Black and white photo of Lime Street and St George's Plateau, Liverpool

Five postcards from Georgian Liverpool

A good friend of mine recently sent me a handful of postcards he’d found, showing photos of Liverpool in the first quarter of the 20th century.

He’d house-sat for me and noticed my existing collection, in a folder on a bookshelf, and I don’t know whether he checked, but he managed to get some that I hadn’t already got!

They show some of the big landmarks of the city, and the postmarks on the cards are from 19th September 1922 (if I’ve read them right!). So yes, they were all sent on the same day, and also by the same person. Unfortunately, I can’t make out the name (maybe ‘Sorrel’?), so do let me know if you can read the signature, posted below.

Apart from the landmarks, the messages on them are brilliant! As you’ll see, it looks like Sorrel lives in Liverpool, and is actually sending postcards to a family they’ve recently visited in the capital

Landmarks of Georgian Liverpool

What I like about this little sub-collection is that they were all sent together, and each part makes up a whole – the trip to London. King George V was on the throne, and Liverpool could arguably be said to be at the peak of its powers. Maybe there was a hint of the Georgian Liverpolitan wanting to remind their London friends that Merseyside could match the south east for grandeur and love of Queen Victoria!

The dominant road vehicles are the trams. Most people are on foot, but there are some horse-drawn carriages and even some very early cars. The scenes look quiet to modern eyes, and this makes the spaces look large and open.

Here are the cards, in no particular order:

Lime Street

Black and white photo of Lime Street and St George's Plateau, Liverpool

Lime Street, Liverpool

Back of a postcard

“Dear Frank, you’d better practice up on the speedometer in the Science Museum and I will challenge you, the next time I come, to a race. Sorrel”

St George’s Crescent

Postcard of St George's Crescent, Liverpool

St George’s Crescent & Lord Street, Liverpool

Back of a postcard sent from Liverpool

“Dear Donald, When I see you next time, I’ll race you two length’s even. Dont’ let anyone take your pencil when you’re not looking – Sorrel”

St George’s Hall

Photo of St George's Hall, Liverpool

St. George’s Hall, Liverpool

BAck of postcard sent from Liverpool

“Dear George, How many yards of cloth have you and Sally made on the loom? You’d better watch out or the weavers’ union will get after you! Good-bye, George. Sorrel”

Queen Victoria Memorial

Photograph of the Queen Victoria Memorial, Liverpool

Queen Victoria Memorial, Liverpool

Back of a postcard sent from Liverpool

“Dear Florence, Now that we have left, I hope you have been able to retire at six-thirty as you should! With best wishes from the three of us – Sorrel”

William Brown Street

Photograph of William Brown Street, Liverpool

William Brown Street, Liverpool

BAck of a postcard sent from Liverpool

“Dear Sally, The next time you sew labels on your brothers’ clothes, look them over carefully (the brothers I mean) and assure yourself that they aren’t deformed and wear shirts instead of trousers – Sorrel”

From Liverpool to London

Photograph of 17 Roland Gardens, Kensingotn, London
17 Roland Gardens, Kensington. Properties around here can be your for a mere £1.5 million!

Well, what do you make of these messages?

We get hints of what Sorrel got up to while in London – a visit to the Science Museum and a couple of lengths at the local baths.

There’s also the very cryptic last message about labels in clothes. Perhaps we’ll never know what that was all about.

Sorrel seems like quite a wry humourist – though maybe a handful to have as a guest? Keeping people up past their bedtime by the sounds of thing!

It seems like three people – Sorrel and two others – stayed with the Kings in London. So perhaps Sorrel and family are back in Liverpool, having arrived on the train from Euston at the very station just out of shot in the first postcard.

I’d love to know more about Sorrel and their correspondents. Are there, I wonder, more postcards out there that the Kings sent in return?

Film Review: Almost Liverpool 8, a portrait of Toxteth in the 21st century

Toxteth. Liverpool 8. Sometimes just running those two phrases together can get people hot under the collar. One thing we learn from Almost Liverpool 8, a new documentary from Dartmouth Films is that the name ‘Toxteth’ was hardly heard before 1981, that watershed in the area’s history. I didn’t know this, having got so used to seeing the word on old maps of Liverpool all the time. It wasn’t the only enlightening part of the film.

It’s easy to see Almost Liverpool 8 as an attempt to reclaim the postcode and the Toxteth name from the news media. Luckily its creators have found a unique angle to do this. This isn’t trying to be a polished tourist information brochure; it’s more real than that. Truth is at the heart of it, and the question of who owns that truth.

The Toxteth Landscape

There are countless talking heads on screen, but the Toxteth’s landscape is the star of the show from the get-go. The opening scenes flick like photographic slides (albeit tiny slices of film) from terraces: Victorian worker and grand Georgian – to the Florrie, to 80s and 90s houses to the rejuvenating Granby. This photo/film montage leads into an introduction to Don McCullin, a photographer and our eyes and ears on 1970s Liverpool.

Don was an ‘outsider’ initially, perhaps a decade or two before the time we’ll come to. He worked on the trains as a young lad in his native London, but his first job took him via Euston to Lime Street and, more significantly, Edge Hill, four times a week.

Young McCullin began to explore Edge Hill alone, on foot, and fell in love with the place, and the wider city. In his later years he became a professional photographer, and was on Merseyside in the 1970s to document the then rapidly changing landscape.

Toxteth People

If the earlier snapshots showed just how varied Liverpool 8 is physically, Almost Liverpool 8 now introduces us to the people of Toxteth. A few are shop owners (newsagents, restaurants), one a photographer, another (Barry Chang) a beekeeper. Plus there’s Joe Farrag (source of the above name-related fact), Ronnie Hughes of A Sense of Place and Roger McGough of… well, Roger McGough (and, of course, The Mersey Sound). There’s the next generation too. A woman who set up two salons, and P3Lz, rapping her Fixed Sights, as well as the afore-mentioned restaurant owner with his young family.

Adam Saleh, newsagent, and Mo

These people give their sense of Toxteth and the way life is there. Farrag reminds us that the great attraction of Toxteth, historically, was that it was close to the south docks. Businesses built up to serve sailors on shore leave (yes, including those types of businesses…), of which the Granby Market might be the inheritor. Today’s market’s affordability, to sellers as well as buyers, is its key feature. You don’t need to make money to have a stall. You can come and chat – it’s part of the glue that holds the community together. Hard-nosed commerce would just get in the way of being here.

What is Toxteth?

The variety of landscapes and voices quickly demonstrate that Toxteth/Liverpool 8 isn’t a thing. It’s many things, a collection of things, a recipe with places and people as its ingredients. It’s certainly tight-knit, and loved. Pride is everywhere. These labels – ancient name and modern postcode – can be used to foster a sense of solidarity as much as they were used to blacklist this part of Liverpool once upon a time.

