Pavement artist outside the Custom House, 1894
Newspaper sellers, James Street, 1894
I am fascinated by old photographs of Liverpool, particularly the candid street photography of the 1890s and early 1900s. This was a time when technology took a great leap forward: motor cars, airplanes, moving pictures to name but three. Photography was revolutionised by the impact of portable cameras using the newly introduced roll film which, coupled by the clever marketing of Kodak, allowed people without darkrooms to send their film to be processed at a relatively low cost. This democratisation of photography, comparable to the introduction of digital photography in recent years, meant that it was possible for those on modest incomes to indulge in a creative activity that had been previously restricted to the well-heeled.
Street photography was a vogue that had spread throughout the burgeoning amateur photographic society movement. Competitions were held annually with awards for the best candid photograph. In Charles Frederick Inston, Liverpool has one of the great exponents and his work was recognised nationally. Today’s two images, however, belong to a different tradition – travel photography. They were taken by a Charles A Swift in 1894. I know nothing more about him except that these images were part of a much larger album of images taken in Liverpool and Chester, Dresden, Prague and other central European locations. I am guessing that Charles Swift was an American tourist on his own Grand Tour. Disembarking in Liverpool, he spent a few days travelling around the city and Chester before moving on to Germany. Like most tourists, his interest was centred around what he saw on the street: the pavement artist outside the Custom House and the newspaper girls in James Street (many of the European photographs are of a similar nature).
Helpfully, he has captioned his photographs although both are easy to locate. The sign on the warehouse on the right reads Dodd and McNeilly, who were merchants at 4 Hanover Street. The newspaper girls look relatively well-dressed and are selling the Liverpool Mercury, which was later absorbed into the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo. Behind them is St George’s Crescent.
I am still managing to acquire photographs of interest – thanks to that other great innovation, the internet. It is exciting to think that there are still undiscovered images out there that will add to our growing picture of Liverpool in the last 150+ years.
My last post has generated a very interesting and divergent theory: the photograph is in celebration of the Boer War. I have an open mind – but it is a convincing argument. If it is the Boer War, I am inclined to believe it would be in celebration of its end (in 1902) rather than marking the lifting of the Siege of Mafeking (in May 1900).
The photograph above leaves no room for error; the location is Exchange Flags and the single banner proclaims Relief of (not legible) Good Old Baden Powell – We’re Here to Stay. The wearing of straw boaters indicates it is springtime. Colonel Baden-Powell was the man tasked with the defence of the town, which was not of any great strategic importance to the course of the War. Baden-Powell, whose previous record in combat had been far from noteworthy, managed to save Mafeking from being overrun and became a national hero as a result, with the British newspapers desperate for good news. (Subsequently Baden-Powell was removed from any further combat command).
The celebration of Mafeking was of significance almost entirely for its morale-boosting. Visitors to the Philharmonic pub might have noticed the two stained glass windows by the fireside facing the main entrance. One is to Baden-Powell and the other to Commander-in-Chief Lord Roberts. Lord Roberts, the far more competent soldier, is now largely forgotten but Baden-Powell resurrected his career in founding the Boy Scout movement in 1908.
Getting back to the Scotland Place photograph; the Boer War ended in May 1902, but boaters have clearly gone out of fashion. I could speculate about the two men wearing bowler hats, for the bowler hat was the traditional wear of Loyalist orders. However, they could just be city workers on their way to Castle Street, the business quarter and the tram’s destination. Suffice to say there is more work to be done on deciphering the photo. Why don’t people label their photograph?
Before I write about today’s photograph, it is with great sadness that I heard about the death of Richard Whittington-Egan. Richard was the author of dozens of book: a world renowned expert on Jack the Ripper, fascinating writer of Liverpool’s often murky and mysterious history and one of the foremost commentators on the history of crime. His groundbreaking work about Liverpool’s history, started with Liverpool Colonnade in 1955, followed by Liverpool Roundabout (1957) and Liverpool Soundings (1969). I was fortunate to publish six books with Richard, including his fascinating account of Teresa Higginson (The Devil in Bootle), the religiously obsessed woman who claimed to have confronted the Devil and who is still being actively promoted for sainthood by a band of followers.
