Tag landscape

Breathing Spaces, or A Sense of Placed

My interest in landscape is not just restricted to history and archaeology. I’m just as interested in the modern urban landscape (of Liverpool in the case of this blog), because it’s the product of everything that went before. Archaeologists recognise the ‘layers’ of landscape development as truly as they see the ordered layers in the side of a trench denoting Romans following Iron Age communities following etc etc etc.

And as I’ve researched Liverpool’s historic landscape and the landscapes of urban zones around the world (and as I’ve lived in several very distinct cities myself), I’ve come to realise the role landscape history plays in our day to day lives. This happens whether we think we’re interacting with ‘The Past’ or not.

And so a project that naturally caught my eye started with a van called Ed, and has so far developed into Placed (‘Place Education’), which until Sunday 23rd September 2018 inhabited a slice of the old George Henry Lee building on Houghton Street.

Photograph of Houghton Street, looking towards Clayton Square

Houghton Street, launching point for our walk

Placed want to know what influences changes in shop occupancy, and the impact of those changes on the use of the surrounding area. In this way it ties in to my own interests.

Breathing Spaces

My encounter with Placed came in the form of a guided tour by Ronnie Hughes, who many readers will recognise as the author of the A Sense of Place blog. He’s also involved in local community initiatives such as Granby 4 Streets and the Mystery Literary Festival (though he’d be the first to tell you he’s just part of a team). And now a PhD in Sociology and History!

Having read Ronnie’s blog for what seems like the best part of a decade, I was very much looking forward to meeting the man in person, especially listening to him talk about a project where our respective interests overlap.

Photograph of cardboard cubes making houses and urban features

Some of the results of activities Placed have done with families since landing in George Henry Lee’s former home.

Breathing Spaces, giving the walk its title, are the spaces Ronnie has identified in any given city which let visitors to the centre can use to take a moment to reflect.

Ideal Breathing Spaces should be noticeably quiet – away from the bustle of shoppers, cars, buskers, soap-boxers – sheltered to lesser or greater extent from the elements, and Free. Free has a capital F for me because (taking a cue from the Open Source movement) it should be Free as in ‘Free Speech’ as well as in ‘free beer’. In its Free-ness it should be inviting, in that you should be in no doubt that you can come here, sit down, eat your own food perhaps, without being moved on. A truly communal public space that welcomes.

Do we have any of those in Liverpool? And how well do they match up to these ideals?

I must say now that these ‘ideals’ are ones I felt came across during the walk, and are not necessarily culled from a shopping list that Ronnie has made!

It was a small group on this, the third of three walks. This made it easy to exchange ideas and chat about our own takes on what Ronnie was describing. The youngest member of the group must have been no more than 10 years old, and even she was engaged with the things we were talking about!

Photograph of staircase in George Henry Lee Building, Liverpool

The interior of the George Henry Lee building, now occupied temporarily by Placed

Literally Going to Town

We first shared our ideas of what ‘going to town’ means to us. It means (to our group) shopping, socialising, going to work, doing touristy things and a few other things besides.

But this is in some contrast to the landscape of town, which can very easily feel like it’s all about shopping. This is particularly true since the arrival of Liverpool One. Town is a shopping landscape, and so Breathing Spaces might merely be seen as a ‘break from shopping’. But that would be to misunderstand what many people are in town to do.

Ronnie had promised to take us to the best Breathing Space first, before taking us on a tour of other spaces that don’t do such a great job. The walk set out from George Henry Lee’s and headed first to the garden of Bluecoat Chambers. Why is this garden such a good space? Well, it is a secluded space, quiet and green, with seats and benches. Although the gates are locked at the end of the day (and were locked when Ronnie did a reccie earlier that morning!) you can come and go as you like. Even better, some of the tables inside the Bluecoat are free for you to sit without being obliged to buy a coffee from the café there.

In many ways this is the ideal: a Free space where you can come whenever you like, and where you’re not obliged to carry on your purchasing. You can truly take a break.

However, where the Bluecoat falls down is its obscurity. On the other walks Ronnie has taken, many did not know of its existence. And of those who did, they (and this included me until today) assumed that all the seating inside is for customers only. But that’s not the case, so next time you need a moment to yourself, pop into the Bluecoat cafe, head to the tables next to the Children’s Corner, and take the weight off.

