A walk to Hilbre Island

I’ve mentioned Hilbre Island in a number of blogs in the past and I posted about a walk to Little Eye way back on 5 May 2014 but I’ve not written a blog about walking out to Hilbre Island.

Armed with my pocket camera rather than full photographic kit we walked the two or so miles out from the beach at West Kirby and the same distance back again whilst the tide was out.

For September it was an overcast day but the rain kept away. On a summer day, up to 500 people can make the walk out to Hilbre Island. Given the changing tides some get the timing wrong and require the help of the local lifeboat crew.

There are a group of three islands just off the West Kirby coast.  Hilbre Island is the largest of the group at approximately 11.5 acres or 4.7 hectares in area.  It is two miles out from West Kirby or one mile from Red Rocks off Hoylake up the coast but there is no safe route across the sands from Red Rocks.  The safe route is to head to Little Eye from West Kirby Sailing School, then across to Middle Eye and onto Hilbre.  The sands are not safe outside of this path.

Middle Eye or in older sources ‘Middle Island’ and on Ordnance Survey maps it is shown as ‘Little Hilbre’ is the second island.  It is about 3 acres or 1.2 hectares in size.  The third island is Little Eye and this is much smaller being a rocky outcrop.  Hilbre and Middle Eye are less than a hundred yards apart.  All three islands are formed of red Bunter sandstone.

Hilbre Island is one of 43 tidal islands that can be reached on foot from the mainland of Great Britain when the tide is out.  Others include The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, in Northumberland, and St Michael’s Mount, in Cornwall.  The islands here are thought to have been occupied on and off since the Stone Age. Several finds of Stone and Bronze Age items and Roman pottery items were discovered in 1926.

Hilbre Island’s name derives from the dedication of a medieval chapel built on the island to St. Hildeburgh, an Anglo-Saxon holy woman, after which it became known as Hildeburgheye or Hildeburgh’s island.  Hildeburgh is said to have lived on Hilbre Island in the 7th century as an anchorite (a religious recluse).  The 19th-century St Hildeburgh’s Church in Hoylake, built nearby on the mainland, is named for her.

Hilbre Island may have been a hermitage before the Norman invasion or at least a place of pilgrimage based around the tradition of St Hildeburgh.  In about 1080 a church for Benedictine monks was established on Hilbre Island as a dependency of Chester Cathedral.

The area was part of the lands of the Norman lord Robert of Rhuddlan and he gave the islands to an abbey in Normandy, who then passed responsibility onto the Abbey of St. Werburgh in Chester.

The island became a common place for pilgrimage in the 13th and 14th centuries and upon the dissolution of the monasteries two monks were allowed to remain on the island, as they maintained a beacon for shipping in the river mouth as Chester and Parkgate were busy ports. The last monk left the island in about 1550, as it was no longer considered a sanctuary, having become a centre for commerce and a busy trading port itself.  In 1692 a small factory was set up to refine rock salt. There was also a ‘beer house’, The Seagull Inn, during the 1800s and with the commercial activity a custom house was established on the island to collect taxes on the goods traded.  However with the silting up of the River Dee trade switched to ports on the River Mersey and the commerce and trade vanished from the island leading to the closure of the inn in the 1830s. Part of the structure of this building remains incorporated into what was the custodian’s residence.

 

The islands were bought in 1856 by the Trustees of the Liverpool Docks, which later became known as the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board.  Hilbre Island Lighthouse was constructed here in 1927 it is a white 3m high steel tower surmounted by a red lantern which since 1995 is solar powered.  The islands were sold to Hoylake Council in 1945 for £2,500, passing to Wirral Borough Council on its formation in 1974.

Hilbre used to have a Wirral Council Countryside Warden who lived on the island but in January 2011 it was announced that there would be no permanent ranger. Wirral Council said that they had had difficulty finding a ranger prepared to live without mains electricity or running water on the island. The ranger service now visits each day by Land Rover.

There are however a few houses, some of which are privately owned on the island.  There are also some interesting buildings like the decaying lifeboat station and the old telegraph station.  The ruined redbrick former Lifeboat Station was built in 1849; it was a quicker option than the previous method of dragging the boat over the sands from Hoylake.  It is said that the crew ran or rode on horseback from Hoylake before rowing out to rescue stricken sailors.  The last launch from here was in 1939.  Much of the slipway is still in place but the power of the sea has shifted numerous stones a few hundred yards.  The Telegraph Station has now been made into an interperatative centre.  Another interesting development was an exclusive gentlemen’s club who leased a house on the island in the late 19th century and named themselves the ‘Hilbre Club’.