Liverpool 8 (and by extension Almost Liverpool 8) is also a source of wisdom. Chang the beekeeper compares bees and humans. He acknowledges the crucial role bees play in pollination – without them there is no food. But he also highlights that they (at least those bees in his own hives) would get nowhere if they adopted humanity’s tendency to play every-one-for-themselves. They work for the hive, which is for each other. They’re role models. Perhaps this is how Liverpool 8 functions: a hive of activity.

Back to McCullin: Don’s photography is the thread that runs through the film. He holds forth on how he saw Liverpool in the 70s. Never coming across like a shocked anthropologist, nor patronising the survivability of the natives, he admires the place. He was soon part of it.

The time he was photographing – the 1970s – was a period of ‘slum’ clearance, and you can hear those quotation marks in McCullin’s voice. Mistakes were made, he says, and we’re still suffering the consequences. Future homes were demolished, though he knows the Council believed what they were doing was the right thing. Again, we’re learning lessons and making comparisons. What Would The Bees Have DoneTM?

Perhaps unusually, we don’t hear of the places people ended up when they were moved out of their terraces; this film is laser focussed on L8, and gives us room to let our gaze rest on these streets, both from then and in the now.

Girl and Puddle

A single photo of Don’s does the rounds among the interviewees: that of a girl jumping over a puddle, the grey rain-soaked and cleared streets of Toxteth behind her. I won’t spoil the details of how this pans out; suffice to say that it conjurs all sorts of reminiscences and reflections. Ronnie Hughes brings out the old maps to see if he can locate the spot. It’s taken for granted that the landscape is different now.

Ronnie also notes that ‘middle class areas are never shown in the rain’. This is working class Liverpool. And this observation lies at the heart of Almost Liverpool 8: what gets communicated about a place like this, and how does this rub off? What unconscious biases do photographs, and the choices made when taking them, add to the conversation? Especially in light of later events and media coverage. Who gets to say what Toxteth is? Who gets to form its reputation? Don? P3Lz? The news media? Dartmouth Films? This review(er)?

P3Lz, Fixed Sights. Toxteth’s creativity takes many forms

Ronnie tells us he doesn’t like history (it can devolve into ‘trainspotting’). I get the feeling he’s thinking specifically of how the study of the past risks fossilising it, getting lost in the detail; missing the story, the people. History can prevent a place changing, moving on, just as much as it can give it positive identity and an anchoring history. The trainspotting type of history (“it wasn’t there; it was over here”) can weigh a place down.

As McCullin says, Liverpool (and Toxteth) people have always said “we won’t be judged”. Buster Nugent says Toxteth “always rises from the ashes”. This kind of optimism, that justice can be reclaimed, depends on being able to leave those ashes behind. And what is justice if not truth?

Toxteth is almost Liverpool 8

Eugene Lange, of Urban Griot, perhaps identifies some of the most important facets of living, which the community of Toxteth embodies well. “You’re never just you”, he says, echoing the sentiments of the beekeeper, you’re part of the world, in a relationship with it. Remember, he says, we’re genetically part Neanderthal, the rest of the world is in our very genes.

Granby Street Market – buy, sell or just come along

One thing that struck me is that every person featured in this film has, to some or other extent, a Scouse twang in their accent. That goes for the Barry Chang with his largely West Indian voice, the newsagent from Aden-via-Cardiff and the restauranteur from Norway. You can bring yourself into Liverpool, but Liverpool will insinuate itself into you too!

If anyone needs evidence that Liverpool 8, or Toxteth, is not the place of the 1970s, but is also the place that grew out of the 1970s, and all the history piled up before then, Almost Liverpool 8 is that evidence. Toxteth is ‘almost’ the place we think it is, but so much else, and maybe ultimately indefinable.

Most importantly, if this film holds anything like the truth, it’s a great place to live and work.

The film is a loving portrait, locally made with pride, that’ll make you smile, laugh out loud, maybe even well up. It’s a letter to the wider world about the truth, the present, of the place. It’s a message from the people in it, like the actor Brodie Arthur, saying: “We’re here; we exist; and we’re fuckin’ shit hot.”

More info

Almost Liverpool 8 will be showing at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic on Wednesday September 1st 2021 at 7:30pm.

To find out more, and book tickets, go to the Almost Liverpool 8 trailer web page.

Liverpool Loses its World Heritage Status

Image: EPW003061 ENGLAND (1920). Canada Dock, Huskisson Dock and the Sandon Half Tide Dock, Liverpool, from the south-west, 1920, from Britain from Above


After a long wait, the seemingly inevitable has happened: Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City has been removed from UNESCO’s list of sites of ‘outstanding cultural and natural heritage value’.

Of course, there’s no shortage of opinions on whether this was unfair, ‘incomprehensible’, or whether Liverpool needed it at all. For me, it’s raised some interesting points that should make us take stock of what heritage means to us in an ever-changing urban environment.

Reactions

The Mayor of Liverpool, Joanne Anderson, called the decision ‘incompresensible’, pointing out that millions of pounds have been poured into conserving historic buildings. The number of buildings on English Heritage’s At Risk Register fell from 17% to 2.5%. So how could the Site have possibly ‘deteriorated’?

There has been more than one suggestion that UNESCO would rather see derelict docks than a new Everton stadium. No doubt this is all hot-blooded reaction on the day, but it points to some misunderstandings about what constitutes a World Heritage Site (especially this one).

Mercantile City

Liverpool was designated a World Heritage Site in 2004 because of its role in the development of trade, transport and industry during the Industrial Revolution. This role, as I hope this very website gets across, is imprinted in the very landscape of the Victorian city. In addition to this, much of the physical fabric of these pioneering days – canals, railways, warehouses, docks – were and are still in existence, albeit some in much need of conservation work.

There were six areas that made up the WHS, from the Pier Head, to St George’s Plateau, to Stanley Dock. It was the integrity of this collection that formed the physical city, and the WHS City.

Buildings vs landscape preservation

I believe the very nature of this designation doomed Liverpool’s WHS status from the start. Few other WHSs will have the geographical spread of Liverpool’s, or the variety. The Pyramids, the Taj Mahal and the Great Barrier Reef don’t have a living conurbation in the middle of them – intertwined with them – requiring such a balancing act for those in power. Add to that the location of the north docks close to an area of economic disadvantage, and you have a recipe for disaster.

In fact, the economic decline of Kirkdale and Bootle can in part be attributed to their close relationship with the declining importance of those very docks. The deprivation is part of the historic chronology of the World Heritage Site. But no one’s proposing we preserve that too.

Joanne Anderson’s (and others’) appeals to UNESCO that Liverpool has made great strides in preserving individual buildings all over the WHS is addressing only part of the problem. Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City is a landscape, not just a collection of nice old buildings. The docklands are a system, not a disconnected series of piers, quays and warehouses. You can’t fill in a dock and say ‘well, we have dozens more’, any more than you can remove the Liver Birds from their perches and say ‘well, 98% of the building is still there, what’s the problem?’.

