Photographing ordinary things

If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time you’ll know that, aside from our work and my life with Sarah, one of the main things I do is walk around photographing things. Sometimes extraordinary, like a magnificent landscape, a surprising wildflower or the new baby goslings on the lake. But more often I delight in the ordinary. Knowing that the ordinary is as temporary as everything else and, one day, is as likely to delight or interest us as anything else is. Like, if you were to offer to show me the following two photographs or ones of the Grand Canyon or somewhere else I’ve never been, most days I’d say ‘Show me the Garston ones.’

Saunby Street, Garston in 2002. Awaiting demolition.

Saunby Street, Garston in 2002. Awaiting demolition.

Along with much else of 'Under the Bridge'.

Along with much else of ‘Under the Bridge’ back then.

Sometimes I’ll capture the ordinary shortly before I know it’s going. Or occasionally I’ll capture it accidentally.

Pier Head, Liverpool 2003.

Pier Head, Liverpool 2002.

Little realising the above Ferry Terminal and Restaurant building would so soon be replaced by something equally brutal that I haven’t yet bothered to photograph.

Well today I’ve been reading a book by someone who’s spent his whole life doing much the same thing. Photographing parts of Liverpool hardly anyone else has bothered to.

A few more of my ‘ordinary’ photos though, before we get on to him.

Like a few weeks ago, walking through the damage a recent ‘renovation’ scheme has done to an area of Liverpool near to where we live.

Mulliner Street, 2013.

Mulliner Street, 2013.

Moving the people out of Mulliner Street, 2003.

Seeing the people being moved out of Mulliner Street, 2003.

Quiggins, School Lane, 2004

Quiggins, School Lane, 2004.

Before the 'Paradise Project' began building 'Liverpool One' in 2005.

Before the ‘Paradise Project’ began building ‘Liverpool One’ in 2005.

The building that Quiggins was in, part of it anyway, still stands as part of ‘Liverpool One’. But it contains nothing and no one that Quiggins contained back then, in all of its ragged glory.

You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone? Sometimes you do.

The deeply unlamented Paradise Street Bus Station, 2005.

The deeply unlamented Paradise Street Bus Station and Car Park, 2005.

The equally unlamented Paradise Street Holiday Inn, 2005.

The equally unlamented Paradise Street Holiday Inn, 2005.

On the other hand?

The 'Golden Phoenix' and the Hanover Street multi-storey?

The ‘Golden Phoenix’ and the Hanover Street multi-storey?

Or the 'V-streets' in Anfield, 2005. Much missed by many.

Or the ‘V-streets’ in Anfield, 2005. Much missed by many.

Which brings me to Freddy O’Connor, if for no other reason than he lives in Anfield. Because Freddy, you see, has been doing the kind of thing I do since 1961. And not swanning around with a digital camera and immediately uploading his pictures to whatever a blog would turn out to be. Here’s his brother Frankie, a broadcaster on BBC Radio Merseyside talking about him:

“1961 was the year my younger brother Freddy first pointed his old Box Brownie camera at a subject so close to his heart: ‘the streets of Liverpool’. He was just 13 years old.

Fast forward to 1983, when I called at his home in Anfield, where he still lives, for our usual walk through Stanley Park to Goodison Park and the football match. This particular day Freddy showed me several scrapbook albums containing all his photographs, laid out in order of date, district, year etc. A light went on in my head as I realised that this unique collection could possibly be turned into a local history book.”

And so it was. No ‘proper’ publishers would touch it, so they raised the money and published it themselves as ‘Liverpool, It all came tumbling down’ in 1986. And it had a good life in the more independent minded book shops, and sold by the brothers themselves a while back from a trolley at the Albert Dock. But then it went out of print for 20 years.

Until now it’s come back out in a splendid new edition, keeping the 1986 text but with revisions and updates showing what’s happened since. And some beautiful older photographs showing our mutually beloved place before Freddy began his photographic journey in 1961.

'Liverpool, It all came tumbling down' 2013 edition.

‘Liverpool, It all came tumbling down’ 2013 edition.

I don’t want to show you too much of this treasure trove of ordinary things, the places where people have lived or worked, because the photos belong to Freddy. And because I think that if you have any interest in the history and future of Liverpool you should buy it or order it from your library. But I’ve got to show you some – to encourage you to go and get the book and because they feel, in a way, personal to me.

Canal Street, by Miller's Bridge in Bootle, early 1960s.

Canal Street, by Miller’s Bridge in Bootle, early 1960s, awaiting demolition.

This is part of where I’m from. My mother’s family would move from here, up to Marsh Avenue off Southport Road in Bootle, where she grew up in the 1930s and 40s. But this is where she’s from, down by the docks. And she once told me that she’d often go back here with her own mother ‘To visit our Italian relatives, who still lived there.’ The family name was Gerrard. Still a popular name around Liverpool!

