May, 2011 Archives

Salisbury Dock and the Victoria Tower

The recent announcement by English Heritage to fight Peel Holdings’ ?5.5bn Liverpool Waters scheme ? unless Peel agrees to make further changes to its plans, may come as a surprise to many who have watched in horror as the Mann Island development has destroyed the harmony of Pier Head. The Regional Director of English Heritage, Henry Owen-John, said Peel has a ?significant? way to go to persuade English Heritage that it should back Peel’s plan regenerate the city?s northern docklands and that it would not damage the city?s World Heritage Site.
If English Heritage lodges an objection and the city grants planning permission, the scheme would automatically be referred to Communities Secretary Eric Pickles ? dramatically increasing the chances of a lengthy and costly public inquiry. Mr Owen-John also revealed that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has notified Unesco, which oversees World Heritage Sites, about the Liverpool Waters project.
So here we have a government agency that has singularly failed to protect Liverpool’s historic waterfront now complaining about a development of a derelict brownfield site that has the potential to change Liverpool’s international status and secure huge amounts of investment. Ironically, one of the concerns is about the Victoria Tower, which under Peel’s plans would become a major feature. English Heritage has raised the objection that key views to and from the Victoria Clock Tower, reflecting its symbolic and actual importance in historic dock management, will be lost. So do we sit back and look at it from afar in its present abandoned and inaccessible state?
Liverpool desperately needs a vision of the future and there is no public money going to be thrown at it. What Peel have recognised is that the economic power of the future lies with China and that Liverpool can hold the key to a huge amount of inward investment. Their plans for a major trade centre (either in Ellesmere Port or Birkenhead) are well-advanced and Chinese investment is already in the pipeline. Liverpool Waters is another piece in a jigsaw which will transform a previously derelict area with no future into a dynamic extension of the waterfront with a feature Shanghai Tower skyscraper. The economic prosperity of Liverpool has always depended on adapting quickly to change. World Heritage status is important, as is the protection of architecturally important sites such as Stanley Dock, but are these really threatened by a scheme which will create thousands of jobs and create a new, dynamic image of Liverpool?
Mr Owen-John said: ?We fully support the principle of developing the area. Clearly it is a brownfield site at the moment which is inaccessible and there is real opportunity that could have enormous benefit for Liverpool widely and north Liverpool particularly.” So why throw a spanner in the works having allowed far more sensitive sites to be developed without serious objection.

Upper Stanhope Street, 1930s

Bridget and Patrick Hitler in America

I know Liverpool tourism officials are always on the lookout for interesting news stories yet the extraordinary claim that Martin Luther King?s ?I have a dream? speech was written at the Adelphi Hotel is quite staggering.
A guide to an event entitled “Liverpool Discovers”, contains a map of more than 20 locations where famous people were born along with places associated with celebrities and events in their lives. The guide proclaims: “Martin Luther King visited his supporters in Liverpool three times, and the first draft of his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech is alleged to be written on Adelphi Hotel headed notepaper.”
After ridicule in the national press, the claim was hastily withdrawn. Apparently, the information came from a member of the public and was published without checking. So what about another piece of history. Did Hitler come to Liverpool? Michael Unger, past editor of The Echo, has just published his book based on Bridget Hitler’s memoirs. Bridget was a seventeen year-old Irish girl when she met Alois, Hitler’s half-brother in Dublin. They eloped to Liverpool, where they rented 102 Upper Stanhope Street (in the top picture, the house is at the bottom right at the junction with Berkely Street. Upper Stanhope Street is the street joining up with Princes Avenue). Soon after, they had a boy, William Patrick.
In November 1912, a dishevelled draft dodger arrived at Lime Street station. From then until April 1913, he idled his time away until, notified of his father’s will being finalised (his father Alois had died in 1903), he returned to Austria much to Bridget and Alois’s relief. Later, in the 1930s, William Patrick travelled to Germany to reacquaint himself with his father and uncle – who welcomed him half-heartedly. Eventually, after pressure to become a German national, William Patrick fled to New York with his mother and became a minor celebrity giving talks about Uncle Adolf.
So is Hitler’s stay in Liverpool another piece of mythology? Well, in the 1970s, a hand-typed document, the memoirs of Bridget Hitler, was discovered in a New York library. The question is why would a rather naive Irish woman claim Hitler had stayed with them in Liverpool? Her memoirs were never published and it would be a rather pointless claim to make if untrue. She was, after all, living in America at that time and had no reason to distort her life in England. The claim has been refuted by a number of historians – but they cannot account for Hitler’s whereabouts at that time. Hitler was very careful to remove most of the references to his younger years – certainly any suggestion he was a draft dodger. Back in 1913, he was just an ordinary German citizen, who could travel unhindered around Europe without records being kept – so I go along with Michael Unger.
The subsequent history of the Hitler family in Long Island in America is equally fascinating – so why not buy the book (published by Bluecoat Press, of course) and make up your own mind.


