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.