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Posts tagged ‘Archaeology’

Liver Birds, Imaginary Cities, and Open Doors

There’s all sorts popping up around the Internet recently for those of a landscape persuasion. From the dozens of liver birds dotting the streets, to poking around inside old buildings, there’s something for every urban explorer. Then there’s imaginary city landscapes… Read more

Merseyside Archaeology Service closes

The Merseyside Archaeological Service (MAS) has been shut down, and now there is no longer access to the Merseyside Historic Environment Record. According to the notice on the Liverpool Museums website this was due to the removal of funding by all partners.

The MAS was set up in 1991, and received funding from the five Merseyside local authorities (Liverpool, Wirral, Sefton, Knowsley and St Helens). Historic Environment Records (HERs) grew out of the Sites and Monuments Records which began with Oxfordshire in the 1960s to cover the whole country by the 1980s. The change in name came in the last decade to reflect the increase in coverage and scope. Read more

Liverpool Heroes 3: Vikings in Liverpool

OK, so perhaps the Norse are as far from the ‘Liverpool Radicals’ we have in mind in 2011 as it’s possible to get.

They’re distant in time, left little visible trace in our city, and went about changing society through the delicate application of pointy-horned helmets.

But of course none of that is strictly true. There are traces of the Norse presence on our doorstep, and may have paved the way for Liverpool itself to be settled half a millennium after they first arrived. Read more

Entering new eras in history

A photo of the Liver Building from Princes Dock, entitled Two of Us, by Eric the Fish via Flickr

Two of Us, by Eric the Fish via Flickr

Welcome back to the Liverpool Landscapes blog! I do hope you came checking every day while I was away ;-), but even if not, you’ll be glad to know I’m rested, relaxed and raring to go to bring you the most interesting bits of news concerning the history of Liverpool. The theme of this post seems to be milestones, in a way, so let’s start with politics…

The general election and history

The first occasion on the horizon is of course the General Election. As a civil servant, I should probably be careful what I say in the run up to May 6th, but it’s worth pointing out that the Museums Journal this month contains a short analysis of what the main parties intend to do should you vote them into power next month. (You’ll need to register to view the article, or pick up a copy of MJ in the local library).

All the parties seem to agree on free admissions to museums, a move away from targets, and on increasing access to arts and cultural institutions. However, Louise de Winter of the National Campaign for the Arts notes that Labour’s reliance on free admission to help with increased access is not enough.

The Conservatives emphasis on helping people to help themselves (“Big Society, Small Government”) may extend to the cultural sector, with an ‘arm’s length principle‘ being applied to supporting museums.

The Liberal Democrats also want to enable museums to be more independent and enterprising, and want to generate more arts and heritage money from the National Lottery through tax changes.

At the time of the Journal’s press, the Labour manifesto had not been released, but it noted that the party wanted to ensure all Britain benefits from the digital revolution, and to build on earlier schemes such as Find Your Talent.

English Heritage publish heritage protection paper

Even though the Heritage Protection Bill did not make it into the Queen’s Speech last year, work has continued on reforming the way the historic environment is cared for.

All you professional archaeologists out there will know about PPG15 and PPG16, the two documents which make rescue archaeology (and so the vast majority of professional archaeology occurring in this country) possible. These documents are both almost 20 years old, and have been replaced by Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 5.

The long term aims with heritage protection reform (HPR) are to replace the current system of listed buildings, scheduled monuments and other designations with a single, hierarchical system. This would make it easier to protect historic sites and buildings, as well as make it simpler for owners of such assets to find the information they need to effectively protect them.

The new document also covers such topics as approaches to planning, climate change issues, and the monitoring of the historic environment. It’s available to download from the Department for Communities and Local Government Planning for the Historic Environment page.

Somewhat related to this is the Government’s Statement on the Historic Environment of England 2010, which has a lovely picture of Canning Dock on the front (minus the new Mann Island developments it seems, but we’ll skip round that issue…).

In the rest of the news…

Well, those are probably the big stories of the day, but there are a few more tidbits to cover.

It’s International World Heritage Day tomorrow (18th April)! Now, I’m assuming that anyone reading this post is somehow interested in a certain World Heritage Site, and now’s your chance to raise awareness of where it is, and the work it takes to preserve and look after it.The Global Development Research Center (sic) has a few suggestions on what people can do to celebrate and commemorate.

