Looking NW from Tunnel Road, 1970
First of all, my apologies for the long delay in posting a new blog. Unfortunately I had computer problems which have necessitated upgrading my system. All is well now and normal service is resumed.
I was interested to see that the Liverpool Echo has revived its Stop the Rot campaign. It is important that the city’s heritage is put under the spotlight. Too much has been lost unnecessarily and highlighting why buildings are important is essential to avoid past mistakes being repeated. As you might guess from previous posts, I am somewhat cynical about how far developers and public authorities are prepared to go once money is involved (the developers want to make it and the public authorities don’t want to spend it). That said, there are some ground for optimism. I have been helping with a publication about the Produce Exchange in Victoria Street – a building with a fine interior which is about to be converted into luxury apartments which will emphasise the original Edwardian details.
Other ground for optimism are the conversions of the Royal Insurance Building on North John Street, the ex-Municipal Annexe on Dale Street and the White Star Building on James Street into luxury hotels (with considerable respect for original features). This is all very promising, as are the pending plans for the Wellington Rooms (Irish Centre) on Mount Pleasant and the Welsh Presbyterian church on Princes Avenue. Not all buildings are safe but it is encouraging that in many cases, developers can see commercial benefits in not knocking down buildings to build the usual bland blocks of flats and offices (although Lime Street proves that they will only go so far).
The photograph shows the kind of ruthless approach that was adopted in the 1960s and 70s as Liverpool struggled to adjust to a falling population and an inherited stock of poor housing. The wholesale clearance of areas is even more shocking as time goes on. St Catherine’s church (More recently demolished) on Tunnel Road stands almost alone in a flattened landscape sandwiched between the two railway cuttings. On the left is newly opened Paddington School and, in mid-distance, the tenement blocks of Myrtle Gardens.
Perhaps there was no other way forward at the time. The problem was that there were no real plans to revive the area (and others like it). A great opportunity was lost to rebuild the city with imaginative and community-orientated housing schemes that might have prevented many of the social issues that we now face. Money again, I suppose. Rather than spend on quality, as was the case in the 1930s when some of the best council housing in Europe was built, everything got done on the cheap – which everyone knows is never a long-term solution.
Earle Road, 1952
St James Place, 1952
Shaw Street, 1952
Driving up Smithdown Road yesterday, I was impressed by the new Archbishop Blanch school that is rapidly nearing completion. Once the site is finished and landscaped, it will greatly improve the street. I have watched as rows of terraces have been demolished to make way for the school and was hoping, at the time, that the cleared space would become open space, offering a fine view of St Dunstan’s church on Earle Road (the church was built with the patronage of the Earle family , who owned the Spekelands estate on which it stands). The church is an impressive landmark (although a bit dingy inside) and can be seen in the top photograph of Earle Road in 1952, when it was a much more vibrant community.
The Earle Road photograph was in a group of other 1952 images, so I thought it would be interesting to post them together. St James Place is a continuation of Park Road, before it joins Parliament Street. The street still retained a variety of businesses, with Alentoff’s (fruiterers) prominent on the right (number 39). Next door was Leonard Thompson (dentist) with Excel Cleaners next to him. Further down were Peter Curtis’s barbers shop with its striped pole), Sami Morris – another dentist, Scott and Prescott, monumental masons, W F Bevan & Co., auctioneers and Charles Jones, sadler. A fascinating mix of trades in a short stretch.
The photograph of Shaw Street has the Collegiate School in the background but the overall impression is one of bleakness. I have always found the street depressing, perhaps because of the uniformity of the Georgian terraces (made worst by their abandonment). Hope University have greatly improved the outlook and some of the character of the original street remains.
A view from Everton c1960
From Everton Park 2015
I spent yesterday afternoon enjoying the newly reopened Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. The transformation is stunning, with fabulous new galleries making the most of their setting in Whitworth Park. The park is small but in a heavily populated area on the fringe of the university campus and Rusholme, it is an essential green lung. The new gallery enhances the space and reinforces the need for more creative uses of our cities.
