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

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

Photograph of the interior of Frederick Street wash house
Interior of Frederick Street wash house, built in 1842

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading

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

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

 

Liverpool Heroes 1: John Alexander Brodie, City Engineer

Black and white photo looking along the length of the East Lancashire Road as it was being built
Building the East Lancs Road, by Mr Robert Wade via Flickr

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

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

J.A. Brodie (1858 – 1934)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liverpool’s Radicals

Photograph of the Robert Tressell Banner, made for the Robert Tressell Society in Hastings Taken in June 2005
Robert Tressell Banner, made for the Robert Tressell Society (from Wikimedia)

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.

Liverpool Discovers

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!

Recommended Reading

Cover of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, by Robert Tressell (Penguin Classics Edition)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?

The 2011 Census: History and Research for Liverpool (or, Why fill in the census? A historian’s perspective)

Photograph of the Scandinavian Seamen's Church, Liverpool
20100626_Liverpool_views_013, by Friar's Balsam, via Flickr

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.

Modern Censuses

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 1911 census, released two years ago is the first one where you can read the form filled in by your ancestors (see also www.1911census.co.uk).

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?

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

Recommended Read

Book cover for Tracing Your Liverpool Ancestors, by Mike RoydenIf 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!

Historic Liverpool 2010: A year in review

Photograph of Liverpool waterfront, including new museum under construction
Liverpool Waterfront, by Ade Bond via Flickr

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?

Liverpool Central Village – a lesson from history?

Nighttime aerial view of how Liverpool Central Park will look
Liverpool Central Village, development by Merepark

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?

The British Side of Liverpool Cosmopolitanism

Photograph of the Welsh Presbyterian Church on Princes Road, Toxteth, Liverpool
Welsh Presbyterian Church on Princes Road, Toxteth (Old Liverpool Church, by Exacta2a)

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 Liverpool-Irish

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).

Cymry Lerpwl

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.

Liverpool Caledonians

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.

British Liverpool

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, by J.P. Dudgeon

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

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

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

Memories, Maps and personal histories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liverpool through the ages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Poor architecture, not heritage, is preventing investment in Liverpool

Photograph of Liverpool Pier Head looking north up the new canal extension
New development hand in hand with heritage, by Radar Communication via Flickr

Council Leader Joe Anderson has hit out at English Heritage for what he sees as the over-reaching influence and meddling of the ‘heritage lobbyists’ in the future development of Liverpool.

Anderson’s current gripe is related to the Liverpool Waters project, which English Heritage advised to be reduced. Since their input, the number of tall buildings has been reduced, and the centrepiece Shanghai Tower moved back from the waterfront.

The Daily Post has a balanced editorial stating that heritage matters should be considered hand in hand with development progress, and points out that many historic buildings have been brought back into use successfully in this and other cities. Coincidentally, part of the current Biennial art festival concentrates on the re-use of derelict buildings for public enjoyment.

So does heritage hold back development? As Naomi Peck, project manager of Peel’s Liverpool Waters development team said: “English Heritage would most probably be happy to see everything as it is, because that is what they do – they preserve old buildings… The scheme could have been perhaps a little more magnificent, but obviously we had to take into consideration it is a World Heritage Site.”

So, English Heritage preserve old buildings, and World Heritage Site = no magnificence, thank you very much.

Yes?

Developers preventing development

Looking at this from the other direction, is heritage really the stumbling block? Is the Albert Dock a less ‘magnificent’ development because of all the heritage? Or is the heritage key to its attraction? (OK, enough rhetorical questions.) The flats at the King’s Dock and in the former warehouses at the Waterloo Docks are massively successful examples of historic buildings reuse which have not harmed the historic environment. There are other developments – the very magnificent Great Court at the British Museum and World Museum Liverpool, for example – which have added modern architectural elements to historically important buildings.

However, Joe Anderson shouldn’t be surprised or dismayed when ‘heritage lobbyists’ kick up a fuss about wrecking a World Heritage Site with modern ‘ego architecture‘ (subscription required) – massive developments which are all about money and prestige, and nothing about quality of life in the long run. Anderson may have a different point of view, but I don’t want Liverpool to turn into the Shanghai/New York of the West/Europe. I want Liverpool to be The Liverpool.

The solution to Anderson’s problem is not to stop groups like English Heritage and the Civic Societies from airing their views. Rather it is for the architects to produce creative, attractive modern designs keeping in scale with the current landscape. Even completely new builds like Liverpool One can achieve this, and the Echo Arena for another great example: it’s unashamedly modern (and I’d say attractive), but it doesn’t try to take over the whole skyline.

Compare this imagined scenario to the original article:

He said: “The Wellington Rooms, in Mount Pleasant, and other listed buildings are lying derelict because of the poor designs by the architects would have trashed the building.