Liverpool City Council have organised five tours of parts of the city which fit in with this year’s theme, which is the Heritage of Agriculture. Now, you may argue that Liverpool’s WHS has little to do with agriculture, but as the foremost port of the empire, merchants in Liverpool oversaw a huge proportion of the transport of the world’s agricultural produce. For details of the tours, download the leaflet from the Liverpool World Heritage web site. Places are limited, so get in early!

Speaking of mercantile heritage, the Old Dock is finally to be opened to the public on 4th May. As the BBC report, the remains of the dock wall were carefully preserved during the construction of Liverpool One, and can be seen through a window placed in the floor at the bottom of the steps from the Liverpool Wheel where the Liverpool Wheel used to stand [cheers for the correction, Adrian!].

From next month, there will be a “visitors’ facility” to allow you to view objects found during archaeological excavations there, a computer reconstruction fly-through, and the east section of the dock which has a tunnel suspected of linking to Liverpool Castle. More details are available on the Maritime Museum Liverpool web site.

And finally-finally, architects Baca have another masterplan to ruffle the feathers of the Liverpool Preservation Trust et al. This time the south docks are in the picture, and Baca want to “bring an interesting new approach to waterspace design that will unlock the potential of these wonderful docks and the World Heritage Site”.

As you know, I for one consider that the World Heritage Site needs its potential unlocking. It’s so… tied up there in those creaky old buildings.

Liverpool Castle Reconstruction

Plan of Liverpool Castle by E.W. Cox, from Wikipedia

Plan of Liverpool Castle by E.W. Cox, from Wikipedia

Last weekend I visited Liverpool Castle. The castle itself was pulled down in 1715 and St George’s Church built in its place. However in 1895 E.W. Cox prepared a reconstruction for the Historical Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, and in the first decade of the 20th Century the first Viscount Leverhulme built a reconstruction of the ruins of the castle in the village of Rivington near Chorley. Today it stands in Lever Park, a large area of woodland on the east bank of Rivington Reservoir.

The replica castle stands on high ground overlooking the reservoir, and though of course it can never quite match the shape of the landscape in medieval Liverpool, the lake acts as a stand-in for the Pool (compare this plan on Wikipedia with the satellite view on Google Maps). The position of the Mersey itself would have been in a west to east direction, on the north side of the two most complete towers at Rivington.

The castle was incomplete by the time of Lord Leverhulme’s death in 1925 and work stopped, though the majority of the intended layout was in place. Today the castle has its fair share of graffiti, and evidence of fires and drinking are all around. However, it’s a great place to go to get a feel for one of Liverpool’s lost gems.

I’m not sure whether this castle is a full-scale replica or not, so anyone who could shed a bit of light on it would be most helpful! If you’ve been there yourself, what did you think of the place?

The Castle is the subject of my first ever Flickr upload! All Creative Commons, so do with them what you like, as long as you credit me (if you use them please link to this blog or Historic Liverpool).

Local History on the Ground and The English Semi-detached House – Book reviews

I’d like to review two books recently added to the NMR’s Library, which both have use for the local historian, and yet which are very different approaches to explaining their field. The first is Local History on the Ground by Tom Welsh (The History Press, 2009). I picked up this book hoping to recommend a good starting point for learning how to approach local history research. Instead, it’s a much more informative lesson on how not to approach the study of your local area.

Local History on the Ground, by Tom Welsh

Local History on the Ground, by Tom Welsh

Tom Welsh is a senior lecturer in Geography at the University of Nottingham. This shows in his clear writing style, good structure and approachable tone. He also has a number of good tips to help the amateur landscape historian gain access to places often difficult to see. However, the man has a bee in his bonnet, and over the course of the book this bee gets in the way of his point, and it becomes increasingly obvious over time just what the problem is.

The clues come early on with Welsh’s keenness to separate ‘archaeology’ from ‘local history’. To Welsh, archaeology is sytematic, scientific and prescriptive to the point of boredom. Local history is emotional, following-your-nose and instinctive, to the point of passion. Archaeologists get bogged down in the minutiae of sites and objects, and ignore the wider landscape, and are obsessed with the “scare story” that is stratigraphy. Another issue is their insistence of walking in straight lines over the ground (“systematic survey”) which is done to remove any biases and ensure objectivity when identifying features (“Why does ecology not get bogged down with this?”). He’s clearly unaware that the specific technique of field walking has the aim of identifying finds on recently-ploughed land, and has little concern with features. Systematic survey is something different altogether.

“There is a lot of mumbo-jumbo in archaeology” – Welsh, 2009.

