Palais de Luxe, Lime Street, 1948
Palais de Luxe, 1959
Technical Achievement, 1960
I have learnt not to push my lack of knowledge in certain subjects. Railways and ships spring immediately to mind – there are hundreds of experts out there who will tell you how many rivets were used in every ship and train. Cinemas has its own aficionados whose knowledge puts mine to shame. I published Harold Ackroyd’s Picture Palaces of Liverpool a few years back (recently reprinted) and received a number of letters pointing out small errors of fact that Harold had made, particularly about opening dates. So if I do get the occasional fact wrong, please accept my apologies and post your corrections – I won’t be insulted.
The Palais de Luxe was a place of entertainment from the 1840s when it started out as the Teutonic Hall. Many of the most famous acts of the nineteenth century trod its boards, including Henry Inving, General Tom Thumb and Dan Leno. Curiosity acts included the Siamese Twins and Anna Swan, the Nova Scotia Giantess. Less curious but equally politically incorrect were the minstrel troupes that were immensely popular including the American Slave Serenaders, advertised as ‘the only combination of genuine darkies in the world.’ The Teutonic Hall had changed its name to St James’s Hall in 1868 only to burn down in 1875. Rebuilt, it eventually was renamed the Tivoli Music Hall before switching to films in 1908. Its final renaming as the Palais de Luxe saw it survive wartime bombing (the top photograph shows how close it came to total destruction), a further fire in 1951 and rebuilding for a final time before it eventually closed in 1959 to make way for the current uninspiring shop development.
In the second photograph, an interesting sculpture can be seen on its facade. This was the largest aluminium statue in the country, designed by WL Stephenson, principal of the College of Art. Titled ‘Technical Achievement’, it was rescued from the scrapyard by the architects of the Palais de Luxe and re-sited at Riversdale Technical College at Aigburth. In 1972, Technical Achievement was taken down because it accumulated bird droppings and was regarded as a health hazard and put into storage but what happened to it since? Does anyone know? It may not be a masterpiece but it is an interesting example of 1950s art and could make a strong visual statement in the right place (outside FACT?).
For the time being, here is my ‘final’ post about Arab, that peculiar book about street life in the early years of the twentieth century. The book is illustrated by author, Andie Clerk’s strange drawings of his childhood, drawn from memory some sixty years later. A typical one is of boys and girls benefiting from the refreshing water of the Steble Fountain outside the Walker Art Gallery. The caption reads St John’s Fountain, we’d swim there weather and goms out of sight permitting.
The book is punctuated by Scouse slang he used at the time (there is a short glossary at the end of the book):
arab … street kid
gink … wrong ‘un
gom … policeman
mopus … a farthing, or small coin
plushbums … rich folk
yen … a homosexual
mugarly … food
mumtip … payment to keep quiet
rolling kids – kids who go stealing
A typical anecdote from the book: As young kids we’d been drunk many a time. Sailors, if in money, would pour stuff down us, me and Rhuie anyway, not so much Jim, he’d slaat it. We’d take all they’d give us and soon couldn’t stand or know what what they did with us. We’d wake up in some dirty place in a horrible mess. Just as there are drinking fountains everywhere so were there horse troughs … generally made of stone, long, much like a bath and as deep. We’d find such a trough, water passing through it all the time and wash ourselves and our rags in it and shiver while the things dried on us.
All very dramatic and direct stuff, even if badly put together without any structure. If it is accurate, it is possible the only account of a childhood living barefoot on the streets of Liverpool. (The Irish slummy, Pat O’Mara, was slightly ‘better healed’).
Here, unfortunately, I have problems. I have written already how I have identified Andie Clerk as Francis Peers, born into middle-class prosperity in Staffordshire, his father a wealthy vicar educated at Oxford. In 1901, he was still living in Staffordshire but then the trail goes cold. The 1911 Census has no record of either his father, mother or himself and his two brothers. He mentions joining the army in 1913, fighting as a sergeant at the Somme and being discharged in 1928. Again, a trawl through army record of the First World War reveal no record of him (did he use another pseudonym?). Finally, he mentions ordination in 1928 by the Bishop of Liverpool. Again there is no record in Crockfords, the listing of the clergy. Yet his letter to the Manchester Evening News in 1966 is signed Rev. Frank Peers, acting curate of St Thomas’s, Bedford, Leigh. His death is recorded as 1984, in Liverpool, at the age of 87.
So the life of Frank Peers is still an enigma, worthy of further research. For those wishing to find copies of his books, Liverpool Record Office has a full set: in addition to Arab, he wrote I have been young and now are old (1973), The Christmas Story (1974), Unquenchable Fire (1975), Then and Now (1976) and Suffer Little Children (1978). Disjointed, repetitive and imbued with Christian sentiment, they are, nevertheless a fascinating series of anecdotes about a black chapter in Liverpool’s history when childhood poverty blighted the city.
The photograph, today, is of a bandaged and barefoot kid posing on one of the pillars at St George’s Hall.
