First of all, my apology for the delay in adding a new post. I have been working on an exciting new Liverpool photography project which I will reveal before the end of the month.
The decision last week to save a total of 374 homes around Liverpool FC ground was received with widespread approval amongst residents. The saved homes, of which 168 are vacant, will all be refurbished. A further 224 houses, 116 of which are vacant, will be demolished. Hopefully, this will end years of uncertainty for the local community, which has seen the area rapidly deteriorate over the last decade.
I hope the plan works and gives Anfield a new face. Certainly the shabbiness of the approaches to Anfield do the city few favours. I had given little thought to the humble terraced house until last year when I spent a day taking Charles Duff, one of the leading lights in reviving inner city Baltimore, around Liverpool. He was particularly interested in terraced housing which, to my great surprise, is an almost uniquely British form of housing (apparently, there are some examples in Belgium and the Netherlands). I suppose terraced housing is so much a part of the landscape, particularly in the Northern industrial belt, that you just take it as an almost universal style. Not so, and we spent an afternoon looking at the Georgian terraces around Rodney Street before heading out to Anfield. I though I would shock Charles with the degradation of the streets but his reaction was one of astonishment. He loved the small houses and could not understand why they were boarded up. These were the kind of houses he felt could help regenerate Baltimore which had, like Liverpool, hit the bottom as industry had been sucked out of it in recent decades. (Anyone familiar with The Wire will have an idea of what parts of Baltimore look like).
The idea of the Anfield regeneration is to knock down streets to create garden space, to join up two houses into one to make bigger family houses and to improve the paving and streets. This has worked well in Salford and elsewhere and is an intelligent way of preserving the unique character of Liverpool’s built heritage for the benefit of the community.
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.
Fontenoy Gardens c1970
Prefabs off Scotland Road, c1970
Following my recent posts on tenements and prefabs, Peter Leeson has sent me two of the photographs he took while working for Vauxhall Community Development Project. In 1969, Peter gave up a secure job with the City Council Planning Department to record the devastating changes that were being inflicted on the Scotland Road community by the construction of the Wallasey Tunnel. A whole neighbourhood was split in half by the roadworks and Peter’s photographs (and film Us and Them) were the community’s attempt to express their feelings about the enforced changes to its life. I published many of the photographs in Goodbye Scottie Road, a book of Peter’s photographs that also includes fascinating photographs of other aspects of Liverpool from the same period.
The two photographs show the depressing state of public housing. The fabric of Fontenoy Gardens looks well and truly shot. Only major expenditure could reverse its decline and that was not forthcoming. The second photograph shows the last of the prefabs off Scotland Road (St Anthony’s Church can be seen in the background). Neither of the two images appeared in the book – Peter felt they were too depressing.
In my previous post, I illustrated how much the left hand side of Park Lane had changed since the early 1970s. I have no photographic record of what was on the other side of the road before enemy bombing destroyed much of it. However, the photograph above shows a housing initiative that has been largely forgotten – the prefabs. The style shown was widely adopted in the aftermath of bombing as a quick fix to provide short-term housing. Over 160,000 were built throughout Britain, with the largest estate in the country at Belle Vale in Liverpool. Over 1,100 were built and their destruction in the 1960s was against a background of opposition from tenants who were happily settled in their estate.
These prefabs were not expected to provide a long-term housing solution. Quickly erected, they were aimed at families, and typically had an entrance hall, two bedrooms (parents and children), a bathroom, a separate toilet, a living room and an equipped kitchen. Construction materials included steel, aluminium, timber or asbestos, depending on the type of dwelling. The aluminium Type B2 prefab was produced as four pre-assembled sections which could be transported by lorry anywhere in the country.
Liverpool had, in fact, pioneered an earlier form of prefab. The concrete panels invented by City Engineer for Eldon Street flats (see my earlier post) at the turn of the twentieth century, never took off because of union objections (although the idea was used across Europe). Some 50 years later, the basic principle of prefabricated panels (now called the Camus system) was imported from France for use in Liverpool’s high-rise flats.
There has been a revival of interest in prefabs and kit houses, although it has not gained any real momentum. This is surprising in the face of the acknowledged housing problem. Surely quickly erected, low-cost houses which can last for 30+ years would be preferable to the ghastly and costly mistakes in public housing which have been made since the 1960s. After all, most of those initiatives have had a very short shelf-life too.
Cartwright House, 1975
Prince Albert Gardens, St James Street, 1974
Kent Gardens, 1970
St Oswald’s Gardens (on left) and Hurst Gardens (on right) 1979
My last post on Liverpool’s inter-War tenements created a lot of interest, so here are a few more photographs of now-demolished blocks.
