December, 2013 Archives

Liverpool has a colourful history. We all know its wealth was largely founded on the Slave Trade and the dreadful poverty of the nineteenth century had been well documented. Sometimes, however, shocking events just disappear into the mists of time without a mention in the history of the city.
The events of August Bank Holiday, 1947 showed a side of Britain that we may well wish to hide. Britain occupied Palestine and Jewish guerrillas were at war with the colonial power. Two British army sergeants were captured and, in reprisal for Britain?s hanging of captured Jewish fighters, hanged. A great outcry followed, and in a wave of anti-semitism, Jewish communities in Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester were attacked. In Birkenhead, slaughterhouse workers had refused to process any more meat for Jewish consumption until the attacks on British soldiers in Palestine stopped. In Liverpool, crowds of angry young men gathered in Jewish areas and attacked shops and businesses.
My account is taken from Jerusalem Your Name is Liberty, by Walter Lever, a one-time Communist who lived in Manchester.
‘On Sunday afternoon the trouble reached Manchester. Small groups of men began breaking the windows of shops in Cheetham Hill, an area just north of the city centre which had been home to a Jewish community since the early 19th century. The pubs closed early that day because there was a shortage of beer and, by the evening, the mob?s numbers had swelled to several hundred. Most were on foot but others drove through the area, throwing bricks from moving cars.
Soon the streets were covered in broken glass and stones and the crowd moved on to bigger targets, tearing down the canopy of the Great Synagogue on Cheetham Hill Road. All premises belonging to Jews for the length of a mile down the street had gaping windows and the pavements were littered with glass.’
By the end of the weekend, anti-Jewish riots had taken place in Glasgow and Liverpool, with minor disturbances in Bristol, Hull, London and Warrington, as well as scores of attacks on Jewish property across the country. A solicitor in Liverpool and a Glasgow shopkeeper were beaten up. Nobody was killed, but this was the most widespread anti-Jewish violence the UK had ever seen. In Salford, the day after a crowd of several thousand had thrown stones at shop windows, signs appeared that read: ?Hold your fire. These premises are British.? In Eccles, a former sergeant major named John Regan was fined ?15 for telling a crowd of 700: ?Hitler was right. Exterminate every Jew ? every man, woman and child. What are you afraid of? There?s only a handful of police.?
Arsonists in West Derby set fire to a wooden synagogue and the caretaker was attacked and badly injured when he opened the gates to the fire brigade; workers at Canada Dock in Liverpool returned from the holidays to find ?Death to all Jews? painted above the entrance. The photograph shows the burnt-out wooden synagogue in West Derby Cemetery. Just two years after British troops had liberated Bergen-Belsen, the language of the Third Reich had resurfaced, this time at home. Anger about what had happened in Palestine was one thing, but it seemed to have unleashed something far more vicious.

First Communion, 1952

First Communion, 1953

Two more photographs from the same family album. I suspect the subject matter will resonate with some more than others but they portray one of the rituals that thousands of young girls undertook as an essential part of their religious upbringing. I cannot identify the locations – but the other family photographs are taken around Vauxhall Road, so they could well be there. The decorations in the second photograph will be for the Coronation – not for the First Communion. These kind of processions were not exclusive to Liverpool but they were a big event in Catholic parishes as is evident from the crowds of onlookers.

Naylor Street, 1934

Frank’s Cafe

Gladstone Street, 1934

After a short break, I am back in full swing with three photographs taken from a family album. I am fascinated by this kind of social photography. Amateur shots taken on (most probably) a Box Brownie purely as a family record. The real sadness is their anonymity. I have no idea of the names of any of the people in the photographs. If any of the children are around, they will now be in their eighties, for all I have is the street name and the date on the backs of the snaps. The group of children are in Naylor Street, which ran into Vauxhall Road. Gladstone Street was off Naylor Street running through to Freemasons Row. A very narrow street, it can be found in the Alan Godfrey Ordinance Survey map No 106.10 Liverpool North 1906. As you open the map it is in the bottom section in the 2nd fold.(Thanks to Alex Robertson – who emailed me with the location).
The young boy with a cat is standing outside Frank’s Caf?. Whether that was its actual name or the name of a family member who owned it is unclear (it is not listed under Frank’s Caf? in my 1932 Directory).
I would love to see a concerted effort to create an archive of such photographs that can be deposited in the Liverpool Record Office. They often tell us a great deal about the people of Liverpool and would be an invaluable source of reference to future generations. More to follow next time.