The Giants come to Birkenhead

The Parade of Giants took place on Sunday 8th September in Hamilton Square, Birkenhead.  This was the first year the event had been staged.  The parade started at the corner of Hamilton Square and crossed the gardens before gathering in front of the old Town Hall under the watchful gaze of royalty.

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The Wirral Samba band led over 20 Giants including four representing Wirral’s own local ‘Giants’. The 16 other giants were provided by ‘Chester City of Giants’.  All the giants then went on show in the town’s Pyramids shopping centre.

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All the Giants were ‘walked’ by local organisations, community groups and businesses. These included Magenta Living, Cammel Laird, Forum Housing, YMCA, Beechwood Trust, the Shaftsbury Centre, Wirral Met College and Wirral Churches Ark Project to name the ones I could identify.

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The parade was organised by local volunteers with the help and expertise of the Chester City of Giants who are a community interest company, encouraging ‘social enterprise through creativity’.  They offer training and experience and encourage inclusivity and teamwork whilst having fun.  Throughout August the Giants ran workshops in the local shopping precinct allowing volunteers to work with professional artists to make the giants for the parade.  The Chester Giants (‘Chester: the Giant City’ www.thegiants.org.uk) were formed a few years ago and they have re-enacted the spectacular parades that took place in Chester for hundreds of years, which were originally based around the famous Mystery Plays which were organised by the old local ‘City Guilds’.  These parades featured fabulous creatures and giants and the modern event celebrates this heritage by putting on show with a cast of giants, fantastic beasts, musicians and dancers in a colourful display around Chester’s city streets.

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The famous Wirral giants included Old Mother Redcap.  She was ‘Poll’ Jones an infamous innkeeper in the 1770s of an inn between New Brighton and Egrement in Wallasey.  Poll Jones always wore a red hood or cap and this gave the inn its nickname ‘Mother Redcap’s’.  The inn was on the coast which was cut off from the rest of Wirral by Bidston Moss and it became a notorious haunt of smugglers and their contraband. Underground passages were reputed to link it with different parts of New Brighton. It was well known for its strong, home-brewed ale and the sailors trusted Old Mother Redcap to look after their wages while they were at sea. They also used to hide here to escape the Press Gang. It was rebuilt in 1888 and demolished in 1974 as it had become badly vandalised.

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Another Giant was Lottie Dod was born in Bebington into a wealthy family who made a fortune in the cotton trade.  She was an outstanding sportswoman. She won the Wimbledon Ladies’ Singles Championship five times, the first one when she was only fifteen in the summer of 1887.  She remains the youngest ladies’ singles champion.  She also won the British Ladies Amateur Golf Championship, played twice for the England women’s national field hockey team (which she helped to found), and won a silver medal at the 1908 Summer Olympics in archery. The Guinness Book of Records named her as one of the most versatile female athletes of all time.

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John Laird whilst being born in Scotland was a true local giant.  He moved to Birkenhead in 1824 where his father William Laird established the Birkenhead Iron Works which manufactured boilers.  John Laird joined his father to found William Laird & Son a shipbuilding company.  John Laird realised that the techniques of making boilers by bending iron plates and riveting them together could be used to build ships and he was one of the first to use iron in the construction of ships.  The business was taken over by his sons and it merged with Charles Cammell & Co to form Cammell Laird in 1903 as it is still known today.  He was the first mayor of Birkenhead and was chairman of the Birkenhead Improvement Commission which was appointed to erect a market, to light and clean the streets and to maintain a police force in the town.  When Birkenhead became a Parliamentary Borough in 1861, he retired from shipbuilding to become its first Member of Parliament. He served from 1861 to 1874 as a Conservative. He contributed a great deal to the continuous improvement of the town as a generous benefactor.  He made donations for the erection of Saint James Church, the Borough Hospital and the Laird School of Art.  He died at his home at 63 Hamilton Square following a riding accident and he is buried in the grounds of Birkenhead Priory, next to his yard and his statue now stands in Hamilton Square.

