Liverpool One: More than Just a Shopping Mall, It is Also the First Part of My Trilogy on The City That Is The Pool of Life.
The British tax year runs from the sixth of April until the fifth of April. It strikes me as odd to have a “year” starting on the sixth. The strange starting date is due to the year previously starting on March 25 (start of Spring and all) and days being lost with the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar in 1752, all of which is a little confusing but makes me think, “wow, the British have been collecting tax from people for a long time.”
As the tax year ends in early April, that means that most company benefits also run on the same year or for simplicities sake, an April 1 to March 31 year. Good news for me, as that means after only 2 months of working at my company, I get a full year’s worth of benefits. It does mean, though, that I had a somewhat small set of benefits prorated for my first two months. On starting, I was told I would get a prorated amount of holidays to take.
My first day, one of the women from HR told me, while consulting a table of prorated holidays based on starting date, “you are starting on the 26th of January, which means that you have 4.5 days to take before March 31st.”
Oh. Not enough to take a full week off, which I couldn’t do anyway because I was expected to be working right away on my first project to the end of May. So, after some discussion with my project manager, I decided to take a few long weekends in my first two months to make sure I didn’t lose my vacation. I already took one back in February when I moved to my new place, and I have a four-day weekend scheduled coming up at the end of the month. Picking a weekend that fell directly in between those two dates, I decided to take another vacation day on March 13… lucky Friday the Thirteenth.
I had, on my first few trips up to Sheffield noticed that a train runs from Sheffield up to Edinburgh. “Awesome,” I thought, “I will take the train up to Edinburgh for a 3 day weekend and check out Scotland!” Then I didn’t think about it again for almost a month. I didn’t figure I would have any trouble getting a hotel in Edinburgh for the weekend. After all, it’s the tail end of winter, who is going to want to go to Scotland in the middle of March?
Lots of Irish and Scots, it turns out, if that weekend happens to be the weekend when Ireland is playing the Scotland in Edinburgh in the Six Nations Rugby. Doing my usual level of research for a trip (i.e. none), this was something I didn’t figure out until I tried to book a hotel a few weeks ago in Edinburgh, and couldn’t find anything for under £300 a night.
So, I decided on plan B, which was to develop another plan, or really, a plan at all, seeing as Plan A wasn’t a plan so much as an idea. Let’s call this new plan C. Plan C involved going down to the Sheffield train station and looking up at the departure board and picking out somewhere else that trains go from Sheffield.
Birmingham… Nah, been there. Glasgow… Nah, too close to Edinburgh. Leeds… Umm, what is in Leeds? Manchester…. Nah. Oh, wait, there’s an idea. Liverpool.
So I ended up booking a hotel and train ticket, and on Thursday, March the 12th after work made my way from Sheffield across the Pennines and to the port city of Liverpool.
Liverpool is a city. That might not be immediately clear if you Google Liverpool, as the first few hits are about a football team, but more on them later. The city sits on the banks of the River Mersey, close to the where the river empties out into the Irish Sea. The city’s position on the west coast of England and on a major, wide river meant that Liverpool became one of the most important ports in England. Today, it still is an important port, both for cargo and passengers, especially those heading to the Isle of Man or Ireland (either North or Regular-flavour).
Being a busy port, there was a significant amount of building, both of the functional variety with docks and warehouses, but also the showy variety with fancy public buildings and headquarters of important companies. In 2004, UNESCO declared major parts of the city a world heritage site, dubbing it the “Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City.”
One of the key areas, and one that gets a lot of photos taken are the Three Graces: the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building. These are the main buildings in the area called Pier Head, and where I started my tour on the Friday.
Atop the Royal Liver building are two Liver Birds, the symbols of the city of Liverpool. The Liver bird is a mythical creature, much like the Phoenix, the Roc or the Ethical Banker. A bird first appeared on the corporate seal of the city of Liverpool dating back to the 1350s, an eagle with broom to honour King John. Sometime later, the eagle was replaced with a cormorant, and the broom swept away in favour of a sprig of seaweed. Yummy.