“The former Irish Centre was the subject of a planning application, which was even supported by the Bishop, to attach some sort of hotel on it. The architect, supported by the leader of the city council, stopped it going ahead by failing to produce a decent building, and now it is deteriorating in front of our eyes.”

OK, so that’s a bit of fun, but remember: it’s not investment that English Heritage are blocking, nor development. It’s poor architecture. There’s one easy way to get development going, and that’s to design something creative, with life-span and beauty, and which adds to, and doesn’t replace, the amazing architecture we have been left by those who came before us.

Note: all views in this post are my own.

Black History Month and Liverpool

Carving of two black children at the entrance to Martin's Bank, Liverpool
Carving at the entrance to Martin's Bank, Liverpool, by Gadgetgirl2007 via Flickr

Black History Month is held in October each year. It’s origins go back to 1926, and the work of Carter G Woodson, editor for thirty years of the Journal of Negro History. It’s aims are:

  • Promote knowledge of the  Black History, Cultural and Heritage
  • Disseminate information on positive Black contributions to British Society
  • Heighten the confidence and awareness of Black people to  their cultural heritage.

Any student of Liverpool history (and any Liverpool child schooled in the history of the last 300 years) knows the role of black people in the growth, development and wealth of the city, particularly in the Victorian period.

At this time every year, however, a wider debate occurs as to whether Black History Month is still relevant. Is black history not worthy of study the rest of the year? Does the study of general history not include black people to the proper extent (and what is the ‘proper extent’?).

It’s probably not an argument that can be resolved conclusively, easily, or soon, but Liverpool for all its crimes during the height of trans-Altlantic slavery is in a well-placed position to enter the debate.

Black History in Liverpool

The award-nominated International Slavery Museum at the Albert Dock is perhaps the major place to go to learn about Liverpool’s role in transatlantic slave trade, and was built on the success of the transatlantic slavery gallery in the Merseyside Maritime Museum.

As the Vision for the museum states, despite the horrors that went on as part of that trade “the story of the mass enslavement of Africans by Europeans is one of resilience and survival against all the odds, and is a testament to the unquenchable nature of the human spirit.” The museum is telling an affirmative story of the people, who are depicted as humans, not simply victims.

Another story which is being told, and which has special relevance to the subject of this blog, is that by Eric Scott Lynch on the Black History Tours.

As their website explains, the tours encourage us to “raise our eyes from the ground, both physically and metaphorically”. This, coincidentally, was how I developed an interest in the physical urban history of Liverpool: by looking at the details of the buildings, the friezes above the great doors of the Victorian institutions and the road names dotted around the city centre, you can see generally the past written out for you, and specifically the role of slavery – enslaved Africans and the wealthy who traded in them – in the creation of Liverpool as it is today.

Speaking of street signs, you may remember that Laurence Westgaph wrote a leaflet called ‘Read the Signs’ back in 2007. The leaflet covered a number of streets in Liverpool who were named after those involved in the slave trade – either making money from it or campaigning for its abolition.

A debate surrounded whether these streets should be renamed – including Penny Lane and Bold Street – or whether by keeping the streets as they are we would be reminded of how history played itself out.

Further Information

There are events going on during Black History Month in Liverpool Museums. See the 2010 Events Programme for details.

You can download Laurence Westgaph’s Slavery Remembrance Tour as MP3s and an accompanying map from the Liverpool08 website.

There are a number of books covering the trans-Altantic slave trade and Liverpool’s role in it:

Liverpool Continuing Education

Another useful resource for your educational needs is of course Liverpool University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning. They have an ongoing programme of courses, of which you may be most interested in History and Local History, or perhaps Irish Studies, which includes Finding the Liverpool Irish.

If you know of any courses which might be of interest to readers of this site, do get in touch. Or have you been on a course just mentioned, and want to recommend it? Let us know in the comments.

Visible in Stone: women’s history and the built environment

Photo of the marble Florence Nightingale Memorial in Liverpool
Florence Nightingale Memorial, Princes Road, Liverpool by Benkid77 via Wikimedia

English Heritage and London Metropolitan University today launch Visible in Stone, a project and online resource to explore the influence women had on the built environment during a century of intense social change.

After the Second World War, and the undeniably essential jobs done by women during 1939-45 occupying the gaps left by conscripted men, women had gained political and social rights perhaps undreamed of by their ancestors of one hundred years before. However, the journey to this point began to take off around 1850, and the Visible in Stone project seeks to publicise the archives and information which bring this journey to life.

How this ties in to this blog and the very phrase ‘visible in stone’ lies in the institutions and organisations which campaigning women and men formed themselves to fight for rights such as suffrage. An example is the meeting of the Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage in the Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1868. As the English Heritage page says: “The buildings … are a monument to those women who had the tenacity and courage to argue for and capture their vision for our future.” Wash houses, lodgings, offices  and even shops were all arenas where women began to change their place in society.

