Category: Pubs

The street is initially hard to place – but there at the bottom of James Street is the newly built White Star building and, above it, James Street station with its hydraulic tower (which was destroyed by enemy bombing). So the view we are looking at is from Derby Square, from the statue of Queen Victoria. Preeson’s Row is still there in theory – it was a street that ran along the river side of Derby Square, along the line of the old castle ditch. Picton’s indispensable Memorials of Liverpool is, as so often, my guide to its history. Back in the 17th century, it was called Tarlton’s field. Alderman Thomas Preeson built the first houses, living himself on the opposite side, fronting the castle fosse. A stone in front of the house was dated 1660. In about 1721, the buildings of the castle were removed and a small square, Derby Square, was formed for a new market.
So what has happened to these old streets such as Sea Brow, Prison Weint, Redcross Street, Benns Gardens and Preeson’s Row which were all part of the history of Liverpool? Occasionally, like Redcross Street, the name survives in a meaningless context but the rest have been swept away and an association with the old town lost forever.
The pub on the corner, in the photograph, is the Queen’s Hotel, which was destroyed during the War, and rebuilt. It has had a name change recently but, no doubt, will resurface as the Queens sometime in the future as is the trend (remember the Brookhouse, which was painted a shocking yellow and renamed The Scream before the pub chain came to its senses).

Burlington Street 1890

Temperance March c1895

There is a substantial number of contemporary accounts of life in nineteenth century Liverpool. Journalists such as Hugh Shimmin wrote extensively about slum life, usually sympathetically but invariably looking at drink as the underlying cause of poverty. Invariably, middle class response to the threat of the ‘underclass’ was to lobby for tighter controls on the sale of alcohol – with a growing number arguing for total abstinence. Signing the ‘pledge’ (not to drink) and supporting temperance organisations such as the Band of Hope attracted national support – even if, like most bandwagons, it eventually ran out of steam.

The first photograph, of Burlington Street, is one of a series taken by Liverpool photographer N. Stephen, a committed anti-drink campaigner, and used as lantern slides in temperance lectures. The second photograph, which looks as if it has been taken somewhere near Abercromby Square, shows what appears to be a well-heeled crowd about to start their procession. The distance between the two locations is only a couple of miles in distance – but light years in comfort, opportunity and life expectancy. A century on, one might ask ‘what has changed?’

Here is a wonderfully, moody shot of a carter heading west along Wapping in the early morning. To his left is the Overhead Railway and in the shadows is the Baltic Fleet, a remarkable survivor of the many pubs that once lined the Dock Road. The photograph was taken in 1929 by John Newburn, a member of The Photographic Circle based in Birkenhead. Judging by the label on the back of the print it was a submission to The Amateur Photographer magazine’s Advanced Workers’ Competition. I hope it won, it really does capture the place and time. Perhaps more attention should be paid to the work of amateur photographic societies. For decades they were the standard bearers of photography in Liverpool but their efforts are often overlooked because of that dreaded word ‘amateur’. In truth, many of the photographers were highly skilled and dedicated and more than happy to pursue photography as a hobby. Commercial photography places different demands – working to commissions rather than having the freedom to just enjoy taking a shot simply for the sake of a pleasing picture.

The area around the Custom House was a warren of alleys and narrow streets, its last remnants disappearing in the early 1970s to make way for the Law Courts and the proposed new Canning Place development. A description in the 1930s conjures up a lost world: ‘ …when I first stepped from Litherland Alley, near Canning Place, into Ogden Weint. It would not appear that with any stretch of the imagination this exccedingly narrow by-way could belong to a modern city … Ogden Weint is so narrow that even two pedestrians have difficulty in passing one another without rubbing shoulders. The large stone flags are very unevenly placed and at night time when the passage is dimly illuminated by flickering yellow light from a gas lamp, one has the feeling of passing down the alleyway of an old sailing ship, and the little doorways, resembing those of ships’ cabins, serve to accentuate the impression.’
The Trawler was the last of the pubs along Strand Street to be demolished. The photograph shows it sometime in the late 1960s under the name Frayne. In my Gore’s Directory of 1910, James Frayne is listed as the landlord of The Mersey Vaults at 11, Strand Street. In 1927 (and in 1931), he is listed in Kelly’s at The Trawler at 12 Strand Street – so he obviously had a long career in the licensed trade. Pubs are a good barometer of the dynamics of a neighbourhood. Their decline in recent years a clear indication of changing patterns of behaviour and, in the case of the Dock Road pubs, the catastrophic decline in the economic activity of the area.

There cannot be many pubs in Liverpool named in honour of their landlord/landlady. Peter Kavanagh’s on Egerton Street is one and Ma Egerton’s on Pudsey Street is another. Dublin-born Mary Egerton came to Liverpool in the 1890s and managed the American Bar in Lime Street before taking over The Eagle in Pudsey Street, behind the Empire Theatre. Her bar became the favourite haunt of performers and she became friends with many, including Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and, later, Judy Garland.
One of her claims to fame is that her observation led to the arrest of the infamous Dr Crippen. But first to the photographs. The bottom image is of an older Ma enjoying the company of visiting sailors. The top photograph is of her in the company of visiting performers including her friend Marie Lloyd (seated with a black dress with pearls, Ma is standing next to her). Marie was a superstar of her time, a bawdy singer whose use of double-entendre thrilled audiences yet shocked the moralists. A typical song line ‘I sits among the cabbages and peas’ outraged her critics – so she agreed to change the line to ‘I sits among the cabbages and leeks’ to even greater audience approval. A strong supporter of workers’ rights, she was at the forefront of a strike by theatre workers for better pay. Picketing outside a London theatre, her attention was drawn to a young actress, Belle Elmore, crossing the strike line. ‘Don’t worry about her – she will empty the theatres faster than us’ Marie shouted .. and here the story of the top photograph unfolds.
Belle Elmore was married to Dr Crippen and less than three years later was murdered and dismembered by her husband, who took up with his lover, Ethel le Neve. At some point after the murder, Ma Egerton visited London, where she came across Crippen, who was an old friend. She noticed that le Neve was wearing Belle’s jewellery and, her suspicions aroused, contacted the police. Crippen realised that he was under threat of being exposed, fled to Belgium with le Neve, where they boarded SS Montrose which was bound for Canada. To cover their tracks, le Neve dressed as a young man. Unfortunately for the pair, the SS Montrose was one of the first ships to have the newly invented Marconi wireless installed and the ship’s captain, suspicious of the couple who were seen holding hands, contacted his base, who in turn called in Scotland Yard. Crippen was arrested on arrival and returned to Britain where he was tried and hanged. So there is a bit of criminal history in one photograph (and one overlong blog).