Note that the Liver in the birds name rhymes with diver, while the Liver in the city’s name of Liverpool rhymes with river, yet another mystery of the English language to ponder.
The street that runs along in front of the Three Graces is called Canada Boulevard, named in honour of the fact that Canada donated the mighty and majestic maples that line the street.
Okay, they don’t look very mighty now, but they were only planted in 1995. Wait for another 50 years, then the trees will provide an overgrown, shadow-casting and maple key throwing darkness and mess along the street, when they will be the bane of street cleaners the city over!
Just up the street from the Three Graces is Our Lady and St Nicholas Anglican Church, also known as the “Sailor’s Church” and “St. Nick’s.” St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, and given the number that have set off from Liverpool, it is not surprising that a church would spring up in his honour here. The spire is topped with a golden boat the shines brightly in the sun.
Another area preserved and restored as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site is the Albert Dock. Opened in 1846, the Albert Dock was the first enclosed dock made out of something that wouldn’t burn, making it a huge improvement in maritime technology over the smouldering, smoking and burning docks of other cities. Today, the Albert Dock is one of many docks along the waterfront of Liverpool no longer in use, as most of the shipping has moved away from the city centre to the larger container ports downstream and upstream. Instead, the dock holds museums, bars and restaurants, including a branch of the Tate Museum (which while having a cafe, I meant as an example of a museum, and not a bar or restaurant).
I skipped the Tate and went instead to the Merseyside Maritime Museum and International Slavery Museum, housed in the same building. The dual museums pay homage to all those that passed through Liverpool or her boats, both those who chose to go and those that were taken.
They will remember that we were sold, but not that we were strong. They will remeber that we were bought, but not that we were brave. - William Prescott, former slave, 1937.
I was quite moved by the statue of the immigrants looking out towards the sea, as both my Paternal Grandparents sailed from Liverpool in 1920, though on different boats and months apart. The museum had a number of models, including one of the Empress of France, the name of the ship that my Grandmother left England aboard, but the model in the museum was for the Empress of France II that wasn’t built until 1928 and replaced the Empress of France I.
Between Albert Dock and the Pierhead, and moving away from the River is a number of new, modern developments. It is a beautiful, mostly pedestrian space where new, shiny glass buildings often share space with older, restored ones.
About ten minutes walk away from the river is Liverpool Lime Street Rail Station, where I had arrived the night before. The station is attached to a massive North Western Hotel, which now serves as a student residence, and has an impressively clean looking rail shed with a glass roof dating back to the 1880s.
Across Lime Street from the rail station is St. George’s Hall, a neo-classical building at the heart of the city’s Cultural Quarter. Liverpool was the European Union’s Capital of Culture for 2008, a rotating position which allows a city to show the rest of the EU how cultural it is. It was often mentioned in the tourist literature that Liverpool has five main theatres, which I guess is a sure sign of a cultural with-it place. Anyway, I skipped the theatre for this trip, and instead concentrated on the impressive statues in the fore-court of St. George’s Hall.
Along Lime Street and then up Mount Pleasant, I came across more workaday Liverpool. Here, row houses line the street as residents of Liverpool, known as Liverpudlians or Scousers (after a local food dish) went about their business.
It is here that I got my first glimpses of the tough times that Liverpool must have went through in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s as the shipyards closed and the docks shut down.
In the 1970s, Richard J. Webber, while working for the Centre of Environmental Studies, was looking at ways to tackle the issues of poverty in Liverpool. It was during this time that he developed something called “geodemographic segmentation,” which he wrote about in his paper Liverpool Social Area Study, 1971 data that was published in the engagingly named PRAG Technical Paper No 14, Centre for Environmental Studies, 1975.
Geodemographic segmentation is the clustering of people into groups based on their geography – i.e. where they live. People had segmented populations and customer groups before, but usually based on known demographic elements like age, income, ethnicity, etc. Mr. Webber put into statistical practice that oft quoted phrase, “birds of a feather flock together,” by determining that we tend to live in neighbourhoods that are populated by other people like us. We move to areas where we feel comfortable, and we are likely to feel most comfortable when surrounded by those who share our interests, morals and lifestyle.
