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. Read more
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. Read more
Those of you trying to drive past Sainsbury’s on East Prescot Road in West Derby may have found themselves diverted around a police bomb squad. A suspected hand grenade was discovered in Springfield Park as work began on the new Alder Hey hospital.
There are conflicting reports as to whether this was a modern grenade or one from the First World War. Hopefully someone will clear this up at some point, but it gives me a good excuse to look at a brief period in Alder Hey’s history: when the grounds of the hospital and park were used as an American army camp. Read more
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. Read more
Memories of Mr Seel’s Garden is a community project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, looking at the history of local food in Liverpool. The three local groups involved, Friends of Everton Park, Friends of Sudley Estate and Transition Liverpool, are all interested in finding out whether knowing more about the past might inspire new ways of thinking about the future of local food in our city. For example, while it might seem strange now to say you were heading out to Aigburth to pick some fresh veg from the farms there, this was exactly what people were able to do only fifty or sixty years ago. With all the interest in developing more local food systems, including long allotment waiting lists and new ‘Growers’ groups, we wanted to gather together a picture of how people used to grow food locally. Read more
I’ve got another two books for you today. This time they are Liverpool Ghost Signs by Caroline and Phil Bunford, and Along the Mersey by Jan Dobrzynski. The first pair of names are familiar through their presence on Twitter and with the Liverpool Ghost Signs Project, whereas Dobrzynski is a new name to me. A quick look at Amazon shows Jan has written a lot of books like this, from all over the country (Severn, Conwy, Cotwolds…). They’re two very ‘landscapey’ books, but let’s see how the two volumes fare against each other… Read more
North Liverpool is an area that I’ve become much more interested in since I started Liverpool Landscapes and Historic Liverpool. It’s seen such changes in its time, and been home to every part of Liverpool society. Stanley Park’s a great subject for closer inspection, especially as it’s become something of a metaphor for one of the passionate divides in the city! Read more
This is a simple book with a simple premise: 365 historical stories of Liverpool, attached to their dates. The whole thing is presented in an attractive hardback, and is just the thing for flicking through when you’re waiting for the kettle to boil. The format and title almost give it the look of a compact Bible, though it clearly aims to conjure up the Chambers’ Book of Days, which had a very similar, if wider ranging, remit. Read more
There are two new books out by journalist and historian Daniel K. Longman. Both are short books, and part of larger series, but take two different views of the city of Liverpool. They both cover history, but are they both for you? Read more
Today’s map is taken from a detailed one that I picked up recently, from the Illustrated Globe Encyclopedia printed in 1878.
The point of interest I’m drawing your attention to is Bootle. In 1878, and also visible on the First Edition Ordnance Survey map of the area, the village of Bootle sits alone to the north of Liverpool. The docks to the west have stretched this far north, but Bootle’s strong links with the port were still a little way in the future. Read more
This week’s research has been all about transport: roads, rail and that in-between technology, trams.
Like a lot of Liverpool’s landscape, the trams were both pioneering and behind the times. The first Act of Parliament was granted in 1868, and Liverpool was the first city to be granted such an Act, and yet Liverpool stuck with trams when other cities were moving to buses, the last tram entering the depot in 1957. Read more
I’ve been obsessed with Liverpool’s docklands this week. I’ve been reading a lot about them while writing the 19th century chapter of my book. Although the book’s focus will be on the changing historic landscape of Liverpool and its docks, you can’t help but be drawn into the technological advances. These too helped create the dock landscape we see today. Read more
Following a request from one of our Facebook ‘Likers’ (particularly appropriate word for Scousers, perhaps), I posted an old map of Brook House Farm in Halewood. Here I want to post a slightly larger version, taking in more of the surrounding area which was, at this time, on the cusp of great changes.
The premise of the Then and Now series is to pair up historic photos of a town with modern shots taken from as close to the position of the original as possible. Hoylake Then & Now is Jim O’Neil’s contribution to the format. Read more
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. Read more
On August 23rd Liverpool celebrated 804 years as a town! OK, so it’s no ‘2007’, but it’s a good time to have a look back the best part of a millennium. There are quite a few things which were laid down in 1207, the evidence of which is still visible today.