If you think this is a prelude to saying that Liverpool deserved to lose its World Heritage Status, then you’re right, and you’re wrong.

Still historic

Liverpool’s importance to global history is in many ways abstract: trade, movement, philanthropy, economics. These things are embodied in the historic buildings, and the buildings are essential to that history too, and Liverpool as a place will always be ‘historic’. But it is also very hard to capture that in boundaries drawn on a map. That goes doubly for the city’s impact on the world of music and sport. Are the Beatles any less influential today because the Cavern was demolished back in the 1970s?

Liverpool’s World Heritage Site boundaries: how do you manage this?

We will, hopefully, always be able to enjoy Liverpool’s built legacy: the Stanley Dock warehouse, the dock wall, the Leeds Liverpool Canal, the Three Graces, St George’s Hall. The Old Dock was never so accessible a heritage site until Liverpool ONE was completed. And local campaigners continue their sterling work to promote re-use instead of redevelopment of old buildings. That’s the success that Mayor Anderson is talking about, and rightly so. But it misses so much.

UNESCO and heritage

Liverpool’s World Heritage Site was put right in the middle of not only a modern and ever-changing city but a geography that needed and needs development and change. See the aforementioned deprivation of north Liverpool.

UNESCO doesn’t need, and can’t be expected, to take into account the economic needs of the places it designates. It just decides whether a place is ‘significant’. It’s a similar case on the national level for English Heritage. Many condemned EH’s statement that Everton’s new stadium would destroy heritage, in the form of Bramley Moore dock. But what else could EH do? It wasn’t their job to weigh up the pros and cons of the development – that’s for the planning system. EH are purely advisors. Don’t shoot the messenger.

Regional Mayor Steve Rotherham said, about the World Heritage Site: “Places like Liverpool should not be faced with the binary choice between maintaining heritage status or regenerating left-behind communities and the wealth of jobs and opportunities that come with it”. I think he misunderstands the situation. When the existing heritage-status building stock can be re-used to benefit the left-behind communities, then there is no binary choice. But if the existing landscape and its buildings cannot do this job, then there has to be this binary choice, and you have to make the difficult decision. In Liverpool, these two situations were too knottily bound together, given the hige area covered.

And so the problem that UNESCO unwittingly created was that the Liverpool WHS was in an impossible bind. Compare it to something like Edinburgh city centre, also a WHS. It’s a coherent landscape of the New and Old Towns, much more coherent than Liverpool’s, and one in which it is much easier to say no to development: it’s unlikely that you’d want to erect a new skyscraper or stadium in the middle of the Georgian landscape.

Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site boundaries: manageable, if not quite preserved in aspic

Likewise in Bath, in the Stonehenge landscape, or the town of Ironbridge. ‘Preservation in aspic’ is a frequently used derisive comment on heritage preservation, but these other WHSs can afford such an approach much more readily than Liverpool.

Liverpool and preservation

So where does that leave us today, with this decision?

I think it should remind us all – UNESCO included – that a World Heritage Site designation brings with it a certain set of responsibilities. If a landscape is ‘historically important’ then great changes to it will naturally reduce that importance, especially given that modern developments are unlikely to be part and parcel of that historic story.

In a tight-knit and consistent landscape like Edinburgh, or a deeply rural one like Stonehenge, development, and the demands of the people there, are of a vastly different nature to that in a city like Liverpool. These are places that we are very likely to decide that we want to keep much as they are.

But Liverpool is another kettle of fish: there are gaps (or very narrow bridges) in the WHS, and kinks in its boundaries. It stretches for miles and miles, across derelict docks and unused and crumbling buildings. This can’t be approached in the same way as would, say, Blenheim Palace. As the mayor’s World Heritage Taskforce put it: “Liverpool is not a monument or a museum but a rapidly changing city”. Exactly.

Landscape history

As with many things on this site, landscape is crucial, and a landscape is much more than a collection of places or buildings or streets.

I feel that Liverpool’s economic needs were, from the start, fated to lock horns with the demands of heritage preservation. I’m glad the designation was given, and that 17 years were enjoyed under its umbrella. But I’m starting to think that the Maritime Mercantile City should act as a note of caution to UNESCO – and those bidding for a place on the list – about the consequences of designating a landscape like Merseyside.

For bidders: would a designation fit well with the landscape as it is? Will it inferfere with other processes? Have you chosen the most suitable boundaries for the bid? Could you improve them?

There’s no doubt that Liverpool’s north docks were instrumental in the Industrial Revolution, but they are never going to be in-use docks again – was there ever a way that heritage status of any kind was going to sit well with them and their future?

Should Liverpool be a World Heritage Site?

The loss of World Heritage Status felt a little inevitable, and was the end of a long string of conflicts between UNESCO and the city. Gaining the status brought attention, investment and business to the area. It also highlighted the responsibilities that must come with it, and brought to light the opportunities that must be given up, or curtailed.

Losing the status offers the opportunity to do those things we want and need, but felt we couldn’t. Let’s hope that those who propose the next steps of the development in Liverpool City Centre do the right thing, and create a city of the 21st century we can all be proud of, WHS or not.

Liverpool University and its Institutional Landscape

Image: Liverpool’s institutional landscape in 1892. Note everything from the Philharmonic Hall to the Liverpool Institute and the School of Art (Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland)

The area coming to be known as Liverpool’s Knowledge Quarter (how many quarters can one city have?) has distinct landscape characteristics. The university is just one resident in a neighbourhood of academic and other institutions.

The excellent Building a Better Society (2008, hard copy from Hive; download free PDF) by Colum Giles highlighted these. The book formed part of English Heritage’s (now Historic England) Informed Conservation series in the mid 2000s.

Around the same time, Urbed, a design and research consultancy, published Liverpool Knowledge Quarter Urban Design Framework & Public Realm Implementation Plan by Urbed (2008, free PDF) which I’d recently rediscovered buried on my hard drive. This is also a good source on the university landscape.

The topography of this part of town has played a huge part in its development. This little exploration will show how the area grew from a rural out-of-town backwater to the institutional landscape it is today.

Origins of the Knowledge Quarter

The University of Liverpool is at the centre of the Knowledge Quarter, but earns its name from the large number of other academic and research institutes in the same part of town (e.g. LIPA, School of Tropical Medicine, Eye and Ear Infirmary).

The University, the two cathedrals and their neighbours sit on high ground. In fact they’re on a ridge overlooking a steep drop towards the River Mersey.

The Anglican Cathedral rises clear of the landscape in front of it Rodhullandemu / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Before the 19th century there was very little up this hill but fields. Two place names give the game away: Edge Hill and Boundary Place locate this spot as being outside of Liverpool. Even Lime Street was part-rural until 1807 (though Rodney Street and Hope Street had already been laid out by then).

The area was originally known as Mosslake Fields. As you might expect, streams and ponds characterised the place. The developers drained the land before building began. Many of the streams ran down into the Pool before the Old Dock replaced it.

