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?

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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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