Category: Suburbs

Lander Road is a short road between Linacre Lane and Webster Street, not an area I am well-acquainted with. I was about to make the ill-judged remark that the school had probably long-gone but a check on Google satellite revealed that it is still there, although probably in a new building. I have commented before that an illustrated book on Liverpool schools would make an important addition to the bookshelves of those interested in local history – after all, we have all been through the system and most of us have happy memories, particularly of junior school. Looking at the top photograph, there is, perhaps, one girl who is not having her best day.

I can’t imagine her parents wanting to shell out for a print! What is noticeable is that the children are dressed in their best and a look at my 1910 Gore’s Directory reveals a solid aspiring working-class area with joiners, plumbers, mariners, tram guards, carters, tanners and dock gatesmen among the trades represented on Lander Road. Even the teachers have made an extra effort, particularly in the bottom photograph of girls exercising in the school yard.

Strawberry Field, 1967

I live only a stone’s throw from Mendips, John Lennon’s home on Menlove Avenue. I moved into the area some 30 years ago and have watched with amazement how the number of people visiting has grown in recent years. In the late 1970s, I sold all of my Beatles’ memorabilia thinking their day had passed and it was time to cash in. A bad mistake! My fliers and programmes have shot up in value 20-fold and the passion for the Fab Four goes on and on. In the early days, it was just the occasional Japanese tourist wandering along, looking bemused at the unmarked semi. Now it is coach and taxi tours from early morning to late at night. The Beatles might have left Liverpool in their first flush of fame but the city has certainly benefited from them ever since.
Strawberry Field(s) is just behind Mendips and was John Lennon’s childhood playground. The top photograph was taken in 1967 when, perhaps, the group’s most haunting record was released. John would have been more than familiar with the austere Gothic pile, for it was a Salvation Army home from 1934. Every year, they would hold a garden party to which the young John would eagerly look forward to. In reality it was a grim place to bring up children and it was demolished in the 1970s and replaced by a more family friendly home (although only slightly in my personal experience). That too was eventually closed in 2005 and is now just a meeting place for the Salvation Army.
The nearest the public get is the splendid set of gates, splattered with graffiti by visitors from around the world. The view is largely of undergrowth and trees and is rather romantic. Had the original house survived, it would have added a rather melancholic background. However, I am not one to regret its passing. Like many other old children’s homes such as its once close neighbour Woolton Vale, it hid much sadness behind its doors.

The Beeches, c1930


Carnatic Hall, 1937

My post on Booker Avenue stimulated some interesting responses. I overlooked Liverpool-born JG Farrell, who won the Booker Prize for The Siege of Krishnapur. Farrell in his acceptance speech made a cutting reference to Booker’s history of exploitation, which did not go down well with the sponsor. Another connection I overlooked was that one of Liverpool’s most famous comedians in the first half of the century. Billy Matchett – the Mirthquake, lived at 165 Booker Avenue from the 1930s until his death in 1974. A forgotten performer today, Matchett was mentioned by Ken Dodd as one of the two men who had most influenced him (the other was Arthur Askey). The Mirthquake (what a great name) claimed to have performed on every music hall stage in Britain.
Leading on from the mention of the Booker family, I have selected three photographs of now-demolished mansions that once dominated the local landscape. Allerton is probably known to golfers because the colonnaded facade is still standing after a fire gutted what was the club house (of Allerton Golf Club) in 1944. Designed by Thomas Harrison of Chester in 1815 (whose two remaining buildings in Liverpool are the lantern tower of St Nicholas’s Church at Pierhead and the Lyceum at the foot of Bold Street), it was the property of Jacob Fletcher, son of a privateer and slave-trader.
The Beeches was a later building by that great architect Norman Shaw (designer of the White Star building, James Street). Built for Sir Henry Tate, the sugar magnate in 1883/4, it was demolished in 1939. The road, The Beeches, is off Allerton Road, facing Calderstones Park.
Finally, in Mossley Hill rather than Allerton was Carnatic Hall, built by Peter Baker in the late eighteenth century following his successful capture of an unarmed French ship, the Carnatic in 1778, which was carrying a valuable cargo including a box of diamonds. The Hall was demolished to make way for the University halls of residence in Elmswood Road.
It is hard to quantify the loss of such buildings to Liverpool’s heritage. In many cases, they were built on the proceeds of either slavery or privateering, two trades which stain the history of the city.
They were also part of a millionaires’ belt of exclusive properties that covered much of the outskirts of Liverpool. The 1881 Ordnance Survey gives some indication of their privileged living conditions compared to the hundreds of thousands squeezed into the inner city.

Liverpool in 1881 had more millionaires than any city outside of London and, like today, the disparity between rich and poor was an increasing source of concern. The removal of their large estates was inevitable in the face of suburban expansion, although a good chunk of public green space fortunately survives.

