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Posts tagged ‘politics’

Liverpool’s Radicals

Photograph of the Robert Tressell Banner, made for the Robert Tressell Society in Hastings Taken in June 2005

Robert Tressell Banner, made for the Robert Tressell Society (from Wikimedia)

The theme for 2011 in Liverpool could be said to be a celebration of the city’s heroes. This centres around the anniversary of the death of Robert Tressel, author of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. This ‘socialist novel’ has been described as ‘seminal’, and sought to publicise the author’s criticisms of the greed of capitalism. It was also possibly the first novel about the class war.

Liverpool has a long and proud tradition of philanthropy (and class war…), which are still in evidence today, so although Tressel (born Noonan) had only a fleeting relationship with the city (he died here on his way to Canada in 1911) there is certainly a lot to talk about in this year of Liverpool City of Radicals.

In a couple of future posts I’m going to talk about the radicals, philanthropists and pioneers who have shaped Merseyside’s landscape (in quite broad terms!), but it’s worth starting off with a little round-up of the recent and future events celebrating Liverpool’s influential sons and daughters of all types.

Ragged Trousered Philanthropist

Robert Tressell, who died at the Royal Infirmary and was buried in Walton Cemetery, will be celebrated across February in the city.

A memorial service for the author took place on 3rd February, including a recreation of his funeral. Then, readings from his most famous novel will happen on various days until 15th February.

See the Liverpool City Council Robert Tressell Celebration page for three radical events which happened in 1911, and the plans for this year’s commemorations.

Liverpool Discovers

One thing Liverpool is doing more and more prominently each year is art, and so Liverpool Discovers will be one of the best ways to find out about the great discoveries and inventions which can call Liverpool ‘home’.

Liverpool, the Wirral and St Helens will be the venue for a trail of art installations celebrating the lives of Liverpool’s greats, from Stephenson and his Rocket and Jeremiah Horrocks to suffragette Mary Bamber and Ronald Ross, who discovered malaria’s mode of transmission in the world’s first school of tropical medicine.

There’s now a map for you to download and follow to take in all these artworks, so get your walking shoes on and hit the streets (from 14th February!).

Set in Stone

Slightly less Liverpool-centric, and with a questionable level of focus, is a project which is part of the Central Library redevelopment.

Liverpool City Council wants you to have your say in the selection of works to adorn a ‘Literary Pavement’ leading up to the entrance. Titles from books, cinema and music have been nominated, meaning Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band sits next to The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

As I mentioned, this is less Liverpool-centric, but another element of the project is to have a ‘Literary Liverpool’ display on the rear of the building. This gives all its space to Scousers, including Beryl Bainbridge, the late Brian Jacques, and Robert Tressell himself (ok, so we seem to have fully adopted him as an honorary Scouser).

Your role is to vote for who lands on the Pavement and who sticks to the Wall, so go and vote!

Recommended Reading

Cover of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, by Robert Tressell (Penguin Classics Edition)I must admit I was only vaguely aware of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists before late last year, and had no idea of the Liverpool connection. So I’ve bought the book, and will let you know my thoughts on it if it’s relevant to this blog. I’m certainly looking forward to picking it up, and if you want to buy a copy while supporting this blog, just click on the book cover to the left. If you buy a copy after using that link (even if you choose another edition!) then a small slice of the profits will go into helping this blog break even.

If you do read it (or already have done!) let me know your thoughts! What have philanthropists ever done for Liverpool? Were their gifts to the city just guilt for their own wealthy status (often earned on the backs of the working class)? Or were they truly trying to change Liverpool for the better? Perhaps it was both.

Next time I’ll explore a couple of people who’ve had a ‘radical’ effect on the city. Who should I include?

The British Side of Liverpool Cosmopolitanism

Photograph of the Welsh Presbyterian Church on Princes Road, Toxteth, Liverpool

Welsh Presbyterian Church on Princes Road, Toxteth (Old Liverpool Church, by Exacta2a)

Amongst the many things Liverpool is famous for, its long-held cosmopolitan nature is probably one of those which Scousers are less annoyed at being reminded of.

