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.
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.