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.
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: Read more
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.
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. Read more
Today is International Women’s Day, and to mark the occasion this edition of the ‘Liverpool Heroes’ series (see the last post’s coverage of J.A. Brodie) discusses a remarkable women whose effects on Liverpool were felt for decades after her death.
Kitty Wilkinson’s story is classic Victorian Liverpool: born in Londonderry in 1786, Wilkinson moved to Liverpool with her parents when she was just 8 years old. Tragically her father and sister were drowned at the end of the crossing when their ferry hit the Hoyle Bank.
Despite being faced with the terrible hardships of the time, she was known for opening her house to anyone who needed help. One of the services this entrepreneurial woman took on was to allow people to use her house and yard to wash their clothes for a penny a time. During a cholera outbreak in 1832 she offered her scullery boiler to all who wished to wash their clothes and linen.
This proved so popular that her cellar gradually evolved into a wash house. None of those who worked here became infected by cholera, so effective were her disinfection efforts (e.g. the use of bleach to help clean clothes), and Kitty’s efforts led directly to the opening of the first public wash house. This was in Upper Frederick Street, and opened in 1914.
Given support by the District Provident Society and William Rathbone, Wilkinson was made superintendent of bath, and through the newspapers was crowned ‘Saint of the Slums’.
In 2010 it was announced that a statue was to be erected in her honour, and would be placed in St Georges Hall. As councillor Flo Clucas, who campaigned for the statue, said: “Through rising from abject poverty to achieve lasting reforms in public health Kitty Wilkinson is a real inspiration for every woman in this city.”
So how did Kitty Wilkinson shape the landscape? She pioneered the public wash house movement, and the last wash house closed only around a decade ago. The Upper Frederick Street building was a monument to her efforts, and in a sense the rest of the wash houses were also. In less concrete terms she also affected the human landscape of Liverpool. For the first time there was a place to go to clean your clothes properly, and the effects on stemming the spread of disease through the city are a legacy of Kitty Wilkinson’s generosity and hard work. This woman was a testament to fact that even those born into the poorest levels of society can make a massive difference to the built and experienced landscape.
For an overview of the history of personal hygiene read Clean: An Unsanitised History of Washing by Katherine Ashenburg.
In writing about the historic landscape of Liverpool, it’s often the case that the people get mislaid, or hidden from the narrative. This post is the first in a series which aims to redress the balance, and ties in (rather loosely) with Liverpool’s Year of Radicals. These people weren’t radical in a left-wing sense (some far from it) but they were the pioneers, the bringers of change. They certainly left their mark on the landscape, some in subtle ways. A couple of these people are obvious choices, and some less so. Either way I hope you learn something new and interesting.
And so without further ado, and in no particular order, we begin with…
J.A. Brodie (1858 – 1934)
J.A. Brodie was the Liverpool city engineer from 1898 and due to his achievements was the first local authority engineer to be made President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. The list of accomplishements is impressive, as is the effect he had on the shape of the city.
Brodie was one of the first to suggest an electric tram system for Liverpool. The city’s electric trams ran from 1898 to 1957, and even today the tracks pop up from time to time during roadworks. The central reservations where the trams often ran along main roads are still to be seen in Queens Drive and Prescot Road.
He proposed the development of a ring road, the aforementioned Queens Drive. Roads such as Black Horse Lane in Old Swan were diverted or straightened and widened in the 1920s and 30s. At this time the suburban sprawl of West Derby, Tue Brook and Childwall were yet to be realised, but even today Queens Drive holds up well with the volume of traffic which couldn’t have been foreseen 90 years ago.
In 1905 the first pre-fab concrete tenements were built in Eldon Street. Brodie had been experimenting with concrete as a solution to the housing shortage, and in 1905 he exhibited a pre-fab cottage at the Cheap Cottages Exhibition in Letchworth. There’s probably little need to elaborate on the use of pre-fab concrete in Liverpool buildings in later years, but for better or worse (and despite trade union opposition to Liverpool’s production of concrete prefab parts) J.A. Brodie was a pioneer here.
