Merseyside local history

Feb 04

The Apple Auction

On an otherwise ordinary morning almost a century ago, pandemonium broke out in one Stanley Street saleroom all thanks the arrival of a humble piece of fruit. There were strident cries and veracious jeering, peppy jumping and passionate stick-waving as a crowd of over three hundred merchants vied for the attention of the deafened Victoria Street in the early 20th centuryauctioneer. The raucous event was unparalleled in living memory, and the reason? This day was the first time in four years that a consignment of American and Canadian apples had been available to buy on UK shores. Imports had been cancelled near the start of World War One leaving apple-lovers longing for the return of the crunch. Liverpool being a chief port was an early beneficiary in the reappearance of the long-lost fruit and the room that day was crowded full of eager salesman keen to get their hands on the produce. Sellers from all over the country descended upon the city and despite the shipment being rather on the large side, a number still returned to their businesses empty handed. However hungry local householders could still expect a moderate supply on the shelves at their local grocer selling at a retail price of no more than 9d per pound (appx £1.70) During the week of December 19, 1918 the American steamer Alsatian delivered 6,000 barrels of apples, the Bohemian brought over 9,700 barrels as well as 8,600 boxes, and the Belgic carried a whopping 28,000 boxes.  A barrel was three times as full as a box but some had been set aside by the Government for the soldiering stomachs of the army.

Jan 24

The Dangers of The House

We are fortunate today to live in an age where the home is now very rarely a danger. We have smoke detectors helping us avoid outbreaks of fatal fires.  We have burglar alarms to protect us and our property from would-be thieves. For those who need it, we have stair-lifts to conquer a potentially life-threatening climb. Technological advancements such as these allow us to feel happy and safe to dwell inside our twenty-first century havens of domestic space. However things have never always been so sans souci.

In my years of research I have come across many cases where the house has turned against its inhabitants through very unfortunate twists of fate. More often than not it is the children of those households who fall victim to these disastrous mishaps. Who would have thought the simple wash tub would be a common killer bringing sadness and despair to many families in Liverpool’s and indeed the country’s, now long gone communities?

On April 12, 1897 two year old Eva Bentley had wandered off into the back yard of her home at No. 37 Clare Road, Bootle. This was the beginning of a very dire set of circumstances.  Her father, a grocer and provision dealer, had headed out to work earlier that morning and her mother had just left the room to answer a knock at the door. Worse still, the servant girl the family employed was busy elsewhere in the house. This unfortunate turn of events gave the naïve toddler the unadulterated freedom to explore the wash house, and in particular a wash tub which contained just nine inches of water. To such a tiny figure this meagre puddle must have seemed like an overwhelming ocean and on peering in, the poor girl tumbled over the brim headfirst. Minutes later Mrs Bentley discovered the child dead, her lungs utterly saturated.

Tin baths like these were common across many households in Britain

A further heart-rending case of note occurred in 1925, when four year old George Reeves of Felton Grove, Stoneycroft was listening to the wireless. The little lad had been seated upon a chair by the radio, headphones on, when he became tired of the disembodied tones. He stepped down from his seat and began to remove the device from his petite ears. In doing so he had the bad luck to stumble over the family cat. This in itself would have resulted in a rather nasty plummet, but the reality of the situation was far more serious. That afternoon Mrs Reeves had been preparing a bath for her boy by the fireplace. She had only just finished pouring another pan of boiling water into the tub and had left for the scullery to fetch some much needed cold to bring it down to a more comfortable and safe temperature. It was into this blistering liquid that baby George found himself splashing about in unimaginable pain.  When his distraught mother rushed back to rescue the youngster from the searing heat, his burns had already inflicted critical damage upon his vital organs. George died from scalding later that day with doctors unable to save him.

 

Jan 24

Liverpool Central Library

With the Echo’s enthralling behind the scenes look at the changes taking place at the city’s Central Library recently, today’s feature takes us back to when it all began.

