Wallasey: A Tale of Two Libraries

Having been keeping a very careful eye on Liverpool’s libraries over the past few months, I decided I go and see how our neighbours are getting on with their’s over the water in Wallasey.Wallasey24I don’t know Wallasey very well at all. I know New Brighton, which is part of it, and was last there a few weeks ago, but to get to know as much of the rest as I reasonably can in an afternoon I decide to walk around, almost aimlessly, other than knowing I’ll try and find a couple of libraries in the course of my wandering.

I think walking is the only way to really get to know a place. To see it and feel it and work out how it fits together and how it’s doing. So let’s go.

But I can't walk on water, so have to walk through town first.

But I can’t walk on water, so have to walk through town first.

Then get on a bus, the 437.

Then get on a bus, the 437.

And through the tunnel to Wallasey.

And go through the tunnel to Wallasey.

Through Liscard, part of Wallasey and we'll be back for a closer look later.

Through Liscard, part of Wallasey –  and we’ll be back for a closer look later.

Getting off the bus at the gates of the cemetery.

Getting off the bus at the gates of the cemetery.

Paying my respects to the dead of the place, before going to see how the living are doing.

The dead of the Great War.

The dead of the Great War.

And municipal planting on graves, never seen that done anywhere else.

And municipal planting on graves, never seen that done anywhere else.

Close to the graveyard I find what I'm looking for.

Close to the graveyard I find what I’m looking for.

Looking imposingly permanent.

Looking imposingly permanent.

I remember there had been a proposal to close 11 Wirral libraries in 2009 (yes, that’s right, when we had a Labour government) which was resisted and eventually dropped. And have recently noticed promises from the Council Leader not to shut libraries:

Phil Davies said libraries were a vital frontline service, and added: “We will not be closing libraries – I’m very keen to knock that on the head fairly urgently.”

He said if no community groups or volunteers came forward to run or help operate any of the libraries they would remain open.

Cllr Davies added: “We know there are ‘friends’ of libraries or volunteers who are keen to do this, and I think there will be interest – but we will absolutely not be closing libraries – because they are a vital frontline service.”

So a different approach to Liverpool, where the decision to close 11 libraries is now close to being taken, and where the discussions with alternative groups are only now underway under that level of duress. So we may each end up with similar austerity-driven results, but is the Wirral approach perhaps friendlier, less anguished, more politically astute?

Anyway, let’s have a look around.

It's a light and airy space.

It’s a light and airy space.

Well stocked too.

Well stocked too, in a room packed with book-cases.

It always saddens me these days when I see a library with a small collection of books displayed in cases around their outside walls. Like the place literally has its back to the wall. Wavertree Library near where I live is like that and it’s on Liverpool’s closure list.

Up the stairs, yes it's got an upstairs.

Up the stairs, yes it’s got an upstairs.

This plaque at the top of the stairs.

This plaque at the top of the stairs.

Our first encounter today with Mersey Ferry boats called the Royal Iris.

And here’s another.

A model of a later Royal Iris I remember from growing up.

A model of a later Royal Iris I remember from growing up.

There's reference library too.

There’s reference library too.

And I do go in, but me and my camera are glared at so fiercely by the researchers at work that I quickly retreat. And do some interesting research of my own out on the landing here.

Finding this. The 1908 Andrew Carnegie letter that promised to pay for the place.

Finding this. The 1908 Andrew Carnegie letter that promised to pay for the place.

A closer look.

A closer look.

Let’s treasure these words and the permanent responsibility they placed on us:

“Provided a site is found by purchase or gift without touching the proceeds of the Penny Rate, and also provided that the full Penny Rate is levied for the support of the libraries and that no further monies are taken out of it for other than maintenance, excepting the margin of increase above the present yield.”

Notice too the hand amendment there changing the gift to plural. Did he also pay for the other library I’m hoping to find later?

Well, like in Liverpool a day earlier, here I am in another Andrew Carnegie ‘Gift’.

This Library has 'Friends' you know.

This Library has ‘Friends’ you know.

And amongst much else, they run a film club.

And amongst much else, they run a film club (see programme below)

Must be up here.

Must be up here.

In these useful looking meeting rooms.

In these useful looking meeting rooms.

