Princess cheered by tenants in tour of slums

16 May 1969

The Daily Telegraph, like nearly all the national press, has a report this morning on the Senate House protest:

Princess Alexandra talked to tenants in a slum area of Liverpool yesterday and sympathised with them over conditions in which they live. Nearly 400 students and tenants, some carrying placards protesting about housing conditions and ‘wasteful expenditure’ on an opening ceremony of two University of Liverpool buildings, had assembled when the Princess arrived at Senate House.

Some people in the crowd booed as the Princess’s car approached the building, but most cheered. Princess Alexandra smiled and waved to the crowd. After being greeted by the Marquess of Salisbury, the Chancellor, and Dr Winston Barnes, Vice-Chancellor, the Princess opened Senate House and the Oliver Lodge physics laboratory, which have cost more than £1,100,000.

In his speech of thanks to the Princess, Dr Barnes referred to the problem of rehousing families in the 85 acres of the university precinct. But in the past 20 years they had rehoused more than 300 families at a cost of £430,000  and this was “no mean achievement”.

Later Princess Alexandra was driven to Vine Street, where there are a number of slum properties. Across the entrance to the street was a banner with the words ” Come and visit the slums of Vine Street.” But from one house flew the Royal Standard and the Union Jack hung from other windows.

As she stepped from her car the Princess was cheered and enthusiastically welcomed by a crowd of about 1,000.

One tenant to whom the Princess spoke is Mrs Ethel Singleton, 35, secretary, Abercromby Tenants’ Association. She had written to Princess Alexandra asking her to visit the slums. Princess Alexandra had inquired where tenants obtained water. ” I told her we had to get it from a cold water tap and boil it before using it and the Princess said that must be dreadful in the winter,” said Mrs. Singleton.

In a statement, Mr HH Burchnall, Registrar of the university, said it had been contended that the ceremony money should instead be allocated to repairing houses owned by the university or to buying other properties for rehousing purposes. The costs of the visit by Princess Alexandra were modest, about £500, and a small sum in relation to the amount which the university spends each year on rehousing.

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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