As if being responsible for one of Liverpool’s major thoroughfairs, and a pioneer in building technology we still live with wasn’t enough, Brodie also put forward the idea for the East Lancs road, so that we can more quickly get to our neighbours in Manchester. And finally, of course, he invented the goal net, an invention of which he was particularly proud.
So: J.A. Brodie: engineer, architect, footy dispute preventer. And a man who’s effect on the landscape of Liverpool can be seen almost a century after he died.
The theme for 2011 in Liverpool could be said to be a celebration of the city’s heroes. This centres around the anniversary of the death of Robert Tressel, author of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. This ‘socialist novel’ has been described as ‘seminal’, and sought to publicise the author’s criticisms of the greed of capitalism. It was also possibly the first novel about the class war.
Liverpool has a long and proud tradition of philanthropy (and class war…), which are still in evidence today, so although Tressel (born Noonan) had only a fleeting relationship with the city (he died here on his way to Canada in 1911) there is certainly a lot to talk about in this year of Liverpool City of Radicals.
In a couple of future posts I’m going to talk about the radicals, philanthropists and pioneers who have shaped Merseyside’s landscape (in quite broad terms!), but it’s worth starting off with a little round-up of the recent and future events celebrating Liverpool’s influential sons and daughters of all types.
Ragged Trousered Philanthropist
Robert Tressell, who died at the Royal Infirmary and was buried in Walton Cemetery, will be celebrated across February in the city.
A memorial service for the author took place on 3rd February, including a recreation of his funeral. Then, readings from his most famous novel will happen on various days until 15th February.
See the Liverpool City Council Robert Tressell Celebration page for three radical events which happened in 1911, and the plans for this year’s commemorations.
One thing Liverpool is doing more and more prominently each year is art, and so Liverpool Discovers will be one of the best ways to find out about the great discoveries and inventions which can call Liverpool ‘home’.
Liverpool, the Wirral and St Helens will be the venue for a trail of art installations celebrating the lives of Liverpool’s greats, from Stephenson and his Rocket and Jeremiah Horrocks to suffragette Mary Bamber and Ronald Ross, who discovered malaria’s mode of transmission in the world’s first school of tropical medicine.
There’s now a map for you to download and follow to take in all these artworks, so get your walking shoes on and hit the streets (from 14th February!).
Set in Stone
Slightly less Liverpool-centric, and with a questionable level of focus, is a project which is part of the Central Library redevelopment.
Liverpool City Council wants you to have your say in the selection of works to adorn a ‘Literary Pavement’ leading up to the entrance. Titles from books, cinema and music have been nominated, meaning Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band sits next to The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
As I mentioned, this is less Liverpool-centric, but another element of the project is to have a ‘Literary Liverpool’ display on the rear of the building. This gives all its space to Scousers, including Beryl Bainbridge, the late Brian Jacques, and Robert Tressell himself (ok, so we seem to have fully adopted him as an honorary Scouser).
Your role is to vote for who lands on the Pavement and who sticks to the Wall, so go and vote!
I must admit I was only vaguely aware of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists before late last year, and had no idea of the Liverpool connection. So I’ve bought the book, and will let you know my thoughts on it if it’s relevant to this blog. I’m certainly looking forward to picking it up, and if you want to buy a copy while supporting this blog, just click on the book cover to the left. If you buy a copy after using that link (even if you choose another edition!) then a small slice of the profits will go into helping this blog break even.
If you do read it (or already have done!) let me know your thoughts! What have philanthropists ever done for Liverpool? Were their gifts to the city just guilt for their own wealthy status (often earned on the backs of the working class)? Or were they truly trying to change Liverpool for the better? Perhaps it was both.
Next time I’ll explore a couple of people who’ve had a ‘radical’ effect on the city. Who should I include?
This year sees another census taking place across the United Kingdom. Censuses have been carried out in the UK every ten years since 1801 (with the exception of 1941 – the Second World War) and are therefore are amazing sources of information for family historians. Alongside other sources they can also be useful to the local historian, and it’s becoming increasingly easy to get your hands on them.
