The following post about Fort Crosby is based on a talk Alison Burns gave at the Recent Developments in Merseyside Archaeology conference, held in the Museum of Liverpool on 13th October 2018. Alison has also written about the Formby footprints (see the previous link for details).
New research is shedding light on a piece of Mersey defence which has a long history. Alison Burns has produced a booklet about Fort Crosby, with further detail coming from a desk-based assessment (a kind of investigation that uses documents, maps and other archival resources as opposed to excavation) by Mark Adams.
Defence of Mersey and country
The River Mersey has always been important for Britain’s defences. King John founded Liverpool itself partly because of his ambitions over in Ireland, the Mersey crossing at Hale Ford was important in the Civil War, and we all know about Western Approaches. But many installations have been built in the intervening period. Perch Rock, for example, built off the coast of New Brighton in 1826, defended the mouth of the Mersey and the Port of Liverpool. Its eighteen guns looked towards the Irish Sea in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.
But in 1882 the whole of Britain’s coastal defences were reviewed by one Lord Morley. Morley found that the defence of Britain’s coasts was inadequate, and amongst other things recommended five batteries in the Mersey. These forts were to be at Liscard, North Shore, Seaforth, Crosby, plus the existing Perch Rock.
It took an incredibly long time to build Fort Crosby: starting in March 1906, work was only completed in October 1907.
From 1914 new troops used Crosby as a muster point, and they lived in the barracks at Sniggery. The fort itself had a surveillance role, as part of the Royal Observer Corps, as well as anti-shipping guns. In all it was a well-developed site, including practice trenches (visible in aerial photographs for years after) in preparation for the First World War.
Dragons’ teeth (anti-tank concrete pyramids) littered the foreshore, and barbed wire protected Formby. There was a starfish decoy (a mound of burning debris used to distract and blind bomber pilots) close by too. Starfish decoys were a slight concern, what with being built from large amounts of burning material so close to artillery and ammunition!
The Fort worked hand in hand with Maunsell Forts, stilted buildings out at sea giving another line of defence. There were three of these in the River Mersey.
After the Second World War
Fort Crosby acted as a prisoner of war camp (Camp 678), holding German and Italian prisoners from 1945 to 1950. They worked on farms and on renovations in the nearby communities. Bert Trautmann, a goalkeeper for Manchester City, became a local legend because of his time here. (One of Trautmann’s achievements was to break his neck during a game but to continue playing!) The prisoners also made toys for local children.
The Maunsell Towers were no longer of use after the war, and were demolished. Territorial Army personnel used the anti-shipping guns of Fort Crosby to destroy them. Lack of gun training meant this took a long time. Only one in ten shots hit their mark! (Incidentally, there is no record of the anti-shipping guns being used against the enemy at any time.)
Reclamation by nature
The area around the fort was not cleared immediately after it fell into disuse. Closure came in 1958, but full demolition and landscaping had to wait until 1968. During this time the buildings had been vandalised, and occasional finds surfaced, like parts of uniforms or rifles.
Eventually, the sand dunes and grasses reclaimed the land; today, only the footing for the guns, plus a sewage pipe and a trig point are visible. Today, rubble from city centre Blitz site clearances protects the coast from erosion, although the area will always be changing.
This is part of a series of posts based on the talks given at the Recent Developments in Merseyside Archaeology conference. It was held on the 13th October 2018, and took place at the Museum of Liverpool. It’s based on a talk given by Ron Cowell, who has excavated at Lunt Meadows for a few years now.
The project started in 2012, because the Environment Agency (EA) were working in this area between Maghull and Crosby to restore the reed beds. and ponds for conservation reasons.
The excavations looked at 12,000 year-old deposits around the River Alt, but showed the potential for other sites to be found in the area in the future. Marine clay sits on top of freshwater clay (showing a change in the environment over time), which in turn sits on top of the Mesolithic occupation layer. During the time people inhabited this area, the ground was initially drier than it would be later on.
The lack of drainage on this wet site has led to good preservation of artefacts and structural evidence. The archaeology is also deep enough that it’s not been damaged by ploughing.
The team found a floor surface surrounded by a ring of postholes. The small size of the holes suggests the poles (and hence the walls) were short, with any roof coming close to the ground. Stone tools were found too. These would have been used for building the shelter, gathering food, and making clothes. These people would not have farmed. The tools date different elements of the site to between 9,500 to 6,000 years ago, with repeat visits and re-use over this time.
The tools were made of flint from the local area, and chert. It became apparent that the chert was not from nearby. Another site excavated in the region, Greasby, brought up chert tools made of stone from North Wales, but this was different. Its appearance is more like that of chert from the Clitheroe area.
Hut circles in the landscape
It looks from the plans as if there are two hut circles, each with two ditches. Despite their closeness to each other, they might be as much as 200 years apart (9,300 and 9,100 years ago respectively), and were occupied by groups doing all kinds of different things. Their activities would have depended on the season, and the size of the groups would vary. Perhaps the different groups were related, a series of generations visiting the same site year after year (or decade after decade).
The area around the huts, now wetlands, would have been oak and hazel forest. Ron noted that the position of the trees was as much a part of the site as the placing of the huts. The Alt itself would have been further away from the site 9,000 years ago, although closer 7.500 years ago. It seems that no archaeology has been found from this period over 4m above sea level. This was the flood plain, and Mesolithic communities were intentionally building on the flood plain, and nowhere else.
One of the most interesting sets of finds represented what Ron called ‘formal symbolic acts’. Melon-sized granite boulders – the granite having sparkling mica pieces in – were deliberately placed in the ground. These large stones were stained red by sitting in iron rich soils, and this may have contributed to their importance to the Mesolithic people here. Next to these boulders – there were two similar ones on the site – were struck blue flints and a smaller pebble. There were two of these flint-pebble pairs at each granite boulder, placed on opposite sides of the central stone. What these arrangements might have ‘meant’ is unknown, but it shows that life was more than mere utilitarian survival. Time was spent on activities whose meaning we can’t intuit.
Later history of Lunt Meadows
The later phases of the site have been dated to 7,900 years ago. At this time a tree was deliberately set alight on the site. It’s trunk now lies on its side in the excavated area, and a white flint blade placed deliberately beneath it. The significance of the tree burning has been lost to us.
By around 7,500 years ago the oak and hazel forest was dying back due to a rising sea level and water table. The area became a fen and swamp, before settling into a reed swamp about 7,500 years ago. It’s this reed swamp landscape that the Environment Agency are restoring. Essentially, Lunt Meadows is once again a prehistoric wetland landscape!
Future of the project
Ron Cowell continues to excavate at Lunt Meadows, and in fact the archaeological site is now part of the nature reserve. The Environment Agency have agreed to incorporate the archaeology into their project, reflecting on and demonstrating how humans and nature can co-exist in a way that leaves both richer for it. It’s an active site with Key Stage 2 school children visiting regularly. The Stone Age is part of KS2 these days, so Lunt Meadows provides a great resource. The Young Archaeologist Club have also visited, and built a ‘Mesolithic’ hut with reeds that they had themselves cut.
A case is ready in the Museum of Liverpool to house objects from the excavation, and at the time of writing this should be ready for visitors at the end of October 2018.