In my last post, I briefly summarised my research into the author of Arab. The named author of the book published in 1971 is Andie Clerk but that is not his real name. There were a few clues – he joined the army in 1913 and was discharged in 1928. He was then ordained as a priest and left Liverpool. The only other possible lead was that he had lived in the Trowbridge Street area, off Brownlow Hill. His recollections of streetlife, earning pennies by begging, selling papers, sleeping with sailors, offered no facts worth following up.
Having searched the diocese records for around 1928, I came up with a blank. Most of the priests had degrees or were the wrong age. Then I re-read the preface to Arab and there was a letter reproduced from a Mrs Dearden of Rochdale dated 12th October 1966:
I am an old age pensioner, age 73, living alone and my son brings he evening paper every morning after he has finished reading it the night before. Well what a thrill I got reading of your Ragged School …
She finishes off: Anyway it was your name what thrilled me. You see my maiden name was the same ..
A quick check revealed that the only evening paper in the area was the Manchester Evening News, so I made the trip to the Manchester Local History Library in Deansgate and started my trawl through October 1966. Within minutes, I had my answer. There was a letter and drawing by Reverend Francis Peers. I had my man! Now to fill in the gaps.
Using www.ancestry.co.uk, I quickly established the basic details and first surprise. In the book, he had stated, I was born somewhere in Liverpool. In fact he was born in 1896 at Rowley Regis in Staffordshire and was still there listed in the 1901 Census with his mother, Fanny, and two brothers. His father, Herbert James Peers (1865-1943) was listed as living at the Vicarage in Bertswich, Shropshire, as a visitor. The second surprise was that Herbert James was a reverend, educated at Worcester College, Oxford and vicar of Blackheath (Worcester) 1889-90, Stone (Staffs) 1891-93 and Birchfield (1893-96). Now the photograph of Francis Peers in the last blog made sense. He was smartly dressed because his family was far from impoverished.
The next piece of research answered the question. Reverend Herbert James’s father was Henry Robert Peers (1817-1893) who was living at 6 Bold Place Liverpool in 1871 as a retired secretary living off his dividends. These must have been substantial for, in the 1881 Census, he had moved to a villa in exclusive Elmsley Road in Mossley Hill.
Additional work on Reverend Herbert James revealed he left his post in the church in 1896, three years after inheriting his father’s fortune as the sole heir. From this point onwards, the last clue of family life is the birth of his third son, Theodore, in Dudley in 1900. After this, the Census of 1901 suggests he had left the family for his wife, Fanny, is named head of house. I can only surmise that the inheritance of a significant sum of money had turned his head and he decided a humdrum life in the church was no longer for him. The only two additional points of reference are from a 1929 Crockfords (the listing of clergymen), which gives an address courtesy of a bank in the Isle of Man and an intriguing mention in a passenger list of a ship arriving from Buenos Aires in 1935 which listed his country of residence as Monte Carlo.
So Francis Park (aka Andie Clerk) while not exactly born with a silver spoon in his mouth came into the world in a respectable middle class family in a small Staffordshire town. My next post will reveal what I have unearthed about the barefoot kid’s journey through life.
Today’s photograph is a bit of a mystery to me. It is of a drinking fountain in a Liverpool street but I cannot place it. My immediate thought was the Dandy Pat fountain in Scotland Place – but it is completely the wrong shape. Any clues?
I never get enough time for proper research. I have plenty of subjects on my list (such as the 1919 Police Strike), all potential book projects, but not at a stage I would like them to be.
Years ago, I bought a small booklet titled Arab: A Liverpool Street Kid Remembers by Andie Clerk. Self-published in 1971, it was a collection of reminiscences of a barefoot childhood at the turn of the twentieth century. Last year, I was prompted to assess it again having re-read Frank Shaw’s My Liverpool in which he has a chapter titled The Lollipop Man. Shaw describes how he was approached by Andie Clerk to put together his autobiography: ‘As a lad of 12, he earned his first coppers here (Lime Street), and behind in the warren of shabby streets, he wandered round as a barefoot boy. Nearby is the crossing he now guards as a lollipop man. Aged 73, he is a retired parson and lives alone in a small house in an Everton street which, if not exactly a slum, is shabby, indifferent and without grace.’
Frank did his best to try and put some style into the jumble of recollections but he struggled with the lack of structure and the absence of characterisation. The finished book was sent out to publishers but Andie Clerk grew impatient and decided to publish himself, adding his own slightly bizarre illustrations.
My interest suitably aroused, I revisited Arab with a view to possible re-publishing it. The first problem – who was Andie Clerk? The name is a pseudonym and clues are difficult to find. He was 12 in 1909 according to the book, so he was born in 1897. In 1913, he joined the army, fought at the Somme (as a sergeant) and left the army in 1928. He was then ordained on the prompting of the Archbishop of Canterbury. But who was he?
The book begins: ‘I was born somewhere in Liverpool. My father was no good. Like Judas he has gone to his own place. Of him I will say no more. My mother was just the opposite, so very good. This too is all I will say of her.’ On the facing page is a photograph of Andie as a young boy.