Public squares, car parks and through routes

But Bluecoat was a model student compared to the rest of the class, who could learn a thing or two…

I’ll not bore you with a detailed itinerary, suffice to mention a few common themes which our encounters with the other open spaces looked at.

Free to Breathe

The places we visited were dotted across town. We stopped at ‘Mr Seel’s Garden’, just off Hanover Street. We visited a couple of ‘squares’ (often created through the demolition of old houses) in the Ropewalks area, and we inspected the Breathing Space potential of Liverpool One and Derby Square.

We talked about the responsibility for these areas, and the quality of the space there. Most of the spaces had seating in, but in every case this was lacking in quantity, faced away from each other (so you wouldn’t go there with more than, say, one friend in tow), and was definitely doing its best to discourage the homeless from staying too long. In fact, it seemed designed to prevent anyone from getting too comfortable.

Photograph of Bold Street, Liverpool

The former gas showroom on Bold Street, whose floors are empty and ripe for public / common use

The other common theme was wastage of space. The area outside the Court in Derby Square was huge and flat and broken only by electronic bollards and a few intimidating benches to one side. Part of Ropewalks Square off Bold Street was a privately owned rectangle of uneven flagstones. Formerly the site of Christian’s grocer’s, the place is now vacant, empty, and unused, and yet private. Besides the fact that its a shame the grocer’s was moved on by the owner, its a double crime that someone can ‘sit’ on this space and reserve the right to keep people from it. It should be part of a revamped Ropewalks Square plan.

And this square, in common with the other spaces we saw, felt more like a cut through, from one place to another. The paving pattern reflected this, directing walkers straight across. It isn’t a place to stop, to pass the time of day, to people watch. And yet it could be, with a little bit of clever planning.

Photograph of Derby Square, Liverpool

Derby Square, landscape of security. Unwelcoming benches to one side.

There are mature trees in these spaces now, and a smattering of seating. With some decent landscaping, people could come to these spots to rest, chat, or spend a moment of quiet contemplation away from the rush. A path that wound around planting would help ‘trap’ people (in the best way possible) and encourage them to stay a while. Not to mention that such a space would be more attractive to everyone, passers-by included!

Responsibility

But with Freedom comes great responsibility. Who would care for these places? Isn’t maintenance and redesign expensive?

Well, is it any more expensive than the street sweeping that must follow a heavy Saturday night in the Ropewalks? Plus, as Ronnie pointed out, an increasing number of people are moving into these areas. You can imagine guerilla gardeners or ‘friends of’ groups attaching themselves to these pockets. You can’t imagine either of these things happening to them in their current ‘bronze throne’ incarnations.

Some of the ‘squares’ are surrounded by bars, who benefit from these public spaces to accommodate bigger crowds and generate that all important footfall. Although they do a sterling job of sweeping up the broken glass and cigarette butts on a (late) Sunday morning, perhaps they should be contributing to the beautification of what also happens to be a space used in the day time.

This clash of daytime economy vs nighttime economy was raised a few times. Couldn’t there be more integration and collaboration?

Optimism

By the end of the tour it would have been possible to feel that Liverpool had a rather sorry selection of lacklustre spaces. But on the contrary, Ronnie was optimistic. Firstly, these spaces are open. They’re not built on, and are not about to be (although who knows about the Christian’s site?). So that’s the first issue rendered moot.

Secondly, through initiatives like those that Ronnie and the Placed team are involved in, there’s a chance that such ideas can have an impact.

Placed is all about increasing the influence of the community on their local environment. It’s also about showing people just how much influence they can have. There is a lot of skepticism over how much say people have over the changing landscape. People either think they have no say, or are not listened to. While this latter issue is unfortunately often the case in practice (two-day ‘consultations’ on a completed Masterplan, for example), it needn’t be the rule.

Ronnie truly feels that this situation can be turned around, and is working actively, with many others, towards this goal.

Free Spaces

The potential to create indoor Breathing Spaces is already there in Liverpool too.

We talked about the Bluecoat cafe, which just needs to be publicised more. But there’s also plenty of vacant space all over the shop (if you’ll pardon the pun). George Henry Lee’s is one example, and there are countless empty shop floors – first storey and upward – down Church Street, Bold Street and Lord Street. We also visited Cavern Walks, which has a nice big empty shop which hasn’t had tenants in a couple of years.

