This superb photo feature appeared across two pages in Guild Gazette on 21 January 1969. The issue of the University owning slum housing in Liverpool 8 had been brought into focus by the Gazette expose the previous month, and University students were involved with the Abercromby Tenants Association in the campaign for rehousing. It was in this context that Rog Millman took his camera out into Liverpool 8 to take these shots. The original introductory text is by Christopher Simpson.
Take a good look at these photos. Better still go out and look at Liverpool 8 while you can. In the name of slum-clearance, university expansion, or re-development, the unique character of the area is gradually disappearing.
Already, in the last year, many houses around Bedford Street South have been demolished. Only one incongruous tree grows out of the level g round where last year there were two. Soon the University will extend as far as Upper Parliament Street.
St James’ Cemetery, below the Anglican Cathedral, is being pacified into a neat public park. This was in some ways the epitome of Liverpool 8, the gravestones of prosperous Victorians lying on their sides in the brambles, their platitudes obliterated by the obscenities scrawled by the local kids. Soon pensioners will sit on seats by an ornamental lake and the finest adventure playground in the city will be lost.
Of course much of the area consists of slums. The only people who live there are those who can’t afford a suburban ‘semi ‘- negroes, prostitutes, students. But there will always be slums. Look at the dreary flats on Brownlow Hill, for instance. There will never be another Liverpool 8.
Part of its appeal is a sense of decay. Many of the houses must have looked very impressive, with their simple elegant proportions and o r n a t e balustrades and wrought iron railings. You can imagine the Forsyte-style life that went on inside them.
The hansom cab would roll down the wide streets, and a coy maiden would peep out of the upstairs window as her suitor climbed the steps and rang the door bell. Now there’s a red light in the window and you knock twice and ask for ”Red Mary”.
There is a pleasantly melancholic air about buildings. Some people would call it beauty, or poetry.
But there is also a great sense of life. The broken doorways open and the kids charge out into the street. Footballs thud against the walls; prams are dragged along on broken wheels and the strangled sound of real Scouse yells rise from countless arguments. Colour doesn’t matter; there are Irish, Chinese, Negro, and every permutation of half castes; and everyone fights everyone. As soon as they can walk they get thrown outside to play.
Sometimes you see babies with dummies in their mouths sitting on a rubbish dump banging at a rusty tin can with a stick. The older girls look after their younger brothers and sisters, dragging them a round like dolls.
The launderettes and the chippies are the social centres. The kids come in and light up their illicit ciggies or play football with soap packets, the women gossip and the attendant knows them all by name.
As the Observer said when summarising the virtues of Liverpool University, ”crime, vice and violence are readily seen a stone’s throw from the precinct. The area is popular with the bohemian type of student.”
Falkner Square is legendary for its prostitutes, but its residents hasten to point out that there are no more there than in any other dim-lit back-street in the area. However, the Square is both the best-looking street by day, and the most exciting by night. At times there is no working telephone box within walking distance, and broken glass is as common as litter or leaves.
Liverpool 8 is not all poetry, despite the presence of certain minor exponents of the art. It is as dirty, violent, and in need of improvement as any part of the city. But in its atmosphere there is a sense of history, and a sense of a place that is lived in. Its gradual disappearance would be less regrettable if in its place there emerges something with more character than the lifeless council estates and tower flats that seem to be the inevitable answer to the ‘housing problem’.