A History of Censuses
The first census in England produced perhaps the defining document of the medieval country: the Domesday Book.
The Book was produced as a way of measuring the wealth, and therefore taxability, of the whole of England, and was perhaps the natural thing for a new, invading, king to administer. Some unconquered parts of England were not included in the survey (notably parts of Cumberland and Westmorland), but for the majority of the country, Domesday Book continues to be an important primary source of information, including as it does the size of land divisions, industry, animal holdings and land owners’ names.
It’s probably well known that Liverpool, having yet to be founded, does not appear at all in Domesday. But many places on Merseyside do, including West Derby, Toxteth, Aigburth, Croxteth and Garston.
The Domesday Book has been an invaluable resource for local historians for years, and is these days available in modern published versions (such as the Penguin Classics translated version). Also, you’ll find the Victoria County History (if you can get your hands on one) bases its organisation on the Book. In turn, I based Historic Liverpool on the VCH, which is why this history of Liverpool is is divided into the townships found in these Victorian volumes.
The first modern UK Census took place in 1801, and the exercise was repeated every 10 years after that (along with some at the five year point in between).
For family history purposes, 1841 marked an important change: whereas the first four surveys had simply collected head counts in all regions, this one included the names of all people living in each household.
The next census will take place this year, on 27th March. There’s a £1000 fine for not filling it in, but also remember the legacy you’re leaving for future family historians (one you’ve enjoyed yourself as a researcher, perhaps). Liverpool City Council is launching a campaign to encourage people to register as central government money is allocated based on population. So current and future censuses still play the role they did back in 1801.
Research using censuses
If you’re a family historian you probably already know the many ins and outs of research with censuses. Many of the older ones are available online (with newer ones becoming available gradually under the 100 year rule). So what can you do with the census data as a local (as opposed to family) historian?
- For city historians the censuses can be used in a similar to Gore’s Directory: if you’re studying a small area then cross reference the addresses with the professions mentioned, and you have a good idea of the character of an area. Was it a residential area full of dock workers? Were there corner shops in the area? Or pubs? Was it a richer area full of merchants, factory owners and diplomats?
- Landscape change over time: following on from the above point, perhaps you want to know how a residential area changed over time. In Liverpool, Everton, Toxteth and Kirkdale were the first suburbs, expanding to cater to the rich who wanted to escape the city. Later these areas were covered with terraces for dockworkers. Later still the slums were cleared and modern housing erected in its place. While old maps can show direct evidence for this change, the census adds an extra layer of detail.
- Immigration: for Liverpool as much as other cities, many events and the tale of expansion are related to the areas in which incoming migrants lived. In our city (‘our’ in the most inclusive sense!) Welsh communities could be found in the north and east, the Scottish in the north and centre, Jews first around Brownlow Hill and then in the southern suburbs (Childwall, Allerton and Gatacre), the Chinese in… well, Chinatown, and the Scandinavians in Liverpool’s ‘Sailortown’ (Park Lane area). Censuses fit in here as they contain information on religion and language, and therefore the culture of different communities.
- If you’re more technically minded, you might even make use of the National Archives’ Domesday on a Map, or its Domesday Places dataset.
Perhaps you have other suggestions for uses of census data in local history; feel free to share them with us in the comments!
If you’re interested in finding out more about your ancestors (as is the most usual role for the census!) then there’s no better place to start than Tracing Your Liverpool Ancestors: A guide for family historians, by noted Liverpool historian Mike Royden. Mike is the man behind the Local History Pages, and has also appeared on TV and local radio. The book also contains a lot of local history too, as historical context is ever important when researching your family tree!
It’s the end of 2010. It’s been an… interesting year politically – a coalition government for the first time in my lifetime; frequent use of the word ‘swingeing’ in many and varied ways; the Conservation Centre is shutting its doors to the public; and snow is keeping you indoors reading this.
But what else has happened this year? Anything to warm our annual nostalgia cockles?
