2012: Friday Walks, The Dockers’ Steps

A very wet walk this week. Along a route that will also be a run for a future ‘Running Free’ post.

Last Friday, in the howling rain, we didn’t go for a walk. So this week, even though it was raining again, we were determined not to be put off.

And we went for a local walk. From Sefton Park and Lark Lane we set off towards the river.

Across Aigburth Road and down the long terraced streets.

Past Dingle Vale allotments, a railway track runs right through the middle of these.

Down through the Dingle to, well, what’s this?

Prince Rupert’s Tower, Everton.

It’s obviously very old. And there’s something very similar to it in Everton, to the North of the city. When I worked in Everton, many years ago, people told me this was a Napoleonic tower, built as a look-out place in the early 19th century, when it was feared Napoleon was about to invade Britain. And it was said it had a ‘secret’ tunnel running from under it, down to the waterfront. And ever since then I’ve accepted this as the truth. Can’t find this ‘truth’ anywhere now though. It’s apparently an old Bridewell or lock-up, and was built in 1787. So around the time I’d thought, but for a different reason. Unless anyone reading this knows better?

Anyway, this one in the Dingle looks similar, though built of brick rather than sandstone.

And whatever it was for, people were obviously much shorter back then, as you can see from this bricked up doorway.

Anyway, we’re soon arriving at one of the most dramatic collections of streets in Liverpool. Cockburn Street, Grafton Street and all the steep roads in between.

Garswood Street, Liverpool 8.

Sloping down towards a dramatic sandstone cliff, overlooking the river. These are the ‘Bread’ streets, where the celebrated/notorious early 1980s TV series was based. A series that, at a time when the city of Liverpool and its inhabitants, were under sustained and vicious attack from a Conservative government that had half a mind to simply abandon us, poked fun at what it portrayed as the dishonest survival instincts of the working classes.

Well never mind that, because we’re now approaching Liverpool’s greatest monument to those working classes, the Dockers’ Steps.

These are a precious piece of Liverpool working class history that have miraculously survived, though the docks they helped the dockers to get to, from their houses at the top of the cliff, are long gone. Until very late in the day, all Liverpool dock work was done as daily, casual labour. With men queuing at the dock gates each morning to see if they’d be taken on to work that day. So every time I walk down here I hear the footsteps of my ancestors. Who fought relentlessly for justice and fair pay. And at the bottom of the steps there is this wonderful mural about the history of my people, the people I am from and the people I love, the Liverpool working class. This sacred piece of art was painted in 2008 by Alan Murray, of Artworks Liverpool, along with several young people from the Dingle and the rest of Liverpool 8.

Just after this there is a piece of land marked ‘Private, do not enter’ – so obviously, we do.

And Sarah, as ever, engages in a bit of botany!

And now we are at the river, the River Mersey.

The glory that is Dingle Beach!

And walking upriver from here we arrive at another curious bit of Liverpool history, the site of the 1984 International Garden Festival. This was a post-1981 riots attempt to regenerate Liverpool by making it ‘nice’. As this BBC film from the time says, ‘After 81 they gave us flowers’ – (and by the way, I am deeply proud of the fact that very young versions of me and my friends Vicky Nurse, Ray Quarless and Michael Desson fleetingly appear in this film).

Well, the Garden Festival was such an integral part of Liverpool culture that the land was soon abandoned and overgrown. At one stage we, a sense of place, tried to get hold of it to run a Beatles based social enterprise with our friends from the Furniture Resource Centre, but you’ll have to wait for a future episode of our story to hear more about that.

At the moment, after many years of dereliction, the site is about to re-open as the Festival Gardens. A manicured piece of parkland is now ready, but there’s no sign of the accompanying ‘residential development’ being started, in a city already over supplied with empty apartments.

Oh that we should be so lucky.

Walk nearly over, we come into St Michael’s for two final bits of history.

St Michael’s wood, the abandoned garden of the former home of the Melly family. One of whom was the celebrated writer, jazz singer and bon viveur, George Melly.

Remembered, and defaced, in the name of a nearby street.

And lovely St Michael’s Church. A Grade One listed building, constructed round a cast iron frame.

