Posts Tagged ‘history’

There’s a book not long out called Edgelands written by two poets. A couple of us have read it, and found it good in parts but overall probably not the best; still worth reading though as it gives ideas for looking into things we normally only see in passing, in this case the ‘edgelands’ between the city and the countryside. These are places where a surprising amount of nature has returned to; the history of the recent past is inscribed there; sewage farms, motorway service stations, conference centres, travel lodges, kids’ dens, surreal golf ranges…..

We’re inspired to look at something a bit like edgelands but those within the town and city. The alleys, the derelict industrial sites, rows of houses awaiting demolition, and the new businesses that spring up selling cars, carpets, sheds and pallets. Our first foray was into Birkenhead’s docklands. There is a definite sense of atmosphere as you leave the main road that runs by the park, head up Duke Street then cross into the dusty remains of the past, tangled wreckage of machinery, and the signs of life springing up as if at random. Here are some of the pictures we took.



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We recently featured a post about Robert Tressell, author of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, who died in the old Liverpool Infirmary and was buried as a pauper. During this centenary year of his death Liverpool sees twelve months of activities around the theme of City of Radicals. In our group we have, over the past  year, looked at some of the major radical figures in Liverpool’s history and many of the historical events that will receive coverage in 2011. The City Council has published some details of what we can look forward to:

Organisations across the city will host a series of events to mark a century of cultural, social and political radicalism in Liverpool.

And the city council will be kicking-off the celebrations by marking the centenary of Robert Tressell’s death – one of the great socialist figures of the twentieth century, who inspired generations with his novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

Tressell, born Robert Noonan, died in Liverpool on 3 February 1911 when he and his daughter were en-route to Canada.  He was buried in a cemetery in Walton, which is today on the same site as Rice Lane City Farm.

Working with the Bluecoat, Liverpool City Council has commissioned prestigious artist David Jacques, shortlisted for this year’s Northern Art Prize, to produce artwork which will reflect Tressell’s importance.  David has received critical acclaim for his work around trade union and memorial banners and will draw on twentieth century posters, adverts and press cuttings which focus on industrial struggles.

As part of the anniversary, a banner showcasing the work will be erected on the side of a prominent terrace of listed buildings on Dale Street.  The banner will also help in protecting the external façade of the terrace as well as improving its appearance.

David said: “Tressell is often seen as a rite of passage if you’re in any way involved with politics of a Leftist slant.

“The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was significant for me because it addressed economics among other things and it did this in an accessible way, by weaving the subject into a story.  For the most part its analysis still stands up and it’s a useful point of reference given the economic crisis we’re living through now.”

Other plans to honour Tressell include a series of special events on the 3 February including a wreath laying at the Tressell plaque located at the former Liverpool Infirmary, a ceremony at his graveside and an evening at the Town Hall where the impact of Tressell will be debated.

Public readings of the book will take place in Dovecot, Walton, Sefton Park and Toxteth libraries, and in March, the John Moores University Roscoe Lecture Series will dedicate a session to the author.

Liverpool  city council’s cabinet member for culture and tourism, Councillor Wendy Simon, said:  “The significance of Tressell’s book cannot be underestimated and has been described as one of the greatest English novels which highlights class conflicts.

“As he’s buried in Liverpool it’s important the city marks his cultural contribution.  The planned series of events will be thought-provoking and bring this influential character to the attention of the next generation who will be able to get an insight into life 100 years ago.

“And the Tressell events just mark the beginning of an exciting year which will look at Liverpool’s century of radicalism, including workers’ uprisings and struggles.”

Visit the Council website for more. The City of Radicals theme runs alongside the Year of Social Justice which was referred to here.


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Our sister site Spiderphoto will shortly be publishing a video called Passed Tense. The idea was that people recall a section of their life, represent this in a composite photograph, and talk over the photograph explaining the memories evoked. One of the images is that of Stephen’s shown here. In a longer version of his talking than in the video, he reflects upon how memory, rather than being a simple mirror of the past, is edited and constructed – sometimes contradicting actual events. You can hear Stephen’s interview here, or you can hear it here while looking at the image as it is slowly revealed.

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A stroll for five minutes, a few photographs, and then a little tweaking on the computer. The past and the present are intertwined. Images produced today evoke the same scenes from a hundred years ago. Ste L, Ste O, Peter, Duncan caught Liverpool in the snow.

Falkner Square

St James Cemetry

Falkner Terraces

Georgian Facade

St James Cemetry

Saint Brides

Georgian terrace

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We are starting an archive of materials which represent Liverpool’s connection with literature and the arts. Starting with Daniel Defoe we’ll be exploring the wealth of materials up to the present day, including novels, poetry, art, theatre, film and television. Not to mention music!

