December, 2011 Archives

Christmas in the Workhouse

Coopers, Church Street, 1930s

Back to the computer after a break away and may I thank everyone who has logged in, commented, and supported me over the last year. I did not have a chance to wish everyone a great Christmas but I am in time with New Year greetings. All the best for 2012.
Today’s posts cross over both occasions. Photographs of Liverpool’s Workhouse on Brownlow Hill are surprisingly rare. Sadly, it appears that the subject matter was not worth proper documentation. As we prepare for the duocentenary of Charles Dicken’s birth next year, no doubt we will be constantly reminded of the worst aspects of Victorian England. The workhouse might have offered shelter but it was a harsh life for all those who finished up inside its walls dependent on parish relief. The hardship is etched in the faces of the women. The single chain of decorations on the wall only add to the pathos.
The second photograph is of the ‘only wild haggis in captivity’. A curious crowd has gathered outside Coopers, the upmarket foodstore om Church Street. I remember Coopers just before it closed down in the early 1970s. It was a bit like Harrods/Fortnum and Masons in London, with a wonderful aroma of freshly-ground coffee. It was part of a larger chain, which had its headquarters in Glasgow.
Time was not on its side against the rise of supermarkets and it closed to make way for WH Smith (and more recently River Island).

There are quite a few Liverpool institutions I have missed out on over the years. The Overhead Railway had long gone by the time I arrived in 1970. I also missed out on the old Cavern. It was still there but no longer a place at the cutting edge of music. I did get to look inside the Sailors’ Home before they pulled it down and there is still the opportunity to see a Grand National. Sadly, the Grafton is one place I will not get to visit. It had crossed my mind from time to time to take a camera and take a few shots but it closed down before I made a decision.
I am disappointed with myself because the Grafton and club life in general should be recorded for posterity. Such places played an important part in the lives of many people and it is a shame there is not an archive of photographs to draw on. This particular image was taken in June,1956 by a Detroit News photographer. I am not sure what the news angle was – possibly the lives of GI’s in Britain after the War (there were US servicemen based at Burtonwood). The couple in the shot appear to be deep in conversation rather than dancing but there are no obvious clues as to why the photograph was taken.

It’s that time of year again! The Daily Express has proclaimed a new Ice Age is coming our way, so it must be true. Anyway, the first snow of this winter is expected in the next 24 hours, which will be welcome news for all the clothes shops with their overstocks of winter coats.
Will we have a winter like that of 1895, when the Mersey froze? The photograph taken at Egremont (I think) shows some serious ice in the river. The log of HMS Conway, moored at Rock Ferry, revealed that “28 Feb 1895 The Mersey was frozen from shore to shore.” It was reported that it was possible to walk from Liverpool to Birkenhead, although whether anyone was foolhardy enough to attempt it is not recorded.
The freeze lasted over two weeks and an iceberg some 12 feet high and 60 feet wide was photographed in the River Dee.

Every now and then, I post a photograph that I could write reams about. Today’s image is a case in point, revealing a bit of Liverpool’s ‘hidden’ and less savoury history. We tend to select those aspects of our past that accentuate the positive, blacker incidents are usually overlooked in the history books.
On 7 May 1915, the Cunarder RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat off the tip of southern Ireland killing 1,198 of the 1,959 people aboard. The sinking was a key moment in the First World War, influencing the United States to abandon their neutrality. Controversy has raged over whether Lusitania was a legitimate war target because she was carrying weapons and munitions. In a previous post, I mention the Baralong affair when the British merchant ship flying the flag of neutral USA forced the crew of a U-boat to surrender and then executed them, provoking one of the major diplomatic incidents of the War. My grandfather was a crew member but had nothing to do with the executions, although he was unrepentent about the action, which happened 3 months after the Lusitania’s sinking. The Baralong’s crew had seen the aftermath, with hundreds of corpses of men, women and children lined up along the quayside at Queenstown, so their pent-up anger could be understood to some extent.
Back in Liverpool, the news of the Lusitania’s sinking was met with an equally violent reaction. The Liverpool Echo reported rioting that broke out on May 11th. ‘A large pork shop at the corner of Smithdown Road and Arundel Avenue had been absolutely wrecked, all the windows had been smashed and the stock commandeered or thrown into the street. Women hurled strings of sausages at one another and one woman from a neighbouring street went down on her knees and scrubbed the pavement with a joint of pork. Other women went home with their aprons full of pork and bacon. After sacking the shops, the invaders went into the living room upstairs and spread destruction …’
In The Autobiography of a Liverpool Slummy, Pat O’Mara’s account makes fascinating reading and captures the mood of both anger and opportunism that swept the mob.
‘That night Freddie and I, clad in our American tailored suits, started for a dance over Paddy’s Market in St Martin’s Hall. We never attended it, however. Before entering the Hall, we walked around Scotland Road listening to the cries of the women whose husbands had gone down with the ‘Lusy’ and we heard the bitter threats against Germany and anything with a German name. We walked down Bostock Street, where practically every blind was drawn in token of a death .All these little houses were occupied by Irish coal-trimmers and firemen and sailormen on the Lusitania … On the corner of Scotland Road, ominous gangs were gathering – men and women, very drunk and very angry. Something was afoot; we could sense that and, like good slummy boys, we crowded around eager to help in any disturbance. Suddenly, something crashed up the road near Ben Jonson Street, followed in turn by another terrific crash of glass. We ran up the road. A pork butcher’s had had its front window knocked in with a brick and a crowd of men and women were wrecking the place – everything suggestive of Germany was being smashed to pieces.’
Pat O’Mara then left to go back to his home territory in Park Street to continue the ‘fun’, helping destroy Mr Cook’s butchers shop, for although Mr Cook was a patriotic Yorkshireman, his sin was to sell pork. (Pat O’Mara adds that he began to get sick from all the free sausage he had been eating).
His account is a rare and excellent eye-witness account of a mob in action written by the hand of an active participant.
The photograph shows how widespread the rioting was. It is an American Press Agency image and is of the Britannia Hotel at 283 Breck Road, on the corner with Coniston Road. My 1910 Gore’s Directory has Charles C. Bobbie as the licensee – hardly a German name but he may not have been there in 1915.
There is plenty more to add to this story but I suggest reading Pat O’Mara to get the full flavour of those incendiary nights.

Two photographs from a family album. Taken in May, 1899, they illustrate a probably typical outing to Stanley Park. The top photograph shows a busy boating lake with everyone dressed up in their Sunday best. The young man, possibly the photographer on a self-timer, poses with top hat and cane in the bottom photo.
I visited Stanley Park a few years ago, intending to take a few shots for a book on architecture. After only a few steps, I turned round and returned to the car having caught sight of a large group of young men with unfriendly-looking dogs hanging out around the dilapidated, seemingly beyond repair Conservatory. Not a place to wander with an expensive camera hung around my neck.
Forward to last Summer and what a change! The restoration of the pavilions, terraces and gardens have brought the park back from the brink. With a welcoming caf? in the restored conservatory, the whole aspect of the park, overlooking the Mersey, is a revelation. Stanley Park was opened in 1870, two years after Newsham Park and two years before Sefton Park. Away from the salubrious areas that allowed impressive villas to be built to offset the cost as was the case with both Newsham and Sefton Parks, Stanley Park was somewhat the neglected link in the chain of green spaces that the Victorians constructed to give the people of the town a taste of the countryside. In the wake of the cholera and typhoid epidemics of the 1840s and 50s, Liverpool had pioneered public parks and their survival and development is a magnificent part of our heritage which, as the photographs show, has been appreciated for the best part of 150 years.