An app (for phones and tablets) has been developed by a company called Inspyro, which takes advantage of new Augmented Reality (AR) technology. With the app installed, a person can explore the Lunt Meadows landscape by overlaying it on the scene in front of them (as seen through the camera on the device). This works best at the site itself, to recreate the Mesolithic landscape and walk among it. But the app also works on smaller scales – you can project a miniature Mesolithic world onto your tabletop! This app is still in production, and so the version you can install today will be getting updates and become more advanced as time goes on. You can already listen to Ron narrating the introduction, and look through a couple of different scenes.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Liverpool: unique images from the archives of Historic England is written by Hugh Hollinghurst with Historic England. It was published in 2018 by Amberley Press.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hale township occupies a spot at the widest part of the River Mersey. Because of this the water slows down significantly. So much so that, at times in the past, a sandbank could once be seen to poke above the level of the water. This, the so-called Hale Ford, was an important crossing point of the river, and was used for hundreds of years.
The crossing went from the end of Within Way due east towards Weston Point. We have records of one John, son of Peter Walley (or Wolley) of Runcorn who attempted the crossing in 1423. He was on horseback, and drove two more horses laden with fish from Formby. The two horses made it across the river, but John fell from his steed and was drowned.
The next day: “at the return tide the horse was found, as Dower of the Sea, and had upon him a good saddle, and four irons on his feet.”
‘Dower of the Sea’ was a term for one of the lord of the manor’s rights, whereby he could charge fines on anything which ran aground on his lands, or washed up. It’s interesting, and a little disturbing to read the emotionless description of the mere monetary value of the horse upon which John Walley died.
Hale Ford during the Civil War and beyond
During the Civil War Hale Ford was an important route from east to west. Prince Rupert crossed the Ford in 1643, with prisoners from his conquest of Bolton. Lord Molyneux fled across the Ford to Cheshire when ousted from his parish at Kirkham. The following year Rupert tried to cross again, but attacked government forced attacked him. Later in the same year he successfully crossed on his way from York to Chester.
Outside of war time, horses were taken across the Ford in the hunting season. Rev. Thomas Blackburne used it when he left Hale to live in Wrexham.
The ford was a dangerous route, however, never being completely dry. A ferry plied the same route, with part of the profits going to the lord of the manor. The two year absence of this ferry (for want of a boat!) led to losses of 20 shillings per annum that would otherwise have gone to the treasury.
Embanking the Mersey at Hale Point
The Mersey had always been dangerous at this point, and so at one time it was proposed to create an embankment along the shore. In 1817 Gregson mentions this project, which would stretch from Ditton near Hale to Garston or even Knott’s Hole at the Dingle:
Opposite the Dungeon two miles of land in breadth might be enclosed before the present salt works, where the river is fordable at low water.
Nothing came of this however, not least because previous attempts were washed away by the dangerous channel’s waters.
The end of Hale Ford
Use of Hale Ford lessened as the 19th century progressed, partly due to the opening of the Widnes Transporter Bridge. The Ford was becoming increasingly dangerous anyway, and less reliable. Once constructed on the Cheshire side, the Manchester Ship Canal made it impossible to cross the Mersey on foot.
The River Mersey at Hale Point can be dangerous, as the Hale Ford demonstrates. Conditions change with each tide, and formerly dry land can become swift and deep channels. The opposite is also true: hidden sandbanks can put paid to river trips heading to the manufacturing towns inland or the globally connected docks at Liverpool. Hale lighthouse goes some way to reducing the dangers.
A lighthouse was built on the southernmost reaches of Hale township in 1906. This lighthouse, which still stands today, replaced a shorter tower erected in 1838.
The Ireland-Blackburne family’s private bathing house already stood at Hale Point. So the building of the lighthouse saw the conversion of this bathing house for the original lighthouse keeper’s cottage.
Hale lighthouse decommissioned
The decommissioning of Hale lighthouse, which is 45 feet tall, came in 1958. Fewer ships were travelling the Mersey as trade declined. Those ships that did head for inner Lancashire used the Manchester Ship Canal on the opposite bank. Today, buoys mark the channel for (mostly pleasure) boats to find safe passage. The demolition of the keeper’s cottage made way for a modern private bungalow.
Hale Hall was a quadrangular building, begun in the early 17th century, built of local stone with a red shale driveway. It was altered near the end of the century, and in 1806 John Blackburn added a large south front. This now matched and balanced the existing north front. John also added a lodge to the hall in 1876.
The Hall had a home farm, and kitchen gardens with walls of 3.5 – 4.5 metres height. The walls were built of hollow bricks to allow warm air from underground furnaces to spread through them. The warm walls were therefore a great home for soft fruits like nectarines that wouldn’t otherwise thrive. Later on, glasshouses widened the selection, as did an ice house.
The family at Hale Hall eventually, through marriage, became the Ireland-Blackburnes. A small museum within the house held, amongst other things, a coin collection as well as stuffed birds (the latter collected by Anne Blackburne).
In the 1930s Robert Ireland-Blackburne and his son Gilbert left Hale Hall and moved to Cheshire. The Fleetwood-Hesketh family of Meols bought the estate in 1947. They found the Hall to be in too poor a state for them to live in, so they moved into Parsonage House. After refurbishment and extensions, Parsonage House became known as the Manor House.
When the estate changed hands the new owners demolished the old north front of Hale Hall. Parts of Hale Park became farmland. At some point a fire destroyed the south front too, and Hale Hall fell into a ruinous state. It survived as little more than a playground for children until 1981, when it was finally demolished. (Thanks to Lyn McCulloch for this information.) Some stonework is still visible, even today. Stone window sills, stone lamp posts, pillars and even some of the original trees are still there amongst the woodlands.
Hale Manor House
The building now known as Hale Manor House started life as Parsonage House. As a parsonage, the house sits just across the road from St. Mary’s Church. It is a much smaller building than Hale Hall, but nevertheless the Fleetwood-Heskeths moved in here in 1947 because of the poor state of the Hall they would otherwise occupy.
The Rev. William Langford added the impressive west face to the house in the 18th century. His coat of arms and monogram sit carved in stone over the entrance. Later on, alterations to this part of the building reduced the storeys from three to two, so increasing the ceiling height of the rooms.
The impressive façade hides two gable ends. The south gable is smaller and older (17th century) while the north is larger and later. The back portion of the south gable still has three storeys, while the front portion, and the whole of the north gable, have two.
Perhaps the most significant of the merchant houses in the history of Allerton is Allerton Hall itself. The wealthy Lathom family built the first house on the site back in the reign of James I. They held the lands of the estate from the 15th to the 17th century, but had them taken from them when they joined the ‘wrong’ side in the Civil War.
After the Lathoms, Richard Percival bought Allerton. He owned it from 1670 until 1736, when a James Hardman, Rochdale merchant, purchased the land.
The earliest parts of the current building were built by Hardman when he moved in. They were built of sandstone, and are considered to be the earliest examples of Palladianism in Liverpool. This innovation contributed to the decision to list Allerton Hall.
William Roscoe in Allerton Hall
When John died in 1754, his brother James moved in. James’s wife Jane outlived him, and stayed in the hall until her own death in 1799. She had been friends with the famous abolitionist William Roscoe, who now bought the house and moved in.
Roscoe demolished the remaining 17th century parts of the building (which are understood to have been dangerously under-maintained), and added new rooms to balance the design.
Bankruptcy forced Roscoe to sell his share of the house, and this was bought by one of his political allies, Pattison Ellames.
Cotton and the American Civil War
In the 1860s Richard Wright rented Allerton Hall. Wright was a cotton merchant and ship owner with family ties to the Fraser, Trenholm & Co merchant company. Fraser, Trenholm were based in South Carolina and funded the Southern states in their war effort against the north. Many in Liverpool had sided with the South because of the merchants’ links with cotton trading, and Richard Wright was one of those. In July 1861 the Confederate flag was flown above Allerton Hall.
The Hall is given to the city
Later in its history, Allerton Hall was owned by Lawrence Richardson Baily, and then Thomas Clarke. Clarke’s widow eventually donated the house and land to the city of Liverpool in 1926, and this forms Clarke Gardens today. (See also: Clarke Gardens Pillbox.)
