Definitive history of Liverpool's 800 years
Sep 12 2006
A professor and 'honorary Scouser' has written a book to mark Liverpool's 800-year-old past - and its historical significance. Mike Chapple reports:
Prof John Belchem with the definitive history of Liverpool - Picture: TRACEY O'NEILL
OUT of the past 800 years, five might seem a very short period indeed. But they have been very important years for the city - because, finally, after five years, the definitive history of Liverpool has been completed in time for its 800th anniversary celebrations in 2007.
However, John Belchem - the man behind the creation of the book Liverpool 800 Culture Character and History - is philosophical about finally seeing his long-awaited, whopper-sized, paper baby delivered in the flesh.
"When I first picked it up, it was an absolutely fabulous moment, because it was the first time I'd had a chance to look at the thing as a whole," said the Professor of History at the University of Liverpool.
"I showed it to my wife Mary and she thought it was fantastic and other people thought it was terrific.
"But because this has been five years in the making, with two years of my time completely devoted to it in terms of every working, waking hour, in the end I was thinking w-e-e-e-lll ... perhaps it's not bad.
"I suppose in some ways I even felt deflated."
He was holding the dummy of the paperback after its arrival from Slovenia where the entire run is about be printed, an irony not lost on him.
"If we could have afforded to have it printed in Liverpool, believe me, we would have done," said Professor Belchem.
The book should be in the shops by the end of the month.
The only thing left to be done is the burnishing of the front cover depicting the ferries and the waterfront.
The book contains the names of hundreds of famous Liverpudlians - everyone from John Lennon, Dixie Dean, Bessie Braddock and Ken Dodd - to the two Williams, Roscoe and Gladstone.
"I suppose that will be one of the most controversial aspects of the book - people complaining that so-and-so's name's been left out!" said the 59-year-old Professor, who was born in the East End of London, but came to the University of Liverpool in 1979 and now considers himself "an honorary Scouser".
At 523 pages, and weighing 1.9 kgms, even the paperback is a hefty tome, but one which, at £14.95, looks set to be the Christmas book bargain of the year.
The £35 hardback edition is heavier still at 2.15 kgms, while the 800 numbered, limited edition copies costing £100 in its bound slip case, will tip the scales at 2.4kgms. Professor Belchem edited and also wrote an introduction to the book, which is split into six chapters.
The first, Small Beginnings, covers the period 1207 to 1680. Prof Belchem said that this was probably the most difficult to complete and required three different people - Jenny Kermode, Janet Hollinshead and Malcolm Gretton, experts in medieval, late medieval and early modernist history, respectively.
"The problem is that there is so little to work with from that period," said Prof Belchem, who referred to the work of an academic predecessor, Ramsay Muir, who wrote the 700th anniversary history of Liverpool 100 years ago.
"We started off talking about Small Beginnings, while Muir began by referring to Long Centuries of Small Things, saying 'don't kid yourself that this is some venerable long romance about ancient Liverpool because that's just rubbish'.
"Really, it was just a bloody boring insignificant place where nothing happened until the late 17th, early 18th century, then, WHAM!!! all hell breaks loose."
Other chapters include:
* Civic Liverpool (1680 to 1800);
* A demographic breakdown entitled Living In the Modern City covering the 19th century to the modern day;
* Maritime Liverpool;
* Cosmopolitan Liverpool, which was also written by Prof Belchem and analyses immigration from the 18th century to the end of World War II;
* City of Change and Challenge, which covers the city's history from war's end to today.
THESE latter two also presented sensitive issues. "In Cosmopolitan, we were trying to cover so much from all the Celtic elements - the Irish, Scots, the Welsh and Manx - never mind all the European and Afro-Caribbean elements, so we tried to find as many imaginative and different ways to be as inclusive as possible," explained Prof Belchem, whose next book will be the history of Irish Liverpool, due out next year.
With the Change and Challenge chapter, he thought it important to include author Jon Murden, who was a great expert on the city - though he was not a Liverpudlian.
"That chapter takes us on a huge rollercoaster ride covering some very controversial topics such as Toxteth in 1981 and the reign of Militant.
"Jon was great for this because he is not a Liverpudlian. He's someone who would not have been too involved and therefore can't be accused of being too partisan.
"Of course, there will always be those who will say 'well, you said that about such-and-such an incident, but my auntie was there and she's told me that's not how it was!'"