Coincidentally, Professor Charlie Duff, a leading light in Baltimore’s regeneration, contacted me about the changes in landscape in post-War Liverpool. He visited a few years back and I took him to St George’s Church where I illustrated our visit with a series of photographs taken in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Looking over Everton Park, the changes were staggering. The rows of terraces were replaced by tower blocks in the 1960s, which in turn were demolished to create the park we have today. Charlie wanted to illustrate his talk to students at John Hopkins University with this sequence of changes, so I revisited the park and was delighted to see how far the trees had matured and how the landscape had taken shape. North Liverpool has had a poor hand dealt regarding open spaces and I hope that Everton Park is just a start towards the further greening of Liverpool.
The Cow Butter Shop
Enjoying a quiet pipe
Men outside an unnamed pub
Woman knitting in a street market
Children around the Steble Fountain
Woman selling birds
The Wellington Monument
Selling clothes on the street
I have just received a request from Pete O’Keefe regarding a set of lantern slides I commented on back in October 2010. I have long been fascinated by this series, which was commercially sold by Riley Brothers of Bradford, the largest mass producers of lantern slides in Britain at the turn of the nineteenth century. Pete has just put his boxed set on Ebay and comments:
I have a set of these Magic Lantern Slides (Slums In Our Cities) and I have No. 1 to 54.
They are in their original wooden slide box. It is my belief that this was possibly a set of 60. as there are 60 sections in the box – and asks whether I have any record of any missing images.
Not an easy question – I have the total number listed as 52 – but there could have been subsequent editions. Pete’s slides on Ebay show images not in my list so I am reckon the full set might well have been at least 60.
What I do know is that the photographs were taken by Thomas Burke, a city councillor for Vauxhall and a keen amateur photographer. He donated an album of 27 silver prints from his negatives to the City Library – where the quality is vastly superior to the poorly hand-coloured slides I have copies of (and which Pete is selling on Ebay).
If one can ignore the crude colouring, the slides are very interesting examples of street photography using a hidden camera. The subject matter is more street people than slum living – the slums are hardly seen in fact. Some are in well-known sites, such as St John’s Market and William Brown Street. Many show street traders such as women selling fish, clothes and caged birds. Overall, a fascinating record of Liverpool at the turn of the nineteenth century and of an early obsession of capturing the lives of the poor on film. Riley Bros. sold the complete sets for entertainment – at a time when magic lantern slide shows were popular with an audience who would be more likely to be amused by the images than stirred by social conscience. There would have been a printed commentary to be read out as each slide was projected – sadly I do not have a copy of what would be a fascinating read today (the evils of drink, the undeserving poor …).
Nothing much changes, with today’s announcement that the Grand National organisers are looking to throw out photographers who take derogatory photos of Ladies’ Day for the tabloid press. Sadly, there is a ready audience out there to be titillated by the lives of others – and Liverpool is always a magnet for photographers looking for easy images.
Photos courtesy of Getty Images
It was only a month ago, I posted a set of photos by the master of photojournalism Thurston Hopkins. Sadly, within days, he passed away at the grand age of 101. I was privileged to have had a correspondence with him arising out of my book Picture Post on Liverpool, in which I included his magnificent series on the Liverpool slums. The assignment was never published; Picture Post proprietor, Edward Hulton, gave way to pressure from Liverpool City Council who were worried that the planned feature would paint them in a bad light. Ironically, the sequence won the following year’s coveted Encyclopaedia Britannica prize. The review in the British Journal of Photography (an august publication that has its roots in the original journal of Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association in the mid-nineteenth century). The reviewer wrote:
‘Here we have a set of 22 pictures of commonplace scenes; scenes which might possibly – in fact almost surely – be duplicated in a number of our great cities. They are pictures of everyday life; of men, women and children fighting for existence, struggling to maintain the comforts of home life and striving to retain some of the dignity of humankind under conditions which are appalling and which cannot be realised by many million whose lot has been cast in happier surroundings.
