It’s Liverpool, in 1943

war-damageWe are nearly four years into the second Great War of the century. Many thousands are dead and large areas of all sides cities and docklands are in ruins. Already though, thoughts here are turning to the longed for ‘afterwards.’ The Beveridge Report has been published the previous December, enthralling hundreds of thousands at home and at the front with plans for making a better world. A world that will deal with the ‘Five great evils’ of squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease by, amongst other things, creating a National Health Service. And wartime Education Minister Rab Butler will soon be bringing his Education Act to Parliament. Creating a new education system for all and raising the school leaving age to fifteen.

Well Joe Hughes, our guide to wartime Liverpool today, has avoided that and left school at fourteen. Largely because his family needs the income. Born in Chisenhale Street, just off Vauxhall Road in 1928, and now living in Owen House in Kirkdale, close to the North Docks, Joe is in Liverpool to start his second full-time job.

Having begun as a gas-welder close to home Joe has now managed, at just fifteen, to get his first office job. At Exchange Flags, just behind the Town Hall. Joe is starting as an Office Boy, running errands for the Liverpool Exchange Company.

Joe Hughes is my Dad. And today we are walking round wartime Liverpool together.

We walk through to Rigby's on Dale Street.

We walk through to Rigby’s on Dale Street.

To walk through the warren of tiny alleyways young Joe frequents in his new job. The Exchange Company are the agents for many of the buildings round here, full of firms engaged in shipping and insurance work. War there may be, but goods and armaments and food are still being moved around the world. And Joe is running between offices with messages about them.

“We’ve got a ticker tape machine. The height of technology. And so hear about things first.”

Joe Hughes, my Dad, today.

Joe Hughes, my Dad. Today in Hackins Hey.

As well as offices, the alleys are full of lunch rooms.

As well as offices, the alleys are full of lunch rooms.

And pubs, like the Hole in the Wall here.

And pubs, like the Hole in the Wall here.

“And in the crowded alleys you can’t see as far as you’ll be able to in later years. When buildings are knocked down for car parking spaces. Though spaces like these will have the look of bomb damage, mostly they’re not. The business district will get through the war relactively unscathed. For one particularly good reason, as we’ll see in a bit.”

Economic damage, not bomb damage.

Economic damage, not bomb damage.

Sounds like an alley.

Sounds like an alley.

Isn't anymore.

Isn’t anymore.

Many remain though.

Many remain though.

"Garlands? Oh well this was always a theatre"

“Garlands? Oh well this was always a theatre”

"This is Exchange Station, of course, in 1943. With shops along the front there and into the station"

“This is Exchange Station, of course, in 1943. With shops along the front there and into the station”

Out onto Exchange Street East. Some 1943 survives.

Out onto Exchange Street East. Some 1943 survives.

"This is where we had the Stock Exchange. We were big news in 1943."

“This is where we had the Stock Exchange. We were big news in 1943.”

Into Exchange Flags, back of the Town Hall.

Into Exchange Flags, back of the Town Hall.

"In 1943 these are pretty new. Only put up in the 30s to replace the old Exchange Flags."

“In 1943 these are pretty new. Only put up in the 30s to replace the old Exchange Flags.”

“But by the time I arrive in 1943 they’re already turning black in the smoky, smoggy industrial place.”

"And this is where I work. For the Exchange Company here in Derby House."

“And this is where I work. For the Exchange Company here in Derby House. In 1943 there’s no talk of Gourmet Coffee!”

Outside Derby House now, with memories of war.

Outside Derby House now, with memories of war.

Liverpool 194319

Derby House is now a Ministry of Defence office. And while we’re standing here two people from the Liverpool Cottton Association come up and talk to us about their Liverpool Pals and both wars.

We walk on.

We walk on.

“You used to be able to get down to the basement through that door there. I’ll tell you about the basement in a bit.”

Looking along Chapel Street.

Looking along Chapel Street.

“I remember the American troops marching along here after landing down there at the Princes Dock. Hand guns in holsters some of them. Like creatures from another world.”