The Hall was used as the regional headquarters of the National Fire Service during the Second World War. A blockhouse in the grounds of the house is testament to this use.
Today, the Hall is listed as a Grade II* building, with the gate piers, walls and railings on Woolton Road listed in their own right. After damaging fires in 1994 and 1995, the house was renovated. It’s now the Pub in the Park, and the former hothouse is used by the pub for its dining room.
The thing which inspired this website from the outset was the huge number of historic features in Liverpool that we take for granted every day. The Queensway Tunnel is one of them. Thousands of people use it every day to commute between Liverpool and Birkenhead. It’s part of the furniture. And yet it’s easy to forget that this tunnel is nearly 100 years old, and was a pioneer.
It’s even easier to forget just how attractive it is, under Churchill flyover and the mass of toll booths on the Wirral side. Some of the best bits have disappeared forever, such as the beacon which once stood proud at the Liverpool entrance. Birkenhead have kept theirs, yet these are just part of the wonderful design which demonstrates the care paid to civil projects such as this back in those days.
One way of getting to know the Queensway Tunnel better is to take a tour. Merseytravel run tours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays (5pm) and Saturdays (10am) (more details on the Merseytravel website). The tours start at Georges Dock Building, and show you around the whole of that edifice as well as parts of the tunnel underground.
Our guides were Ryan and Billy, and like the best Scouse tour guides, they were a bit of a double act! They must have done that tour hundreds of times, and yet they presented the tour like two people still in love with their work. They reminded me of the guides on the Old Dock tour, and just as knowledgeable on their specialist subject.
Tour of the Queensway Tunnel
There’s something that always strikes me about George’s Dock Building. Even though I know this ‘fact’, the tour really made it hit home: the whole thing is a ventilation shaft. Fresh air comes in through the ‘shoulder’ of the building, sucked down by massive fans into the bowels of the building. At the same time, air from the roadway is pushed back out of the top of the building.
The offices and control rooms which make up the rest of the the building are cleverly built in around this primary function. The almost unnerving truth is that, when you’re half way around the tour, you’re inside the ventilation system. That’s right: when the fans are spinning round you feel the air being drawn past you as it makes its way out of the tunnel.
But before you cancel your tour tickets, the guides reassure you that the air quality inside the tunnel itself (let alone in the ventilation shafts) is clean. So clean, in fact, that it beats some central Liverpool streets for low pollution levels. That wasn’t always the case, of course. From the 1930s to the 1960s and beyond, the time someone was allowed to work inside the system was restricted to minutes at a time!
Architecture and engineering together in the tunnel
For fear of spoiling it for those who want to go on the tour, I’m not going to give away too many details. Suffice to say that the highlight for me were the original fans (or impellers). They are still used every day to move the air around. They’re huge: so huge that the building was constructed around them, and they won’t be leaving until the building is pulled down!
Other wonderful features are the little details that only a tiny minority would have been expected to see. The lifts are beautifully decorated in art nouveau styles. There are mouldings around the ceiling in the stairwell and on the roof windows in the control room (see gallery below). To increase light levels the interior of the largest chambers are covered in white glazed tile. Even those tiles, though functional, are attractive.
How the general engineering works hand in hand with the architecture is something that you rarely see nowadays done in such a beautiful manner. This was brought home to me as we left at the end of the tour. A Cornish family had just arrived in town and were having a wander around. When we told them what was inside they asked ‘But what was it originally?’ Nope, it’s always been a ventilation shaft! Just a ventilation shaft like they don’t make any more.
Photos of the tunnel
I’ll get out of the way now and let you look at the photos. These are just a few that I took on the Queensway Tunnel tour. All the details are in the captions – click for larger versions!
A lift for staff use (and tourists if needed!), showing the wonderful detail in the decoration
Moulding around the ceiling in the stairwell. Notice the more modern interventions when presentation was less of a concern!
The wonderful ceiling windows in the control room, since covered – you’ve guessed it – modern blinds which hide them a little
I love these dials and switches! Here the flow of air was monitored and controlled
On the other side of the control room sit the necessary technologies: phones, more phones, and notebooks. This office closed in 2015!
A motor which drives one of the original fans.
The doors in front of one of the fans are drawn back to reveal the red blades behind. A dramatic moment!
You can just about make out the fans here, with human heads for scale!
This is the second fan we came across, with slightly better lighting so that you can see the details
Another view of the motor driving the fan
Here we’re right under George’s Dock Building, in what was once George’s Dock
The tour takes its visitors under the roadway, along the vents which sit either side of a central ‘avenue’
‘Central Avenue’ runs down the centre of the cavity under the road. Once destined to be a tram route, it now houses gas, electricity and broadband cables
In 2007, Professor Stephen Harding and a team of archaeologists from the University of Nottingham brought attention to a possible Viking boat buried under the car park at the Railway Inn, Meols.
In 1938, workmen laying the car park first spotted the remains. But with the risk that an archaeological dig would delay building work, the find was kept secret. One of the workers, however, made a few notes, and in 1991 his son produced a report and a sketch. The report was brought to the attention of the current landlord, and so the Nottingham team was brought in, conducting a Ground Penetrating Radar survey of the location.
Viking boat survey
The survey seemed to show a ‘boat-shaped anomaly’ in the underlying clay. Further survey will assess the potential for an evaluation excavation.
The Viking boat find is particularly interesting from a landscape point of view. The pub is over a kilometre from the coast, and even further from the medieval shore. Professor Harding suggests that a flood may have washed the boat inland. Another possibility is that it sunk in one of the many marshes which covered the area at the time.
Old Norse field and track names are all over the area. It wasn’t unknown for the people of the time to drag their ships substantial distances inland if necessary.
Liverpool’s historic landscape influenced even this bit of history. The grenades were probably made at the Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) in Kirkby, on the site which later became the Kirkby Industrial Estate.
A similar factory was sited in Speke, as well as other locations around the country.
In the 1930s and 40s the outskirts of Liverpool were popular for this kind of development. The flat landscape provided room for expansion, and the population was increasing rapidly. Following slum clearances in the city centre, men and women had moved to the outskirts. They formed the workforce needed by the factories.
The government of the time judged these areas to be relatively ‘safe’. A huge area of the country , from Bristol to Linlithgow in Scotland, was a fitting place for these factories.
The areas were a good distance from centres of population, but had good road and rail links. Because of this it was easy to take the finished products to where they were needed.
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.
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.
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.
The town grew up around a ‘dark pool’, from which is took its name. The pool flowed into a wide river which would one day be famous across the globe, almost synonymous with the town. The river in turn empties into the Irish Sea, for a long time an important trading route both east-west and north-south.
As technology moved on, the river’s banks became crowded with masts, and docks to hold those masts. Eventually, the ancient pool was lost beneath the city’s streets – the land was simply more valuable – but it is known that the stream which fed the pool still flows underground, buried not lost, along with remains of the medieval castle.
To the east and south of the city centre, a gridiron of Georgian streets with smartly coloured front doors attest to one of the city’s most affluent periods. These days, their neat uniformity is face to solicitors, dentists and ‘aesthetic’ clinics.
The Victorian parks – gifts from the city’s richest sons and daughters – throng with the distinctive accent of the locals, along with a host of dialects and languages brought here from all over the globe by students and others. This is the legacy of a time when the place claimed to be ‘Second City of Empire’.
The Vikings once landed here too, but the evidence of their stay is as ephemeral as King John’s castle. A placename here and there; something in the genes perhaps.