Thurston Hopkins has lifted a stone in our vaunted Welfare State and shown with unemotional clarity some of the things which many people would prefer not to see or know about. Here is superb photography, stark in its realism; an example of photographic journalism at its best. The pictures tell their own story, carrying their own message, and while being a damning indictment of the City Fathers of Liverpool are perfect examples of how it is possible to weld the trained eye of the cameraman to modern photographic technique in order that a civic conscience might be aroused. This sequence is the high spot of the 1957 Encyclopaedia Britannica exhibition, and should be seen and carefully studied by all photographers, whether amateur of professional.’
Over half a century later, how shall we judge the Welfare State? We need a Thurston Hopkins of today to stir the conscience of the nation. There is a willing publisher here.
Thurston Hopkins 1913-2014 RIP
Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to put names to photographs. When I started my blog, I aimed to bring unseen images to greater attention in the hope that readers would add their opinions and information. Photography has a unique place in our appreciation and understanding of the past but only too often, the people in the photographs remain anonymous and one can only guess at their lives.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from Mary Mclean, delighted to have found the picture of her (above) used on the cover of my book Picture Post on Liverpool. It was the first time she had seen the photograph, which was taken by Thurston Hopkins in 1956 as part of his unpublished assignment on the Liverpool slums. Mary is now 62 and a grandmother but that is all the information she gave. My attempts to contact her failed, as her emails bounced back as undelivered. So I know little more than her name and age and that she married and had children (and that the photographs were taken in the vicinity of Scotland Road).
Thurston Hopkins is still alive (now 101) and living in Susses with his wife, Grace Robertson, who was also a Picture Post photographer and daughter of the broadcaster Fyfe Robertson (who you will have to be in your 50s at least to remember). It was Fyfe Robertson who accompanied Thurston on their controversial story about slum living which Edward Hulton, proprietor of Picture Post, refused to publish after pressure from Liverpool Council (who thought the article would be a slur on the city).
Hopefully Mary Mclean will discover this blog (she has only seen the book) and reply with more information about where the photograph was taken and about her subsequent life. In the meantime, here are two more photographs from the same session that have remained unpublished until now.
St George’s Hill 1967
Terraces, Everton, 1969
Unknown street, Everton, 1969
Three more views photographed by Alan Swerdlow in the late 1960s. I hope I am right about the first view being of St George’s Hill – if not, I am sure I will be quickly corrected. The newly completed tower blocks only add to the bleakness of the view. They have since been demolished and Everton Park now fills the space. I have made my opinion known before about the disastrous effect of the way in which the post-War housing clearances were imposed upon Liverpool and I know most readers share my views. Perhaps the point of disagreement is over the extent of the demolition. Looking at the other two photographs, I have little doubt that they had reached (over-reached!) their lifespan and had to go. The middle photograph, in particular, illustrates the remarkable ability of property speculators to cram in as many houses into the smallest space. The rich landowners made their millions out of capitalising on the misery of the poor. Rings a bell somewhere!
For the time being, here is my ‘final’ post about Arab, that peculiar book about street life in the early years of the twentieth century. The book is illustrated by author, Andie Clerk’s strange drawings of his childhood, drawn from memory some sixty years later. A typical one is of boys and girls benefiting from the refreshing water of the Steble Fountain outside the Walker Art Gallery. The caption reads St John’s Fountain, we’d swim there weather and goms out of sight permitting.