Cavern Walks was built to house hundreds of Lloyd’s Bank staff, who were a captive audience for the shops on the bottom two floors. But Lloyd’s left, and Cavern Walks is not in a great position to get much passing trade. Hence the empty lots.

But if a Breathing Space was set up in there – a place where you knew you could bring your own food, sit a while, sit as long as you like – then it becomes a magnet for people at this end of town.

The same thing applies to other places where this might be implemented. The potential for indoor Breathing Spaces is totally untapped.

Organic Spaces

We talked about a few other factors. Masterplans like Liverpool One are dropped wholesale on an area, and we heard how it necessitates artificial measures like price controls in order to work. It’s a delicate balance, artificially maintained. This is in contrast to how cities built up in the first place, with businesses cropping up in response to need (with the odd Charter, ahem, to seed the first settlement).

We talked about how residential developments must include a minimum percentage of homes in the ‘affordable’ bracket. Ronnie suggests we should demand portion of indoor Free Space too, especially in town centres.

Towns they are a-changing

Modern town centres are highly planned machines for encouraging spending. But as people move back into the towns and cities they fled from in the 70s and 80s it’s going to become more important that we take into account the other aspects of life: relaxation, contemplation, wandering, thinking, and we’ll need to provide for these things too.

By Ronnie’s thinking, the ideal situation would be one where we have a chain of indoor and outdoor spaces across town where we can plan little breaks and retreats from city centre life. Places where we can predict a spot to sit and think. ‘Going to town’ would then become much more varied in meaning. In fact ‘doing nothing’ might be a meaning in itself! Towns would become just that little bit more relaxed, and attractive, to they eyes and to the feet.

Photograph of empty shop window on Whitechapel, Liverpool

… I bet it’s a shop. But the possibilities are much more varied and non-retail friendly

Heritage Breathing Spaces

To bring it back to history for a moment (!), it did cross my mind that museums and galleries can play a big part in this, and to a great extent already do. Although their opening hours are set, there are few other places you have such great license to come in for free, sit where you like, and do absolutely nothing, should the feeling take you. These places also come with a great deal of ‘props’ to inspire a bit of thinking, and are generally peaceful without having the strict Quiet rules of libraries.

I wish Ronnie and Placed the best of luck, and will be following their progress. I also hope to see other groups doing similar things, and would like to see these ideas spread.

Meanwhile, I think I will be keeping my eyes open for previously unnoticed Breathing Spaces wherever I go. I’ll collect them in memory for future reference when needing a moment to myself.

Thanks again to Ronnie for the walk, and the sharing of ideas. I’d like him to know that the first thing I did afterwards was to take my home-made packed lunch to Bluecoat to sit inside and eat it at their tables with great relish!

More information on Placed

Placed home page: https://placed.org.uk/

Placed on Twitter: https://twitter.com/placeded

Ronnie on Twitter: https://twitter.com/asenseofplace1

Ronnie’s blog: https://asenseofplace.com/

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.

The City and the City and the Liverpool Landscape

This website is all about the historic landscape. It’s about how the landscape shapes what happens in the city, and it’s about the landscapes that we invent by living in it. Just think of the ‘Knowledge Quarter’ and the ‘Cavern Quarter’. Though they’re sickly marketing-gimmick names they do acknowledge some of the character that certain areas have built naturally, unconsciously over time. And so it was with great excitement that I found that The City and the City, a brilliant book by China Mieville, had been adapted for the small screen by the BBC.

Note: I’m not intending to have too many spoilers in this post, but I will be talking about the big plot concepts which permeate the whole story. If you’d rather come to the story fresh, go and read the book, or watch the show, first, and come back to this later.

Book: The City and the City, by China Mieville (Amazon UK)

TV version: The City and the City, BBC iPlayer

The City in the City and the City

This post isn’t going to be a review of the programme. Suffice to say I loved the book when I first read it, and I loved this adaptation. I recommend both.

My article is about how Liverpool is a star of the show, and the city features centrally. Hell, the main character is played by Liverpool’s own David Morrissey. But he’s not the only Merseyside star of the show. The City and the City is a veritable I Spy of Liverpool locations.