3 Pitt Street c1935

14 Pitt Street, 1930s

14 Pitt Street after the May 1941 Blitz
(Photo courtesy of Maria Lin Wong/NML)

When I started my blog, my intention was to establish it as a forum for understanding how photography has recorded the city since 1850. I welcome contributions that further this aim and today’s post comes courtesy of Francesca Aiken, Assistant Exhibition Curator for Global City at the soon to be opened Museum of Liverpool.

The first photograph, by Father D’Andria captures the innocence of children playing in the doorway of Low Chung’s grocery at the heart of what was then Chinatown. The second photograph is of Kwong Shang Lung’s grocery on the opposite side of the road. The final photograph is of the same building after a direct hit.

Seventy years ago this month, a devastating aerial bombardment struck Liverpool, ending lives, demolishing homes and displacing whole communities. It is in tribute to ?the spirit of an unconquered people? that Liverpool?s Anglo-Chinese community were part of the effort to keep calm and carry on, piecing back together not just buildings but homes and livelihoods.

Pitt Street before the war, shaped by tall converted warehouse buildings and cobbled streets, stretched out under the constant watch of St Michael’s Church spire, busy with dozens of Chinese businesses, from boarding houses to grocers and tobacconists. This was the birthplace of Liverpool?s Chinese community, the destination for seamen from all over the world including Spain, the Philippines, Italy, the West Indies and Scandinavia ? to name just a few. To the people who lived and grew up there, this was ?world?s end.? Pitt Street was the place to go, bustling with shops and cafes all within easy reach of the docks. Kwong Shang Lung was one of the city?s earliest grocers to specialise in Chinese food, trading from 1915 until the bombs fell in 1941.

During the Second World War, the local population swelled to take on thousands of seamen working for Britain?s war effort, including up to 20,000 Chinese seafarers ? risking their lives on Merchant Navy convoys. Pitt Street became a comfort zone for thousands of transient seamen to while away their two weeks of shore leave, and for the many resident Chinese to manage Liverpool life with their partners and children.

Elsie Kuloi was just six years old and her family lived on Dickinson Street. When the war came, their top floor flat was less than desirable when the sirens sounded. Elsie and sister Lan, then in their teens, were not evacuated but would go with their parents to stay at a neighbours on the ground floor. Out of curiosity, Lan stayed behind, only to witness St Michael’s Church take a direct hit from an incendiary bomb. She watched it fall, streaking down to earth and was terrified by what she saw. Hundreds were killed in Pitt Street and Cleveland Square alone, including 30 people at 14 Pitt Street, next door to where Kwong Shang Lung served his customers.

Instead of dispersal, the old Anglo-Chinese community shifted, making Nelson Street the new centre of activity.
What exists today in Nelson Street is the legacy of that early community, with the children of those first Anglo-Chinese families still meeting round the corner in what would have been Pitt Street. The strong Chinese character of that early global community is now firmly established within Liverpool with the regeneration of a Chinatown district in the 1990s after decades of slow decline. The Chinese Imperial Arch, the largest of its kind outside mainland China, is a proud symbol of the growth of the Liverpool Chinese community from those uncertain days in May 1941 and marks the entrance to an area once home to seafarers from all over the world.

Crosbie Heights, Everton, 1975

Haigh Street, Everton, 1975

Two more superb images from Paul Trevor’s book (and forthcoming exhibition at The Walker), Like You’ve Never Been Away. The photographs were taken for a project/book Survival Programmes in Britain’s Inner Cities – a compelling portrait of child poverty and deprivation. I have posted a number of images of poverty in Liverpool in the 1890s, 1930s and 1960s and these images, taken in the mid-1970s are a shocking indictment of how little progress has been made to eradicate the inequalities in our society. How could we have instigated a housing policy that condemned young children to such bleak playgrounds in the sky, or an education system that supported such grim establishments as that on Haigh Street?
Paul’s book is now in the shops and is a remarkable record of inner city childhood in Liverpool. Buy the book and catch the exhibition (from May 14th) at The Walker.