Geodemographic segmentation is now used the world over in both setting public policy and service planning, as well as in the private sector for customer segmentation and marketing efforts. Geodemographic segmentation, along with a number of other segmentation methods, is something that I have over the past 10 years working in computer systems for customer relationship management and marketing become very familiar with, so being in Liverpool for me was a bit like an Elvis fan going to Graceland. All those fun coloured maps, segmentation profiles and behaviour modelling I get to play with every day, it all started here in Liverpool.
Now that is history!
You are probably less enamoured of the history of statistical modelling and segmentation methodologies, so instead I present something else developed in the same period, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King.
Consecrated in 1967, the Metropolitan Cathedral is the city’s Roman Catholic cathedral and the seat of the Archbishop of Liverpool.
I realize that some of the photos are blurry looking in this section. I don’t know what caused that. It first started happening with the photos near St. George’s hall. I was a little suspicious that the photos looked grainy, but it is sometimes hard to tell on the LCD screen of the camera. I was sure something was off by the time I snapped the photos of the Metropolitan Cathedral, though, and then I looked at the settings on the camera. As far as I know, I didn’t change anything, but after exiting the settings menu, the pictures I took after that were all fine. I guess just by observing the settings, I fixed them. It’s a lot like Schrodinger's Cat. For those of you who don’t know, Schrodinger is the little boy from the Peanuts cartoon that plays the piano, and whenever he looked at his cat, he killed it. That’s physics, for you.
Back to the Cathedral. It is modern and very round, and as such the Met stands in stark contrast to the other Cathedral in the city, just a mile down Hope Street.
The Liverpool Cathedral.
The Liverpool Cathedral is Anglican and very gothic. Where the Metropolitan is inviting, the Liverpool is imposing. It sits atop St. James’ hill, giving the already towering and commanding exterior of the Cathedral an even more imposing mass. The cathedral is the largest cathedral in Britain, and close in size to both St. Peter’s in Rome and the Cologne Cathedral in Germany. It is very open inside, but also quite narrow, and as with most places that are big, it is hard to capture on film.
While the building looks like it dates back to the 1200s and the time of dragons and knights, it in fact was only started in 1904, and wasn’t completed until 1978. Some of the areas are quite modern in design, including the front entrance, which has this modern stained glass window and weird statue.
The church is surrounded by St. James’ Garden and Cemetery, which sits below both the Cathedral (atop St. James hill) and the nearby roads, which means that you have large rock walls rising up above you at all times. There hasn’t been a burial here since the 1930s, and most of the headstones have been moved over to the sides or repurposed as stones on the walking paths, but I felt it was one of the creepiest cemeteries I have ever been in. Perhaps it is the high rock walls and lack of escape routes, or maybe the fact that almost everything is covered in a thick, green moss, or maybe it is because the sky was grey and threatening and was about to rain when I was there, but the place gave me the shivers.
It was a fun scare there, and no zombies ate me, so everything turned out okay. Leaving St. James’ Garden, though the rain starts to fall, and I find myself digging in my bag for my umbrella.
Heading down Parliament Street the road meets up with the River Mersey again, and I walked along Chaloner Street. The rain brought a fog in with it, and the Cathedrals’ towers become shrouded in fog.
A little further along, I cross over the Wapping Dock and walk by the Echo Arena, modern in a shape that reminded me of a sea-gull, which felt fitting for a city by the sea (or at least, the estuary that is close to the sea).
I finished my walk along the water until I reached the Albert Dock, and then headed back into town for some well deserved rest and relaxation.
The next day, having seen the sights in the city core, I decide to head downriver for a gander at one of the other site identified within the UNESCO heritage destination, but an area that isn’t quite as repurposed and redeveloped as the Albert Dock.
Stanley Dock opened in 1848, and today sits mostly abandoned just a 30 minute walk from the city centre core and the Three Graces. The area is home to a Sunday market and is part of a grand redevelopment plan, but you all know how well redevelopment plans are going over in this credit crunch climate, so it may be a few more years before the fading, industrial decay of the Stanley Dock becomes like the bright, shiny and fashionable Albert Dock.