The main concept of the book, on the face of it a police procedural, surrounds the two rival cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma. Besźel is the down-at-heel city where Inspector Tyador Borlú (Morrissey) polices the streets. Ul Qoma is the shiny, high-rise, Shanghai-alike sibling that split from Besźel some years ago. The crucial fact is that the two cities occupy the same space on the map.

Citizens of one must not look at (in fact, must learn to ‘unsee’) the buildings and people in the other city, on pain of apprehension by Breach, the government unit who monitor the invisible and intertwined border.

Suffice to say that when Borlú starts the investigation of a woman murdered in Ul Qoma but dumped on his home turf of Besźel, the Kafka-esque complications of the invisible barrier complicate things enormously.

Tale of Two Cities

How do you film such a high-concept story? The characters have been brainwashed into fearing even accidental interaction with the other side. They almost literally cannot see what they are not allowed to. ‘When in Besźel, see Besźel’, as the propaganda posters remind the good citizens.

Photo of Water Street, Liverpool

Water Street, Liverpool, part of Besźel in The City and the City (note 8 Water Street in top left – the fuzzy right hand side is ‘unseen’ city of Ul Qoma)

Well, of course you need a city with shiny high rises, an ageing red-brick airport, a smattering of Brutalist towers, and some ornate Victorian architecture to give a sense of faded glamour. And you need all this on top of each other, preferably over a network of strange underground arched caverns.

Oh, and of course you need a colossal columned building to act as the central bureaucratic Soviet edifice.

Photo of St George's Hall, Liverpool, with CGI enhancements

The distinctive front of St George’s Hall, CGI-enhanced with domes for extra threat, is ‘Cupola Hall’ in The City and the City.

While watching it, what started out as an exciting game of spot-the-landmark soon became an interesting thought process: why was Liverpool a good place to film this programme?

Two cities in one

Liverpool is a complex arrangement of buildings which have grown up over the years. The same goes for the streets of the city.

There are wide boulevards and open plazas. There are narrow streets, Art Deco tunnel entrances on both sides of the river.

Photo of disused Queensway Tunnel entrance, Rendel Street, Birkenhead

The disused Rendel Street Queensway tunnel as entrance to Cupola Hall

There are glass-fronted towers and there are concrete monstrosities (that we love all the same). There are older, sturdier bright white stone office buildings. There are mysterious obelisk-like monuments standing proud, but of uncertain origin.

Screenshot from The City and the City

The Victoria Tower at Brunswick Dock – an isolated upstanding monument to contrast with the flat dock landscape

Screen shot of scene from The City and the City

The Kingsway Tunnel ventilator tower provides a suitably oppressive backdrop to dystopian Besźel. The two shots above appear seconds apart in episode 1

Liverpool, city of contrasts

Water Street typifies the potential that those working on The City and the City saw for portraying two different cities in the same place.

The north side of the street is a hotch-potch collection of different architectural styles. The groundbreaking Victorian Oriel Chambers sit next to some 1960s egg-box building which is clearly inspired by it. The Town Hall peers round the corner, sticking out beyond the general street line.

The south side of the street, by contrast, is a catalogue of massive yet clean Neolclassical lines. The square bulks of India Buildings and 7 Water Street (an old bank) make a imposing business face that doubles as the wealthy Ul Qoma landscape.

Photo of Water Street as Ul Qoma

Water Street, Liverpool, as Beszel

Photo of Water Street as Beszel

Water Street, Liverpool, as Ul Qoma

Liverpool Heritage, old and new

What’s often lost in discussion of ‘heritage vs progress’ is this wonderful variety. We can argue til we’re blue in the face whether the old Midland Bank on Dale Street is in keeping with the other offices, or if the Echo really did complain about the ugly pile of stones – the Liver Building – when it was built blocking their view of the Mersey.

But any true heritage campaigner fights for all types of quality building. The idea is that additions to the landscape should improve it, not just boost the ego of the architect. Even more importantly, removals should not be to the detriment of the urban environment, and certainly shouldn’t be pointless demolition.

The City and the City reminds us of this variety by deliberately separating it out. In the story, Tyador Borlú can only see the old and higgledy piggledly world of Besźel, while Ul Qoma is modern and foreign. But the plot inevitably leads him to break that barrier, and discover how the other half live. In his world, the two sides can never be reconciled, but in our world, in our city, they are.

