Early photographs of dockers at work are quite rare, which is surprising considering their contribution to the growth of Liverpool. They were a tough breed, surviving on casual labour which was rarely more than a day’s work at a time. The second photograph shows dockers ‘on the stand’ at Alexandra Docks (I think), going through the ritual of being picked by a foreman for a day’s work.
I have just finished reading a new book, Our Liverpool, by Piers Dudgeon (published by Headline Review), which is a marvellous oral history of the people of the city and their memories of work, the war, community and life in general. Piers quotes ex-docker, Bill Smathers about his days on the docks:
You had to ‘get on the stand’, and if your face fitted, you got a job. You had to form a stand, inside the dock gates then. The boss would come out and put his hand on your shoulder. Well, when he done that, you were employed. You might get half a day’s work, a day’s work, or you might get a week’s work, which was very, very seldom. Only the bosses, like the office staff, were employed permanent. The ordinary dockers were all casual workers.
You got eight shillings a day. That’s all and you had to work very hard for it. You had no mechanical gear. Everything was hand-balled … you worked any kind of cargo that came along … grain, hides, sugar, tea. cotton, asbestos, carbon-black. You were glad to do the day’s work to get the money.
This is just one of many such sharp insights into the Liverpudlian character and is the real story behind the photographs posted today. Without the oral accounts, they are diminished in meaning. The words give us an account which truly brings history to life.
In my last post, I raised the issue of photographing the slums and slum dwellers. Some photographers ventured into the slums with a social purpose – temperance advocates, educationalists, child protectionists, housing reformers -while others saw the street characters as picturesque studies for amateur photographic competitions. Liverpool’s slums were famous, and it is not surprising to see so many images of the ‘other side of life’. The images shown above are particularly interesting, despite the rather crude hand-colouring. They are all from a set of 52 lantern slides titled Slum Life in our Great Cities – although they are all photographed in Liverpool. The slide set was published in 1892 by Riley Brothers of Bradford, one of the largest mass producers of lantern slides.
Before cinema, lantern slide shows were a popular entertainment, and a set of slides showing slum life (however tame) would give the audience the vicarious thrill of looking at the less fortunate in society. The slide notes are fascinating:
The set of lantern slides for which this lecture was written have been photographed direct from life in the slums by means of a special detective or hand camera.
It need scarcely be mentioned that this was a work of no small difficulty and at time danger also, for many of the inhabitants in these districts strongly object to have their portraits taken or to be photographed or noticed in any way. The photographer was several times threatened, and at other times taken for a detective officer (he believes that the reason he was not actually molested is due to the fact of his being a very big man) … the pictures give a true insight to the character and habits of the people who live in these districts, as well as the natural expressions on their faces which can be obtained in no other way.
A later note adds: It is generally admitted that drunkenness is the source of the largest proportion of poverty, of vice, of crime, of poorly-clad and ill-fed children … in city slum life, one is struck, nay appalled by the great body of mere boys and girls who are ragged, careless and apparently uncared for.
But this is merely entertainment disguised as social concern. The audience, in the safety of the church hall would be titillated by the pictures of their underclass and would go home comforted by the fact that they would not be sleeping in sheds or outhouses like some of the unfortunate children. Perhaps not unlike the fly on the ceiling reality television programmes we are regularly fed.
The ‘very big’ photographer mentioned was Thomas Burke – whose album of photographs in the LRO contains 27 black and white photographs which all marry up with those in the slide set. Burke (1865 -1941) was a city councillor for Vauxhall and an amateur photographer. His day job was as a poultry and fish salesman in St John’s Market … and that is where my research has run out.
Old photographs of the South End are, strangely, less common than those of Everton/Kirkdale and the North End in general. In fact, in some kind of perverse reversal, the better off the area – the fewer old photographs, particularly of street life. With camera ownership being very much restricted to the better-off (in the 1890s), I would have expected most photographers would have been keener on recording their own areas – although a regular category in amateur photographic society competitions was for street characters/scenes. (Charles Frederick Inston was an early and skillful proponent – although this is not one of his images).
The street scene is of Beresford Road as it crosses Bessemer Street. The church on the corner is St Cleopas, with St Cleopas School next to it. Judging by the number of children in the street, school is out. The photograph shows a well-ordered neighbourhood with the children generally smartly dressed – although there are two bare-footed boys just behind the two girls in the foreground. Although the image lacks sharpness, the shop on the corner is owned by William Needs, greengrocer.
Netherfield Road North/York Terrace, 1975
John Bagot Hospital, Netherfield Road, 1973
Netherfield Road/Robsart Street 1975
My post of September 12th. was about my favourite City Engineer’s photograph – taken of the amazing stepped terraces leading to Everton Terrace. Today’ s post visits the same territory some 50 years later. Here are the last remnants of a once busy road – with the graffiti (Protestant Boys) pronouncing the road’s allegiance. Within a decade, all these buildings would be demolished, removing any memories of the road’s often turbulent past.
