To most Liverpool people the fact that Edge Lane has a jewel will come as a considerable surprise. In fact, arguably, it has two.
And we’ll be back for a closer look at them both in a bit.
But this is a tale of two walks on Edge Lane this week.
And what I want to look at is a road and a whole area in continual transition over the past 200 years.
Edge Lane has long been the main road into and out of the centre of Liverpool. Indeed in the 1960s there was a plan to bring the M62 into the city along Edge Lane. That didn’t happen then, as I’ve written about in my ‘Lost and Found’ post. But it’s sort of happening now, as over the last few years much of the housing along Edge Lane has been cleared to allow the road to become an even more major highway than it already was. The photographs above look much like Edge Lane would have looked 10 years ago.
This did not happen without protest. And mention must be made here of Elizabeth Pascoe, a local resident, who fought Liverpool City Council very hard and very successfully for a long time to retain her mortgage-free home. In the end power prevailed and she now pays a mortgage of £80 a week in the new home she was forced to move to. That’s the way the reviled Housing Market Renewal Initiative worked – ‘renewing’ the housing market by sucking money out of people who thought they were all paid up.
And next, a relatively rare example of HMRI land actually being built on rather than left as cleared fields.
Next to this sudden bit of suburbia, there is a fold in time.
‘The Shipperies Exhibition’ which took place along here in 1886 was opened by Queen Victoria as a celebration of an Empire then reaching its zenith, with Liverpool as its principal port.
The Exhibition boasted ‘an African village, 50 natives of India and Ceylon and camel and elephant rides’ and sounds horribly racist and triumphal.
In fact we are walking through history now. Time folds back further.
This is the oldest passenger railway station in the world. From where Stephenson’s Rocket set off on its inaugural journey to Manchester in 1830.
Leaving the station, in the small looking but deceptively large Georgian warehouse up there is one of Liverpool’s most fascinating antique and furniture shops.
Now we’ll set off for the two jewels back on Edge Lane.
In 1803 a group of Liverpool botanists led by William Roscoe had set up the first, private, botanic garden near Mount Pleasant, which was then on the outskirts of the City. As the city expanded, in the 1830’s the garden was relocated here, to this 11 acre walled garden in Wavertree. When the project ran into financial problems in 1841 Liverpool Corporation took over and opened the gardens to the public in 1846.
The last time Sarah and I had been in here, on a winter’s day some time in the 1990s, the place had felt abandoned and edgy. Since then love, care and wise public spending have clearly happened.
Sadly we lost this in the bombing of World War Two. It’s never been replaced and so this is really only a partial botanic garden now. No longer housing all the botanic treasures it once did.
Still, it’s a magnificent place.
Maybe waiting for the day its glasshouse is returned?
Sarah tells me gardens like this were particularly fashionable with the Victorians. The patterns in this one reflecting the tiled flooring in Liverpool’s St George’s Hall.
Though Sarah pronounces the quality of it as ‘not up to much for a botanical garden. Over the years the place wasn’t much looked after, so there’s little here of botanical significance now.’
But there could be. It’s a beautiful, sheltered space that clearly has had interesting planting in the past, and could have some again, now the basic structure of it has been restored.
So, a gorgeous place. Linking us all the way back to William Roscoe in 1803. And when we finally pull out of all this austerity nonsense, a great place for a botanic garden Liverpool can be even more proud of.
And just next to it?
This is the now empty Littlewoods Pools Building. An art deco gem from 1938. As well as running the football pools and catalogue company, the buildings vast spaces were also used during World War Two to build parts of Halifax bombers. Teams of code breakers worked in here too, along with manufacturers of barrage balloons.
It’s been empty now for over ten years and various plans have so far come to nothing. Housing, offices, a hotel, schools. All have been rumoured. And signs outside the site say work is currently underway.
One of Liverpool’s many empty places. Waiting in stillness for a future.
A future based on innovation?
Meanwhile Edge Lane roars on out of the city. Through retail parks soon to be remodelled.
So there we are. From William Roscoe to Elizabeth Pascoe, Edge Lane. More, much more than just a road.