Filming in Liverpool

Using Liverpool as a film set is nothing new. We’ve seen Harry Potter and Captain America gracing the streets of the city, because it can fill in for 1920s-40s New York. Foyles War used it to depict London, Poland, Southampton and France.

But the case of The City and the City is even more impressive. Liverpool stands in for two cities at the same time, in the same place, a city uniquely conceived and arguably unfilmable, except for in this, the City of Cities.

Other locations

I hear that the interior (bar and club) shots were all filmed in Manchester. But I’d be interested in knowing where other exteriors were filmed. There are a few bonus screenshots below, where I’ve noticed a Merseyside building or streetscape. But let me know if you’ve watched this programme and have noticed any more.

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International Women’s Day – Liverpool Heroes 2: Kitty Wilkinson

Today is International Women’s Day, and to mark the occasion this edition of the ‘Liverpool Heroes’ series (see the last post’s coverage of J.A. Brodie) discusses a remarkable women whose effects on Liverpool were felt for decades after her death.

Photograph of the interior of Frederick Street wash house

Interior of Frederick Street wash house, built in 1842

Kitty Wilkinson’s story is classic Victorian Liverpool: born in Londonderry in 1786, Wilkinson moved to Liverpool with her parents when she was just 8 years old. Tragically her father and sister were drowned at the end of the crossing when their ferry hit the Hoyle Bank.

Despite being faced with the terrible hardships of the time, she was known for opening her house to anyone who needed help. One of the services this entrepreneurial woman took on was to allow people to use her house and yard to wash their clothes for a penny a time. During a cholera outbreak in 1832 she offered her scullery boiler to all who wished to wash their clothes and linen.

This proved so popular that her cellar gradually evolved into a wash house. None of those who worked here became infected by cholera, so effective were her disinfection efforts (e.g. the use of bleach to help clean clothes), and Kitty’s efforts led directly to the opening of the first public wash house. This was in Upper Frederick Street, and opened in 1914.

Given support by the District Provident Society and William Rathbone, Wilkinson was made superintendent of bath, and through the newspapers was crowned ‘Saint of the Slums’.

In 2010 it was announced that a statue was to be erected in her honour, and would be placed in St Georges Hall. As councillor Flo Clucas, who campaigned for the statue, said: “Through rising from abject poverty to achieve lasting reforms in public health Kitty Wilkinson is a real inspiration for every woman in this city.”

So how did Kitty Wilkinson shape the landscape? She pioneered the public wash house movement, and the last wash house closed only around a decade ago. The Upper Frederick Street building was a monument to her efforts, and in a sense the rest of the wash houses were also. In less concrete terms she also affected the human landscape of Liverpool. For the first time there was a place to go to clean your clothes properly, and the effects on stemming the spread of disease through the city are a legacy of Kitty Wilkinson’s generosity and hard work. This woman was a testament to fact that even those born into the poorest levels of society can make a massive difference to the built and experienced landscape.

Further Reading

Cover of the book The Life and Times of Kitty Wilkinson, by Michael KellyCover of the book Clean: An Unsanitised History of Washing, by Katherine AshenburgFor a detailed look at the achievements of Kitty Wilkinson, see Michael Kelly’s 2007 book The Life and Times of Kitty Wilkinson.

For an overview of the history of personal hygiene read Clean: An Unsanitised History of Washing by Katherine Ashenburg.

 

Liverpool Heroes 1: John Alexander Brodie, City Engineer

Black and white photo looking along the length of the East Lancashire Road as it was being built

Building the East Lancs Road, by Mr Robert Wade via Flickr

In writing about the historic landscape of Liverpool, it’s often the case that the people get mislaid, or hidden from the narrative. This post is the first in a series which aims to redress the balance, and ties in (rather loosely) with Liverpool’s Year of Radicals. These people weren’t radical in a left-wing sense (some far from it) but they were the pioneers, the bringers of change. They certainly left their mark on the landscape, some in subtle ways. A couple of these people are obvious choices, and some less so. Either way I hope you learn something new and interesting.

And so without further ado, and in no particular order, we begin with…

J.A. Brodie (1858 – 1934)

J.A. Brodie was the Liverpool city engineer from 1898 and due to his achievements was the first local authority engineer to be made President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. The list of accomplishements is impressive, as is the effect he had on the shape of the city.