American Troops, marching out of Princes Dock.

American Troops, marching out of the Princes Dock.

Along Old Hall Street.

Along Old Hall Street.

The old Cotton Exchange.

The old Cotton Exchange.

“Desecrated well after 1943. Had the whole front of it ripped off and replaced with offices.”

The modern world hurries on, unaware that they're walking through 1943.

The modern world hurries on, unaware that they’re walking through 1943.

We drop down off the street into the kind of lunch room Joe would occasionally treat himself to lunch in. Or more often visit to pick up his boss’s lunch – too grand to leave the office and mix with the workers.

And it really isn't all that different.

And it really isn’t all that different.

Still going, like the stars of later years.

Still going, like the stars of later years.

But good and home-made though the food looks, they’re not catering for vegetarians like me. “Just like 1943!” quips Joe.

Back on to Chapel Street.

Back on to Chapel Street.

Along the outside of Exchange Flags. "Nearly time to tell you about this basement'

Along the outside of Exchange Flags. “Nearly time to tell you about this basement”

Opposite some old survives, next to something two generations stare at and solemnly pronounce 'Hideous!'

Opposite some old survives, next to something two generations stare at and solemnly pronounce ‘Hideous’

And just opposite another alley revealed by time.

And just opposite another alley revealed by time.

Is the back door of Derby House. Where young Joe is working.

Is the back door of Derby House. Where young Joe is working.

And the way down to its huge basement.

And the way down to its huge reinforced, bomb proof and gas proof basement.

“Because this, in the basement of where I’m working in 1943, is one of the most important places in our fighting of the Second World War. The Combined Operations of the Navy, the Air Force and the Royal Marines worked out of here. Not just to monitor enemy activities and see off the U-boats attacking our shipping. Not just to win the Battle of the Atlantic and save the country being brought to its knees and invaded. But also to ensure the convoys got through, the 1,000 convoys of food, supplies, armaments and eventually soldiers that keep us alive.

western-approaches-liverpoolIn 1943 this place is literally turning the war around so that in 1944 we will begin the invasion of Europe that will finally see off the fascist menace.

I think this is as important a War Museum as we have. But you wouldn’t think so.”

"With direct lines to Churchill and the Generals"

“With direct lines to Churchill and the Generals”

"It's low-key"

“It’s low-key”

"And it's open, though you'd hardly know"

“And it’s open, though you’d hardly know”

Ring for attention.

‘Please ring for attention.’

"As important as where we cracked the Enigma Code? I'd say so. and worth a visit. But so much more could be made of it"

“As important as where we cracked the Enigma Code? I’d say so. and worth a visit. But so much more could be made of it”

We walk on.

We walk on.

Past lovely Oriel Chambers. Lovely in 1943, lovely now.

Past lovely Oriel Chambers. Lovely in 1943, lovely now.

and up the steps into India Buildings.

And up the steps into India Buildings.

Still grand.

Still grand.

Hugely impressive.

Hugely impressive.

"But in 1943 it's much busier than this!"

“But in 1943 it’s much busier than this!”

"I pass people queuing up in here for a haircut."

“I pass people queuing up in here for a haircut.”

"Then check the lists of so many offices in this huge place."

“Then check the lists of so many offices in this huge place.”

"Before running up the stairs to deliver the messages"

“Before running up the stairs to deliver the messages”

Walk nearly done, it’s past the Bank of England.

"Still open in 1943"

“Still open in 1943”

Then round the corner into utter devastation.

The ruins of Lord Street and the roads beyond.

The ruins of Lord Street and the roads beyond.

"Though how they manage to miss that Victoria Monument I'll never know!"

“Though how they manage to miss that Victoria Monument I’ll never know!”

"The last thing left standing round here"

“The last thing left standing round here”

"Years later still standing. For some reason"

“Years later still standing. For some reason”

Though Lord Street and the streets around it are not fully rebuilt until Liverpool One turns up early in the next century.

