This week we get an updated list of the heritage at risk on Merseyside, see a unique perspective on how Liverpool has changed over the last few decades, plus some personal points of view on Liverpool and its past.
Posts tagged ‘landscape’
Today is International Women’s Day, and to mark the occasion this edition of the ‘Liverpool Heroes’ series (see the last post’s coverage of J.A. Brodie) discusses a remarkable women whose effects on Liverpool were felt for decades after her death.
Kitty Wilkinson’s story is classic Victorian Liverpool: born in Londonderry in 1786, Wilkinson moved to Liverpool with her parents when she was just 8 years old. Tragically her father and sister were drowned at the end of the crossing when their ferry hit the Hoyle Bank.
Despite being faced with the terrible hardships of the time, she was known for opening her house to anyone who needed help. One of the services this entrepreneurial woman took on was to allow people to use her house and yard to wash their clothes for a penny a time. During a cholera outbreak in 1832 she offered her scullery boiler to all who wished to wash their clothes and linen.
This proved so popular that her cellar gradually evolved into a wash house. None of those who worked here became infected by cholera, so effective were her disinfection efforts (e.g. the use of bleach to help clean clothes), and Kitty’s efforts led directly to the opening of the first public wash house. This was in Upper Frederick Street, and opened in 1914.
Given support by the District Provident Society and William Rathbone, Wilkinson was made superintendent of bath, and through the newspapers was crowned ‘Saint of the Slums’.
In 2010 it was announced that a statue was to be erected in her honour, and would be placed in St Georges Hall. As councillor Flo Clucas, who campaigned for the statue, said: “Through rising from abject poverty to achieve lasting reforms in public health Kitty Wilkinson is a real inspiration for every woman in this city.”
So how did Kitty Wilkinson shape the landscape? She pioneered the public wash house movement, and the last wash house closed only around a decade ago. The Upper Frederick Street building was a monument to her efforts, and in a sense the rest of the wash houses were also. In less concrete terms she also affected the human landscape of Liverpool. For the first time there was a place to go to clean your clothes properly, and the effects on stemming the spread of disease through the city are a legacy of Kitty Wilkinson’s generosity and hard work. This woman was a testament to fact that even those born into the poorest levels of society can make a massive difference to the built and experienced landscape.
For an overview of the history of personal hygiene read Clean: An Unsanitised History of Washing by Katherine Ashenburg.
In writing about the historic landscape of Liverpool, it’s often the case that the people get mislaid, or hidden from the narrative. This post is the first in a series which aims to redress the balance, and ties in (rather loosely) with Liverpool’s Year of Radicals. These people weren’t radical in a left-wing sense (some far from it) but they were the pioneers, the bringers of change. They certainly left their mark on the landscape, some in subtle ways. A couple of these people are obvious choices, and some less so. Either way I hope you learn something new and interesting.
And so without further ado, and in no particular order, we begin with…
J.A. Brodie (1858 – 1934)
J.A. Brodie was the Liverpool city engineer from 1898 and due to his achievements was the first local authority engineer to be made President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. The list of accomplishements is impressive, as is the effect he had on the shape of the city.
Brodie was one of the first to suggest an electric tram system for Liverpool. The city’s electric trams ran from 1898 to 1957, and even today the tracks pop up from time to time during roadworks. The central reservations where the trams often ran along main roads are still to be seen in Queens Drive and Prescot Road.
He proposed the development of a ring road, the aforementioned Queens Drive. Roads such as Black Horse Lane in Old Swan were diverted or straightened and widened in the 1920s and 30s. At this time the suburban sprawl of West Derby, Tue Brook and Childwall were yet to be realised, but even today Queens Drive holds up well with the volume of traffic which couldn’t have been foreseen 90 years ago.
In 1905 the first pre-fab concrete tenements were built in Eldon Street. Brodie had been experimenting with concrete as a solution to the housing shortage, and in 1905 he exhibited a pre-fab cottage at the Cheap Cottages Exhibition in Letchworth. There’s probably little need to elaborate on the use of pre-fab concrete in Liverpool buildings in later years, but for better or worse (and despite trade union opposition to Liverpool’s production of concrete prefab parts) J.A. Brodie was a pioneer here.
