Getting off the 62 bus at the junction of Muirhead Avenue and Lorenzo Drive I’m close to where Norris Green got started.
There used to be a mansion house in here called Norris Green, owned by the Norris family (members of which you might have come across before on here slave trading and owning Speke Hall). You can read more about it all on this local history blog. Anyway, the final version of this house was demolished in 1930 to create this park for all of the new inhabitants of a much bigger place, also to be called ‘Norris Green’.
What got built around the park in the 1930s was a huge estate for people from the overcrowded slums and courts of inner Liverpool.
Much of which has worked well ever since. Some of which failed utterly and has now been cleared. Quality of the buildings? Declining maintenance standards of the City’s Direct Works? Poverty? Probably bits of all of them.
Walking around today I noticed what I usually notice here. It’s a long way to the shops and the pubs.
Crossing Muirhead Avenue from Norris Green I’m immediately in a different world.
This was here before Liverpool and when Liverpool first got going it was as a suburb of here. This is where the nobility of these parts lived.
Before leaving West Derby I walk along Hayman’s Green for the first time in my life.
Number 8 along here was owned by Mona Best. And in 1959 she let her son Pete do up the basement with his mates and open it as the Casbah Coffee Club for them to do gigs in. His mates were John Lennon, George Harrison and Paul McCartney.
Back onto Muirhead Avenue I find some beautiful housing for the workers of the 1930s.
Pausing briefly at this busy interchange, I want to highlight two extraordinary characters I often think of when I’m around Queen’s Drive. First, John Alexander Brodie. As well as designing Queen’s Drive he also designed the Mersey Tunnel, helped out on New Delhi and invented the football net. Renaissance man or what?
Next is Lancelot Keay. As responsible for the look of Liverpool, the Liverpool where we all live, as anyone who ever lived. He was City Architect and Director of Housing for 25 years from 1925. As well as laying out and designing much of the housing out here around the ring road, he was also responsible for the great tenements built towards the centre of the city which were thoughtlessly destroyed through neglect and municipal vandalism towards the end of the century.
These two remind me of a city that wasn’t afraid of, or sentimental about its own greatness but just got on with it. Making life better for the people of the place at a time when central government hadn’t so centralised the way the country’s run that characters like these would have had simply no room to move. So I’m glad the lived when they did and did what they did. So we have the city we now have. Not everything they did worked, as we’ve seen. But much of their work gives me so much pleasure when I walk around on a day like today. And show you what I’m about to show you. Some of the most beautiful municipal housing I’ve ever seen anywhere.
And on either side is housing that would grace London or any major European city. Built by and for us. The people of Liverpool.
And some of it no doubt privately owned now, such is its quality. But not all by any means.
At which point our brief idyll returns to a more mixed reality.
But on the other side of what’s now West Derby Road there are lots of shops.
Even as a vegetarian I admire such clear quality and enterprise. Good on you.
While I’m flicking through the LPs, me, the proprietors and the other customers enjoy ourselves talking about Charlie Rich, Lene Lovich, Squeeze and other of life’s essentials before I leave. With just one LP this time, Tracy Chapman’s second. I’ll be back, of course.
A good Friday Walk and a great adventure in what time and people have done in some of the neighbourhoods of my home. And any Lancelot Keay fans still with me? Here’s the great man talking about the Liverpool tenements when they were new in ‘Homes for Workers.’