Brodie was one of the first to suggest an electric tram system for Liverpool. The city’s electric trams ran from 1898 to 1957, and even today the tracks pop up from time to time during roadworks. The central reservations where the trams often ran along main roads are still to be seen in Queens Drive and Prescot Road.

He proposed the development of a ring road, the aforementioned Queens Drive. Roads such as Black Horse Lane in Old Swan were diverted or straightened and widened in the 1920s and 30s. At this time the suburban sprawl of West Derby, Tue Brook and Childwall were yet to be realised, but even today Queens Drive holds up well with the volume of traffic which couldn’t have been foreseen 90 years ago.

In 1905 the first pre-fab concrete tenements were built in Eldon Street. Brodie had been experimenting with concrete as a solution to the housing shortage, and in 1905 he exhibited a pre-fab cottage at the Cheap Cottages Exhibition in Letchworth. There’s probably little need to elaborate on the use of pre-fab concrete in Liverpool buildings in later years, but for better or worse (and despite trade union opposition to Liverpool’s production of concrete prefab parts) J.A. Brodie was a pioneer here.

As if being responsible for one of Liverpool’s major thoroughfairs, and a pioneer in building technology we still live with wasn’t enough, Brodie also put forward the idea for the East Lancs road, so that we can more quickly get to our neighbours in Manchester. And finally, of course, he invented the goal net, an invention of which he was particularly proud.

So: J.A. Brodie: engineer, architect, footy dispute preventer. And a man who’s effect on the landscape of Liverpool can be seen almost a century after he died.

Woodland on Merseyside and the Mersey Forest

The year 2011 was declared as the International Year of Forests by the UN (see the Echo for some of Liverpool’s plans). The very modern Mersey Forest has seen 8 million new trees planted since 1994. But there’s a much longer and fascinating history of woodland and forest in this area.

The origins of the woodland

As the glaciers of the last ice age began to retreat about 12 – 10,000 years ago the dry land left behind became tundra. Shrubs, moss and lichen only slowly populated this cold, dry landscape.

Only gradually did the first woodland – larger plants such as juniper, then birch, hazel, elm and oak – establish themselves. By around 5000 years ago more familiar woodland – oak and elm – had become permanent features of the landscape. It was around this time that humans made their first impacts on the natural environment.

Prehistoric woodland

The earliest periods of human activity in the north west of England are the Mesolithic and Neolithic (the middle and new stone ages). As the effects of melting ice had not fully taken effect, the sea was around 20m lower than it is today. If you’ve visited the Crosby coast you’ll know just how shallow the slope of the land is, and so the coast was 15-20km further out than it is now.

Not only humans and animals occupied the land, but also the trees of the widespread oak woodland. Sea level rose and the land was flooded. The waters submerged these trees and protected them beneath layers of water and silt. The petrified remains of tree stumps can therefore still be seen at low tide right across the coast from Anglesey to Southport.

As well as the drowned trees, areas further inland suffered from periodic flooding and water-logging, creating marshy ground, ponds and streams.

By the Neolithic, gaps appeared in the woodland, with humans felling trees. The cleared land was then used for their first attempts at farming.

Into the Bronze and Iron Ages (and the Roman period), wherever people settled they cleared the forest. The climate became colder and wetter again at the beginning of the Bronze Age, and so marshlands and bogs spread to replace tree cover.

Medieval Merseyside

Place names are one of the major sources of evidence for medieval settlement in the region. These rarely give clues about the woodland (they mostly talk of ‘British farm’, ‘boundary river’ and ‘settlement’). An exception is West Derby (deorby = enclosure with deer, or a hunting park). Also, we know that Edward the Confessor had a hunting lodge in the area (possibly on on Lodge Lane). This suggests that the landscape (perhaps for many miles beyond West Derby itself) was covered in trees and pasture. This made a suitable habitat for the deer.

It’s important at this point to define a special use of the word ‘Forest’. A Royal Forest was not just a collection of trees. It was a space likely enclosed by a pale, a large bank and ditch. The pale might even have a fence on top, and came with a whole host of regulations, privileges and restrictions on its use.

Roger of Poictou was one of William of Normandy’s allies in the invasion of 1066. William rewarded him with the Hundred of West Derby, bringing Toxteth, Croxteth and Smithdown into one royal forest. This cemented West Derby’s administrative importance, and paved the way for Liverpool’s birth two hundred years later.