As if being responsible for one of Liverpool’s major thoroughfairs, and a pioneer in building technology we still live with wasn’t enough, Brodie also put forward the idea for the East Lancs road, so that we can more quickly get to our neighbours in Manchester. And finally, of course, he invented the goal net, an invention of which he was particularly proud.
So: J.A. Brodie: engineer, architect, footy dispute preventer. And a man who’s effect on the landscape of Liverpool can be seen almost a century after he died.
This year has been declared as the International Year of Forests by the UN (see the Echo for some of Liverpool’s plans).
Many of you may already appreciate the ecological importance of the west coast of Lancashire, and the very modern Mersey Forest (8 million new trees planted since 1994), but there’s a much longer and fascinating history of woodland and forest in this area.
The origins of the woodland
As the glaciers of the last ice age began to retreat about 12 – 10,000 years ago the dry land left behind became tundra – a cold, dry landscape only slowly populated with shrubs, moss and lichen.
Only gradually did the first woodland – larger plants such as juniper, then birch, hazel, elm and oak – establish themselves. By around 5000 years ago a forest we might call familiar – oak and elm – had become permanent features of the landscape. It was around this time that humans made their first impacts on the natural environment.
The earliest periods of human activity in the north west of England are the Mesolithic and Neolithic (the middle and new stone ages). As the effects of melting ice had not fully taken effect, the sea was around 20m lower than it is today. If you’ve visited the Crosby coast you’ll know just how shallow the slope of the land is, and so the coast was 15-20km further out than it is now.
It wasn’t only humans and animals which occupied this land, but of course also the trees of the widespread oak woodland. As the sea level rose and the land was flooded, these trees were submerged and protected under layers of water and silt. The petrified remains of tree stumps can therefore still be seen at low tide right across the coast from Anglesey to Southport.
As well as the drowned trees, areas further inland would have suffered from periodic flooding and water-logging, creating marshy ground, ponds and streams.
By the Neolithic, gaps started to appear in the woodland, trees being felled by humans, who used the land for their first attempts at farming.
As time moved on through the subsequent Bronze and Iron Ages (and into the Roman period), wherever people settled the forest was cleared. The climate had also become colder and wetter again at the beginning of the Bronze Age, and so marshlands and bogs spread to replace tree cover.
One of the major sources of evidence for medieval settlement in the region comes from place names, but these often give little glimpse of the woods of the period (they mostly talk of ‘British farm’, ‘boundary river’ and ‘settlement’). An exception is West Derby (deorby = enclosure with deer, or a hunting park), and we know that Edward the Confessor had a hunting lodge in the area (possibly that which once sat on Lodge Lane). This suggests that the landscape (perhaps for many miles beyond West Derby itself) was covered in trees and pasture – suitable habitat for the deer.
It’s important at this point to define a special use of the word ‘Forest’. A Royal Forest was not just a collection of trees; it was a space likely enclosed by a bank and ditch, known as a pale, perhaps even with a fence on top, and came with a whole host of regulations, privileges and restrictions on its use.
Roger of Poictou, one of William of Normandy’s allies in the invasion of 1066, was rewarded with the Hundred of West Derby, and brought Toxteth, Croxteth and Smithdown into one royal forest, cementing West Derby’s administrative importance then, and paving the way for Liverpool’s birth two hundred years later.
Toxteth and its Park
Toxteth remained as a fenced-off royal park for hundreds of years, and in fact the restrictions on building or farming in royal parks began to hinder Liverpool’s growth in the 16th Century. James I eventually ‘disparked’ Toxteth in 1604, and entrepreneurial farmers rapidly began to take advantage of the newly available land, transforming it from tree-and-pasture to pastoral and arable land.
While there was no longer much royal passion for hunting in Liverpool, the city grew rapidly in the 17th and 18th Centuries, and farming, industry and housing nibbled away at the edges of rural Lancashire. It was only in the late 19th Century that efforts were made to preserve some of these green and pleasant areas for both the rich merchant classes who lived in Toxteth, and the poorer workers who occupied much of the inner city and inner suburbs (Kirkdale, Everton and eventually also Toxteth).
