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Map of Pembroke Place, Liverpool

The ‘dark’ heritage of Pembroke Place from documents and archaeology

This is part of a series of posts based on the talks given at the Recent Developments in Merseyside Archaeology conference. It was held on the 13th October 2018, and took place at the Museum of Liverpool. Liz Stewart spoke about Pembroke Place, and the different projects which have been going on there. Galkoff’s Place featured prominently, as did court housing and the area’s ‘darker’ history.

The Pembroke Place project

Liz began her talk with an overview of the project she ran at Pembroke Place. Liverpool’s famous School of Tropical Medicine are landowners in the area, and have been a partner in the project. The centre of the project has been Galkoff’s butcher’s shop and Watkinson Terrace – a court house next door.

In 1835 a map by Gage documented the high density of residents in the area. Before this time the area had been a place of ‘goodly mansions’, but the owners of those had started moving out to the more salubrious outskirts of Liverpool. Their large houses were disappearing, slowly replaced with much smaller dwellings. However, some of these larger villas still stood to the east of Daulby Place when the smaller buildings appeared on the map.

Map of Pembroke Place, Liverpool
First Edition Ordnance Survey map of Pembroke Place, Liverpool, showing the court houses in the centre and the larger villas to the right, bordering on Daulby Street

Liverpool’s population in the 19th century

In the early 19th century 40% of the people of Liverpool lived in cellar dwellings. Even at the time, these conditions were known to be too poor for living, and enquiries were run at the time. In the early 20th century slum clearances finally began.

Pembroke Place once consisted of eight houses on it, around two courtyards. Today, only two of those eight houses remain, as back rooms to the shops fronting the street.

Archaeology at Pembroke Place

The Museum of Liverpool wrote a report on these houses, and collected information about the social context of the street. Social context drew on newspaper articles, which often referenced ‘Little Hell’, the area’s nickname. Anson Street was the centre of Little Hell, which had a reputation for high numbers of murders and brothels. This reputation was no doubt fuelled by the newspaper’s need to sell copies. Liz mentioned that the articles were misleading with their exaggerations.

The archaeologists, including Mark Adams, found structures belonging to the court houses. There was a light well as street level, letting sunlight into the lowest dwellings. There is evidence of the buildings’  alteration and adjustment, including around the light well. The finds were of surprisingly high quality, with bowls, a domino and a ceramic egg dug up. These show that, despite the conditions, people felt it important to surround themselves with ‘non-essentials’.

‘Dark’ heritage

Court housing may be a familiar topic for Liverpudlians. But the evidence from the newspapers, and even the excavations, brought to light disturbing details of life in the courts. Even the census records tell of the living conditions.

There were indeed murders, including those of children, as well as other social ills. Should a museum talk about these? Is there a danger of treating the information like those Victorian newspapers did? Does a museum run the risk of accusations of exploitation?

The Museum of Liverpool conducted a survey, and 100% of people thought that a museum was an appropriate place to talk openly about ‘dark’ and troubling history. However, 90% thought that child murder was something to leave out, even from museums. This is likely related to the family audience museums attract.

The future of Pembroke Place

The court houses, now part of the shops which front on to Pembroke Place, are safe from deterioration for now. (They are listed buildings.) The tiles which fronted Galkoff’s butcher’s have been removed, conserved, and are on display in the Museum of Liverpool for the next five years.

The census reports show that, although court houses, these buildings did not house the poorest people. Residents had steady jobs, for example. But Liz admitted that there’s more work to do to establish anything for certain.

In answer to a question from the audience, Liz told us that there were several Jewish businesses in the area, as well as Galkoff’s, until the 1950s. At that point many of them moved into south Liverpool, around Wavertree and Childwall.

Image: Ordnance Survey of 1850, via https://www.flickr.com/photos/44435674@N00/14538073253

Photograph of the cover of 50 Finds from Manchester and Merseyside

50 Finds From Manchester and Merseyside: Objects from the Portable Antiquities Scheme

Modern administrative areas have little meaning when we go back even a short time. But they can make all the difference when it comes to modern heritage work. So that’s why we have this book on finds from Manchester and Merseyside, which span the ages, and covers objects discovered through the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS).

The PAS was begun in 1997 to deal with the thorny issue of random finds discovered by metal detectorists, ramblers and anyone else stumbling across historic artefacts outside of a formal archaeological investigation.

Until then, the law surrounding what happened to buried artefacts depended on what they were made of. Things deemed ‘treasure’ were generally those which were judged to have been buried with the intention of the owner coming back for them, and this was generally taken to mean coins and precious metal.

So, for example, the famous Sutton Hoo ship was not treasure, because no one intended to recover it, and it was largely wood and iron. However, there’s no doubt that any chance finds from that feature would have been immensely important to archaeologists!

So today, if you find something of historical interest, you can report it to your local PAS officer who will record it and add it to the database. Merseyside’s officer (as well as being the officer for Cheshire and Greater Manchester) is Vanessa Oakden, who’s based at the Museum of Liverpool, and it’s a new book of her’s I’m looking at here.

50 finds from Manchester and Merseyside

This book is just one in a series covering all the counties where the PAS operates, all published by Amberley Press. It takes some of the best finds from the two counties to display the good work of the Scheme.

The book’s not only here to show off the best finds, however, but also to remind readers of the importance of reporting chance finds, and of making a note of where exactly something was found. This is of particular importance if the find is a piece of flint, as often the exact distribution of a scatter of flint debris is what gives archaeologists the important clues.