Walton Lane, Liverpool4.

Walton Lane, Liverpool 4.

When I was a baby in the 1950s we lived just around the corner from here, in Diana Street, by Everton’s football ground. And seeing this photograph I realised that being wheeled past these fascinating houses, with shops underneath, is one of my earliest baby memories.Scans4My first proper job was working in a City Council housing office in Benledi Street, off Scotland Road. I was there in 1972 and 73, and we were still managing St Martin’s Cottages. I had no idea then how significant they were.

Lawrence Gardens, Liverpool 3. Being demolished for the second Mersey tunnel, early 1970s.

Lawrence Gardens, Liverpool 3. Being demolished for the second Mersey Tunnel, early 1970s.

We managed Lawrence Gardens too. Just along Scotland Road from our office was a huge building site and hole in the ground, that was the emerging tunnel. And right in the middle of it all stood Lawrence Gardens, with one remaining elderly tenant who refused to move out. In the evening when I finished work I’d see her one light shining in the middle of all the devastation. And she’d regularly make her way across the rubble to tell us she wasn’t going to be moved. But in the end of course she was. And I often think of her even now as we drive into the tunnel through what was once Lawrence Gardens.

The Cathedral, when it had houses in front of it.

The Cathedral, when it had houses in front of it.

This was how the Cathedral looked when I first got to know it, around 1973. Looking like a great cathedral should, I always thought, with people clustered around it. The houses were gone soon after.

1908 OS map, showing the streets then around the Cathedral.

1908 OS map, showing the streets then around the Cathedral.

And finally from ‘Liverpool, It all came tumbling down’ – remember a couple of weeks ago when I talked about the Georgian area of Canning once stretching much further than it does now?

Upper Huskisson Street, empty and awaiting demolition, late 1960s.

Here is Upper Huskisson Street, empty and awaiting demolition, late 1960s.

All for a ring road that never came. If we’d kept it and renovated it then it would have looked something like the far end of Huskisson Street does now.

Huskisson Street, 2013. On an ordinary day.

Huskisson Street, 2013. Magnificent, even on an ordinary day.

So I think it matters, this photographing the streets. And I’m so glad to have this new edition of Freddy O’Connor’s book to add to my collection of essential Liverpool books. It’s more than just a worthy addition, in fact I’ll treasure it. Because the photos above are just a sample of the hundreds the book contains. Photographs of the real Liverpool, where people have lived and worked. I commend it to you.

Mind you, this ‘photographing ordinary things’ doesn’t pass without comment sometimes. Picture this, it’s a sunny day a few weeks ago and, approaching the junction of Smithdown Road and Lodge Lane I’m particularly struck by the image of the Catholic Cathedral appearing over the hill, so I take a photograph. As I do so my musings are interrupted by the harsh laughter of a passing couple. They are laughing at me.

“What the effing hell is he taking a picture of the effing road for?’ she cackles, as they walk on.”

Smithdown Road, 2013.

Smithdown Road, 2013.

And OK it’s not the best photograph I’ve ever taken, but one day – when time has happened – it will be interesting, like all photographs of ordinary things. Ordinary is our life.

I bought my copy of ‘Liverpool, It all came tumbling down‘ at Linghams (Independent Bookshop of the year, 2013) and I’m absolutely sure it will also be available in News From Nowhere in Liverpool or your library (ISBN 978 1 906823 70 2, Published by Countyvise, Birkenhead).

28 thoughts on “Photographing ordinary things

  1. stan cotter

    I can recall the buildings in front of the cathedral, wasn’t there a street called Mount Street?

    I remember shops along Gt George Street frontage, sweets, tobacconist etc. And at one time a Blackledges bread and cake shop. But one thing stands out in my mind, a school with a playground on the roof!

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Nearly right Stan, I’ve checked on my 1908 OS map (always handy!) and the street at the rear of these houses by the Cathedral is called ‘Mount View’.

      Also from the map, I think the school you’re remembering must have been in Nile Street.

      I’ve now added the map to the post.

      Reply
  2. Gerry

    I’ve seen this book in bookshops but never investigated it. I will now. ‘Ordinary is our life’ you say – there’s a local academic and blogger, Joe Moran who writes books about it. See this: http://wp.me/poJrg-3QK Think you’ll like it. Thanks for another great post.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      I’m sure you’ll enjoy it Gerry. I came across the new edition accidentally in Linghams the other day, nearly mistaking it for yet another piece of ‘All our yesterdays’ nostalgia tat. But I think it’s a really valuable work, and he’s photographed things that I suspect even the City Engineer’s archives have probably missed.