The most southerly building on the island is the Hilbre Bird Observatory, from which birds are continuously monitored as part of a national network of observatories and ringing stations.  Terns, gulls, egrets, shelducks, herons, Manx shearwaters, rock pipits, peregrine falcons, gannets, oyster catchers have all been spotted here.

As well as birds the island is famous for its seals.  A colony of Atlantic grey seals swim around the northern tip of the island.  There is a regular count of the number of seals with their numbers increasing steadily over decades.  In recent years a peak count of over 825 was recorded on June 24th 2010.  The increase is mainly because the Dee Estuary is now very clean, so there is an abundance of food.  There is also plenty of space on the sandbanks particularly the nearby Hoyle Bank for the seals to haul out and bask in the sun.  At high tide they swim around catching fish and at low tide they haul themselves onto a sandbank or onto Hilbre when all the visitors have gone. Not having my DSLR camera and lens I struggled to get close up shots of the seals.

The Hilbre Islands Local Nature Reserve is within the Dee Estuary which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Protection Area, a ‘Ramsar’ Site which is a Wetland of International Importance and a candidate EU Special Area of Conservation.  As such the islands are protected by law to conserve their wildlife and geology.

Whilst the islands and surrounding foreshores are the freehold property of Wirral Council who manage the site, a group called the Friends of Hilbre (http://www.deeestuary.co.uk/hilbre/) was formed in 2001 to help the Council maintain the islands.  The Friends of Hilbre amongst other things promote the conservation, protection and improvement of the physical and natural environment of Hilbre Islands Local Nature Reserve for the benefit of the public.

Local yachting clubs have held “Commodore’s Day” visits to the Hoyle Bank sand bank just off from Hilbre island.  This usually involves the crews of several yachts going onto the sands and enjoying various activities: football, cricket and even barbecues.  This causes the seals to flee abandoning their rest period which could be detrimental to their health.  The Friends of Hilbre are seeking a way to resolve this issue with the Council’s Rangers’ department.

The island along with the West Kirby and Hoylake coast has been awarded Green Flag status for 2017/18.  Apparently Wirral has more of these flags than any other UK county.  The Green Flag is the national standard for publicly accessible parks and green spaces.  Set up in 1996, this scheme recognises and rewards green spaces in England and Wales which achieve the standards set.

Ending on a note from the world of showbiz, Hilbre island featured prominently in the 2013 BBC films crime drama ‘Blood’ which featured Hollywood stars Paul Bettany and Stephen Graham.  The film was shot in Wirral where the director, Nick Murphy, grew up. He located much of the action to Hilbre island where as a kid he had thought it would be a good place to bury a body!  The island provides a brooding back drop to the dark crime thriller.

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There’s no place like home revisited

Way back on the 5th of August 2012 I made a post entitled ‘There’s no place like home’ [see https://briansimpsons.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/theres-no-place-like-home/ for the full blog].

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In this article I went along to the last site being cleared under the Government’s then ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) in Birkenhead to take some photographs before the houses in the Carrington Street and Milner Street area of north Birkenhead were bulldozed to the ground.  The HMRI programme was designed to remove old obsolete houses and replace them with modern new purpose designed homes.

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Almost four years to the day I returned to the area to see what has happened on the site.  As I reported in my original post the area was in danger of becoming an urban wasteland.  The incoming coalition government had stopped the funding for the Housing Market Renewal programme launched by the former Labour Government in 2002 as part of its austerity measures.

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However during 2012 a coalition government allocation of £7m got a regeneration initiative back on track and some 60 new homes were built off Laird Street at St Josephs Place on another former clearance site.

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Further up Laird Street the redevelopment of Milner, Carrington, Thorneycroft ,Plumer and Rundle Streets was in the pipeline as the second phase to this development when I visited to take photographs of the old dilapidated houses awaiting demolition.

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A private sector developer Keepmoat has now built out the site and they have sold the homes despite the challenging financial climate over the last few years.

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The accent of the regeneration scheme has been on housing affordability.  The properties were made available to purchase through the government-backed ‘Help to Buy’ scheme.  Prospective buyers are offered part ownership of properties of between 25% and 75% to help them get a foot on the housing ladder.  As their financial circumstances improve they will be able to increase their share of ownership.

