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.
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.
Byrom Street/Cartwright Place 1950s
For me, the most interesting news item over Christmas was the revelation that Geoffrey Howe had advocated the managed decline of Liverpool following the Toxteth Riots. I wasn’t particularly surprised by the ‘shock’ headlines, there had been suggestions soon after the Riots that the Government had been advocating a market forces strategy with Liverpool. What I did find intriguing is that a policy of managed decline only came into Cabinet discussions in 1981 – I thought that Liverpool’s whole post-War history had been planned to scale down the city.
Certainly the effects of wartime bombing had seriously damaged the city’s housing stock and infrastructure. Rebuilding in the immediate post-War period was frustrated by a chronic shortage of building materials and Liverpool limped through the 1950s attempting to reinstate its docks, city centre and housing. But there is more than a sneaking suspicion that the damage to the city had created a canvas that the politicians and planners could work with. Road schemes proposed in the pre-War years could become a reality and the ideas for a grandiose civic centre and new zones for shopping and business could take centre stage. (Not only in Liverpool, in Coventry the City Architect, Donald Gibson, the bombing was “a blessing in disguise. The Jerries cleared out the core of the (medieval) city, a chaotic mess, and we can start anew.”) Alderman Shennan, a practising architect and Chairman of the Planning Committee was a strong advocate of clearing out much of old Liverpool and creating a car-friendly transport system that would take out whole historic areas when implemented. In tandem, the city’s housing and industry was to be revamped by a dual policy of creating satellite towns in Kirkby, Skelmersdale, Speke, Runcorn and Northwich and by demolishing whole neighbourhoods to make way for tower block living.
This is an over-simplification but the policies led to a near halving of Liverpool’s population in less than forty years. If that wasn’t managed decline, I am not sure what is. Yet Liverpool is still officially England’s poorest city. Some management! The tragedy is that the voice of the people is never heard. It is left to a small handful of experts to impose their plans and, as has been shown time after time, they are deeply flawed in their assumptions (high rise living, new towns, importing large-scale industry which subsequently failed, destroying historic buildings for no gain). What I would like to see is a Royal Commission on the future of our cities and have a proper discussion about the future shape and function of Liverpool and its counterparts. It might take years to come to its conclusions but it would focus attention on so many pressing issues.
To illustrate one aspect of my point, the first photograph is of Byrom Street in the 1950s – a cobbled street with buildings of character, wide pavements for pedestrians and an efficient transport system. Below is an aerial view from 1964 showing a central block of buildings sandwiched between the Technical College (on the left – now part of Liverpool Museum) and the offices of Blackburn Assurance on the right. The next photograph captures this block in preparation for demolition to make way for road widening from the Mersey Tunnel. Finally, the 1978 photograph showing the end result. All character has been removed in favour of the motor car and the wide pavements reduced to a precarious sloping strip relegating the pedestrian to an afterthought. Geoffrey Howe couldn’t have done better!
Byrom Street 1964
Byrom Street 1966
Byrom Street 1978