April, 2011 Archives

I was preparing to post a blog about the 70th anniversary of the May 1941 Blitz and had selected a photograph showing the physical effects of the bombing. Liverpool suffered more extensive bombing (and loss of life) than any other British city outside of London. In terms of casualties, it actually registered the highest number of deaths per 100,000 population than any other city.
My blog was ready to post when I received an email from Glynn Hewitson which put the tragedy of the Blitz into perspective. Of course it was sad that many important (and less important) buildings were lost but the loss of life and the heartbreak behind each death is the real story. So instead of my intended pictures, here is a photograph of Glynn’s two year-old sister Pat, scrubbing the backyard step, just months before she became a victim to the Blitz. Here is Glynn’s story:

I was born on the 29th of August 1939, a few days before the start of the War. I was kept in Liverpool with my sister, Pat. My 10 year-old brother, Frank, was evacuated to a farm in Hereford but ran away a few times and turned up back in Liverpool. My mother had to take him back and I went with her. The transport was only once a week and I remember we missed the bus in Wales once and had to stay on the farm till the next week. My father, Gerry, was a docker, in a reserved occupation through the war.
We lived in about five different houses through the war from Chambers Street, Everton, to Waterloo and Bootle, where we were bombed out twice. My sister Pat was killed there. With me only being a baby, my mother didn’t like to talk about it, even when I grew up. The trauma of it all got to her very deeply. We moved to Wye Street at the end of the war and stayed there until 1971 when the old houses came down and we were rehoused.

This blog is dedicated to all those that died in Liverpool during the War. I can think of no more fitting image than that of an innocent two-year old playing in the sunshine with, seemingly, all her future ahead of her.

Another fine photograph of the Overhead Railway, taken just as the train is just leaving the Pierhead station. I’ve probably written enough about the loss of the railway … so on to my main subject, the publication of my book based on this blog. The Streets of Liverpool will be available as from tomorrow. Not only does it include many of my blogs from last year but also the full colour Bartholomew’s Pocket Atlas and Guide to Liverpool (1928). I have often used sections of the atlas to pinpoint streets and it is an invaluable reference for local and family historians. The book (?9.99) is available from Waterstones, WH Smith, Book Clearance Centre etc. and also on Amazon. I will also be selling (and signing) copies at the Big History Show at St George’s Hall this Saturday and Sunday (another reason to visit this excellent show). I hope to meet you there.

With all the clamour building up for the Will and Kate show, today’s post is a kind of antidote to the sentimental vision of Britain the media will be churning out. Bessie Braddock was no ‘people’s princess’ – just a hard-working socialist who wanted to lift her people out of poverty. Much derided by the national press for her larger-than-life persona, she understood her role as a constituency MP (for Exchange division) and was not afraid of speaking her mind. She had been tutored in her politics by her firebrand mother, who started taking Bessie to political meetings while she was still a baby. (Bessie remembered standing on St Georges Plateau as an eleven year-old listening to Tom Mann’s oration during the 1911 General Transport Strike).
The photograph was taken in Soho Square in 1954. The caption reveals the other woman as Elizabeth McGuinness and her son, Peter, aged two, standing in the rubble to the rear of their Soho Square house.
This weekend (Saturday and Sunday) is the Big History Show at St George’s Hall. I have a table selling a substantial number of old and rare books and maps about Liverpool (I am reducing my library). Dozens of bargains to be had and some very interesting out of print titles. Definitely worth a visit for the many other organisations and talks.

The view of the photograph is clear enough, looking to the Custom House and beyond, but I am puzzled as to where it was taken from. The dock in the foreground is empty, the remnant of George’s Dock, but I had assumed it had been filled in at the time Mersey Docks and Harbour Board building had been erected in 1907.
The rooftop shown would indicate it was taken further along the road – Goree Piazzas and Brunswick Street are to the immediate left – roughly from the position of the Cunard Building. Perhaps someone can enlighten me as to when the dock was finally filled in and where the camera is positioned.
That problem aside, I have often thought what was the ‘best’ year to have enjoyed Liverpool’s architecture. My own choice is slightly later than this photograph – probably the late 1930s. The Blitz and post-War destruction had yet to inflict devastation on the fabric of the city and the new buildings (Pier Head, India Buildings, Martins Bank, the Philharmonic Hall, the Mersey Tunnel and the Anglican Cathedral) were all positive additions. The photograph illustrates three key losses: the Goree and Custom House (to wartime bombing, although salvageable in both cases) and the Overhead Railway (through financial pressures). A real tragedy for Liverpool.

I am often asked if I have photographs of the Stadium in Bixteth Street. I have only a small number, including this one taken in September 1950, when Tom Bailey and Jim McCann topped the boxing bill. The venue was opened by the Earl of Lonsdale in 1932 and became the main venue for boxing and wrestling in the city.
For many, its particular attraction was the regular rock concerts held there, particularly in the 1970s. In earlier days, Louis Armstrong had played there in 1956 and The Beatles appeared well down a Gene Vincent concert bill in 1960. The 1970s concerts had an astonishing array of talent, which to my eternal shame I missed out on completely. In 1971, Led Zeppelin appeared, followed by David Bowie, Jethro Tull and Frank Zappa in 1972. In 1973, it was the turn of Queen, followed by Steely Dan, Captain Beefheart, Bad Company and Judas Priest in 1974. The final concert was held in December 1976 with Ultravox and Eddie and the Hot Rods. Of course, I have omitted dozens of other artists but the shortlist will give a good flavour of the calibre of artists, with tickets rarely more than ?1.50.
By the time the final acts played their last chords, the Stadium was badly run down. The management had been badly shaken by the horrendous gang-rape of a young girl during a concert there which reflected on the decrepit state of the venue. However, for the greatest part of its 40 plus years, it made a glorious contribution to the sporting and music history of Liverpool.

This is a difficult subject to photograph: the strong shadows cast by the Overhead Railway competing with the bright sunshine bouncing off the cobbles with a tram emerging out of the darkness. The large exhibition print is titled “On the Seventh Day” and is a lovely evocation of a quiet day at Pier Head. Sad to think that, within two years, both the trams and the Overhead would be consigned to history.

My doctor, on Childwall Valley Road used to have a small brass plaque in the waiting room (a kind of tension reliever) which was engraved: On this spot in 1720, nothing happened. I cannot remember the exact year but it doesn’t make any difference. Searching through my photographs, this shot of nearby Score Lane struck me how appropriate that jokey plaque was. For centuries, Childwall was a quiet village on the fringe of Liverpool, popular with ramblers and day-trippers (particularly to the nearby Childwall Abbey pub opposite the church). Then, in the 1960s and 70s, this tranquil place was swallowed up by the city and the fields turned into housing estates.
I am fascinated by old maps, particularly those that show ownership of land. The map below (Bennison’s Survey of 1835) reveals a feudal remnant still in the possession of one family – the Marquis of Salisbury. Do they still own land in Liverpool – or have they cashed in and moved on?