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Plumer Street, Thorneycroft Street, Carrington Street, Milner Street and Rundle Street have been turned into a new area called St James’ Gate.  This sees the cleared demolition site developed with 125 new build 2, 3 and 4 bedroom modern homes.

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The St James’ Gate development cost around £12.5 million to build.  The site was very popular.  The first seven completed properties were snapped up within two weeks of them being released for sale ‘off plan’.  The remainder of the site has been fully sold and families have all moved in to their brand new homes.  As I wandered around this sunny Sunday morning the residents were all going about their business in sharp contrast to the deserted streets back in 2012.

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The St James’ Gate scheme, together with the previously built St Josephs Place development, means that Keepmoat will have provided a total of 187 new homes in the north Birkenhead area on former clearance sites.

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Wirral Council and Keepmoat have further plans which could see around 400 new homes built in total, completely transforming this part of Birkenhead.

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The Council hopes with the new homes that this part of the town will become a popular and attractive neighbourhood again. The area is certainly much more attractive than the old dilapidated homes I photographed back in 2012.  It is right on the edge of the stunning Birkenhead Park and there has been other investment in the area with a new health centre, retail facilities and good schools nearby.

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I wonder what we may see if we come back in another four years time?

Speke Hall

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Over the Easter weekend I took a trip to Speke Hall a National Trust managed property.  It is a rare example of a Tudor timber-framed wattle-and-daub Tudor manor house and it is located in an unusual setting sandwiched between Liverpool John Lennon Airport and the banks of the River Mersey. It is said that it is one of the finest surviving examples of its kind.
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The Hall was built in the Tudor period by the devout Catholic Norris family who were keen to impress visitors with the grandeur of their home and in particular the magnificent Great Hall.  William Norris II began building the house with funds accumulated from the spoils of war.  He also started the long tradition of Norris’s becoming members of parliament for Liverpool.OK3A2415v2

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The building has seen more than four centuries of turbulent history. From the Tudor period when Catholic priests were hunted down and Catholic families who might aid them such as the Norris’s were punished; to years of neglect and decay in the 18th and 19th centuries when at one point it was used as a cow shed; through to being refurbished in Victorian times with the installation of the developing ‘technology’ of the era.  The Hall, following the restoration, spans many periods with a unique mix of Tudor design combined with Victorian Arts and Crafts’ interiors.  In the 20th century the National Trust acquired the building and its remaining lands on behalf of the nation.

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The oak frame, typical of the period, rests on a base of red sandstone surrounded by a now dry moat. The main beams of the house are stiffened with smaller timbers and filled with wattle and daub.OK3A2413v2

OK3A2423v2Construction of the current building began in 1530.  However it is thought that earlier buildings had been on the site and they have been incorporated into today’s structure. The Great Hall was the first part of the house to be built, in 1530. The Great (or Oak) Parlour wing was added in 1531 as was the North Bay.  Between 1540 and 1570 the south wing was altered and extended with the west wing being added between 1546 and 1547. The last significant change to the building was in 1598, when the north range was added by Edward Norris.  In 1612 a porch was added to the Great Parlour. And a laundry and dairy were founded in 1860.  Though the house itself is Tudor, the interiors have been decorated and redecorated through the years as fashions changed.  Much of the decor is Arts and Crafts inspired, and some of the interior rooms are furnished with original William Morris wallpaper.  These rooms illustrate the Victorian desire for privacy and comfort.  The laundry was altered in the 1950s.

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In some rooms there is fine Jacobean plasterwork and intricately carved furniture.  The National Trust has laid out a fully equipped Victorian kitchen and servants’ hall which enables visitors to see behind the scenes.OK3A2463v2

OK3A2469v2The gardens date from the 1850s and feature ornamental Yew hedging.  There is also a ‘Ha Ha’ (a recessed wall that creates a vertical barrier while preserving an uninterrupted view of the landscape beyond) at the front of the main house.  A short walk from the Hall is the Home Farm, a model Victorian farm.  There are woodland trails, a hedge maze, and walks along The Bund, an earthwork designed to cut noise from nearby Liverpool John Lennon Airport.OK3A2414v2

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OK3A2399v2In the courtyard of the main building are two ancient Yew trees, one male and one female, called ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’. In speaking to one of the Trust volunteers I learnt that it is hard to date Yew trees.  They are first recorded in correspondence dating to 1712; however they are generally estimated to be at least 500 years old with Adam possibly being around 600 years old.OK3A2443v2

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The house was built and owned by the Norris family for many generations until the female heiress married into the Beauclerk family in 1736.  Towards the end of the 18th century the house was abandoned by the family, who preferred to live in more fashionable London, and the dilapidated estate was finally sold in 1795.