Richard was an unforgettable character I felt privileged to have met and spent time with. Always incisive and knowledgeable, he was incredibly generous with his time and help. He was still writing until two months ago (at the grand age of 91). Indeed, Liverpool Landfall, his last book about Liverpool, was published earlier this year. Thank you, Richard, for your friendship and inspiration.
I carefully chose today’s photograph with Richard in mind. His family background was fascinating, including Irish judges, pathologists and musicians. (A direct ancestor was James Zeugheer-Herrmann, the first conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra).
The photograph is of a demonstration or rally in Scotland Place. The setting is important, for the Morning Star was the public house of Dandy Pat (Patrick Byrne), Irish Nationalist councillor for one of the two Scotland Road wards. Byrne died in 1890 but Scotland Place continued as a focal point for the Nationalist community with the 98 Shop (also called The Irish Depot) a key centre for literature and meetings.
The photograph shows a crowd including a number wearing uniforms with the prominent banner proclaiming: ‘They sneer and jeer it’ above a Union flag. Unfortunately, I can only make out ‘fear it’ underneath. I can’t date the photograph but my thinking is that it could be in response to the sectarian disturbances of 1909, when Liverpool was compared to Belfast and resulted in the segregation of Catholics and Protestants as a long-standing feature of the city. In 1910, The Times wrote that ‘The Roman Catholics have driven the Protestants from the Scotland Road area; the Protestants have swept Netherfield Road clean of Roman Catholics. It is almost incredible in regard to a great English City, but these clearances are affected by actual violence.’
The worst day of violence was 20 June 1909 when there were violent clashes in the streets following an incidence when a proposed march from a local Catholic church ended in riots when Protestants tried to block the route. Days of trouble followed and Liverpool was dubbed the Belfast of England.’
Of course, I could be completely wrong but probably only about the date. Sectarianism is part of Liverpool’s dark history but, in these times of changing public attitudes towards immigrants, is a timely reminder of where intolerance can lead.
Thanks again to the Keasbury-Gordon Archive. Copies of their book Liverpool in 1886 are available from https://www.amazon.co.uk/Liverpool-1886-Andrew-Gill/dp/1533188947/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473848694&sr=8-1&keywords=liverpool+in+1886
Marie with her mother and lodger (who Marie was clearly unhappy with)
Patsy with his pet duck, Oswald, and hen
Bobbie at home with her baby
I often get annoyed by the tiresome ‘enmity’ between Manchester and Liverpool. Football is tribal and the rivalry is understandable but I frequently talk to people who have an almost pathological hatred for the other city. Competition can fuel ambition but it can also hold back development. A united North is, in my eyes, far more powerful than a divided one. As someone who has spent all his life in three great Northern cities – Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool – I tend to see similarities rather than differences, positives rather than negatives.
In this light, I hope readers will forgive me for travelling 40 miles eastwards. Beeton Grove is in Levenshulme, near to the centre of Manchester. In the 1970s, Chris Hunt photographed the inhabitants of this wholly working-class terraced street in Manchester. However, the book is far more than a collection of great photographs because Chris also interviewed his subjects about their lives and hopes, giving a unique insight into life in a hard industrial city in the 1970s.
I only wish someone had done the same in Liverpool – although I am sure there would be many common factors in their lives. Beeton Grove is a very powerful statement and I have decided to turn the 100+ photographs and interviews into a book. Follow the link and find out more (and any support would be very gratefully received).
I love photographs like this one of Lewis’s Soda Fountain. Taken on 30 August 1933 at 9.12 (if the clock is right). Photographs like this tell us so much – the men in charge in their suits, in central position, with a large staff of seventeen young men and women looking, in the main, rather miserable for the photographer. Social photography like this is so often lost when family albums are thrown out. Lewis’s is an important part of Liverpool’s history and images like this, of just one department, show how big an undertaking it was at its height.
