criticise others in his field, and concentrates on producing a systematic yet readable history of these much-loved buildings through the years.

As this blog post has become too long already, and is really more concerned with technique than book content, suffice to say that The English Semi-detached House is an excellent resource, particularly for those readers who are researching Liverpool, and perhaps their own house, themselves. Jensen is a researcher at Liverpool John Moores University, and along with areas of London and Chester, Liverpool suburbs feature heavily throughout the book in many of the 150 illustrations which fill its pages. Fig 1.1 is itself a pair of aerial photographs of West Derby, marking its 20th Century expansion, and the sheer number of semis in the area. Many more West Derby photographs appear, in addition to photos of Runcorn, Birkenhead and south Liverpool suburbs, so the Scouse reader is left with an extensive survey of his or her home turf!

Jensen was born in Denmark, yet grew up in an English semi, and his knowledge of the house form is detailed and wide-ranging. However, there is never the impression of his opinions getting in the way of the description, and the book is well referenced with a separate bibliography for each chapter.

I would heartily recommend this book to anyone researching the modern suburban landscape, in addition to those looking at the older, and often larger semis more often seen in wealthy London suburbs built in (for example) the Georgian period. Welsh’s book, on the other hand, should be approached with caution, lest you be distracted by his attacks on the profession which has clearly offended him. Read Local History on the Ground for it’s investigative technique, but not for its interpretative advice!

If you’ve any more books you’d recommend (or avoid!), then do let me know in the comments.

* The original review of this book stated that Dr Welsh was as senior lecturer the University Nottingham. Dr Welsh contacted me to say that this was inaccurate, and so I have edited the review to remove this reference.

Buy the books

You can buy both these books from the below sellers. Note that Historic Liverpool may get a small commission if you use these links.

The English Semi-detached House

Amazon (UK)

Local History on the Ground

Hive, which helps support independent bookshops near you

Amazon (UK)

Liverpool Gangs, by Michael Macilwee

Sadly not a British indie version of Scorsese’s grand piece, Gangs of New York (though this book does reference the other), Gangs of Liverpool is the 2006 book by Michael Macilwee that looks into the slums of late 19th Century Liverpool to reveal the criminal gangs that ‘terrorized’ the city. Although this is mostly a great social history of the time, it gives a fascinating glimpse into the way the landscape of Liverpool has changed in the intervening century.
The majority of the ‘action’ takes place in the north of Liverpool, and the opening chapter relates the events of the ‘Tithebarn Street outrage’ – the murder of Richard Morgan in August 1874. This acts almost as the spark that ignites an explosion of violent attacks over the next 20 or so years. The book then takes us through the development of more organised gang activity – from the informal gathering of ‘Cornermen’ to the infamous ‘High Rip’ gang whose notoriety spread to the national press.

As this very website itself hopes to show, at the end of the 19th Century the Tithebarn Street / Scotland Road area consisted of a mass of courts, narrow streets, dark alleys, and a pub on every corner. The photographs which dot the book, especially the generous number in the first two chapters, show how the main streets looked much more like Paradise Street or Castle Street, compared to the large office buildings which dominate today.

Another thing revealed in the landscape, and one which the Liverpudlians of the time were often only too aware, was the concentration of certain nationalities and religions in different areas. As might be expected, the Scotland Road area was often known as the Scotland Quarter, but it was the Irish community, many employed on ships or in the docks, that suffered much from sectarian violence. The Catholic community concentrated in the north of the area, while the Protestants (and Orangemen) were more likely to be found further south. This often led to conflict, with and without provocation, and at one point Macilwee relates the startling vision of 200 Irish navvies marching down the Leeds Liverpool Canal in the direction of Bootle village, with the intention of causing trouble with the Orangemen in Scotland Road. Just over 30 brave police constables managed to turn them around, but as they were being escorted back north, the numbers increased to around 1000. You’ll have to get your own copy to find out what happened next…

However, as with any study of the urban landscape, it’s easy to overstate the influence the physical city has on society. Many streets of course had members of both Protestant and Catholic congregations, and indeed the two intermarried. But the book sheds very interesting light on how the Victorian city looked, as well as the wider politics of defining the gangs, and the reactions of a police force often unable to properly deal with the problem.

The book is a scholarly, well-written with an eye for tense narrative. It reveals an often neglected contributor to Liverpool’s reputation for lawlessness and violence, including a great glossary of ‘Underworld Slang’, which I’m certainly going to make use of in everyday life. I’d certainly recommend it for anyone looking for an engaging peek into a violent past, and a bit of an eye opener for those who think the kids are getting worse.

Now, me donah’s grabbed the rasher wagon, so I’m off for a tightener…

Buy the book

Although it’s getting hard to get hold of, you can buy the book from these sellers, usually for £7.99:

You can also find out more from the publisher, Milo Books.

By using one of the links above, Historic Liverpool might earn a small commission.