Another issue requiring meticulous work was the widespread use of images and sorting out copyright problems. The University of Liverpool and the city council, which jointly funded the book project, proved to be especially helpful in sorting these out, especially the latter's records office.
"It meant we got access to sites not normally open to other people. They must take great credit for that.
"For instance, one of the distinctions about the book is that it will contain illustrations that people will never have seen before. There aren't, for instance, any classic pictures of the Liver Building, because people have already seen all that done a million times before."
What he hopes is that it will be a comprehensive reflection on one of the great individual cities of the world.
"The main thing I really like is that it IS a city but it's NOT provincial and it's NOT English. It's not boring and it's not bland."
He also hopes that the book's appeal will be universal.
"I think we've struck the balance right. We were trying to produce a book which tried to please every kind of audience.
"I wanted my academic peers to ask what is the best piece of research about Liverpool history - and they walk away reading Liverpool 800.
"We also wanted to appeal to the general reader, which is why we've tried to write it in the most accessible style possible.
"But we also wanted to appeal to the people who previously had never been interested in the history of the city. They don't have to read it from cover to cover. Some people might just want to look at the pictures - and the captions in themselves produce quite a good story."
Most important of all, he hopes that the book does justice to the city - and its historical significance.
"We used a narrative framework that looks at Liverpool as a kind of history of human geography," said Prof Belchem.
"Physically, Liverpool once was an isolated place, not very healthily located.
"But then, suddenly, it was realised that you could do things to transform that geography.
"That you could build all these amazing canals and roads, and God knows what else.
"That you could control oceans and then you could build the most incredible docks system - as solid and enduring as the pyramids. That you could control those high, wonderful tidal ranges, so that human intervention transformed the rather unfortunate geography and made this place, what was briefly, I suppose, the centre of the universe.
"That is why," he concluded, almost triumphantly, "this book is so important."
QUOTE OF THE YEAR 2007
Council leader Warren Bradley said that some individual councillors’ behaviour was “appalling” and not fitting of a democratic society.
FIREMAN'S INTERVIEW WITH ROGER PHILLIPS, AFTER COUNCIL RANKED THE WORST FINANCIALLY RUNRoger: This is not a good report for us is it Warren?
Fireman:Well Roger we’ve got to put it into perspective really haven’t we and remember where Liverpool was and that’s not thinking back 10 years. Liverpool has come an awful long way. The people of Liverpool were asking for lower Council Tax and the Liberal Democrats have delivered that and they also wanted better services and you look at the services that are now delivered by Liverpool City Council. If we look at the most vulnerable either elderly or the Children’s Services the social care we are now delivering at a level that Liverpool has never delivered before. We also look at the bread and butter your schools, your sports centres, your libraries, One Stop Shops in communities, our parks, we’ve got 13 green flag parks. It’s like a new home to me when you get an old dilapidated derelict building you’ve got to bring it up to a standard and I think Liverpool City Council under the Liberal Democrats have certainly done that and I am certain if we did a survey of people in the City do you want Liverpool City Council to sit on £20m worth of reserves or do you want the City Council delivering front line services that affect the most vulnerable and people’s lives in the City. I think that they would vote with their feet and say that we support the policies of Liverpool City Council. We’ve got to look at the financial regulations put in by Government and if you want my opinion about this Roger it is purely political.
Roger: Well come on, you know the Audit Commission is not a political body
Fireman: Well with respect Roger and I would beg to differ on that
Roger: Well how can it be a political, it’s an independent organisation?
Fireman: We can say everything is independent to a certain extent but you know you look at what we’ve got at the moment in Liverpool and we’re delivering top quality services.
Roger: But the problem with this is that you’ve got an overall score rating of 2 which was adequate performance into 05, overall score in 06 was 2 which is adequate performance.
This year it is down to 1 below minimum requirements inadequate performance.
Fireman: Based around financial regulations…
Roger: Yes I’m talking about the financial…..
Fireman: Laid down by government. I mean that’s what you’ve got to remember. Don’t try and muddy the waters and say oh this is about Liverpool City Council and their overall performance. It’s not. You look at the issue that we’ve done about achievements. Liverpool scoring 3-4 on achievement at the moment through the Audit Commission.
Roger: I didn’t know that.
(EDs: Pitiful, just pitiful.)
Fireman: And we do seem to always go to the negatives when we’re looking for something like this.
Roger: The District Auditor was pretty negative about you wasn’t he and…
Fireman: No, I have got to say Roger I would love to have £50m in reserves. I would also love not to have to put additions of £7m into adult social care and £2-3m into children’s social care. The facts are we have got to do that because of the pressures that are on Liverpool at the moment.