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The final local giant represented a priory monk.  The monks formed one of the earliest communities in the Wirral.  Birkenhead Priory is the oldest standing building on Merseyside.  It was founded in about 1150 by Hamon de Masci, 3rd Baron of Dunham Massey for the Benedictine Order.  The Priory was visited twice by Edward I due to its strategic importance being close to the borders of Wales and the Irish Sea.  In 1318 the monks from the Priory were granted ferry rights by Edward II. The monks of the monastery looked after travellers for nearly 400 years and supervised the first regulated ferry across the Mersey.  They would provide travellers shelter if the weather was too bad for the ferry to cross the River Mersey.

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The Deputy Mayor of Wirral Councillor Steve Foulkes visited the volunteers and their Giants.

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The rain managed to keep away whilst I was there but I’m told by the afternoon the heavens opened.  I’m not sure if this event is happening again next year but it did bring the crowds into the historic Hamilton Square in the heart of Birkenhead and I lost count of the number of Queen Elizabeth IIs who were on the parade.

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Liverpool Brazilica Carnival 2013

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Liverpool’s Brazilica Festival returned for a week-long celebration of Brazilian culture leading up to the main carnival and parade day on Saturday 20 July.

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The Brazilica Festival is the largest celebration of Brazilian culture in the United Kingdom.  It  has been held annually in Liverpool since July 2008.

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The festival began during Liverpool’s reign as European Capital of Culture in 2008 when a Rio-style Carnival Parade swept through the streets of the city.

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It has developed over the years and this year the festival consisted of a week-long celebration of Brazilian culture including music, art, food, film and dance events that take place at indoor venues across the city which build up to the outdoor city centre carnival street party.

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This year the festival was thought to have attracted over 80,000 people to Liverpool city centre.  The festival was situated in Williamson Square where there was a great selection of Latin American food and drink and authentic Brazilian musicians playing on the specially constructed stage throughout the day.

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I joined several thousand other spectators to witness the carnival parade which took place on the evening of Saturday July 20.  It included Carnival Queens, Samba bands and drum troops from across Britain as well as from Brazil.

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The performers were:

Sargento Pimenta (Rio de Janeiro)

Paraiso School of Samba (London)

London School of Samba (London)

Rhythms of the City (London)

Liverpool Samba School (Liverpool)

Manchester School of Samba (Manchester)

Hull Samba (Hull)

Oxiris (Wirral)

Karamba Samba (Chester)

Sambafriq (Chorley)

Batala Liverpool (Liverpool)

Arco Iris (Cambridge)

Oya Batucada (Birmingham)

Nottingham School of Samba (Nottingham)

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Crowds lined the streets to cheer the dazzling night-time parade as hundreds of performers took part, weaving their way through the city centre’s streets from the University down through the main Church Street shopping street and into Williamson Square.  The various performers were wearing glittering costumes and parading alongside highly decorated floats to the sound of the samba rhythms.

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Organiser Simone Reeves took part in the parade despite being eight-and- half months pregnant, the Carnival Queen and lead dancer at Liverpool Samba School joined the parade on a float this year.

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It was an amazing spectacle.  I’m looking forward to next year’s event now.

Chinese New Year in Liverpool

On Saturday and Sunday the oldest Chinese community in Europe, in Liverpool, celebrated the Chinese New Year.

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I went along on Sunday as the Dragon, Unicorn and Lion Dance Street Parade took place along Nelson Street and Berry Street in Liverpool’s Chinatown.  The event traditionally attracts thousands of people who witness a series of spectacular displays against the backdrop of Europe’s biggest Chinese arch, at the top of Nelson Street.  Unfortunately like many days out in the last twelve months it poured down all day and my lenses had large droplets of water on the filters distorting some of my photographs particularly of the Chinese Arch.

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The Chinese calendar is based on the lunar and solar calendars and as such the actual date of the Chinese New Year varies, but it always falls between late January and mid-February.  Each year in the Chinese calendar is represented by one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac.  This the Year of the Snake, falls on Sunday February 10th 2013.

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The celebrations also known as the ‘spring festival’ are the most important celebrations in the Chinese calendar.  The spring festival celebrates the start of new life and the season of ploughing and sowing.

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It was estimated that around 15,000 people filled the streets around Great George Square to watch the celebrations this year in Liverpool in amongst the heavy rain and smoke from the ear splitting firecrackers that were being let off in the streets.