After distancing himself from archaeology (the study of the past through interpretation of material remains and environmental data, including architecture, artifacts, features, biofacts, and landscapes (Wikipedia)) he soon begins to reveal just how much vitriol he has for the profession. Archaeologists are defensive of their data, and of the historic environment in general (“a lot of heritage goes unnoticed as a result”). Amateurs are a nuisance to them, and they never (ever) let an amateur contribute to, say, the Historic Environment Record. By Page 91 it has been revealed that archaeologists seem to have snubbed Welsh’s own attempted contributions over the last 30 years. In one example of his work, he suggests that a hilltop site at Auchingoul is not a quarry, as the archaeologists suggest, but a Roman camp (an interpretation dismissed by OGS Crawford 60 years ago). He has done the fieldwork to prove it, and his neat little sketch shows a series of ponds, more ponds, a double pond, and an ‘access to pond’ track. Not sure where the Romans where meant to actually live, or why the famously standardised Roman camp template was abandoned. Perhaps because this site was 150 miles from the edge of the Roman empire.

So having never heard of landscape archaeology, or possessing any understanding of archaeological stratigraphy (he should realise it’s not just between sites, but within sites, and within features!) or fieldwalking, or geoarchaeology (archaeologists ignore geology, apparently), what has Welsh brought to the table in terms of technique? He clearly realises that landscape is the key to interpreting sites, but it seems that houses, tarmac and recent buildings get in the way of this. Despite his great contributions to the field of landscape history, W.G. Hoskins also made the mistake of seeing modern development as a muddying of the archaeological record, rather than an intrinsic part of it. And perhaps some archaeology is too concerned with classification (it certainly was when the majority of Welsh’s sources were written, in the 60s and 70s). But when you are working at a national scale, such similarities between far-flung settlements are actually informative, and help take the researcher further.

Tom Welsh has clearly had a lot of trouble over the years trying to convince archaeologists that his interpretations of sites are superior to the ‘official’ one. However, that is no reason to let your problems get in the way of your book, and in this case it really does. Another author, Margaret Gelling, writes in a similar way when looking at place-name research. While her books are excellent, invaluable texts, her insistence on constantly reminding us that we should keep such research in the hands of the professionals is almost the equal and opposite of Welsh’s idea. It spoils the readability of her work, and should be left out.

History on the Ground is a useful book. It has many great ideas on how to overcome barriers to research in your local area (get on the top deck of a bus for a better look), and goes systematically through the various elements of the landscape which you should examine in local history fieldwork. However, don’t let it put you off doing your own research. What we know today has benefited from the input of amateur researchers, and will continue to do so for as long as the past is of wider interest. But it will continue to be subject to peer-review, from other amateurs as well as professionals , as how else can quality be maintained? And contrary to what Welsh implies, do join your local archaeology society, and learn from people who have been doing it for years, rather than making it up as you go along and moaning when others suggest you might be in error. And certainly don’t criticise techniques of a practice that you clearly know little about, and have no intention of learning from.

The English Semi-detached House, by Finn Jensen

The English Semi-detached House, by Finn Jensen

In complete contrast to this style is The English semi-detached house: how and why the semi became Britain’s most popular house type by Finn Jensen (Ovolo Publishing Ltd, 2007). Jensen has written a survey of the developments of the semi-detached house in England over the last 500 years, starting from the large urban villas of the elite, and the country cottages of the working class, and brings the history right up to date with the housing developments in large estates during the 20th Century. Thankfully he neglects to criticise others in his field, and concentrates on producing a systematic yet readable history of these much-loved buildings through the years.

As this blog post has become too long already, and is really more concerned with technique than book content, suffice to say that The English Semi-detached House is an excellent resource, particularly for those readers who are researching Liverpool, and perhaps their own house, themselves. Jensen is a researcher at Liverpool John Moores University, and along with areas of London and Chester, Liverpool suburbs feature heavily throughout the book in many of the 150 illustrations which fill its pages. Fig 1.1 is itself a pair of aerial photographs of West Derby, marking its 20th Century expansion, and the sheer number of semis in the area. Many more West Derby photographs appear, in addition to photos of Runcorn, Birkenhead and south Liverpool suburbs, so the Scouse reader is left with an extensive survey of his or her home turf!

Jensen was born in Denmark, yet grew up in an English semi, and his knowledge of the house form is detailed and wide-ranging. However, there is never the impression of his opinions getting in the way of the description, and the book is well referenced with a separate bibliography for each chapter.

I would heartily recommend this book to anyone researching the modern suburban landscape, in addition to those looking at the older, and often larger semis more often seen in wealthy London suburbs built in (for example) the Georgian period. Welsh’s book, on the other hand, should be approached with caution, lest you be distracted by his attacks on the profession which has clearly offended him. Read Local History on the Ground for it’s investigative technique, but not for its interpretative advice!