For this reason we have a string of parks around the old city boundary, two of which – Princes and Sefton Parks – could be said to have remained undeveloped right from the era of the medieval hunting forest (although whether any of the trees there today have such a long pedigree is questionable!).
Woodland on Merseyside
We leave off where we came in: with the Mersey Forest. This modern project could be said to be the successor to the ‘green lungs’ of Liverpool which were opened in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. It could also be seen to be restoring the natural woodland which covered the area for millennia before Liverpool started to thrive.
The ancient woodland of this part of the world developed gradually after the last ice age, but was slowly cleared by prehistoric communities of humans who used the land to farm and rear animals. This process was slow at first, of course, and eventually much of the woodland was fenced off and protected from change by royal order.
Over the past 200 years industrial and commercial concerns saw the clearance of almost all the woodland, until the city’s benevolent (or self-interested) rich put new walls in place, to protect parks for the benefit of all the city’s inhabitants. Still the environment deteriorated in the face of human action until the later years of the 20th Century. Preservation of natural resources became a much more prominent concern, and in 1994 the Mersey Forest was created as ‘woodlands on your doorstep’.
The project, via the Mersey Forest partnership, has had great success in regenerating woodland on Merseyside, as set out in their ‘5 Facts’:
- Through community and partnership working, we have planted more than 8 million trees.
- To date more than 6,000 hectares of new woodland and improved habitats have been achieved, an area 500 times the size of Wembley Stadium.
- Since 1994, more than 70% of the woodlands in The Mersey Forest have been brought into management to secure their long-term future.
- For every £1 invested in The Mersey Forest, £8 of outputs is generated, thanks to the way we maximise our funding.
- 60% of people living in The Mersey Forest use their local woodlands – with nearly 20% visiting at least once a week.
So in this International Year of Forests, take some time to appreciate Liverpool’s long forest history, and hope that Merseyside’s woodlands will continue to thrive for millennia more.
The local landscape is playing a major part in snowy events on Merseyside this winter. Salt companies in Cheshire are finding a boom in trade as councils run low on supplies of grit for roads. British Salt Ltd in Middlewich is apprarently running 24/7 and still having trouble keeping up with demand.
Ineos in Runcorn is also helping out, with 12,000 tonnes of salt having already left their depot.
Salt has been an incredibly important industry in Cheshire since at least Roman times, and almost certainly prior to that. Middlewich, Nantwich, Northwich and Winsford are all historic salt mining locations. Middlewich was even called Salinae by the Romans, showing how important the location was for salt (salt was, in turn, of extreme importance during the Roman period. Salt could be used as currency, leading to the modern English word ‘salary’).
Liverpool 100 years ago
The Echo are starting a new history series, looking at Liverpool 100 years ago. The first, introductory article talks about monarchs, strikes and riots, the Titanic and the Suffragettes.
The main photo in the article shows the Mersey in 1907. Of the major Pier Head/Strand buildings only the Port of Liverpool Building has been built, and it stands head and shoulders above everything else in the viscinity. What a change! This building now feels right in the centre of the commercial district, but at the beginning of the 20th Century this merely meant the docks and the Overhead Railway. The other two Graces, and Tower Building etc, are yet to be contructed, and yet to take their place as the centrepiece in Liverpool’s skyline.
Liscard Hall not to be rebuilt
Finally, news reaches us that Liscard Hall, which burned down in 2008, will not be rebuilt. The Hall was built by Sir John Tobin, one time mayor of Liverpool and successful trader. The grounds of what was once known as Moor Heys House became Central Park in 1891.
Plans now include landscaping of the gardens, and linking them more successfully with the nearby rose garden.
See the Geograph page for National Grid Reference SJ3191 site for a photo of the Hall and Central Park.
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).