I have to admit that my knowledge of this type of history in Liverpool is limited, although I know that the city is one of three (along with Derby and London) which has a monument to Florence Nightingale (at the corner of Princes Road). In addition, the first trained Nightingale nurses began work at the Liverpool Workhouse Infirmary.

The Visible in Stone project is perfect for one such as I then, as they want your help. There is a Visible in Stone Flickr group associated with the project where you can add your photos of buildings important to women’s history. This should build into a collection of images to celebrate the journey from 1850 to 1950, and highlight the impact on the built environment this period and these people had. Do go and see if you can contribute.

But, while you’re here, are there any more places on Merseyside with an essential role for women between 1850 and 1950? Let us know in the comments.

Recommended Reading

Women's History: Britain, 1850-1945: An IntroductionA lot of the themes covered in this blog post, as well as Visible in Stone can be found in Women’s History: Britain, 1850-1945: An Introduction, edited by June Pervis. The book consists of chapters dealing each with a theme on the topic, and is an introduction to women’s history.

If you’d like to support this blog, please consider buying this book through the affiliate link. Click on the book cover to go to Amazon.

Photo of Clayton Square in 1986

Local Knowledge, Dating, and Liverpool’s building milestones

I’ve often written about researching local history, either through maps, books, or old photos. But what’s been highlighted for me recently is that eventually all this feeds back, and you can occasionally use your knowledge gained through research to apply to a particular problem.

Most maps have dates on them. I don’t know about you, but I find a map’s publishing date of absolute importance, to the same extent as it is on a photograph. As becomes clear when you try to trace the changes in an area over time, the best results come from having the smallest possible gap between two maps in terms of their date.

So when I recently bought a couple of A-Z style street maps off eBay, I was disappointed to find no evidence of a date on them. I could tell they were more than a few years old by the paper they were printed on, and the price (“3/-“). I could also tell that they were (only just) post-Second World War (the Customs House was gone, but South Castle Street still ran straight through where Liverpool Crown Court now stands). But as a landscapophile (there’s that word again) and a cartophile, I really needed to know.

The dates of these maps turned out to be c.1962. How did I know? The progress of the Otterspool Promenade happened to be something  I’d been researching for my post on the history of Knott’s Hole. The promenade was already started, but incomplete, and the extent to which this was mapped pointed to the exact date. Cross-referencing this with a few other features (suburban development, dockland changes) confirmed the likelihood of this point in history.

So, you may use maps to increase your knowledge of local history, but you can also use your local history knowledge to feed back on the things you see in photographs and maps (and the photos and maps themselves).

Here are a few other key points in Liverpool’s history that may help you spot when your source was created:

  • Otterspool Promenade opened: 1950
  • Football stadia (both Goodison Park and Anfield): 1892
  • Norris Green and other suburbs: 1920s – 1930s
  • Filling in of St George’s Dock: 1899
  • Seaforth Container Port built: 1960s – 1972
  • Slum clearance in Toxteth: 1966 – 1972
  • Catholic Cathedral completed: 1967
  • Anglican Cathedral completed: 1978
  • St John’s Market destroyed: blitz – 1941, demolished 1964
  • St John’s Shopping Centre (and beacon) built: 1969
  • Clayton Square redeveloped: 1986
  • Garden Festival site built: 1984
  • Queensway Tunnel opened: 1934

Are there any others you can think of? Remember, these are the things that remodelled acres of the cityscape – things that, quite literally, redraw the map!

Image: Clayton Square in 1986, just before demolition…, from the Chester Walls website.

Heritage in a tough climate – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?

Photo of University of Liverpool and the Cathlic Cathedral, by Neill Shenton
This and That, by neill.shenton via Flickr

I can’t help feeling mixed emotions about recent developments for Liverpool’s heritage.

Yesterday the first object – a carriage from the Overhead Railway – was due to move in to the new Museum of Liverpool (although it was delayed by the weather). But then today we hear that the ever-present ‘current economic climate’ (my, am I getting more sick of that phrase every day) means that the National Conservation Centre, a favourite of mine, and Sudley House are at risk from closure.

The shutting down of the North West Development Agency isn’t looking like good news for our museums and other cultural institutions either. Though they plan to continue their previously NWDA-funded projects.

What is your point of view? Will our heritage projects be nipped in the bud? Or can the museums, galleries and theatres come out of this stronger?

What are the long term implications?

Liverpool Echo show first glimpse inside Mann Island shards

View of the Mann Island developments and the Pier Head, Liverpool
Another Graceful View, by Max/マックス via Flickr

It’s nearly here. You don’t like it, I don’t like it, but the controversial Mann Island development is forever nearer completion. The Liverpool Echo were granted exclusive access inside.

There’s mention of exhibitions, which must be good (though whether this will be a compliment to or a conflict with the new museum remains to be seen), and then there are the “half a dozen top restaurants and … major chains”. What Liverpool waterfront certainly needs are more major chains, right?