Liverpool’s long history of being a world port, along with its notorious role in the African slave trade have perhaps more than any other factors stamped their effects on the city’s image as a – cliche alert – ‘melting pot’.

But what I’ve only recently come to appreciate is just how influential incomers from our own isles have contributed to the landscape and character – the atmosphere – of Liverpool. As a landscape archaeologist this has usually been of little interest to me (except where it affects road names and ‘territories’. But since reading Our Liverpool, and now finally making headway with the giant Liverpool 800 book I’ve come to realise just what ‘Liverpool Cosmopolitanism’ can really mean.

I also feel a greater understanding of the way people from all over Britain (the ‘Celtic’ states) come together to make Liverpool the individualistic town it is.

The British in Liverpool

I can’t judge as an expert, but Liverpool 800 draws the lines between the characters of Irish, Scottish and Welsh immigrants fairly clearly

The Liverpool-Irish

The Irish are some of the most famous of Liverpool’s incomers. Both sides of my family (the Crilleys and the Greaneys) came over from Ireland in the 19th Century, and I can guess that a large proportion of Liverpudlians reading this could trace a similar lineage of their own.

A huge number of Irish migrants came over fleeing the potato famine in the middle of the 19th Century. Their numbers rose quickly and they were often stuffed into tiny and unclean court houses. They arrived poor, lived in squalid conditions and had a reputation for harbouring diseases in their communities, and conflicts often arose out of this with their neighbours (see below).

On the other side of the coin, yet still probably due to their great numbers, the Irish community contributed more than other groups to politics. The sectarian troubles of their homeland were brought across the Irish Sea, but in addition to the differences between Protestant and Catholics the Irish community took part in electoral politics. Irish Catholic clergy were elected to School Boards. Pub landlords like Hugh McAnulty and Jack Langan lent their premises to meetings of various activist groups. Austin Harford, a successful cloth merchant, led the Irish Party from 1903 to 1923, and became the first Catholic mayor in 1943.

As Liverpool 800 has it, ‘Liverpool-Irish’ was a distinct ‘hypenated identity’. Even as some sought to distance themselves from their roots as a way to “effect the quickest way out of the Liverpool ‘ghetto'”, it seems that as a distinct group the Irish were very active in all parts of Liverpool life (William Brown, funder of the Museum which sits on the road named after him, was an Ulsterman).

Cymry Lerpwl

The Welsh, in contrast to the Irish, appear at first to have kept themselves to themselves (or “looked after their own”, Liverpool 800, p.345). Having not come as far as the Scottish and Irish, many only stayed as long as it took to make their fortune and move back home. Others came seasonally to work, travelling along the coastal trade routes of north Wales.

This insularity was exaggerated by the language barrier that the Irish never found trouble overcoming. The Welsh were known for their building skills, and the various groups of ‘Welsh Streets’ of ‘Welsh Houses’ became a hallmark. In addition Liverpool became dotted with the Welsh chapels which can still be seen across the city today. In a way these were enclaves which may have helped isolate the Welsh from wider involvement in, for example, politics.

However, in later years there were movements to end this isolation. One of the problems was seen to be the lack of education which Welsh migrants had. Many were labourers and it was felt that this lack of further skills prevented the Welsh from becoming something more than admired builders and architects.

Even as the Eisteddfod and St David’s Day celebrations took place on Merseyside there were encouragements to “Amalgamate … with Anglo-Saxons – in other words, the English”. Though “they loved their language [and] they loved their country” they also “loved their Queen”.

However, perhaps due to their lower numbers, although they took part in electoral politics they never left the mark in the way the Liverpool-Irish did.

Liverpool Caledonians

As Belchem and MacRaild admit in their chapter ‘Cosmopolitan Liverpool’, the Scots are relatively unstudied in their roles within Liverpool history. But the journal Porcupine suggested in 1877 that “had it not been for the enterprise of the Scotchmen, Liverpool would not have emerged from its early obscurity”.

What surprised me therefore was that it was individual Scottish men, rather than communities, which seem to have made their mark on Liverpool. Sir John Gladstone, father of a future Prime Minister, moved to the city from Leith. He was a commercial man, as were many of his fellow Scots, including Samuel Smith, the ‘Cotton King of Liverpool’.