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The Watt family purchased the house and estate from the Beauclerks in 1795.  Richard Watt, had made his money in Jamaica from the sugar plantations and decided to invest his hard-earned wealth in property.  Leaving Speke Hall to his great nephew, who substantially refurbished the Hall; it was again vacated in 1813.  After a period of tenancies, the house became thoroughly neglected and was almost a ruin before Richard Watt V and his new bride began the arduous task of restoration in 1856.  Both dying before they were 30 years old, and leaving only a young daughter to inherit on her coming of age, Speke Hall was then leased to Frederick Leyland for 10 years.OK3A2461v2

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As manager of the Bibby Shipping Company, Leyland was a relatively wealthy man, and ploughed a lot of money into the redecoration the house. His understanding and appreciation of the Arts and Crafts movement featured prominently in the Victorian refurbishment of Speke Hall, from his use of contemporary wallpapers by William Morris to his collection of Old Masters.OK3A2457v2

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The last surviving heir of the Watt family was Miss Adelaide Watt, who returned to the house in 1878 at the age of 21 years.  She set about developing a huge new farm complex, and was determined that such an historic property should be preserved for all time, irrespective of the massive amount of industrial development that was fast spreading out from the city.OK3A2424v2

OK3A2445v2Miss Watt died in 1921, leaving the house and estate in trust for 21 years, during which time it was looked after by the staff under the supervision of Thomas Whatmore, who had been butler to Miss Watt.  During this time the farm complex was transformed into an aerodrome opening in 1932.  At the end of this period, in 1942, the house passed into the ownership of the National Trust.  The house was administered by Liverpool City Corporation from 1946 until 1986, when the National Trust took over full responsibility.OK3A2503v2

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Under the National Trust the building has been further refurbished.  The Home Farm building has been renovated and now houses the shop, restaurant and reception and the laundry has been converted into the education room.  Rooms such as the gun room have been changed over the years and then changed back by the National Trust in order to show more of the history of the Hall.OK3A2499v2

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There are a number of unique features in the Hall dating from the various periods of its history.  Some of the most interesting survive from its early days.  There is a ‘priest hole’ and a special observation hole built into a chimney in one of the bedrooms to allow someone from the household to see people approaching the house and to warn any Catholic priest visiting the family that he may need to hide.  There is also an ‘eavesdrop’ – a small open hole under the eaves of the house – which allowed a servant to listen in on the conversations of people awaiting admission at the original front door to see if they were friend or foe.

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Why was this the case?  Well under Queen Elizabeth I the Act of Uniformity was passed which restored the Church of England rather than the Catholic Church as the official religion of the country and all who did not conform were fined or imprisoned.  It was High Treason for a Catholic priest to even enter England and anyone found aiding and abetting a priest would be punished severely.  The Jesuit religious order was formed in 1540 to help the Catholic Church fight the Protestant Reformation and many Jesuit priests were sent across the Channel to England to support Catholic families. Jesuit priests would live with wealthy Catholic families in the guise of a cousin or a teacher.  To this end ‘priest hunters’ were tasked to collect information and locate any such priests.OK3A2473v2

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OK3A2470v2Sometimes Jesuits priests in an area would meet at a safe house; these safe houses were identified by secret symbols and the Catholic supporters and families would pass messages to each other through code.  Hiding places or ‘priest’s holes’ were built in these houses in case there was a raid. The Priest hole in Speke Hall has been built behind a false timber panel in one of the bedrooms.  Priest Holes were largely constructed between the 1550s and the Catholic-led Gunpowder Plot in 1605. Sometimes other building alterations would be made at the same time as the priest’s holes so as not to arouse suspicion.OK3A2409v2

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Speke Hall is said to be haunted.  It has appeared on the TV series Most Haunted in 2009. The resident ghost is said to be Mary Norris, who inherited Speke Hall in 1791. Mary Norris married Lord Sidney Beauclerk, who proceeded to gamble away the family fortune.  When Beauclerk told his wife they were ruined, she threw their newborn son out the window of the Tapestry Room, into the moat outside. She then ran to the Great Hall where she took her own life. Her ghost is said to haunt the Tapestry Room.OK3A2497v2

OK3A2491v2At the end of the day as I left the Hall I reflected that it is not only a miracle that the building has survived but even more surprising that it has remained virtually unaltered since it was first built for the Norris family some 450 years ago.  It is in the most unlikely setting, at the edge of a modern industrial estate and bordering on the runway of Liverpool Airport where the air is regularly punctuated by the roar of jet engines as planes taxi down the next door runway.  Truly a remarkable piece of history preserved for us all to appreciate.

