December, 2010 Archives

I remember the final death throes of Queen Square back in the mid-1970s. I was about to move into the old Grapes Hotel, on the corner of Wood Street and Whitechapel, to set up the Open Eye arts project, and I attended an auction at the Stork Hotel (the white building at the far end of the photograph) at which all its effects were being auctioned off. I cannot recall anything of real interest at the auction – it was mainly stacking chairs, catering equipment and bedroom furniture – and I left empty-handed after a quick look around. It was only years later that I became more acquainted with its history as one of Liverpool’s early coaching inns, famous for its theatrical clientele (from the Theatre Royal in Williamson Square).
Queen Square was at the centre of the wholesale fruit and vegetable trade, a place full of character. Unfortunately, it was decided that the whole area should be designated for the ill-fated civic centre scheme, which was for a seven storey concrete monstrosity based on a swastika plan. The architect, Colin St John Wilson, is best-known for designing the current British Library building in London, which began in 1962 and was finally completed – after a 35-year history of political wrangles, budget overspending and design problems – in 1997. The original scheme would have created a piazza to the south of the British Museum, but would have required the demolition of a large part of Bloomsbury. After concerted protests, the scheme was relocated to save the area’s fine architectural heritage. Sadly for Liverpool, the Georgian/early Victorian buildings around Queen Square were compulsorily purchased, emptied and pulled down before the scheme was abandoned as being out-dated and an unnecessary solution to the problem of rehousing all the Council’s departments in one monolithic building.
What an appalling waste – for the cleared area became a car park for over 20 years before being redeveloped into … a square with a hotel, restaurants and offices.
Thank you to everyone who has followed my blog this year. I promise to get round to finding as many of those requested photographs I can find and to give you an even more interesting 2011. Have a great New Year!

The scene is little changed today – although the boat house has been replaced by an impressive modern cafe?.
I need a clothing expert to date these three photographs. My suspicion is that they are late 1890s/early 1900s but they could be earlier. The December of 1890 was the coldest on record until this month, so possibly the photographer was recording that severe winter. The lake is well and truly frozen over – with no Health and Safety worries for the dozens of skaters taking advantage. (I particularly like the photograph of the young girls letting their hair down).
Clearly, from the warm outfits, this was mainly a middle-class day out. It is shocking to think that there were thousands of children walking around with bare feet only a few miles away but Liverpool really was a tale of two cities.

Sefton Park, 1890s

Just a short post today to thank everyone for logging on to my blog in its first year. I have been amazed by your response and promise to keep you entertained with more unseen images from the archives next year.

Today’s photograph was taken in February 1951 from the Picton Library and is a moody shot of William Brown Street, the Old Haymarket and Tunnel entrance. Quite a bit has changed in the intervening 60 years – but most of the prominent buildings are still with us.

Have a great Christmas – and keep logging on for more great photos.

First of all, an apology. In my last but one post, I attributed Dickson Terrace to Dickson Street in the heart of docklands. Researching today’s photograph, I realised that Dickson Terrace was actually off Soho Street, a stone’s throw from Scarlet Street. I have corrected the error, which does not change the general context of my post but does significantly shift its geography.
It is clear that both the Dickson Terrace and Scarlet Street photographs were taken at approximately the same time, presumably by a photographer on a press assignment to capture the essence of Liverpool’s slums. Scarlet Street, a short terrace off Mansfield Street near to its junction with St Anne Street, is by no means as ‘desperate’ as many streets around Scotland Road and the houses look relatively well-cared for. What particularly caught my eye were the two children with very strange hats, particularly the small boy on the right who seems to have a pair of shorts on his head.

