Dingle Station, Park Road c.1910
The terminus for Liverpool Overhead Railway at Dingle
Two recent events prompted me to post this blog. On July 25th, the BBC reported a tunnel had collapsed in the Dingle and people in nearby streets had been evacuated. At the same time, I received a copy of The Times for February 6th 1893 from www.historic-newspapers.co.uk with a full account of the opening of Liverpool Overhead Railway by the Marquis of Salisbury – a coincidence I could hardly fail to avoid blogging about.
It is ironic that the Overhead Railway started (or finished) its route underground at Dingle station on Park Road and doubly ironic that the only surviving section is down below street level. In 1901, Dingle station was the scene of the Overhead’s worst disaster when an electrical fire on board an incoming train got out of control and, fanned by the tunnel draught, quickly engulfed the terminus. Six people died and such was the devastation that the station was closed for more than a year. Sometime after the Overhead closed in 1956, the disused tunnel was taken over by a car repair company and used to store dozens of cars. There are quite a few interesting photographs of the tunnel on the internet such as http://www.forgottenrelics.co.uk/tunnels/gallery/dingle.html. The extent of the collapse of the tunnel has not been reported but it would be a great shame if this last relic of an important part of the city’s history is not repaired and made safe for future generations.
I also acquired another newspaper from www.historic-newspapers.co.uk – an account in The Times again in February 1830 reporting the ‘Dreadful Accident to Mr Huskisson’ the first victim of the railway age: ‘Mr Huskisson, who was in a weak state of body, and was a little lame of one leg, either fell down in the agitation of the moment, or, which seems more probable, was, by the sweep of the door, knocked down on the road. He fell on his face, in the vacant space between the two lines. His left leg, which was extended, touched the rail on which the Rocket moved and one of the wheels catching it ran obliquely up the limb as high as the thigh, mangling, or rather smashing it in a shocking manner.’ They don’t report like that today in The Times!
It is reassuring to read that the Lion locomotive, one of the oldest in the world, is to be displayed in the new Liverpool Museum Great Port Gallery (due to open in December). The Lion was built in 1837, along with its twin Tiger, to haul luggage trains between Liverpool and Manchester. In 1859, it was sold to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company to be used as a stationery pumping engine. In 1928, Lion was presented to Liverpool Engineering Society, who renovated it and eventually passed ownership to Liverpool Museum in 1970.
In one of my first blogs, back in February 2010, I bemoaned the fact that statues of Ken Dodd and Bessie Braddock had been sited prominently in Lime Street station, yet there was nothing there to highlight its significance as the oldest mainline working station in the world. I have nothing against having statues of local personalities scattered around the city but these two are incongruous in their present setting. Likewise, I have no real objection to artefacts being housed in museums but, as the photograph illustrates, the most dramatic setting for the Lion is where it once stood until 1941 – on a plinth at Lime Street. Thousands of people pass through every day and the message made would be quite clear – you are standing in a place where the greatest transport revolution in history started. Museums are important but I believe that we can often gain more by the imaginative siting of such historical objects in a more dynamic context,
After recent events, I cannot resist taking another look back at the 1911 General Transport Strike. No doubt there will be some who can draw parallels between this months riots and the disturbances of a century ago. In most people’s judgment, I imagine clear distinctions will be made between workers fighting for an improvement in their working conditions and the violence and mayhem of last week. There is one common factor, however, and that is the reaction of authority under pressure. The threat of civil disorder spreading induced panic measures – as the rare handbill reproduced above shows: ‘Large numbers of persons have assembled in the disturbed streets for the purpose of seeing what is going on, and I warn all such persons that if the Authorities are called upon to act, innocent citizens are likely to be injured as those against whom any drastic measures on the part of the Police or the Military are directed.’
