For some curious reason, of which I am completely ignorant, I have always thought of Liverpool, England as being this quaint little working-class English village. As you will soon learn, it is anything but quaint.
If you’re like me and over fifty, you’ll instantly recognize the name Liverpool and with whom the city-name is most famously associated. That would of course be an obscure little four piece British ensemble called the Beatles.
I personally found Liverpool to be an amazingly vibrant city with an incredible night life where people speak, straight face, with an incomprehensible pirate-like, half English/half Irish brogue. I, of course, say this in full self-realization that my own southern (a la redneck) accent is likely as equally incomprehensible to the typical Liverpudlian/Scouse as their’s may be to me.
But without any exaggeration whatsoever, and despite the fact that you cannot understand what people are saying (except of course the occasional “Arrhh”), I say that Liverpool is an architectural gem, worthy of your vacation dollars, completely independent of any Beatles connection.
In Liverpool’s core are fantastic 19th century Greek and Romanesque public buildings that tell all who first arrive of an important and strategic historical presence. Its outer perimeter boasts a number of quaint and quiet villages; exactly reminiscent of the sort of place I’d almost imagined. It was one of these working-class villages where the well known fab-four incubated and forged what was to become as legendary an influence to modern music as any other.
Driving into the outskirts of Liverpool from its southeastern side through a quiet little borough called Woolton, the very first thing we consciously encountered was the famous Penny Lane. This literally happened like twenty-seconds after I mentally penned the cutesy title of this blog.
Yes, the street name is real along with the bank (no-mac banker now missing), the barber shop (photographs still ever present on its walls), and the curious bus transfer station in the center of the roundabout – all mentioned in the famous lyrics to which we’ve all sang along.
Now, as fate and a love for travel would have it, Penny Lane has become equally real to me. It is indelibly imprinted “in my ears and in my eyes”, just as vividly as it was for young Paul as he reminisced about taking the bus to the Penny Lane roundabout to attend St. Barnabas Church as a young choir altar boy.
While in discovery mode, we drove up Menlove Street passing John Lennon’s boyhood home along the way to Beaconsfield Road where the gates to “Strawberry Fields” still lie in a state of hopelessness. Meanwhile,
I’m looking up at Liverpool’s “blue suburban skies” not yet knowing what other treasures await me and my traveling companions.
To my surprise and delight, Liverpool is infinitely more. A person can learn a great deal about a population by observing its churches. In that light, Liverpool has one of the largest Protestant churches in the entire world – too large in fact to fit the entire thing in my camera lens from 2500 feet away. Liverpool also has one of the most unique Catholic Churches in the world. The striking architecture and multi-spire tower was designed in-the-round so that the congregation can completely surround the pulpit.
What might also be of anecdotal interest to my American friends living in the South, is that when the war of Northern Aggression broke out, Liverpool became a genuine hotbed of international political intrigue.
Cotton was an enormous import to Liverpool, its shipping industry was entirely propped up on the African slave trade, and the shipbuilding industry (prevalent in Liverpool) was mutually important to all parties. In the words of the famous historian Sven Beckert, Liverpool was “the most pro-Confederate place in the world outside the Confederacy itself.”
In fact, the Confederate Navy ship, CSS Alabama, was built at Birkenhead (across the river) on the Mersey River in Liverpool. And in an odd twist I’d never before heard about, the CSS Shenandoah actually surrendered at the Liverpool Salt House Docks (being the final surrender and official end of the Civil War) a full three months after the whole Appomattox affair – being the last holdout of the American war of northern aggression.
In a related and controversial side-note, you may find it interesting that Penny Lane itself has been under attack by local social re-constructionists who’d very much like to change its iconic name. It seems that the famous roadway took its name from George Penny who made his fortune in the sugar and slave trade back during the height of that awful period.
The sugar industry was quite dependent upon slave labor. As a result, and fully reminiscent of similar movements back home in America, there’s a powerfully convincing movement in Liverpool to eliminate all remnants of bigotry and racism brought about by humming the street names of people known to have contributed to that horrible past. I can’t say that I agree with whitewashing any history, good or bad, but I can fully empathize with their motives. I’m just thankful that Lennon and McCartney didn’t write ditties about Jefferson or Washington.
Did you know that both companies Cunard and White Star, ship builders of insignificant little boats such as the Titanic and Queen Elizabeth II, once had their corporate headquarters located in Liverpool? The docks area along the Mersey is conspicuously littered with impressive Victorian skyscrapers including the buildings that once served these two famous companies. Liverpool has done a fabulous job of re-purposing some of these older buildings and the area around those docks is quite impressive for dining or shopping and for just walking around snapping interesting architectural photographs.
This port suburban city of nearly one half-million people is not only known for its architecture but also for its abundant green space. There are loads of parks throughout the city. One interesting thing I’ve noticed in Liverpool, as well as in other places scattered throughout Greater Britain, are the public green spaces used as free gardening spots.
While some of our more urban cities in the United States have been starting similar projects, I found that these in particular all suffer from the same sort of conundrum – acceptable blight. I do like the idea as a whole but what I don’t like is the thought that we should be promoting irresponsibility of the environment at the expense of simultaneous generosity to our less fortunate. Not when we penalize others for the same thing. It’s kind of like a prosecutor trying a case against Joe Schmo for gambling after he stops at a convenient store to buy his weekly budgeted lotto ticket.
What I’m referring to are green spaces that are no longer green; loaded up with hundreds of miniature home-made shanties for gardening tools with tiny plots of gardens inside little squares – collectively inside bigger squares. The little crude shelters are built by people with no tools, no skill, and no otherwise acceptable building materials. Each square of dirt is fenced uniquely using whatever can be found in someone else’s trash. They’re designed using the theory that “necessity breeds ingenuity” except that “ingenuity” generally means desperation and “desperation” generally translates to “old shower curtain”.
Enough about blighted gardens or inappropriate comic relief as I’m so famous for perfecting. I think I’ve made my case that Liverpool is much more interesting than my rants about greenspaces gone wrong. I do sincerely hope that you find the right opportunity to explore this amazing city for yourself. Perhaps you can walk the dark-steps downward into the famous Cavern Club where the Beatles played their first big gigs and buy a tee shirt like I did or explore the narrow streets of the city proper looking for the perfect “four of fish” or even a “finger pie” if you’re single and adventurous.
What happened to the CSS Shenandoah you ask? Well, its battle flag eventually made its way back home and now rests peacefully in a museum in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The ship itself was sold to the Sultan of Zanzibar where it later sunk off the East African coast during a Hurricane. How can you not believe in Karma when a former confederate states ship ends up being owned by an African country (Tanzania) where so many of its people lost their entire and future identities in the lands represented by the ships namesake?
What happened to poor Eleanor Rigby? Well, her bronze twin sits quietly on a bench on Stanley Street in Liverpool, not far from her burial place, where it was appropriately dedicated to “all the lonely people”.
What will happen to our beloved Penny Lane, I don’t exactly know. Maybe you should weigh in on the matter electronically if you feel a powerful urge to voice your support for either side.
What about Strawberry Field? If you’re at all curious as to what Lennon was writing about it, or how you can be a part of his story too, visit the website http://www.strawberryfieldliverpool.com. Maybe you could even start a GoFundMe campaign to support it. McCartney and Lennon have brought pieces of Liverpool to your ears, now it’s up to you to hop on a plane and let your own eyes share in the experience.