urban development

An A-Z Journey Around Britain

52 Whiston

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Of all the places described in this tour Whiston is the least distinguished. Whiston has been included because it is where I was born.This series ends where I began. I lived in Whiston until I went to University. A few famous people have been born inside the wards of Whiston Hospital but most were still in the arms of their mothers when they abandoned the place. I waited until I was eighteen years old. The BBC presenter Stuart Maconie left for Wigan when he was a child. In his book about the North of England, Pies and Prejudice, Maconie described Whiston as the Tijuana of the North West.   Whiston is outside the boundary of Liverpool, and the population consists of overspill from Liverpool and locals. If the romance of Maconie is correct, I was isolated in borderland mystery, an outsider to both cultures.   I grew up listening to both Liverpool and Lancashire accents, and the difference existed in my own family and within the living room. Even today I struggle to note the difference between Liverpool and West Lancashire accents.

Whiston consists of both Whiston North, which is near Prescot, and Whiston South, which is near Huyton. I am from Whiston South and much of Whiston North I regard as Prescot. In the borderland, boundaries, and not just accents, confuse and add to the mystery. Most people who live in Whiston travel outside for work or they did before the Hospital expanded. The Hospital now employs 4,000 people and it has strong teaching links with the University of Liverpool. The original building was Prescot Workhouse, and that indicates how poorly defined are the boundaries in the borderland.

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Whiston South, where I lived, is a two street village surrounded by an overspill estate. There was excitement but it could consist of discovering who were the new owners of the local chip shop. The building of a chemist provided drama for several months. The pub had a decent bowling green, and visiting it was regarded as a day out. But if life lacked drama, there were compensations. Two woods were within short walking distance and they offered mystery. Within the largest wood there was a lake where I swam although this was forbidden. When not in the woods, the rest of the time was spent playing football on the field below.  Whiston had a junior football team that attracted decent talent from Liverpool. Steven Gerrard played for Whiston Boys and here he is.

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Willy Russell who wrote Blood Brothers and Shirley Valentine was born in Whiston and only left after he became famous. I am not sure how soon Peter Briggs left Whiston but, as he is now in Hollywood, he is not likely to return. He wrote scripts for Hellboy and Alien vs Predator.

Before the overspill arrived Whiston South was a mining village. My grandfather was a miner. Today the white working class male is seen as flawed and limited but I grew up in a community where ordinary men posed as heroes. Somehow these men of the borderland drew from an ill-defined environment, adopted fluid identities and created their own mystery to project and sometimes assume self-sufficiency. Knowing this was my inheritance. All my life, as I wandered around Britain, it has haunted me. For that I am grateful.

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Next week, a new series and some surprises.

 

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.