Liverpool has a colourful history. We all know its wealth was largely founded on the Slave Trade and the dreadful poverty of the nineteenth century had been well documented. Sometimes, however, shocking events just disappear into the mists of time without a mention in the history of the city.
The events of August Bank Holiday, 1947 showed a side of Britain that we may well wish to hide. Britain occupied Palestine and Jewish guerrillas were at war with the colonial power. Two British army sergeants were captured and, in reprisal for Britain’s hanging of captured Jewish fighters, hanged. A great outcry followed, and in a wave of anti-semitism, Jewish communities in Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester were attacked. In Birkenhead, slaughterhouse workers had refused to process any more meat for Jewish consumption until the attacks on British soldiers in Palestine stopped. In Liverpool, crowds of angry young men gathered in Jewish areas and attacked shops and businesses.
My account is taken from Jerusalem Your Name is Liberty, by Walter Lever, a one-time Communist who lived in Manchester.
‘On Sunday afternoon the trouble reached Manchester. Small groups of men began breaking the windows of shops in Cheetham Hill, an area just north of the city centre which had been home to a Jewish community since the early 19th century. The pubs closed early that day because there was a shortage of beer and, by the evening, the mob’s numbers had swelled to several hundred. Most were on foot but others drove through the area, throwing bricks from moving cars.
Soon the streets were covered in broken glass and stones and the crowd moved on to bigger targets, tearing down the canopy of the Great Synagogue on Cheetham Hill Road. All premises belonging to Jews for the length of a mile down the street had gaping windows and the pavements were littered with glass.’
By the end of the weekend, anti-Jewish riots had taken place in Glasgow and Liverpool, with minor disturbances in Bristol, Hull, London and Warrington, as well as scores of attacks on Jewish property across the country. A solicitor in Liverpool and a Glasgow shopkeeper were beaten up. Nobody was killed, but this was the most widespread anti-Jewish violence the UK had ever seen. In Salford, the day after a crowd of several thousand had thrown stones at shop windows, signs appeared that read: “Hold your fire. These premises are British.” In Eccles, a former sergeant major named John Regan was fined £15 for telling a crowd of 700: “Hitler was right. Exterminate every Jew – every man, woman and child. What are you afraid of? There’s only a handful of police.”
Arsonists in West Derby set fire to a wooden synagogue and the caretaker was attacked and badly injured when he opened the gates to the fire brigade; workers at Canada Dock in Liverpool returned from the holidays to find “Death to all Jews” painted above the entrance. The photograph shows the burnt-out wooden synagogue in West Derby Cemetery. Just two years after British troops had liberated Bergen-Belsen, the language of the Third Reich had resurfaced, this time at home. Anger about what had happened in Palestine was one thing, but it seemed to have unleashed something far more vicious.
First Communion, 1952
First Communion, 1953
Two more photographs from the same family album. I suspect the subject matter will resonate with some more than others but they portray one of the rituals that thousands of young girls undertook as an essential part of their religious upbringing. I cannot identify the locations – but the other family photographs are taken around Vauxhall Road, so they could well be there. The decorations in the second photograph will be for the Coronation – not for the First Communion. These kind of processions were not exclusive to Liverpool but they were a big event in Catholic parishes as is evident from the crowds of onlookers.
Naylor Street, 1934
Gladstone Street, 1934
After a short break, I am back in full swing with three photographs taken from a family album. I am fascinated by this kind of social photography. Amateur shots taken on (most probably) a Box Brownie purely as a family record. The real sadness is their anonymity. I have no idea of the names of any of the people in the photographs. If any of the children are around, they will now be in their eighties, for all I have is the street name and the date on the backs of the snaps. The group of children are in Naylor Street, which ran into Vauxhall Road. Gladstone Street was off Naylor Street running through to Freemasons Row. A very narrow street, it can be found in the Alan Godfrey Ordinance Survey map No 106.10 Liverpool North 1906. As you open the map it is in the bottom section in the 2nd fold.(Thanks to Alex Robertson – who emailed me with the location).