And what better way to have another round of rivalry with our Manchester neighbours than to compare impressive finds? 😉 (Turns out there are more prehistoric finds, and better ones, from Merseyside!)

The book is a heavily illustrated volume containing colour photos of all the finds mentioned, from different angles, including similar finds from elsewhere which give a bit of context. The impressive thing is that Vanessa shows a wide ranging knowledge, which must be a requirement for the job, at least to some extent. That must be the best thing about the role – coming into contact with different eras of human history each day!

Where does the landscape interest come in? Well, with a county-wide remit, the distribution maps in this book show that it’s not just the individual finds which bring through the knowledge, but how they’re ranged across the land. A national map of terrets (a type of harness fitting) show that they’re particularly common in the north east of England, and therefore all the more interesting when they turn up in south Lancashire.

The challenge for Liverpool and Manchester, however, is that the built-up areas will have destroyed a lot of early archaeology in the digging of cellars and foundations. The most fruitful areas for finds are rural (that’s where the metal detectors go, as well) but it should be remembered that the absence of a certain find type from the urban part of Liverpool doesn’t mean it wasn’t there once. It’s complicated, this stuff!

I don’t have many problems with the book. It’s a good overview of highlights from the PAS in this region, and is a fantastic advert for the scheme (along with the other books in the series). Hopefully it will encourage someone to bring in finds they might otherwise have kept to themselves.

If I had to say anything against it, it might be that the maps could have been a little more consistent. They came from different sources, but could easily have been standardised to help comparisons. There were also a couple of terms I didn’t understand, such as ‘rowells’, mentioned in an entry on a find of broken spurs from Bebington (they’re the spiky wheels on the heel of the spur).

Still, that doesn’t take away much from what is a handy archaeological overview of the counties covered, and finds-centred books are rare on the popular bookshelf.

You can buy 50 Finds from Manchester and Merseyside from Amazon UK

Related book: 50 Objects from Lancashire

If you’ve got a book that you’d like me to review, please get in touch via the Contact page.

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

Liverpool Heroes 3: Vikings in Liverpool

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

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

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

Early 20th century plan of Liverpool Castle

Liverpool Castle, and Leverhulme’s reconstruction

The council pulled down Liverpool Castle itself in 1715 and St George’s Church built in its place. However in 1895 E.W. Cox drew a reconstruction for the Historical Society of Lancashire and Cheshire. In the first decade of the 20th Century the first Viscount Leverhulme built a reconstruction of the ruins of the castle in the village of Rivington near Chorley. Today it stands in Lever Park, a large area of woodland on the east bank of Rivington Reservoir.

Liverpool Castle reconstruction

The replica Liverpool Castle stands on high ground overlooking the reservoir. Though of course it can never quite match the shape of the landscape in medieval Liverpool, the lake acts as a stand-in for the Pool. (Compare this plan on Wikipedia with the satellite view on Google Maps). The position of the River Mersey itself would have been in a west to east direction, on the north side of the two most complete towers at Rivington.

The castle was incomplete by the time of Lord Leverhulme’s death in 1925. Work stopped, though the majority of the intended layout was in place. Today the castle has its fair share of graffiti, and evidence of fires and drinking are all around. However, it’s a great place to go to get a feel for one of Liverpool’s lost gems.

Further Reading

These references all relate to what we know of the original castle. (See also Lerpoole 1572 – Historic Liverpool)

Liverpool Castle, The Gatehouse Record, http://www.gatehouse-gazetteer.info/English%20sites/1867.html, accessed 28th September 2019

Liverpool Castle, Pastscape (Historic England), https://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=67505&sort=4&search=all&criteria=liverpool%20castle&rational=q&recordsperpage=10, accessed 28th September 2019

Gladstone Jr, R., 1907, A Report on Liverpool Castle, 2nd October 1559, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, vol 59, https://www.hslc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/59-7-Gladstone.pdf, accessed 28th September 2019

 

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.

Photo of the Manchester Dock gates at the Pier Head, Liverpool

Manchester Dock: the ‘lost’ dock under the Museum of Liverpool

Liverpool is famous for its docks, and to a great extent its part in the development of railways. The ‘lost’ Manchester Dock is one of the places these two came together.

Revealed by excavation in 2007, the Manchester Dock (now under the Museum of Liverpool) was one of the earliest docks on the river front. It was originally no more than a tidal basin connected to the river Mersey. The dock was used to hold the barges of the Shropshire Union Canal Company, and later the Great Western Railway. It allowed goods to be moved between Liverpool and the rail terminal at Morpeth Dock in Birkenhead.

In this way Manchester Dock played a role as a go-between, from the national rail network (connecting Liverpool – via Lime Street – to the industrial centres of Britain) and further ports of call on the other side of the river. The warehouses standing next to Canning graving docks were, until about 1p years ago, the home of the Liverpool Museum field Archaeology Unit. They still bear the name Great Western Railway on the canopies at the front.

Manchester Dock excavations

Time Team showed a ‘Special’ episode on the Manchester Dock on the 21st April 2008:

Although the trailers would have you believe Phil uncovered this crucial piece of Liverpool’s (and indeed the world’s) maritime history, excavations have been taking place for a while. Read Liverpool Museum’s blog posts from the excavations in 2007. The museum also has a ‘spotlight’ page about the Manchester Dock, and a Flickr photostream of the excavations.