But this blog is about history, development and change, not economics (and certainly not shopping). What it’s also about is landscape, and it’s the context of this building which troubles me and plenty of other people.

As modern architecture goes, I quite like it. Sleek, modern, shiny, it’s like a big iBrick. It’s easier on the eye than the One Park West apartments across the Strand with their spidery framework on display.

But as news reports have highlighted recently, and other bloggers too in more personal channels, it has cut off expensive views from other buildings in the area, and destroyed the best, possibly most iconic view of the World Heritage Site from the said Strand.

Plans are afoot to turn the north docklands into a new Shanghai, and the area towards Stanley Dock in the north is a bit cut off, though development is moving in that direction. If this building had been put further north, although it would have clashed just as horribly with the massive brick warehouses, it would have been the right height for the city, keeping that intimate, human-scale feel that we all enjoy about our town, and increased the modern variety that those docks are getting.

However, keeping it away from the Three Graces would maintain that area’s all-important coherence, of proud architecture which has stood the test of time.

What do you think? Is this the right building in the wrong place? Where would you prefer to see it? North Liverpool? Kirkby? Shanghai?

Extract from the Greenwood old map of Lancashire, 1818

Old Maps for Local History Research

Although the Ordnance Survey maps chart the most significant changed in Liverpool’s history, older maps often are unique. They show details or aspects which no other map does, and can often show what was important to the map-maker. You can’t beat old maps for laying bare the great changes of a city like Liverpool.

Modern maps are often much more ‘objective’ in comparison. But old maps are still of use to the local historian, at the same time as being beautiful objects.

If you know of any others I’ve missed out, or other places where these maps are available, let us know in the comments!

Early Liverpool Maps

Liverpool developed from seven streets, laid out at its founding in 1215. Soon there was a castle, a chapel and the Tower, a fortified house built by the Stanley family in 1404. Maps of this period (1205-1700) do exist, most of them drawn later. Here are a few of the easiest plans of Liverpool to get hold of.

One of Ashton's two old maps of Liverpool - a sketch of Liverpool from 1920
Liverpool from the River in 1650, by William Ashton

William Ashton included a simple sketch of 17th century Liverpool in his book ‘Evolution of a Coastline’ in 1920 (above).

Ashton also drew a top-down plan of Liverpool:

Another of Ashton's old maps - a sketch map of Liverpool as it was in 1572
Liverpool (‘Lerpoole’) in 1572

The book itself has recently been reprinted, so if you want a higher resolution copy you can pick up ‘Evolution of a Coastline‘ at Amazon.

Genmaps

Genmaps is a map site hosted by Rootsweb (part of Ancestry.com), and has a page on Lancashire maps. There’s a huge range, so I’ve collected the Liverpool entries in the following table. If you’re reading this in the dim and distant future, I recommend going to the original page, hitting Ctrl+F on your keyboard and searching for ‘liverpool’ to catch newer uploads.

 

Name Date Map-maker and Notes
Liverpool Early 18th century Bird’s eye view. Map maker not known
Swire’s plan of Liverpool 1720 William Wales – Wales & Co. Castle Street Liverpool. This is actually a tiny insert on the much bigger map by Swire from 1824.

19th Century

Liverpool, street plan ca.1801 George Cole. engr.J.Roper  in The British Atlas
Lancashire 1809 John Cary
Liverpool, Warrington, Leigh area 1809 John Cary (detail of map above)
Liverpool 1832 Lt. Robert Dawson in Plans of the Cities and Boroughs of England and Wales: shewing their boundaries as established by the Boundaries’ Act, passed 11th July 1832
Liverpool, street plan ca.1833 (includes plan of  Liverpool in 1729) Society for the Diffusion of Knowledge. This is a hand-coloured (but smaller) version of my map by Mickleburgh, completed with engraved building profiles along the bottom.
Plan of the Liverpool Docks 1846 Jesse Hartley (Dock Surveyor) engr. C.B. Graham, Washington, D.C.
Environs of Liverpool 1850 Thomas Cowperthwait (inset detail from England)
Liverpool Docks ca.1860 J.Bartholomew for R. Fullarton.
Liverpool 1863 John Dower, published in The Weekly Dispatch
South West Liverpool 1863 B.R.Davies (detail from Liverpool map  in The Weekly Dispatch Atlas). Historic Liverpool has a much bigger and zoomable verion of the Weekly Dispatch Atlas.
Liverpool-Birkenhead area ca.1870 A.Fullarton (detail from The Environs of Liverpool and the Estuaries of the Mersey & Dee)
The Town and Borough of Liverpool 1880 J. Bartholomew. (detail)
Plan of Liverpool 1881 Charles Letts
Liverpool.-sewers,contourlines and municipal boundaries 1882 Map maker not known
Liverpool – city plan 1883 George W. Bacon in The New Ordnance Atlas of the British Isles
Liverpool (Eastern Section) 1885 Report of the Boundary Commissioners for England and Wales. There’s a link through to a higher resolution version.
Liverpool (Western Section) 1885 Report of the Boundary Commissioners for England and Wales.
Liverpool 1897 Century Atlas Company. (detail from map of England and Wales) Quite a tiny map!
Liverpool 1898 Meyer in German lexikon Brockhaus. Published by Leipzig Bibliographisches Institut. Notable for being a German language map.