Mosslake Fields early in its development (from Gage, 1836). Did they choose boggy street names – Chatham, Mulberry, Myrtle, Heath?

The suburb

When the area was first developed, the land was used to build houses for the mercantile class looking to escape the growing town. Liverpool was becoming industrialised by the 18th century, and noxious manufacturing processes stood cheek-by-jowl with residential areas.

John Foster Senior and his son, John Foster Junior, were the two men most responsible for the new suburb. By putting houses out here in the fresh air the developers were taking advantage of Liverpool’s ambitions and the expansion of the town as a microcosm of the Empire.

The area benefited in its position in relation to the routes into town. Smithdown Lane, West Derby Road, Edge Lane and Wavertree Road are all major routes into the city to this day. They converge on the east side of Mosslake Fields. The Adelphi Hotel, like Ranelegh Gardens before it, is on the west side of the area, where the streets converge on the city centre.

When the Fosters, began their development, they built squares to act as lynchpins. Falkner Square was the first. Formerly known as Crabtree Lane, Falkner Street was a sort of continuation of Smithdown Lane coming in from the south east.

Great George Square was at the south west end, and Abercromby Square on the east, built from 1803 to 1816. Foster Sr. built Seymour Terrace, an attractive set of houses surviving behind Lime Street Station, in 1810.

You could consider another square, Islington Square near the Collegiate, as the northern extent of the scheme. However, today it doesn’t feel like it!

The first institutions

Churches, then medical and educational institutions, soon followed the houses. St James Terrace (where the Anglican Cathedral now stands) was one of Liverpool’s first parks, cementing the area as a comfortable place with the essential amenities.

The workhouse was the first large institution in the area (built in 1769, now the site of the Catholic Cathedral). This had needed much more space than the built-up town could provide, and the Corporation considered the fresh country air the best choice for its underprivileged and often sick inmates.

Liverpool’s original infirmary had moved out of the town in 1824. It moved to Brownlow Hill from its previous site on Lime Street, where St George’s Hall is today.

Once these institutions had established themselves on the hill above Liverpool, others followed. Philanthropists, wanting to promote temperance and education, set up many. Others, like the School of Tropical Medicine, were direct reflections of Liverpool’s colonial reach and the needs of its well-travelled citizens.

The landscape

A great swathe of Liverpool’s best historic buildings find their home in Mosslake Fields. The neighbourhood is a showcase of attractive residential and repurposed houses, which Urbed attributed to its single phase of development. Its ‘fine-grained’ layout is pleasant to walk through, with frontages right on the pavement.

Urbed also noted this one-plan expansion represented “[Liverpool] Corporation as agent of expressive urban design”. Something which is probably unthinkable today.

In the wars

In the twenthieth century the area suffered something of a decline. The large number of institutions here meant that, after the First World War, this part of town built a reputation as unsuitable for residence. Much of this was down to the presence of industry, and especially the busy rail lines.

Mosslake Fields shown on Bacon 1910, at a time when residency was considered less attractive

After the Second World War the council needed to prevent the institutions from escaping once more, to greenfield sites outside the city. They offered them freehold of their land, which helped push out the remaining private homes from the area.

It was around this time that the post-war planners were doing their greatest damage to Liverpool’s landscape. The area around the University was redeveloped as a group of ‘singular’ buildings in the middle of open spaces.

This contrasted with the original plan (still seen on Abercromby Square and around Hope Street) of uniform streets with buildings fronting directly on to them. It punched holes in the street grid and left the area with an uneasy mixure of the old grid and the new campus.

The Holford Plan (PDF) led to a ‘broken’ campus landscape, with the new large hospital standing away and aloof from the street. Bomb sites became car parks, Islington Square vanished beneath lanes of traffic exiting the centre, and much of the space from here to Upper Parliament Street became formless. Urbed singled out particularly the way in which the old fine-grained grid produced a much better public space than the lonely concrete concourses.

Artist’s impression of how the Catholic Cathedral (Lutyen’s original design) might have looked in amongst brand new buildings (image: Northern Soul)

The climb up Brownlow Hill or Mount Pleasant discouraged cyclists and wanderers from town. This kept the atmosphere quiet, and the academic air and vast panoramas lent the campus a detached feel. The city missed a chance to deal with inequalities of need and opportunity. This was especially damaging and distancing in the 1970s and 1980s.

The University in the 21st century

Of course, much has changed in this area since Urbed’s study in 2008. The Tall Ships, the Capital of Culture and Liverpool’s 800th birthday (not to mention Liverpool ONE) have injected new energy into the city, for better and for worse.

But new developments in the University district (OK, the ‘Knowledge Quarter‘…) have undoubtedly brought Mosslake Fields into the 21st century. It’s another stage in its life, and takes into its future a varied building stock. There are small housing schemes from the late 20th century, university buildings and still many institutions.

Only time will tell if the institutional landscape takes advantage of its unique topographical setting, or falls victim to it. Current developments will have to take this into account if they’re to constribute positively.

Photograph of Prince's Dock, Liverpool, looking north

Postcards from Edwardian Liverpool

Recently, I was contacted by Monica Lewis who had found a collection of postcards belonging to her grandfather. He was in the Navy in the First World War, and Monica thinks these postcards (amongst many from other parts of the world) were accumulated over the course of his career.

She’d like me to share these postcards with you, so I’m putting them here along with a few words about each. Some views might be familar, having been popular postcard views at the time, while others are less typical. I’m not sure how many postcards sent these days include views of working docks! It goes to show how industry was of interest to the general (proud) public in those days, and it’s a treasure trove for us!

Note: all the images have been uploaded in their original high resolution versions, so you can click on them for larger versions, and save them in the usual way.

Bold Street, Liverpool

Photo of Bold Street, Liverpool, looking south east
Bold Street, Liverpool

This is an oft-repeated view of Liverpool’s most fashionable shopping street at the time (and it’s still one of the best today). There’s a horse and cart pulled up next to the Lyceum, and three or four very early motor cars are parked or travelling up and down the road.

As well as the smart neoclassical Lyceum, there is a wonderful set of shop frontages on the right, starting with Faraday’s at the bottom, and including a clock projecting from an upper storey further on. And of course at the top of the street is St. Luke’s not-yet-bombed-out church.

I’m no expect but it looks like this is a very early scene, perhaps 1905-1915.

Canning Dock, Liverpool

Photograph of Canning Dock and two Graces, looking north
Canning Dock Liverpool

Canning Dock is one of the oldest central docks in Liverpool, built in 1797. This image shows masted ships on the three visible sides, and warehouses all around.

This image is another classic Liverpool photo scene, with perhaps one minor difference. The view points towards the Three Graces, but on closer inspection it seems that Cunard Building is missing! This makes the photo easy to date, as the Cunard Building was constructed between 1914 and 1917. As the Liver Building was completed in 1911, this image must come from the period 1911 – 1917 (as it’s possible the Cunard Building is half-built in this photo).