And finally, the rain still pouring down, we arrive at shelter and lunch. Our favourite café.

Greendays in Lark Lane.

Dry at last!

So you’ll hear more of this walk, when it’s done as a run. Someday soon!

And here are the tunnel entrances Stan is talking about in his comment below. This picture taken a few years ago.

19 thoughts on “2012: Friday Walks, The Dockers’ Steps

  1. Jan Baird

    What a fabulous walk. I was right there with you, if not in person, in spirit. I didn’t know you had a Dingle, as does Ireland. Very fascinating. Thank you a million. xx

  2. stan cotter

    Hi Ronnie, a fantastic article on where I was dragged up owld lad. Can I add this:

    The Melly house in Aigburth, by the Dingle Field, my mother used to work there in service.

    The brick tube you ask about was and still is an air vent for the Liverpool underground railway. It’s off Dingle Road by Matthew Arnold school (maggie anne). There are two others one at the top of Badminton Street and one half way down Althorp Street (the Shore Fields where “Bread” was made).
    The one with the low doorway, I reckon that is also one of the railway’s vents, most likely the one by Dingle Road and the brickwork is just a repair job not a doorway.

    The street you show down to Grafton Street and taken from Cockburn Street , Garswood Street is one of a number of streets known as the ‘Shore Fields’. When my mother was a girl they were just fields and underneath are the “caves”- called casements that were built in Napoleonic times as storage for armaments eg explosives.

    The Dockers Steps at the end of Grafton Street (gravy), there used to be a policeman’s hut at the top and a pc on duty always chased us kids away.
    The Dingle Shore, we as kids knew it as the cast iron shore or the cazzy and it was a day out with jam sarnies and a lemonade bottle full of water playing in the sand while your mother sat in the sun. We had to pass an open sewer to get down to it, it stunk. It was down the bottom past St Michael’s station.

    The Melly family also used to live in Sandringham Drive off Aigburth Road, Liverpool 17. My wife’s step mother used to be their cleaner there.

    I lived in Homer Street until 18yr old and joined RAF, and then married and lived in the Dingle, and still do. My mates in Homer Street, Tony and Terry McKevitt, also Colin Carter, Richie Unwin and Derek North, we used to look at the posh houses and think ‘I wish i lived in one, but I tell you, in retrospect I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

    Thanks for a great article mate, Stan Cotter

    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thank you Stan, this makes a lot of things much clearer about the ‘brick tubes’. Should have realised they were over the railway. Though that tunnel must actually be the beginning of the old Liverpool Overhead railway mustn’t it? Before it used to emerge out of the cliff face by the Herculaneum Dock. We went in that tunnel a few years ago, it had become part of a motor mechanic’s garage, they had old classic cars stored all the way down the tunnel!

      Never knew about the Shore Fields caves and what they were used for.

      And what harm were you going to do to the Docker’s Steps by walking down them? Shows we’ve always been surrounded by bossy people who’s main aim in life is to stop us doing, well, anything.

      And any memories from your mother or your wife’s step mother of what the Melly’s were like to work for? I knew they had the house around Sandringham (although I remember it as being in Ivanhoe Road) because I worked for the place that did it up early in the 1980s. And George Melly came and ‘opened’ it when we’d finished.

      Thanks again Stan. Really good to get true history from a human, not a history book!

      1. stan cotter

        Yes Ronnie, thanks for your comments.

        If you check the railway tunnel from the dock road (Sefton Street) you will see there are two tunnels one called the LOR (Liverpool Overhead Railway) new extension (Herciulaneum Dock station used to be the terminus up to that time)- but underneath there’s another tunnel which is the Southport to Hunts Cross line. And originally it was steam, hence the vents of course, now its all electrified. All the area where Brunswick rail station is was all rail track from the wall right down to the dock road.

        Where the tunnel enters the wall if you look to your left you will see what looks like two sandstone gateposts now bricked up. This was the
        iron bridge, entrance to Herculaneum Dock station and the docks.

        Police on the box in graft on street? In those days all below the railed fence in Grafton Street, right at the bottom, was all docks and drydocks
        and a dock where the boats used to come and bunker up with coal. Thats why we got chased, we were always too fast for him anyway.

