Wednesday, November 17 – 1920
A veteran’s memories of Arcadian Liverpool
Fifty years ago! The white and grey haired veterans of today, as they sit by their firesides on quiet nights, often find their thoughts fondly turning to the days when the “Evening Express” first came, were seen, and mentally gobbled up by lovers of information, satisfying reading, and the real grit of the day’s doing. Fifty years ago!
What changes the old veterans have seen! Liverpool northwards ended at Boundary-street; the wide space intervening between it and Bootle was a big area of waste and agricultural land; buildings were casuals. On the veranda of one of the few villas on the Derby-road Sandhills, its tenant, a municipal official, sat at nights with a few Bohemian friends, looking out on a sandy shore, and the beautiful shimmering of moonbeams on the rippling waters of the channel; one friend played a banjo, songs and choruses, were heard, and glasses filled with diluted fluids were emptied frequently.
Between Spellow-Lane and Walton a giant Nursery (Skirving’s) flowered. At the top of Everton Valley (the tens of thousands who scurry off to the Liverpool football ground will please note this) stood the Bronte estate (wood-house’s), a beautiful rural pleasance (a varnished picture is in my mind of the beauty spot – I lived a stone’s throw from it).
Everton Valley cs. 1904.
Its pretty lodge faced the Valley; a stone wall, lined inside with tall trees, ran up to Sleepers Hill; thence a hawthorn hedge on the north side of Walton Breck-road ran right away to Cabbage Hall. Between that hedge and Anfield-road from Sleepers hill to Cabbage Hall, there was only one house, Rockfield, in which lived Henry Tate and his sons, Arthur and Edwin; their sugar refinery was on Manesty lane, and offices at 101, Dale-street, by the Police Court. The house had extensive grounds running from the west bend of the road up to the football field.
The only vestige of its solid boundary wall is utilised in the fencing of the L.F.C training ground. Unobserved by the many, it is a joy to the few antiquarians familiar with its historical importance.
The football ground was one of the fields inside the hawthorn hedge. All the old charm of the rusticity I cherish in my memory. My old eyes glisten when I recall it, and the glorious games of cricket I played in on the fields. East of the tram outer belt line, on to Tunnel-road, fields and estates were almost the exclusives. At “Speakelands,” deserted by the Earles, I recall the Sefton C.C. playing its game on the lawn, ere they both trekked south.
There were high fields inside the belt, notably the camp fields by Heyworth-street, and those by Vernon Hall, in Hall-lane, on which the Volunteers paraded, and the Liverpool Press C.C. played, I with them.
In the town (city now) great chances have taken place. A lamp shop, bread shop, and oil shop, and Isaiah Raw’s public-house, stood on the site of the Conservative club.
I knew Isaiah well, Horafio (shush). Other old-fashioned shops lined Dale-street, up to opposite Moorfields. The old fashioned George Hotel occupied the ground of the Reform Club. I fancy now I can see H.N. Abbinett, the country gentleman-looking host, standing on its front steps.
Cobham’s, in Castle street was the famous dining-room; Fisk and Fairhurst’s close to, and Oakes’s and Galt’s, in Lord-street, the most noted confectioners.
There were no cafes. Merchants and the well-to-do tradesmen dined in the numerous hotels, and drank freely out of wine glasses and tankards; the clerks and shop-hands refreshed themselves in vaults and snugs.
Rubicund faces and the signs of drink were familiar sights in business places and were winked at; now they are not tolerated. The cafes have been extraordinarily silent temperance reformers of the city life. St. George’s Church, a quaint, imposing edifice, stood where the Queen’s Victoria monument now stands, and many fine buildings have supplanted modest old ones in our main thorough fares.
Treats were numerous. The Alexandra, Amphi, Theatre Royal, Prince of Wales, Adelphi, Park, Colisenum, and Rotunda were in full swing with dramatic fare. Covent Garden and Old Drury were frequent visitors to the Alexandra, Amphi, and “Royal” and several English opera companies, including Rosa’s, Payne and Harrison’s, Rose Hersee’s and Blanche Cole’s. Titiens, Foli, Santley, Lima de Murska, Sinico, Scalchi, and the other great stars of the heydays of grand opera, were familiars.
Hengler’s Circus displayed its equine wonders in Newington and Quaglieni’s Circus in William Brown-street. Mander’s Menagerie flamed round the Wellington Monument, with its gorgeously decorated front and blaring brass band, and the black giant Maccomo, the king of lion-tamers, in the flare of hissing naphtha lamps, was the observed of all observers. There were some marvellous travelling shows in those days, and they could find spaces to camp in the centre of the town.
These and the theatres all did good business. They had no serious rivals. There were no big variety palatial halls or (thick-as-black-berriers now) cinemas to oppose them. The few music halls there were relied much more on the money they took for drink, supplied on ledges or tables in front of their patrons, who were dunned for orders by seedy waiters between every turn, than they did on their nominal admission fees.
Free-and-easies in public houses were as thick in the town as flies round a sugar cask. The publican engaged one or two bleary musicians, a down-at-heel singer or two, and a chairman. Amateur –“ladies and gentlemen,” out of the audience who could sing, or thought they could –were the real entertainers, especially those who “couldn’t sing for nuts” and broke down.
The license allowed to the great army of flaunting nymphs of the pavement in those days was another cancer in the civic body. On the main streets, in their public houses, and in every entertainment resort they badly accosted and ogled mankind.
It was difficult for men to be moral; the temptation to vicious indulgence pestered them on every side. There were disreputable colonies of houses in the centre of the town, populated by educated and vulgar well and ill-dressed sirens of this class.
Aye, there are still many faults to find in our habits and customs, which make the judicious, grieve, but, as I said before the “black spot” is comparatively white in contrast with the Gomorrah of fifty years ago.
(Evening Express, 17-11-1920)