Travel

An A-Z Journey Around Britain

48 Widnes

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Paul Simon wrote Homeward Bound while waiting to catch a train out of Widnes. The homesick singer did not settle in Britain, unlike the daughter of Elvis Presley who moved to Tunbridge Welles and who has sometimes sold fish and chips from the back of a van. She must think it quaint. Tunbridge Wells, though, is not Widnes. Runcorn is on the south bank where the Mersey estuary widens, and Widnes is on the north bank. The suspension bridge that crosses the estuary is magnificent but it is plagued by traffic in the rush hours.

Widnes expanded after a chemical factory was established there in 1845. Chemical manufacturing still provides employment for the locals. Social deprivation in Widnes is not exceptional but despite investment the town feels a poor choice for a place to live a life. Neither quite the outskirts of Liverpool nor an independent town, it has even swapped counties and now is condemned to being unwanted by not just Liverpool but Lancashire, where it used to be, and Cheshire, where it is now.

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In the index to British listed buildings the interior of the town hall is described as ‘without interest’. The exterior, though, is a heart warming mix of red brick and tile and is packed with industrial gothic integrity.   If the town is ordinary, Victoria Park is well maintained and it complements fresh air rather well. Spike Island has wildlife, a riverside walk and a nearby power station. It is a good place for a pedestrian to see the Runcorn-Widnes Bridge.  Catalyst is a good name for a science museum that has won awards. The ticket prices reflect a desire to educate rather than make money.

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The true passion in Widnes is Rugby League. Widnes Vikings are not rivals for the Lancashire giants, St Helens and Wigan, but they have a good stadium, and the team has had its moments, including being Rugby League World Champions in 1989. Widnes also has a Silver Blades Ice Rink and a two year old ice hockey team that has begun well.

The Brindley Theatre, which is in Runcorn, attracts customers from both sides of the estuary. It relies on tribute bands rather than fading talent, unlike the seaside theatres in the South. There are exceptions. Michael Portillo appears in February, and the talented actor Simon Callow in March. Callow will be talking about his hero and mine, Orson Welles. The ex-Tory Minister will be exploiting his enthusiasm for railways and trying to sell a book. The restaurants and pubs in Widnes and Runcorn are not memorable but the reviews for La Cantina in Trip Advisor are exceptionally good.

The name Widnes is derived from Vid Nase, which is supposed to be a Viking reference to the wide nose of the estuary.

On my last visit to Widnes I saw the Ronettes. Ronnie Spector had aged but her flirtation from the stage produced an uninhibited reaction in the men that would have shamed any redneck audience. Confident American women should be wary of the signals they give to men in small Northern towns. After that night Ronnie Spector understood. I saw a confident rock star retreat into an asexual shell. Like Paul Simon, the leader of the Ronettes did not return to Widnes.

Next week, arcades and motorcars, Wigan

Howard Jackson has had four books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His latest book and compilation of horror stories is called Nightmares Ahead. Published by Red Rattle Books and praised by critics, it is available here.

If you want to read more about his travels click here.

 

 

 

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NEW BLOG SERIES 2015 – AN A-Z JOURNEY AROUND BRITAIN

2 Anfield

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Millionaires visit Anfield. Over twenty of them chase a football around a piece of grass. When there is no football, they ignore the place and its cheap take away hedonism – pubs, Chinese chippies and betting shops.

Anfield is the third poorest community within England and Wales. 1200 incidents of violence and domestic abuse occur every month and over 50 bikes are stolen. The number of weapons found is also consistent, about 40 a month. The Whitney family who were sentenced to a total of 82 years in prison lived in Anfield. Thanks to entrepreneurial innovation reinforced with sophisticated weaponry they were once key players in the supply of drugs in Liverpool. Life without them is quieter but it is hell trying to find decent Army SA80 rifles.

The Anfield and Breckfield Renewal Area Implementation Plan 2014 refers to the expansion of the football stadium as a ‘landmark development’ and the Anfield Plaza as a ‘complementary gateway’. The THIS IS ANFIELD sign was created when famous footballers led modest lives. Shankly saw his team as the best of us and not the best that money can buy.

Walton was an ancient seat of Christianity so the close proximity of the two football stadia of Liverpool and Everton may mean something. After the game, I would wander across Stanley Park to a bus stop. I followed figures muffled in winter clothes and I listened to pocket radios murmur match reports into the dark sky.

The route from town to Anfield offers two other glorious walks. Those returning to the city centre can pass through pleasant parkland to arrive opposite the entrance to the Mersey Tunnel and alongside the fabulous neo-classical St Georges Hall. The route from town begins next to the Philharmonic Hall. The University, Catholic Cathedral and renowned Royal Hospital provide interest. Both routes take advantage of the elevated sweep of Everton Road and the terraced streets that slope down towards the ground.

Anfield began as Hanging Fields. Walk down from Everton Road to the home of the most successful English football team and imagine the early religious settlement and the working class communities that followed. Bill Shankly sparked the imagination of those who lived there. If the walk does not persuade you that Liverpool Football Club is special then nothing will.

The housing in Anfield is still capable of providing the satisfying modest comfort that Shankly thought important.   Joe Fagan, who managed Liverpool football team in the 80s, lived in a terraced house in Anfield all his life.

Welsh workers helped build the houses of Anfield. Liverpool had five large Welsh communities and Anfield was one. When Liverpool was an expanding city, there were more Welsh speakers in Liverpool than in any city in Wales. My grandfather was Welsh as was his brother who was a builder and a fan of Liverpool football team. Uncle Jack is why I admire well-built terraced houses and why I am a Liverpool fan. Like Shankly, Uncle Jack believed in working class strength and independence. Next time you visit Anfield honour the defiant spirits of Bill Shankly and Uncle Jack.

Next week – Barnsley

 

Howard Jackson has had three books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His next book is a compilation of horror stories and is called Nightmares Ahead. It will be available in Spring 2015

If you want to read more about his travels click here.