20th Century

Liverpool: town-plan (and detail) 1900 K.Baedeker
Environs of Liverpool & the estuaries of the Mersey and Dee ca.1910 J.Bartholomew
Liverpool Docks 1920 George Phillip (detail from The New Mercantile Marine Atlas)
Liverpool 1922 G.Bartholomew (detail from The Towns of England in The Times Atlas)

Some of them are high resolution, and some not. Others have links to higher resolution versions of extracts below them.

Lancashire County Council

Lancashire County Council has the best collection of old maps for any student of Liverpool history. It runs from a reproduction of Gough’s 1320 map, through all the major map makers: Speed, Yates, Greenwood, Hennet.

Greenwood’s map of Lancashire from 1818, is undoubtedly the best! Click on the exact point you’re interested in, as this map has been cut up into sections when added to the site.

Old Maps of Liverpool

It will take a fuller article to go into all details hidden in maps like these. For us today they provide an immediate visual visit on the past, easy to interpret. For this reason one of my favourites has to be this 1833 Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge map (if only for the name!) I now have a high resolution, zoomable version of this map.

It shows quite a lot of detail, including Bootle Castle at the end of Regent Street, an unfamiliarly station-free Lime Street, and is detailed right out to Kensington (the edge of the city back then). Click on the map to zoom in.

Oldest of the old maps

Finally, I want to mention a map I only saw for the first time recently. It is included in the modern edition of The Calderstones by Ron Cowell. The map was made in 1568 to help solve a boundary dispute between Allerton and Wavertree. Not only does it show the Calderstones, but it also shows the mysterious Rodgerstone and the Pikeloo Hill.

The Rodgerstone might have been a single standing stone, while the Pikeloo Hill could be a burial mound. The Pikeloo Hill could even have been as large as Silbury Hill, a prehistoric mound in Wiltshire.

Not only does this seem to be the oldest map of the Liverpool area. It’s also a tantalising glimpse of a prehistoric complex now long lost. The map isn’t online, so if anyone has a high resolution scan, do get in touch.

Well, that rounds off this brief excursion into Liverpool maps. There are certainly some I’ve missed, so please share your own sources in the comments!

Image: Extract from the Greenwood map of Lancashire, 1818, available in full on the Lancashire County Council Old Maps of Lancashire website.

Advice for Historic Areas Conservation

A view of Liverpool Museum and Mann Island from the Albert Dock, Liverpool
Liverpool Waterfront, by adebⓞnd, via Flickr

There’s a lot of bits of interest dotted around the place at the moment, so tonight I’m going to concentrate on the serious stuff, with a couple of more fun things later in the week!

Understanding your local history

Local groups are some of the most important people to help protect the historic parts of our towns and cities. Along with planners, developers and local government, they have the greatest influence on what happens (or doesn’t happen) to historic buildings.

English Heritage have recognised this in their latest guidance notes called Understanding Place (see the Related Publications link on the right). The documents focus on Historic Area Assessments, which are one method of ‘characterisation’ which aims to assess the significance of a historic place through objective research using maps and other documents (it’s a bit like what I do for Historic Liverpool!).

If you’re part of a community group, or it’s your job to study local history and archaeology in a planning and development context, download the free PDFs from EH’s website.

On a wider scope, English Heritage are also asking for your opinion on the National Heritage Protection Plan (NHPP). There’s a survey linked to from their NHPP web page.

Merger questions for two of Liverpool’s major agencies

Liverpool Vision (public sector body dealing with regeneration) and the Mersey Partnership (part-public funded, concerned with tourism and investment) may merge as part of efficiency savings by Liverpool Council.

A report is being written by Professor Michael Parkinson of John Moores University, after the council’s new leader Joe Anderson ordered a review. The North West Development Agency (NWDA), as major funders of both bodies, are also in support of the report. Anderson said: “I want to make sure we are efficient and delivering the best possible services and that overlaps and duplication are taken out of the system”.

Do you think a merger will have a positive effect on Liverpool? Or will any cuts risk the city’s continued resurgence?

And finally…

What do you really think of the Mann Island developments? I mean – really? Now’s your chance to let Matt Brook, the man responsible for the “people-orientated approach for design” at Mann Island, know. For more, through-gritted-teeth, details, go to the new Seven Streets website.

They’re article Total Eclipse of the Heart is quite, well, heartfelt too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1945 OS Extract Map of Liverpool

Ordnance Survey Maps for Local History Research

This is the first in a series of posts which will hopefully help you research the local history of your area, whether it’s Liverpool or elsewhere. It’s about maps, as my own main site, Historic Liverpool, is based on maps. Part 1 will focus on late 19th and early 20th Century maps.

