It’s January 18th, a beautiful cold and sunny winter’s day. And we’re off to the river.
Those of us who live in Liverpool love the city for many, many reasons. But there is only one reason why there’s a city here at all, and that’s the river.
On Friday Walks we’ve shown you the next river to the south of here, the Dee, and how it’s been silting up since the thirteenth century. Liverpool was founded in that same century, seven streets laid out by the side of a pool, on the mighty River Mersey. So beginning a story of shipping, commerce, slavery, docks, industry, famine, wartime, humour, music and football, amongst many other things, that I may tell you parts of on another day. (And that you can see beautifully and dramatically presented last summer, on the front of the Liver Building, here.)
No, today I want to tell you the story of one day, my day.
It’s Saturday and I wake up, arms cold outside the sheets. Looking down at the iced up cars, I see there’s been the first frost of a, so far, unnaturally warm year. I’m happy to see it. Even happier to put on my running gear and go out into it. Only a mild frost as it turns out, and no danger to run in. But on a beautiful, sunny morning in the winter it’s good to feel a bit cold and have to run for longer than usual before warming up.
Back in the house, showered and dressed, I know it’s going to be an outside sort of day, and I know where I’m going. Sarah’s off to Plot 44. And I’m going down to the river.
It’s an elemental thing that happens to me every now and then, the pull of the river. And given the kind of day it is, and all the time I have, it feels right to walk. Four miles or so, from our front door to where I want to go, the Pier Head, the place you mostly see when you see pictures of Liverpool. So, taking only my camera and phone I set off. Down our street, across Smithdown Road, along to Ullet Road, down the side of Sefton Park, to Croxteth Road, past Princes Park, along Princes Avenue, and turning down Upper Parliament Street, where I start to take pictures.
And I go in. Opinions are divided about the building itself, the fate of all new buildings, but the fact of the Museum of Liverpool‘s existence, has been the cause of deep joy and great popularity here in the city. Because it’s a whole museum about our favourite subjects, ourselves and our wondrous place! When Sarah and I first visited, the day after it opened, last Summer, with tears in my eyes I gave it the deepest compliment known to Liverpool-kind. ‘Well, I couldn’t have done that any better myself.’
The Museum had opened with one floor not yet ready, but it’s just opened now, so obviously I’m keen to see it. Up the grand, central spiral staircase and here it is. There are other things on this floor, but I’m just here to see one. Because it’s my earliest memory, The Liverpool Overhead Railway. Yes, once we had a glorious and magical thing. A railway that emerged from an underground station in the Dingle (not that far from where we live now), swept out of a cliff side, and went, elevated, right along the miles and miles of Liverpool docks, up to Seaforth Sands, where the river sweeps out into the Irish Sea. A glorious and magical thing that was closed in 1956 because the city chose not to meet the cost of maintaining it. But my parents loved it, and so they took me on it as a tiny baby. And I never forgot, particularly the sound of the rattle of the wooden carriages, quite unlike any other train. So today, the great big, grown up me walks into, and sits down in my baby place. A perfectly restored Liverpool Overhead Railway carriage.
But, bless them, the current-day children of Liverpool are all in here too. So my sacred moments with my memories will have to wait for another, quieter day. Not that I’ve yet seen a quiet day in the Museum of Liverpool. I leave.
Before moving on, a word about where we’re standing. Though it’s got all these great heavy buildings on it, we’re actually standing on what was the old George’s Dock. And the foundations of these buildings go down into the water. (Sarah and I have been into the basement of one of them, the Mersey Tunnel ventilation shaft, and looked through to the foundation arches of the neighbouring buildings, standing in water.) The George’s Dock was the slaving dock. Obviously not many slaves were brought to Liverpool, that wasn’t the point of the genocidal exercise. But the ones who did were sold here. (And the road behind the Liver Building is still called The Goree, an island off the coast of Senegal, which was one of the places where captured slaves were kept before being shipped off to America.) So, there’d be no Liverpool without the River Mersey. But there’d never have been such a rich Liverpool without the slave trade. And every time I stand here, particularly, I’m sorry. And I remember the words at the entrance to the International Slavery Museum at the Albert Dock, ‘Remember not that we were slaves, but that we fought.’
And now, as the afternoon wanes, I’m getting hungry. There’s a kind of loose arrangement that I’m going to meet Sarah up in Bold Street to eat. So I set off for there. But on the way, when I ring her at Plot 44 she tells me she’s having such a good time, and a fire too, that she’s going to stay on the allotment until it’s dark. Fair enough. So I go to Bold Street anyway. Have my late afternoon lunch at this lovely new Moroccan place that’s just opened. And then walk home along Smithdown Road as the blue sky fades to black. A perfect day.