January, 2015 Archives

Walton-Village

Walton-low

First of all an apology for getting the date of my last post out by 30 years and many thanks to John Massey for his excellent and detailed correction. I had dated the photograph on the superficial basis of the girl in the foreground (not very clear admittedly). What I did not realise was that the rather elaborate bell tower above the porch was only erected in 1926 as a memorial to the men of the parish who died in WW1. The date makes much more sense of the children’s playground – which is very much in keeping with its new date rather than being some forward thinking by the City Council in 1900.
I am avoiding dating today’s images of old Walton Village. I would hazard a guess at the 1910s looking at the lady on a bicycle but I could be out by a decade. It is hard to picture Walton as a semi-rural retreat – and by the 1930s it had certainly been overtaken by the outward sprawl of Liverpool – but it had retained a picturesque area around the parish church. Of course Walton has a long history (being named in the Domesday Book, unlike Liverpool which was not mentioned, and the parish church was in control of Liverpool until the consecration of St Peter’s church in 1699) and survived as a separate township until 1895 when it was incorporated into Liverpool. Sadly, most of the charm of old Walton has disappeared apart from the fine church and the facing seventeenth century Old School House.
I remember seeing an exhibition at the Walker in the 1980s of the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, the French master photographer. There were three or four images of Liverpool he had taken during a visit in 1962, including a fascinating photograph of workmen in the semi-circular graveyard of St Mary’s church. Why he wandered out to Walton is a mystery – although he was part of a team documenting northerners. He wasn’t impressed: “Writing about the same people of the North at work amounts to the same as writing about them at play. Their looks are not so different neither are their clothes. There is no exuberance on their faces nor gestures. They are hard at it but in a resigned sort of way. Their vacationing seems just an occupation as any other.” Perhaps he should have returned the following year, when Liverpool became the centre of the cultural universe.

Children's-Playground

Nothing is more annoying than to have an unlabelled image that you know will take hours to locate. I thought this image might have been relatively easy to caption – a church in a square with a large warehouse with the prominent sign Wool Warehouse, a photographic engravers, a bakers on one corner and a pub on the other. Okay, a pub on the corner was not exactly a rarity in Liverpool but I reckoned the other features would be easy to place using my Gore’s 1910 Directory.
Not so easy, unfortunately, although I did have an idea of where it could be. The square is the clue. Liverpool had a few but it clearly did not fit most of those I knew. I took a stab at Pownall Square, off Tithebarn Street, and everything fell into place. The church is St Mary’s – a building by Augustus Welby Pugin, originally built in Edmund Street in 1845. In 1885, the Edmund Street site was needed for the expansion of Exchange Station, and the church was dismantled and reassembled in nearby Highfield Street. (The Catholic Almanac described is as ‘a grand monument of architectural skill’) (Thanks to David Lewis’s The Churches of Liverpool for this information). The church was destroyed in the Blitz and replaced by a fine modern building by Weightman and Bullen in 1953 that has, in turn, been pulled down for an office development.
The feature of the photograph that caught my eye is the playground in the square. Offering a very limited choice of seesaws and swings, it is the earliest image of such a provision I have found. Inner city Liverpool was home to tens of thousands of children who probably spent their leisure time roaming the streets, so to discover a purpose-built play area shows that there was an official awareness of the need for better facilities.

Otterspool-Shore-copy

One of the great successes of Liverpool’s renaissance has been Otterspool Promenade. For much of the time I have been in Liverpool (since 1970), it has been neglected and uninspiring. Most cities would give a fortune for such a dramatic riverside site: I doubt Manchester would have allowed such an asset to be starved of investment. So it is great to see the recent changes – the adventure site with its impressive caf?, the new railings, the revived Garden Festival Gardens and the cycle hire. Much more needs to be done – I would love to see a linear sculpture park and the dreadful Britannia Inn replaced (it was only meant to last for duration of the Garden Festival in 1984 and is well beyond it lifespan) – but the crowds are coming back and that can only be good.
Originally, the shoreline was used by fishermen and the hand-coloured photograph shows the last relic of that cottage industry. Local historian, Mike Royden has compiled a fascinating history of Otterspool: http://www.roydenhistory.co.uk/mrlhp/local/otterspool/otters.htm in which he writes:

The cottage had been home to generations of fishermen who maintained their occupation despite many attempts to dislodge them. In the second half of the 19th century several such attempts were made by the Cheshire Lines Committee who had purchased the adjoining land, and in 1898 the Corporation tried to levy rates on the occupant, Mr.Samuel Kennerley. Fortunately for Mr. Kennerley, a judicial decision was made in his favour, which ruled that in the eyes of the law he ranked as a squatter. At the turn of the century, however, the day’s of the fisherman were over. Kennerley complained; “Twenty years ago, there was plenty of fish to be got on the Mersey waters. At this spot, salmon, codlings, whiting, fluke sole and shrimps (none better) – but now…”, he added with a sigh, “…the dirty water has driven them away. Garston Docks spoiled the fishery, and the Manchester Canal has given them the finishing touch”.
After his death in 1927, the cottage was occupied by his son- in-law, who no longer protected by squatter’s rights, was evicted in 1933. The Corporation, desperate to proceed with a new waterfront development, offered him employment and accommodation to encourage his departure. The cottage was swiftly demolished and the last tangible reminder of the Mersey fisheries was swept away.