Docks and River, Liverpool

Photograph of Prince's Dock, Liverpool, looking north
Docks and River, Liverpool

This is a much more unusual view. Here we see a view looking northwards over Prince’ Dock. What struck me is just how neat it all is! There are pies of wood, a ship in dry dock on the right, and a neat house next door – the Marine Surveyor’s office. On the left is Liverpool’s Riverside Station, linking ship passengers with the city centre and the rest of the country. A motor car and working horses complete the picture at the bottom. Quite a transport hub in action here!

It looks like this photograph was taken from an upper floor of the Liver Building, and the raised view shows a couple of interesting details further afield.  We can see chimneys and warehouses to the north east, and over to the west is the outline of New Brighton Tower, reminding us of the aspirations of Wirral as a destination of leisure!

Landing Stage and Docks, Liverpool

Photograph of Prince's Dock, Liverpool, lookg across the Mersey to Wirral
Landing Stage and Docks Liverpool

This is a similar view to the others, looking north west towards Wirral across the roof of the Riverside Station. The New Brighton Tower is visible in this view too, though in less detail. It’s much easier to see the ships on the Mersey (though there aren’t many), including one docked at the landing stage. We can see the clock tower and the adjacent Dock Master’s Office at Prince’s Half Tide Dock.

Prince’s Parade and Royal Liver Buildings, Liverpool

Photograph of the north west side of the Liver Building, Liverpool
Princes Parade and Royal Liver Buildings

I’m not sure whether it’s a typo, or if this building was once known in the plural, but this photograph gives a great view of the new Liver Building context. The Tower Buildings (1906-10) peer out from behind, with the Liverpool Overhead Railway running between down the Strand. The much older St Nicholas’ Church is also visible.

What’s striking here is the neat green plantings around the approach to the landing stage. Bushes and lawn line the road at which a cart is parked. We can also see the offices surrounding the churchyard.

St George’s Hall, Liverpool

Photograph of the north west side of St George's Hall, Liverpool
St George’s Hall Liverpool

It’s the little details in this picture that I like the most. Of course, front and centre is St George’s Hall itself, dark from the air pollution of Victorian Liverpool, but none the less grand for all that. But look around the scene, and a lot more shows itself worth looking at.

Lime Street Station and the shops fronting it can be seen to the right, while on the left we can see the Wellington Column at the top of William Brown Street. St John’s Gardens look newly laid out (they opened in 1904), and the large trees which surround it and look stunning lit up at night have not grown up yet. In the foreground are the steps and translucent tiles indicating the toilets on Old Haymarket, along with the kiosk (tram (driver) shelter?).

William Brown Street, Liverpool

Photograph of William Brown Street, Liverpool, looking west
William Brown Street Liverpool

This is another early view of a tidy St John’s Gardens, looking out over William Brown Street and its wonderfully elaborate street lamps, which also hold the overhead tram cables. The ‘Free Museum and Library’ and the ‘Technical School’ (as they are marked on contemporary maps) are easy to see, nearly cheek-by-jowl with the industrial chimneys behind Old Haymarket and further into town.

Update: RMS Lusitania at Landing Stage

Since sending me the original set of postcards, Monica has discovered this great picture of the RMS Lusitania at the landing stage. The Lusitania was famously sunk by a German U-boat off the south coast of Ireland in May 1915, bringing the US into the First World War. So that backs up the idea that these postcards are from around 1910 – the Lusitania’s maiden voyage was in 1907.

Photograph of the ship Lusitania at Liverpool landing stage

Pictures of Edwardian Liverpool

I’d like to thank Monica again for sending me these postcards. It looks like she was correct in thinking they’re early 20th century. Judging by the buildings and fashions it looks to me like they’re from around 1910. That makes them a fascinating insight into a point in time in the city. Having all the photos taken at a single time helps give us an overall feel for the landscape across the city.

I hope you enjoy them!

The Calderstones in their new location

Calder Stones: a new, more accessible, home

The Calder Stones have a troubled history, even for a site that’s about 5000 years old. While it’s escaped complete destruction like many of its Irish Sea cousins, there are many of these Neolithic sites which aren’t doing too badly. Even those completely denuded of their turf, soil and/or cobble mound stand proud in fields across Wales, Ireland and Scotland, the chamber more or less intact.

The Calder Stones, on the other hand, have had the sand in their mound re-recycled for cement, and their stones (both the main stones and cobbles in the mound) crushed and used for road-building material. Then the remainder were torn from their original arrangement and turned into an aesthetically pleasing (to the owner at the time, Joseph Need Walker) ‘druidical’ circle.

Then in 1954 they were put on ‘display’ in a glass vestibule, the only remnants of the extensive glasshouses that once graced Calderstones Park. This protected them from the weather, but the enclosed glasshouse meant that their condition continued to deteriorate. Visitors could only look in through the scratched semi-opaque glass, and as a visitor attraction they were largely forgotten.

The vestibule today, where once were stones

Letting silent stones speak again

One unexpected consolation prize after all this movement was that – so little being known about their original position and arrangement – there was very little further to lose in their conservation and re-presentation. All options could be put on the table.

The new home for the Calderstones opened in September 2019, and I visited in mid-October. How has the visitor experience changed? In a word, the new setting is unrecognisable compared to the old.

Whereas before the stones were locked away in a glass box, at least two metres from the viewer, you can now walk right up to them and between them.

The Calderstones in their new location
The Calder Stones in their new protected environment

The six surviving stones are arranged in two parallel rows. This is meant to be a nod to their original passage tomb shape, but as the relative positions of the stones are not known, the Reader Organisation and the rest of the team were free to choose the order. I’m not sure how it was decided, but if I hear about I’ll add it to this article.

It’s a great solution to the eternal archaeological reconstruction puzzle: do you pick a moment in history to reconstruct? And how do you represent the more recent history? When the Calder Stones were sat in a circle on Calderstones Road, that became part of their history, and is a point of interest to those who study the monument. To try to place the Stones in their ‘original’ configuration would not only be impossible as there are so few left, but it would be as arbitrary a choice as the circular layout.

The parallel rows acknowledge our lack of information, while reflecting the part of the history we do know. They also increase physical access to the Stones.

The new experience

The first thing that strikes you when you arrive at the Calder Stones is how close you can get. There are no barriers between you and the rock faces, just a narrow line of slate between the path and the stone.

It goes without saying: you shouldn’t be reaching out to touch them. But you can certainly examine the stones’ surfaces, and explore them from every angle. You could try shining a torch on them from a shallow angle to highlight the relief patterns. This required special event access before.

You can walk around both sides of nearly all of the stones (one is too close to the glass, so you’ll need to go outside), examine the sides and the tops. You can truly examine the rock art.

State of the rock art

And as it’s the rock art that raises this monument above many of its relatives, this proximity makes all the difference.

No longer is the monument a pile (or ring) of stones to be looked at, gazed upon. It’s a gallery of human actions – everything from the shapes of the stones themselves, through the prehistoric cup and spiral markings, and the feet (bare and shod) from anywhere between the Neolithic, Medieval or modern periods. And don’t forget the graffiti initials!

