‘Slums this way’ eyeopener for Princess

16 May 1969

Along with most of the other national dailies, The Sun this morning has this account of yesterday’s Senate House protest:

Princess Alexandra followed signs saying: ‘Slums this way’ after she had opened a £1 million extension to Liverpool University yesterday. The signs had been painted by students who say the £630,000 spent on a new Senate House and the £500 spent on a tea party in honour of the Princess should have been spent rehousing the University’s tenants.

Princess Alexandra talked to the slum dwellers of Vine Street less than 100 yards from the new Senate House and physics research laboratories. She asked Mrs Ethel Singleton about sanitation. ” There is nothing” said Mrs Singleton, 35-year-old secretary of the local tenants’ association.

The princess replied sympathetically : “It must be awful.” When Mrs Singleton told her that they had to heat up bowls of cold water the Princess said: “It must be dreadful in winter.”

Mrs Singleton had written a letter inviting the Princess to visit the street when it was announced that she would open the university buildings.  The princess told Mrs Singleton:  “It’s very kind of you to invite me.”

Princess Alexandra was presented with a bouquet by four-year old Carol   Scoullar. Then the Princess, wearing a navy blue coat and tassled hat, listened to the householders’ grievances as young   children tugged at her.

She    assured    Mrs    Pauline Nolan, 66,   who   has   spent   all her life in  Vine  Street:  “I’m sure everything will be done as soon as possible.”

University vice-chancellor Dr Winston   Barnes told   guests   at the Senate House opening that they had spent £430,000 in the last 20 years rehousing 300 families. Mr Herbert Burchnall, the university’s registrar, said later that between 50 and 100 families were being rehoused each year. He said that money made available for university buildings could not be applied to repairs or rehousing tenants.

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 remained 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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