Many thanks for today’s photographs and handbill which are from the collection of Colin Weekes. The top photograph shows what appears to be a ‘scab’ carter taking provisions along Smithdown Lane. In the background is Daniel Higgin’s butcher’s shop. The impressive building on the right is a branch of the London City & Midland Bank. (Hard to imagine looking at Smithdown Lane today). The second photograph is of London Road looking up towards Monument Place. The church in the distance is St Silas. Looking at the shops, there is a half price sale on the immediate right, with an empty shop on the next corner. Further up, a pledge shop (pawnbroker) is advertising its premises high up on the gable end. At least somethings haven’t changed over the century.
County Road, 1911
Sefton Street, 1911
Cricket outside St George’s Hall
Over fifteen years ago, I published a book Near to Revolution by Eric Taplin on the 1911 Transport Strike in Liverpool (not to be confused with the 1926 General Strike). This year Liverpool City Council has launched its City of Radicals 2011 to mark not just the centenary of the strike but a number of other events (including the first Post-Impressionist exhibition outside of London at the Sandon Studios – now Bluecoat Art Centre, the death of Robert Tressell -author of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists) – and the first International Women’s Day.
The strike itself should be seen against the background of a divided society, with 120,000 people owning two-thirds of the nation’s wealth. The Industrial Revolution had widened the poverty gap with millions living barely at subsistence levels. Liverpool was a hotbed of activism and there was a growing feeling that a united labour force could take over the means of production. Inspired by radicals such as Tom Mann and Ben Tillett, ‘War’ was declared and industrial action began to spiral out of control. Troops and police from other forces were called in, HMS Antrim was moored in the Mersey and, inevitably, two strikers were shot dead in the most violent strike action seen in Britain. Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary, described the situation as ‘near to revolution’. Panic resolutions to settle with the different unions began to take the sting out of the strike, which had lost some of its willingness to continue after the police and military aggression coupled with the two deaths.
From a photographic point of interest, this was the first major strike to be fully documented photographically and cinematically (although only brief snatches of the film survive). Most of the photographic record is the work of the Carbonora company run by Gwilym Mills. His set of postcards published throughout the strike are now amongst the most collectible of postcards (reaching up to ?100+ per card). Unfortunately, the offices and workrooms of Carbonora were destroyed by enemy bombing and their negatives and archive destroyed (the company still survives as the Mills Media Group).
The top photograph shows a police and army convoy travelling along County Road in Walton. The shops on the left belonged to Robert Crease (a music dealer), Arthur Rattenbury’s tobacconist, and Elizabeth Ford’s hosiery shop. The second photograph, showing troops protecting food supplies in Sefton Street was an American Press print I purchased from a supplier in Dallas – which indicates the international importance of the strike. The other two photographs are my favourites: the rather inadequate riot car (although petrol bombs had not been thought of at that time) and the boys playing cricket on St George’s Plateau in the midst of all the mayhem.
Another fine photograph of the Overhead Railway, taken just as the train is just leaving the Pierhead station. I’ve probably written enough about the loss of the railway … so on to my main subject, the publication of my book based on this blog. The Streets of Liverpool will be available as from tomorrow. Not only does it include many of my blogs from last year but also the full colour Bartholomew’s Pocket Atlas and Guide to Liverpool (1928). I have often used sections of the atlas to pinpoint streets and it is an invaluable reference for local and family historians. The book (?9.99) is available from Waterstones, WH Smith, Book Clearance Centre etc. and also on Amazon. I will also be selling (and signing) copies at the Big History Show at St George’s Hall this Saturday and Sunday (another reason to visit this excellent show). I hope to meet you there.
The view of the photograph is clear enough, looking to the Custom House and beyond, but I am puzzled as to where it was taken from. The dock in the foreground is empty, the remnant of George’s Dock, but I had assumed it had been filled in at the time Mersey Docks and Harbour Board building had been erected in 1907.
The rooftop shown would indicate it was taken further along the road – Goree Piazzas and Brunswick Street are to the immediate left – roughly from the position of the Cunard Building. Perhaps someone can enlighten me as to when the dock was finally filled in and where the camera is positioned.