In some way this feels closer to how the builders could have experienced it: a journey from one stone to the next, glyphs passing the eye. You’re no longer looking at the monument, you’re reading it.

Photo to show carved initials on stone
Those initials – know any JL from south Liverpool? 😉

I’m not sure of the decision behind the stones’ order, but it seemed to me like the stones were placed with most of the art facing inwards. This again might reflect the chamber’s original arrangement, but in any case it makes it easy to take it in in one big sweep.

This freedom to explore the stones surface leads to a tantalising possibility: will I find some new art? It’s been done, and recently! Alas, it was not to be this time, but I’m sure it won’t stop me trying each time I visit.

Here are some of my favourite carvings on the stones (click for larger versions):

You can also more closely look at the sandstone itself, for its own sake. Sandstone is a sedimentary rock, laid down at the base of an ancient sea. In south west Lancashire it’s especially red, and the ruddy layers can be seen on the edges of the stones.

It creates a link, a chain, between nature, the builders of this ancient structure and many of our buildings. Just take a look at the Anglican Cathedral, or St Peter’s Church in Woolton, nearby, and every garden wall for miles around. This is the living rock of Merseyside.

Photo demonstrating the natural sandstone making up the Calder Stones
The red sandstone of the Calder Stones can be found in buildings across Liverpool and beyond

Practicalities

As soon as I posted a couple of pictures on Twitter, the archaeologist Mike Pitts noticed the blackboard imploring people not to touch the stones.

It’s vital point to raise. All heritage projects need to decide on how much access to give to visitors. Perfect conservation can always be guaranteed by completely removing visitors, and if you’re Stonehenge, complete destruction can be ensured by allowing everyone to do what they want!

At the Calder Stones, the Reader organisation have put the stones in a lockable enclosure, with close-up access to them only when the house is open (though they can be seen through the glass at all times). As I replied to Mike, there’s a certain level of trust on display. Coupled with the low level of visitors and the museum-like feel of the place, I think this trust will be repaid. The Stones will no doubt be closely monitored, as will visitor activity, and time will tell us the effects.

I’m so glad they did things this way.

Visiting the Calder Stones

Next to the Calder Stones is a small exhibition placing them in the context of world history. A time-line shows them being built before the Pyramids in Egypt, and Stonehenge in Britain. As it’s the Reader, we’re also shown when various writing scripts began their use.

Another room has an exhibition on the house and estate itself, and the aforementioned Walker family. There are replica newspapers from the time, another time-line, and a slideshow of Victorian images of Calderstones. Finally there’s a café for refreshments, and a whole park to explore!

The mansion house is open every day from 8:30am to 7pm, so go along when you can and enjoy a slice of Scouse prehistory!

Image: the Calder Stones in their new location, taken by the author.

Mystery: Unique photos of the John Bibby Sons and Co. copper rolling mills, formerly in Window Lane, Garston

This is another of the guest posts on this blog, this time from John Owens. John got in touch hoping that I or you, dear readers, could help identify the source of some photos of a copper rolling works featuring an ancestor of his (see main article). I’ll pass it over to John now, who takes up the story.

If anyone reading this does know where these photos come from, please get in touch in the comments box below.

Photos of the John Bibby Sons and Co. copper rolling mills

The John Bibby Sons and Co. copper rolling mills located in Window Lane, Garston, was one of the first industries in what was then a small village, which was then separate from Liverpool. Previously, it had been located across the water, near Wallasey.

Bibby had founded the famous Liverpool shipping line, and in 1836 went into business with Richard Nevill, the manager of the famous Llanelly Copper Works in south Wales, to build and run new copper rolling mills at Poulton-cum-Seacombe on the bank of the Wallasey Pool. There, copper ingots smelted in St. Helens and Swansea were reheated and rolled into sheathing for the then wooden hulls of Bibby’s ships. Many of the 80 or so workers at Seacombe were recruited from copper workers in Swansea, including my great great grandfather David Owens, as well as the works’ manager.

With the extension of the Birkenhead Docks in the 1860s, the Bibbys transferred the mills (and many of the workers) to then green meadows in Window Lane, Garston, in 1865. Many were housed in the “back to front” houses, then called Bankfield Cottages in what is now Brunswick Street. By the 1880s, David’s son, John Owens had become foreman copper roller man and judging from the front page splash in the Garston and Woolton Weekly News when he died in June 1923 an important business figure in Garston. At its peak, Bibbys’ Garston works employed 250 workers, mostly from south and north Wales or their descendants. Apparently, the Bibby family owners had “a paternalistic streak” and provided financial support for Copper Works, FC, which in the 1890s was Garston’s leading amateur football club.

And so we come to a little mystery about which I am seeking the help of your readers in Garston or anywhere else.

Johnny Owens, my grandfather’s older brother, succeeded his father John Owens as foreman copper rollerman at Bibby’s round about 1916.

A recently discovered 82 year old cousin in Woolton has given me copies of four unique photos, which he says were given to him by a bloke in a pub in Garston many years ago. The bloke apparently knew his grandfather, Johnny Owens. My cousin says he thinks the pics were originally published in The Gentleman’s Magazine in about 1915 but I have not found the photos.

Photos of the Copper Works

So, has anyone seen these photos before? Maybe they have copies. Have they been published somewhere else – possibly in some other specialist magazine of the late 19th or early 20th century? Three of the pics are of Bibby’s Garston Copper Works (not to be confused with the Crown Copper Works built by Bibby’s former manager in 1880 on the other side of Window Lane). Two of the older photos include Johnny (b.1875), who is the big guy (22 stone) holding what looks like some kind of measurement instrument. Judging by Johnny’s age, I think the three older, grainy, pics were taken just after he became foreman, say, 1916-17. The fourth photo is a “team” photo of 11 copper workers, probably taken about 1925, and includes Bibby’s manager at the time, Fred Bawden (born in Cornwall, 1857). Johnny is to his left with thumbs in his waistcoat.

John E. Owens in an Emeritus professor at the University of Westminster

A Liver Bird’s point of view: Royal Liver Building 360

There isn’t a more iconic Merseyside building than the Royal Liver Building. It sits at the Pier Head, the point at which Liverpool’s wealth flowed into the Victorian and Edwardian town. Its sister buildings embody one of the great shipping companies of Liverpool’s heyday and the Port itself, respectively. And it’s crowned with the two most famous representations of Liverpool’s symbolic and legendary avians.

Even if it hadn’t been named the Liver Building when it was built, no doubt we’d be calling it that today anyway.

It has a long and fascinating history, from the beginnings of Royal Liver Assurance as the Liverpool Lyver Burial Society. A group of working class men set up the Society to ensure that none of them suffered the ignominy of a “pauper’s” (i.e. unmarked) grave.

