Category: Urban Deprivation

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 It contains a fascinating collections of photographs, published and unpublished, taken by photographers of the famous but now defunct magazine.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 All unpublished, they give a shocking insight into the real poverty that was so evident in many neighbourhoods.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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I am always very careful when making judgments about old photographs. What might seem obvious can often turn out to be nothing of the kind on closer examination. Today’s two photographs are a good example. If one only has one photo to examine, the conclusion is that here is a very sad scenario of a tired bootblack grabbing a few minutes sleep outside St George’s Hall. Put the two photographs together and you realise they are both staged for dramatic effect. Of course the boy probably is a bootblack but the photographer has probably paid him a few pennies to pose for dramatic effect. A more fanciful (and totally unlikely) explanation is that the photos are cunning product placements for Martindales, an old Liverpool company that once dealt in coal and associated products but are now central heating engineers.

St John’s Gardens

New Brighton beach, 1913

My last two posts generated an interesting discussion about childhood, poverty and happiness. I am sure that children from an early age understand poverty, or at least hunger and the cold of winter. However, a superficial look at the three young boys sunning themselves in St John’s Gardens gives the impression they haven’t a care in the world.
The same can be said for the well-dressed children playing on the beach at New Brighton. Halcyon days, although it would be wrong to make any assumptions about any of their futures. They would all be too young to fight in the impending War, fortunately, but the 1920s and 30s were difficult decades for many in the region. Without any judgement, two fascinating images of childhood.

Following the photograph of the barefoot boys by the canal, here are two more taken by the same unknown photographer. Again, the year is 1910. Just a century ago and Britain was the greatest empire the world had seen. The Edwardian confidence, that was so forcefully expressed in the new Pierhead buildings, had seemingly banished the worst excesses of Victorian poverty. Yet here we have further evidence of shameful deprivation almost in the shadows of the newly constructed Liver Building.

Three barefoot boys sitting on a bridge spanning the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. I am not sure of the exact spot but I am sure some reader will know it.
This is Liverpool only a century ago. The photograph, taken by an unknown photographer, shows how tough life was for those at the bottom of the pile. This was 1910 and Liverpool was boasting to the world how important it was by building a cathedral and totally reshaping Pierhead. There was still plenty of money at the top but all these lads had to look forward to was a World War in four years time that they would be lucky to survive unharmed.
What has happened in the last century has been truly remarkable: technology has changed all our lives. Poverty, however relative, still blights the city though. What will the next century bring – and how will photographs of today’s deprived communities be viewed in 2111?

William Henry Street c1895

William Brown Street c1895

I was going to write about the new Museum of Liverpool but my two attempts to walk round have both been aborted after less than 20 minutes each due to the amazing number of people visiting. With the outside temperature in the mid 20s, it wasn’t the time to make any critical analysis, so I will wait until September when I expect it will get much quieter. My initial impression is that too much space has been allocated to the entrance/atrium, which has created congested gallery space, but I need to see how the exhibitions work without such a volume of people. The very positive note is that over 100,000 people have been through already – an encouraging sign of the level of interest in Liverpool’s history.
Today’s posts reflect the darker side of that history. Child poverty has never been eradicated from Liverpool and these photographs of barefooted boys are a reminder of how tough life was a century ago. The first photograph is, I am reasonably certain, of William Henry Street. Blackledge & Sons had a small chain of bakers shops and this one seems to be the most likely location (on the corner of Canterbury Street). (The only other possibility could be Great Crosshall Street). I am not sure what the boy of the left is carrying – maybe a bunch of flowers for his mum.
The second photograph is of Bentley’s bookshop in Shaw’s Brow/William Brown Street (on the site of where the Technical School – now part of Liverpool Museum – was built a few years later).

Ann Fowler Home c1968

Interior of Home, 1910

The announcement today that Southern Cross, the largest provider of care homes for the elderly in the UK, is cutting 3000 jobs and possibly closing over 100 homes, highlights a problem that has persisted for generations.
I studied social administration at university and was taught the maxim ‘a society is judged by the way it treats those in need’. I soon found out – on my first placement, I spent four weeks in a wing of an old workhouse in Sheffield looking after homeless men. With crowded dormitories, a small locker for their life’s possessions and little else but a roof over their heads, it would seem little had changed since the Workhouse had closed. The Ann Fowler Salvation Home for Women perhaps offered sanctuary of a sort but what a miserable place, as can be seen in the interior photograph taken a century ago. Housed in an old Welsh Congregational Church (built in 1868), I was surprised to read that it had survived until 1983 before closure and demolition. What sad lives had been lived by the women who passed through its doors.
Southern Cross’s problems, the cuts in public expenditure and the growing number of old people points rather ominously to a slow slide back into the Dark Ages of care. In a week when a 20 year footballer is bought for ?20 million pounds, it makes me wonder how today’s society will be judged in 100 years time,

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.