I have just spent a week close by Lake Vyrnwy, in the heart of North Wales. This was my first visit to the area and I was stunned by the beauty of both the dammed valley and the surrounding country. The lake, or reservoir, was constructed during the 1880s to supply Liverpool with fresh water and was the first undertaking of its kind in the world. Another example of Victorian (and Liverpudlian) initiative, it was hardly appreciated by the inhabitants of the small village of Llanwddyn, who lost their homes under the lake’s water. Today the lake is a major tourist attraction and nature reserve managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
I was fortunate to enjoy an unbroken spell of sunshine – the best March spell in Wales for over 40 years. The downside is that with so little rain over the winter, talk of a serious drought has begun. Those old enough will remember the last major one in 1976, when a dry winter and spring was followed by a heatwave in July and August. A Drought Act was passed by Parliament as rivers and reservoirs ran dry. Standpipes were a feature of many streets and a Minister of Drought, Denis Howell, was appointed. As always happens, as soon as he took office, the heavens opened and a very wet autumn followed which went some way to restoring the depleted water stocks.
Today’s photograph is of an earlier drought, in June 1934, when emergency measures had to be taken. The tanker, containing salt water from the Mersey, is being used to water the streets. The location is Victoria Street, on the corner of Crosshall Street. The Liverpool Daily Post and Echo building is in the background.
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.
A headline in this week’s Liverpool Echo caught my eye. It appears that the Labour Council is attempting to have Wavertree’s Cricketer’s Club licence revoked after it hosted a conference of the British National Party. An interesting exchange of posts on the newspaper’s website came down heavily against the seemingly autocratic action being taken on the basis that freedom of speech was a value that must be upheld however abhorrent the views of the BNP.
This brought to mind today’s photograph, of a heavily bandaged Oswald Mosley photographed after being attacked at a rally in Liverpool. Photographed at Walton Hospital in October 1937, he was almost at the end of his political career. A member of the aristocracy, he became a Conservative MP at the age of 21 but fell out over the use of Black and Tans in Ireland. Crossing the House, he became a member of the Independent Labour Party and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in Ramsay MacDonald’s government before, again falling out and establishing the British Union of Fascists in 1932. Heavily influenced by Mussolini, he quickly attracted influential support amongst both the Establishment and the working class. His more extreme supporters took to wearing black shirts and the Daily Mail published a famous headline Hurrah for the Black Shirts (not a lot changes with certain papers). Rallies held by Mosley provoked the kind of scenes that BNP rallies attract – although of a more violent nature. The Liverpool rally was described in The Glasgow Herald newspaper:
Sir Oswald Mosley was hit on the head by a stone and knocked semi-conscience immediately he stood on the top of a loud-speaker van to address an open-air meeting at Queens Drive, Liverpool, yesterday. As the van was being driven to a piece of waste land, hundreds of missiles were thrown, Sir Oswald, had not had time to utter a word when a large stone hit him on the temple and he fell on his face. Mounted police who were standing by in a neighbouring yard, immediately rushed out and charged the crowd back. A Fascist bodyguard stood by to guard Sir Oswald in spite of showers of bricks from large sections of the crowd.
Mosley was whisked off to Walton Hospital and discharged after a week recovering from concussion and a minor head wound. Twelve men and two women were arrested, although whether they were Fascists or Anti-Fascists is not stated. From 1937 onwards, the appeal of the Blackshirts rapidly waned and Mosley was eventually detained in prison in 1940 for the duration of the War.
Liverpool has an honourable tradition in the fight against Fascism. Around 130 local men, including two City Councillors, fought in the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War and 28 of them had died in the unsuccessful battle against Franco. One noted participant was Jack Jones, later General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union. In light of the news item about the British National Party and its meeting at the Cricketers Club, it is a timely reminder to be vigilant of the dangers of extremism which often flourishes in difficult economic times.
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.
Ask any teenager in 1963 where they would most like to be and there was only one answer – Liverpool. But – when your grandmother starts strutting her stuff on the dance floor, it’s time for a quick exit. The Cavern re-opened, after shutting for financial reasons, in July 1967. Harold Wilson, the then-Prime Minister cut the ribbon with Jimmy Saville, Bessie Braddock and Ken Dodd in tow. Enough warning there to say this place is no longer cool. The centre of the creative universe just a few years ago had become yet another dull club living on past reputations.