2010 started on an optimistic note – it was the World Museum’s 250th anniversary, though this was somewhat overshadowed with the closure of the Conservation Centre.
February saw start of the excellent Streets of Liverpool blog. Later in February the keys were handed over for the new Museum of Liverpool, although controversy rose its ugly head later in the year when a historic view was shown to have been blocked.
March and April went by in a blur (oh yes, probably because I got married) and when things recovered the election was fast approaching. At the same time Lewis’s was heading for closure as everyone felt the pinch of recession.
In July the first object – a carriage from the Overhead Railway – moved into the museum, but at the same time the North West Development Agency closed its doors. Another funding source for culture had disappeared.
The Peel Waters project cropped up again and again in 2010. English Heritage expressed concerns about the effect of the new buildings on the World Heritage Site, while in later months Council Leader Joe Anderson reacted angrily to what he saw as EH’s interference with Liverpool’s development and future prospects. Meanwhile we were spoiled for heritage and arts projects, including: Edge Hill station being turned into an arts venue, Heritage Open Days bringing people into Liverpool’s historic water supply, the funding of conservation for 95,000 aerial photographs of England as well as Visible in Stone – women’s history and the built environment and in October Black History Month. Finally, Historic Liverpool underwent a bit of a redesign, although it’s far from a finished project. Here’s to another year of additions to that!
Phew! Liverpool and its heritage have had their ups and downs this year. We’ve celebrated the old, welcomed in the new (mostly) and commemorated the highs and lows of Liverpool’s past and imminent future.
Any predictions for the coming 12 months? Or is that an impossible task? And as for 2011, what kind of posts would you like to see here? More about researching Liverpool local history? Should I keep to the news and concentrate the history on Historic Liverpool? Or something completely different?
This week the developer Merepark unveiled a slick video showing the world what the new Liverpool Central Village will look like. Central Village is the name given to the array of shops and flats which is to be built to the north of Bold Street, and which will take in the vacant Lewis’s building on Ranelagh Street.
The thing which struck me was how similar Central Village will look to Liverpool One. The architecture is modern but not brutalist (much). Random colour schemes and harsh corners, but no 60s Piggery nightmare. The brands are all familiar too, with Odeon Cinemas being the most prominent.
But the question raised by the video is ‘Does Liverpool need another (mini) Liverpool One?’ Joe Anderson rightly hails the thousands of new jobs which this development will create (during and after construction), but what can history tell us about how this may pan out?
The last great wave of investment
During the Second World War Liverpool was seen as a great place to site Royal Ordnance Factories (ROF), where munitions were produced for the war effort. It was away from the dangers of bombing which London suffered from, and out of town sites like Speke, Aintree and Kirkby were away from the bombs falling on the docks, yet well connected to those docks by rail, so easing the transport of raw materials coming into the port.
When the War was over the ROF sites adapted to become part of the new economy of the mid 20th Century. Tax incentives encouraged large companies to site factories in these areas which were unrestricted in their growth – there were few neighbours in the area and the land was flat.
There was also a ready-made labour force in the form of the thousands of people who were being moved out of central slums into new council houses, maisonettes and high-rise flats.
There were many problems with these out-of-town estates, and none more famous than the layoffs during the 1970s and 80s. Even then Liverpool was starting to develop its reputation as a city of strikers and protesters, and of a self-pity growing from a feeling of victimisation. Liverpool often asked itself: ‘Why always us?’
Part of the answer presents an interesting dilemma to those who are championing this new development. The problem with the closing factories was that they were branches of multinational corporations. These corporations ‘always’ chose Liverpool because it was the easy choice. There were no vested interests in the city, no love for the place or its people. They were here for the money, and when that left, so did they.
I don’t blame Joe Anderson for celebrating the continued surge in development in the city he loves (and this blog isn’t going to turn into an anti-Anderson moan despite the tone of recent posts!). You certainly can’t take the jobs away from the people who will definitely be employed to build the Village, and who will be staffing the shops and shiny cinemas once it’s complete.
But if history can tell us anything about our own time (and this is what this blog is about) then it’s that investment in an area is strongest when the investors have a stake in the place they’re coming to.
