Category: War

Lord Street c1887

Lord Street 1900

Lord Street 1955

Lord Street is a short street, litle more than a hundred metres from Whitechapel to Derby Square. According to Picton’s Memorials of Liverpool, in 1668-70, Castle Orchard ran from the castle down towards the original pool (where Whitechapel is today). The stream was crossed by a bridge with the path leading to the Great Heath (the land to the east of the pool and south of London Road). The land was owned by Lord Molyneux who fell into dispute with the Corporation as to the right of way. The dispute was settled by treaty and Lord Street (originally Lord Molyneux Street) was formed and a stone bridge was built across the stream. Intriguingly, Picton mentions that in 1851, excavations for sewers uncovered the arch of the bridge, which had apparently been buried a few feet below street level. The width of the bridge was about 15 feet. According to Picton, the bridge was covered up and still existed in 1873). Does it still remain? A fascinating prospect for a future Time Team exploration.
The top photograph was sent to me courtesy of Charlie Schreiner. He had bought it on eBay because the description suggested it was possibly a daguerrotype. In fact, the photograph is a peculiar hybrid but of a much later date (daguerrotypes had largely disappeared by the 1850s). Charlie forwarded me his scan of the photograph and it was soon clear that it was from the late 1880s (Hope Bros did not start trading at that site until c1887). The view up Lord Street terminates with the Church of St George,(1726-34), a fine building in the Classical tradition. A later addition was a fine east window by W.Hilton, described by Picton as one of the finest compositions of the English school. The council paid the artist ?1000 for the commission – a considerable sum. In Picton’s words: It is not often we have to record munificent encouragement of the arts in the proceedings of town councils. Let this stand to their credit.
The second photograph (courtesy of LRO), taken over a decade later, shows virtually the same view. There have been cosmetic changes to the buildings and the church is still there, although it had closed in 1897. Within a short time of this photograph, it had been demolished and the site cleared for the widely disliked (architecturally) statue of Queen Victoria. What happened to Hilton’s fine glass window?
The area around Lord Street suffered dreadfully during the war and virtually the whole of the left-hand side was blitzed. The 1955 photograph shows the extent of the damage and the start of reconstruction. Sadly, the 1950s replacements have little character compared to the fine Victorian shop facades.

Every now and then, I post a photograph that I could write reams about. Today’s image is a case in point, revealing a bit of Liverpool’s ‘hidden’ and less savoury history. We tend to select those aspects of our past that accentuate the positive, blacker incidents are usually overlooked in the history books.
On 7 May 1915, the Cunarder RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat off the tip of southern Ireland killing 1,198 of the 1,959 people aboard. The sinking was a key moment in the First World War, influencing the United States to abandon their neutrality. Controversy has raged over whether Lusitania was a legitimate war target because she was carrying weapons and munitions. In a previous post, I mention the Baralong affair when the British merchant ship flying the flag of neutral USA forced the crew of a U-boat to surrender and then executed them, provoking one of the major diplomatic incidents of the War. My grandfather was a crew member but had nothing to do with the executions, although he was unrepentent about the action, which happened 3 months after the Lusitania’s sinking. The Baralong’s crew had seen the aftermath, with hundreds of corpses of men, women and children lined up along the quayside at Queenstown, so their pent-up anger could be understood to some extent.
Back in Liverpool, the news of the Lusitania’s sinking was met with an equally violent reaction. The Liverpool Echo reported rioting that broke out on May 11th. ‘A large pork shop at the corner of Smithdown Road and Arundel Avenue had been absolutely wrecked, all the windows had been smashed and the stock commandeered or thrown into the street. Women hurled strings of sausages at one another and one woman from a neighbouring street went down on her knees and scrubbed the pavement with a joint of pork. Other women went home with their aprons full of pork and bacon. After sacking the shops, the invaders went into the living room upstairs and spread destruction …’
In The Autobiography of a Liverpool Slummy, Pat O’Mara’s account makes fascinating reading and captures the mood of both anger and opportunism that swept the mob.
‘That night Freddie and I, clad in our American tailored suits, started for a dance over Paddy’s Market in St Martin’s Hall. We never attended it, however. Before entering the Hall, we walked around Scotland Road listening to the cries of the women whose husbands had gone down with the ‘Lusy’ and we heard the bitter threats against Germany and anything with a German name. We walked down Bostock Street, where practically every blind was drawn in token of a death .All these little houses were occupied by Irish coal-trimmers and firemen and sailormen on the Lusitania … On the corner of Scotland Road, ominous gangs were gathering – men and women, very drunk and very angry. Something was afoot; we could sense that and, like good slummy boys, we crowded around eager to help in any disturbance. Suddenly, something crashed up the road near Ben Jonson Street, followed in turn by another terrific crash of glass. We ran up the road. A pork butcher’s had had its front window knocked in with a brick and a crowd of men and women were wrecking the place – everything suggestive of Germany was being smashed to pieces.’
Pat O’Mara then left to go back to his home territory in Park Street to continue the ‘fun’, helping destroy Mr Cook’s butchers shop, for although Mr Cook was a patriotic Yorkshireman, his sin was to sell pork. (Pat O’Mara adds that he began to get sick from all the free sausage he had been eating).
His account is a rare and excellent eye-witness account of a mob in action written by the hand of an active participant.
The photograph shows how widespread the rioting was. It is an American Press Agency image and is of the Britannia Hotel at 283 Breck Road, on the corner with Coniston Road. My 1910 Gore’s Directory has Charles C. Bobbie as the licensee – hardly a German name but he may not have been there in 1915.
There is plenty more to add to this story but I suggest reading Pat O’Mara to get the full flavour of those incendiary nights.