In the mid Victorian Era it was agreed that a new location was needed to house the Earl of Derby’s collections which were overwhelming the museum which had then been housing them. This building had at that time been located at the corner of Duke Street and Colquitt Street but a new location was sorely needed. With this clear realisation local architect and historian Joseph Picton led the charge in convincing the council to spring into action.

In 1853 it was announced that wealthy merchant and M.P William Brown had heard of tCrowds gather for the laying of the foundation stone in 1857he community’s cultural plight and had come forward with an offer of £6,000 to build a library and museum, if the council would provide the site. After much debate in the council chamber, a plot was finally chosen.

Three years later, the philanthropic Irishman laid the foundation stone of the brand new museum and library amid great public intrigue. The day began with a ‘breakfast party’ during which local dignitaries met with learned members of the city’s educational institutions in celebration of the day’s upcoming scholastic events.

At midday the party arrived at the new site of the museum and a crater in the foundation stone was cut open. It was packed full of coins and newspapers of the day along with a medal commemorating of the Treaty of Paris, itself marking the end of the Crimean War the previous year. The stone was soon laid followed by a series of speeches and a grand banquet in the recently opened St. George’s Hall across the cobbles.

When construction work was officially complete it was generously described as, “a gift to the inhabitants of Liverpool.” It was on the Thursday of 18 October 1860 when William Brown himself presented the new Free Public Library and Museum to the Mayor of Liverpool. All shops, banks and markets closed for the day and bunting was hung about the streets and ships in port. A jovial procession was organised to march around from the Town Hall up to the new library and museum, where the splendid ceremonial hand-over took place.

It still boasts the pleasant honour of being the only street in Britain to consist of pure cultural buildings; libraries, museums and galleries stand alone on the site. The cost of the creation exceeded all expectations prompting Brown to personally donate £41,000 of his own funds to finish the mammoth project. His benevolence led to the street to be rechristened (formerly known as Shaws Brow) in his honour, the name it still holds to this day.

Liverpool Central library is due to open once again this May when its £50m refurbishment is over with many original features restored and plenty of new gadgets installed to educate and captivate future generations of learners.

 

Jan 14

Ghost Signs

Towns and cities all over the country are being haunted and we don’t even realise. These silent ghosts are often only a few steps away, watching us from largely unseen vantage points, echoing the lives of those long since dead. But fear not! These historic manifestations are nothing to be afraid of, but rather physical phantoms we should actually preserve. They are in fact, ghost signs.

This ghost sign for Co-Op can be found on Beatrice St, Bootle

My attention was brought to these commonly overlooked adornments of our streets by Phil and Caroline Bunford. They have a keen interest in local history and have made strident efforts to create a photographic record of Liverpool’s advertising past. They have certainly been busy. Late last year the couple published their first book, Liverpool Ghost Signs: A Sideways Look at the City’s Advertising History which includes more than a hundred separate depictions of Liverpool’s remaining spectral signage.

The Bunford’s fascination in this field has revealed nothing short of a pictorial doorway into a long lost world many us have never even noticed. Who alive today knew that a Mr Richard T. Richardson started a chemist business back in the 1880’s at number No.39 Smithdown Road? His beautiful mosaic advertising floor tile still exists at the door to the old shop. And what about No.134 Goodison Road? In 1911 two professional footballers lived here along with the cow keeper’s family when it was a dairy premises!

These timeworn shops were a part of an everyday life for our predecessors who could often be found mulling about the isles purchasing their essentials. They may not all have been based in lavish or stately properties but these traders served an invaluable purpose. Without them communities simply couldn’t function.

“Liverpool has a very layered and colourful history. We were both drawn to the lesser known buildings and characters that helped shaped the city” says Caroline. “The signs hark back to a time when life seemed to move at a slower pace, when people shopped on their local high streets so much more and they used independent, family-run firms. They are pieces of art, intricately painted or tiled, and it must have taken a very patient craftsman to undertake each job. The signs are indeed ‘ghostly’ but they are fantastic survivors of our social and consumer past.”