Beginning Map Research

Maps are an amazing way to research local history. Start with a recent map, and then look at increasingly older editions. Immediately you can see in reverse the changes which have happened over time. You start with something very familiar, and gradually work your way back. Sometimes, an unbelievable amount has changed in very little time.

But whether you are researching Liverpool, or another city or any rural area of Britain, you’ll need to know what maps have been made of your location, and when they were made. Luckily, in this day and age it’s not hard to find them.

For every local historian, the first port of call must be the Ordnance Survey maps. You can pick up the current version for around £8, or a recent second hand copy off eBay for a fiver. Get a 1:25,000 Explorer map – these show individual buildings but cover enough area (unless you’re really unlucky!) for your needs. Even Amazon sell the Ordnance Survey Liverpool sheet these days.

That’s the easy part!

Now you have your anchor, your reference point for all the other maps you’ll be looking at. This serves as the base for your next step, which is known by the professionals as ‘map regression‘. This just means that you collect as many maps as possible, and work your way back through them and noting the changes.

Getting a recent map of your area should be easy enough, but slightly older ones are going to be second hand. You need to be aware of where to get them.

Second-hand and online maps

eBay

Your first choice for buying paper maps has to be eBay. I’ve bought almost all of my OS maps from this site, each for about the price of a pint of beer. eBay seems to be strongest with the years between 1930 and 2000, particularly 1950 – 1980.

OS maps from across this period repeatedly appear for a couple of pounds. Keep an eye on this site so you’re ready when the right map appears. You’d also do well to keep an eye on what you’ve already bought. More than once I’ve nearly ended up with two maps from the same year!

The list I have for Liverpool includes: 1947, 1952 (last revision 1947-9); 1961 (last revision 1958), 1964, 1978 and 2000. (For an excellent overview and samples of all the OS map series, see http://www.charlesclosesociety.org/osseries).

Older OS maps are a bit harder to find (see below), although occasionally a great find pops up on eBay. Luckily, there are ways you can get a look at OS maps without leaving the comfort of your own home. There are a couple of web sites which let you view old OS maps, and some of these are very nifty mapping sites in their own right.

Old OS Maps

Old OS Maps is a simple name belying an amazing little tool. Unfortunately there’s a big black hole where Liverpool should be. I’d scan in one of my own maps to donate it if only I had a big enough scanner! However, the site’s well worth a look, as it overlays a small modern Google map extract over the centre of the screen. This overlays an Ordnance Survey map from around 1925 to 1945 (depending on location). Have a look if your area lies outside Merseyside.

 

Commercial map sellers

Getting maps off eBay, and viewing maps online are the cheapest ways to get the most common editions. The following sites will sell you brand new reproductions of old maps, including difficult-to-find early editions.

Alan Godfrey Maps

This site publishes a huge list of maps of Liverpool and elsewhere. They’re paperback maps about A3 size, and extremely detailed (though that means they cover a small area). There’s an odd lack of illustration on the site, probably due to its age and the huge number of products on there. However, the maps are an unparalleled resource, and are also sold all the time on eBay.

Cassini Maps

Cassini are a large commercial map company, slightly reminiscent of the National Archives web site. The company sells highly polished map products of all types. You can get downloadable or printed maps, and specify the area and period you want. There’s also a boxed set of maps of Liverpool, which comes in useful for the wide-ranging form of map exploring!

David Archer Maps

The David Archer site, like the Alan Godfrey one (above) is a site with little in the way of pictures. Unfortunately, since this article was first written the shop has closed. However, they’re keeping the site up for information purposes. Update, Oct 2019: Though the business has closed, the site is still up and sales of remaining stock are ongoing.

You can see a huge list of map editions, and the years they were produced, on the Maps, books, information page.

Take a look at the informal blog “A nice cup of tea and a chat about maps” (now only available via the Wayback Machine on the Internet Archive). It’s quite a rambling but entertaining diversion into other map sites, Christmas cards and exhibitions. It also reveals that David’s a fan of free and open source software, which always gets the thumbs up from me!

Despite their closure, if you know what you want then you can contact them. They won’t carry out research, but their boundless knowledge might mean they can fire off an email to help you on your way.

Last Words

This has been a fairly brief overview of map sources. There are many more online, but these are the few I keep going back to. When you’re ready for the next step, you can read my guide to Old Maps, which are often a lot harder to find.

Of course, if you know of better places to get hold of old maps, share it in the comments!

How Merseyside’s Historic Landscape Helps During the Snow

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

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

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

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

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

Liverpool 100 years ago

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

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

Liscard Hall not to be rebuilt

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

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

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

Liverpool’s Redundant Buildings (or, What future for Stanley Dock and friends?)