 

Demolition on Church Road

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The Tranmere area of Birkenhead was part of the then Labour Government’s Housing Market Renewal area where old unsound buildings were to be demolished and new homes and facilities were to be built in their place.

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The centre of this area is Church Road where there has been previous demolition work and the provision of a brand new local shopping area, as well as nearby St Catherine’s Hospital former workhouse building being cleared and replaced with a new modern designed health centre.

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When the Coalition government came to power in 2010 they ended the Housing Market Renewal clearance and redevelopment scheme and many areas were left in limbo.

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However there has been some recent activity on Church Road and the last remaining old boarded up shops are being demolished.

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Work started on the demolition of 25-39 Church Road Birkenhead which is a terrace of two storey buildings with flats to first floor and retail shops to the ground floor.  The shop keepers were re-located to existing shop units further down Church Road.

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I managed to take some photographs as they are being demolished in the bright June sunshine.

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The Welsh Streets Part 2 – ‘Peaky Blinders’

This article follows on my last post from December 2014 about Madryn Street where Ringo Starr of the Beatles lived in his early life.

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As I explored the ‘Welsh Streets’ I wandered into the next street to Madryn Street – Powis Street.  I wondered why all the terraced houses were painted black.

Not being a great follower of TV series I subsequently discovered that the facades of the abandoned terraces in Powis Street are painted black after posing as Birmingham’s slums for the filming of the BBC series ‘Peaky Blinders’.  The second series of the programme was screened on BBC 1 in the Autumn of 2014.  The show is set in post First World War Birmingham and draws audiences of around 2.4 million.  The story is centred on criminal gangs in Birmingham and their battle with a local chief inspector of police who is tasked with cleaning up the city’s streets.

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Producers used Liverpool to recreate the show’s historical setting, with locations including Stanley Dock and Rodney Street as well as Powis Street.  The story begins in 1919 and focuses on the Shelby family who make up the fiercest gang of all – the Peaky Blinders of the title.  Peaky Blinders takes its name from the gang’s habit of wearing flat caps with razor blades hidden in the peaks.  The Shelby family are headed by Irish actor Cillian Murphy as gang leader Thomas who is attempting to expand their criminal empire beyond the Midlands.

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Sam Neill stars as the chief inspector and the second series also featured Hollywood star Tom Hardy and new wife Charlotte Riley.  According to the local press they were spotted several times in the Hope Street Hotel whilst filming was on-going in early 2014.

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The derelict houses in Powis Street were apparently given three identities in the series – the lawless slum neighbourhoods of Birmingham, ‘Little Italy’ and ‘Watery Lane’.  Whilst shooting took place in Birmingham and Leeds as well, Liverpool was chosen because of its towering buildings and striking architecture.  The location managers wanted locations which would give a Victorian industrial heartland.  The Liverpool Film Office have brought a number of film and TV companies to film in Liverpool before and they secured the buildings for filming, which were then painted black and stripped of their TV aerials and steel security screens.

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As the picture extract from the TV series shows below, Powis Street has been transformed with the actor Sam Neill along with other policemen on horseback charging up the terraced street which has a period industrial backdrop put in place at the end of the street with a little bit CGI.

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I commented in my earlier post that walking around the mostly abandoned Welsh Streets has an eerie feeling but with the sinister mat black finish given to the houses in Powis Street the feeling is heightened even further.