Though Lord Street and the streets around it are not fully rebuilt until Liverpool One turns up early in the next century.

While young Joe is running round these streets and alleyways delivering his messages he’s also a member of the Air Training Corps, situated back over by Exchange Station. It’s here he completes the education he didn’t complete at school. And it’s from here that he’ll volunteer for the Royal Air Force, training as an engineer on the new jet planes. And being part of the occupying forces at Lubeck, close to what will become the border of East Germany after the War finally ends.

Along Lord Street we finally reach our lunch.

Along Lord Street we finally reach our lunch.

Up the stairs to Rococo.

Up the stairs to Rococo.

We sit in the window and look out at Lord Street.

We sit in the window and look out at Lord Street.

Musing as we do so that once, long ago, we sat together in a similar window a few doors along from here. And watched history happen.

It’s now September 1957. Young Joe is well grown up now. Twenty nine years old. He’s met Rose, his wife, and they’ve had their first child, Ronnie.

And we sit in the window of Clark's shoe Shop and watch the last tram go by.

So with three year old me, Joe sits in the window of Clark’s shoe Shop and watches the last tram go by.

Fifty seven years later we both still agree that this was an act of short-sighted municipal vandalism.

As was the destruction of the Overhead. Battered in 1943. Taken down altogether in 1957.

As was the destruction of the Overhead. Battered in 1943. Taken down altogether in 1957.

Liverpool 194352Thank you for the walk and the conversation Dad. It was an education.

9 thoughts on “It’s Liverpool, in 1943

  1. jbaird

    What a wonderful walk through history. Your Dad is one special guy. I loved all the photos, even the hard-to-watch ones, and of course your delightful commentary. Jan from Calif., proud daughter of an American World War II vet who served on the European front.

    Reply
  2. stan cotter

    hi ron the twin alleys from exchange flags into chapel street are formed by what used to be the commercial telegraph coy (I was in cable and wireless castle street) but the western approaches museum, It is very under advertised considering its past importance, I did visit once, on leaving and asked if I enjoyed I commented yes but the telegraph room is wrong, you have auto tapes hanging over the top of teleprinters that weren’t fitted up for auto. she replied well they don’t claim to be perfect, I asked what about the butchers bike in the basement, ah now she said that is genuine, I said I know, but, they didn’t have mountain bike rear wheels with 9 gears on them. no reply , however its extremely interesting and well worth a visit as part of the Liverpool history

    Reply
  3. Pak

    Nice trip down memory lane with your dad, Ron. There is a movietone newsreel of the last tram on youtube. The last tram is now at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Maine,USA, probably rotting away. Perhaps we can start a campaign in bringing it back to Liverpool – would look great at the Museum Of Liverpool and it would be easier than bringing back the Royal Iris.

    Reply
  4. Iain Kenworthy-Neale

    A wonderful tour around a bit of my home town that I know well.
    Not content with the Luftwaffe bombing the city the poor old place has had to contend with the mediocrity of the city council. They carried on when the Luftwaffe stopped.
    What wouldn’t we give for an overhead railway now or working trams? A city ahead of its time dragged down by a total lack of municipal vision.
    And I see they are still at it with horrendous plans by the Adelphi for cardboard, 1960s throwback student digs. They have already destroyed the pier head with the plug ugly museum and ferry building. Mann island with that black wedge of cheese. Don’t get me started on liverpool1 and surrounding development.
    Rant over.
    Thanks again.

    Reply
  5. Jillian Thomas

    Really enjoyed the journey! Having a sense of a life lived make the experience so much better than just looking at photographs. As a Manc I find it wonderful that I have ancestors from Liverpool and of course, further back, from Ireland.

    I have found that I have an ancestor who was the landlord of a pub in Hackin’s Hey and a relation who had a Fishing Tackle shop on Bassett Street. My 3 times great grandfather from Wexford lived in Shaw’s Brow and Richmond Row.

    I didn’t know that some of these Rows or alleyways still existed so now I would really like to visit them. Your article has brought them alive for me, so many thanks.

    Reply

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