The Lost Community

The Anglican Cathedral and the Last House Standing

It was as a small 4 year old boy with my Dad I was first introduced to the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and over the following 70 years its magnificence as a 20th century structure seems to have grown.

Set on St James Mount the distinctive tower can be seen from nearly all parts of Liverpool, the Wirral and I've even seen it from areas of N.Wales. The Cathedral’s construction in itself is a remarkable feat taking over 70 years to complete with work suspended in WW1 and surviving the Blitz in WW2.

Even the sand stone used for most of its construction was local to Liverpool from Woolton Quarry and its construction employed thousands of workers of all levels of skills covering every trade.

Cathedral community area circa 1930’s
(Click for larger image)

Washington Street

Rathbone Street

But in recent years this fascination has grown to include the community which once lived in the shadow of the mighty Cathedral covering 4 generations in the lives of hundreds of families and small businesses and corner shops and where so many went through the ordeals of 2 world wars.

Washington Street was perhaps the most central of streets leading up from Great George Street to the main entrance of the Cathedral. At the bottom of the Street was a Bents pub and just across the road was a Tecalamit (Garage equipment) Industrial factory. From the corner shop further up the street was Rathbone Street with more houses and businesses like the Shop fitters H J Walsh.

Washington Street

Rathbone Street

Bomb damage to Washington Street and Cathedral

I just wonder how many of the residents of that community worked at Tecalamit and how many worked on the Cathedral construction and all the other little shops, pubs and businesses.

As with many communities like this one tragically on the 6th September 1940 the top of Washington Street was hit.

The home of the Engineer George Siddall to the Dean of the Anglican Cathedral took a direct hit on the night of 5th/6th September 1940. Sadly George Siddall age 35, his wife Millie Siddall age 30 and his young daughter Christine Siddall age 3 all died at 31 Washington Street.

Their next door neighbour A.R.P Ambulance driver Marie Taylor age 37 also died in the same raid at 33 Washington Street.

The bomb was so powerful doors and windows in the cathedral were also badly damaged.

After the war the community stood a further 25 years but by the early 70’s every house, shop, business all gone demolished by the Liverpool Corporation’s programme of slum clearance and so were all the residents. A sort of social message ensued …’But we have a wonderful Cathedral’.

'Lost Community' (L013) by Kevin Austin

The rapid expansion of Liverpool took its toll on the urban landscape. In 1955 the Medical Officer of Health estimated that there were 88,000 unfit dwellings in the city (45% of the total housing stock). Ten years later little had been done to tackle the problem, and the number was still 78,000. 33,000 of these houses were in Toxteth, Abercromby and Everton, and a massive programme of slum clearance was initiated. Many people moved or were forced away from the area. 42 square miles of Liverpool were affected by the clearances, and 88 action areas were identified across the city.

The Cathedral ‘action area’ was one such area ... Perhaps a ’Dr Beeching’ approach could have been avoided where it could have all been so different.

I do think how wonderful it might have all been if, instead of implementing all of the Corporation’s urban regeneration which included wholesale demolition, many areas and buildings could have been selected for both new build and renovation with far less demolition, and most importantly retaining the core community for those who didn’t want to move.

Of course, the fact that, with some buildings so badly decayed and beyond renovation, some residents wanted to move to a clean, modern environment is understandable. However, I consider that many of those so called condemned properties and even some of the commercial buildings within the Cathedral area were of good architectural value, and, with a little imagination, could have been restored and fitted out to modern standards. And what added interesting architectural character that would have made. All would have good living accommodation with modern sanitary facilities and maybe schemes to buy their own homes, but most importantly helping preserve some of the old values of family, their history, neighbourly caring and support.

Indeed there once was a community spirit where people with not much money were proud of their area with minimal vandalism and a strong element of ‘neighbourhood watch’ where outsiders sometimes had to be a little careful but with honesty and sincerity shown were rewarded by great welcoming and generosity.. A place where some were so proud of their homes…little palaces some were…where grandad and grandma used to live. Then that awful morning, receiving that ‘dreaded expected’ letter informing that the house you've lived in all your life is now condemned for slum demolition.

Washington Street Life
(Click for larger image)

There was also a great space behind the Tecalamit factory where part of it could have perhaps been made into a recreational feature to kick a ball around or fix up some stumps and knock a ball for 6. Something which previously had been going on in the streets for generations. Where Bogey carts made from old prams and other improvised items, playing alleys (marbles) in the street and old dumped cars perfect for kids to play in and so far removed from ‘Grand theft Auto’ or ‘Mortal Kombat’ (video games) confines of the bedroom today..

I think of all the characters who once lived there and probably now some are legends and the subject of handed down stories within many of those displaced families from 40 or more years ago.

I wonder how financial costs would have compared to the spend on massive new housing expansion programmes to existing towns such as Kirkby and Skelmersdale which saw their own small communities invaded by thousands from so many broken communities to grow into huge sprawling estates. And with it of course came the added costs of un-happiness, family breakdowns, anti-social behaviour, drugs and crime which I feel made worse by the disintegration of century-old communities.

Perhaps being ‘sensible’ is neither right or wrong as with the ideals of dreamers neither right or wrong But really, I do think...

It might have been all possible!

Perhaps more people should have taken a stance of defiance as with the last house standing and just sat back and put the kettle on ...

'Defiance' (L016)