It is sad to think that everyone in the photograph has probably long since died. There is a poignant message on the back of the photograph: “To my Darling Mother with best love from your loving daughter”. No doubt she is one of the young girls – maybe the only one smiling on the front row.
A young Elvis impersonator at Bridlington Elvis Convention
Working for Uncle Sam, Blackpool
Elvis tribute acts waiting for the cut, Bridlington
Elvis as a boy, Birmingham 2014
For the first time, I am posting nothing about Liverpool. Today’s post is about that other great pop phenomenon – the King himself. The Beatles and Elvis are the two great acts that have crossed generations and remarkably continue to attract tributes in spite of an almost complete radio silence (when did you last hear either played on national or local radio).
The proliferation of Elvis tribute acts (ETAs) is astonishing, with close to 15,000 worldwide. (How many Beatles bands there are is not a figure I can find). Every year, there are competitions up and down Britain, with the winner of the prestigious Blackpool contest going on to sing in the world championship in Memphis. Photographer Graeme Oxby has been recording the English Elvis scene for three years and Bluecoat Press are now raising funds through Kickstarter to publish his brilliant photographs.
Have a look at the link and look at some of the great rewards for supporting the project.
The Cow Butter Shop
Enjoying a quiet pipe
Men outside an unnamed pub
Woman knitting in a street market
Children around the Steble Fountain
Woman selling birds
The Wellington Monument
Selling clothes on the street
I have just received a request from Pete O’Keefe regarding a set of lantern slides I commented on back in October 2010. I have long been fascinated by this series, which was commercially sold by Riley Brothers of Bradford, the largest mass producers of lantern slides in Britain at the turn of the nineteenth century. Pete has just put his boxed set on Ebay and comments:
I have a set of these Magic Lantern Slides (Slums In Our Cities) and I have No. 1 to 54.
They are in their original wooden slide box. It is my belief that this was possibly a set of 60. as there are 60 sections in the box – and asks whether I have any record of any missing images.
Not an easy question – I have the total number listed as 52 – but there could have been subsequent editions. Pete’s slides on Ebay show images not in my list so I am reckon the full set might well have been at least 60.
What I do know is that the photographs were taken by Thomas Burke, a city councillor for Vauxhall and a keen amateur photographer. He donated an album of 27 silver prints from his negatives to the City Library – where the quality is vastly superior to the poorly hand-coloured slides I have copies of (and which Pete is selling on Ebay).
If one can ignore the crude colouring, the slides are very interesting examples of street photography using a hidden camera. The subject matter is more street people than slum living – the slums are hardly seen in fact. Some are in well-known sites, such as St John’s Market and William Brown Street. Many show street traders such as women selling fish, clothes and caged birds. Overall, a fascinating record of Liverpool at the turn of the nineteenth century and of an early obsession of capturing the lives of the poor on film. Riley Bros. sold the complete sets for entertainment – at a time when magic lantern slide shows were popular with an audience who would be more likely to be amused by the images than stirred by social conscience. There would have been a printed commentary to be read out as each slide was projected – sadly I do not have a copy of what would be a fascinating read today (the evils of drink, the undeserving poor …).
Nothing much changes, with today’s announcement that the Grand National organisers are looking to throw out photographers who take derogatory photos of Ladies’ Day for the tabloid press. Sadly, there is a ready audience out there to be titillated by the lives of others – and Liverpool is always a magnet for photographers looking for easy images.
New Brighton Baths, 1947
In my lifetime, I have seen many changes to the way people live. Technology is one of the most profound – in everything from computers and the internet to medicines and their impact on life expectancy. Amongst other changes is greater affluence and how we use our leisure time. Looking at the two photographs of New Brighton, taken in 1947, it is a fading memory for many of us (those who remember the 1950s and 60s – and earlier) of how basic holidays were. In the difficult years after the War, a few days at New Brighton, or a similar resort, were all that could be hoped for for most people. Even on the beach a dress code applied – with suits and ties almost de rigeur.