A greater impact came out of the generations of writers, musicians and actors who grew up here, exporting portraits of the locals, and changing the face of global culture permanently. It is to find the home of these portraits that the tourists flock.
There has been trouble along the way, to be sure, and no little violent upheaval. National headlines have been written in the streets of this fiercely independent town.
But you can’t keep this place down (there are more cathedrals, and more universities, than the average), and now the city, once again, finds itself resurgent. Cranes march across the skyline, and the old is – almost carelessly – cleared to make way for the brand new, for the future. Only time will tell if that future belongs to the people who call this place home, or to the people who bring their business here from elsewhere.
This is a city which won’t be held back. This a city of music, of poets, of sport, of life. Your forebears may have trodden the docks and piers here, on their way out, to a new life across the water, to America, or Britain.
This is Dublin, your long lost twin, your neighbour across the sea.
Image: The corner of Fitzwilliam Street Upper and Baggot Street, Dublin, by the author.
This post was inspired by a recent visit to Dublin, and the amazing city I found there.
Ridge and Furrow formations are possibly one of the best-known archaeological features which survive into the modern day. You can see these long, sinuous raises beds of earth across Britain. They survive particularly well in Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and Derbyshire, as well as in other counties.
The remains of this farming technique are visible in two fields in West Derby, both on Eaton Road. The Walker Playing Fields near Kiln Hey are one location, while the Bill Shankly Playing fields on the corner with Barnfield Drive is the other.
They are best viewed in low sunlight, or after a light snowfall. Occasionally a lone golfer tees off from their slopes of a late summer evening!
Ridge and furrow in Liverpool
Ridge and furrow is a form of ploughing that first appears in Britain shortly after the Romans left, and lasted well into the 17th century.
In those times, groups of animals (oxen or, later, horses) pulled a single-sided plough which turned the soil over to one side. This side never altered, which is why the ridge of soil was able to build up.
Low sunlight shows off this great examples of well-preserved ridge and furrow above Wood Stanway, Gloucestershire
At the same time, the furrows were useful drainage channels. Crops like wheat were kept high and dry where they would otherwise have drowned. Rainwater would then have flowed down the furrows to a ditch at the bottom of the slope; ridge and furrow always ran up and down slope rather than across.
The ridges were an elongated reverse-S shape – largely straight with slight curves where the plough and animals turned. This helped the team to line up with the next furrow.
Each of the ridges which grew up became known as a land. Lands were a measure of area and value, such as when calculating the work a ploughman had done.
Survival of ridge and furrow
Ridge and furrow lines could be built up to 6 feet in height in some places, and so they take a lot of punishment before they’re wiped from the landscape. Modern ploughing will quickly reduce the ridges to nothing. Where no ploughing has taken place since their formation, ridges can survive up to 2 or 3 feet (almost 1 metre).
The two fields we’re looking at here have remains around a foot tall in some cases. However, the ridge and furrow lies at the edges, as the fields are used for football. The sports fields themselves have been levelled.
What this tells us about West Derby
The moderate survival of this ridge and furrow in West Derby can be taken to mean many things.
Either this land went totally out of use once the open field system was no longer in operation. Or perhaps cattle or sheep were grazed here instead. Ridge and furrow survive fairly well when grazed instead of used for crops.
It’s also a fact that parts of south Lancashire were fairly waterlogged in their natural state. The land may simply have been unsuitable for crop growing.
Perhaps the local population fell to the extent that the number of fields needed for crops went down.
Main image: Ridge and furrow remains on the Walker Playing Fields, Eaton Road, West Derby.
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.
Ever had that feeling where you wish someone at the time had taken photos? Imagine the Victorian wealth of knowledge we’d have if even more people had hopped on the photography bandwagon! And sometimes, don’t you wish you’d taken more photos?
This local history lark, perhaps without me realising it, has become centred around collecting fresh memories now so that future-me can rest assured that someone did take photos and someone did write it down. For that reason I really enjoyed Gerry’s post on his blog That’s How the Light Gets In, called ‘Liverpool 1984: looking back’. It was a crucial time in Liverpool’s history: the Toxteth riots were recent history, and the Militant Tendency were on the rise. With the benefit of hindsight it’s easy to see this time as a tumultuous period before the gradual and hard-won development of Merseyside into the cultural and business centre that it is today.
I try to avoid the danger of viewing history from this privileged point of view – one where everything looks inevitable. In 1984 Liverpool’s prospects were far from rosy, whether or not you knew of some people’s plans for the place.
Gerry’s blog post is a create cross-section of cultural Liverpool from that year. He takes in politics, the International Garden Festival, Liverpool Football Club’s successes on the European stage and music, in the form of Probe Records (and Pete Burns legendary cantankerousness!). There are photos too, of all this plus pre-redevelopment Clayton Square, theatre posters and street scenes.
If you could distil what makes Liverpool so… Liverpool, then 1984 seemed to have it all: political and social upheaval, and popular culture which hit international heights. ‘Liverpool 1984: looking back’ is a perfect time capsule of a fascinating period, and one I (at an extremely young age) lived through.
I’ve got another bunch of links for you today. I’m still catching up with my saved sites, so some of these pages have been around a while. Even if you’ve seen them before, I hope you enjoy revisiting them again now!
Map of Williamson Tunnels
The Williamson Tunnels team are local history heroes. The bunch of self-starters have excavated tonnes (literally, tonnes) of spoil from Joseph Williamson’s underground labyrinth, and navigated all manner of legal and other issues. Hats off to them!
The one crucial source they never had to help them was a map by Williamson himself. The tunnels feel pretty improvised, and I doubt there was ever an overall plan.
But there are a couple of post-Williamson plans, by the historian James Stonehouse and, later the Territorial Army, who used the tunnels for bridge building practice (of all things!). Those sources, combined with knowledge from the modern excavations, has allowed the Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels to create a detailed map of known (and potential) features.
I try not to link to every one of Colin Wilkinson’s posts on Streets of Liverpool (really, you should just go and follow it), but there was a post a few months ago which struck a chord with me. He talks about how Bold Street is such a great place partly because it’s not changed all that much since it’s hey-day. And while no one would argue that things should always stay the same for continuity’s sake, the thing about Bold Street is that it is at such a perfect scale. Lord Street and Church Street are larger, and can easily play host to large department stores, but Bold Street is smaller, more intimate, and is home to more varied, small and interesting shops.
You might not want a Bold Street in every corner of Liverpool, but it’s a gem in the city, especially since so much else has been lost.
Bold Street is a great showcase for how ‘old’ streets can have extended lives without being stuck in the past. Bold Street is a modern street, but shows that we can’t just demolish because things are of a certain age, which seems to be the argument in too many cases.
Liverpool is rightly proud of its historic buildings. It’s said (with some dissenting voices) that there are more listed buildings in the city than anywhere else outside London. Our St. George’s Hall is world famous, and has acted as New York and Birmingham in recent film and TV productions. But where is ‘one of the purest monuments of Greek revival in England’? It’s a little thing that sits in the shadow – literally and figuratively – of its big brother.
The Oratory of Liverpool Cathedral is as old as the cemetery, and older than the cathedral itself. It was designed by John Foster, who had a hand in some other Liverpool classics, and is considered by some to be his best. The building’s familiar from going past it, but the Liverpool Hidden History blog has got a great overview of the site, plus a bit on the cemetery and its famous ‘inhabitants’.
This website is all about the landscape: how do geography and topography influence everything from the founding of Liverpool to the food we eat? The Scouse accent has the same influences. Scouse, as many of you will already know, it a heady mix of Welsh, Irish, Lancashire and more. Some of the influences are clearer than others, but I’ve come across a little online game which lays it all out before you, and gives you an aural demonstration!
