In Southport, an amazing place

I’ve never known quite what to make of Southport. A good place for days out growing up in the 1960s. Much closer to home than getting up early to catch the X61 Ribble bus to Blackpool for a start. But since those days I’ve found myself going there less and less.

Recent walks have taken us to Churchtown, the lovely Botanic Gardens and the windswept beauty of the Ribble Estuary. But as for the town itself, last time we’d been there, sometime last year, we’d walked along Lord Street counting the empty shop units and felt simply sorry for it.

Well yesterday we found something there that’s changed these feelings of vague pity to something close to awe. Something that is unquestionably the best thing I’ve seen happen to Southport in my lifetime.

We’ve heard that the recently reopened gallery has a Matisse exhibition on and decide to go. As there are engineering works on the railway line we go in the car.

Out of the city through rainy Maghull.

Out of the city through rainy Maghull.

Past Christ Church, Aughton.

Past Christ Church, Aughton.

Turning left at Ormskirk across the Lancashire Plain.

We love a good water pumping station.

We love a good water treatment station. Really. Clean, functional design.

In 1959 John Lennon, sort of, helped build this. Absolutely true.

Soon arriving in rainy Southport.

Soon we arrive in rainy Southport.

Along Lord Street.

Along Lord Street.

We're in Southport. 'A modern city of health'

We’re in Southport. ‘A modern city of health’

We’ve been to this building once before, years ago to see singer Sally Barker. And whilst being mightily impressed with her, neither of us has remembered much else about the place.

Here it is then.

Here it is then.

From William Atkinson's £6,000 Victorian donation.

From William Atkinson’s £6,000 Victorian donation.

Still looking reassuringly like itself, despite the recent millions spent, during its three year refurbishment.

Still looking reassuringly like itself, despite the recent millions spent, during its three year refurbishment.

But as soon as we walk through the doors we realise we’ve come to somewhere very special.

Bright inviting - 'What's up there?

Bright inviting – ‘What’s up there?

What's round there?

What’s round there? A good quality shop. Full of the spirit of Southport.

Lots of engaging, opened up newness.

Together with beautifully preserved or renewed detail.

Together with beautifully preserved or renewed detail.

Southport14

And this gorgeous new centrepiece alium.

And this gorgeous new centrepiece alium.

Sarah can't wait to get up the stairs.

Sarah can’t wait to get up the stairs.

I’m already staring to feel we’re getting more than we came for here.

But here's what we came for, a roomful of Matisse.

But here’s what we came for, a roomful of Matisse.

Lithographs of his late life cut-outs from the early 1950s, gathered together by Matisse in his book ‘Verve’. Let’s look.Southport18 Southport19 Southport20Whilst I’m looking, delighted that no one’s stopping me taking these photographs, I’m aware of some little children being enthusiastically welcomed by one of the gallery assistants. She’s telling them about Matisse, how he did these and how they could do things like this themselves.

Here he is, cutting out some leaf shapes.

Here he is, cutting out some leaf shapes.

Which ended up looking like this.

Which ended up looking like this.

And this.

And this.

Sarah, meanwhile, is remembering seeing the full-size originals of some of these lithographs in Paris once.

'And they were this big!'

‘And they were this big!’

'Verve' by Henri Matisse. It's on 'til 16th March.

‘Verve’ by Henri Matisse. It’s on ’til 16th March.

The exhibition’s colourful in itself, of course. But it’s also attracting some colourful people.

Sarah, of course, in her coat of many colours she knitted herself. And also this other magnificent coat in the centre of the picture.

Sarah, of course, in her coat of many colours she knitted herself. And also this other magnificent coat in the centre of the picture.

We go for a look around the rest of the place.

Every doorway pulls you through to something interesting beyond.

Every doorway pulls you through to something interesting beyond.

A good collection of Victorian art.

A good collection of Victorian art.

And what's through here?

And what’s through here?

Well one of the best things about the place...

Well one of the best things about the place…

Is the place itself.

Is the place itself.

Quietly beautiful.

Quietly beautiful.

Transparently intriguing.

Transparently intriguing.

That’s a prehistoric boat down there, in case you were wondering.

And it’s good on Southport too. There’ll be a museum opening in here later this year, but what they’re displaying about the place is already great.

Art about Southport.

Art about Southport.

Southport itself as art.

Southport itself as art.

The glory days of Lord Street.

The glory days of Lord Street.

And here, The Atkinson, when first opened, 140 years ago.

And here, The Atkinson, when first opened, 140 years ago.

Just a hint of the kinds of treasures that will probably be in the Museum.

Souvenirs of Southport.

Souvenirs of Southport.

Southport39And these glorious posters from, I’m guessing, the 1920s.Southport40 Southport41 Southport42 Southport43A memory comes to me, of Southport Open Air Baths, sadly from a few years after the Liverpool Overhead has gone.