Wallasey Central Library.

Wallasey Central Library.

A gem.

A gem.

Now let’s go and walk around.

Along Mount Pleasant Road.

Along Mount Pleasant Road.

Finding this Monkey Puzzle Tree for Sarah's blog.

Finding this Monkey Puzzle Tree for Sarah’s blog.

Into Seaview Road and this parade of local shops.

The mysterious growth of the dog grooming industry in otherwise hard times.

The mysterious growth of the dog grooming industry in otherwise hard times.

Close to a 'Cash for Clothes' shop much like at the end of our road in Liverpool.

Close to a ‘Cash for Clothes’ shop much like one at the end of our road in Liverpool.

And yet the stability of this 'proper' butcher's which looks like it's been here forever.

And yet the stability of this ‘proper’ butcher’s which looks like it’s been here forever.

Further along the road there’s a large car park with a supermarket at the end of it which seems to have decimated the quality of much of the local shopping offer.

The bookshop's closed and 'Total nutrition' isn't selling any actual food.

The bookshop’s closed and ‘Complete Nutrition’ isn’t selling any actual food.

After that...

After that…

It's charity shops.

It’s lots of charity shops.

Until we reach the town centre of this bit of Wallasey, Liscard.

Until we reach the town centre of this bit of Wallasey, Liscard.

From the bus this had looked reasonably bustling and thriving. Closer inspection paints a more difficult picture. Beginning with two of the chains that often squat in the modern corporate hight street.

Good for the locality social enterprise? Don't think so.

Good for the locality social enterprise? Don’t think so.

Mutual and caring Credit Union? Hardly.

Mutual and caring Credit Union? Hardly.

I always think of this last as being called something else that rhymes with ‘Bright’.

The likes of those two are leeching such money as there is in the community round here.

The likes of those two above are leeching such money as there is out of the community round here.

The Cherry Tree shopping centre reminding me very much of The Strand in Bootle.

The Cherry Tree shopping centre reminding me very much of The Strand in Bootle. Hard times for us working classes.

I walk on.

Along Wallasey Road.

Along Wallasey Road.

Where Wallasey feels more at ease than in the middle of Liscard. Though most of these shops are really offices.

Now at the highest point of north-east Wirral.

Now at the highest point of north-east Wirral.

Looking down on the motorway that runs along the peninsula.

Looking down on the motorway that runs along the peninsula.

Up on the hill is St Hilary's Church.

Up on the hill is St Hilary’s Church.

And the tower of the previous church, built in 1530.

And the tower of the previous church, built in 1530.

More Remembrance.

More Remembrance.

And just down the hill from here, the second place I thought I might find today.

A small library and, like many, now closed altogether some days of the week.

But it's here.

But it’s here and well stocked.

And clearly treasured.

And clearly treasured.

With a good line in...

With a good line in…

Comfortable chairs.

Comfortable chairs.

Nothing around saying this is another Carnegie Library.

Nothing around saying this is another Carnegie Library.

But remembering the plural alteration in the letter before, it might be?

A look round Wallasey Village.

A look round Wallasey Village.

And its nicely named community Café.

And its nicely named community café.

But I’ve just about walked my legs off for the day now given I’ve not been feeling 100% lately.

So I go and look for a bus.

So I go and look for a bus.

By this point I’m deliberately lost and know I’m very unlikely to happen across one of the Tunnel buses to take me straight back home. To my joy serendipity finds me something even better. A bus that takes me to a bit of Wallasey I haven’t yet been to today, the Mersey shore.

To the Seacombe Ferry.

To the Seacombe Ferry.

And whilst waiting here for the ferry to arrive I find this picture of the Royal Iris, as seen earlier upstairs at Wallasey Central Library.

Back when ferries went to New Brighton too.

Back when ferries went to New Brighton too.

Then as my here today modern ferry arrives?

It's the boat now proudly carrying the name 'royal Iris'

It’s the boat now proudly carrying the name ‘Royal Iris’

Passengers get off, we get on.

Passengers get off, we get on.

And we're off.

And we’re off.

Pulling away from a great day out in Wallasey.

Pulling away from a great day out in Wallasey.

I'll definitely be back now i know my way around a bit better.

