Visit of Queen Victoria 1886
Detail of main photograph
St George’s Plateau has been a meeting place since its early days. Over the years, trade unions, suffragettes, May Horse parades, Orange Lodge marches amongst many groups have made it their meeting place. In the 1960s, there was that famous photograph of dozens of Merseybeat groups on its step. More recently, it has witnessed football triumphs, French giants and the opening ceremony for 2008 Capital of Culture with Ringo Starr drumming on the roof of St George’s Hall.
Back in the nineteenth century such big events were somewhat scarcer. At first this photograph bothered me. In the background, the Sessions House is clearly in the process of being completed – its facade is bare and the winch above the building suggests work is in progress (the church behind is Christ Church in Hunter Street – demolished in the 1920s).
According to my references, the Session House was completed in 1884 but I am guessing the final additions to the facade must have over-run the official opening on August 4 because the great gathering on the Plateau can only have been for the visit of Queen Victoria in May 1886. The two day Royal Visit culminated in a drive from the riverfront along Lord Street, Church Street, along Lime Street and up London Road to Newsham House. I doubt any other event would have drawn such a crowd. The detail shows every vantage point being taken as the crowd tried to get a rare sight of the Queen at a time when the British Empire was the dominant force in the world.
Bombed Out, 1941
The daily news from Iraq, Syria and Gaza only reinforces the fact that there is no glamour in war. The targeting of non-combatants goes back to the earliest times but WW2 was the first major conflict in which civilian casualties exceeded those of the military. The German blitzkrieg (or lightning strike) was introduced as a tactic to overwhelm an enemy by massive bombing attacks on towns and cities.
Liverpool suffered more than any other city outside of London. There were 3134 fatalities in Liverpool and Bootle. Birmingham suffered 2147, Glasgow 710 and Manchester 611.
The Blitz could have succeeded but, as the photograph above shows, the reaction of the affected people was defiant and stoical. The family shown smile at the photographer as they carry the meagre belongings salvage from the wreckage of their house.
Unfortunately, the street name is impossible to decipher and I cannot name the location. The young girl will be in her 80s now if she is still around. I hope someone can identify the family.
The current humanitarian disaster in Iraq brought to mind one of my most poignant and interesting images – that of a group of emigrants waiting by the quayside in Liverpool. I am speculating that they are Russian or Polish Jews fleeing persecution in their homelands. (The photograph is probably late 1880s).
It is estimated that over nine million emigrants left Liverpool for the New World. Many left for economic reasons, leaving behind poverty in their European homeland to take their chances in America. Others, probably the ones in the photograph above, were fleeing for their lives. Anyone who visited the fascinating Chagall exhibition at the Tate last year will be familiar with the story of how Jews in Russia were confined to the Pale of Settlement – a geographical area covering an area that is now Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine. Frequent anti-semitic pogroms and purges left Jews in fear of their lives and more than two million Jews fled Russia between 1880 and 1920.
Sadly, I can add no more information about the photograph. There are no names – only desperate faces. The two details below give some idea of what it must be like to flee with little more than the clothes on your back.
Walton Breck Road, 2011
Walton Breck Road, 2011
First of all, my profuse apologies for the long period of absence. I went to New Zealand to visit my son and the time off threw me out of sync. Coupled with an enforced decision to stop publishing books about Liverpool, I needed time out for a rethink.
The collapse of the local book market is worrying. For the last seven years, the number of bookshops in the city centre (and throughout England) has been reducing at an alarming rate. When I started publishing in the mid-1980s, there were 14 or more bookshops I can reel off. One by one they have closed and now just Waterstones in Liverpool One and News from Nowhere in Bold Street survive as dedicated bookshops. It makes no financial sense to publish books with such a small number of outlets so, until times change, I have thrown in the towel and will concentrate on books about photo-journalism which I can sell nationally. Sad times for me, having published over 200 Liverpool titles over the years. I am proud of my back catalogue and hope that some of the books have helped educate and change attitudes about a great city. Maybe some new publisher will take up the challenge and keep alive Bluecoat Press’s legacy. I doubt it is possible but good luck to anyone who has a go.