Listen as Dr Dialect takes you on a quiz of the whys and wherefores surrounding the accent, from the time it first emerged on Merseyside, where it came from, and maybe where it’s going. The usual suspects are present, but you might discover a couple of things you didn’t know, like!
And finally, something a little out of left field. In 1977, a man named Paul (Brown, I’d guess) made a film called the Earth Probe. It’s a documentary on the Liverpool Gyratory (as it then was – now Queen’s Square Bus Station), made up of bits of film, sound and digital effects (yes, digital effects in 1977!). At first it might seem a little arty for most tastes, but as you watch it you find it’s building up an impressionistic feel of that part of town over the course of 24 hours, and of course there’s plenty of footage of your everyday Liverpudlians going about their shopping 40 years ago.
The ‘Yeoman’s House’ (as it is known locally) dates from the 1580s, so is a cherished historical feature in the village of West Derby. Others include the similarly-aged courthouse across the road.
The stocks to one side, and the beautiful red brick cottages around the entrance to Croxteth Park add to the historic landscape. That’s not to mention the other monuments dotted around the area too, and the great history of West Derby in general.
Yeoman’s House photo gallery
The building was put up for sale in 2017, so new photos were taken by estate agents. The photos below are all from the estate agents who put the property on the market:
This enormous fireplace brings to mind the vast feasts that the Tudors are associated with. Yet the yeoman was generally only middling on the social scale. Still, entertaining (and keeping one step ahead of the Joneses) was a part of life.
Seen also in the previous image, the tiled floor is a thing of beauty. The exposed beams are on display too, and this shot looks like something out of a museum, or a church, than a residence. Some work is required to make it a home.
Even the stairs have heavy stone surrounds! The steps themselves are stone too, demonstrating just how solid this building is from foundations to eaves. (In fact, those sharp-edges stairs look new, and could be concrete).
An imaginative addition to the house, in the form of a shower basin beneath a sandstone arch.
This upstairs room has wooden floorboards rather than the tiles seen downstairs. There’s also a Victorian-looking basin in one corner.
Another first floor room – a bedroom with fireplace. You can see exposed stud walls here, and although the wood looks new, it’s not dissimilar to panels in other houses of the era to divide staircases and rooms.
An upstairs room with a fireplace (and basin!). The floorboards forming the ceiling look new, and those on the floor look well-maintained.
Part of the roof space, showing the exposed beams and the building materials and syles of the wall and alcove.
This is the rear of the Yeoman’s House, showing the shape of the buildings and the large grass area of the garden. There’s a more modern extension on the back, and the garden goes around the back of the next door garage.
A question came in back in October 2016, looking for information on Paton Street in Kirkdale. I couldn’t find out any information on this myself, as there were few clues. However, Phil D came to the rescue recently with some aerial photos (truly a rarity!) and some maps to locate ourselves with. Go to the comment to see the original question, but the images that Phil sent me all here.
Paton Street was demolished in 1969. The in-laws of Pauline Evans, who lived there, had to move out when the demolition happened.
The photos show the classic grid of small Victorian streets, and the Hangsman pub (handily marked!). This building is still there, as the Brasenose Road Cafe. However, the housing has all disappeared, replaced with industrial units.
Last week was one of my history-indulgent weeks on Merseyside. One where I catch up on the ever-changing town centre (it’s still changing), check that my book’s still on the shelves of Waterstone’s (it’s not 🙁 ) and book myself on a tour or two (I did).
First up, on Sunday, I was lucky enough to catch one of the Williamson Tunnels member’s tours courtesy of the Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels (FoWT). Despite a little mix-up on my part, which revealed the existence of two societies concerned with the Tunnels, we were well taken care of by the energetic volunteers who make up the Friends. A special thank you to Chris, who booked us in, and Jamie and Tom, who, along with Chris, were our guides for the three parts of the tour. Continue reading →
Anglesey and North Wales are very close to Liverpool hearts. Countless Welsh builders helped create some of our inner suburbs in distinctive yellow brick, and the red bricks of the University are Welsh too. More recently, there can’t be many Scousers who haven’t had a day trip or two to Llandudno, Conwy or Beaumaris.
On the weekend of 13th to 15th May 2016 I joined a Neolithic Studies Group tour to Anglesey, or Ynys Môn, to have a look at much older remains of Wales’s inhabitants, and inevitably ponder on how old the links to Merseyside could be. You’re probably two steps ahead of me already, but I’ll catch up with you in good time. Continue reading →
There’s nothing like a gathering of like minds to get the keyboard fingers itching to put down a few words! And this past Saturday (2nd April, 2016), the Spirits of Place symposium held at the Calderstones Mansion was just one of those gatherings.
Following the curve of Princes Parade, on the north west side of Princes Dock, are a set of rails which are one of the few clues left to the presence of Liverpool Riverside Station.
Today the rails might look odd, as they are constructed like a tramway’s, with heavy stone setts bringing the level of the ground up around the top of the rails. The rails themselves, though you cannot necessarily see it, are heavier than normal tram rails, though they are the same shape, as they are built to carry much heavier loads. The rails were especially built for the network around the docks, owned by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, and all the rails in the circuit are similar.
These are all clues to the unique history of Liverpool Riverside Station, and the unusual measures taken to keep it competitive.
Liverpool Riverside Station
Liverpool Riverside Station was a railway station owned by the administrators of the Liverpool dock estate, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board (MDHB). It was opened on 12th June 1895, and provided a link for liner traffic (cargo, post, passengers) to get onto the intercity rail network without having to first navigate bustling Liverpool itself. The trains to Riverside came across the city using the Waterloo Tunnel from Edge Hill Station.
Before the station existed, anything or anyone disembarking from a liner at Princes Dock would be far from any of the main Liverpool rail terminals – Lime Street, Central and Exchange, for example. Until the late 19th century they were forced to make their own way across town, but with increasing competition for liner traffic with Southampton, a decision was made to remedy the situation, and Riverside was built right next to the landing stage.
In fact, passengers were protected from the elements right from the moment they left the ship, by a glazed roof over the roadway which ran between the station and the river, right up to the large, wide doorways flanked the station as it sat parallel to the waiting ships. Passengers were further treated to an immaculately-kept station with refreshments, booking facilities, and a waiting room all maintained to exacting standards within the two storey building. For more practical purposes, offices of the MDHB and customs facilities were also in that building.
The station did so well to improve the link between liner arrivals and the national rail network that it was chosen to serve arrivals soldiers from the US and the Empire during both world Wars. Nearly 2.5 million passed through its doors.
The landscape of Riverside Station
However, things were not perfect for Riverside Station. The route between Waterloo Goods Station and Riverside shared road space with other vehicles and foot traffic. Coupled with the tight curvature of the railway lines, this means that all of the MDHB lines were operated at walking pace. Between Waterloo and Riverside, a man walked in front of the rail vehicle with a red flag, ensuring the safety of other road users, while another man walked ahead of the train operating Annett’s keys to prepare the swing bridge and points. The steep ascent to back to Edge Hill just slowed journey times even more.
This wasn’t made any easier by the small locomotives in use. The ground around the docks was not strong enough to deal with mainline locomotives (this was, after all, reclaimed land), so at first the only engines light enough to service the Waterloo-Riverside route were LNWR Coal Tank locomotives. These small engines moved trains from the river to Edge Hill station, where carriages could be transferred to larger engines for the onward journey. The small tank engines were more able to take the tight curves than the larger main line trains would have been, but the incline to Edge Hill challenged them, and sometimes both the Webb engines were needed to force a single heavy train up the hill.
