From Low Hill, 1976
Gregson’s Well public houses
The Raven, corner of Low Hill and Phythian Street
Today, Low Hill is no more than a connecting street at the junction of Kensington and the new road works that sweep across Hall Lane towards Edge Lane. The emptiness of the landscape is the price we pay for getting across the city a few seconds faster.
It was not always so but these 1976 photographs capture the slow decline of a once busy area. The view from Low Hill shows the Royal Hospital in the final stages of construction and the wholesale clearance of the area between Brunswick Road and Erskine Street to create the Erskine Street Trading Estate. (A few prefabs can be seen below Belgrave Street).
On the corner of Low Hill and West Derby Road was Gregson’s Well public house – not to be confused with the Gregson’s Well pub facing it on Brunswick Road. Both have now fallen to the bulldozer – another piece of Liverpool history lost forever. (The Spinners ran a popular folk club in one of the pubs although I am not sure which one). They were both named after a public spring which survived until the early nineteenth century. The Raven public house, another substantial building, has also disappeared along with the surrounding buildings. It stood on the corner of one of Liverpool’s more unpronounceable streets – Phythian Street, which apparently derives from the Latin vivianus (meaning alive or living). Its later corruption to the surname Phythian suggests the street was named after a person (there were a number of Phythians in Liverpool in the early nineteenth century).
Liverpool has lost many buildings since the 1950s. Many are quite ordinary but they were an important link to the city’s past. Many had to go but the totality of loss has meant layers of history have been erased forever.
It is difficult to date the photograph precisely but it is another of Francis Frith & Company’s commercial views which proliferated during the 1870s and 80s.
Rodney Street is one of the few nineteenth century streets that would still be familiar to its 1880s inhabitants.
On the face of it, not a great deal has changed except for the level of traffic. The road is named after Admiral Rodney, victor over the Comte de Grasse at the Battle of St Vincent in 1780. The battle, also named the Moonlight Battle because it took place at night, propelled Rodney into a public figurehead celebrated in the names of streets and pubs throughout England. At that time, the future Rodney Street was open fields but, by the turn of the century, there was a sprinkling of houses. Most of the building took place over the next 20 to 30 years. Picton writing in 1872 comments that: “The houses generally are of respectable size and character, many of them mansions of some pretension … It has had for some time a hard struggle to maintain its respectability, but there are signs of its following the usual course. After a reign longer or shorter of quiet dignity, the physicians and surgeons begin to colonise. The dentist follows; then a modest-looking display of wares in the parlour window indicates the modiste, or the brilliant red and blue jars give token of the druggist and apothecary. By-and-by a shop window is boldly put forth radiant with plate glass and gold, and so gradually a change comes over the spirit of the locality; the tradesman pushes out the gentleman and trade reigns supreme. Rodney Street is at present in the transition state, when there is a tripartite division between the private house, the doctor and the shopkeeper, but in the end the triumph of the trader is inevitable.”
Picton, as it turned out was over-pessimistic. Rodney Street is still that tripartite balance between private residencies, medical consultants and traders but it retains its elegance and has escaped relatively unscathed for its two hundred years of existence.
Liverpool’s cemeteries are fascinating places, where the famous lie next to the forgotton, and the infamous next to the virtuous. Anfield Cemetery is no exception. It will be 150 years old next year and its imposing gate piers on Priory Road are (in Quentin Hughes’s words) ‘a fitting announcement for the final journey.’ Wander around and you will find the graves of Liverpool’s legendary managers Bill Shankly and Joe Fagan; one of England’s greatest barefist boxers, Jem Mace; James Maybrick, husband of Florence Maybrick, who was found guilty of his murder and served 15 years in gaol before release (he was more recently named as Jack the Ripper in suspect diaries found in Liverpool); and Bessie Braddock, the larger than life Labour firebrand. Look more closely at other gravestones and the names of those who never made the headlines predominate – which brings me to a fascinating email from Alex Robertson in response to the last blog about the Liverpool’s Seamen’s Orphanage. Alex wrote:
Having seen the photo on your blog of the Seamen’s Orphanage I thought you may be interested in the story of one of the inmates. The information was obtained during family history research.
Elizabeth Mitchell Ure (1882 – 1898)
Elizabeth was the seventh child born to Thomas Ure and Mary Ure (nee Robertson) on 28 July 1882. The family were living at 27 Woodbine Street, Liverpool when her father Thomas, a seaman was drowned off the Australian coast in May 1891. Her mother died a few months later in November, leaving Elizabeth an orphan at the age of 9. Her eldest brother, the only sibling that was married, Thomas and his wife Margaret took her in. She was attending Daisy Street School. After two years with her brother and his wife, the situation must have changed because, in June 1893, Thomas applied to the Liverpool Seamen’s Orphan Institution for Elizabeth to be admitted.
Thomas had to produce Elizabeth’s birth certificate, their parents’ marriage certificate, list her brothers and sisters and their ages and give reasons for her admission. He also had to give the name and owners of the ship from which their father drowned and he stated that his father, Thomas Ure senior, had sailed from the port of Liverpool for 35 years prior to his drowning. Elizabeth was examined by the orphanage medical officer and Thomas had to sign that she had been vaccinated against smallpox, had never had fits and was “free from troublesome habits during the night.” The application was supported by Allen Bros and Co., who were shipowners and trustees of the orphanage.
After two months the application for admission was approved and in August 1893 Elizabeth left her brother’s family in Walton Breck Road and her old school for a new life at the orphanage. Elizabeth would have been given domestic training at the orphanage prior to being placed in domestic service on leaving. Tragically she suffered two attacks of typhoid fever and died at the orphanage aged 15 on 15 May 1898. She was buried along with other children who died at the orphanage at Anfield cemetery in a double plot. There is a headstone with the names of all the children laid to rest there.
Elizabeth Ure’s name is half way down
The sad, short lives of more orphans