Having lived in places as diverse in beauty as Oxford and Swindon I’m well aware of the standard arguments against the effects of ‘clone towns’ on the quality of life in a place. One of the Liverpool’s strengths has always been its range of independent – and locally based – shops which make a trip into town an often rewarding one (think News from Nowhere, Hairy Records, Quiggins and even Wade Smith). The area around Bold Street is one of the best areas for this.
But the appearance and choice in clone towns is not the only issue, and the architecture is not in question here. The experience of those protesters at the gates of the automotive plants brings home the fact that, for long term success, a local economy must not be reliant on the continued interest of outside money.
What do you think? Will the new developments be unparalleled successes? Or is history doomed to repeat itself as Liverpool continues its transformation into a modern shopping destination?
Amongst the many things Liverpool is famous for, its long-held cosmopolitan nature is probably one of those which Scousers are less annoyed at being reminded of.
Liverpool’s long history of being a world port, along with its notorious role in the African slave trade have perhaps more than any other factors stamped their effects on the city’s image as a – cliche alert – ‘melting pot’.
But what I’ve only recently come to appreciate is just how influential incomers from our own isles have contributed to the landscape and character – the atmosphere – of Liverpool. As a landscape archaeologist this has usually been of little interest to me (except where it affects road names and ‘territories’. But since reading Our Liverpool, and now finally making headway with the giant Liverpool 800 book I’ve come to realise just what ‘Liverpool Cosmopolitanism’ can really mean.
I also feel a greater understanding of the way people from all over Britain (the ‘Celtic’ states) come together to make Liverpool the individualistic town it is.
The British in Liverpool
I can’t judge as an expert, but Liverpool 800 draws the lines between the characters of Irish, Scottish and Welsh immigrants fairly clearly
The Irish are some of the most famous of Liverpool’s incomers. Both sides of my family (the Crilleys and the Greaneys) came over from Ireland in the 19th Century, and I can guess that a large proportion of Liverpudlians reading this could trace a similar lineage of their own.
A huge number of Irish migrants came over fleeing the potato famine in the middle of the 19th Century. Their numbers rose quickly and they were often stuffed into tiny and unclean court houses. They arrived poor, lived in squalid conditions and had a reputation for harbouring diseases in their communities, and conflicts often arose out of this with their neighbours (see below).
On the other side of the coin, yet still probably due to their great numbers, the Irish community contributed more than other groups to politics. The sectarian troubles of their homeland were brought across the Irish Sea, but in addition to the differences between Protestant and Catholics the Irish community took part in electoral politics. Irish Catholic clergy were elected to School Boards. Pub landlords like Hugh McAnulty and Jack Langan lent their premises to meetings of various activist groups. Austin Harford, a successful cloth merchant, led the Irish Party from 1903 to 1923, and became the first Catholic mayor in 1943.
As Liverpool 800 has it, ‘Liverpool-Irish’ was a distinct ‘hypenated identity’. Even as some sought to distance themselves from their roots as a way to “effect the quickest way out of the Liverpool ‘ghetto'”, it seems that as a distinct group the Irish were very active in all parts of Liverpool life (William Brown, funder of the Museum which sits on the road named after him, was an Ulsterman).
The Welsh, in contrast to the Irish, appear at first to have kept themselves to themselves (or “looked after their own”, Liverpool 800, p.345). Having not come as far as the Scottish and Irish, many only stayed as long as it took to make their fortune and move back home. Others came seasonally to work, travelling along the coastal trade routes of north Wales.
This insularity was exaggerated by the language barrier that the Irish never found trouble overcoming. The Welsh were known for their building skills, and the various groups of ‘Welsh Streets’ of ‘Welsh Houses’ became a hallmark. In addition Liverpool became dotted with the Welsh chapels which can still be seen across the city today. In a way these were enclaves which may have helped isolate the Welsh from wider involvement in, for example, politics.
However, in later years there were movements to end this isolation. One of the problems was seen to be the lack of education which Welsh migrants had. Many were labourers and it was felt that this lack of further skills prevented the Welsh from becoming something more than admired builders and architects.