Phil and Caroline are always keeping an eye out for newly-discovered ghost signs and intend to revise their book in five years with updates and additions.  “A lot of the signs in the book have already been covered up or vanished even since November’s publication” laments Phil, “a record really needs to be kept.”

Liverpool Ghost Signs

 

Liverpool Ghost Signs is available from books shops across Merseyside and more information can be obtained from the authors via Twitter @lpoolghostsigns

 

Jan 04

The Fitness Generation

Millions of people around the world are focused, for the time being at least, on their New Year resolutions. There’s a distinct probability that weight loss and exercise is a common goal for many in 2013. Today Liverpool has plenty to offer the health-conscious individual but we are by no means the first generation with the urge to keep fit.

 

Myrtle St Gym was sited where Baa Bar currently stands

On July 18, 1865 the Mayor laid the foundation stone for a brand new gymnasium on vacant land in Myrtle Street. There was great local interest in the construction as the desire for health and physical well-being was then at an all-time high. The land had been purchased by the philanthropic Charles Melly who was championing the cause of his associate John Hulley. The two men had previously formed the Liverpool Athletic Club and organised the first Grand Olympic Festival on the parade ground at Mount Vernon. On that occasion over 10000 people witnessed a varied programme of athletics predating the modern Olympics by several decades.By the time his new gym opened Hulley had carved himself the persona of being something of an all-round fitness guru and was a strong advocate of the role physical education in society.

His gym-goers entered a large hall full of exercise equipment, such as dumbbells, vaulting horses, Indian clubs and a forty foot high piece of apparatus known as ‘The Fort’. This had originally been used in France to teach soldiers how to climb efficiently, but now it proved to be excellent in the efforts for personal fitness. At one end of the room was a busy network of ropes and cordage allowing members to harness their balance and upper-body strength. Hulley’s background in gymnastics was clear in the layout.

Attached to the gym was a school of arms where the arts of boxing, wrestling and fencing were taught. Within eager students would become familiar with the foil, sabre and even the bayonet. There was also plenty of gallery space which could often be found crowded with watchful young ladies and no doubt their presence gave members a little extra incentive to perform to the best their abilities.However women too were free to use the facilities with 80 females of various ages making up the 890 members who had joined by the December of that year.

One contemporary reporter wrote this timeless remark, “If any of our readers, ladies or gentlemen, are afflicted with ennui, or run the risk of dying from sloth or indolence, we would strongly recommend them to the Myrtle Street gymnasium.  If the exercises for three months do not give a new impulse to the springs of human life and restore their wonted vivacity, such persons are in a hopeless state of collapse from absolute inanimation.”

Best of luck with your resolutions!

 

Dec 31

The City That Never Was

As we press on forward into the New Year it is in our nostalgic nature to look back on times passed. This act of reflection was also done back in January 1911 when a local newspaper reprinted a marvellous artists’ impression of long-lost engineering works that had once been set to totally transform the city.

With the completion of the magnificent St George’s Hall in the autumn of 1854, Liverpool entered an era of confidence not unlike our own much later Capital of Culture optimism.  Our Liverpudlian predecessors wished to see a continuation of their town’s progression with the creation of more grand, more respectable surroundings for their brand new neo-classical masterpiece. The ambitious plans that followed were the brainchild of architect Henry Sumners.

He envisaged massive changes to the Haymarket, St Johns, William Brown Street, Queen’s Square and Williamson Square.  The most prominent feature of his urbanite dream was a huge salt-water bathhouse, complete with 150 foot dome and bell tower. This would have occupied the current site of the Gladstone Memorial and the entrance to the Mersey Tunnel.He also pictured a union between the Williamson and Queen Squares to create one large fruit, flower and vegetable market along with an adjoining hotel.