Booker Avenue 1934

I drive down Booker Avenue everyday, usually just after 9.00 to avoid the school run to popular Booker Avenue School. The road is a built-up 1930s estate, all neat and well-cared for houses, but there is a hint of antiquity for, in a railed off corner plot is the Archer Stone, which was a target for local archers according to legend. The photograph shows rural cottages being dismantled in preparation for new housing. Today’s blog, however, follows a different path. Bennison’s Survey of Liverpool (1835) gives a clue.

Bennison’s Survey 1835

At the top left is the wooded estate of Calderstones. Further down is the land held by J. Booker. According to the history of the Booker Company, the biggest wholesaler in the UK: In 1815, Josias Booker, the third of seven sons of a Lancashire miller, emigrated to Demerara to work in the sugar plantations. One of the first British settlers in Demerara, he learnt his trade quickly and became a planter of some distinction, and by 1818 he was managing his own plantation. Following his success he was joined by two of his brothers, George and Richard, and the firm of Booker Brothers was founded. After a dispute with the Liverpool Shipowners who had been transporting their sugar, the brothers decided to form their own shipping company, and in 1835 they acquired their first ship, the Elizabeth, a brig built in Scotland in 1832. In the early years Bookers bought and sold many ships, unfortunately a lot of the company’s records were destroyed by fire in Guyana, and the complete record of the company’s activities was destroyed in London during WW2, but it is known that some of their early ships were; Palmyra, Standard, Lucknow, Lord Elgin, John Horrocks and Lancaster.
In 1846 John McConnell went to Guyana to work as a clerk for the Booker Brothers, where he prospered, and in 1874 founded his own firm of John McConnell & Company. Due to his long and close association with the brothers, the two firms merged in 1900 and became known as Booker Brothers, McConnell & Co Ltd, and the company set up an office in The Albany, Old Hall Street, Liverpool, where it remained until 1941.

Booker were the sponsors of the prestigious Booker Prize for literature and two local authors have featured in its shortlist (Beryl Bainbridge and Linda Grant). Perhaps a less welcome link to such an important prize is the unsavoury fact that the Booker’s wealth depended on slave labour. The first awards were held in 1968 and it is now known as the Man Booker following the withdrawal of Booker as its main sponsor.
It is always interesting to dig deeper into Liverpool’s history, there are always fascinating facts that can be gleaned from the most ordinary places.

My doctor, on Childwall Valley Road used to have a small brass plaque in the waiting room (a kind of tension reliever) which was engraved: On this spot in 1720, nothing happened. I cannot remember the exact year but it doesn’t make any difference. Searching through my photographs, this shot of nearby Score Lane struck me how appropriate that jokey plaque was. For centuries, Childwall was a quiet village on the fringe of Liverpool, popular with ramblers and day-trippers (particularly to the nearby Childwall Abbey pub opposite the church). Then, in the 1960s and 70s, this tranquil place was swallowed up by the city and the fields turned into housing estates.
I am fascinated by old maps, particularly those that show ownership of land. The map below (Bennison’s Survey of 1835) reveals a feudal remnant still in the possession of one family – the Marquis of Salisbury. Do they still own land in Liverpool – or have they cashed in and moved on?

I thought I knew most of Liverpool’s churches but this photograph has puzzled me for some time. It is a well-built church (it looks as if it is faced with stone) in a prosperous area (possibly Aigburth?) but there are few other clues. The photograph was one of a set owned by an organ repairer/cleaner. On the reverse he has written “organ cleaned – builder Foster & Andrews’. It was posted in Liverpool on 14th November 1904.
I am working on a new edition of David Lewis’s Churches of Liverpool, which I published in 2001. I thought it was due for an update after ten years (most of them out of print): and I have many new photographs (such as this one) I would like to include. Can anyone recognise the church and location?

I have too few photographs of many suburban areas. The ‘Golden Age’ of postcards, at the turn of the twentieth century was a time when commercial photographers would trawl the streets for customers who would pay for small runs of real photographic postcards of their business, home and family. This view of Lawrence Road is one such postcard, which could be sold to any of the shops shown. The campanile of St Bridget’s church is to the left (a very interesting interior if you can get access – one of the city’s hidden gems) and the bakers shop of Walter Moore can be seen on the corner of Portman Road. The shops in view are a typical good mix of the times. On the far corner is James Hanson (dairy), a sub-post office, John Hughes (grocer), William Johnson (fishmonger), Daniel Higgin (butcher) and William Hargreaves (greengrocer). Just one small stretch of the road and all the basics provided for. It must have been a profitable area because Hargreaves had another shop two blocks further on, at the corner of Bagot Street. Lawrence Road must have been a thriving centre, in spite of being relatively close to the city centre. Other shops included a drapers, bookseller, tobacconist, shoe and boot dealer, stationers and chandlers.
How different from today with the almost unstoppable spread of the supermarket. I cannot imagine there is much money in selling postcards of Asda or Tesco.