From these humble beginnings, the society outgrew several headquarters before settling on the purpose-built Liver Building, which opened in 1911. As I mention in my book, the secret of the Liver Building was that it was much bigger than Royal Liver Assurance needed. The cost of the huge building was offset by letting out the other floors to other companies.

In the 100-plus years since then, no image to represent Liverpool in its entirety is complete without it. And something that I’ve only recently appreciated is how world famous the building is. It’s made it into at least two computer games: SimCity 3000 (1999) and Horizon Zero Dawn (2017) for a start.

Advert from Horizon Zero Dawn showing Liver Building
Advert from Horizon Zero Dawn showing Liver Building

Screenshot from SimCity 3000 showing Liver Building
Screenshot from SimCity 3000 showing Liver Building

Legend has it that if the liver birds fly from the turrets, then Liverpool will cease to exist. I don’t really know what the hell that means, but put it this way: the liver birds on the Liver Building will survive for as long as Liverpool does.

Royal Liver Building history

A new era began in 2011, a century after the building opened, when Royal Liver Assurance merged with the Royal London Group. The building was put up for sale, for the first time in its history, in 2016. Corestate Capital and Farhad Moshiri (Everton FC’s majority shareholder) bought it for £48 million. It’s now home to 16 tenant companies.

The Liver Building on a sunny day

It’s this change of ownership which has led to the creation of a public tour, under the banner of RLB360. The tour opened its doors in April 2019. I was lucky enough to get tickets on one of the most beautiful weather days in May.

RLB360 tour

The Royal Liver Building was the tallest building in Britain from its opening in 1911 until the Shell Centre opened in 1961. It therefore seems fitting that the focus of RLB360 is the access it gives to the roof. But your ticket also gives you access to a small exhibition in the basement, displaying photos and short history snippets of the building, as well as a wealth of stats and facts.

You can also have your photo taken in front of a green screen, inserting yourself into a handful of historic and modern images. They’re a little pricey to buy prints (as you might expect), but there’s no obligation however much you play with it.

Model Liver Building in the RLB360 museum

After a short health and safety briefing (no leaning over the edge!) you’re go via lift to the 11th floor, the topmost office storey, and out onto a lower roof level. Here you get your first impressive views of the Mersey, town and the docks. More importantly, as this level you’re closer to the giant clock faces (bigger than those housing Big Ben) than you’ll probably have been before. It really brings home how massive those hands are!

Immersive video

Most of the attraction of this tour is to get close to the clock faces, the architectural details, and those birds. You also get a 10 minute video, projected onto the walls inside the river-front clock tower.

The spiral stairs up to the roof of the Liver Building

The video starts with the clocks themselves, then transporting you back in time to the construction project of 1911. From here its off through the Blitz raids of 1941, pop psychedelia and Culture Capital fireworks.

It’s a nutshell summary of 100 years of history, but there’s nothing new for anyone who’s heard of World War II and the Beatles. Still, the animated liver birds were pretty cool!

Roof-top tour

It was a privilege to come so close to the workings of the Liver Building clocks; the mechanisms provided the incessant soundtrack to the film.

Manufacturer’s plaque on the clock mechanism

After this comes the final flight of spiral stairs onto the upper roof level. Now you’re half way up one of the two Royal Liver Building turrets, above the clocks. Here are the promised 360° views from Snowdonia to the Pennines. This is the first time I’ve seen both sides of the Wirral without being in an aircraft.

You can also see a great deal of the Mersey, from the windfarms in Liverpool Bay, past ferries big and small, and off to Tranmere and Runcorn. You get a new angle on the city centre into bargain too, and the two football stadia to the east.

A new view of Liverpool

This new attraction is going to be of most interest to locals wanting to see inside their most iconic building. You don’t see much of the Royal Liver Building’s innards, except for the lift, stairs and clock room. It’s all about the views (hence the name) and a smattering of history. For those who don’t mind how they get their aerial fix, the big wheel at the King’s Dock is probably just as good (though you can linger longer on the Liver Building roof). But it’s the experience of being in this precise building which is its big draw.

The view south over the Royal Albert Dock and the city

The display in the basement is good, with just enough to keep you entertained while you wait for your tour.

If I have to criticise something, it was the jagged feel of ‘newness’ that should smooth off with time. The tour guides, while very friendly and polite, lacked the easy-going attitude that made the tours of the Old Dock and the Queensway Tunnel so enjoyable. I’m sure they’ll relax into their roles before long, and feel more confident going off-script. There’s some return value in feeling that your tour guide put their own spin on things; that the other guides would give you a different experience. Whether this is something the building’s owners would accept is another matter, but I hope it’s the way things go.

I learned a couple of things. Firstly, the Royal Liver Building is built from reinforced concrete (one of the first buildings in the world). Secondly, there are three clocks on the river side, but only one on the Strand side. Yes, I know you can tell this from just looking, but if you’d asked me I’d probably have said three clocks on both towers! It pays to be more observant…

More information: you can find out more about the tour, and buy tickets, from http://rlb360.com/

Scenes from a tour: Liverpool from the Liver Building roof

Photograph of entrance to Kazimier's pub garden

Breathing Spaces, or A Sense of Placed

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

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

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

Photograph of Houghton Street, looking towards Clayton Square
Houghton Street, launching point for our walk

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

Breathing Spaces

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

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

Photograph of cardboard cubes making houses and urban features
Some of the results of activities Placed have done with families since landing in George Henry Lee’s former home.

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph of staircase in George Henry Lee Building, Liverpool
The interior of the George Henry Lee building, now occupied temporarily by Placed

Literally Going to Town

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

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

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

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

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

Public squares, car parks and through routes

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

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

Free to Breathe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Responsibility

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

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

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

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

Optimism

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

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

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

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

Free Spaces

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

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

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

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

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

Organic Spaces

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

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

Towns they are a-changing

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

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

Photograph of empty shop window on Whitechapel, Liverpool
… I bet it’s a shop. But the possibilities are much more varied and non-retail friendly

Heritage Breathing Spaces

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

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

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

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

More information on Placed

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

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

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

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

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

The City and the City and the Liverpool Landscape

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

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

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

TV version: The City and the City, BBC iPlayer

The City in the City and the City

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

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

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

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

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

Tale of Two Cities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two cities in one

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

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

Photo of disused Queensway Tunnel entrance, Rendel Street, Birkenhead
The disused Rendel Street Queensway tunnel as entrance to Cupola Hall

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

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

Screen shot of scene from The City and the City
The Kingsway Tunnel ventilator tower provides a suitably oppressive backdrop to dystopian Besźel. The two shots above appear seconds apart in episode 1

Liverpool, city of contrasts

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

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

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

Photo of Water Street as Ul Qoma
Water Street, Liverpool, as Beszel

Photo of Water Street as Beszel
Water Street, Liverpool, as Ul Qoma

Liverpool Heritage, old and new

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

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

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

Filming in Liverpool

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

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

Other locations

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Queensway Tunnel tour – Going underground in Liverpool history, part II

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.