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New Year festivities start on the first day of the lunar month and continue until the fifteenth day when the moon is brightest.  The New Year in Liverpool is a huge festival among the Chinese communities starting with Sunday’s procession and ending with a Lantern Festival on Sunday, 24 February 2013.  The first week is celebrated with visits to friends and family following special traditions designed to bring good luck.

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In Great George Square the procession stopped to watch a very noisy firecracker display and there was a special appearance from the ‘Lucky Man’ wearing traditional costume handing out red envelopes to children.

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It is a traditional practice to light fireworks and firecrackers and to make as much of a din as possible to chase off the evil spirits. In Great George Square they let off string loads of ear splittingly loud firecrackers.

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As the ‘Lucky Man’ led the Dragon, Unicorn and Lion Dance Street Parade along the streets they stopped off at each restaurant where the proprietors would provide lettuce leaves and water for the mythical creatures to devour.  At the Hoi Yin Association on Nelson Street children dangled food out of the first floor window for the lion.  This was accompanied by firecrackers being let off in special cages as they stopped at each restaurant.

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I was intrigued by the rituals of the red envelopes, the letting off of fire crackers and the feeding the lion and other creatures.  These rituals go back to ancient China where according to tales and legends, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with the fight against a mythical beast called the Nian who would come on the first day of New Year to eat livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children.  To protect themselves, the villagers would put food in front of their doors at the beginning on New Year’s day. It was believed that after the Nian ate the food they prepared, it wouldn’t attack any more of the villagers.  However the people saw that the Nian was scared away by a little child wearing red.  The villagers then understood that the Nian was afraid of the colour red and so from then on when New Year arrived the villagers would hang red lanterns and red spring scrolls on windows and doors and they would also set off firecrackers to frighten away the mythical beast.  From then on, Nian never came to the village again.

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Traditionally, Red envelopes or red packets are passed out during the Chinese New Year’s celebrations, from married couples or the elderly to unmarried juniors and it is common for adults or young couples to give red packets to children.  Red packets usually contain money and following custom; the amount of money is of even numbers, as odd numbers are associated with cash given during funerals  But sometimes chocolate coins are found in the red packets as I’m sure the ‘Lucky Man’ distributed today.  It is custom and polite for children to wish elders a happy new year and a year of happiness, health and good fortune before accepting the red envelope which are then kept under the pillow and slept on for seven days before opening as this symbolizes good luck and fortune.

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Within China, regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration of the Chinese New Year vary widely.  Often, the evening preceding Chinese New Year’s Day is an occasion for Chinese families to get together for the annual reunion dinner. It is also traditional for every family to thoroughly cleanse the house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for good incoming luck. Windows and doors will be decorated with red colour paper decorations and poems with the themes of good fortune, happiness, wealth and longevity.

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On the streets of Liverpool there were all ages and generations of the local Chinese community.  The first day of the Chinese New Year is also time to honour one’s elders and families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended families, usually their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

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Many performers later on in the day move out of Chinatown and into Bold Street into one of the main shopping areas in Liverpool city centre to perform outside the Chinese-related businesses there.  All along Bold Street the Liverpool Happy Hookers Crochet Group had adorned the lampposts and bollards with brightly coloured snakes.

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I headed off back into the city centre to dry off and get warmed up after a very interesting day celebrating the Year of the Snake.

Birkenhead Festival of Transport 2012

The Birkenhead Festival of Transport took place over the weekend of 22 and 23 September in Birkenhead Park.  I went along to see what was happening on Saturday which was a bright and sunny day for a change.

The highlight for transport enthusiasts is probably the collection of steam engines.  Some are working engines used in farming or industry for hauling large loads but quite a few are ‘showman’s tractors’.  These steam engines were used to erect, dismantle and generate electricity for fairground rides early in the last century.

The Blaenau Festiniog Mountain Railway had a temporary track laid in the park and a steam engine pulled two carriages full of passengers.

Whilst the festival principally celebrates transport throughout the ages it is also designed as a family fun day with many more attractions.

In keeping with the original use of the vintage steam engines as showman’s tractors there were a range of classic funfair attractions which were popular with many of the visitors to the event.

There were other working vintage vehicles such as a couple of fire engines from the City of Chester from the 1950s.

There was also a selection of classic and vintage cars from various periods from the last century.

The Wirral Model Boat Club had some of their boats out on the lower lake in the Park.