The book is punctuated by Scouse slang he used at the time (there is a short glossary at the end of the book):
arab … street kid
gink … wrong ‘un
gom … policeman
mopus … a farthing, or small coin
plushbums … rich folk
yen … a homosexual
mugarly … food
mumtip … payment to keep quiet
rolling kids – kids who go stealing
A typical anecdote from the book: As young kids we’d been drunk many a time. Sailors, if in money, would pour stuff down us, me and Rhuie anyway, not so much Jim, he’d slaat it. We’d take all they’d give us and soon couldn’t stand or know what what they did with us. We’d wake up in some dirty place in a horrible mess. Just as there are drinking fountains everywhere so were there horse troughs … generally made of stone, long, much like a bath and as deep. We’d find such a trough, water passing through it all the time and wash ourselves and our rags in it and shiver while the things dried on us.
All very dramatic and direct stuff, even if badly put together without any structure. If it is accurate, it is possible the only account of a childhood living barefoot on the streets of Liverpool. (The Irish slummy, Pat O’Mara, was slightly ‘better healed’).
Here, unfortunately, I have problems. I have written already how I have identified Andie Clerk as Francis Peers, born into middle-class prosperity in Staffordshire, his father a wealthy vicar educated at Oxford. In 1901, he was still living in Staffordshire but then the trail goes cold. The 1911 Census has no record of either his father, mother or himself and his two brothers. He mentions joining the army in 1913, fighting as a sergeant at the Somme and being discharged in 1928. Again, a trawl through army record of the First World War reveal no record of him (did he use another pseudonym?). Finally, he mentions ordination in 1928 by the Bishop of Liverpool. Again there is no record in Crockfords, the listing of the clergy. Yet his letter to the Manchester Evening News in 1966 is signed Rev. Frank Peers, acting curate of St Thomas’s, Bedford, Leigh. His death is recorded as 1984, in Liverpool, at the age of 87.
So the life of Frank Peers is still an enigma, worthy of further research. For those wishing to find copies of his books, Liverpool Record Office has a full set: in addition to Arab, he wrote I have been young and now are old (1973), The Christmas Story (1974), Unquenchable Fire (1975), Then and Now (1976) and Suffer Little Children (1978). Disjointed, repetitive and imbued with Christian sentiment, they are, nevertheless a fascinating series of anecdotes about a black chapter in Liverpool’s history when childhood poverty blighted the city.
The photograph, today, is of a bandaged and barefoot kid posing on one of the pillars at St George’s Hall.
Christmas in the Workhouse
Coopers, Church Street, 1930s
Back to the computer after a break away and may I thank everyone who has logged in, commented, and supported me over the last year. I did not have a chance to wish everyone a great Christmas but I am in time with New Year greetings. All the best for 2012.
Today’s posts cross over both occasions. Photographs of Liverpool’s Workhouse on Brownlow Hill are surprisingly rare. Sadly, it appears that the subject matter was not worth proper documentation. As we prepare for the duocentenary of Charles Dicken’s birth next year, no doubt we will be constantly reminded of the worst aspects of Victorian England. The workhouse might have offered shelter but it was a harsh life for all those who finished up inside its walls dependent on parish relief. The hardship is etched in the faces of the women. The single chain of decorations on the wall only add to the pathos.
The second photograph is of the ‘only wild haggis in captivity’. A curious crowd has gathered outside Coopers, the upmarket foodstore om Church Street. I remember Coopers just before it closed down in the early 1970s. It was a bit like Harrods/Fortnum and Masons in London, with a wonderful aroma of freshly-ground coffee. It was part of a larger chain, which had its headquarters in Glasgow.
Time was not on its side against the rise of supermarkets and it closed to make way for WH Smith (and more recently River Island).
Occasionally I post a photograph that really does not need too much text. The year is 1910 and seven boys are lined up for the photographer (there is an eighth boy half-hidden behind them). This is at the height of Liverpool’s prosperity. The Port of Liverpool building had just opened, the Cathedral was underway and the Liver Building scheduled to be completed the following year. Liverpool had more millionaires per capita than nearly any other city in the world – yet here are barefooted boys dressed in rags. The recent demonstrations about the unfair distribution of wealth throughout Europe and the United States bring into sharp focus the inequalities bred by capitalism – none more so than in today’s poignant image.