Day 14 – Mon 09 May 2005 – Impressions of Liverpool

Feathers does a great breakfast to start the day, and it is a busy one ahead. Went on a self-guided tour of Liverpool. After being told by a few Poms on the plane into Heathrow that it was a place to avoid, I don’t find it bad at all. In fact, it’s curiously impressive. It has a ‘soul’ in a way that London simply does not. Sort of paradoxically hard-bitten, but with a warm heart.

St Georges Hall – Not quite what I was expecting of Liverpool

It’s not as cramped as London and is quite a convenient size for touring. At a pinch you can cover the city on foot or use the four stations of the underground railway as short cuts. There’s a lot of redevelopment going on. I suspect it might have been pretty grim a few years back, but it seems to be gaining new life. I don’t know it will have the kind of vibrance I found in Dublin, but it is interesting, authentic and full of life – what I call an ‘honest’ city; and it has buses going to places like ‘Penny Lane’!

Started at the Liverpool Museum. It’s relatively small and conventional apart from two aspects. First, its Egyptian collection is astounding. Apparently it was owned by a private collector who displayed it for many years free of charge. When he could no longer do so he gave it all to the Museum! One stone sarcophagus has an interesting angle. It was reconstructed after being heavily damaged by German bombing in WWII.

Liverpool Museum

Second, is its World Cultures section. This is a great display of cultural artefacts from around most of the globe. I was particularly taken with the rich and diverse displays of numerous African cultures – a spin off from Liverpool’s dark involvement in the slave trade of previous centuries. While small, I’m sure this Museum must have fired the imagination of many children who have visited. I’d have to say it makes the Australian Museum look a bit ordinary.

The more I walk around Liverpool the more I like it. It has much more character than London, a greater variety of architecture, and being based around a port is easy to navigate for a person from another port city. I got by just by glancing at the map before I set off. Only had to refer to it once again during the day to confirm I was heading in the right direction through the opposite end of town to get back to the hotel.

Western Approaches Command – Control Room

Next stop was ‘Western Approaches’, the underground headquarters beneath the city from which the Battle of the Atlantic was coordinated. It costs 5 GBP to get in, but is well worth it. Access is available to about one third of the original complex, but even that is very extensive. A one way route takes you down through passageways, power supply rooms, communications rooms, accommodation areas, the main control room and so on. Each is preserved in an operational state, with audio presentations at each explaining what went on in each area.

My organisation would do very well to see how such a real command/control centre is set up. It also included an area devoted to air raids in Liverpool. I didn’t know just how extensively and heavily it had been bombed. There’s also a display of the role of Canada, notably the Royal Canadian Navy, in the Battle of the Atlantic. All in all, a very good and engaging attraction.

Next walked down to the dock area. Much of it has been rejuvenated into apartments, museums and tourist outlets. Had a look around generally, then did the Maritime Museum and the Museum of Liverpool Life.

This building once housed the White Star Line office – as in S.S. Titanic

The Maritime Museum is outstanding. Set on multiple levels it looks small from the outside, but is packed with excellent exhibits. It’s divided into a series of themes such as the Port of Liverpool, Customs and Excise, transatlantic slavery, emigration, merchant shipping, shipbuilding, marine safety, the Battle of the Atlantic, the great liners, and so on. Spent hours there. Not only a good maritime theme, but strongly connected to the history of Liverpool and very intelligently presented.

The Museum of Liverpool Life is small but also very well presented. Again it’s divided into themes, such as Liverpool homes, city soldiers, making a living, demanding a voice, Mersey culture, and a healthy place to live. It gives a really comprehensive view of the city, its inhabitants and social history. Something that really comes through is the resilience of the locals, the lack of a traditional English class system, the variety of influences on its culture, its uniqueness and even quirkiness.

The Royal Liver Buiding (at left) and others near the docks

From the above I learned that Liverpool pioneered railways (and underground railways), has come perilously close to (probably justifiable) insurrection a few times, and developed cooperative approaches to a whole raft of social issues. An example was a group of residents living in atrocious conditions who, instead of waiting for the government (or ‘someone’) to look after them, pooled their resources cooperatively to re-house themselves. That attitude and heaps of other little things paint a picture of a city culture that stands much taller than anything I found in dreary old London.

I had always wondered why a group as seminal as the Beatles could come from a place like Liverpool, but having now been there I can’t imagine them coming from anywhere else. I expected Liverpool to be a depressing place, but it’s probably the most interesting city I’ve yet visited. This is not to say that it’s without flaws or that it does not have dark aspects to its history. But somehow that just makes it all the more lovable, as it is heavily outweighed by the sheer genuine gutsiness of its people.

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