Photograph of Monument to the Queensway Tunnel in Birkenhead
A beacon identical to this one in Birkenhead once stood at the Liverpool entrance to the Queensway Tunnel (By Rept0n1x – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29171165)

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 traveller to the Pool

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.

Photograph of the dragon slide at the International Garden Festival, Liverpool, 1984

Liverpool in 1984: first hand history

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.

Read it: Liverpool 1984: looking back, is on the That’s How the Light Gets In blog.

Image: Dragon Slide at The International Garden Festival in the Summer of 1984, Liverpool, England by Rept0n1x

Photograph of the Oratory at Liveprool Anglical Cathedral

Accents, buses and lost architecture

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.

Read about it, and see photos, on their blog post, Map: https://williamsontunnels.com/the-tunnels/map/

Keeping in Keeping

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.

Read Colin’s blog post on Bold Street, 1890: http://streetsofliverpool.co.uk/?p=5023

Liverpool’s Forgotten Classical Building

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’.

Greek Anomymity is on the Liverpool Hidden History website: http://liverpoolhiddenhistory.co.uk/greek-anonymity/

An accent exceedingly rare

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!

Take the quiz on the Museum of Liverpool website: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/mol/visit/galleries/peoples/accent/

Merseyside on film

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.

Watch The Earth Probe, 1977, on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/113802350

That’s all for now folks! More next time…

Main image: © Copyright Eirian Evans and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Photograph of Joseph Williamson's House

The Williamson Tunnels – Going underground in Liverpool history, part I

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

Photo of the entrance Bryn Celli Ddu burial chamber

Neolithic Anglesey and the Merseyside connection – a trip with the NSG

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

Photograph John Reppion and Ramsey Campbell at Spirits of Place

Spirits of Place: Where historic landscapes collide (with folklore and fiction)

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.

The organiser was John Reppion, who’s written a book on 800 Years of Haunted Liverpool, as well as countless articles on Yo! Liverpool, comics and no doubt more that I’ve not come across. His opening talk set the scene for the day, and kicked off a full set of varied takes on Liverpool’s past. Continue reading

Who’d be a Scouser?

Are you proud to be a Scouser? Are you relieved not to be a Scouser? Which is right?

I’ve recently started reading Candles, Carts & Carbolic: a Liverpool childhood between the Wars by J. Callaghan, which is rapidly becoming my favourite out of the many first hand memoirs of living in Liverpool in the last two centuries. Continue reading

The Liverpool History Geek’s Gift Guide

It’s that time of the year again, so what better way to beat the winter blues than to treat yourself to the stuff below. Of course, you could also buy something for the historian in your life, but who’s gonna know?

Continue reading

Zen and the Art of Heritage Protection

Heritage Protection is a controversial field at the best of times. There are almost as many different opinions on a given listing, say, as there are people offering said opinions. It’s difficult for the likes of English Heritage to decide what to protect and what to let go, and it’s certainly not a scientific process. But should we stop getting confused between the things we should be saving, and the events they merely represent?

Continue reading

Refurbishing old buildings in the historic landscape

English Heritage have released a new volume of their ‘Constructive Conservation’ series, this one entitled Sustainable Growth for Historic Places. It’s all about the benefits of re-using historic buildings for new purposes, and the effects not only on the bottom line of the developer, but also the ability of these buildings to attract customers and tourists, and the benefits of creating an attractive and enjoyable place to work in. Continue reading

Peel Waters and the New Liverpool Landscape

As you’ll no doubt be aware, the planning application for Peel Waters was recently waved through by Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and there will be no public enquiry. Regular readers will remember previous posts, where I’ve come down against the scheme. But now that it looks like going ahead, it’s time to move on and consider how the development will unfold. Continue reading

Mr. John Dewsnap and the teaching of history

This morning, the funeral of Mr. John Dewsnap took place. He was my teacher in year 6 of primary school at Blackmoor Park in West Derby (c.1992-3), and was an inspiration. It might not be too far fetched to say that, if not for him, you might not be reading these words on this website, because he was one of the biggest influences on my love of history. Continue reading

Toxteth – Some distant childhood memories.

The following blog post is a bit of a departure from the normal round of news or analysis.

I was approached by Derek Tunnington who was born in Leeds but grew up in Toxteth, and has many memories of his childhood in Liverpool. What follows is his account of those years.

I’d really like to hear what you think of this. Is it the kind of thing you’d like to see more of? Do you have similar stories to share? Let us know in the comments, or contact me directly. Continue reading

Detail of Penny Lane Anglican Church 2, by dkwonsh via Flickr

Churches, and Rural Landscapes in Urban Liverpool

This article was inspired by Celia Heritage’s recent article on parish churches. Her love of churches, in terms of history, began through researching family history and looking for ancestors’ gravestones.

What to look out for in a parish church

What to Look Out For in a Parish Church is the first article on the revamped Celia’s Blog. The article is a really interesting run-through of the oft-missed aspects of church architecture and archaeology and those features which any observant onlooker can spot.
Continue reading

Photograph of the monument to Edward VII outside the Museum of Liverpool

7 ways in which Liverpool *is* the Museum of Liverpool

The new Museum of Liverpool opens this week, to great fanfare and after what seems like a long wait.

‘Museum of Liverpool’ is a very fitting name too, because this is a museum about the city, and about the people. It’s the largest national museum dedicated to a city in over a century, and opens in a year when the M Shed in Bristol, the Cardiff Story, and Glasgow’s Riverside Museum Project bring similar attractions to those places.

But just as the Museum of Liverpool will capture the city in a nutshell, the city beyond is a museum in itself. For starters, it contains objects that have survived from the past into a new use in the present, but unlike the museum, they’re not on here for display’s sake.

But, in a sense, Liverpool is the Museum of Liverpool: Continue reading

Photograph of the Blue Plaque dedicated to Jesse Hartley

Liverpool Heroes 4: Jesse Hartley

Continuing our look at the men and women who have had the greatest impact on the Liverpool landscape, this time we examine the work of Jesse Hartley, dock engineer.

Jesse Hartley (1780-1860) is best known as the architect of the Albert Dock. But this was just one of his achievements as Civil Engineer and Superintendent of the Concerns of the Dock Estate in Liverpool from 1824 to 1860, and his career was one which changed the face of Liverpool. It’s a landscape we can still see today, and his buildings continue to affect how we move through and how we deal with the built environment of the city.

Continue reading

Photograph of a Viking longboat, taking during the 600th anniversary of the foundation of Liverpool

Liverpool Heroes 3: Vikings in Liverpool

OK, so perhaps the Norse are as far from the ‘Liverpool Radicals’ we have in mind in 2011 as it’s possible to get.

They’re distant in time, left little visible trace in our city, and went about changing society through the delicate application of pointy-horned helmets.

But of course none of that is strictly true. There are traces of the Norse presence on our doorstep, and may have paved the way for Liverpool itself to be settled half a millennium after they first arrived. Continue reading