Nina Simon, a museum blogger I greatly admire and enjoy reading, recently posted on the topic of ‘exclusive’ places, and the odd way in which people find them more welcoming than more public spaces. She was referring to museums, which can be both public spaces and yet sometimes seem exclusive (to ‘museum-y people’), but everywhere in the landscape can have a sense of exclusivity, to a greater or lesser extent. There’ll be parts of Liverpool you love going to, and which you like because you know ‘your’ people will be there: those with similar interests, from similar backgrounds, of similar age or profession, even people dressed similarly. There’ll be other places which you’d never set foot in: either you simply never go to that part of town, or you avoid drinking in that pub, going into those shops/restaurants. These places make you feel awkward, out of place, nervous, or it may be that they just don’t ‘do’ what you like. Then there are places which change from one type to another over your lifetime: perhaps you grow into them (that pub again) or out of them (playground, playing fields, the street where you grew up).
You may go with friends, or alone, but they are all places which reinforce your feeling of who you are, and who you aren’t. You can share these special places with the right friend; you get that glow from sharing an exclusive place and introducing someone new to something cool.
When I was but a young geek, my friends and I would go to Palace on Slater Street, for all our collectible card game needs! The place was full of other weird and wonderful shops: antiques, piercings, records, books, junk… Quiggins, in its School Lane incarnation, was similar: I loved the cafe on the top floor, and exploring the darkest, strangest recesses of the other shops. Both those places I knew my parents, and my more ‘mainstream’ classmates, would never go. They were my places, and my friends’ places.
Then there is the garden behind Blue Coat Chambers. I was first taken there by a Geography teacher while on a field trip (with 29 other lads, I’ll have you know). It was a little-known backstreet oasis, with a couple of benches, plants and trees. Neglected, maybe, but not overgrown, it seemed like a bit of a secret getaway. This year I went back, possibly for the first time in (yikes) ten years, with my fiancée. It’s had a complete makeover, along with the Chambers themselves, but still maintained an air of quiet solitude, somewhere to escape the massive and modern Liverpool One just over the wall. I felt that sense of showing someone that place for the first time, a place which had been shared with me and a handful of (slightly rowdy) others years before.
There are countless other places which are ‘mine’: parks at Croxteth, Springfield, Sefton, Calderstones (and the corners within them), where I spent parts of my childhood, and which I still visit. If I choose to share these places, at the same time I want to keep them secret, and not to share them with too many people lest they lose that exclusiveness, that specialness.
Which are your ‘exclusive places‘? Are they, like in Nina’s examples, museums? Exhibits? A corner of a gallery? Or one of Liverpool’s parks, or independent shops? Are they big places, or small? Do you share them? Where do you feel you are most you, and how does the location of that place in the landscape affect this? Is it near home? Far from home? In a side street? Right in the limelight with the other trendy people?
Will you share it with the readers of some archaeology blog? 😉
National Museums Liverpool are putting on an exhibition at the Oomoo cafe on Smithdown Road, showcasing the way in which the road has changed over the years, reports Art in Liverpool. The exhibition, which runs throughout September, will consist of photographs and stories – the memories of old and young who live and have lived in the area – to build a picture of Smithdown Road over time.
This is precisely the thing I’m trying to do with Historic Liverpool, and it just goes to show that there is an audience out there for this kind of history, this landscape archaeology of a single road! It’s incredibly important when writing about history in such a public arena that you connect with what the audience wants, and not what you want to tell them (unless you’re confident you have a new and interesting angle, of course!). That this exhibition actively involves the local residents is excellent; they are the main audience after all. It’s a shame I don’t think I’ll be able to make it, but hopefully I can learn something from this. I know my own site is quite one-sided at the moment (I’m trying the interesting angle, which hopefully isn’t covered by other similar sites), so in future I will try to add stuff more directly related to the people of Liverpool. After all, the aim of the site is to give you insight into the history of your area, help you explore and encourage you to get out there and see the place in a new light.
I’m still finalising the comments arrangements, but soon you’ll be able to hold forth on pretty much any page, so please do!
Historical notes: Smithdown, once known as Esmedune, was a manor mentioned in the Domesday Book, and was part of the royal forest of Toxteth, used for hunting.
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.
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.
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.
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.