Upper Stanhope Street, 1930s

Bridget and Patrick Hitler in America

I know Liverpool tourism officials are always on the lookout for interesting news stories yet the extraordinary claim that Martin Luther King?s ?I have a dream? speech was written at the Adelphi Hotel is quite staggering.
A guide to an event entitled “Liverpool Discovers”, contains a map of more than 20 locations where famous people were born along with places associated with celebrities and events in their lives. The guide proclaims: “Martin Luther King visited his supporters in Liverpool three times, and the first draft of his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech is alleged to be written on Adelphi Hotel headed notepaper.”
After ridicule in the national press, the claim was hastily withdrawn. Apparently, the information came from a member of the public and was published without checking. So what about another piece of history. Did Hitler come to Liverpool? Michael Unger, past editor of The Echo, has just published his book based on Bridget Hitler’s memoirs. Bridget was a seventeen year-old Irish girl when she met Alois, Hitler’s half-brother in Dublin. They eloped to Liverpool, where they rented 102 Upper Stanhope Street (in the top picture, the house is at the bottom right at the junction with Berkely Street. Upper Stanhope Street is the street joining up with Princes Avenue). Soon after, they had a boy, William Patrick.
In November 1912, a dishevelled draft dodger arrived at Lime Street station. From then until April 1913, he idled his time away until, notified of his father’s will being finalised (his father Alois had died in 1903), he returned to Austria much to Bridget and Alois’s relief. Later, in the 1930s, William Patrick travelled to Germany to reacquaint himself with his father and uncle – who welcomed him half-heartedly. Eventually, after pressure to become a German national, William Patrick fled to New York with his mother and became a minor celebrity giving talks about Uncle Adolf.
So is Hitler’s stay in Liverpool another piece of mythology? Well, in the 1970s, a hand-typed document, the memoirs of Bridget Hitler, was discovered in a New York library. The question is why would a rather naive Irish woman claim Hitler had stayed with them in Liverpool? Her memoirs were never published and it would be a rather pointless claim to make if untrue. She was, after all, living in America at that time and had no reason to distort her life in England. The claim has been refuted by a number of historians – but they cannot account for Hitler’s whereabouts at that time. Hitler was very careful to remove most of the references to his younger years – certainly any suggestion he was a draft dodger. Back in 1913, he was just an ordinary German citizen, who could travel unhindered around Europe without records being kept – so I go along with Michael Unger.
The subsequent history of the Hitler family in Long Island in America is equally fascinating – so why not buy the book (published by Bluecoat Press, of course) and make up your own mind.


3 Pitt Street c1935

14 Pitt Street, 1930s

14 Pitt Street after the May 1941 Blitz
(Photo courtesy of Maria Lin Wong/NML)

When I started my blog, my intention was to establish it as a forum for understanding how photography has recorded the city since 1850. I welcome contributions that further this aim and today’s post comes courtesy of Francesca Aiken, Assistant Exhibition Curator for Global City at the soon to be opened Museum of Liverpool.

The first photograph, by Father D’Andria captures the innocence of children playing in the doorway of Low Chung’s grocery at the heart of what was then Chinatown. The second photograph is of Kwong Shang Lung’s grocery on the opposite side of the road. The final photograph is of the same building after a direct hit.

Seventy years ago this month, a devastating aerial bombardment struck Liverpool, ending lives, demolishing homes and displacing whole communities. It is in tribute to ?the spirit of an unconquered people? that Liverpool?s Anglo-Chinese community were part of the effort to keep calm and carry on, piecing back together not just buildings but homes and livelihoods.

Pitt Street before the war, shaped by tall converted warehouse buildings and cobbled streets, stretched out under the constant watch of St Michael’s Church spire, busy with dozens of Chinese businesses, from boarding houses to grocers and tobacconists. This was the birthplace of Liverpool?s Chinese community, the destination for seamen from all over the world including Spain, the Philippines, Italy, the West Indies and Scandinavia ? to name just a few. To the people who lived and grew up there, this was ?world?s end.? Pitt Street was the place to go, bustling with shops and cafes all within easy reach of the docks. Kwong Shang Lung was one of the city?s earliest grocers to specialise in Chinese food, trading from 1915 until the bombs fell in 1941.