The professional contribution of Scotland was not confined to commerce. Dr. Duncan, the first Medical Officer for Health, was just one of the leading lights in medicine of Scottish origin.

The skilled Scots tended to cluster further from the docks than their Irish contemporaries, right on the outskirts of the north end of the city. This, Belchem and MacRaild tell us, was partly due to no love being lost between the Scottish and Irish. Indeed the reputation of the Irish for living in filthy and overcrowded courts was not confined to the Scots, though perhaps the records left us by those such as Dr Duncan mean we are left in no doubt as to the Scottish opinion.

British Liverpool

As I’ve said, as someone more usually interested in the bricks and mortar of the city, and the landscapes of roads and fields, the topic of people has always played second fiddle to the built environment. But this chapter in Liverpool 800 has give me a glimpse into the roles into which the ‘Celtic’ nations fitted in Victorian Liverpool.

Having said that, one of the things which struck me were the well-defined lines between what the Irish immigrant could expect to find when he arrived from Belfast compared to the life of the Welsh builder or the Scottish shipwright.

Was the truth of the matter so clear cut? I’m sure it wan’t, but what impressions do you get of the Irish, Scots and Welsh in historic Liverpool? Was it the numerous and politicised Irish? The skilled or highly educated middle and upper class Scotsman? And the quiet, insular Welsh communities with their occasional outbursts of Eisteddfod extravaganzas?

Or none of these things?

Heritage in a tough climate – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?

Photo of University of Liverpool and the Cathlic Cathedral, by Neill Shenton

This and That, by neill.shenton via Flickr

I can’t help feeling mixed emotions about recent developments for Liverpool’s heritage.

Yesterday the first object – a carriage from the Overhead Railway – was due to move in to the new Museum of Liverpool (although it was delayed by the weather). But then today we hear that the ever-present ‘current economic climate’ (my, am I getting more sick of that phrase every day) means that the National Conservation Centre, a favourite of mine, and Sudley House are at risk from closure.

The shutting down of the North West Development Agency isn’t looking like good news for our museums and other cultural institutions either. Though they plan to continue their previously NWDA-funded projects.

What is your point of view? Will our heritage projects be nipped in the bud? Or can the museums, galleries and theatres come out of this stronger?

What are the long term implications?

More awards for Merseyside buildings

The Waterstones book shop in the Liverpool One development

Liverpool One by Eugene Regis, via Flickr

Liverpool has once again won a slew of architecture prizes in this year’s RIBA awards.

Awards were given to Liverpool One, Sites 1 & 7, the Pier Head Canal Link (which I personally love, and which is some consolation for the Carbuncle Cup awarded to the Ferry Terminal last year) and the John Moores Art and Design Academy This means that three out of the five North West winners are from Merseyside.

A lot of the awards went to educational projects (including LJMU), and it’s been noted that this may be the last time education has such a chance as this. A moratorium on new school buildings has since been announced as part of the new government’s cost-cutting measures.

Landscapes get Lottery windfall

The Heritage Lottery have announced that they are giving grants of between £250,000 and £2m for ten countryside areas, known for their historic natural landscapes. The aim of the Landscape Partnerships programme is to encourage communities to become interested and involved in preserving their local heritage. While none of the areas nominated this week are urban (or, indeed, man-made), it seems to fit with the Conservative’s ideas of ‘Big Society’, and it may only be a matter of time before this kind of scheme spreads to other heritage areas such as our own World Heritage Site.

Roundup

A few other bits and pieces… The new minister for Heritage and the Built Environment is John Penrose (Conservative), who is also the minister for gambling and horse racing! Make of that what you will.

As part of the BBC’s History of the World project, they showed The Tale of Two Rival Cities. This is the story of Liverpool and Manchester, and how the two most important cities in the north-west vied for supremacy during the Industrial Revolution.

In reality they relied on one another: Liverpool was the gateway for the raw material for Manchester’s cotton manufacturing. It was a symbiosis, but Liverpool gentlemen overtaxed the Manchester men, leading to the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal to avoid Mersey tolls.