If you’ve any more books you’d recommend (or avoid!), then do let me know in the comments.

Historic Liverpool on the Web

As things seem to be quiet on the ‘historic Liverpool’ front (that’s historic with a small ‘h’ – not my website!) I think it’s a good time to put down a few quick notes about where Historic Liverpool (the website!) and my interest in history on the web should be leading me in the next few weeks and months.

For those of you eager to see what additions will be made to the main site, I can tell you that I’m currently researching West Derby township. This includes the former villages of Tue Brook, West Derby, Knotty Ash and Broad Green, and will hopefully be online soon. Anyway, until then…

Every month new historical and archaeological resources go online (for example the Liverpool Wiki), and the ones that have been online for a while are constantly adding to their databases (see the Archaeology Data Service). Though the Council for British Archaeology’s website (recently relaunched) was a pioneer in making use of the web for archaeology, the historical and archaeological disciplines are only gradually making full use of the web, in particular “Web 2.0“, the interactive web. This new, user-generated form of the Internet is a big opportunity for history and archaeology, building on the participation seen in many amateur excavations in Britain for decades, and the discussion forums taking in Liverpool history amongst other city issues all over the Net.

It’s part of my job to know about what makes an attractive, usable, interesting heritage website, and I’d like to pass on what knowledge I can to help promote new archaeological and historical Web 2.0 sites. My own site, Historic Liverpool, shows my own modest efforts (more archaeology than Web 2.0!) but so much more sophisitcation is possible in this developing era that I really want to do what I can to help. With this in mind, I will shortly be launching a new website (to be named – watch this space!) dealing with [edit:] expanding this blog to include the wider developments in heritage on the web. There’ll also be a blog there, where I will put my thoughts down on the subject, along with longer articles on avoiding some of the pitfalls of building a complex or data-rich website aimed at the general public and interested amateur. After all, this is the advantage of the Internet, and the sharing of data and knowledge – anyone can become involved! Edit: for now I have little time to dedicate to a new website, so I’ll be mentioning interesting web initiatives on this blog until someone invents the 34 hour day and I have time to write two blogs!

Finally, while researching West Derby I read the relevant chapter in J.A. Picton’s Memorials of Liverpool, vol II, Topographical (1875). In it he details all the roads from Low Hill eastwards, and takes in Kensington, and Newsham Park. He rues the state of Wavertree Road:

Picton Road as seen by the Google StreetView car

Picton Road as seen by the Google StreetView car

“at present a somewhat unsightly entrance into Liverpool … flanked with shops and dwellings of an inferior class. Down to 1830 this road was a beautiful avenue lined with tall trees on each side, whose umbrageous foliage meeting overhead, imparted a grand and solemn character to the vista. The construction of the railway crossing the road … and the subsequent construction of the bridge … made the first inroad”

This fairly judgementmental description of the area is typical of this wonderful book, but the modern mapreader must note that whereas in 1875 Wavertree Road stretched all the way to Wavertree (of course), these days the length from Picton’s bedevilled railway bridge to the clock tower is of course… Picton Road.

Liverpool as blueprint for British culture capital

Although officially no longer the European Capital of Culture, Liverpool’s success in 2008 has led to it becoming the blueprint for an ongoing series of similar, British-based awards in the future. Culture Secretary Andy Burnham (a Blues fan, it has been noted) announced today that the new award would be presented every two years. Liverpool 08 mastermind Phil Redmond will be drafted in to lead a working party to explore the idea, which hopes to stimulate regeneration and investment in other parts of the country, in the way it did in Merseyside.

The impact of the Capital of Culture year will be debated at the University of Liverpool. Called Impacts 08, the event will be attended by Burnham and Redmond, and will discuss the effect of events like the Tall Ships Race and Paul McCartney’s concert Liverpool Sound, which brought in £5m. Along similar lines, Edwin Heathecote in the Financial Times examines the legacy of 2008 in terms of the built landscape, giving a fairly positive view of such developments as the Blue Coat chambers and the massive Liverpool One centre.

Finally, what English Heritage suspects is Britain’s first mosque is being regenerated, over 100 years after it fell out of use. It is hoped that this centre on Brougham Terrace, West Derby Street, will show the age of the roots of British Islam. The mosque was founded by and Englishman, Henry William Quilliam, who converted to Islam in 1887.