One of the reasons for publishing the images is the many requests I get for specific streets. Two recent requests were for John Bagot Hospital (from Pat Johnson, who was a patient there in 1940)
and for Robsart Street from Charles Jones, who added this wonderful description:
I lived in 81 Robsart St from my birth in 1952 till we were moved out to ‘better housing’. The house was on the corner and, at one time, it was a corner shop. I remember a large glass front shop window and a counter just inside the front door. Just up the street were a number of blind courts and I recall climbing the very high back wall to get into the next court. The wall was not quite vertical but must have been 30′ high – or so it seemed to a nine year-old.
Down the street was a real corner shop and everywhere around were ‘ollers’ and ‘bombies’ the local names for open spaces and bombed out houses. Both gave us the local urchins hours and hours of mischievous play.
The street was very steep and ideal for ‘steeries’ which everyone knows is the shortened term for non motorised wooden boards capable of holding up to 6 kids and a driver (usually the owner). I don’t know what speed they hit but without brakes and with a full load I don’t believe elf and safety would allow it now.
Penny lemonade drinks diluted with water, two penny drinks neat, top shelf sweets 1 shilling and 4 pence per quarter, catapult fights sticky lice liquorice root (yellow and horrible) and sticky toffee apples from ‘Dirty Mary’ once a year.
This is what my blog is about – not just the photographs but the memories they evoke. By the way, the pub on Robsart Street is the Old Stingo.
119 Limekiln Lane c1900
Langsdale Street c1900
It is now over ten years since I published Freddy O’Connor’s Pubs on Every Corner series (four in all). What astonished me then was the incredible number of pubs – many of them faithfully documented by the brewery (in both cases here by Peter Walker’s). Liverpool was the first city to embrace brewery-managed pubs. In most places, the pubs were owned by landlords or run by tenants. Walker changed all that and introduced an efficient pub system with strict rules laid down by the brewery. The result was the Walker family grew very rich but, also, Liverpool inherited brewery-built pubs like the Philharmonic which had few equals.
Both the pubs shown here were more modest. The Langsdale Street pub was run by Catharine Kip, who stands proudly outside (whilst one of her customers is leaving with a jug of ale from the other door. Langsdale Street ran down off Shaw Street (see map below).
Both photographs come from the Walker archive, now in LRO. The brewery photographed all its pubs for licensing purposes and stuck the photographs in large ledgers with the address of each one. Other breweries, such as Higsons, did the same – but unfortunately their archives have not been kept intact, although there are a quite a few in private hands, as I discovered when I put together the books with Freddy. What we really do need is a collaborative effort to bring such photos into the public arena. They are part of Liverpool’s history and add to our understanding of how the city grew. The internet opens up a fantastic opportunity to share images which sacrificing ownership – and I hope this blog will encourage like-minded collectors to join in. I would be delighted to post other people’s photographs if they wish to contact me.
I have a strong affection for this bookshop, even though it had disappeared long before I came to Liverpool. (It was demolished to make way for the new St John’s Market). It represents a lost world of retailing – where bookshops would survive happily in a mix of other small shops. Today, the chains have squeezed the life out of these small independents, along with impossibly high rents and rates. We may have more choice but at the cost of individuality and character.
The bookshop sticks in my mind because my old friend, Stan Roberts, shopped there during the 1950s and would buy his books by the pound weight (6p a lb). He stocked up on Gore’s Directories, in particular, which even at their weight were an astute purchase.
As a publisher, I would love more bookshops in the city. When I started publishing in the late 1980s there were over a dozen good outlets (Henry Young, Charles Wilson, William Potter, Hudsons, Central Books among them). Now, apart from News from Nowhere, we have Waterstones (x2), WH Smith (which has almost thrown the towel in regarding local books) and the Book Clearance Centre in St John’s Market (brilliant for cut-price local books). Times have changed! If Waterstones go – it will see off most small independent publishers and it will be no use browsing Amazon for the latest local titles. Perhaps I should have titled the blog A Publisher’s Lament – but it does feel like a Golden Age of publishing is rapidly coming to an end.
South Castle Street
Two photographs of the Castle Street area. The first is largely unchanged – although the block of offices on the left had been replaced by the turn of the century. The main area of interest is the horse-drawn omnibus alongside the row of carriages. To the right, the old Exchange building can be seen, behind the Town Hall.
The view of South Castle Street is a Frith photograph of about the same time. The ghostly spire of St George’s Church can be seen above the buildings on the left. In the foreground are the shops of Thomas Ogden (presumably the Ogden’s tobacco magnate), who also had shops in St James Street, Mill Street, Green Lane, Park Lane and Cornwallis Street according to my 1874 Gore’s Directory. On the other corner, at 61 Castle Street, is J. Sewill, Watch and Chronometer maker (and still trading from their current shop in the Albert Dock).
Ogden’s building on the left (and much of its terrace) survived wartime bombing – but was swept away in the early 1970s to make way for the monstrous Canning Place development. It had survived for over 125 years – their concrete replacement managed 25 years. Enough said.
