Toxteth? Not really.

A few months ago while we were working with a customer at The Florrie, in the Dingle in Liverpool 8, I picked up a couple of leaflets in their Heritage Resource Centre. The first was a part of something called the ‘Toxteth Heritage Trail’ in the neighbourhood around The Florrie.

Park Road Heritage Trail.

Park Road North Heritage Trail.

It looked interesting and well presented but I didn’t make use of it on that particular event as we were looking in detail at the history of the area and its housing. So I used my favourite OS ‘Godfrey Edition’ maps from 1906 (seen recently on here in the South Docks Walk) as we walked around.

The bigger leaflet, containing all 5 Heritage Trails.

The bigger leaflet, containing all 5 Heritage Trails.

But I brought it home anyway, together with a bigger leaflet containing all the other parts of the ‘Heritage Trail’ – promised myself I’d take a closer look at them sometime, and then forgot all about them. Until, at the Granby 4 Streets Market last week someone said ‘It’s a shame about those Heritage Trail Leaflets isn’t it? Granby and the Welsh Streets are missed off, like we don’t exist.’

So I thought I’d better take a closer look.

Toxteth Trail

First, it’s not entirely true that Granby is missing. While the above main map gets no closer than the Princes Roundabout and fails to notice Granby as it passes, there is this picture included in the ‘Lodge Lane Heritage Trail.’

Granby Street in 1968.

Granby Street in 1968.

But no one I know would think of Granby as being part of Lodge Lane.

Which brings us to the ‘two troubles’ of a project such as this. The trouble with what you include, bunch together and leave out. And the trouble with Toxteth.

Let’s try and deal with the trouble with Toxteth first. When I started working in this area in 1975 you never heard the word ‘Toxteth’. Everyone called it ‘Liverpool 8’. ‘Toxteth’ was what journalists from elsewhere called the 1981 riots. And the name stuck. Except for with us lot. We called it, and continue to call it ‘Liverpool 8’.

In time I learned about ‘Toxteth’. A medieval deer-hunting park, covering the area shown on this modern map from the Historic Liverpool site and described by them below.

Toxteth.

Toxteth.

“Historically, the boundary of Toxteth Park ran from Queen’s Dock on the Mersey, down Parliament and Upper Parliament Streets, across the junction with Smithdown Road and Lodge Lane to Penny Lane, then Queen’s Drive and Aigburth Vale, before coming back to the Mersey at Otterspool.”

So, a much broader area than that covered by these Heritage Trails.

Which returns us to the trouble with what you include, bunch together and leave out.

Now I think we can take a guess at why Sefton Park, the Avenues, Penny Lane, Aigburth Road, St Michaels and Otterspool have been left out can’t we? They’ve never been any kind of special development areas. Never been particularly ‘in need’ and, though containing lots of ‘heritage’ and indeed terraced houses such as the one I’m sitting in, certainly have never been ‘in need’ of something as brutal as the ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’(HMRI). Also, they’re only considered to be part of Toxteth by historians. Most people now think of Toxteth as Liverpool 8.

So then, within Liverpool 8, why leave out Granby, the Welsh Streets, Canning and much of the Dingle? Because as well as being packed with said ‘heritage’ these places have also been in various kinds of ‘need’ over the years.

Granby - not included.

Granby – not included.

Though packed with heritage and energy.

Though packed with heritage and energy.

Welsh Streets?

Welsh Streets?

No, despite a rich history and constant tourism.

No, despite a rich history and constant tourism.

And Canning/Upper Parliament? Nothing going on.

And Canning/Upper Parliament? Nothing going on.

Nothing going on and never was.

Nothing going on and never was.

Dingle, the Dockers' Steps, the South Docks? Forget it.

Dingle, the Dockers’ Steps, the South Docks? Forget it.

Well let’s stop pretending we’re really dealing with the heritage of ‘Toxteth’ here and look at where these tours are living. They sit on the website of something called ‘Liverpool 1578’ which defines itself as:

“The product of the commercial growth seen on Lodge Lane, Smithdown Road and Lawrence/Earle Road. It has been established by Liverpool businesses and stakeholders with the intent of showcasing the continuing development seen in these areas.