The young boy with a cat is standing outside Frank’s Café. Whether that was its actual name or the name of a family member who owned it is unclear (it is not listed under Frank’s Café in my 1932 Directory).
I would love to see a concerted effort to create an archive of such photographs that can be deposited in the Liverpool Record Office. They often tell us a great deal about the people of Liverpool and would be an invaluable source of reference to future generations. More to follow next time.
Boys with comic, 1940
Tenement living, 1940
Mersey ferry, 1954
Professor Codman, 1955
Four more photographs from my new book Bert Hardy’s Britain, courtesy of Getty Images. This is the centenary of Bert’s birth and his images brilliantly capture life in the 1940s and 50s. The tenement he photographed with the two girls is, I am informed by Tom Slemen (who should know since he was brought up there) is Myrtle Gardens. Many will remember Professor Codman, who was still performing (or at least his son was) in Williamson Square well into the 1980s. The son, who also took on the Professor Codman name, came to see me in the late 80s with the idea of publishing a family history. I recall he was thinking of retiring because of the stress of earning a living in an increasingly hostile world. I doubt the book would have been a best-seller but it is a shame it never saw the light of day – another piece of social history lost.
The book is available in local bookshops and on Amazon:
Catholic Evidence Guild, 1955
Chinese hostel, Chinatown, 1942
My latest book is about that brilliant photojournalist, Bert Hardy. Bert was born into a poor working-class family in Blackfriars in South London in 1913. Leaving school at fourteen, his first job was as a delivery boy with a photographic printing company. Fascinated by the photographic process, Bert bought himself a secondhand camera and started taking photographs of pub outings and other local events, selling copies to make a few extra shillings.
From there, he soon progressed to freelancing his work, combining his love of cycling to take photos of races for The Bicycle magazine. Using the newly introduced 35mm ‘miniature’ cameras, he was able to catch action with a flexibility that was not possible with the standard plate film press cameras used by most professional photographers.
Bert’s photographs were eventually noticed by the editor of Picture Post magazine, Tom Hopkinson, who took him on as a staff photographer on the trailblazing magazine that was redefining the use of photographs in Britain. Apart from spending three years in the Army’s Film and Photographic Unit, Bert became a mainstay of Picture Post until its demise in 1957. His outstanding work includes such iconic photographs as the two Gorbals boys and the two girls on the railings at Blackpool with their skirts billowing in the breeze. He visited Liverpool regularly and I have reproduced two of the images from the book courtesy of Getty Images. The first is of a lady espousing the virtues of Catholicism (I am guessing – the photograph is captioned the Catholic Evidence Guild). The other is a very atmospheric image of four Chinese sailors sitting round a table in a Chinese hostel in Chinatown. In a much earlier post, I have mentioned the dreadful way Chinese merchant sailors were treated (they were expected to take all the risks on the convoys at a fraction of the pay of British seamen with no compensation for death in service).
The book Bert Hardy’s Britain is now available and is, if I may be so bold, the best book I have ever done, with over 200 of Bert’s photographs taken between 1940 and 1956.
Following my last post about Sefton Park Meadows, the City council has taken another step towards approving the sell off of this important green space. Mayor Anderson claims that the impending ‘bankruptcy’ of the Council leaves him no other option and that the people of Liverpool understand and are behind him. I doubt his assumption and can only ask why this particular piece of land? There are acres of brownfield land that needs regenerating, so why choose perhaps the most sensitive plot for luxury, speculative housing.
Today’s photograph is of one such brownfield site that has been successfully redeveloped. The architecture of the new Princes Dock is bland and unexciting but, at least, it contributes to the regeneration of the city. Its redevelopment came at the early stages of Liverpool’s renaissance – perhaps too early in the sense that later development might have meant better buildings. However, as Quentin Hughes once pointed out to me, most buildings are only temporary and will be replaced in the course of time – unlike green space which once built on will nearly always remain built on.