The Swinging Sixties had a massive liberating effect on music, the arts and fashion. Sadly Miss Wartski seems to have hit the wrong tone. Lesson one in marketing – get a good, memorable name. Wartski somehow doesn’t sound quite right.
I am not sure where the shop was – I think Bold Street – but thanks again to Pat Weekes for two memorable images.
Hope Street is one of the few Liverpool streets that has improved considerably in the last forty years. Buildings have been cleaned up, the completed Cathedral makes a dramatic ‘ending’ to the streetscape, the Georgian buildings have found new uses and even newcomers, like the Hope Street Hotel, fit is seamlessly. Last weekends Hope Street Festival saw the area come alive, with dozens of food and craft stalls, live entertainment and open buildings, including the Masonic Hall. Having watched the Queen Mary depart last Thursday to fireworks and the cheers of thousands, it really does feel as if Liverpool is reclaiming its crown as England’s most exciting city.
What we need is more of these events, not paid out of the public purse but by self-interested businesses and organisations who all benefit. Liverpool has never been short of imagination, what these festivals and activities prove is that there is a willing audience prepared to give a good idea a chance.
There is no doubt what the celebrations are about. The slides taken by Pat Weekes are all dated 14 May 1967 – an auspicious day for all Roman Catholics since it marked the consecration of the new cathedral. St Andrew’s Gardens, or the Bullring, in its shadow, made the most of the occasion with a giant street party and some form of theatrical entertainment.
The hardened news photographer had long left after taking photographs of all the going-ons at the cathedral but for the enterprising amateur photographer, the real action was elsewhere, as Pat’s photographs show. Photographs of official events are invariably dull – usually choreographed line-ups of dignitaries and staged events. Historically they provide a record but there is usually much more fun to be captured away from the main action – from children tucking into jelly and jam tarts to earnest priests explaining ecumenical matters to respectful parishioners.
After recent events, I cannot resist taking another look back at the 1911 General Transport Strike. No doubt there will be some who can draw parallels between this months riots and the disturbances of a century ago. In most people’s judgment, I imagine clear distinctions will be made between workers fighting for an improvement in their working conditions and the violence and mayhem of last week. There is one common factor, however, and that is the reaction of authority under pressure. The threat of civil disorder spreading induced panic measures – as the rare handbill reproduced above shows: ‘Large numbers of persons have assembled in the disturbed streets for the purpose of seeing what is going on, and I warn all such persons that if the Authorities are called upon to act, innocent citizens are likely to be injured as those against whom any drastic measures on the part of the Police or the Military are directed.’
Many thanks for today’s photographs and handbill which are from the collection of Colin Weekes. The top photograph shows what appears to be a ‘scab’ carter taking provisions along Smithdown Lane. In the background is Daniel Higgin’s butcher’s shop. The impressive building on the right is a branch of the London City & Midland Bank. (Hard to imagine looking at Smithdown Lane today). The second photograph is of London Road looking up towards Monument Place. The church in the distance is St Silas. Looking at the shops, there is a half price sale on the immediate right, with an empty shop on the next corner. Further up, a pledge shop (pawnbroker) is advertising its premises high up on the gable end. At least somethings haven’t changed over the century.
The Rialto 1974
Lodge Lane 1976
Lodge Lane 1976
I was asked last week why I had not posted anything about the 30th anniversary of the Toxteth Riots. A fair point which I hope today’s blog will rectify. I thought I might have a photograph of the Racquets Club, which was unceremoniously burned down along with The Rialto, but so far nothing has turned up. I knew one of the Club’s committee members and he expressed his delight at the outcome. Members, all from the professional classes, had been reluctant to visit the Club for some time prior to the riots and a financial hole had been created. The generous compensation wiped out the financial problems and gave them fine new premises in Chapel Street (in the Hargreaves Building). The Establishment won out as always, as no doubt did Swainbank who lost his furniture repository in the Rialto. In the case of Lodge Lane, the looting of the shops dealt a devastating blow to the street, from which it still has not recovered.