I’ll definitely be back now I know my way around a bit better.

I remember this from being a boy. Hanging over the side watching the waves.

I remember this from being a boy. Hanging over the side watching the waves.

This too as we dock briefly at Birkenhead Woodside.

Lowering the gangway by walking on it.

Lowering the gangway by walking on it.

Then we head for home.

Then we head for home.

Even on a grey day like this has become it's achingly beautiful to me.

Even on a grey day like this has become it’s achingly beautiful to me.

Until we get a bit closer.

Sooner or later those black monstrosities will have to go.

Sooner or later those black monstrosities will have to go. The ferry terminal’s no gem either.

But home's home.

But home’s home (notice automated modern gangway?)

Imperfectly perfect.

Imperfectly perfect.

Yes, and of course, they play the song:

“We don’t care what your name is boy
We’ll never turn you away”

Which reminds me to mention that film club in Wallasey Central Library again. Soon they’re showing ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’. And I haven’t seen that since, oh, 1966? Anyway here, to finish, is their full 2014/2015 programme. Support everyone’s local library, wherever it is, go on!

Friends of Wallasey Central Library Film Club 2014/15 programme:

On Merseyside Season:
30.9.14 These Dangerous Years [1957]
28.10.14 Ferry Cross The Mersey [1965]
25.11.14 Gumshoe [1971]
9.12.14 The Reckoning [1969]
27.1.15 I Thank A Fool [1962]
24.2.15 What’s Good For The Goose [1969]
31.3.15 The Clouded Yellow [1951]

Continental Season:
16.9.14 Bicycle Thieves [1948]
14.10.14 Madame De [1953]
11.11.14 World War Film Special: Western Front [1930]
13.1.15 Wages Of Fear [1950]
10.2.15 Pepe Le Moke [1937]
10.3.15 Diary Of A Country Priest [1951]
14.5.15 Tabu [[1931]
12.5.15 Summer With Monika [1953]
9.9.15 Le Plaisir [1952]
13.10.15 Forbidden Games [1952]
10.11.15 La Grande Illusion [1937]
8.12.15 Umberto D [1952]
British Towns & Cities Season:
28.4.15 [Manchester] Hell Is A City [1960]
26.5.15 [Newcastle] Payroll [1961]
29.9.15 [Torbay] The System [1964]
27.10.15 [Rotherham] Tread Softly Stranger [1958]
24.11.15 [London] Night & The City [1950]

Doors open at 7pm. Films start at 7.30pm.
All films are free.

19 thoughts on “Wallasey: A Tale of Two Libraries

  1. Stephen John Roberts

    Very interesting tour Ronnie. You have a very perceptive geographical eye which brings the place to life for the armchair traveller sitting at home like I am now. In addition, you make important points about libraries and local shops. I am worried about Wirral libraries. I believe West Kirby has given up its first floor and is therefore trying to get rid of its local history collection. Can you believe that in this day and age when local and family history are so incredibly popular in Britain? I can’t understand it.

    Reply
    1. Alan

      Hi Stephen, I’m not sure about the local history collection at WK, but I’ll try to find out tomorrow and update you, but in terms of the library as a whole, it has suffered from a few ‘chinese whispers’ since the refurbishment began. My understanding is that although the first floor has been given up to help make room for other activities at the concourse, the ground floor library will actually be bigger and when its finished much of the stock will be coming back. Having the library on one level is better for access and hopefully will make navigation a lot easier than it was.

      Reply
      1. Stephen John Roberts

        That is good news. Makes a lot more sense than the story I had been given. Thanks very much Alan.

      2. Alan

        Hi again, having checked with the library managers at West Kirby, I can reassure you that the local history collection will be safely returned to the shelves at the improved, fully ground-level West Kirby library when the work is completed!

  2. Cathy Alderson

    I loved that Ronnie, great to see more libraries, especially ones I wouldn’t otherwise have seen.
    If you go back to Wallasey again, Seacombe is quite interesting. River view Road has some nice old municipal buildings.
    My Dad had a fishmongers in Borough Road (long knocked down) and when I was little, in the summer holidays, I would go “over the water” on the bus and ferry on my own, aged about eight (imagine that now!) and wander all over Seacombe and Egremont. I’d go down to the beach, the swings in Demesne St, the park, Guinea Gap baths, with it’s salt water, not chlorine and many other places. No problem then with “Stranger danger” well I never saw any of what my Mum called “Bad Men” although I did think all bad men would be wearing long overcoats and shady hats, like in the films!