Plans were already in place by 1949 to strengthen the infrastructure of the area when a ship hit the landing stage and damaged the station. Once the works to repair the station and strengthen the land were complete, mainline locomotives could finally come all the way to Riverside Station. British Railways trains now ran on the MDHB lines.
Riverside Station’s days were numbered, however. The rise of air travel in the 1960s led to a decline in Atlantic liner traffic. Shipping in general was declining by this point too. In addition, the main line to London was electrified in the 1960s, but this did not extend past Edge Hill, and Riverside Station floundered in a technological backwater. The last train to use the station was carrying soldiers bound for Belfast in 1971, and the station building was demolished in 1990. The trackbed was used as a car park for a decade (and some parts still are), until dockland redevelopments brought buildings to the site in the early 21st century.
But some of the rails of the ‘Riverside Railway’ are still there today, and literally point the keen historian towards the site of one of Liverpool’s most important disappeared stations.
The Great Floating Landing-Stage at LiverpoolPhoto: Mersey Dock & Harbour Board, by Andy Dingley (scanner) – Scan from Harry Golding , ed. (1931) The Wonder Book of Engineering Wonders (2nd ed.), London: Ward, Lock & Co., and is Public Domain via Wikipedia
Plans were once put together to make West Derby a more peaceful village. Only a few clues now remain to those plans.
Martin’s Note: I’m indebted to the West Derby Society again for revealing this feature to me, in a post on their Facebook page back in December 2015.
Having been a political centre for many centuries, the history of West Derby is as a cross-roads for many journeys, and has had the shops, pubs, churches and schools which attract people on a regular basis.
West Derby Village was even once a tram terminus, and remains a busy thoroughfare to this day. And so it seems that, during Liverpool’s progressive and expansive decades – the 1920s and 1930s – the suggestion was made for a ‘by-pass’ (though not the type of multi-lane, multi-mile bypass we envisage these days!) to skirt around the village. It was hoped that this would make it a quieter, less congested place.
As the West Derby Society post shows, a map was drawn up by the city engineers in 1936, showing the proposed route. The road, marked on this map in red, would have taken Blackmoor Drive right through to Town Row (it currently stops short of Aysgarth Avenue).
From there the road would have created a fork in front of St. Paul’s Church, with Town Row heading one way and the new road heading more directly north. The plan shows the road joining up with South Parkside Drive, and running all the way through to Melwood Drive. It then joins Parkside Drive again on the north side of Croxteth Park before hitting Muirhead Avenue.
Apparently it was the Second World War which put the plans on hold, and they were never completed. Also, the Earl of Sefton was none too pleased about the prospect of having a road going through his park!
The landscape clues and remains
What immediately strikes you as you look at the map is the name Parkside Drive. We still have South Parkside Drive and Parkside Drive, so it’s no doubt that the road in its entirety would have been known as Parkside Drive. One of the most satisfying elements of this is that not only does it explain the two disconnected stretches of Parksides, but it also shows that an actual park-side road would have been in existence, earning the name more truly than the current pair, perhaps!
Looking at the near-contemporary Ordnance Survey map of 1937 raises a few interesting points too. Blackmoor Drive is in place by this date, stopping at the point that it does today. There is also a gap between the houses on Aysgarth Avenue which is wider at the spot where the by-pass would have been. Also, an area of Apsley Road is left without buildings. Were these merely accidents of development related to plot ownership, or where they deliberately kept undeveloped in case the road scheme went ahead?
Looking further north, at South Parkside Drive itself, it’s certain that the roads and houses were built with the full Parkside Drive in mind. South Parkside Drive extends up to the boundary of Croxteth Park, even where this prevented the building of two or three more houses. It’s this short stretch, and the Croxteth Park boundary wall, which are shown in the photograph at the top of this page.
So even today, with the bypass plans faded from living memory, there are still clues in the landscape – the street names and the oddly short ‘extra’ length of South Parkside Drive, which show what might have been.
Speke Hall is one of the most famous historical features on Merseyside. Its distinctive black and white appearance, highlighting its amazing timber structure, make it a memorable sight for visitors.
Speke Estate is centred on Speke Hall, and although much of that estate has been cut off from the Hall in the last 100 years, the landscape we see today has been shaped by the presence of the building.
Speke Hall’s owners
Long before our present Speke Hall was built, and at the time of the Norman Invasion (1066), Uctred, a Saxon, held the manor of Speke. But King William granted the lands, along with a vast tract of the hundred of West Derby, to Roger of Poitou, a prominent supporter.
By 1170 the manor was under the control of the powerful Molyneux family. The Speke estate itself was owned in two halves by the Hazelwall and Erneys families, and the Noreis (Norris) brothers, Alan and John, married into each.
John and his wife Nicola had a house in the Clough by 1314 (this is the first documentary mention of a home on the site), and Sir Henry Norris united the two halves of the estate alongside his wife Alice later in the 14th century.
Eventually the Norris family married into the Beauclerks, in whose hands the estate descended, until it was sold (the only time in its history) to the Watt family in 1795.
This was a low point in Speke Hall’s history, as the Watts bought an empty house, which had been neglected by its owners for some decades. The Watts left the house to tenants, for a while, but came back to Speke Hall in 1856 and began a restoration project to bring it back to its former glory. This was the first of several phases of restoration, which can be seen happening right up to the National Trust’s efforts today.
Adelaide Watt was the last owner of the house before the National Trust, and she inherited the estate well before she came of age at 21. Until that time it was leased to Frederick Leyland, manager of the Bibby Shipping Company. Bibby also put a lot of money into restoration and redecoration, and added many of the Arts and Crafts features that tourists see today, like the William Morris wallpapers in the Blue Drawing Room.
Adelaide Watt, when she came into full ownership of the Hall, set to developing the farm complex, even as the 20th Century was bringing with it drastic changes to the landscape in the form of industry and the aerodrome. She died in 1921, but having been determined to protect the house in the face of what she saw as the encroaching city, Speke Hall was passed on to the National Trust in 1942. The Hall had remained under the management of Thomas Watmore, Adelaide’s butler, and a number of house staff, in the intervening years.
Speke Hall was administered by Liverpool Corporation until 1986, at which point the National Trust took on full responsibility.
Speke Hall in its landscape
Speke Hall sits on a platform of red sandstone (like much of Liverpool), surrounded – originally on all sides – by a moat. The house is on the site formerly occupied by another building, of which little is known. The choice of spot is a strange one, and it’s not easy to understand why it was chosen for a house.
At the time this building was built, the fashion for defended houses was disappearing. Castles were almost completely obsolete, but many new dwellings were designed to look defended, or to have decorative stonework which was suggestive of defence, but which provided no real protection at all. However, the wattle and daub materials, and the timber frame of Speke Hall are out of character. Many of the Tudor houses known from other parts of the country are in towns, such as the Dutch House in Bristol or the Chester Rows just over the water. Speke Hall was a literal and figurative outlier.
The previous building on the site would have been Medieval, and the kitchen of the current Hall incorporates some of the features of this older structure. The moat surrounding the Hall was part of this older setting, and would have formed what is known as a Medieval Moated Site – a small yet defended rural house of a local landlord. Perhaps Speke Hall’s location was chosen simply because of the existence of this previous building in an attractive spot.
Speke Hall’s estate
The house sits on low, flat ground which slopes gently into the River Mersey. Originally the Hall would have had excellent views over the river and into North Wales, and the estate stretched right to the water’s edge. However, since the aerodrome, and later Liverpool Airport, were built the Hall has been cut off from the coast.
When the new Liverpool Airport was built in 1967 a large earthen bank, the Bund, was built between the Hall and the airport land to protect the structure from the noise and visual pollution. Even today you can see the taxiway which joins the sites of the current and former airport facilities, and the National Trust hopes to take this back into ownership and allow visitors to enjoy the whole of the land between Hall and Mersey.