Francis Frith made his fortune in Liverpool before devoting his life to photography and becoming one of the great topographical photographers of the 19th century (particularly through his amazing photographs of Egypt and Sinai). His commercial enterprise covered the country but he was particularly strong on Liverpool – taking hundreds of photographs of buildings and ships. I am particularly interested in finding out more about Frith and would welcome any information on his time in Liverpool and of any photographs he took (especially earlier ones). He deserves a book – but I need to dig out a few more facts first!
34 Alexandra Drive, 1891
Eldon Street, 1910
On February 26th, in one of my first blogs, I compared the extreme poverty in Liverpool with the great wealth that was very visibly present. At the turn of the twentieth century, Liverpool still had a significant number of millionaires, who had built their mansions in the suburbs – from Princes Park outwards to Woolton. Their life style could not be further from the lives of those they would have seen as they went about their daily business.
Photography might be a simplistic way of illustrating such contrasts but today’s images do give a fascinating insight into the expectations and ambitions of the wealthy and the desperate hopelessness of the poor. The photograph of the four young adults in their rather bizarre headgear was taken by ‘Society’ photographer Vanderbilt (who had studios in James Street and Church Street). Commissioned to take a photograph of the owner’s new car – obviously a special moment – the photographer has inadvertently captured the rather superior expressions on all four occupants face (or is that just my prejudice coming out). Sadly, their names and the location are not marked on the mount.
The second photograph – by London photographer Bedford Lemere & Company – is quite specific. It was taken in October 1891 at 34 Alexandra Drive, by Sefton Park. Pre-dating the first photography by a decade, it shows the over-elaborate furnishing of a well-off businessman’s home.
By total contrast, the final image is a City Engineer’s Department photograph of a slum bedroom in Eldon Street dated 1910 (two decades later – and exactly a century ago). These were the conditions which thousands of the poor had to contend with. In the 100+ years since these photographs were taken, we still talk about the poverty gap and politicians introduce yet more policies and strategies to combat it – but it still seem as wide as ever, even if materially lives have improved to some extent.
The street is initially hard to place – but there at the bottom of James Street is the newly built White Star building and, above it, James Street station with its hydraulic tower (which was destroyed by enemy bombing). So the view we are looking at is from Derby Square, from the statue of Queen Victoria. Preeson’s Row is still there in theory – it was a street that ran along the river side of Derby Square, along the line of the old castle ditch. Picton’s indispensable Memorials of Liverpool is, as so often, my guide to its history. Back in the 17th century, it was called Tarlton’s field. Alderman Thomas Preeson built the first houses, living himself on the opposite side, fronting the castle fosse. A stone in front of the house was dated 1660. In about 1721, the buildings of the castle were removed and a small square, Derby Square, was formed for a new market.
So what has happened to these old streets such as Sea Brow, Prison Weint, Redcross Street, Benns Gardens and Preeson’s Row which were all part of the history of Liverpool? Occasionally, like Redcross Street, the name survives in a meaningless context but the rest have been swept away and an association with the old town lost forever.
The pub on the corner, in the photograph, is the Queen’s Hotel, which was destroyed during the War, and rebuilt. It has had a name change recently but, no doubt, will resurface as the Queens sometime in the future as is the trend (remember the Brookhouse, which was painted a shocking yellow and renamed The Scream before the pub chain came to its senses).
St George’s Hall 1851
This is a special post – my 100th. When I started in January, I had a reasonably clear idea of what I wanted to do, which was to highlight the importance of photography in our understanding of the history of Liverpool. What has been a passion of mine has found focus in this blog, which gives me the flexibility to move from subject to subject and place to place within a fairly loose structure.
What I could not predict was how my blog would be received and whether it would have the legs to carry on for any length of time. In fact, I have been overwhelmed by the response which, thanks to the internet, has come from all over the world. Thank you to everyone who has logged in and emailed me with suggestions, requests and corrections for the factual errors I make from time to time. Such a following brings its own pressures – so I have to keep upping my game.
Today’s post is, possibly, the most exceptional one I have made. It is the earliest photograph of Liverpool I have discovered in 30 years of looking. It is a copy – from a lantern slide of the original print. I found the slide hidden away in a drawer in LRO and I suspect it has not been seen for many years. Why is the photograph so important? There are newspaper accounts of photographs taken in Liverpool but I have never discovered any physical evidence, There were a number of amateur photographers in Liverpool, including Francis Frith, and some set up the Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association in 1854. However, it is not until the 1860s that any images of the city begin to surface in any number (and not many at that). St George’s Hall is not surprisingly the subject matter. Most of us are familiar with Victorian photographs of the Hall but here it is still in construction with the original pillars being constructed along the plateau. What really strikes me is what the building must have meant to the people of the time. Its scale is so huge that it must have overwhelmed everyone that saw it. It was ambition on a fantastic scale. Today we may be more blase?about it – after all it has been around for 160 years – but the photograph gives us a window in time to its scale and original setting.
Now the pressure is on to find earlier images … I am certain they exist somewhere.