At first glimpse, just a photograph of a Liverpool tobacconist – in this case 426 Edge Lane. Without the caption on the back, this press photograph would simply be a record of a shop advertising the joy of smoking (“For your throat’s sake – smoke Craven A”). The only clue to another storyline is the man with his back to the camera. Surely, if it was the proud shop owner he would be facing the photographer!
The caption reveals all (or nearly all – because I am missing the conclusion). The date is January 24th, 1939: “A member of Liverpool CID locking up the premises of 426 Edge Lane yesterday, The tobacconist occupier, Thomas Edward Kelly, aged 32, was arrested and charged at Liverpool yesterday with having in his possession four kegs of potassium chlorate. He was remanded in custody.”
On January 16th, the IRA launched a campaign of bombing and sabotage directed at government targets such as post offices, bridges and railway stations. The object was material damage – not civilian deaths, although a number of people were injured. Much of the campaign was targeted on London, although Birmingham and Manchester were affected. In the same year, 17 year-old Brendan Behan, a runner for the IRA, was arrested in Liverpool following bombing in Coventry. He was sentenced to 3 years in Borstal – an experience he used in writing Borstal Boy.
I have not been able to follow-up what happened to Thomas Edward Kelly (I need to spend some time in Liverpool Record Office) but it would seem a major bombing attack, possibly in Liverpool, had been averted.
Once again, there is a fascinating story behind a photograph. Sadly, too often, all we are left with is an image with no obvious thread to follow. A lesson to us all – always caption photographs for a future generation.
Postscript: Many thanks to R Walsh who has posted the following information:
Kelly was charged, with eight other Liverpool men of possessing explosives, weapons and ammunition with intent to endanger life and cause destruction of property. Kelly was later accused of being the adjutant of an IRA cell. Five of the men stood trial at Manchester Assizes on conspiracy to cause explosions. One, Hannon, was found guilty and sentenced to seven years penal servitude. The rest, including Kelly, were found not guilty and discharged.
426 Edge Lane stood one along from the corner of Binns Road, going towards town and just opposite The Barbers.

Detail of photograph

This is another press photograph illustrating slum housing in Liverpool. The terrace was the unnamed street on the map between Tarbock Street and Mansfield Street, just off Soho Street. One of many streets that were so insignificant to warrant a mention in either the annual Gore’s Directory or the 1928 Bartholomew’s Atlas, it has long since disappeared. I don’t have the figures for how many families lived in the terrace – but a search of the 1931 Census would give an accurate number. Judging by the people in the photograph, it would be in the high double figures. Interestingly, the children in the photograph look relatively well-cared for, in contrast to other photographs taken at the same time of similar streets.

The media’s fascination with Liverpool is not a recent phenomenon. It used to really annoy me back in the 1980s when London-based newspapers continually featured pictures of Liverpool to illustrate urban deprivation in Britain. I particularly remember the Sunday Times leading with a photograph of the Pier Head shot from Birkenhead. In the foreground was a car breakage yard – the cheap headline being Liverpool on the scrapheap!.
For years, Liverpool was the target of television and newspapers features seemingly revelling in the spiral of decline the city was facing – but then, in 2008, it all started to disappear as the realisation dawned that it was no longer such a soft target. However, one interesting legacy is that future generations will have no shortage of images to illustrate those hard years. In a similar way, the city attracted press coverage in the 1930s and the photograph of Byrom Terrace was used to illustrate an article in the Daily Herald with the caption: The terrible conditions under which people live in the slum areas of Liverpool are strikingly illustrated by this picture of Byrom Terrace.
No doubt the image annoyed many people in the city – who maybe felt such photographs gave a distorted view of Liverpool (and I would have been amongst them had I been around at the time). But you cannot have it both ways – and the photograph is a valuable reflection of what life was like for a sizeable number of citizens back in the 1930s. Poverty is poverty and pretending Liverpool is just about fine buildings and great tourist attractions is no real answer.

The first reaction might be that this is another photograph of Liverpool in the 1930s but the young mother’s dress is the giveaway. The year is 1946 and the press caption on the reverse states “Tenements in Canterbury Street, Liverpool, are being demolished while they are still occupied. Mrs Rossiter, of No. 41, in the doorway of her scullery.’
Whatever happened to Mrs Rossiter and her daughter (who would now be about 65)? A decade later, Harold Macmillan announced “let us be frank about it – most of our people have never had it so good.’ For those that were left behind, nothing much changed. Hopefully, Mrs Rossiter’s life improved as the austerity years moved into the prosperity years – now that would be an interesting story.

Here is another fascinating photograph of a Liverpool court which demands a storyline.The young man with his caged bird standing between two grim-faced women suggests impending eviction. Certainly, it was around the time that the street, which backed on to the Walker Art Gallery and the Museum, was demolished in the 1930s slum clearance programme – which saw Gerard Gardens spring up nearby. What tough lives are etched in all their faces! Everything about their demeanour suggests resignation and defeat – but perhaps there was a different storyline (although I don’t think they had just won the Pools).