That problem aside, I have often thought what was the ‘best’ year to have enjoyed Liverpool’s architecture. My own choice is slightly later than this photograph – probably the late 1930s. The Blitz and post-War destruction had yet to inflict devastation on the fabric of the city and the new buildings (Pier Head, India Buildings, Martins Bank, the Philharmonic Hall, the Mersey Tunnel and the Anglican Cathedral) were all positive additions. The photograph illustrates three key losses: the Goree and Custom House (to wartime bombing, although salvageable in both cases) and the Overhead Railway (through financial pressures). A real tragedy for Liverpool.
This is a difficult subject to photograph: the strong shadows cast by the Overhead Railway competing with the bright sunshine bouncing off the cobbles with a tram emerging out of the darkness. The large exhibition print is titled “On the Seventh Day” and is a lovely evocation of a quiet day at Pier Head. Sad to think that, within two years, both the trams and the Overhead would be consigned to history.
The Post Office c1900
Victoria Street is one of Liverpool’s more recent main streets. By more recent, I mean it was constructed as late as 1867/68 to connect North John Street to Manchester Street. The area had been basically an area of narrow streets with slum housing interspersed with industry (including a herring house, which must have been a pretty unpleasant neighbour). Of its earliest commercial buildings, Fowler’ Buildings is a good example of the intention to make the new street a prime commercial location.
Today, it is one of Liverpool’s best-preserved commercial streets, with many fine buildings from the 1880s and 90s. It suffered less severely from enemy bombing than other streets, although the Government Buildings (where the Municipal car park) and the Post Office were victims (the Post Office was rebuilt but without its French chateau style upper tiers which can be seen in the photograph above). The Produce Exchange (on the left in the top photograph) was at the centre of the fruit and provisions trade, with many of the surrounding warehouses in Mathew Street and Temple Court utilised to store and distribute produce.
The two photographs show a heavily congested street during the 1930s. The lorries in the top photograph are all servicing the fruit and vegetable trade, with a crowd of people assembled outside the Produce Exchange. When the Mersey tunnel opened in 1934, traffic increased substantially and I think that both photographs were taken to illustrate the problem.
Not the sharpest photograph in my collection but a fascinating one, nevertheless, of the dock railway’s final days in 1962.
In an earlier blog (April 28th, last year), I posted another photograph of the dock line, which ran underneath the Overhead Railway. By 1962, the Overhead had been dismantled, leaving the line below exposed and quite clearly in the way of future plans to modernise the road. What an amazing sight it must have been – a steam engine being led along one of the city’s main thoroughfares by a man with a flag.
34 Alexandra Drive, 1891
Eldon Street, 1910
On February 26th, in one of my first blogs, I compared the extreme poverty in Liverpool with the great wealth that was very visibly present. At the turn of the twentieth century, Liverpool still had a significant number of millionaires, who had built their mansions in the suburbs – from Princes Park outwards to Woolton. Their life style could not be further from the lives of those they would have seen as they went about their daily business.
Photography might be a simplistic way of illustrating such contrasts but today’s images do give a fascinating insight into the expectations and ambitions of the wealthy and the desperate hopelessness of the poor. The photograph of the four young adults in their rather bizarre headgear was taken by ‘Society’ photographer Vanderbilt (who had studios in James Street and Church Street). Commissioned to take a photograph of the owner’s new car – obviously a special moment – the photographer has inadvertently captured the rather superior expressions on all four occupants face (or is that just my prejudice coming out). Sadly, their names and the location are not marked on the mount.
The second photograph – by London photographer Bedford Lemere & Company – is quite specific. It was taken in October 1891 at 34 Alexandra Drive, by Sefton Park. Pre-dating the first photography by a decade, it shows the over-elaborate furnishing of a well-off businessman’s home.
By total contrast, the final image is a City Engineer’s Department photograph of a slum bedroom in Eldon Street dated 1910 (two decades later – and exactly a century ago). These were the conditions which thousands of the poor had to contend with. In the 100+ years since these photographs were taken, we still talk about the poverty gap and politicians introduce yet more policies and strategies to combat it – but it still seem as wide as ever, even if materially lives have improved to some extent.