        If I think of anything else my friend I will let you know. You’ve opened a literal can of worms in our memory now.
        Regards, Stan

  3. stan cotter

    Just one bit of the useless stuff Ronnie,
    The street Garswood Street was one of the locations used in the tv series ‘Boys from the black stuff‘. When the old guy in the wheel chair had died and the priest was drunk and sick in the backyard. They then walked up the back entry to a pub. Could never understand though as the pub they went into was up the North end, Scotty Road or Great Howard St, not sure now.

    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Yes, I remember that Stan,
      The pub was the Green Man, opposite to where the Tate and Lyle factory used to be. But it’s not as if there weren’t plenty of pubs by Garswood Street those days is it? Maybe they were all reluctant to have any of their customers thrown out of the window!

  4. stan cotter

    Oh please my dear boy,
    We are above such things as throwing people through the windows in the Dingle, especially if an open door was handy!

  5. Mandy

    This is a fascinating little piece of social history. I’m thinking about those hopeful men probably hurrying down all those steep steps hoping to get a job that day. Although the Garden Festival was a nice idea but obviously totally impractical. The funding could have made a big difference to all those people who needed housing and other services. The ventilation shafts were interesting too – beautifully built out of brick. I liked the street scenes with the rows of terrace houses.

    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Hi Mandy, good to hear from you all the way from Australia on here. The rows of terraced houses are one of the great glories of Liverpool. We live in one, and lots of us have had to work very hard over the years to preserve and restore them.
      And yes, the Garden Festival was impractical and totally ignored the needs of so many in its immediate vicinity at the time. But the Secret Garden that’s quietly grown in its ruins is, to my surprise, a delight.

  6. Yvonne

    I was looking through some old photographs a couple of months ago, and saw the steps. I decided I needed to see these – and tomorrow I’m going on a walk to this area. Before going I googled, in an attempt to find out more information and discovered your blog! Thank you so much for this – even more to see than I first thought.

  7. Dave evans

    Think I’ve reached that age of reminiscing!
    (born horsfall Grove, 1960 attended mathew arnold)
    Great site you have.
    Cheers, dave evans

  8. Toni Lynn Quinnell

    I love this! I love your sense of your surroundings, and I’m so glad you shared your findings. I truly appreciate your sense of pride in your city and that of those who went before you. I am from Chicago, as were my ancestors who came from Ireland and Belgium. I love Chicago history, but I left many years ago for several reasons.

    Mr. Chicago Husband Boy died, and I am now married 5 years to a British man from West Sussex (#monetaryrequirement). I have him convinced that we are relocating to Lpool when I LEGALLY immigrate in. He’s not as excited about getting to the city as I am. It’s closer than Florida, I tell him. Yesterday I asked the solicitor if Tony, my husband, can continue living in Sussex with elderly Mum, as I take the money from the sale of the Florida house and buy a house on the ‘Bread’ streets. I told the lawyer that Tony can come up for conjucal visits. Tut. Mumsy is not on my immediate schedule. He said sure, because “You’re coming in legally”. Lol. “Great!” I said. Perfect! “You made my day! It’s too expensive down there, and too close to Mumsy. She can continue ironing. That was in the prenup (lol). I don’t iron, and a clothes dryer will be in the living room if necessary, but there will be one. I have a clothes dryer trick to get the wrinkles out whilst clothes dry.

    I wondered what those streets were called! Are they really affectionately known as the Bread streets? I liked the slope and the water when I saw the old programne on YouTube, and have my heart set on them.

    We’ve been to Liverpool, only for 3 days, and that was it for me! I’m musical, artsy, have the gift of gab, and love old cities. I’m ready to stick my head in the oven here in the middle of nowhere Florida. Ha haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

    Thank you and I’ll watch for your articles. A fellow Scouser sent me this interesting (and hilarious ) item. Please send my regards to he botanist. TLynn Rooney Quinnell

    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      I call them the Bread streets. Not sure if the people who live in them do though. They are extremely beautiful and I’m certain you’ll be really happy there. This is a wonderful place.


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