During the Second World War, the local population swelled to take on thousands of seamen working for Britain?s war effort, including up to 20,000 Chinese seafarers ? risking their lives on Merchant Navy convoys. Pitt Street became a comfort zone for thousands of transient seamen to while away their two weeks of shore leave, and for the many resident Chinese to manage Liverpool life with their partners and children.

Elsie Kuloi was just six years old and her family lived on Dickinson Street. When the war came, their top floor flat was less than desirable when the sirens sounded. Elsie and sister Lan, then in their teens, were not evacuated but would go with their parents to stay at a neighbours on the ground floor. Out of curiosity, Lan stayed behind, only to witness St Michael’s Church take a direct hit from an incendiary bomb. She watched it fall, streaking down to earth and was terrified by what she saw. Hundreds were killed in Pitt Street and Cleveland Square alone, including 30 people at 14 Pitt Street, next door to where Kwong Shang Lung served his customers.

Instead of dispersal, the old Anglo-Chinese community shifted, making Nelson Street the new centre of activity.
What exists today in Nelson Street is the legacy of that early community, with the children of those first Anglo-Chinese families still meeting round the corner in what would have been Pitt Street. The strong Chinese character of that early global community is now firmly established within Liverpool with the regeneration of a Chinatown district in the 1990s after decades of slow decline. The Chinese Imperial Arch, the largest of its kind outside mainland China, is a proud symbol of the growth of the Liverpool Chinese community from those uncertain days in May 1941 and marks the entrance to an area once home to seafarers from all over the world.

I was preparing to post a blog about the 70th anniversary of the May 1941 Blitz and had selected a photograph showing the physical effects of the bombing. Liverpool suffered more extensive bombing (and loss of life) than any other British city outside of London. In terms of casualties, it actually registered the highest number of deaths per 100,000 population than any other city.
My blog was ready to post when I received an email from Glynn Hewitson which put the tragedy of the Blitz into perspective. Of course it was sad that many important (and less important) buildings were lost but the loss of life and the heartbreak behind each death is the real story. So instead of my intended pictures, here is a photograph of Glynn’s two year-old sister Pat, scrubbing the backyard step, just months before she became a victim to the Blitz. Here is Glynn’s story:

I was born on the 29th of August 1939, a few days before the start of the War. I was kept in Liverpool with my sister, Pat. My 10 year-old brother, Frank, was evacuated to a farm in Hereford but ran away a few times and turned up back in Liverpool. My mother had to take him back and I went with her. The transport was only once a week and I remember we missed the bus in Wales once and had to stay on the farm till the next week. My father, Gerry, was a docker, in a reserved occupation through the war.
We lived in about five different houses through the war from Chambers Street, Everton, to Waterloo and Bootle, where we were bombed out twice. My sister Pat was killed there. With me only being a baby, my mother didn’t like to talk about it, even when I grew up. The trauma of it all got to her very deeply. We moved to Wye Street at the end of the war and stayed there until 1971 when the old houses came down and we were rehoused.

This blog is dedicated to all those that died in Liverpool during the War. I can think of no more fitting image than that of an innocent two-year old playing in the sunshine with, seemingly, all her future ahead of her.

Following on from my last post, here is another photograph of Church Street taken some 70 years later.
It takes a moment to work out the location, but the Bluecoat Chambers in the background is the giveaway. The whole area was badly bombed in the War and the empty site is where Russell’s, watch makers and jewellers, had their store. The building was well-known for a large ornamental clock attached to its corner with Church Alley (the corner of their building with part of the clock can just be seen on the far left of the previous 1880 photograph).
After the War, the site was acquired by the Littlewood empire and has since become Primark.
The street immediately behind the cleared site is Old Post Office Place, a dog-leg of a street, once a busy backstreet but since the post-War rebuilding little more than a service road for the shops fronting Church Street. The Bluecoat, too, was bombed but fortunately most of the shell survived. What a loss it would have been to have lost such a key, early building.

Watching BBC News this morning, I was made aware that today marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the Blitz. As always, the focus was on London – with just an incidental mention that other places in the country were also affected. I was going to post these photographs in November to mark the Durning Road tragedy but the news item made me reconsider the timing. The direct hit on the large underground shelter in Durning Road, Edge Hill, was the worst single incident in the Liverpool Blitz as regards loss of life.
In the early hours of 29 November 1940, during the heaviest air raid to date, a parachute mine hit the Junior Instruction Centre in Durning Road, collapsing into the shelter below and crushing many of its 300 occupants. Boiling water from the central heating system and gas from fractured mains poured in. Raging fires overhead also made rescue work extremely dangerous. In all, 166 men, women and children were killed. Many more were badly injured. Joe Lucas lost two brothers and two sisters in the tragedy and recalled that his traumatised mother did not speak for six months.

We are not very good at marking such events but there is still time to have some form of official recognition of such a terrible event. I am writing to the Lord Mayor – and I hope others will make some representation to have a small ceremony of some kind. After all, Liverpool did have the highest number of casualties of any city outside of London and it is important that there is recognition of such suffering.