A story of a place lost and one about to be found again. Mourning somewhere gone, with photographs found years ago in the Liverpool Central Library, which opens its doors once again, this Friday.
The Library closed for major regeneration works three years ago. And since then, its archive of historical photographs has had to be held in storage while the works took place. But all is now ready, the books and archives have been moved back in and the doors of our beautiful looking new library are about to open. I can hardly wait.
But for now, let’s go back fifty years or so, for a story of a time when Liverpool took to calling itself the ‘City of change and challenge.’ Newspaper headlines about things like the ‘Shankland Report’ and even our franked envelopes throughout the 60s bore this heady title.
I was a small boy then and had grown used to living in a city still scarred by the battering it had taken in the Second World War. But at long last, along with our pop singers and footballers starting to dominate their leagues and charts, it looked like our future was arriving.
I can still remember futuristic drawings from futuristic planning reports in the Liverpool Echo then of stick like figures striding around clean and clear modern concrete landscapes, where all the trees were thin and all the dogs had gone missing. And I can also remember my Dad shaking his head and saying ‘They’ll be sorry if they build that.’
I wasn’t sorry. We went to a wedding in a social room of one of the new tower blocks in Everton just after it had opened. And I wanted to live there. The Echo told me the old houses they were pulling down by the thousand were ‘slums’ and needed to go, and I believed them. Because I was part of the future too, and the future was clean and new.
As the 60s went on I did start wondering why the motorway hadn’t arrived yet. I’d seen the plans for something called the M62 sweeping into the city centre and couldn’t imagine what was keeping them.
I was young and naive, of course, so didn’t pause to think about the level of destruction a road and a tunnel like that were going to cause. And for the same reasons, I hadn’t noticed that the needs for such a road were disappearing. The ‘City of Change and Challenge’ was in trouble. Docks were closing, jobs were disappearing.
And hard times would come before better times arrived. But that’s not the story we’re in here. In a pause in time between the motorway arriving out at Queen’s Drive on the edge of the city on the map above, but coming no further, I want to show you what its expected arrival did to that bit of the city bordered by the proposed tunnel and ‘M62 Upper Parliament Street.’
Here, preparations were made for the future. Homes were condemned, allowed to degenerate and cleared. For the new motorway. In streets that would have looked a bit like this if they were still with us today.
Because the truth is, our Canning area of glorious Georgian Streets used to stretch further and wider than it does now. Along Upper Parliament Street to the Lodge Lane crossroads.
These photographs, mostly from the Liverpool Central Library show what it looked like. All taken in 1965 and 66.
As the 1960s turned into the 70s the abandoned ‘Motorway’ plan turned into an ‘Inner Ring Road.’ Which still required the obliteration of what you see here. And people lived on in desperate conditions.
Partially condemned, the whole area, including what was later saved declined steeply. This was Falkner Square before Liverpool Housing Trust renovated it.
I first walked along Canning Street and into Falkner Square in 1973 when I started at Liverpool University. And it was clear to me then that the future had stalled.
Then one day in 1974 I remember me and a couple of friends borrowing a van to go and pick up a piano from the ‘top end’ of Falkner Street. The owner was getting rid of it because she was finally leaving. Her house was being demolished the next week. The days of ‘upper Canning’ were over.
By the end of the next year I was working for Liverpool Housing Trust and we were doing our best with the area of Canning that had survived. And only last week I so enjoyed walking around its sunny streets.
And of course we’ve moved on. A city recovers. Like from a bruise, an injury, a bodily loss. We move on, we have to. But we don’t forget. And sometimes we need to tell the story of what happened here.
And after tomorrow, when the great library is open again, more stories will be able to emerge. Of lives lived, things lost and things gained. In the city of change and challenge.
The Library will open at 10:00 tomorrow morning, 17th May. And be part of the Light Night Liverpool celebrations until midnight.