Even as the Eisteddfod and St David’s Day celebrations took place on Merseyside there were encouragements to “Amalgamate … with Anglo-Saxons – in other words, the English”. Though “they loved their language [and] they loved their country” they also “loved their Queen”.
However, perhaps due to their lower numbers, although they took part in electoral politics they never left the mark in the way the Liverpool-Irish did.
As Belchem and MacRaild admit in their chapter ‘Cosmopolitan Liverpool’, the Scots are relatively unstudied in their roles within Liverpool history. But the journal Porcupine suggested in 1877 that “had it not been for the enterprise of the Scotchmen, Liverpool would not have emerged from its early obscurity”.
What surprised me therefore was that it was individual Scottish men, rather than communities, which seem to have made their mark on Liverpool. Sir John Gladstone, father of a future Prime Minister, moved to the city from Leith. He was a commercial man, as were many of his fellow Scots, including Samuel Smith, the ‘Cotton King of Liverpool’.
The professional contribution of Scotland was not confined to commerce. Dr. Duncan, the first Medical Officer for Health, was just one of the leading lights in medicine of Scottish origin.
The skilled Scots tended to cluster further from the docks than their Irish contemporaries, right on the outskirts of the north end of the city. This, Belchem and MacRaild tell us, was partly due to no love being lost between the Scottish and Irish. Indeed the reputation of the Irish for living in filthy and overcrowded courts was not confined to the Scots, though perhaps the records left us by those such as Dr Duncan mean we are left in no doubt as to the Scottish opinion.
As I’ve said, as someone more usually interested in the bricks and mortar of the city, and the landscapes of roads and fields, the topic of people has always played second fiddle to the built environment. But this chapter in Liverpool 800 has give me a glimpse into the roles into which the ‘Celtic’ nations fitted in Victorian Liverpool.
Having said that, one of the things which struck me were the well-defined lines between what the Irish immigrant could expect to find when he arrived from Belfast compared to the life of the Welsh builder or the Scottish shipwright.
Was the truth of the matter so clear cut? I’m sure it wan’t, but what impressions do you get of the Irish, Scots and Welsh in historic Liverpool? Was it the numerous and politicised Irish? The skilled or highly educated middle and upper class Scotsman? And the quiet, insular Welsh communities with their occasional outbursts of Eisteddfod extravaganzas?
Or none of these things?
Our Liverpool (subtitled Memories of Life in Disappearing Britain) is part of the Disappearing Britain series from Headline Publishing, and the third oral history volume from author J.P. Dudgeon, whose previous include Our Glasgow and Our East End.
When I first picked up this book I wondered how an outsider would portray the city, and how they’d get into the community. I also wondered whether it would have much to say about the landscape of Liverpool, as that’s what this website is all about. I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised. Although it takes some time to settle down, Dudgeon pulls together interviews new and old (as well as some written sources) to paint the landscapes of Liverpool in vivid strokes. This book has added a new layer to what I think of as the landscape of Liverpool.
Memories, Maps and personal histories
The main body of the book consists of interviews with local residents. Some were conducted by the author for this book while others were found in the archives of Liverpool Record Office. The book opens with a Beatles anecdote (perhaps inevitably) from a chap in a town centre pub. After that it takes in stories from dozens of other Scousers, including professional historians like Eric Lynch and Mike Royden. These experts give both historical detail as well as personal accounts, and add a variety and sheen that might otherwise be missing from an ordinary oral history.
The first thing that surprised me was just how far back this history goes. There’s a sketch map of Liverpool in the 13th Century, and discussion surrounds the older important places such as Toxteth and West Derby, as well as the Vikings and the Norman invasion. These early book chapters take the reader through to the end of the nineteenth century, the call of the sea (a recurrent theme) and the horrors of the slave trade.
Unfortunately, I found a couple of odd bits of history in these pages. This is George Lund’s take on the origins of the name Toxteth:
“The first settler was a Viking man called Tokey, and “teth” means “settlement”, or “landing place”. Well, they couldn’t call it Tokeyteth, so they substituted an “x” and called it Toxteth.”
