This is one of my earliest memories from when I’m, just, four years old.
It’s a Friday morning, 7th February 1958, when I come down our stairs in Liverpool thinking I’m the only one up this early. Not this time though. As I open the door my Dad’s already sat at the breakfast table. Not upright and cheerful, which is his usual way. But slumped, and for the first time I’ve ever seen, crying with the paper open in front of him.
‘They’re dead, nearly all of them. All the team. I think Bobby Charlton’s alive and they don’t know about Duncan Edwards but the rest of them, nearly all dead.’
‘On a dark and winter’s day walking round Port Sunlight
Half factory, half village, all about us in the gentle rain
A day of talking quietly, unfolding curiosity
Together like our early days, out finding a sense of place.’
‘Together on my birthday, out finding a sense of place.’
In the early days of this blog we had a look round Liverpool in 1953, the place I was about to get born into. In this follow up to that one we’re going to come in a bit closer. Having spent much of my life with no early photographs of my early days, I’ve recently gathered up a few, courtesy of my Dad. And they’ve got a story to tell.
But before I arrive, of course, my parents have to meet.
In this lovely picture Joe is eight and Terry four. Meaning it’s 1936. They are living in North Liverpool down by the Dock Road.
“Even at that age, in those days, we were allowed to roam wherever we liked and I was trusted to look after Terry’ Joe says now. ‘We’d go to church on our own and then go off wandering around the docks and streets and even into town. I remember me and Terry being in town together even after it had gone dark. We had a much bigger Liverpool to play in than children seem to be allowed now. It was great.”
On Saturday mornings, when I’m content with the week’s work done, I like to walk around the neighbourhood more or less pointlessly. Sometimes the walk involves a sit and a read in a café then some food shopping, sometimes LPs. Today it was books. Restocking my shelf of coming soon novels from both the local library and the local Oxfam. While I was in Oxfam I also found this old map of Birkenhead and sat down for a good look at it and the stories it contains.
Like the story of the major line railway station which was running six trains a day from Birkenhead to London until the late 1960s? Read on.
A ‘Letter from Sarah’ here with a slight difference. She’s put all the structure together, taken and selected all the photographs and will be the main writer. But I went on the day out in North Wales too, so we’re going to sit and write together. My occasional contributions in italics.
So… with one thing and another it’s been a while since me and Ronnie have had a day out together. Me being up in Knoydart, off in my kayak, and of course, Ronnie not being well from early August, have all meant that we’ve simply not had the time or wellness until now to pack our day bags and go off exploring.
I’ve suggested that we come to Pontcysyllte Aqueduct today, out of sheer curiosity. (For those of you not fluent in Welsh, a helpful sign tells us, ‘Pontcysyllte’ is prounounced Pont-ker-sulth-tay.)
We arrive at Trevor Basin, not far from Llangollen.
It’s the day the clocks have gone back so we’re a bit disoriented. And after an early start from home we eat much of our packed lunch as soon as we arrive. Though our watches are telling us it’s only 11am our bodies know full well it’s lunchtime.
As 2018 gets properly going ideas for Liverpool’s parks are starting to emerge. I’ll be able to tell you more soon, more about this story and what happened next. Listen…
There is magic all around us. Stories waiting to be told. In every park & street the future is waiting. Listen, while I tell you a story.
“In what would yet come to be looked back on as the early years of the 21st Century the people of Liverpool woke up to the beauty all around them. Gathering first in small groups in Autumn 2017 and telling each other stories of what they might do, in the parks and other places that had been around them for all of their lives, and many lives before but in the huddle and muggle of everyday busyness had been all but forgotten.
Here they began the re-membering and the re-doing of their place.
From early 2018 they started. Small things at first & many. The growing of things, the gatherings and re-gatherings. A litany of possibilities and a story-tellings of dreams. Dreams that got planted, stories that grew. Knowingly and quietly they began the re-growing of their Liverpool.
“I lived in that grim old House of Providence for five years and my mother worked in the laundry. I was able to obtain information from Nugent care only to find some of the details were incorrect.
Children had to leave at the age of 5. I wasn’t adopted so we had to leave with no help…”
“I hated being sent to collect me mum’s washing from the Kelton laundry. With a kid’s imagination it looked like Dracula’ s castle or maybe Colditz to my young eyes. You would knock on a huge door which was duly opened by a fearsome looking nun in full habit. Peering in as she went to fetch the wash, revealed a scene I thought was what hell must look like. A horrible smell of cleaning and lots of steam. Lines of women in pinafores and covered heads slaving away. A vacant expression of hopelessness on every face. I sensed evil even at my tender age.
Extracts from recent comments here about a blog post I’d written back in in December 2013. That post had been about a general walk around Aigburth in South Liverpool that had ended with me finding somewhere I’d almost forgotten from earlier in my life.
“Let me tell you a story, a true story, from half my lifetime ago.
It’s the mid 1980s and I’m delivering my beloved baby daughter to her nursery. It’s called Kelton and is just down the hill from a convent, called Kelton House. This morning I’ve noticed someone watching me as I drive past Kelton House. Someone who doesn’t look much like a nun. I ask one of the women who work in the nursery, an Irish woman as it happens ‘What is that place up there? I thought it was a convent.’ ‘Well it is’ she says ‘But it’s also a mother and baby home. It’s where the girls come to have their babies, off the Irish boats as often as not.’
So hurtful for them. Us bringing our much wanted and much celebrated babies to the nursery each morning, while they watch us from their hidden away lives.
I wasn’t sorry, then, when the nursery had to move to another place a few months later because the nuns, who owned the land, had decided to sell it off for housing.”
“But really, I thought, to even want to do this? To get to here….”
A guest post with reflections, by Sarah, on her wilderness walking last week.
“‘Walking’ is an understatement I feel. To get to places like this”
As I sat on the shore of Loch Coruisk on the Isle of Skye, some 450 miles from home, having my lunch, I thought, ‘How long did it take to get to here?’ Loch Coruisk sits in heart of the Black Cuillin, it is surrounded by 22 peaks. It’s only accessible from the sea by boat, or on foot from two villages, both about eight miles away.
Early in May this year writer and journalist Lynsey Hanley, together with a producer from BBC Radio 4 came and interviewed me for a series of programmes they were planning about the history of social housing. I was glad to do this as Liverpool had a significant role in the early development of council housing.