The 1880s view of Princes Dock has only one familiar landmark – the spire of the Church of St Nicholas. The scene is devoid of people and, judging by the lack of shadows, must have been taken close to midday. My guess is on a Sunday. At any other time, the dock would have been a hive of activity. The long exposure meant that movement would be blurred, so the photographer has timed his exposure to eliminate such a risk.
First of all, my apologies for the long silence. I have been finishing off four books and moving offices at the same time. I needed to clear my head, so have given the blog a break. Now I can do some serious catching up, starting with three great images taken by Tom Owens in 1972. A student at the time, Tom recorded the area around the new Royal Hospital on Prescot Street. His two images of a School Health Clinic made me smile. I have tried to locate it but without luck. The third photograph is definitely Prescot Street and shows the hospital near to completion. That was forty years ago and, before long, the hospital will be replaced. Perhaps medical changes over four decades demand a new building. Rather, I feel, the 1970s building was ill-conceived from the start; a near-obsolete model that has never been much more than an eyesore – like many of the 1960s tower blocks which have also been mercifully demolished.
You can’t win! My last blog showing a very early photograph of an Orange parade by the Museum triggered a number of unpleasant posts – the gist of which were that I was a bigot for having the temerity to post anything to do with such an important part of Liverpool’s history. No apologies from me – but all abusive posts are removed as a matter of course. This site is for those genuinely interested in the way Liverpool is represented by photography – not as somewhere to vent unreasoned and bigoted opinions.
That’s got that off my chest – so on to today’s blog: an unusual street view of Old Hall Street and the newly built Cotton Exchange. I add unusual because it is an amateur’s photograph and I haven’t seen any others of the street. The woman with her bucket gives a dramatic feel to the early morning scene. I am guessing the photograph was taken shortly after the Exchange was opened in 1906. A fine Edwardian Baroque building, it had a short life, or at least the facade did. The side elevations still survive but the fine colonnaded facade was unceremoniously replaced by a dreary moden frontage in 1967. A sad loss for the building symbolised Liverpool’s first ranking in the cotton trade.
I promise to post no more July 12th photographs for the foreseeable future but today’s image is somewhat special. I am guessing it was taken in about 1890 (possibly slightly earlier or later) and, as such, represents the earliest visual record of this annual event. The building on the right is the Museum (its current steps were introduced when the street was lowered in 1902). Lloyd’s Outfitters in the background, were at 1-3 Byrom Street – and were there throughout the late 1870s into the 1890s. My only other clues to the date are the clothing – never a precise way of dating – and the nature of the photograph (a carte de visite which had fallen out of popularity by the early 1890s).
The actual date aside, the photograph shows a large crowd stretching to the foot of Dale Street. I know very little about the history of the Orange parades but here is a bit of visual evidence that can be added to our understanding of Liverpool’s history, however unsavoury it has been at times.
Below is a close up of the large banner – ‘Lily of the North’ with a large central image of King Billy on his stallion.
It is fast coming round to July 12th and the annual Orange Lodge marches. I have posted photographs in the early days of this blog of a procession along London Road in the 1970s. Recently, I acquired a set of rather scratched glass plate negatives taken in the 1950s of a procession marching along Netherfield Road South at its junction with Upper Beau Street. Netherfield Road was at the heart of Orange Lodge territory, looking down towards Great Homer Street and the homes of the Catholic community.
The history of sectarianism in Liverpool is not an attractive one. Bloodshed was a regular feature of the marches, creating tensions that have taken generations to reduce. Today the marches are much smaller, although there are many who feel they have no part in a modern society. The photographs are a valuable piece of history, though – a record of life that cannot be erased. In my next blog, I will post the earliest photograph I have seen of this annual celebration of a battle now over 300 years ago.