Monday, 29 September 2014


The other week I was given two tickets for the Plaza Cinema in Crosby by one of my neighbours, Val. She wasn’t able to go but thought I might be able to use them.  There was to be a special showing of a film called Life on the Home Front in North West England. It was rare footage that had been put together by the North West Film Archive who are determined to save our region’s filmed heritage.
     It was a while since I’d visited the Plaza which was saved from closure several years ago by a group of volunteers and is now a community cinema. When my sons were much younger, we would do the half hour walk to Crosby quite often. It was at the Plaza we saw ET, THE BLACK HOLE,  ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING, as well as DEATH ON THE NILE, so I remember it with fondness. It is situated opposite Crosby library which I visited last week because I had a yen to browse shelves of books. Sadly we lost our local library in Litherland almost a year ago.
     I’m glad to say the Plaza still has the atmosphere of the cinema I remember,  although the seats are no longer those ones that would threaten to spring closed when you stood up or tried to sit down. John and I found the new ones really comfortable with a decent back so you could rest your head as you gazed up at the screen. The film lasted just over an hour and was narrated by Maxine Peake, who can be seen on our television screens at the moment and has played Hamlet at the theatre in Manchester recently.
     It was not quite what I expected as the footage did not cover just the First World War but some of the years in the lead up to it and several years afterwards. Neither was it local in the way I had thought it would be. Still I found it really interesting because it gave me a proper feel for the people living then and I received a good impression of their lives.
     I had not realised just how prosperous great swathes of Lancashire was in the year up to what they would have called the Great War. The cotton industry was booming and we had a good share of the export market. Neither had it struck me just how many coal fields there were in Lancashire. I enjoyed seeing the marching bands and girls and woman dressed up for the annual festival when the rose queen was crowned.
     I actually have a photograph of my sister and I dressed in long frocks in a procession when we were part of such an occasion in late forties Liverpool.
      So many happy faces in those pre-WWI films.
     Then came the announcement of war and films of marching men. Fortunately we were spared shots of the Somme and the awfulness of the numerous dead, although there were photographs and names of men who had died. Some of the film did show a whistle stop tour of King George V and Queen Mary visiting towns in Lancashire and the multitudes that turned out to catch just a glimpse of them.
      I was reminded of the one time I saw Queen Mary. She was in an open car with her son King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth when they visited Liverpool. My parents had taken my sister and I to see them. It must have been in the late forties because my sister was sitting on Dad’s shoulders and I remember being lifted up so I could see over people’s heads in front.
      The last part of the film was quite sad because it showed the commemoration of various war memorials in towns and villages in Lancashire. The excellent voiceover by Maxine Peake also informed us about the changes wrought after the war with the loss of jobs due to the decline in the cotton industry. Factories having gone over to making munitions during the war had lost markets worldwide and it was a similar story of lost markets in the coalfields of Lancashire. Altogether I found it fascinating.
     A DVD is available from Manchester Central Library, IWM North and other outlets. Price £12. The First World War Life on the Home Front in North West England. 
      As my husband and I walked home afterwards, I could not help thinking of when our expectations of an evening at the flicks would be a main feature film, a B movie, a cartoon and the Pathe News. Our hearts might have sunk when confronted by bad news but by the time we had left the cinema in a great crowd of cinemagoers and walked home in the fresh air, the news wouldn't be playing over and over in our minds but we might be singing the songs from a musical or discussing the plot of a murder mystery or laughing over a comedy. 
      Lately the news on our television screens has been really upsetting and the horror of it all is hard to banish from our thoughts because it is so in our faces. Again and again. I’ve taken to switching over if I can get away with it but I don’t live alone and others think we need to know what’s going on. What do you think?


When my sons were much younger, we would do the walk to Crosby quite often. It was at the Plaza we saw ET, THE BLACK HOLE, ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING, as well as DEATH ON THE NILE. I remembered it fondly as what some would call now an old fashioned proper cinema.