It’s a great programme, hosted by Stuart Maconie (from Wigan, halfway between the two cities) and covers everything from slavery and steam engines to gentrification and the trade unions. It’s available on the BBC iPlayer for a short while.

The Financial Times has a special report on its website entitled The Future of Cities. Although I haven’t had a chance to look much into it, it appears to be a huge resource on architecture, business, planning and the environment. If you want to read anything on current urban thinking, then this is probably a good place to start.

And finally: I’ve had to disable trackbacks and pingbacks. These are similar to comments, where a paragraph of your blog will appear below a post of mine if you mention it on your own site. And, like comments, they’re open to abuse by the less salubrious parts of the web. It’s one of the risks of blog-writing, I suppose, but let me take this opportunity to let you know that you can still comment! Please do – I’d love to know your own views on what I’ve written about!

Leave! Before it’s too late!

Although according to one report, it already is too late. Policy Exchange, a ‘right-of-centre’ Think Tank have branded Liverpool (among others) as beyond help. All the regeneration efforts are wasting money – this city on the north west coast will never be as rich as London, so what’s the point? Well, rather than telling us Merseysiders to do ourselves a favour and take a long run off the Pier Head, Tim Leunig and James Swaffield suggest we pack our bags for London. They go on to say that Liverpool has lost the very reason for its existence now that the port is no longer in its Victorian heyday.

Messrs Leunig and Swaffield have concluded that there is no other reason for continuing the rich adventure of life if you are not making as much money as possible. Now that the port of Liverpool is not what is was, Liverpool should just bite the bullet, and shut up shop. Then we can all move to London and start raking in the cash. Of course, Mr. Leunig is London based, but did come to Liverpool once, when researching “cotton towns”, so clearly he knows what he’s talking about…

The Liverpool Echo details the story, as I’m sure will many other sites who object to Bradford, Newcastle, Manchester and Sunderland being dismissed so easily. They also publish his email address: t.leunig@lse.ac.uk. Let him know what you think.

New Beatles Museum, park postscards, and Councillors accused of being intimidating

A new Beatles museum is being planned for the revamped Pier Head, part of the new Pier Head-based Mersey Ferries terminal. While the irony of this association may have been lost on the builders, the new museum will offer visitors a single ticket for both the ferries and the main Beatles Story at the Albert Dock. Jerry Goldman, director of the Beatles Story, said that plans for the main site had to be changed due to lack of space. The space at the Albert Dock will be doubled, but the Pier Head exhibition will allow them to ‘complete the picture‘.

Although not officially falling within Liverpool’s boundary’s, another of Merseyside’s attractions is drawing attention with the release of a set of postcards of Birkenhead Park. Glyn Holden has been collecting the cards since 1972, showing the Grade II listed park, opened in 1847. The design inspired later parks, such London’s Victoria Park, and Central Park in New York. Wirral Council have given £500 to allow the cards to be shown in the parks pavilion exhibition.

Weak finances and lack of a long-term vision have been two accusations levelled at city councillors recently, as part of an audit into the way a number of local councils are run. In addition, the behaviour of councillors in meetings and the ‘leaking’ of information to the press for short-term political gain have been highlighted in the report. This comes less than a month after the news that Liverpool City Council were revealed as the worst-run financially.

New Culture Secretary in his ‘dream job’

In the latest cabinet re-shuffle by Mr Brown, James Purnell has been replaced as Culture Secretary by Andy Burnham, who grew up in Newton-le-Willows. Already he has been to visit his ‘home town’, and given a tour by the director of National Museums Liverpool, David Fleming. Without irony, the ‘lifelong Evertonian’ then went to Anfield to watch Liverpool’s match. Nevertheless, it’s good to see rapid attention paid to Liverpool in its Capital of Culture year. The previous Secretary, James Purnell, trumpeted the importance of heritage in modern society, so naturally some worry about the arrival of yet another MP in this importance position, in this important year. Phil Redmond, Culture Company creative director, noted that as an Evertonian, Andy will have ‘strong cultural and emotional links’ to the city. We can only hope his term in office lives up to promises Phil expresses. Of course, his biggest challenge, as for any culture secretary in these times, is the Olympic Games, and the Cultural Olympiad which runs alongside it.