    Reply
  3. Adam Waldron

    I love Wallasey central.

    The problem with the statement you quoted from Wirral Council is that it’s a great soundbite but doesn’t tell the whole truth. Wirral aren’t closing Libraries but Liverpool are Therefore sounds like WBC are better than Liverpool. WBC may not be closing the libraries but they are planning to only open many of them for 2 hours a day and not at the times many would want to use them. Which will probably lead to the council at some point justifying closing them because they are not wanted or used. You could say that Liverpool are being more up front about it and WBC just more devious in the way they go about closing them.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Always interesting when you get the inside angle on local politics. Or could this be a result of what Alan Creevy is calling ‘Chinese Whispers’ in his reply to Stephen’s comment about West Kirby library?

      Reply
  4. Alan

    Oh god, I don’t want to get drawn into a massive debate on this! Obviously, we’d all want a fantastically well-resourced, maintained, accessible, universal library service in an ideal world. But we are far from an ideal world at the moment; Ronnie has blogged a few times about Liverpool’s predicament over its libraries and the frustration that brings… the savings that most councils have to make are very real.

    What Adam is referring to is one of the budget options for next year which Wirral Council is currently consulting on. The proposal is to have quite a number of libraries operating on much reduced opening hours and open for only 2 or 3 days per week. (There is quite a significant caveat in that, though, in that there is a guarantee that at least one library in each of the four constituency areas will always be open during what people would consider normal operating times – Mon to Sat etc)

    But at the moment even that is just one of the proposals which is being consulted upon, it is not set in stone. There are proposed savings totalling £4 millon in the consultation paper, the council will only take forward £2.5 million so a difference can be made. And there’s plenty of free-text space in there to make other suggestions, so if you don’t like the idea, you can say so.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think there’s any political will in Wirral to close any libraries. The idea in 2009 was quite rightly greeted like an alsatian’s fart in a lift. But clearly the issue of maintaining 24 public libraries while all other public services are being stripped down to the bone was never going away. This is a proposal to keep all of them open in some way, shape or form for at least another year – with the possibility of extending the hours again if Friends/Community groups want to manage specific activities there. It is what it is, in black and white – I certainly don’t think it’s devious.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks Alan, as you say I’ve blogged a fair bit about this and had discussions with people in Liverpool as they’ve agonised over what the possibilities might be for preserving a decent library service. And throughout it all I’ve been impressed by the decency of the people involved and their clear and obvious devotion to libraries.

      So, like you I’m not walking into a cardboard cut-out ‘anti-cuts’ campaign. What we’re all looking for here is the most intelligent way of our libraries weathering this ‘austerity’ attack. They are gentle, fragile things, that matter deeply – and are best defended with intelligence and dignified discussion. Thank you for your own contribution.

      And the information about the toxicity of alsatians!

      Reply
  5. aendr

    Thank you for your tour around my childhood haunts. I remember using up all my family’s library tickets as well as my own, to maximise the number of books I could take out at once.

    Reply
  6. Catally2

    Great post but you missed Wallasey Central’s Children’s Library! It adjoins the main library but is a separate space. Call in to see it next time you visit Wallasey. It celebrates its own centenary this year (2015) one of the oldest separate children’s libraries in the country. Library lovers everywhere have been invited to send the library a 100th birthday card – perhaps you – and your readers – would like to send one too? Wallasey Central Children’s Library, Earlston Road, Wallasey CH45 5DX

    Reply
  7. Stephen McChrystal

    I’ve just found this. It’s a really good tour for exiles like me. I did all my reading, studying and writing for my Open University degree in the reference library at Earlston. I also made good use of the music library there. The models of the ferry boats used to be at Seacombe Ferry.

    Reply
  8. Janet

    Thanks for the great trip around Wallasey, I was trying to find out when the first lending library opened in Wallasey. I didn’t find out but loved getting a tour of Liscard and Wallasey Village from where I emigrated in the early sixties.

    Reply

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