Monday, 15 September 2014


The Sunday evening when I last blogged I went to Formby Books to listen to Ann Oakes talking about her grandfather who died from a result of wounds received during the Great War. Most likely she would never have thought of writing a book if she had not discovered his letters in the attic when clearing out her father’s house in Worcestershire. Ann was brought up in the small village of Wilden and one senses that a part of her heart is still there, despite having married a Merseysider and moving up to his home ground. I had met her husband when he had come to listen to me talk at a University of the 3rd Age meeting and discovered their son had been at school with my eldest, Iain, who does research for me.

It was a very interest talk, much of which can be found in her book Yours Ever, Charlie. A WORCESTERSHIRE SOLDIER’S JOURNEY TO GALLIPOLI by Ann Crowther. Space is given to her grandfather and great-grandfather’s relationship with the Baldwin family, one of whom Stanley Baldwin was to become prime minister of Britain. Rudyard Kipling was also known to the Crowther family, being a relative of the Baldwins. As it says on the back cover, the book is a poignant reminder of how beneath the staggering statistics of the First World War lie innumerable personal and tragic stories.  


Part of Ann’s research took her to Malta but my latest was closer to home. Having had my latest book LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND accepted by my publisher, I decided to make a start on a project close to my heart. So last week I decided I wanted a look around Toxteth as that was where a number of my ancestors had lived for a while in Victorian times. I’ve read a fair bit about that period and I wanted to connect places in my head, such as how far was a certain street from the docks. So with my 1928 Bartholomew’s map of Liverpool in hand (mentions a lot of the old streets), along with a present day map, I persuaded my husband that a morning out trying to find old Toxteth would do us both good.

We-ell, it didn’t quite work out like that!

We both knew that the old docks and just up from them on the South side had changed a lot, but we did not realise just how much it had done. Although a few of the streets and roads were still mentioned on the present day map.

We had a lovely run along Derby Road and the dock road (real name Waterloo Road if I’m not mistaken) our side of the Liver Buildings but then all changed. We ended up motoring up the wrong street instead of  Parliament Street as we intended. We went down again and then along Grafton Street, which runs parallel with the southern end of  the dock road. We did actually see the name Mann Street or Upper Mann Street where my great-grandmother, Mary Harrison, grew up and lived for the first few years of her married life to Norwegian sailor, Martin Nelson, but we’d reached a dead end and it was blocked by bollards, so we couldn’t get to it. After a quick look at the map we decided to go down towards the Mersey again, thinking there must be a way to find another street where another of my ancestors had lived.

No way! What struck me afresh was just how steep the streets run up from those nearest the docks.

So I suggested to John that we go to Princes Park, named after Edward VII when he was born, as I’d never been there before. Somehow we ended up in Otterspool but that was better than being at Speke Airport, or John Lennon as it’s called today. At least as it was a fine day, there was a lovely view over the Mersey to the Wirral. We parked and out came the map again.

We decided we’d backtrack, John was certain he’d be able to find Princes Park, where he’d been before in his youth, if we made for the Anglican Cathedral where my school used to go every Ascension Day, along with St Edmund’s. 

We found Parliament Street this time - and I noticed Toxteth Library on the right, and decided I must go there one day. We went along Catherine Street and eventually motored down Princes Road. There were some really attractive big house there, which no doubt had been inhabited by the rich upper middle classes at the time my ancestors were living just up from the docks. Then we went along Croxteth Road, named after Croxteth Hall, owned once upon a time by the Earls of Sefton. We missed the turning to Princes Park.

Where did we end up? Sefton Park which had once been part of the Royal hunting park of Toxteth. This whole area, including West Derby not far away has a long history.

Now I have warm memories of visiting Sefton Park aviary, the lake, grotto, or cave as we called it, and seeing the statue of Peter Pan with my sister and parents when I was a little girl. We generally travelled to the park on the 26 or 27 bus, so we had entered the park by a different gate. I also cut through the park after school games near Green Park.

I wasn’t really in the mood to hike across the park to find the palm house which son Tim assures me is well worth a look, because I was getting hungry. What I did find was a monument by the main gateway to a Samuel Smith, born in Kirkcudbright, Scotland, in the 19th century. He was a philanthropist, who became member of parliament for Liverpool. He was a bit of a traveller like many another who settled in our fair city and died in India.

