This is ‘The Opera for Chinatown.’ It has been put together by ‘The Sound Agents’ and was part of a group of events and dramas they put on in Liverpool last year. Telling some of the stories of the Chinese Community in Liverpool:
“Liverpool Chinatown is home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe. It has the largest arch outside of China and is probably the smallest Chinatown in the world. The streets are steeped in history. People from all over the world stayed in boarding houses in Nelson Street on their way to America. Some stayed thinking they had arrived in America when they docked in Liverpool, making Chinatown a unique cosmopolitan area.”
But also stories of not always being welcomed. Of restrictions and also of the forced repatriation of many Chinese seamen at the end of World War 2:
“In the early 1940s, an estimated 20,000 Chinese merchant sailors were recruited into the British Merchant Navy and, almost entirely based in Liverpool, around 300 of these married or cohabitated with local women. Although the Chinese sailors played a vital role in Britain’s warfare, their demands for the same pay and equal treatment as local sailors in 1942, which led to strike action, saw them labelled as troublemakers. Post-war, the government, in collusion with the shipping companies, were keen to rid Liverpool of what they saw as an ‘undesirable element’ and, in October 1945, the Home Office opened a file on ‘the compulsory repatriation of undesirable Chinese seamen at Liverpool’.
As has been identified through recently released records, although many of the sailors were not reluctant to return to China given the hostile conditions in Liverpool, some of those who had families were not given an opportunity to stay, as the law prescribed. Although we do not know exactly how many Chinese seamen were deported, including those who had relationships and families with local women, it is estimated that more than 200 men with dependents were suddenly and forcefully repatriated, leaving behind distraught families who believed themselves abandoned.
The British wives of the Chinese seamen who had been repatriated formed a defence association in Liverpool to campaign for the rights of Chinese seamen’s families, though to little avail. As far as records show, there were no reviews of individual cases, or appeals. During the last half century, those left fatherless have grown into adults and (as with the children of Black GIs and British women) have sought to identify and track down their fathers. Their testimony is brought to life by photographs assembled by one of them, Yvonne Foley, who has remembered these fathers and their families in her website.”
Here also are stories of the Liverpool Chinese children who featured in the film ‘The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.’ Where they were taken away not to China, but to Snowdonia to make the film with Ingrid Bergman.One of the children was Perry Lee, his story is at the film link above. In the late 1970s Perry arrived at Falkner Square and we worked together for a few years for Liverpool Housing Trust.
These three houses are full of stories though, and I don’t know most of them. More than happy though if any of you reading this want to comment and tell us any of them? All beautifully done and I’m sorry I missed the rest of what happened last year. As is so often the way with me.
But well done you Sound Agents, you John Campbell and Moira Kenny and all of the Liverpool Chinese oral historians who worked with you. Stories need telling and this makes me want to hear more.
As usual, I walk on.
In grander times we’d hold Liverpool Housing Trust (LHT) AGMs in here.
Last time I was here on a weekday, the now grey haired Alby was still here, chatting happily outside his garage. A workshop full of cars to fix just like he did for us in LHT days.
In December 1975 this is the back of where I turned up to start volunteering for LHT. Though it’s in the middle of town, at the time they were calling it ‘our North City Office!’
In the early to mid 1980s me and my great friend and fellow LHT Union Rep Phil Macaulay would come to the Attic Bar here to ‘get ready’ for meetings with ‘Management’ – as in our good friends Dave Bebb and Dave Lambert. Sausage, egg and chips washed down with two or, go on then, three pints would set us up to propose whatever we thought we might get away with. If we were successful, and even if we weren’t, we’d all be back in the Swan downstairs at five, queuing at the bar while the inevitable – and I’m sure still on there – ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ played on the jukie behind us. Happy days.
In fact I do meet a couple of blog readers while I’m along here ( Hello Andrew and Mia!). Always happy to have it confirmed in person that it’s real people and not ‘bots’ who create the encouraging readership figures my walks and thoughts get these days.
I’ve been sent here today by my good friend Barry Dallman, who in his persona of Dr Jazzbeard has prescribed me some essential listening for my health and well being which he says I’ll find here. I’m tempted and of course always happy to spend time flicking through hundred of LPs, but today – unusually – nothing sticks to my hand.
The centre of corporate town moving down to Liverpool One has turned out to be great for Bold Street. The place is booming and thriving and as great a pleasure to be in as at any time in the forty years I’ve been coming here.
Having been a car showroom, and some told us, a manufactory of Spitfire wings in wartime, in 1980 this became the head office of Liverpool Housing Trust. Just opposite, where it now says ‘Subway’ were our close friends Co-operative Development Services (CDS) – now called Plus Dane.
And by the way, more homeless people are asleep in the Reflex doorway there as I pass. I get that it’s safer to sleep rough during daylight hours, but what kind of a society are we running here that makes it necessary at all?
Where I start reading ‘Establishment’ by Owen Jones. Of which you may well hear more.
Then I head back over to Chinatown. Realising it’s neat for walks and blogposts to end where they began.
Almost the last mention of LHT in this post. I realise it’s been a running theme. (Probably because me and my friend Fiona Shaw are writing a book about LHT’s 50 year story at the moment, of which you’ll also hear more in due course.)
A derelict factory on most of the mornings when I’d park here then walk round to work. Since then a thriving recording studio, venue and place to stay.
Then once again across Duke Street.
Definite last mention of LHT today. Middle 1970s, just getting to know everyone, after work and after the pub, would happen in here.
On this Opera for Chinatown and Bold Street. Don’t miss it, don’t miss any of it.