Independent – Britain’s first mosque to be reborn – after more than a century

BBC News – Revamp for England’s first mosque

A few more things for those of you who like your online resources:

English Heritage’s Heritage Explorer website includes a page on Liverpool as a case study for how to use their educational resources. The site concentrates on West Derby, and the project carried out by a Year 2 class to look at the historic environment around their school. The page includes a lesson plan, and some tips on how to get the kids studying. As well as this case study, the Heritage Explorer site is full of other historic resources for use in the classroom.

Another of English Heritage’s projects is featured on the Council for British Archaeology’s new website. The Aerofilms collection is a massive number of aerial shots of the whole of Britain, spanning nearly 100 years. Only a handful of images are currently available, including one of Liverpool’s old customs house and surrounding bomb devastation in 1946, but plans are afoot to get this amazing resource online in the future.

Also, for those interested in the archaeology hidden under Liverpool Bay, Wessex Archaeology are conducting a pilot scheme to investigate this body of water as part of their England’s Historic Seascapes research, in association with English Heritage. There’s a great summary of all the exciting stuff that should be found on the seabed on their site, and I’ll try to keep you up to date with their findings.

West Derby trams, new CBA website, and an end to 2008

The latest edition of the free Liverpool Link newsletter has a fairly long article about West Derby trams. Recently, roadworks on Mill Lane have revealed the old iron rails which the trams ran along – single lane with passing loops – and which were permanently visible until around 1970. Green trams (to Green Lane, of course!), and white first class trams ran along the route, until replaced soon after the last World War by motor bus services. Another still-visible reminder is a small junction box on the corner of the cottages leading to St. Mary’s Church. If I’d have read the article in time I would have tried to get a photo, but alas I was too slow before I had to leave Liverpool for New Year! If I find I’ve actually got one hidden on my computer somewhere, I’ll add it, but in the mean time go to West Derby village and have a look for it – it’s a reminder of a disappeared age!

For those of you interested in finding out more about history and archaeology on the Internet, the Council for British Archaeology has a new site (www.britarch.ac.uk), which has been launched for the 2009. As well as a more modern layout, the site gives you links to online resources such as the British and Irish Archaeological Bibliography (BIAB), and publications such as the Council’s own British Archaeology Magazine, as well as advice on how to get involved in archaeology, or keep up to date with archaeology in the news.

Finally, it is now 2009. Liverpool is no longer the European Capital of Culture. That accolade belongs to Vilnius in Lithuania and Linz in Austria. But Liverpudlians took this year’s celebrations to their hearts, took pride in the events, and took personally any attack on Liverpool deserving such an honour. Ringo will certainly remember that. But the greatest challenge has always been what comes after. Liverpool One is all but complete, although Zavvi didn’t survive to see its new shop in the development. The new Museum of Liverpool is rapidly taking shape. And numerous projects have sprung up or been given new lifeblood by the injection of money and interest in the city. I can’t help but think that all this momentum will be carried on by the city. Despite the huge numbers of tourists who came to Liverpool in 2008, many more will not have been able to make it, and will come next year, or the year after. Thousands more will have told their friends, who will make the trip in the not too distant future. As long as we’re here to welcome in the same way we’ve welcomed people throughout our thousand year history, Liverpool will always be the Capital of Culture.

Woodlands Remembered and Created

There is a very strong woodland feel to events in Liverpool this weekend.

Mab Lane in West Derby is being transformed by the planting of tens of thousands of new trees on a brownfield site, in order to create “the world’s most colourful woodland“. Work is expected to start in Spring next year, and will cost £700,000.

Also this weekend, Liverpool’s Pool Project are celebrating that which first brought royal attention to the area, and which is largely forgotten today: the royal hunting forest of Toxteth. The idea is to recreate one of King John’s hunts through 21st Century Toxteth, and at the same time gather information about the archaeology, biology and botany of the area bounded by modern Upper Parliament Street, Smithdown Road, Ullet Road and Sefton Street.

Toxteth Park was part of a large area of land on the north side of the Mersey which was popular with medieval royalty for hunting and riding. For hundreds of years it was ’emparked’, in practice meaning nothing could be built on it. Only when this status was removed did large scale building begin in the area. In its early days it was the preferred suburb for rich Liverpool merchants to escape the hustle and bustle of the city centre. In later years these richer inhabtants of the city moved to other areas such as Rodney Street, north Liverpool/Kirkdale and West Derby. Toxteth became covered in vast swathes of Victorian terraces, built to house the ever-expanding working classes who kept the factories and docks going.

For more information, see the Toxteth pages of the Historic Liverpool website.