I’m not sure who ‘they’ are, but their scientific approach to name creation seems a little out of place (perhaps I’ll let him off as this is a quote in an oral history after all!). Another odd one is the Toxteth riots, briefly introduced on p8:
“Toxteth, at its zenith, marked out Liverpool-born black people as being at the forefront of change on a world scale, a fact that so troubled the then recklessly conservative Establishment that they brought the whole scene to a violent close, triggering the infamous riots of 1981”
This summary of the causes of these riots seem to have lost something in the editing process. The origins of the riots are discussed in more detail later on, but finding this near the beginning of the book worried me as to the extent of Dudgeon’s historical knowledge.
The first few chapters suffer a bit from this over-keenness to buy into the spirit of the town, and the odd skipping around topics (Williamson’s Tunnels are tossed in just after slavery, perhaps just to maintain chronological order), but once the book gets going, it settles into a pacey, emotional, passionate and compelling story of the city told through the eyes of its inhabitants.
Liverpool through the ages
Our Liverpool is a people’s history of the city. While not consisting of landmarks (as such) or maps, what comes out is exactly what historians of pre-writing periods have been trying for years to achieve: a psychological landscape of the region.
What are the landmarks, boundaries and territories in people’s minds? These are of huge importance to local people (as the book successfully shows); they are shared and they help bind and separate communities. Where prehistorians are completely lacking in this type evidence, Our Liverpool ensures that we will never wonder what it felt like to live in Liverpool up to the 21st Century.
For me the book depicts ‘landscapes’ like Scottie Road, the Seamans’ Home, even the Pier Head and the sea herself as stages on which life takes place. The sea especially takes a starring role: it pulls young lads to the navy, it bounds the city on one side, it brings in people and steals them away and it is the lifeblood of trade.
The chapters covering the 1930s, 40s and 50s are coloured with some nostalgia. The 1940s especially seem to have been a golden age in Liverpool. Maybe this is because certain interviewees have particularly fond (childhood) memories of this time, or perhaps because this was just before communities were ripped apart and shipped to the four corners of Merseyside in the following decades. As you can see, location (landscape) is everything to society in tough times.
Chapter 11, ‘Sixties Transformation’, is the longest chapter, as the decade was perhaps the one which most shaped the people of Liverpool for years afterwards. Whereas earlier chapters show the importance of large areas, suddenly ‘territories’ are the clubs you go to, the pubs you drink in and the community centres you frequent. Race and religion become increasingly divisive (and inclusive) as area-based community solidarity was broken up by the Council wrecking ball.
This theme carries through to the end of the book. Scotland Road is turned into a sterile dual carriageway devoid of housing. People move away and where you live seems to become less important as family ties to an area are broken. It’s implied that this is a major contribution to the breakdown of society, and I for one wouldn’t argue against it being a factor.
It may be through rose-tinted spectacles, but people paint a picture of a lost time where violence was honest, short lived and bare-fisted, and no grudges were held. These days, it seems, knives, guns and drugs put a new edge on gangland rivalries which the community cannot absorb, as there is no community left.
By this point in the book Dudgeon seems to know his subjects much more closely. He becomes a passionate neo-Scouser giving voice to the people he found in Liverpool, a voice often lost or ignored. Perhaps his initial outsider status helped him gain the trust of the people he spoke to.
So is this a book for the local historian, or a nostalgia-fest for the armchair sociologist? I was a bit sceptical at the start, and was worried by the strange historical details in early chapters. But having read through the trials and tribulations of these Liverpudlians, and seen how the roads, streets and lanes of their city create the psychological landscapes which shape every aspect of their lives, it’s like a new layer has been added to the maps found in the archives. The territories walked by these people are just as real and clear cut as the boundaries on a ward map, as enabling and constricting a feature as was the Pool itself which lent life to the young town.
It’s a book which will be of interest to those who enjoyed the Lost Tribes of Everton, and is a document which will be of invaluable help to present and future historians wanting to know how people used the landscape, how they crossed it during their daily movements, and how it shaped the people they are.