Back to today’s images and the point of my blog. I have previously stated my hope that I can open it up to contributors who can add their images and commentary. Increasingly, I would like to post images and thoughts about Liverpool today – without ignoring historic images. Liverpool, arguably, is undergoing the greatest change in the last century. I am very positive about most things that are happening. There is a sense of confidence that I feel every time I walk around the centre. To take one example: I was cynical about the Baltic Triangle Creative Quarter when it was mooted. I was based there and thought it unlikely to attract new businesses in what was then a bleak place, albeit only a five minute walk from Liverpool One.How wrong could I be. There is a waiting list of businesses for space and caf?s and performance venues have sprung up as well as an academy for 14-18s. Hats off to the people who had the vision to make it all happen – and this is just one project.
The photos I have posted were taken six years ago (when the two American cowboys announced that Anfield was to be rebuilt in Stanley Park). I decided to start recording match day as a historical record and was particularly taken by the fast food outlets around the ground. These are the kind of images I am looking for – images that will give a picture of everyday life in the 21st century. Send in your images with an explanation of where, what, when and who and I will hopefully take this blog in a new direction along with my publishing.
Liverpool has a colourful history. We all know its wealth was largely founded on the Slave Trade and the dreadful poverty of the nineteenth century had been well documented. Sometimes, however, shocking events just disappear into the mists of time without a mention in the history of the city.
The events of August Bank Holiday, 1947 showed a side of Britain that we may well wish to hide. Britain occupied Palestine and Jewish guerrillas were at war with the colonial power. Two British army sergeants were captured and, in reprisal for Britain?s hanging of captured Jewish fighters, hanged. A great outcry followed, and in a wave of anti-semitism, Jewish communities in Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester were attacked. In Birkenhead, slaughterhouse workers had refused to process any more meat for Jewish consumption until the attacks on British soldiers in Palestine stopped. In Liverpool, crowds of angry young men gathered in Jewish areas and attacked shops and businesses.
My account is taken from Jerusalem Your Name is Liberty, by Walter Lever, a one-time Communist who lived in Manchester.
‘On Sunday afternoon the trouble reached Manchester. Small groups of men began breaking the windows of shops in Cheetham Hill, an area just north of the city centre which had been home to a Jewish community since the early 19th century. The pubs closed early that day because there was a shortage of beer and, by the evening, the mob?s numbers had swelled to several hundred. Most were on foot but others drove through the area, throwing bricks from moving cars.
Soon the streets were covered in broken glass and stones and the crowd moved on to bigger targets, tearing down the canopy of the Great Synagogue on Cheetham Hill Road. All premises belonging to Jews for the length of a mile down the street had gaping windows and the pavements were littered with glass.’
By the end of the weekend, anti-Jewish riots had taken place in Glasgow and Liverpool, with minor disturbances in Bristol, Hull, London and Warrington, as well as scores of attacks on Jewish property across the country. A solicitor in Liverpool and a Glasgow shopkeeper were beaten up. Nobody was killed, but this was the most widespread anti-Jewish violence the UK had ever seen. In Salford, the day after a crowd of several thousand had thrown stones at shop windows, signs appeared that read: ?Hold your fire. These premises are British.? In Eccles, a former sergeant major named John Regan was fined ?15 for telling a crowd of 700: ?Hitler was right. Exterminate every Jew ? every man, woman and child. What are you afraid of? There?s only a handful of police.?
Arsonists in West Derby set fire to a wooden synagogue and the caretaker was attacked and badly injured when he opened the gates to the fire brigade; workers at Canada Dock in Liverpool returned from the holidays to find ?Death to all Jews? painted above the entrance. The photograph shows the burnt-out wooden synagogue in West Derby Cemetery. Just two years after British troops had liberated Bergen-Belsen, the language of the Third Reich had resurfaced, this time at home. Anger about what had happened in Palestine was one thing, but it seemed to have unleashed something far more vicious.
First Communion, 1952
First Communion, 1953
Two more photographs from the same family album. I suspect the subject matter will resonate with some more than others but they portray one of the rituals that thousands of young girls undertook as an essential part of their religious upbringing. I cannot identify the locations – but the other family photographs are taken around Vauxhall Road, so they could well be there. The decorations in the second photograph will be for the Coronation – not for the First Communion. These kind of processions were not exclusive to Liverpool but they were a big event in Catholic parishes as is evident from the crowds of onlookers.
