A bright short day in December, following my feet from home to the river along roads I don’t usually follow. Coming by surprise to somewhere that was the hidden birthplace of many, and I’d thought was long gone.
You know the way it is, even us habitual wanderers have our well worn pathways we inhabit without thinking. Here to the river? Down the hill, across the park, round the lake, through Otterspool. I can run it in 25 minutes. There.
Well today I did it differently. Along Allerton Road first, familiar enough.
Long time blog readers may recall Duncan Scott’s splendid talk about Liverpool’s Cow Houses at ‘Mr Seel’s Garden’ earlier this year. Well here is one. A dairy on an urban street. At their height there were 900 of these in Liverpool. We’re not that far away from our semi-rural past. But what’s this in the window?
Looks like a good candidate for the Independent Liverpool list one of these days, surely?
The nineteenth century land of Liverpool merchant’s houses. Some still there, some turned into other things. We’ll follow this land from here to the river now.
Arriving next at Sudley House, home of the Holt family of merchants until the last of the line, Emma, died in 1944.
I’m not going into the house today as I’m fully thermalled up and would be boiled alive inside. But it’s well worth a look. Good Pre-Raphaellites, a couple of Turners and a café. (How’s that for a bit of cultural reviewing.)
Habitual wanderers need quality sitting places dotted around the city. For reading, having lunch or simply contemplating life and nature.
I think every one of us in Liverpool knows someone who lost someone at Hillsborough. Never forgotten.
(Sarah’s just told me that. I was calling it a ‘pretty red flower’ – pathetic really.)
When she was little, me and my daughter Clare were always in two minds about whether we wanted to come and live in Sudley or here.
The Holt family were keen supporters of Liverpool University as it was getting going late in the 19th century. As were other local wealthy types, sometimes leaving their land to the new University.
On the site of a house owned previously by a wealthy ‘privateer’ (i.e. a pirate) who’d captured a French East Indian ship called The Carnatic in the 18th century. The ship happened to contain a fortune in jewels.
Further down the hill the old money gets even more bizarre.
Yes, it’s a suburban housing estate now, and it used to be a merchant’s home. But in between times it was indeed a zoo. Until 1938 this was Liverpool’s last zoo, Liverpool Zoological Park. See its lions at that link. And the sad end of its renegade chimp Mickey here. All wrong, all crazy, all true. Times were very different then.
And talking of times were different, we’re about to see somewhere round the corner that takes me by surprise.
Let me tell you a story, a true story, from half my lifetime ago.
It’s the mid 1980s and I’m delivering my beloved baby daughter to her nursery. It’s called Kelton and is just down the hill from a convent, called Kelton House. This morning I’ve noticed someone watching me as I drive past Kelton House. Someone who doesn’t look much like a nun. I ask one of the women who work in the nursery, an Irish woman as it happens ‘What is that place up there? I thought it was a convent.’ ‘Well it is’ she says ‘But it’s also a mother and baby home. It’s where the girls come to have their babies, off the Irish boats as often as not.’
So hurtful for them. Us bringing our much wanted and much celebrated babies to the nursery each morning, while they watch us from their hidden away lives.
I wasn’t sorry, then, when the nursery had to move to another place a few months later because the nuns, who owned the land, had decided to sell it off for housing.
But what I’m astonished to find is that the old house is still there.
A Grade II listed building I soon find. Waiting, maybe, to be turned into apartments one day.
And don’t find very much.
Someone has been inside and photographed it. An abandoned convent.
It definitely was a home for unmarried mothers. Someone’s birth mother and sisters:
“Stayed for a few years in Kelton, and the children were placed via the Catholic Adoption Society now known as Nugents.”
Then someone on a genealogy site finds this from the 1911 census:
“Just found my Gran and Mum on the 1911 census at Kelton Convent, House for Penitents and children, Woodlands Road, Aigburth. Gran was stated as being an inmate and working as a laundry assistant (attached to home). Gran was 22 and Mum was 3 years old.
And matching these findings with my own memories I feel so uneasy. Yes, times were different and we can barely imagine how it was for families and daughters back then. But these words I’ve found – ‘House for Penitents’ and ‘working as a laundry assistant’ remind me of so much that has emerged in Ireland in recent years. Of what happened to daughters who were sent away to have their babies. So did we perhaps have our own version of a Magdalene Laundry here in Liverpool?
Certainly this place seems full of stories and I walk on amazed to have found it, still here after all those years.
Time to take a break.