Sumner's unfulfilled vision of the city centre

Sumner was reported to have been very forward-thinking in regards to his view of Liverpool, far in advance of certain members of the Council. His Latin motto ‘Artibus Legibus Consiliis Locum Municipes Constituerunt Anno Domini MLCCCXLI’ (For Arts, Law and Counsel the townspeople built this place in 1841) is still clear to see on the south façade of the hall, but this was not by unanimous choice. One councillor wished to see something more representative of Liverpool’s trade endeavours, such as rum, sugar cotton and corn, whilst another put forward the rather direct slogan, “The land we live in and those who don’t like it may leave it.” What a charming message for visitors of Lime Street Station that would have been!

Hopes for William Brown Street to be filled with a library and museums did come to pass, but ideas towards relocating the Georgian church of St Johns to the corner of Hatton Garden were less successful. This was eventually torn down in 1898 and gardens now occupy the former sacred site. Nevertheless, the image above does give us a precious insight into the stately and imposing sights Sumner had in mind for us and in some sentimental way, we can now appreciate what could have been.

Who knows how Liverpool will fair in another century and a half, but as the light of 2013 dawns over the hopeful waters of the Mersey, we surely wish her the best of luck.

Dec 30

Churchill and the Birkenhead Blitz

A recent post showing Prime Minister Winston Churchill signing the Birkenhead Visitor Book caused quite a stir.Winston Churchill signs the town Visitor Book It is of particular interest as it depicts the aftermath of a bombing raid in one Birkenhead street. Wirral and Merseyside on the whole was bombed extensively during the conflict, making it somewhat difficult to pinpoint exactly where this photograph was taken.  However, local historian Neil Holmes, whose books include ‘Merseyside Blitzed’ and ‘Liverpool Blitzed: Seventy Years On’ has put forward a very plausible possibility.

Batten Road is a residential street off the main Birkenhead thoroughfare of Borough Road. It sits upon a gradual slope leading all the way up to Woodchurch Road. Neil argues six key points for this being the location of Churchill’s signing.

 

1) It is known that Brattan Road was severely damaged in the air raids of March 1941 when a land mine flattened houses on both sides of the road. The photo shows considerable damage to both sides of the road

2) The publication  ‘Birkenhead at War’ states that Brattan Road was one of those visited by the PM during his April 1941 visit.

 

Brattan Road in modern times


3) The width of the road matches Brattan Road, also anyone stood in the road looking away from Borough Road would be looking uphill so to speak, as the photograph appears to show.


4) You can just see the base of a lamp post on the left of the photo. In the wartime panoramic image of Brattan Road there is a lamp post prominently featured in the centre of the photograph.

 

A war-torn Brattan Road


5) What surviving older properties exist on Brattan Road match the style of the buildings on the right of the photograph


6) It appears none of of the other roads we know the PM  to have visited – Borough, Bidston Avenue, Mallaby St, Park Road North or Well Lane, would match anywhere near as well, if at all, to Brattan Road.

A comparison view of Brattan Road

Although we can’t be 100% certain, Neil makes a very good case for Brattan Road as the exact spot where Winston Churchill recorded his official visit to Wirral in a much-needed effort to boost morale in this very crucial shipping town.

Dec 29

A walk down North John Street

Been to North John Street lately? If you took a walk down there at the turn of the last century this is what you would have seen.

North John Street in about 1900

Dec 29

New Brighton Tower

Did you know New Brighton tower was once the tallest building in Britain?

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Dec 26

A Mass Payment

On this day in 1853 Mary Jackson was charged with annoying the congregation of St NicholaSt Nicholas Liverpools’s Catholic Chapel on Christmas Eve. Her defence was that she was not Catholic but had wished to be able to celebrate midnight mass at the site on Copperas Hill. However, there was a standard entry fee which she had staunchly refused to pay. “They ought not to charge for the word of God” she argued. Mary denied causing any disturbance but witnesses attested to the contrary and the woman was ordered to pay five shillings or face three days behind bars in default. On leaving the dock Mary exclaimed, “Faith, I’ll not go there anymore!”

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