Personally, I am a fan of the grittier, rundown dock buildings. While the Albert Dock is very nice and a good place to go for a lovely dinner on the waterfront and then perhaps a walk around the Tate Museum, it retains very little of the blue-collar, working-class, industrial personality that you can still feel in a place like the Stanley Dock, even if it is just the ghost of long-ago laid off dock workers.
Just down from Stanley Dock on Waterloo Road is the Clarence Dock. It was at the Clarence dock that boats from Ireland landed in the 1800s, and thus it is through these gates that most of the 1.3 million Irish who fled the famine would have passed.
Walking back towards the city centre along Waterloo Road, there isn’t much that is very active. The street is lined on the one side by the thick granite walls that separate me from the now abandoned docklands, and on the other side a mixture of what appear to be working warehouses and industrial spots, though they are closed on the Saturday that I am strolling there, and a number of abandoned buildings.
Just before reaching the Three Graces, the redevelopment of the docklands appears. The Prince’s Dock has a number of new buildings and modern touches, like a whale-bone shaped footbridge across the basin at the mid-point.
After the docklands, I wander for a few hours checking out the parts of the city centre I missed over yesterday.
Saturday afternoon at 1:30 PM, and the streets of Liverpool were deserted except for a few confused looking tourists. The population of Liverpool plus one Canadian-cum-Londoner were crammed into pubs and around TVs watching the telly, because the home-town team, Liverpool FC was playing hated rivals Manchester United in a game with serious implications for the run for England’s Premiership championship.
I watched the game in an Irish pub called the Slaughter House, and luckily for the fans of Liverpool, it was the home side that was doing the slaughtering. After an early goal by Manchester United which stunned the crowd into silence, Liverpool piled on goal after goal against an increasingly lame looking Man U club. By the end of the game the chanting, cheering and singing were in full blast, and the game ended with a score of 4-1 in favour of Liverpool to the strains of legions of fans singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
You’ll Never Walk Alone is a tune from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel that was covered in 1963 by local artists Gerry and the Pacemakers (who’ll make another few appearances in the narrative before my time in Liverpool is done). Soon after, the fans of Liverpool FC adopted the song as an anthem and is now sung before every match, and apparently, after if the result is good.
Saturday night I took it easy. After having a few of the above beverages during the game, I was tired and tried to recharge with a late afternoon nap, but I just ended up feeling worse. The centre of Liverpool becomes a mass of young people, many of them dressed up in costumes for hen parties, stag dos or birthday parties, and the crowds become crushing. Despite enjoying the group of brave young ladies who themed their party “South Pacific” and treated all the rest of us on a cold, March night to a show of taut flesh underneath skimpy bikinis, I couldn’t take the crowds. So I retreated to a quiet pub just behind St. George’s Hall called Doctor Duncan’s and had a pint of Cains India Pale Ale (the hand-pumped cask conditioned stuff, not the keg variety). Cains is a local brewer that has switched hands many times since its owner’s death, and is currently owned by two brothers of Indian origin. It seems fitting that an English brewer should end up in Indian hands, seeing as many of them were founded on exporting of ales to that country.
So, there you go. Have I covered it all? The Mersey – check. The docks, the decay and the regeneration – check. UNESCO and the city centre – check. The Cathedrals – check. The footie club – check. Liver birds – check. Geodemographic segmentation – check. Yup, that’s everything anyone could ever say about Liverpool.
Oh right, those guys…
I’m not quite done with Liverpool just yet. I still have to write about Friday night, which I conveniently skipped over in this entry, and which does involve four mop-topped lads from Liverpool who, like Gerry and the Pacemakers, were part of the Merseybeat sound. And I have to write about taking a ferry cross the Mersey, which will also feature more of Gerry and the Pacemakers, so look for a few more entries to come.
Liverpool, a city you can’t just cover in one blog entry. Perhaps that should be there new tourist slogan.