On both days there were two encampments within the park recreating two distinctive historic periods.  The first was a recreation of a Viking Village with demonstartions of how the Vikings cooked, made their clothes and managed their households.

The second historic recreation was from His Majesty’s 22nd Regiment of Foot.  The regiment are a living history group focussing on  the life and times of the ordinary British Soldier during the American  Revolutionary War 1775-1783.  The group represent a Section of the Colonel’s Company of the 22nd Regiment of Foot as it would have appeared in the year 1776.  At that time the 22nd Foot was garrisoned in New York which was apparently a loyalist city strongly opposed to independence from Great Britain. I was too late to see the regiment firing their muskets but got some photographs of them in their camp.

And a favourite with the younger children was the donkey rides.  I caught the donkey’s at the end of the day waiting patiently ready to go back to their stables.

The event was anticipated to attract around 40,000 visitors over the two days.

Irish Sea Tall Ships Regatta

The Tall Ships were back in Liverpool this weekend.

The inaugural Irish Sea Tall Ships Regatta saw a fleet of Tall Ships race from Dublin on Sunday 26th August 2012 arriving in Liverpool on Wednesday and Thursday 29th/30th August 2012. The eleven tall ships in the regatta docked in the Albert and Canning Docks in Liverpool until Sunday morning.

There was plenty of activity at the Albert and Canning docksides over the weekend with many of the Tall Ships open to the public accompanied by events including, street theatre, dancing, craft workshops, storytelling, community choirs, shanty groups, and children’s arts and craft activities.

Albert Dock in Liverpool is the largest collection of Grade I listed buildings in the UK and provided a beautiful backdrop for the Tall Ships berthed there with the three graces (the Liver Building, Port of Liverpool building and the Cunard Building) in the background as well as the new Liverpool Museum on the waterfront.

The regatta has been organised by charity ‘Sail Training International’ which teaches young people sailing skills and is one of the world’s leading providers of races, events and other services for the sail training community.  For the Tall Ships race half of the crew must be aged between 15 and 25 and they learn from the experienced crew members.  In the race from Dublin to Liverpool the overall winner was ‘Challenge Wales’ a Bermudian Cutter.

The Dublin to Liverpool race ended this year’s series of tall ships races. The Tall Ships Races 2012 started in St Malo, France in July with the fleet racing across the Bay of Biscay to Lisbon in Portugal, before carrying on to Cádiz in Spain and then onto A Coruna in Northern Spain.

From here the fleet left on 13th of August to head north for the Irish Sea and Dublin.  This was the final port of call for the Tall Ships Races 2012.  The ships docked in Dublin between the 23rd to the 26th of August.

However for this year eleven of the tall ships fleet of 40 sail boats took part in this the first Irish Sea Regatta leaving Dublin to come to Liverpool.

The ships which came to Liverpool are: the British barquentine ‘Pelican’; the Polish schooner ‘Kapitan Borchardt’; the Dutch gaff schooner ‘Gallant’; the British gaff schooner  ‘Johanna Lucretia’; the British gaff ketch ‘Maybe’; the Norwegian Bermudian ketch ‘Prolific’; the Estonian Bermudian sloop ‘St Iv’; the Dutch gaff ketch ‘Tecla’; the Belgian Bermudian sloop ‘Tomidi’; the British Bermudian sloop ‘Black Diamond of Durham’ and the Welsh Bermudian Cutter ‘Challenge Wales’.

The Regatta fleet prepared to leave on Sunday from 10.30am, the vessels mustered and got into formation as they undertook a Parade of Sail in the river from around 1pm.  The tall ships came out from the Albert Dock which was thronged with spectators.  They went up river and escorted by the veteran tugboat the Brocklebank, which is owned and run by the Merseyside Maritime Museum, they took the tide and came back down the River Mersey passing the Liverpool Pierhead, Wallasey Town Hall and Seacombe Ferry on the Wirral side of the river.  They then went out to sea returning to their home ports across Europe.

Wirral Food and Drink Festival

Over the August Bank Holiday weekend on Sunday 26th and Monday 27th there was the Wirral Food and Drink Festival taking place at Claremont Farm near Clatterbridge.