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I did wonder if the houses would still be standing if they make a third series of ‘Peaky Blinders’?  But on 16 January Eric Pickles, the Government’s Communities Secretary, blocked Liverpool City Council’s planning application to demolish 271 terraced Victorian homes in the area which he had ‘called-in’ last year.  He said that this was because of the “effect on the appreciation of Liverpool’s Beatles heritage as the birth place of Ringo Starr”.  Mr Pickles ruled demolishing the streets would be “short-sighted as regards the future tourism potential of Madryn Street”.  But Joe Anderson, the Labour Mayor of Liverpool, said the ruling was a “kick in the teeth” for people who wanted to see new homes built in the area.  SAVE Britain’s Heritage who want to see the existing homes restored have supported Mr Pickles decision but the ‘Welsh Streets Home Group’, the local residents’ organisation, said Mr Pickles’ decision was “shocking news” and they have called on authorities to resolve the problem “to end our 11-year purgatory”.  They are worried about “the continuing community stress, and the antagonism between Liverpool City Council and central government that this decision creates.”

I wonder if a solution will be found soon?

Ringo’s house in Madryn Street

I visited the ‘Welsh Streets’ district in Dingle on the outskirts of Liverpool city centre on yet another wet and rainy day.  A debate on what should become of the eleven ‘Welsh streets’ has raged for eight years following the declaration of a renewal area under the then Labour Government’s Housing Market Renewal initiative.  The debate has had the City Council, its partners and some residents on one side saying the houses should be demolished and the land developed, and some local residents and heritage campaigners on the other claiming the Victorian terraces should be restored to their former glory.

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The properties are called the Welsh Streets as they were built and lived in by Welsh workers in the late 19th Century and named after Welsh towns, villages and valleys and include Rhiwlas Street, Powis Street, Madryn Street, Kinmel Street and Gwydir Street which adjoin South Street close to Princes Park.

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9 Madryn Street holds special significance for Beatles fans as it was the birthplace of Ringo Starr when he was known as plain old Richard Starkey.  The nearly abandoned streets are eerily quiet apart from the passing taxis taking Beatles fans to 9 Madryn Street.  As I was taking photos a yellow ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ bus drives by the end of the street and stops for tourists to have a peak down the road in the rain.  Ringo’s childhood home remains boarded up and covered in graffiti left by Beatles fans from across the world.  The long running row between local residents who want to save the streets and those who want the streets demolished to make way for new homes has an added twist in Madryn Street where there is a further  balance between the need for decent modern homes and protecting a piece of the Beatles’ heritage in their home town.

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In the summer of 2013 the City Council approved a £15m regeneration plan for the Welsh Streets with a plan to build more than 150 new homes, demolish up to 440 homes and refurbish 37 houses.  9 Madryn Street was set to be knocked down as part of the City Council’s plans.  But in September 2013 the plans for the area were put on hold after the Government’s Communities Secretary Eric Pickles called for a public inquiry to consider the planning application.

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In June 2014 it was announced that Ringo’s former home had been saved from demolition following the intervention of the Government’s Housing Minister.  The house is one of 16 on the street to be spared, although 400 other homes in the wider area will be pulled down.  About 32 properties including 9 Madryn Street will now be refurbished and put on the market. The Housing Minister was responding to calls from many Beatle fans across the world who wanted to see Ringo’s house saved for posterity.

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However the wider public enquiry is still to report back on the wider plans for the area and walking down the streets you can see rows of tinned-up houses in most of the Welsh Streets with some houses leaning precariously as the chimneys; roofs and brickwork bulge out with green shoots sprouting out of the walls and gutters.  There are still some residents living in the streets as they are still fighting for their homes to be saved and refurbished and others who are waiting to be re-housed in new homes.

OK3A1121v2 The Housing Market Renewal initiative was set up to demolish areas of declining and unpopular housing and build new modern homes in better neighbourhoods in many towns across the north of England including Liverpool and Wirral.  The Housing Market Renewal initiative was eventually wound up in 2010 by the incoming coalition Government.  The City Council wanted to press on with plans to demolish Madryn Street along with many more homes but following the Housing Minister’s intervention the Council has been allocated additional funds to refurbish the houses in the street.

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Ringo lived at Madryn Street with his father, also called Richard, and his mother Elsie Starkey.  They rented the house for 10 shillings (£0.50) a week.   His parents separated when Ringo was three years old, and Elsie and her son moved to the smaller, less expensive two up, two down house at nearby 10 Admiral Grove, which remained his home until 1963 when he became famous as the Beatles shot to fame.

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Across from Ringo’s house in Madryn Street I am told there was a man who sold Beatles memorabilia from his house window but he hadn’t been given permission from the City Council to have a sign. So he had “Beatles” written in the brickwork!!  The house is empty now but the wall still tells the story.