Stanley Dock, by Tim.Edwards
Stanley Dock, by Tim.Edwards, via Flickr

There has been a certain amount of interest in my post on re-using Liverpool’s derelict buildings and in particular the derelict tobacco warehouse at Stanley Dock, which many (me included) would like to see regenerated. A few questions remain, such as the problem of too-low ceilings (are they too low? How low is too low?). If this is a problem, are there any other uses to which the huge building could be put (See ‘Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse below)?

There is also of course the larger problem of the isolation of the warehouse and other buildings down that part of the city. It’s handy for the town centre, but a little too far to walk, but possibly not worth driving in.

We could sit around here all day discussing the problems of regenerating the warehouse area, but I’d like to keep the focus on the wider issue of the redevelopment and re-use of derelict buildings, of which there are many around Merseyside. There are other cities in the country who have already taken up the challenge. Four of them are mentioned in the English Heritage (EH) publication Making the Most of Your Local Heritage: A Guide for Overview and Scrutiny Committees, downloadable from the HELM website (and which actually has a photo of our own fair city on the cover).

Although the booklet is aimed at those already involved in local heritage and planning issues, any of us can take its advice on how to make the most of our historic landscape and the buildings in it. Of particular interest is Case Study 3, Wolverhampton and Heritage at Risk: Protecting the Irreplacable (can you see where this is going? ;)).

A quote:

Wolverhampton City Council recognised the considerable potential of redundant historic buildings when in 2004 a scrutiny panel was established to investigate how an increasingly uninhabited historic environment could be used as an effective impetus for regeneration. The review attracted widespread attention amongst the local press and community as the Panel sought to establish how new uses could be found for a significant number of historic buildings…

Their report found that a crucial factor for success was the partnership between the City Council and developers, and recommended a set of character appraisals for important sites and other areas at risk. Could this be a solution for Liverpool? Does Liverpool have a similar process or committee? And what role can local residents play in the absence of such organisations? (Check out the advice for Heritage Champions on the HELM website).

Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse

I’ve found an old Liverpool Echo story referring to plans to regenerate the whole warehouse area from Dec 8th 2003, with “1000 building and permanent retail jobs” by 2008. I think we all know what happened to that optimistic scheme. Originally, owners Kitgrove had planned to demolish the building and keep the north west supplied with bricks “for the next decade” (the warehouse is the largest brick building in Europe). Luckily heritage groups and the city council opposed the plans.

Another scheme to regenerate “starting in 2009” was reported in June 2008 (scroll down to Stanley Dock).

A problem both articles mention is that little light manages to make it into the centre of the building, requiring that it be cored out to create a central atrium, something akin to the entrance to World Museum Liverpool. Also the general complexity of the building means options are limited for re-use. Nevertheless, past projects were ambitious: “There will be an exclusion zone on part of the roof to provide a nesting area for peregrine falcons.”

Useful Resources:

Ownership of buildings in the Liverpool Mercantile City World Heritage Site (see p3): http://www.liverpool.gov.uk/Images/tcm21-32550.pdf
World Heritage Site Management Plan: http://www.liverpool.gov.uk/Leisure_and_culture/Tourism_and_travel/World_heritage_site/Management_plan/index.asp

Conservation Areas – Conservation Bulletin

West Derby is one of nearly 40 Conservation Areas in Liverpool
West Derby is one of nearly 40 Conservation Areas in Liverpool. West Derby 2, by Mrs Magic via Flickr

Every month or so English Heritage releases a new issue of Conservation Bulletin (ConBull), and the latest issue is on Conservation Areas (available in PDF and Microsoft Word formats). Conservation Areas (CAs) were created with the aim of ‘preserving and enhancing’ the built character of a location, and it’s worth flicking through this ConBull for its relevance to areas of Liverpool.

The document is the collected work of experts in the field of conservation, though what is refreshing in recent English Heritage publications is the emphasis on a balance between preservation and development, which can often be in stark contrast to the most conservative Nimby opinion pieces (you know who you are!).

This issue thankfully takes into account the social and economic benefits of preserving historic urban and rural areas, which can only aid the argument for their protection. The whole publication aims to integrate CAs into a positive role as part of the planning process, partcicularly in struggling economies where CAs can easily be cast as an an obstruction to recovery.

What is revealed is that Conservation Areas, in the British sense, are unique in the world – other countries tend to include natural formations within the Conservation Areas definition (what we might in the UK call Sites of Special Scientific Interest, or perhaps Nature Reserves). Examples of this type can be found in China, Australia and Mexico, and this magazine visits all three areas for a comparative look.

Of major interest are the methods by which Conservation Areas are designated. Just as it is useful to know your chances of getting a local building listed, it pays to understand how the professionals judge the importance of CAs, and how the practice of dealing with threats to them works. This issue of ConBull is therefore useful if you live in and wish to help conservation efforts in a local CA.

As an interesting aside, it is reported in this issue that Sefton Park was valued by CABE at £105 million. I’m not sure what this price was based on, but it helps put the Park into context of the interest in economic value of CAs.