Continental Cottage sausages and salami

Chorizo

Sunday was a warm sunny day but I went along on Monday.  By then the weather had changed and it was wet and windy. The weather had certainly had the effect to reduce the numbers turning out.  It was difficult enough just to keep my camera dry to take a few photos.

Empty outdoor food court

Waiting at the Liverpool One Style bus

There was a real variety of stalls selling just about every type of food.

Port of Lancaster Smokehouse

French Corner

French Corner breads

And there were the chef demonstration stages with a range of local head chefs showing their techniques.

Live chef demo stage

Chefs on dispaly

The fields had become muddy and were in parts churned up by the footfall over the festival show ground.

A muddy field…

Umbrellas in the rain

As well as being able to sample and buy good quality local produce and baking there were a range entertainment shows.  The sheep show is a humorous educational live stage show about sheep and wool with the highlight being a live sheep shearing.

Sheep shearing in progress

Sheared sheep

On the Music stage performances from Reckless Elbow, El Squeezebox, the Mockbeggers, the Mersey Morris Men and the Wirral Ukulele Orchestra took place over the two days. I managed to see El Squeezebox and Reckless Elbow.  Unfortunately I missed the legendary Wirral Ukulele Orchestra.

El Squeezebox on stage

El Squeezebox

Reckless Elbow

There was a circus for the children with a chef on stilts drumming up trade in the show ground.

Chef on stilts

The beer tent featured real ales from eight local craft brewers including brews from Birkenhead, Cheshire, St Helens and North Wales.  Given the weather it was probably the best place to be.

The beer tent

Matthew Street Music Festival

Matthew Street

The annual Matthew Street Music Festival took place over the August Bank Holiday weekend on 26 and 27 August.

The Beatles Shop Matthew Street

Carl Gustav Jung plaque

Matthew Street

Wall of Fame Matthew Street

The Festival has over 80 hours of live outdoor music which celebrates original and new bands playing their own songs or performing cover versions attracting local people and guests from all over Europe.

Waiting outside Eric’s

A photo outside the Cavern

Balloons outside Flares

The Cavern Club

I went along on Sunday where there were stages dedicated to the 70s, 80s and 90s, a Liverpool bands stage and a tribute to the legendary city venue Eric’s on the Water Street stage.  Sunday was a warm sunny day and the city centre was packed with revellers of all ages with the beer and wine flowing freely on the streets as well as in the pubs and bars. It was estimated that 160,000 people visited the first day of the event.

Bricks in the wall of fame in Matthew Street

John Lennon

Everyone wants to be with John

Outside Liverpool One

The Matthew Street Music Festival has been part of the city’s calendar of events for 20 years and over time has evolved from an indoor event to a high-profile outdoor music celebration.

Red light at the Derby Square stage

A camera in the crowd

Hypermused on the Derby Square stage

Hypermused on the Derby Square stage

Hypermused on the Derby Square stage

It is costly to stage the event and the City’s mayor Joe Anderson has said that with major cutbacks in public spending over the next two years tough decisions will have to be made on the running of such events in the future.

I’ll have another beer…

Harringron Street

Busker on Church Street

Crowd on Lord Street

Tin whistle player’s regular pitch on Church Street

A big landmark in the Matthew Street area is the Hard Day’s Night boutique hotel.  It has a whole host of Beatles’ memorabilia including some impressive statuesof the Beatles on the outside of the building.

Paul McCartney

John Lennon

George Harrison

Ringo Starr

Magical Myster Tour…

Round the corner in Stanley Street, Eleanor Rigby still sits all alone.  But someone left a yellow rose on her lap this weekend.

Eleanor Rigby still on her own

Bank Holiday Monday’s weather was a different story as the outdoor performances in the city  centre were cancelled due to dangerously high winds and heavy rain with a fear that the temporary outdoor stages could be damaged and make it unsafe for spectators.  Many of the indoor concerts went ahead as planned.

The Moore’s brothers walking down Church Street

Street Preacher being challenged

Helter Skelter (featured on the Beatles White Album)

Taking a ride on the Helter Skelter

No glasses

Monday’s events were going to have featured tribute bands to the Beatles to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the group which went on to take the world by storm following Ringo joining the other three Beatles.

The Sums on the Williamson Square stage

The Sums on the Williamson Square stage

The Sums on the Williamson Square stage

Hello Tiger