- Discussion (12)
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Niall Griffiths: Go to the city at the western edge of the country and then go to the edge of that city, the north-eastern edge, the very rim, beyond which you’re not in Liverpool any more but Lancashire. The place is called Netherley, and it lies between Prescot, Knotty Ash, West Derby, and Knowsley; it’s little more than a large housing project called the Woodlands Estate, abutting farmland.
I was brought up on that estate, from the age of around three to nine. So was Paul Farley, although I didn’t know that until very recently, when we met for what I assumed was the ﬁrst time in the Philharmonic pub in the city centre.
Which part of Liverpool are you from, Paul? I asked. Estate on the outskirts. You wouldn’t know it, he said. I might do. Try me. And a couple of hours passed in reminiscence. Remember the chippy? The white bridge? Paul mentioned my brother’s name, closer to himself in age. So we had to go back. I hadn’t been there for thirty years.
Paul Farley: Niall Grifﬁths’s elder brother Tony was one of the kids I went egging with during the springs when I was ten, eleven, twelve. Thirty years later, Niall and I are rediscovering a childhood we didn’t know we almost shared.
The night before we return, I parachute in using Google Earth: the planet, Europe, Britain, north-west England, Merseyside, and there, bulging out like a tiny hernia into the green, is the estate where we grew up, the circuitry of its streets and squares, the last place in an unbroken accretion that blooms outward in all directions like grey lichen from the mouth of the Mersey. I drop right down and steer by the main roads, hoping to recognize old haunts among the rooftops and car parks, ﬁelds and waste ground, the crowns of trees dark against olive greens and khakis. I struggle to make the imaginative shifts in scale, to put myself back in that time and place and to understand how, for ﬁfteen years, this was my universe.
NG: The urban renewal strategy for Liverpool, which began in 1964, was initiated by William Sefton, Labour leader of Liverpool City Council in the 1960s and ’70s. In effect, this would see huge areas of ‘slum’ housing cleared and 95,000 new dwellings built over a ﬁfteen-year period, both in the limits of the city proper and on peripheral overspill estates. Over 78,000 buildings were to be demolished, more than seventy per cent of all dwellings in the inner-city area, thirty-six per cent of Liverpool’s total housing stock. Prioritized in 1966 were the demolition of central slums and the construction of 32,000 new houses, both in the central belt and in the outlying areas of Netherley and Cantril Farm, to be completed in 1973 at a cost of £138,193,000.
Architectural blueprints were drafted according to the ‘Camus’ system of ‘fully industrialized pre-fabricated systems of construction’, which would see Liverpool overtake even London as a city of skyscrapers. Terraced rows were replaced by new blocks, both high- and low-rise, of flats and maisonettes, often adjacent – at Netherley, for example, off Brittage Brow, high-rise bulks cast shadows across the minnowed low-rise ranks at their footings. Not any more, however; the high-rises met gelignite and the wrecking ball in the 1980s.
PF: It still feels like the end of the line. We’re standing outside the parade of shops opposite the bus stop, wondering why there are hardly any people about on the street, why it’s so quiet. My memories of this place are densely populated: of gangs at bus stops, of hanging round outside the off-licence, the chippy. Mr Walker, the newsagent, a hunchbacked Yorkshireman who caught me stealing Marvel comics some time in the middle of the 1970s and told my father, who wiped the floor with me; the chandler’s, which was really a hardware store, all galvanized mop buckets and mousetraps and that sad metallic smell, where we were sent for candles during the miners’ strikes; the launderette, where I saw a boy shit into a top-loading dryer; Ernie the butcher, who paid me ﬁfty pence at weekends to go into the bay at the back and break down boxes with a Stanley knife; the off-licence, or ‘outdoor’, ram-raided long before that phrase had entered the language; the cake shop, all iced buns and custard slices and things dusted with hundreds-and-thousands displayed on paper doilies.
Opposite these units there was also a haberdasher’s we called the ‘wool shop’, a unisex hairdresser’s, a bookmaker’s (the ‘betting shop’) and the chippy, run by the long-suffering Mr Lau. There was even – and this seems so absurd now – a cylindrical advertising hoarding, a ‘spinorama’. It must have cut a dash on the architect’s maquette.
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