      And thanks for the Joe Moran recommendation. I’ve read the book but didn’t know he had a blog.

      Reply
  3. jbaird

    I can’t believe a passing couple mocked you for taking that photo. They obviously don’t appreciate the ordinary things in life, which are often the best.

    It’s tragic how so-called “progress” has taken from us irreversibly some real architectural gems. Alameda, California is another example; many beautiful Victorians were demolished during WWII and replaced by motel-looking apartments to house the Navy. Other Victorians were cut up into apartments, but many people are buying them up and restoring them into what they once were. Fortunately, Alameda has a lovely museum that has preserved photos of the place in its former glory.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      I didn’t mind the mockery too much, Jan. Sarcasm is our natural birthright in Liverpool and we always say “If you’re going to give it, you’ve got to be able to take it!”

      And thanks for the Alameda information. Here’s a link to the City museum, for anyone else interested.

      Reply
  4. cheethamlib

    The ordinary things are the fabric of social history. Awful to see those boarded up houses awaiting demolition, somehow seeing this deliberate and planned destruction is worse than looking at bomb damage.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks Mandy, the social history of everyday things has always interested me as much as the big events, often more. As your Rachel would often say when we’d tell her about our own big adventures ‘Yes, yes, that’s all very well, but what I want to know is what did you have for your tea?’

      Reply
  5. stan cotter

    in the square formed by rathbone street nile street gt george st and upper parliament street
    there is the david lewis theatre to the right side of the theatre theres a passage way next to a bldg with striped pattern. i used to be taken up there (i called it “the entry” ) with my mum for me to see a doctor stein, who informed me i had just recovered from pneumonia and admitted me to the chest hospital in mountpleasant for a month for observations re t.b, all negative thankfully

    Reply
  6. lindsay53

    Brilliant post, Ronnie. All these photos serve to make up a detailed contemporary record of everyday life. How places were lived in, used, frequented. So important. If only developers would delve into archives like these first before demolishing or building monstrosities. I’m sure many of the answers to how spaces & places can be best used, for the good of everyone who uses them, could be found there. Thought provoking stuff.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks Lindsay and glad to be provoking your thoughts. Someday soon I’ll start on the long promised post about all the Urban Design and Architecture work we did with you and Urbed and the various architects. So that can be out there provoking people too.

      Reply
  7. robertday154

    Good to see someone else pointing the camera at everyday life, because one day it’s gone and there’s only unreliable memory left. I did quite a lot of this in my native Derbyshire in the 1970s and 80s, as well as a fair amount more recently in central Birmingham from the 1990s up to about three years ago. This is what photography was invented for!

    Reply
  8. John Viggars

    As a teenager I always wanted to take more pictures of buildings before they disappeared but was put off by the cost of 35mm film & processing (even when it was done in the bathroom!). I regret it now. Nothing wrong with snapping away now we have entered the digital era. Always better to take too many & delete.
    The Canal St picture delighted me, as a maternal Gt Grandfather lived there between 1879 & 1882. A Gt Gt Grandfather lived in St Martins Cottages & a cluster of relatives lived in surrounding streets (Including Benledi) in the period 1860-1900 before moving further afield across the north of the city.
    Keep up the good work as your blog always makes Monday mornings easier to cope with.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thank you for your detailed comment John. Sounds like there’s more than a chance we might be distantly related?

      And glad to be helping with your Monday mornings!

      Reply
  9. Karen Lee-Roberts

    Hi Im preparing a seminar for my foundation degree social policy housing and health at sthelens college … the topic is the history of social (council) housing and I could not do it without reference to the first municipal housing in the country being from my home city

    Please could I use photographs and some information from your website?
    Karen

    Reply
  10. Ged Hodge

    Hi there Ronnie
    I was perusing the web for a photograph of Canal Street and found myself here. You gave me a link to this site a year ago in our mutual friend’s place, Greendays, but I lost it, synchronicity prevails.
    Oddly enough My great grandparents lived in Canal Street and moved to Marsh Avenue too.
    Cheers
    Ged

    Reply
  11. glenys peace

    I think your work is amazing, but have you any more pictures of Upper Huskission Street in the 1945 to 1953, I lived there but there are no pictures anywhere, only the one on here.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Glad you like the blog Glenys.

      I think the fact is not many pictures got taken of the places where people lived before very many of us had cameras. You could look in the Records Office of Liverpool Central Library where I found most of the pictures I’ve seen of the Upper Canning area. Though most of these were taken by the City Engineer’s department in the late 1960s/early 1970s when the streets were scheduled for demolition, for the inner ring road tht never happened.

      Reply

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