The Forest and woodlands
On a wider scale, the Speke Estate was once part of the vast Lancashire forest. The local area was described in 1275 as ‘wood, plain and meadow’, and included areas of marsh too, with peat cutting taking place. The term ‘forest’ was more a reference to the laws which applied in the area; the amount of tree coverage would have been more patchy.
The Clough is an area of trees which still shelters the Hall from the weather, and has seen periods of felling (by the Air Ministry in the 1940s) and replanting (with beech and oak by the National Trust in recent years). Stockton’s Wood, named as ‘the heath called spekgreves’ in a deed of 1385, was probably used as cover for shooting parties.
How the topography has affected the landscape
The flat, open land close to the river has made it an attractive spot in the last 50 to 100 years for several very modern usages. The first aerodrome in Liverpool made use of the clear land for easy take off and landing, and an early air mail service to the Isle of Man and Ireland operated from here for some years.
The Air Ministry took over the aerodrome in the Second World War, and aeroplane parts were shipped in from America to the Liverpool docks, and stored on The Walk, just to the north east of the Hall.
In the build-up to the Second World War, Royal Ordnance Factories (ROFs) had come to Liverpool, with the Rootes factory at Speke producing Halifax bombers. The sites of these factories was later seen to be useful to emerging heavy industries, what with the flat land with room for expansion. The Ford factory at Halewood is perhaps just the most famous of the establishments which have inherited this function in Speke and the surrounding area.
At the same time, housing estates were created by Liverpool Corporation and City Council to house those evicted from the ‘slums’ cleared from the city centre in the 20th century. Huge numbers of houses could be built on the open landscape, and the new arrivals were conveniently located to work in the new factories.
And so Speke Hall and the estate have morphed from an attractive, out-of-town location for wealthy families and businessmen into an expanding residential and industrial area with close connections to the River Mersey, the railway, and the airport. The forethought of Adelaide Watt meant that Speke Hall itself, this outstanding example of Tudor architecture, remains intact and provides a haven for Scousers and visitors alike.
There is an octagonal pillbox in the grounds of Allerton Hall, seemingly ‘defending’ Springwood Avenue from an invisible army. While many no doubt pass it day to day without a second thought, a lot of people are puzzled as to why a pillbox is so far inland, and what feature of any importance is being defended.
Pillboxes in Liverpool during the Second World War
The early years of the Second World War were not good ones for Britain and her Allies. By 1940 a series of German invasions – of Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium and France – had brought the enemy to the Channel coast of France. Following the retreat from Dunkirk an invasion of Britain looked imminent, and plans were laid to repel it.
The tactic used was to turn the home landscape into a ready-made battlefield, complete with anti-tank defences and machine gun positions. Although a linear defence along the coastline might seem the obvious choice, in practice it was imagined that the invaders would move quickly inland. Rather than try to hold them back, deep defences would slow the advance, and allow the enemy to pass by, all the better to attack them from the front and rear together! It would also let reinforcements arrive from around the country.
While earliest-built defences did indeed focus on the so-called ‘coastal crust’, as they developed, everything from machine gun emplacements and road blocks to pillboxes and concrete ‘dragons teeth‘ were to be found further and further inland.
The natural features of the landscape would also be taken advantage of. River channels, slopes and hills all affect how a moving army operates, and so the defenders can predict where a tank column is likely to rumble through. Areas can be flooded, roads blocked and obstacles (including mine fields) can be put in place.
18,000 pill boxes were built in the summer of 1940 alone – at the height of building, a pill box was built every 20 minutes.
The GHQ Line, and Stop Lines
Coastal defences started on the beach. Concertina barbed wire was laid as a first line, with mine fields positioned behind to deal with both vehicles and infantry. Behind this coastal crust were designated ‘stop lines’. The coasts which were most heavily defended in this way were the south and east coasts, naturally, with other lines along stretches of the Welsh and north-west English coasts, including Liverpool. The south and east of England also had stop lines further inland, further barriers allowing mobile defensive forces time to muster.
The length of the stop lines was reinforced with ‘island’ defences – heavily armoured clusters which could attack any army manoeuvring through the less-heavily militarised ‘seas’ between them. The idea was for the islands to funnel the enemy into predictable zones, ready for the defenders to deal with. These island defences were particularly used where there was sufficient local Home Guard units to man them.
In what way are Clarke Gardens a good spot for defence?
It’s hard to say for certain exactly why the grounds of Allerton Hall were a good place for a pillbox in 1940. No doubt the fact that this was land with no buildings on it played a part. It is also on a south west facing slope, and is not far from Garston Docks and a major railway junction (now Liverpool South Parkway Station).
The viewshed from this position would have favoured a machine gun emplacement, and any advancing German army would have no doubt come ashore at the docks to work its way inland towards other strategic positions.
The brilliant new 3D view available on Google Maps gives an indication of the type of view afforded from the Clarke Gardens Pillbox. The River Mersey and the Welsh Mountains are visible in the distance, and the eye is drawn all the way down the slopes to the shore and docks.
The Calder Stones name refers these days to a group of six megaliths which stand in a greenhousehave a new home in Calderstones Park. These are the remains of a Neolithic burial chamber which once stood on the edge of the Harthill estate. The Harthill Estate later became Calderstones Park.
Before they were placed in the greenhouse in 1954, the stones stood in a circle at the entrance to the park. This was inside the roundabout on the junction between Druids Cross Road and Calderstones Road. Research by the Merseyside Archaeological Society suggests that the monument originally stood about 20 metres further west. The site is now occupied by modern flats.
The monument would originally have seen the stones built up into a ‘box’ shape. That stone box would have had a turf and soil mound piled on top. In appearance it would have looked similar to the mound at Bryn Celli Ddu on Anglesey. That’s a passage tomb similar in size and date to the Calder Stones.
The demise of the Calder Stones mound was probably due to the taking of sand, and perhaps stone. These are both materials which are valued for building. Paintings show that the stones were already exposed by the 1840s. However, another image from 1825 seems to show the very last remains of the mound still visible.
Calder Stones: Meaning and use
It’s safe to say that no one really knows the full meaning or intention behind the building of the Calder Stones passage tomb. However, a look at the stones can tell us a little about it, and allow comparisons with other, better-understood sites.
The carvings on the stones are comparable with monuments all around the Irish Sea, from Scotland, Ireland and North Wales. Some say these stones are the most decorated of their kind, and one of the dagger shaped carvings even bears a resemblance to a tomb carving in Spain!
The megalithic building traditions started in the Mediterranean area. Those traditions then made their way up the Atlantic seaboard, becoming heavily associated with north west Europe.
Secondly, a look at the landscape in which the Calder Stones sit yields further clues. The monument’s original site, like many similar tombs, is towards the top of sloping ground. The spot itself is just shy of the summit. In the Neolithic period, the tomb may have been extremely easy to see from the well-used pathways of the valley floor.
A map used in a boundary dispute in 1568 shows at least three other monuments in the area. Robin Hood’s Stone, which still exists, and the Rodger Stone, which does not, are standing stones. (The third monument, the Pikeloo Hill, also no longer exists). Examples in other parts of Europe suggest that standing stones were in valley bottoms, or on trackways. People could have used the stones as marker points. Perhaps people were expected to take a moment to gaze uphill to where the ancestors were buried. Liverpool’s two standing stones may have played this role in the Calder Stones landscape.
The Calder Stones tomb was extremely long-lived, and may have been used for up to 800 years after it was raised. It may even be the case that this tomb was one of the last of its kind, still being visited as the Bronze Age began and new religious practices emerged.