The idea of an evening at the open air baths would fill most people with horror but this was all part of a good day out. It brings home how hard our parents’ and grandparents’ generation had it and how hard won were any real luxuries in life.
By way of contrast, today’s generation have a totally different take on holidays and enjoyment. I have just embarked on a Kickstarter campaign with photographer Peter Dench to raise funds for his brilliant book The British Abroad. This is a fascinating look at an aspect of our culture and really shows the difference is attitudes between the post-War generation and young people today. Have a look at the project and why not subscribe to one of the great rewards.
Photos courtesy of Getty Images
It was only a month ago, I posted a set of photos by the master of photojournalism Thurston Hopkins. Sadly, within days, he passed away at the grand age of 101. I was privileged to have had a correspondence with him arising out of my book Picture Post on Liverpool, in which I included his magnificent series on the Liverpool slums. The assignment was never published; Picture Post proprietor, Edward Hulton, gave way to pressure from Liverpool City Council who were worried that the planned feature would paint them in a bad light. Ironically, the sequence won the following year’s coveted Encyclopaedia Britannica prize. The review in the British Journal of Photography (an august publication that has its roots in the original journal of Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association in the mid-nineteenth century). The reviewer wrote:
‘Here we have a set of 22 pictures of commonplace scenes; scenes which might possibly – in fact almost surely – be duplicated in a number of our great cities. They are pictures of everyday life; of men, women and children fighting for existence, struggling to maintain the comforts of home life and striving to retain some of the dignity of humankind under conditions which are appalling and which cannot be realised by many million whose lot has been cast in happier surroundings.
Thurston Hopkins has lifted a stone in our vaunted Welfare State and shown with unemotional clarity some of the things which many people would prefer not to see or know about. Here is superb photography, stark in its realism; an example of photographic journalism at its best. The pictures tell their own story, carrying their own message, and while being a damning indictment of the City Fathers of Liverpool are perfect examples of how it is possible to weld the trained eye of the cameraman to modern photographic technique in order that a civic conscience might be aroused. This sequence is the high spot of the 1957 Encyclopaedia Britannica exhibition, and should be seen and carefully studied by all photographers, whether amateur of professional.’
Over half a century later, how shall we judge the Welfare State? We need a Thurston Hopkins of today to stir the conscience of the nation. There is a willing publisher here.
Thurston Hopkins 1913-2014 RIP
Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to put names to photographs. When I started my blog, I aimed to bring unseen images to greater attention in the hope that readers would add their opinions and information. Photography has a unique place in our appreciation and understanding of the past but only too often, the people in the photographs remain anonymous and one can only guess at their lives.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from Mary Mclean, delighted to have found the picture of her (above) used on the cover of my book Picture Post on Liverpool. It was the first time she had seen the photograph, which was taken by Thurston Hopkins in 1956 as part of his unpublished assignment on the Liverpool slums. Mary is now 62 and a grandmother but that is all the information she gave. My attempts to contact her failed, as her emails bounced back as undelivered. So I know little more than her name and age and that she married and had children (and that the photographs were taken in the vicinity of Scotland Road).
Thurston Hopkins is still alive (now 101) and living in Susses with his wife, Grace Robertson, who was also a Picture Post photographer and daughter of the broadcaster Fyfe Robertson (who you will have to be in your 50s at least to remember). It was Fyfe Robertson who accompanied Thurston on their controversial story about slum living which Edward Hulton, proprietor of Picture Post, refused to publish after pressure from Liverpool Council (who thought the article would be a slur on the city).
Hopefully Mary Mclean will discover this blog (she has only seen the book) and reply with more information about where the photograph was taken and about her subsequent life. In the meantime, here are two more photographs from the same session that have remained unpublished until now.