We headed home, but not before traversing along Park Road, a well known shopping centre for my ancestors. At least I felt I had a bit of a feel of the place after getting lost several times in Toxteth and the area still known as Toxteth Park. So next time when someone mentions the Toxteth riots and your mind is filled with images of burning cars, remember there is another side to that ancient part of Liverpool.

Thursday, 4 September 2014


Having finished the book, I’ve been sort of relaxing by sorting out my ancestry files on my father’s side of the family, doing a couple of jigsaws and meeting my sister, who lives near Chester for lunch. Anything to escape catching up on the housework. 

She said, ‘Where d’you fancying going? What d’you feel about New Brighton?’

I felt fine about New Brighton, having not visited that childhood haunt for several years and then it had been in her company. Last time I was there my heart had plummeted. It was winter and it didn’t feel a bit like when we were kids and our parents would take us on a crowded ferry from Liverpool across the Mersey on a bank holiday Monday.

Like most Scousers I have memories of paddling in the pool that was sort of enclosed by a low wall from the rest of the shore, making it reasonably safe for children when the tide came in. As well as crabbing amongst the rocks and, of course, making sandcastles and walking along the prom.

My sister and I never got as far as the paddling pool this time around because I’d actually taken the train to Capenhurst, her nearest train stop, where she picked me up and drove us all the way to New Brighton, so we came to it from a different angle to which I was familiar.

We had lunch at a Harvester’s overlooking the sea - lovely friendly staff and good fish and chips. Then we drove in the direction of the main part of New Brighton and parked by the sea wall. (Apparently during the bad storms of last winter the waves had come right over it and reached Morrison’s!) There was still no sign of the seaside resort I remembered but I could now see the more familiar Lancashire coastline where I lived across the Mersey as we walked along in the direction of the new superstores where my sister fancied a cappuccino in Morrison’s. She reckoned that it's the big stores that have helped to bring New Brighton alive again, as well as the coastal walk.

We paused to speak to a bloke fishing as the tide was in and asked him what he expected to catch.

‘Flatties!’ he said.

‘Plaice!’ I murmured, and I was a child again going shopping with Mam to Charles, the fishmonger’s, on Breck Road in Everton.

Fridays were fish days despite us not being Catholics. The queue would be outside the shop. Now Charles was what I’d call a real fish shop. They didn’t just sell mackerel, kippers, herrings, haddock and cod, but skate, ray, conger eel, salt fish (of course), fish roe and cockles and winkles (we called the latter cuwins for some inexplicable reason) You’d winkle the snail-like creature out of its shell with a pin after they’d been boiled. Fishmongers also stocked eggs and rabbits still in their fur. My mother was skilled in preparing this cheap meat and making delicious stew.

But I digress. As my sister and I walked along, enjoying the sea breezes, I noticed a plaque and being nosy I went over to see what it said. It was dedicated to an Ian Fraser (now there’s a good Scottish name) who had lived in Wallasey. A Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy, he had won the VC for his bravery in a midget submarine during an attack on a Japanese ship.

He had died not so long ago at the age of 87. You can read his obituary online which, as well as providing a detailed account of his wartime exploits, mentioned that he had married Melba Hughes, who was serving as a Wren at Pwllheli, North Wales, when he met her.

Now Hughes is what I’d call a Welsh name and I couldn't help thinking of the debate going on at the moment about Scotland having a referendum in September whether to leave the union and go it alone.

Liverpool and towns on both sides of the Mersey have long welcomed people from all over the world, many have settled in the area,  but none more so than those from Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

My husband although born in Liverpool, is what I’d call a true Celt.  On his mother’s side of the family he has inherited mainly Scottish and Irish with just a touch of English blood and on his father’s Welsh and Scottish with just the slightest hint of English blood. He would say he was a true Brit. As for me I am more English than he is but I do have a large dose of Welsh and a touch of Irish as well as Scandinavian. It is likely that I could have a streak of Scots because my mother is descended from a line of Border Reivers who along with the Lowland Scots, no doubt raiding across the border between England and Scotland.
It truly grieves me to think of the UK being split up. It’s almost like saying those on the other side of the Mersey are a different race from us Liverpudlians, although there are those who would say they are, I add, tongue in cheek.