The stones have been sitting in a greenhouse for some decades now. It has done nothing to help preserve them. The sandstone from which they are made is prone to flaking in an environment like this. Temperature can change often and humidity is high. Projects to investigate the ancient history of the area have included the Calder Stones in their plans. As this article was being written came news that the stones should be about to move to an open air site closer to their original location.
The Reader Organisation, a reading charity which currently runs its operations from the Calderstones Mansion, intends this as part of a £2 million project to create an International Centre for Reading.
As an archaeologist, I often bump into the border between the historical (especially the prehistorical) and the strange. By that I mean the paranormal, the unexplained or the mysterious. Ancient monuments like the Calder Stones are rife with legend and half-known stories. I have to admit that I love all that stuff!
But sometimes historical and archaeological knowledge is fascinatingly mysterious in its own right. For example, it has allowed John Reppion to write an incredibly comprehensive history of said Calder Stones.
The Calderstones of Liverpool collates the history, rather than prehistory, of the stones, from their earliest ‘written’ mention on a boundary dispute map of 1568 up to their relocation to the current glasshouse vestibule in the 1980s.
We also get details of associated monuments like Robin Hood’s Stone, also in Liverpool, and Barclodiad y Gawres and Bryn Celli Ddu in Anglesey, which share some important features with the Merseyside monument. Antiquarians linked them to Druids. They invented gory stories of blood running down the (in truth, natural) grooves on Robin Hood’s Stone.
Finally, John considers what might happen to the Stones in the near future. There’s a possible move from their present site, which he calls a potential “mixed blessing”. It’s certainly true that the Reader Organisation, who will be carrying out the move, have their work cut out to find the right solution. Luckily, they’re taking the time they need.
Journal of the Merseyside Archaeological Society, Volume 13, 2010
Greaney, M., 2013, Liverpool: a landscape history, The History Press, Stroud, p17-20
This red brick and sandstone tower on Blackburne Place is a beautiful ventilation shaft for a railway which once ran beneath it, and could be seen as representing the tunnel and railway in a nutshell.
The tunnel itself, Wapping Tunnel, is partly bored through the local natural sandstone, with brick lining above, mirroring the architecture of the Blackburne Place building. The arches on the ventilation shaft are suggestive of the tunnel entrances which can be seen all along the line of the railway – the original Liverpool & Manchester Railway – particularly around Edge Hill Station and Chatsworth Drive.
The building was originally one of five, with only three others – between Crown Street and Smithdown Lane and on Grenville Street South, remaining. Two were demolished, once having stood on Great George Street and Myrtle Street respectively. The shaft building on Crown Street is of a simpler, brick-only octagonal design, while that near Grenville Street South is square like at Blackburne Place.
When Wapping Tunnel was being constructed, vertical shafts were dug and the excavation of the tunnel was begun at these spots, heading outwards in two directions with the intention of meeting up with the other pilot holes. After some controversy surrounding the original survey calculations the surveyor Charles Vignoles resigned and was replaced with Joseph Locke, who re-did the work.
It has been suggested that the ventilation shafts like that on Blackburne Place sit on the position of those original holes, with the buildings above ground being constructed over those holes first dug in 1826.
Wapping Tunnel, begun in 1826 and opened in 1830, was an impressive feat of engineering. No other tunnel had been dug under a city before, and the 22 feet by 16 feet dimensions of the tunnel were unlike anything attempted before.
What is more, the tunnel was on a 1:48 incline, meaning that locomotives built in its early years were not powerful enough to pull trains up to Edge Hill from the river front. To get around this problem, carts were pulled up via ropes (and, later, cables) by stationary steam engines located close to the Chatsworth Drive exit of the tunnel.
Within the tunnel itself are signal gongs, which were placed near the end of the tunnel to warn drivers that they were approaching the tunnel entrance. A small number of accidents had happened at tunnel entrances in the past where drivers had become disoriented. These gongs are still in place in brackets on the Wapping Tunnel’s wall.
When opened, the interior walls were whitewashed, and the length of the tunnel was gas-lit. Pedestrians were allowed to walk through the tunnel for several years, even after it became operational, though eventually it was realised just how dangerous this was!
As the southern docks declined in use with the development of ships too large to use them, the Wapping Tunnel railway became unviable, and closed to traffic in 1965.
Robin Hood’s Stone (or the Robin Hood Stone) is a Neolithic or Bronze Age standing stone currently to be found within a set of railings on the corner of Booker Avenue and Archerfield Road. It originally stood to the north east in the middle of a field known as Stone Hey, but was moved when the nearby houses were built in 1928.
Robin Hood’s Stone is a roughly rectangular stone around two metres high, just under a metre wide and half a metre thick. Deep grooves run down one of the larger faces, and these stop at what would have been the original ground level. Everything beyond the end of the grooves was buried when Robin Hood’s Stone was in Stone Hey.
After it was placed inside the railings, a bronze plaque was attached with some information about its origins:
“This Monolith known as Robin Hood’s Stone, stood in a field named the Stone Hey at a spot 280 feet bearing North from its present position, to which it was moved in August 1928. The arrow below indicates the direction of the original site. This side of the stone formerly faced South”.
Engraved at the base of the stone, as has been mentioned, are a collection of cup and ring marks. Marks like these, made of concentric carved rings with circular ‘cups’ at their centre, can be found across the west and north of Britain and in Ireland too.
Robin Hood’s Stone originally stood to the north east of its current site, in a field known appropriately as Stone Hey. ‘Hey’ is a word of Anglo-Saxon origin, and suggests an enclosure, possibly for animals. It’s been suggested that a farmer brought the stone to this field to let the grazing animals scratch themselves on it.
Although Robin Hood’s Stone may originally have been part of the Calderstones, we know that it has stood alone in this part of Liverpool since at least 1771, when Eye’s map of Liverpool shows the Stone Hey field name. So it’s sensible to suggest that, although the Stone itself is not marked on that map, it was in this field at that time.
A boundary dispute of 1568, which uses a number of ancient monuments as boundary markers, mentions that a stone was removed from the mound of the Calderstones in around 1550. This may or may not have been Robin Hood’s Stone, but the cup and ring markings near the base of the pillar date the stone to a similar era to the Calderstones.
So the movement of Robin Hood’s Stone could have taken it from the Calderstones mound itself, to Stone Hey (now the location of 11 Greenwood Road), and finally 280 feet south east to its present location on Booker Avenue in 1928.
The very name of the stone is a reference, of course, to the famed archer of Sherwood Forest, and this comes from the long grooves in the rock. Legend has it that these grooves were made by medieval archers sharpening their arrow heads on the stone in the course of practising their aim. There’s no direct evidence for this, and the Robin Hood name is merely an extra layer in the mythology.
Another more gruesome legend suggests that the grooves are there as drains for the blood of the Druids’ human sacrifices! Needless to say this is a typical over-excited Victorian story, and quite far from the truth.
The mysterious carvings on the base of the monument, buried for so long in the ground at Stone Hey, have been seen by Alfred Watkins, inventor of ley lines, as a map of local leys. Considering Watkins ideas about the power of leys, it’s not entirely clear why you’d need a map of them…
Excavation and protection
Prior to its relocation to Booker Avenue, the Stone was excavated on October 29th 1910, which was when the carvings were rediscovered. These have since been compared to the carvings on the Calderstones, dating Robin Hood’s Stone to a similar date, the Neolithic.
In 1924 the Stone became a Scheduled Ancient Monument, but due to the threat posed by the new housing, it was relocated to its present site in August 1928 by the Liverpool Corporation and the Mersey Building Company. It was protected with the iron railings, and has stood in this state ever since.