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Other notable landmarks in the immediate area include the Empress pub on South Road which is still going strong serving pints and displaying memorabilia linked to Ringo and the Beatles.

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It featured on the cover of Ringo’s first solo album ‘Sentimental Journey’.  ‘Sentimental Journey’ was released in 1970 as the Beatles were falling apart. George Harrison and John Lennon had released solo albums already and Paul McCartney’s debut, ‘McCartney’, would follow three weeks after Sentimental Journey’s release. The album was completed in early March 1970 and it was rushed out a few weeks later to avoid clashing in the shops with the Beatles’ final album ‘Let It Be’ which was released in May 1970.

The cover from Ringo Starr's solo album 'Sentimental Journey' released March 1970

The cover from Ringo Starr’s solo album ‘Sentimental Journey’ released in 1970

‘Sentimental Journey’ was an album of standards that reflected his mother’s favourite songs.  Ringo had asked his mother and step-father and other members of his family to choose the tracks to go on the album.  To reflect the links to his past Ringo chose a photograph of the Empress pub, a tall old pub that stands almost opposite Madryn Street where his mother Elsie worked for a time.  The people pictured at the windows of the pub were members of Ringo’s family.

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Hopefully the fate of the Welsh Streets will be known soon.  Could there be a solution of selective refurbishment and demolition alongside new homes?

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Ellesmere Port Boat Museum

I made a visit to what is now known as the National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port which is situated in South Wirral on the banks of the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal.

The museum contains the largest collection of canal boats in the world.  It has boats from Britain’s inland waterways and canals including narrowboats, barges,tugs and some wide bodied vessels as well.  The museum has been developed on a site at the northern end of the Shropshire Union Canal where it enters the Manchester Ship Canal at Ellesmere Port where huge warehouses, docks and a range of moorings and locks were built as the canal port developed.

The canal to Ellesmere Port was built by Thomas Telford and William Jessop funded by the merchants of the Shropshire town of Ellesmere to give them an outlet onto the Mersey and the port of Liverpool for their goods.  The canal was completed in 1795 and over the next hundred years the village of Netherpool which changed its name to Ellesmere Port grew steadily.  Industrial areas grew up around the canal and its docks attracted more and more workers to the area and the town itself continued to expand.

The Manchester Ship Canal opened in 1894 giving businesses in Manchester direct access to the Atlantic to export their goods.  The Stanlow Oil Refinery was completed further along the ship canal in the 1920s and the town expanded so that it now incorporated further outlying villages as suburbs.  The canal port continued to be fully operational until the 1950s.

With the growth of railways and road transportation the use of canals declined and the dock complex was abandoned in the 1960s.  In 1973 a group of volunteers came together to rebuild the warehouses and the lock system and they founded the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum which became the National Waterways Museum in 2004.

The museum covers the area of the former canal port and retains the original system of locks, docks and warehouses.  The Island Warehouse now includes an exhibition on the history of boat-building and an exhibition which describes the social history of canals.  The Pump House contains the steam-driven pumping engines which supplied power for the hydraulic cranes and the capstans which were used around the dock and the Power Hall contains a variety of other engines.

The Museum also contains a terrace of four houses known as ‘Porter’s Row’. These were dock workers’ cottages which have been decorated and furnished to represent different periods from the docks history.  The houses show how they would have been in the 1830s, the 1900s, the 1930s and the 1950s.

The area outside the dockworkers’ cottages is set out as a typical street scene from around the 1940s and 1950s.

Whilst the museum displays many canal boats which tell the story of the waterways the heritage boat yard has a number of old and neglected boats which the boatyard aims to restore training young people in the skills of boat restoration.

Looking across the Boat Museum to the Manchester Ship Canal you can see the Widnes/Runcorn Bridge in the distance, another feat of engineering which was opened in 1961 to replace an older bridge dating from 1905.

The Holiday Inn which is adjacent to the boat museum is built on the site of the former Telford’s Winged Warehouse.  So called because it was a four storey building built on two arches across the canal basin.  It was completed in 1835 but was burned down in 1970.  The Holiday Inn was built in the late 1980s.  As I walked past the locks next to the Holiday Inn a pair of swans were feeding on the downfall from the lock gates.

All in all this was a very interesting walk back in time to the days when canals fed the industrial revolution which saw Britain develop into the first industrialised nation.