Here, Denis reflects back on his youthful encounter with Casabianca, the poem with perhaps the most famous opening of all, “The boy stood on the burning deck…”  Felicia Dorothea Hemans who wrote the poem was born in Dale Street, Liverpool.





Dormer High School in Warwickshire, was, what might be called, a kitchen-sink school.  It was a Roman Catholic school that, mainly, served the offspring of the Irish who moved from Cork in the early 1950s, when the car manufacturer, Fords, closed down the factory there and moved it to Leamington Spa.


Even though Dormer was a typical secondary modern and most of the pupils were destined for Flavels, Fords, Lockheeds or any of the other factories that provided ‘Jobs-For-Life’, the ethos of erudio pro erudio was unspoken but dominated.  If we asked a teacher what use a certain topic would be for a job, we would, inevitably be told, ‘none’.


The library shelves contained modern as well as classical literature (some, like Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, would horrify Educationalist of today) and in our English classes we would be introduced to some of the finest poetry ever written.  Mainly, I recall only the Romantics, such as Coleridge, Byron , Wordsworth or Shelly.  But a poem that stuck in my mind was Casabianca, written by Felicia Dorothea Hemans.


Casabianca was the name given to a twelve year old boy; the son of a ship’s officer on board L’Orient , a French ship, destroyed by Admiral Nelson in 1798.  It was said that the boy remained in his post, even though the ship was being destroyed, hence one of the most famous opening lines of a poem:  ‘The boy stood on the burning deck’.


The author, Felicia Hemans (nee Browne) was born in Dale Street, Liverpool, in 1793 –  although she later moved to Flintshire, in Wales.  Her first collection of poetry was published in Liverpool when she was only 14 years old, catching the attention of no less a figure than Percy Bysshe Shelley, who she later felt to be ‘a dangerous flatterer’ and she put an end to their correspondence.  During her life Hemans sold more volumes of poetry than any other poet, except Byron. (more…)

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Ian from the group is doing work on the old Liverpool workhouses leading up to the building of the new Royal Liverpool Hospital. On his travels he came across the plaque shown here on the wall of the old redbrick infirmary. “Tressell” was the pseudonym of Robert Noonan, who died a pauper in the hospital. Only after repeated efforts by his sister did his famous book find a publisher. Set in a fictional “Mugsborough” but based on Hastings and the painting and decorating jobs he worked in, the philanthropy of the ragged trousered refers to the generosity with which they give so much to the rich while remaining poor themselves. The Liverpool actor Ricky Tomlinson described it as a book that changed his life: he was given it while serving a prison sentence in the 1970s after taking part in a picket dispute on a building site. A play version of the novel was shown in Liverpool earlier this year, and Tomlinson talks about it here. Copies of the original text have been displayed in Liverpool’s Central Library, currently undergoing rebuilding. By the way, the name “Tressell” was chosen to resemble the trestles used by painters and decorators. You can read an extract from the novel below.


The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

by Robert Tressell



Money is the cause of poverty because it is the device by which those who are too lazy to work are enabled to rob the workers of the fruits of their labour.’


‘Prove it,’ said Crass.


Owen slowly folded up the piece of newspaper he had been reading and put it into his pocket.


‘All right,’ he replied. ‘I’ll show you how the Great Money Trick is worked.’ (more…)

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Pavements, there beneath our feet. Just pavements. But nothing’s ever simple!

The pavements show the effects of time, some of them cracking up under the strain; others  coming apart. What was once neat and all fitted together starts to come apart. Maybe pavements have a story to tell, a sort of parable about how time is always working against our attempts to impose order. Incidentally, the word ‘pavement’ comes from the Latin pavere which means to ‘pound down’. We try to pound down the earth to fit our own design, but nature and time have a way of reclaiming things.

Pavements carry the ghosts of feet, of people long dead, the fleeting touch of shadows or rain that reflects the world above. Footprints caught in the cement of pavements: maybe in a thousand years an excited archaeologist from Mars will find one like we found footsteps on the beach up at Formby from thousands of years ago…

Leaves, apples, litter, all there and gone in an instant. A paving flag is like a picture frame of time.

And then there are the pavements people draw or write upon. Kids chalk drawings,, ‘arty’ stencil stuff, or the  drawings etched into the pavements on the new frontage of Lime Street Station done by artist Simon Faithfull to record a trip to Liverpoool in Nova Scotia, three thousand miles away.

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