Category: Slum Housing

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.

On Friday, my book on Picture Post on Liverpool will be in the shops. It contains a fascinating collections of photographs, published and unpublished, taken by photographers of the famous but now defunct magazine.
During my research, I made many unexpected discoveries. The most interesting story was that of an article on Liverpool’s slums that was written by Fyfe Robertson in 1956 (who many older readers will remember for his dry humour and sharp reporting on television). He was supported by his future son-in-law, photographer Thurston Hopkins. I can find no trace of Robertson’s journalism on Liverpool as the article was rather scandalously ‘spiked’ by the magazine’s proprietor, Edward Hulton, after Liverpool councillors (presumably Jack Braddock and others) complained that the impending article was a slur on the city. So the feature never appeared but the photographs survived (now in Getty Images archive for whose permission to reproduce today’s image I am grateful). And what a magnificent series they are! All unpublished, they give a shocking insight into the real poverty that was so evident in many neighbourhoods.
Remarkably, Thurston Hopkins is still going strong at 98. (He actually apologised for taking time in replying to my questions because he was so busy!).
One photograph he particularly remembered was of the young girl in a bed covered with newspaper. The girl’s grandmother had tipped him off (another stunning photograph of an old woman in an alley – ‘like out of a Rembrandt painting’ as Thurston described her). He was accused later of having staged the photograph but he said it was real enough. Every day, the girl’s mother would cover the bed with newspaper to keep the rain from ruining the bedclothes.
How many others lived in such appalling conditions? No wonder the Council wanted the article buried.
The book Picture Post on Liverpool is available from Waterstones, WH Smiths, the Book Clearance Centre and other shops from Friday, price ?7.99

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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?

Crosbie Heights, Everton, 1975

Haigh Street, Everton, 1975

Two more superb images from Paul Trevor’s book (and forthcoming exhibition at The Walker), Like You’ve Never Been Away. The photographs were taken for a project/book Survival Programmes in Britain’s Inner Cities – a compelling portrait of child poverty and deprivation. I have posted a number of images of poverty in Liverpool in the 1890s, 1930s and 1960s and these images, taken in the mid-1970s are a shocking indictment of how little progress has been made to eradicate the inequalities in our society. How could we have instigated a housing policy that condemned young children to such bleak playgrounds in the sky, or an education system that supported such grim establishments as that on Haigh Street?
Paul’s book is now in the shops and is a remarkable record of inner city childhood in Liverpool. Buy the book and catch the exhibition (from May 14th) at The Walker.

With all the clamour building up for the Will and Kate show, today’s post is a kind of antidote to the sentimental vision of Britain the media will be churning out. Bessie Braddock was no ‘people’s princess’ – just a hard-working socialist who wanted to lift her people out of poverty. Much derided by the national press for her larger-than-life persona, she understood her role as a constituency MP (for Exchange division) and was not afraid of speaking her mind. She had been tutored in her politics by her firebrand mother, who started taking Bessie to political meetings while she was still a baby. (Bessie remembered standing on St Georges Plateau as an eleven year-old listening to Tom Mann’s oration during the 1911 General Transport Strike).
The photograph was taken in Soho Square in 1954. The caption reveals the other woman as Elizabeth McGuinness and her son, Peter, aged two, standing in the rubble to the rear of their Soho Square house.
This weekend (Saturday and Sunday) is the Big History Show at St George’s Hall. I have a table selling a substantial number of old and rare books and maps about Liverpool (I am reducing my library). Dozens of bargains to be had and some very interesting out of print titles. Definitely worth a visit for the many other organisations and talks.

Kent Gardens, 1975

St Oswald Street, 1979

Two more examples of how the face of Liverpool was so drastically altered in the 1970s. The bold housing projects of the 1930s led by Director of Housing, Sir Lancelot Keay, was one of the most concerted efforts to tackle slum housing. Whole areas of the city were transformed by Keay’s progressive approach. Much of his neo-Georgian styled housing (including very good examples on Queen’s Drive and Muirhead Avenue) remains but his tenement blocks, including the examples shown above, disappeared in the 1970s and 80s.
The high density blocks were considered a great advance at the time and were a vast improvement on the courts and run-down houses they replaced. With proper facilities – running water, toilet/bathroom and gas – they transformed the lives of thousands. St Andrew’s Gardens (the Bullring) and Myrtle Gardens have survived and, perhaps others could have served the community for longer. Sadly, the cost of building maintenance was considered a price not worth paying. Tastes had also changed and there was a desire from many tenants for a more private kind of housing. Most intensive housing schemes seem to have a limited life (perhaps 40 years) before they have outlived there usefulness – the high rise 50s/60s blocks being a prime example. Perhaps Keay’s smaller scale housing work which has successfully survived points to a less flawed model.

I have tried to avoid using Liverpool City Engineer’s Department photographs because one of the main objectives of this blog is to present previously unpublished photographs. In this instance, I was prompted by Christine Legge, who emailed requesting any photographs of Princes Walk, which was off Great Howard Street. I get many requests and I am constantly looking for the appropriate images. In many cases, particularly courts and back streets, it is not possible to find any photographs – although I will continue to look.
With the slum areas, the City Engineer’s collection is the most likely source. Not many photographers wandered into such areas unless they had good reason. The function of the City Engineer’s Photography Department was to document its work including insanitary housing, road improvements, slum clearance, installation of sewers and other major works. The Department started taking photographs in 1898 and survived until 1998 before being dismantled. Its output was fairly consistent although a considerable number of photographs were taken in the 1930s to document the slum clearances (which led to the building of tenements such as Gerard Gardens, Kent Gardens and Caryl Gardens).
The photograph of Burlington is one of my favourites. It is such a poignant image. The boy is in an open doorway, obviously an occupied house in spite of the shutters and broken window. The Supper Bar has a peeling poster advertising a dance at the Grafton on September 29th at 1/6d admission. This is poverty 1930s style. It seems hard to believe but all the children could be alive and in their 80s.

Another press photograph from the 1930s to illustrate Liverpool’s slum housing. The photograph was taken from the hind leg and unnamed street looking in the direction of Queen Anne Street (Gomer Street is the next street shown). The children in the foreground could be taken from any number of similar streets – with quite a few wellington boots being worn as a cheap alternative to shoes. The Georgian style terrace is typical of much of inner-city Liverpool at that time – austere houses rapidly built to cope with the mid-nineteenth century explosion in population. The best part of a hundred years old, their lack of maintenance is evident. Internally, they must have been dreadful places – cold, damp and rotten. Sad that so many generations were blighted by such an appalling environment.

First of all, an apology. In my last but one post, I attributed Dickson Terrace to Dickson Street in the heart of docklands. Researching today’s photograph, I realised that Dickson Terrace was actually off Soho Street, a stone’s throw from Scarlet Street. I have corrected the error, which does not change the general context of my post but does significantly shift its geography.
It is clear that both the Dickson Terrace and Scarlet Street photographs were taken at approximately the same time, presumably by a photographer on a press assignment to capture the essence of Liverpool’s slums. Scarlet Street, a short terrace off Mansfield Street near to its junction with St Anne Street, is by no means as ‘desperate’ as many streets around Scotland Road and the houses look relatively well-cared for. What particularly caught my eye were the two children with very strange hats, particularly the small boy on the right who seems to have a pair of shorts on his head.