Toxteth and its Park

Toxteth remained a fenced-off royal park for hundreds of years. In fact, the restrictions on building or farming in royal parks began to hinder 16th century Liverpool’s growth. James I eventually ‘disparked’ Toxteth in 1604, and entrepreneurial farmers rapidly took advantage. The farmers transformed the newly available land from tree-and-pasture to pastoral and arable.

While there was no longer much royal passion for hunting in Liverpool, the city grew rapidly in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Farming, industry and housing nibbled away at the edges of rural Lancashire. It was only in the late 19th Century that the city made efforts to preserve some of these green and pleasant areas. The rich merchants who lived in Toxteth wanted to escape the increasingly polluted city. Poorer workers in the inner city and inner suburbs (Kirkdale, Everton and eventually also Toxteth) could also benefit.

For this reason we have a string of parks around the old city boundary. Two of these – Princes and Sefton Parks – have remained undeveloped. They have remained so since the time they were part of Toxteth Park. However, whether any of the trees there today have such a long pedigree is questionable!

Woodland on Merseyside

We leave off where we came in: with the Mersey Forest. This modern project is the successor to the ‘green lungs’ of Liverpool. These were the parks (Sefton, Newsham, Stanley) opened in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It also restores some of the natural woodland which covered the area for millennia before Liverpool started to thrive.

The ancient woodland of this part of the world developed gradually after the last ice age. Prehistoric communities slowly cleared the woodland, using the land to farm and rear animals. This process was slow at first, of course. Eventually royal order fenced off a lot of the woodland, protecting it from change by royal order.

Over the past 200 years industrial and commercial concerns saw the clearance of almost all the woodland. The city’s benevolent (or self-interested) rich put new walls in place, protecting parks for all the city’s inhabitants. Still, the environment deteriorated in the face of human action until the later years of the 20th Century. Preservation of natural resources became a much more prominent concern, and in 1994 the Mersey Forest was created. The partnership billed the project as ‘woodlands on your doorstep’.

Mersey Forest

The project, via the Mersey Forest partnership, has had great success in regenerating woodland on Merseyside, as set out in their ‘5 Facts’:

  • Through community and partnership working, we have planted more than 8 million trees.
  • To date more than 6,000 hectares of new woodland and improved habitats have been achieved, an area 500 times the size of Wembley Stadium.
  • Since 1994, more than 70% of the woodlands in The Mersey Forest have been brought into management to secure their long-term future.
  • For every £1 invested in The Mersey Forest, £8 of outputs is generated, thanks to the way we maximise our funding.
  • 60% of people living in The Mersey Forest use their local woodlands – with nearly 20% visiting at least once a week.

Liverpool has a long forest history. It has made plans for Merseyside’s woodlands to continue to thrive for millennia more.

Image: Golden Park Woods (Early morning sun among the Oaks and Plane trees of Sefton park, Liverpool) by Ben Mitchell, released under a Creative Commons license.

How Merseyside’s Historic Landscape Helps During the Snow

Northwich Salt Factories (part 1), by DaveAdams via Flickr

Northwich Salt Factories (part 1), by DaveAdams via Flickr

The local landscape is playing a major part in snowy events on Merseyside this winter. Salt companies in Cheshire are finding a boom in trade as councils run low on supplies of grit for roads. British Salt Ltd in Middlewich is apprarently running 24/7 and still having trouble keeping up with demand.

Ineos in Runcorn is also helping out, with 12,000 tonnes of salt having already left their depot.

Salt has been an incredibly important industry in Cheshire since at least Roman times, and almost certainly prior to that. Middlewich, Nantwich, Northwich and Winsford are all historic salt mining locations. Middlewich was even called Salinae by the Romans, showing how important the location was for salt (salt was, in turn, of extreme importance during the Roman period. Salt could be used as currency, leading to the modern English word ‘salary’).

PS: Love that amazing HDR photo above, by DaveAdams!

Liverpool 100 years ago

The Echo are starting a new history series, looking at Liverpool 100 years ago. The first, introductory article talks about monarchs, strikes and riots, the Titanic and the Suffragettes.

