Only an outside toilet? I think it’s terrible, said Princess A. to Mrs S.

16 May 1969

This morning, the Daily Post, along with most of the national press, has extensive reports on the Senate House demonstration:

The Princess meets Ethel Singleton

Princess Alexandra yesterday came face to face with Mrs Ethel Singleton, secretary of the Abercromby Tenants’ Association, in Li·erpool’s Vine Street.

Mrs Singleton, a thirty-six year old mother of three, has been campaigning for families who live in houses – which she calls slums – in the university redevelopment area. She wants them all to be rehoused.

The Princess was on a one-day flying visit to Liverpool to open the University’s new Senate House, in Oxford Street, and to attend a reception of the Liverpool branch of the Royal Commonwealth Society.

But in spite of a tight schedule, she accepted an invitation from Mrs Singleton for a woman to woman chat on the problems facing tenants in the area. Many of the people waiting to greet the Princess in Vine Street – one of the streets Mrs Singleton is campaigning about – carried placards with slogans such as “We have an outside loo have you?” and ”To let – twenty slums.”

As Mrs Singleton welcomed the princess she said, “I am very pleased to meet you. I hope you are not offended by our placards – because they are not really against you. We want to draw attention to the conditions in which we live to the city authorities.”

Princess Alexandra said: “‘What amenities do you have in your home? Do you have to use the public baths when you want to bathe?” Mrs Singleton, who lives in nearby Melville Place, said: ”I bathe my children in a tin bath in front of the fire.”

”How do you get hot water,”

”We boil it in a kettle.”

“Have you only got an outside toilet? ”


Princess Alexandra said: “This must be dreadful in winter. I think it’s terrible ln this day and age that something can’t be done to improve your living conditions.”

The Princess then asked: “How many people live in a house?”

“In some houses two and three families live. I know that seventeen people live in one house in nearby Chatham Street.” Mrs Singleton added: ”The reason I wrote to you was because of the contrasts in Liverpool between the fantastic buildings here and the places we have to live in.”

Princess Alexandra said: “Yes, but I’m sure the authorities are doing everything they can to help you.”

The Princess asked: “In what way do the students fit into this?” Mrs Singleton said: “We have nothing but the highest praise for the students who have helped us in every way they can. They understand the conditions in which we live.”

“Something will have to we done for us,” she added.

Princess Alexandra was invited to see inside the home of Mrs Jane Parr, aged 56, of 111 Vine Street, which she was about to do when an official told her that she was already 30 minutes behind schedule.

Last night Mrs Singleton said: “I thought the Princess was very attractive and charming. It was a victory for us because she actually came and saw for herself the way we have to live.  Now we will have to wait and see what happens.”

Mrs Singleton said she lived in a three-storey house, the top floor of which, she said, was unusable because of wall fractures. On the first floor only one room was usable for the same reason. ln the one usable room on the that floor, the whole family had to sleep. But Mrs Singleton added: ”My house is by no means the worst in the area. It’s just representative.”

The newspaper continues its coverage on page 7:

Before the Princess arrived at the university to open the new Senate House, nearly 900 students held an open-air meeting and unanimously decided to support the Abercromby tenants. Mr Peter Archard, a twenty-eight year-old teacher and student at the university, and one of the leaders of the student campaign for the tenants, said: “We want the University Estate Office to open its books.” Until local tenants – many of them with the university as its landlord – told the students of their conditions, the students did not know the university held slum property, said Mr Archard.

Last night the students started a special fund to help rehouse Abercromby tenants. A spokesman for the organising committee said: “‘To some people, there are more effective forms of action than direct action. This will be something positive. ”

Mr H H Burchnall, university registrar, last night said that money for university building could not be used for repairs or for the rehousing of tenants who lived in the area allocated for university development. He was replying to critics who had accused the university of spending money on the visit by Princess Alexandra to open the Senate House and Oliver Lodge Physics Laboratory, which they contended should have been used by the university for repairs or rehousing purposes. ”The costs of this particular visit are modest – about £500 – and a small sum in relation to the amount the university spends each year on rehousing,” he said.

”The university recognises that much of the housing in the area designated for its expansion is in poor condition but it can claim that its record in rehousing is a good one. Since 1949, more than 300 families have been rehoused by the university and the Abercromby Housing Association.

“Money for more specific new buildings and money for rehousing  are made available by the University Grants Committee on separate accounts. The two types of grants are quite separate accounts and building grants are rigidly controlled,” he added. ”Regarding the houses in Vine Street and Chatham Street, only  four of the fifteen houses about which there have been complaints are owned by the university, and these four properties were purchased from the Corporation only on May 5.

”Their condition is poor but essential repairs are being undertaken by the university,” he concluded.

This morning Princess Alexandra, who stayed overnight at Lord Derby’s Knowsley Hall, will make a surprise detour to Tuebrook on her way to Liverpool Airport. She is making the special visit at the request of Father Diamond, vicar of St. John’s Church, Tuebrook, to make up for the cancellation of Princess Margaret’s tour on Tuesday.

Footnote from the future (2009)

Go here for a map showing the location of the streets where the University and the City Council owned slum properties.

Jim and Ethel Singleton from Melville Place, who appear in this article, were active in the Abercromby Tenants’ Association and the events that led up to the protest at the opening of Senate House by Princess Alexandra. A year later, they would feature in the documentary film-maker Nick Broomfield’s first film, Who Cares? Made whilst he was a student at Essex University using a borrowed camera, it has been described as:

Honest, raw and confrontational … this 16-minute black and white observational film successfully communicates the resentment felt by a close-knit Liverpudlian working class community, angered at the demolition of their homes by the local council. Recipients of a compulsory purchase order were forced to leave a neighbourhood where the same families had been living for generations, relocating to alienating high-rise flats on the outskirts of the city.

Go here for more about the film – and to watch the film itself, which provides a vivid insight into the housing conditions that sparked the demonstration that greeted Princess Alexandra when she opened Senate House in May the following year.

The Singletons were rehoused and continued to be active politically; they feature in Nick Broomfield’s third film, Behind the Rent Strike (1974).

In December 2009, issue 15 of Nerve, the cultural and social issues magazine published in Liverpool by Catalyst Media, included an article by Jim and Ethel Singleton’s daughter, Kim, entitled Revolting Tenants: The Great Abercromby Rent Strike of ‘69.


Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

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