It’s summer 1967, a warm day here in Southport. Everton have recently signed Howard Kendall from Preston North End and he’s here at the baths, along with several other Everton players. Still only 21, Howard seems to be going through some kind of Everton initiation ritual as the more senior players, Jimmy Gabriel and Brian Labone in particular, keep picking him up and throwing him back in every time he gets out of the water. To all of our amusement, including Howard’s. Days when footballers were much like us, and a part of the communities they represented.

I reflect, as I walk around, how good it is to see Southport presenting itself so well. Being proud of what it is and what it’s been. But not in a snooty way, if you know what I mean?

Because given that Southport asked to become part of Merseyside when it was formed in the 1970s, it has been increasingly galling over the years to keep hearing from some people how different the place is, how it’s nothing like Bootle and the rest of Sefton and how it should really become part of Lancashire again.

Well should it?

While I can see that Southport is its own place, and does feel like the West Lancashire town they grew in the 19th century, it’s had loads of investment over these many years from the place I like to call Greater Liverpool. It was the railways from Liverpool, including the Overhead, as we’ve seen, that caused it to grow so quickly in the first place. Then it’s had over 30 years of being part of Merseyside. And on the evidence of today, in a place owned, run and restored by Sefton Borough, it’s doing very well out of the deal it made back in the 1970s.

As I’ve said before, on here, these towns around our major cities matter so much and affect the quality of all of our lives. So let’s rejoice in what we are and what we have, and thrive together.

Whatever, I’m glad to be here on this day.

We move on.

For a quick look at the library.

For a quick look at the Library.

Then the bakery.

Then the Bakery.

Yes, there’s all sorts in here. I’ve mentioned there’s a Museum coming. But there’s also loads we’re not even going to show you today.

  • Music (Suggs is coming up, for example)
  • Theatre
  • Comedy
  • Dance
  • Film
  • Health & Wellbeing (Including an innovative ‘Arts on Prescription’ service)
  • Courses & Workshops
  • A Gift Shop (a good one too)

And a special ‘Art Box’ where the children we heard being gently educated about Matisse earlier on, can come and do art for themselves.

Meanwhile in the Bakery…

Sarah appears to be

Sarah appears to be ruminating about which particular ‘Real Ale, brewed in Southport’ she’ll sample?

In truth we're picking which baked and made on the premises bread, soup and salads we'll have for our lunch.

In truth we’re picking which baked and made on the premises bread, soup and salads we’ll have for our lunch.

Which is all delicious. Even if Sarah does then, hold up her crisps bag…

And tactlessly reopen the 'Back in Lancashire' debate!

And tactlessly reopen the ‘Back in Lancashire’ debate!

It's been an inspiring afternoon, in a beautiful place.

Well, it’s been an inspiring afternoon, in a beautiful place.

and leaving, we find the rain's stopped, the sun's come out and all is right with the world.

And leaving, we find the rain’s stopped, the sun’s come out and all is right with the world.

So naturally, we go and buy some tulips and daffodils.Southport51 Southport52Before going home.Southport53

Thank you Southport. I’ll be back much sooner than usual for a wider look around. Go well.

“Matisse: Drawing with Scissors. Late Works 1950-1954” is on until 16th March.
The Atkinson is a permanent treasure.

6 thoughts on “In Southport, an amazing place

  1. Gerry

    Great post, Ronnie. Loved the story about Lennon and all the details about the Atkinson. But most of all I’m grateful for your alerting us to the Matisse exhibition (there’s a big cut-out show coming to the Tate in London later this year,but this one is just a bit closer to home).

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks Gerry. The lithographs are gorgeous, of course, transcendently so. But the joy and surprise to us is the place itself. A real treasure. As much so, in its way, as the Central Library here.

      Reply
  2. stan cotter

    Looks like a fun day out for you both Ron, I noted Aughton, Aughton Brow, and lost count of how many times I’ve ridden that both ways. En route to/from RAF Warton-Stannes. I was stationed there and used to ride home after my shift and back again next morning. On camp for 5am. 90 miles a day, did this three times a week, must have been love.

    Southport was a treat off my Mum as a child, on the bus or the train, I didn’t care, it was fun.

    Reply
  3. Fi

    I am from Southport and I will always think of myself as a Lancashire lass….We are known as Wooly Backs by many – Sefton should let go if we have a Preston Postcode. Each year I notice the difference in Southport, it has never looked so shabby and it is certainly loosing it’s sheek! BRING BACK OUR LANCS STATUS PLEASE!!!

    Reply
  4. Paula Greaves

    This forthcoming event at The Atkinson might interest you, Ronnie:
    ‘We’ll all be art critics’ Talk by James O’Keeffe MA
    Thu 13 August, 7pm
    Local historian James O’Keeffe discusses the occupation of the Walker Art Gallery by the
    unemployed in September 1921

    Reply

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