The main photo in the article shows the Mersey in 1907. Of the major Pier Head/Strand buildings only the Port of Liverpool Building has been built, and it stands head and shoulders above everything else in the viscinity. What a change! This building now feels right in the centre of the commercial district, but at the beginning of the 20th Century this merely meant the docks and the Overhead Railway. The other two Graces, and Tower Building etc, are yet to be contructed, and yet to take their place as the centrepiece in Liverpool’s skyline.

Liscard Hall not to be rebuilt

Finally, news reaches us that Liscard Hall, which burned down in 2008, will not be rebuilt. The Hall was built by Sir John Tobin, one time mayor of Liverpool and successful trader. The grounds of what was once known as Moor Heys House became Central Park in 1891.

Plans now include landscaping of the gardens, and linking them more successfully with the nearby rose garden.

See the Geograph page for National Grid Reference SJ3191 site for a photo of the Hall and Central Park.

Exclusivity: which parts of the city are Yours?

Quiggins Brooke Cafe, by Indigo Goat via Flickr

Quiggins Brooke Cafe, by Indigo Goat via Flickr

Nina Simon, a museum blogger I greatly admire and enjoy reading, recently posted on the topic of ‘exclusive’ places, and the odd way in which people find them more welcoming than more public spaces. She was referring to museums, which can be both public spaces and yet sometimes seem exclusive (to ‘museum-y people’), but everywhere in the landscape can have a sense of exclusivity, to a greater or lesser extent. There’ll be parts of Liverpool you love going to, and which you like because you know ‘your’ people will be there: those with similar interests, from similar backgrounds, of similar age or profession, even people dressed similarly. There’ll be other places which you’d never set foot in: either you simply never go to that part of town, or you avoid drinking in that pub, going into those shops/restaurants. These places make you feel awkward, out of place, nervous, or it may be that they just don’t ‘do’ what you like. Then there are places which change from one type to another over your lifetime: perhaps you grow into them (that pub again) or out of them (playground, playing fields, the street where you grew up).

You may go with friends, or alone, but they are all places which reinforce your feeling of who you are, and who you aren’t. You can share these special places with the right friend; you get that glow from sharing an exclusive place and introducing someone new to something cool.

When I was but a young geek, my friends and I would go to Palace on Slater Street, for all our collectible card game needs! The place was full of other weird and wonderful shops: antiques, piercings, records, books, junk… Quiggins, in its School Lane incarnation, was similar: I loved the cafe on the top floor, and exploring the darkest, strangest recesses of the other shops. Both those places I knew my parents, and my more ‘mainstream’ classmates, would never go. They were my places, and my friends’ places.

Then there is the garden behind Blue Coat Chambers. I was first taken there by a Geography teacher while on a field trip (with 29 other lads, I’ll have you know). It was a little-known backstreet oasis, with a couple of benches, plants and trees. Neglected, maybe, but not overgrown, it seemed like a bit of a secret getaway. This year I went back, possibly for the first time in (yikes) ten years, with my fiancée. It’s had a complete makeover, along with the Chambers themselves, but still maintained an air of quiet solitude, somewhere to escape the massive and modern Liverpool One just over the wall. I felt that sense of showing someone that place for the first time, a place which had been shared with me and a handful of (slightly rowdy) others years before.

There are countless other places which are ‘mine’: parks at Croxteth, Springfield, Sefton, Calderstones (and the corners within them), where I spent parts of my childhood, and which I still visit. If I choose to share these places, at the same time I want to keep them secret, and not to share them with too many people lest they lose that exclusiveness, that specialness.

Which are your ‘exclusive places‘? Are they, like in Nina’s examples, museums? Exhibits? A corner of a gallery? Or one of Liverpool’s parks, or independent shops? Are they big places, or small? Do you share them? Where do you feel you are most you, and how does the location of that place in the landscape affect this? Is it near home? Far from home? In a side street? Right in the limelight with the other trendy people?

Will you share it with the readers of some archaeology blog? 😉

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

Tom Welsh is a senior lecturer in Geography at the University of Nottingham. 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 sytematic, 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.

“There is a lot of mumbo-jumbo in archaeology” – Welsh, 2009.

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.

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 the Liverpool Landscapes website itself hopes to show, at the end of the 19th Century the Tithebarn Street/ Scotland Road area (View Larger Google Map) 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…

Mapping the History of Liverpool

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Recommended Reading

These are some of my favourite books on Liverpool history. They're what I'd recommend to someone who wants great coverage of the whole history of the port and city.

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