These roads play host to many independent businesses representing the tastes of the diverse and expanding range of ethnicities in the areas, which include British, Arabic, Caribbean, African and Indian. Outside of London, these roads are the only city highstreets which have proved potential for positive economic change in the face of the recession.

1578 is the hub connecting these three roads, investing in their communities and empowering their businesses.”

All of which sounds absolutely fine (apart from that strange ‘Outside of London’ claim), so good luck to them. They are obviously acting as a binding agent for an area that contains some of the worst post HMRI blight along Smithdown and Earle Roads, together with spirited and locally driven recovery along Lodge Lane. So applause and support all round – except for those Heritage Trails.

The HMRI blighting of Smithdown and Earle Roads.

The HMRI blighting of Smithdown and Earle Roads.

Where Liverpool 1578 are active.

Where Liverpool 1578 are active.

I agree that in areas of blight and change we should treasure and celebrate what is precious in a place – its buildings, its heritage, its communities – and use all we can of this richness in constructing its future. That belief is a big part of why we’ve been calling ourselves ‘a sense of place’ since 1995.

But can we have a bit more sensitivity about ‘place’ than I think has been shown here? By all means use the two Heritage Trails around where Liverpool 1578 is focussing – Lodge Lane and Smithdown – that’s your place, you understand it and have every right to celebrate what HMRI didn’t destroy in the work you’re doing on the future.

But when you wander further afield you bewilder people by what you are including and what you are leaving out. Heritage Trails in Liverpool 8 that exclude the places I’ve mentioned, their history and their peoples, are just rough sketches of other people walking about, a start at best.

So ‘Could do better?’ Not really. More a matter of ‘Why?’ Nicely produced leaflets about the ‘heritage’ of a place can start to define a place – for visitors, investors and whoever the powers that be might be. So I won’t be holding on to the Trails leaflets around the places I know best. Wouldn’t want them to get into the wrong hands!

Thanks to Martin Greaney of Historic Liverpool for use of the Toxteth map.

6 thoughts on “Toxteth? Not really.

  1. Taffy

    Really speaking the 1578 organisation is really about promoting the new shops in what is now termed the “new” Toxteth, i.e. the areas in Toxteth, Edge Hill and Wavertree hence the 1578 title , a combination of the various post codes for these areas. I believe the money has come from a Liverpool City Council grant to help promote these new businesses, mostly food outlets of one sort or other. Unfortunately the so called “Heritage Trail” is designed to take you past these very same shops etc. So as a “Heritage Trail” it really misses the point about the area’s history. The trail leaflets are nicely produced but contain many elementary errors of fact. So on balance I’d agree with you Ronnie and would not bother to read them again.

    By the way, whilst parts of it has an L8 post code, Canning is not in Toxteth. Parliament St/ Upper Parliament St being the original Parliamentary boundary between the then Liverpool and Toxteth

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Very interesting that it’s all about shops. Still mystifies me why so much that isn’t Lodge Lane & Smithdown is included though. But anyway, now I’ve written the post my copies of the leaflets are in the recycling bin.

      And yes, Canning was never historically in Toxteth but most of it is very much a part of Liverpool 8 and would feature prominently in any properly informed heritage trail of the area.

      Reply
  2. Martin Greaney (@histliverpool)

    This is a post which really highlights the issues around using place names which have historic connotations. My job is easy as I can define Toxteth for my purposes, but if you don’t state why you’re using a term (such as Toxteth) which can have different meanings, then you risk bewildering people, as you point out, disappointing them or even worse, offending them. It can be a mine field, as can much of history, because it’s so often connected with identity, personal history and emotional sensitivities. Those who would produce these historic leaflets need to take the time to work these things out, especially with the more obvious case of Toxteth, as well as less clearcut ones. History is, after all, the history of people.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks Martin, I agree about history being the history of people and their places. Though in this case history and that vague thing ‘heritage’ are being used as marketing tools. Not for the first time.

      Reply

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