The most promising thing about this Conservation Bulletin, and a lesson for us all perhaps, is that it shows that English Heritage do not consider Conservation Areas to be ‘set and forget’ designations. They are part of the planning process, part of people’s living and working environments, and as such should be considered as evolving parts of the landscape, just like the cities in which they sit.

Do you live in one of Liverpool’s Conservation Areas? What are your attitudes to change? What’s distinctive about the place and what is under threat?

Conservation Areas were created in 1967 as part of the Civic Amenities Act. There are 9300 in England, nearly 40 if which are in Liverpool. The aim of CAs is to allow authorities to “determine which parts of their area are areas of special architectural or historic interest the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance” Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (c. 9) (c. 9)

Exclusivity: which parts of the city are Yours?

Quiggins Brooke Cafe, by Indigo Goat via Flickr
Quiggins Brooke Cafe, by Indigo Goat via Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uses for Liverpool’s Listed Buildings

The Observer reports on a survey by McBains Cooper which suggests that giving Grand Designs-like makeovers to Britain’s vacant listed buildings could help with the shortfall of up 1 million homes.

The suggestion is that the hundreds of listed buildings which are currently out of use could be converted to flats and houses. However, the main objection is the red tape and hassle that owners expect to have to go through to get plans accepted.

Stanley Dock by Paul Holloway, via Flickr
Stanley Dock by Paul Holloway, via Flickr

Having seen, and mapped, the listed buildings most at risk in Liverpool, according to English Heritage, I know that a great many of them lay dormant, without use and without any plans for the future. My favourite is the tobacco warehouse at Stanley Dock. This is a colossal building, and identical to all intents and purposes to the warehouses at the King’s Dock which are now plush and expensive footballers’ homes, and which ensure the preservation of these globally important structures. There seems no reason why the Stanley Dock warehouses couldn’t be put to similar use. New flats are also found all along Waterloo Road, occupying former derelict buildings. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before Stanley Dock is converted. Maybe the owner has been waiting for the best time. But these kinds of projects need to be started sooner rather than later. How many flats could you fit in that warehouse, plus shops, parking and maybe offices on the ground floor? Granted, at the moment these buildings are a tad out of the way of the city centre, but the location must be attractive to many who would save on transport costs to the offices and shops in town.

There also has to be the one project which starts the regeneration of the entire area all the way up Waterloo Road to Nelson and Huskisson Docks. The main thing to remember, however, is that the housing shortfall is not with the wealthy King’s Dock flat owner types. It’s with the thousands of families who can’t afford a house, so it would be no good to create another ‘exclusive’ gated community. Could a Stanley Dock scheme both ensure the preservation of the warehouse structure and provide a more accessible housing scheme than Kings or East Waterloo Docks?

Of course, there are other vacant listed buildings in Liverpool, crying out for regeneration. What buildings in your area could benefit from such a scheme?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy the books

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

The English Semi-detached House

Amazon (UK)

Local History on the Ground

Hive, which helps support independent bookshops near you

Amazon (UK)

Liverpool ‘one of the earliest seaside resorts’

Researchers from the University of Liverpool have found diary references to ‘bathing wagons’ and other leisure activities taking place in the growing town from as long ago as the 1750s, much earlier than other local towns like Blackpool and Southport became popular destinations.

Once Liverpool began to expand at a massive rate in the Victorian era, holiday-makers (those who could afford to leave) made their way from the dirty city to the clean air of the seaside. It was at that time that the surounding Lancashire towns became known for bathing and other seaside pursuits, and their popularity only increased with the spread of the railways and organised trips for the working classes.

Leave! Before it’s too late!

Although according to one report, it already is too late. Policy Exchange, a ‘right-of-centre’ Think Tank have branded Liverpool (among others) as beyond help. All the regeneration efforts are wasting money – this city on the north west coast will never be as rich as London, so what’s the point? Well, rather than telling us Merseysiders to do ourselves a favour and take a long run off the Pier Head, Tim Leunig and James Swaffield suggest we pack our bags for London. They go on to say that Liverpool has lost the very reason for its existence now that the port is no longer in its Victorian heyday.

Messrs Leunig and Swaffield have concluded that there is no other reason for continuing the rich adventure of life if you are not making as much money as possible. Now that the port of Liverpool is not what is was, Liverpool should just bite the bullet, and shut up shop. Then we can all move to London and start raking in the cash. Of course, Mr. Leunig is London based, but did come to Liverpool once, when researching “cotton towns”, so clearly he knows what he’s talking about…

The Liverpool Echo details the story, as I’m sure will many other sites who object to Bradford, Newcastle, Manchester and Sunderland being dismissed so easily. They also publish his email address: t.leunig@lse.ac.uk. Let him know what you think.

Liverpool Gangs, by Michael Macilwee

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy the book

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

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

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