Underneath is the caption: A barefoot kid who sold papers on the Liverpool streets poshed up for this very early photograph.
So my research began to find out the identity of Andie Clerk and in my next post I will reveal my fascinating progress. The main photograph is of a group of ‘arabs’ enjoying a summer’s day by the Mersey in about 1910.
In the next two months, we will be bombarded with news items about the centenary of Titanic, which sank in April 1912. Liverpool’s White Star Line never recovered from the shock waves that resulted from the sinking of the supposedly unsinkable. The story of Titanic’s predecessor, Oceanic, is a less dramatic one, although its fate was remarkably similar.
Like Titanic, Oceanic was designed by Thomas Ismay, director of the White Star Line and built in Belfast by Harland and Wolff. Launched in January 1899, it became known as the ‘Queen of the Seas’, the largest liner in the world and the first to exceed SS Great Eastern. The dramatic photograph was taken of the ship in Canada Graving Dock in August 1899. Oceanic could hold 1700 passengers and 350 crew and the photograph gives a good indication of her size when set against the small crowd in the dock.
Oceanic’s short life had its moments of tragedy, including ramming and sinking the small Waterford Steamship Company SS Kincora, killing 7. In 1905, Oceanic was the first White Star Line ship to suffer a mutiny, which resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of 35 stokers upset with the officers over working conditions.
In 1912, after the departure of RMS Titanic, Oceanic became involved in the near collision of Titanic with SS New York. Oceanic was nearby when New York broke from her docking and nearly collided with Titanic due to the large wake caused by Titanic’s size and speed.
Finally, in 1914, Oceanic was requisitioned by the Admiralty for war service and equipped with guns. Steaming up to Scarpa Flow, it then set out to patrol the seas around the Shetlands for enemy shipping. To quote Wikipedia: ‘An accurate fix of their position was made on the night of 7 September by navigator Lieutenant David Blair RNR (previously assigned to, then reassigned from Titanic). While everyone on the bridge thought they were well to the southwest of the Isle of Foula, they were in fact an estimated thirteen to fourteen miles off course and on the wrong side of the island. This put them directly in the path of a reef, the notorious Shaalds of Foula, which poses a major threat to shipping, coming within a few feet of the surface, and in calm weather giving no warning sign whatsoever.
Captain Slayter had retired after his night watch, unaware of the situation, with orders to steer to Foula. Captain Smith took over the morning watch, and with his former knowledge of the ship was only happy when the ship was in open sea. Having previously disagreed with his naval superior about dodging around the island, he instructed the navigator to plot a course out to sea. Slayter must have felt the course change, as he reappeared on the bridge to countermand Smith’s order and made what turned out to be a hasty and ill-informed judgement which resulted in the ship running directly onto the Shaalds on the morning of 8 September. She was wrecked in a flat calm and clear weather. She was the first Allied passenger ship to be lost in the war.’
Shades of the Costa Concordia indeed – although both Captains were acquitted at court martial. Lieutenant Blair, who had survived Titanic’s sinking, was not so lucky and was court martialled for fixing the wrong course.
My knowledge of ships and shipping is extremely limited but it is a huge part of Liverpool’s history and it is important to remind ourselves that the port was what made Liverpool great. The recent news about the Cruise Liner terminal is a real cause to celebrate and will unquestionably add to the exciting mix the city offers to tourists.
Scotland Road at Bostock Street, 1960
In October, last year, I posted a photograph of the interior of the Parrot Hotel on Scotland Road. I have had a number of requests for an exterior, including one from the daughter of a previous landlord. In fact, I have had so many requests for photos of different streets and buildings (particularly pubs) that I will do a bit of catch-up in the next few weeks.
The two photographs today show what were to be the final years of Scotland Road before the road widening and building of the Kingsway Tunnel took out is heart. The bottom image shows the view looking up from Scotland Place (soon to be the site of Liverpool Polytechnic (later JM University). Within little more than a decade, all the buildings in the photograph had been demolished and replaced by roads.
Scotland Road at Scotland Place, 1958
Royal visits to Liverpool are now so routine that only a few ardent royalists tend to turn out. Back in the nineteenth century, there were fewer visits and preparations were on a far grander scale. The photograph (and detail) above were taken on the occasion of the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales in September 1881 to open the newly built Alexandra Dock.
What I like about the photograph is that it has captured the excitement of the waiting crowd. On the left is St George’s Church (where the Victoria Monument is now). A grand arch has been erected to create a spectacular entrance to the Town Hall. The Graphic magazine covered the event and produced an illustration looking out from the Town Hall.
In the detail of the top image, a photographer can be seen sitting on a ladder in anticipation of a memorable photograph. Interestingly, The Graphic also has an illustration caption Photographers Going Home – with two urchins chasing the speeding carriage. Photographs of such events pre-1890 are surprisingly rare. There are quite a few of the key buildings such as the Town Hall, the Exchange and St George’s Hall but not of events such as this Royal occasion.