The Barracks, 1934 (courtesy Liverpool Record Office).

1881 Map

The history of West Derby is a bit outside of my comfort zone. The parish of West Derby was, I believe, once the largest in England, stretching almost as far as Preston. Its history goes back to Viking times (its name deriving from deor (deer) and by (village) – village with deer. The West was added later to distinguish it from Derby in Derbyshire). Mentioned in the Domesday Book, it had a wooden castle and royal hunting forest. An important administrative centre, its Courthouse still stands as the only freestanding post-medieval courthouse in Britain (it is the single-storey building on the left opposite the omnibus).
The photograph is interesting because it shows the village as it was making the transition from rural backwater to a commuter suburb for Liverpool merchants. Lord Sefton had set the tone by building the Church of St Mary as a grand entrance to Croxteth Park estate (just out of the photo behind the three boys). On the corner is a public house licensed to Phoebe Spencer, with a butchers run by Thomas Spencer. The pub’s name is difficult to decipher although the second word is Arms. Next door is a greengrocers, with the Tramway office and stables next to the Courthouse. The building just beyond, separated by an alley, is the Hare and Hounds Hotel.
The alley led to a small army barracks which was considered too small and eventually turned over to house a mix of local labourers and their families before being demolished soon after the photograph was taken in 1934. (The Barracks are marked on the 1881 as the two facing blocks just above the join in the map).The army moved to Deysbrook Barracks.
The village in 1887 had an interesting mix of saddlers, cowmen, gardeners and other small tradesmen and stockbrokers, cotton merchants, solicitors and surgeons. By 1910, the mix had changed again. The pub had become Walter Kerslake’s cycle manufacturers. Interestingly, the merchants, surgeons and ‘gentlemen’ (as men of independent means were called) are conspicuous by their absence – although nearby Hayman’s Green still maintained its ‘character’. Within twenty years, the urban sprawl had almost overwhelmed West Derby, although it still retains a village character at its centre. So much can change in a short time in the urban cycle.

Here is another previously unpublished photograph of Lark Lane in 1893. The horse-drawn omnibus is advertising the Liverpool Overhead Railway, which had commenced services in January of that year. The shops behind the omnibus are William Truesdale (grocer), Elizabeth Handley (tobacconist) and, on the right of Truesdale, Arnold Thomas (glass and china dealer) and the Wesleyan Chapel.
Back then, Lark Lane had a good mix of shops including bakers, shoe and boot manufacturers, a stationers, a saddler, milliner, fish and game dealer, grocers, butcher etc.
Sadly, like many similar suburban shopping streets, the diversity has gone; in Lark Lane’s case to be replaced by bars and restaurants. Perhaps with the ever-increasing cost of transport, people will look towards local areas more favourably, although the relentless spread of supermarkets has probably seen off all but a few specialists. How many more Tesco’s can South Liverpool take? Should we care? I think the list of trades in 1893 and the skills they represented says we should. Why can’t we turn back the clock and recreate suburban centres of specialist retailers who care about serving their community.

Entrance to Liverpool Zoological Gardens, Rice Lane, 1975.

Brochure for Liverpool Zoo, Elmswood Road.

Map of Elmswood Road Zoo

Liverpool’s history never fails to throw up interesting subjects to research. Sifting through my photographs, I came across the (top) photograph of the entrance to Liverpool Zoological Gardens on Rice Lane – sandwiched between the then offices of Dunlop and The Plough public house. My knowledge of Liverpool zoos is somewhat limited but I did know there had been one off West Derby Road (between 1833 and 1863) as well as a number of smaller menageries of around the same time. In the twentieth century, two attempts – at Otterspool and Elmswood Road – fared little better.
The Rice Lane Zoo opened in 1884 but closed less than a decade later. I can find little about its layout or contents – but the entrance building still survives as a reminder of the area’s former life (I believe it is now the Cavendish Retail Park).
Liverpool Zoological Park in Elmswood Road had an even shorter life – opening in 1932 and closing in 1938. It had a varied but small collection of animals and birds – the star attraction being a chimpanzee named Mickey which escaped in 1938 and attacked (not seriously) a number of keepers and visitors before being shot at a nearby house. The zoo followed Mickey into oblivion shortly afterwards and the land was sold off for housing. The final page in the brochure is a full-page advert stating:
All Living Specimens of Animals, Birds and Reptiles on Exhibition at the Liverpool Zoological Gardens Can be Purchased. Apply for Prices to the Office. Now that is one way to run a zoo. Imagine walking home with a black bear in tow!