Princess Alex in slumland

16 May 1969

From the Daily Mirror front page

This morning the Daily Mirror splashes the story of yesterday’s demonstration at the opening of Senate House across the front page and a whole page inside – with several photographs.  The focus of the story is the decision by Princess Alexandra to visit the slum properties in Vine Street herself (something which the University dignataries have never deigned to do):

The whole of page 5 is devoted to the protest

The banner slung between crumbling terrace houses read: “Come and visit the slums of Vine street.”

And yesterday, Princess Alexandra won a city’s heart by doing just that. She stepped from a gleaming limousine on to the grimy pavements of Vine street, Liverpool, to discover for herself the facts of life in Slumland.

She talked to residents about housing conditions and sanitation – and even offered to examine the interior of one of the homes. Her sympathy and insight delighted everyone, especially 35 year old Mrs Ethel Singleton, of nearby Melville place. For Mrs. Singleton was largely responsible for the Princess’s impromptu visit.

A fortnight ago, she wrote asking the city’s Royal guest to visit the district after opening Liverpool University’s new £530,000 Senate House and £595,000 physics laboratory.

Princess Alexandra agreed, and kept her promise.

The Princess chats to Vine Street resident Mrs Christine Scoullar

After the opening ceremonies, she was driven the short distance to Slumland, where several properties are owned by the city corporation and university.

Slogans like ‘Slums this way’ and ‘Senate splendour and squalid slums’ were held aloft as she arrived. Then after receiving a bouquet from four year old Carol Scoullar, of Vine street, Princess Alexandra started her probe.

She spoke to Mrs Singleton, secretary of the Abercromby Tenants’ Association who said later: “The Princess thought it dreadful that we have no proper amenities.”

Then Princess Alexandra asked to see inside one of the houses – but was ushered along to speak to other residents before driving away.

Footnote from the future (2009)

Go here for a mapshowing 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.

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Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

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