Naylor Street, 1934
Gladstone Street, 1934
After a short break, I am back in full swing with three photographs taken from a family album. I am fascinated by this kind of social photography. Amateur shots taken on (most probably) a Box Brownie purely as a family record. The real sadness is their anonymity. I have no idea of the names of any of the people in the photographs. If any of the children are around, they will now be in their eighties, for all I have is the street name and the date on the backs of the snaps. The group of children are in Naylor Street, which ran into Vauxhall Road. Gladstone Street was off Naylor Street running through to Freemasons Row. A very narrow street, it can be found in the Alan Godfrey Ordinance Survey map No 106.10 Liverpool North 1906. As you open the map it is in the bottom section in the 2nd fold.(Thanks to Alex Robertson – who emailed me with the location).
The young boy with a cat is standing outside Frank’s Caf?. Whether that was its actual name or the name of a family member who owned it is unclear (it is not listed under Frank’s Caf? in my 1932 Directory).
I would love to see a concerted effort to create an archive of such photographs that can be deposited in the Liverpool Record Office. They often tell us a great deal about the people of Liverpool and would be an invaluable source of reference to future generations. More to follow next time.
Boys with comic, 1940
Tenement living, 1940
Mersey ferry, 1954
Professor Codman, 1955
Four more photographs from my new book Bert Hardy’s Britain, courtesy of Getty Images. This is the centenary of Bert’s birth and his images brilliantly capture life in the 1940s and 50s. The tenement he photographed with the two girls is, I am informed by Tom Slemen (who should know since he was brought up there) is Myrtle Gardens. Many will remember Professor Codman, who was still performing (or at least his son was) in Williamson Square well into the 1980s. The son, who also took on the Professor Codman name, came to see me in the late 80s with the idea of publishing a family history. I recall he was thinking of retiring because of the stress of earning a living in an increasingly hostile world. I doubt the book would have been a best-seller but it is a shame it never saw the light of day – another piece of social history lost.
The book is available in local bookshops and on Amazon:
Catholic Evidence Guild, 1955
Chinese hostel, Chinatown, 1942
My latest book is about that brilliant photojournalist, Bert Hardy. Bert was born into a poor working-class family in Blackfriars in South London in 1913. Leaving school at fourteen, his first job was as a delivery boy with a photographic printing company. Fascinated by the photographic process, Bert bought himself a secondhand camera and started taking photographs of pub outings and other local events, selling copies to make a few extra shillings.
From there, he soon progressed to freelancing his work, combining his love of cycling to take photos of races for The Bicycle magazine. Using the newly introduced 35mm ‘miniature’ cameras, he was able to catch action with a flexibility that was not possible with the standard plate film press cameras used by most professional photographers.
Bert’s photographs were eventually noticed by the editor of Picture Post magazine, Tom Hopkinson, who took him on as a staff photographer on the trailblazing magazine that was redefining the use of photographs in Britain. Apart from spending three years in the Army’s Film and Photographic Unit, Bert became a mainstay of Picture Post until its demise in 1957. His outstanding work includes such iconic photographs as the two Gorbals boys and the two girls on the railings at Blackpool with their skirts billowing in the breeze. He visited Liverpool regularly and I have reproduced two of the images from the book courtesy of Getty Images. The first is of a lady espousing the virtues of Catholicism (I am guessing – the photograph is captioned the Catholic Evidence Guild). The other is a very atmospheric image of four Chinese sailors sitting round a table in a Chinese hostel in Chinatown. In a much earlier post, I have mentioned the dreadful way Chinese merchant sailors were treated (they were expected to take all the risks on the convoys at a fraction of the pay of British seamen with no compensation for death in service).
The book Bert Hardy’s Britain is now available and is, if I may be so bold, the best book I have ever done, with over 200 of Bert’s photographs taken between 1940 and 1956.
It is fast coming round to July 12th and the annual Orange Lodge marches. I have posted photographs in the early days of this blog of a procession along London Road in the 1970s. Recently, I acquired a set of rather scratched glass plate negatives taken in the 1950s of a procession marching along Netherfield Road South at its junction with Upper Beau Street. Netherfield Road was at the heart of Orange Lodge territory, looking down towards Great Homer Street and the homes of the Catholic community.
The history of sectarianism in Liverpool is not an attractive one. Bloodshed was a regular feature of the marches, creating tensions that have taken generations to reduce. Today the marches are much smaller, although there are many who feel they have no part in a modern society. The photographs are a valuable piece of history, though – a record of life that cannot be erased. In my next blog, I will post the earliest photograph I have seen of this annual celebration of a battle now over 300 years ago.