Roger: So are other Councils….
Fireman: I’m not willing as Leader of this Council to take away care to the most vulnerable to allow it to sit in reserve. I am not willing to do that and I will go to the stake on that the people of the City. Liverpool now is only one of a handful of Councils up and down the country that is providing moderate care to the most vulnerable people in the City. Now to give people an idea of what moderate care is that is home care. These people who’ve got no family to support them and require a visit in the morning or a visit in the evening to make sure they’re ok to help them to take the pills, to make sure that they’ve got the food. Most Councils up and down this country have removed that care. Liverpool City Council is still allowing our most vulnerable people our sort of care. Now is that wrong, is that wrong?
Roger: Now no one would argue that’s wrong but everyone. But many people are affected by housing. Housing is really poor isn’t it. I mean you are so poor you’ve had to hand it over to a different group to run it.
Fireman: Well with respect Roger, with respect, you’ve got to know what the Housing Corporation have done and in partnership with the Government again it’s easy to say it’s the Council, in partnership with the Government we’ve tackled head on through the Pathfinder areas of the inner core of the City some of the housing inefficiencies of the City. That hasn’t happened over the last five years that’s happened over 30 or 40 years. The problems in Norris Green in housing were prevalent 30 or 40 years ago and weren’t tackled. As an Authority we’ve challenged what wasn’t tackled and we’ve challenged it head on and I opened a couple of weeks ago with Flo Clucas and Marilyn Fielding with Cobalt Housing the first phase of Norris Green. We’ve transformed that area and its got houses for sale and social housing in Norris Green that people are seeking to live in now. We’ve got in a core Edge Hill, Kensington, Kirkdale the same issues that have been there for 30 or 40 years that we’re tackling now hand in hand with the Government. I’m not taking the credit for it and the Government isn’t. We’ve got a schools’ programme that is second to none. Liverpool’s young people are now achieving at the national average. I want it higher than national average to give new opportunity but again I’ll say I’m not going to suit accountants’ financial regulations in London and leave £millions sitting in reserve while we have still got the challenges Liverpool has got and I think people you know.
Roger: Do you think it was a mistake to keep Council Tax down or freeze it over the past few years?
Fireman: Well isn’t it ironic Roger how last week John Healey said how Liverpool is charging £101 a head...
Roger: Because its inefficiencies….
Fireman: Well we have taken £150m worth of inefficiencies out of our budget over the last 10 years. We’ve kept Council tax down which is exactly what Government policy is and is exactly what John Healey is saying. Councillor Joe Anderson is saying something completely different to the people of Liverpool that he will put taxes up to build reserves to put in reserve well again this administration this Lib Dem administration is not going to tax for the sake of taxing to leave money sitting in reserve. We will build up the reserves over a period of years and then we will be able to tackle some of the other issues that we’ve got to do. We recognise the health inequalities. To improve health inequalities we’ve got to have a real stable economy offering real opportunity and raising the aspirations in them poorer communities. You cannot do that leaving millions and millions of pounds laying in reserves and this administration will continue the robust financial management that we’ve done. We’ll carry on delivering…
Roger: If it was that robust we wouldn’t have this problem of £20m overdrawn on Capital of Culture.
Fireman: Roger, lets put things into hindsight. We are still delivering front line services. We are still…
Roger: It’s about £20m overall that we’re short this year – now that’s not robust management
Fireman: But Roger we are going through a budget setting process. Every Local Authority up and down the country is in the same process as us. I remember reading about Wirral being £50m short. Other Local Authorities. I meet the core city leaders who are £40-£50m short exactly the same as Liverpool . And let’s not forget I haven’t come on here to knock the Government I’ve come on here to say that I believe we’ve got a robust financial programme in place that is going to deal with the shortfall. We’ve delivered year on year but I’ll say again I am not going to allow millions and millions of pounds to lay in reserve. Cut front line services to the most vulnerable and then say that’s acceptable. Nor as Leader of this Council am I going to allow Council Tax to go through the roof again which will drive the inability to bring further investment into this City. While the Lib Dems have been in control we’ve brought Council Tax down, we’ve brought renewed confidence and we’ve brought real investment that will bring opportunities to the most vulnerable and I think that is the most important and I think the people of this City will stand full square with us on that. I’m proud of what we’ve delivered in this City over the last 10 years and Capital of Culture is part of that."