I have been referencing an interesting book Housing: A European Survey published in 1936, which included local authority housing in Paris, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Stockholm and Barcelona as well as Liverpool, London, Leeds and Birmingham. The survey was of progressive schemes to improve the housing conditions of the working class and it heralds the unprecedented efforts made since the War ended in 1918 to tackle the slum housing and overcrowding prevalent in all of the cities covered.
Sir Lancelot Keay provided the information for Liverpool and it was under his guidance that the city pioneered both the tenements and what he named cottages (the council houses still standing along Queen’s Drive, in Dovecot, Speke and elsewhere), His plans were for 5,000 cottages and 16,000 flats.
The cottages were preferred by the younger generation whilst the older generation were happier being rehoused in the city centre neighbourhoods they were familiar with. The need for city centre tenements was primarily to provide proximity to the docks for workers.
It would be hard to underestimate what moving into a new flat must have been like for the fortunate tenants. For the first time, most would have running (and hot) water, an indoor toilet and bathroom, dry and spacious living areas and a kitchen fitted with a gas cooker. By the time the photographs were taken in the 1970s, they were no longer modern and needed considerable renovation to bring them up to standard. As we know, the agreed solution was to demolish them – so we are only left with a photographic record of a major housing initiative.
Caryl Gardens, 1975
Myrtle Gardens, 1977
Sir Thomas White Gardens, 1973
I have always been somewhat bemused by the habit of naming Liverpool’s inter-War tenement blocks ‘Gardens’. A less appropriate word would be hard to find for those rather austere blocks. They do have their champions, amongst them architectural writer Owen Hatherley, whose recent book A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, examines the legacy of the architecture and urban regeneration of New Labour. Travelling through Britain, he ends up in Liverpool where he compares the bungalow mentality of the Militant regime to the 1930s schemes designed by Sir Lancelot Keay, Liverpool’s City Architect and one of the leading planners in the country.
Hatherley complains that the great vision and confidence that took Hamburg, Vienna, Berlin and Rotterdam as its influences to create monumental architecture for the working classes had been reduced to uninspired suburban architecture that had been transplanted into key city centre sites. (Not just Militant – the last tenements were demolished in 2001 in Old Swan to make way for a Tesco store). The issues are never straightforward. Liverpool’s rapidly declining population had precipitated a rethink on housing requirements and the tenements were no longer popular with tenants (indeed I remember filming deliberately burnt out flats in blocks off Park Road where tenants were hoping to be rehoused in the new houses that were being built). Grand architectural statements are one thing – the wishes of the public are another, although it is constantly disappointing why small scale public housing is usually so drab and uninspiring. To quote Hatherley: “It leads to depressing juxtapositions – as at the point where the grand sweep of the major surviving thirties tenement block, St Andrew’s Gardens meets a piddling close of nineties semis, with the Metropolitan Cathedral in the background. The scale is preposterous, with the houses seeming to desperately want to be somewhere less dramatic ..”
I reckon that one way to double traffic to my blog is to mention Everton (well – increase numbers slightly!). I’m sorry to disappoint any football fans, though, for today’s photograph is a rather striking image of a policeman looking over his beat from the heights of Everton. Netherfield Road is below but I cannot decipher the street name on the side of the corner building.
The city he is observing is about to be dramatically changed.The closely-packed terraces are about to make way for that critically flawed high rise housing policy which destroyed well-established neighbourhoods for very little gain. The tower blocks have largely gone and now parkland rolls down the hill to Great Homer Street. Visually a huge improvement but I am sure there are many readers out there who will look at the disappeared landscape with more than a touch of regret for a lost community.
Picture Post on Liverpool available in Waterstones, WH Smith, Book Clearance Centre etc. and on Amazon:
The high rise experiment was an almost unmitigated disaster. The motives were honest enough – clear the slums and give families modern, light flats with bathrooms and all mod cons. The model had worked well enough in France, Germany and Holland, so why not Britain?
The problem was that it was an imposed solution. Families and communities were not involved in the planning process. Their streets were demolished and the new flats in the sky considered a fair replacement. Of course they gave many people an immediate improvement in living conditions but at the cost of separation from friends and family.
An alarming problem is evident from the photograph, taken in the mid 1960s. The tower block is probably less than ten years old but it is showing marked deterioration. The concrete is showing staining and corrosion and is typical of such early post-war blocks built in a hurry with inferior materials. Another issue is the barren landscape, hardly an inspiring place to bring up children.
My question – to tax the brains over the Bank Holiday – is where was the tower block? The church must be the giveaway but I can’t place it. Any answers?