Brief accounts of various locations in Britain.

An A-Z Journey Around Britain

52 Whiston


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.



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.



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.


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.







An A-Z Journey Around Britain

51 York

York Minster at sunset, York. 

A flood in New Orleans checked the triumphalism of neo-conservatism in the United States, and if the Tories have any sense they should be worried about the pictures of glorious York reduced by floodwaters.

Out of season York has the capability to seduce visitors. In season it is best avoided, and not because tourists are offensive. When crowded, the narrow streets and monuments appear to exist as a retreat from reality. On a busy day the glories of York are sweet and inauthentic, not unlike the confectionery that used to be produced in the City. Providing space exists, though, it is possible to appreciate the traditional streets, city wall and fabulous monuments. History rather than the ambition of the tourist board triumphs. Or it does when the town is not covered in tourists or water.

York Minster is the largest gothic cathedral in Europe. Compared to the Minster the Houses of Parliament in London look like the architectural equivalent of a tribute band. The entrance fee is not cheap but it includes an underground exhibition that draws the visitor into the past life of the Cathedral. I walked around the Minster both before and after the exhibition. My knowledge of the exhibition transformed what I saw and understood.

The Romans established the City in 71 AD and made it the capital of Britannia Interior. William Shakespeare achieved much but he failed to explain how the North and South became one England. York could have been the capital of an independent North. If William had not been so keen to conquer, it might have been the capital of England.  And York would now have adequate flood defences.


8000 years before the Romans there were Mesolithic people hunting and foraging around the surrounding countryside. York is close to the Yorkshire Dales, the North Yorkshire Moors and the Yorkshire Wolds. The Romans who never really appreciated the British landscape built a City Wall that today facilitates a good walk around the City. The views are not equalled elsewhere in urban England.

Constantine the Great was crowned Emperor of Rome in York in 306 AD. Christianity became a world religion but it did not prevent the Vikings arriving in 866. Two hundred years later the Normans arrived and, inevitably, conquered. The locals rebelled two years later but William arrived in York and the Vikings were history.   The name York, though, is derived from the Viking kingdom, Jorvik.  Today York has a Viking Centre that reconstructs a Viking Community. Proud Northerners can visit, be impressed with the reconstruction and remember their Viking roots. Or they will be able to after volunteers have drained the water and repaired the damage from flooding.


The Shambles is assumed to be a quaint name that is given to the narrow streets and ‘snickleways’ maintained for the delight of American tourists. But the name is not unique to York and it was used to indicate the part of the City where butchers could be found. There are still a couple of butchers in the Shambles but coffee shops and pubs dominate. This is not as awful as it could be because the entertainment in York is of a high standard. The restaurants are good, and like everything else in York, most of the pubs pay homage to the past. They also sell decent beer.


York does not need the River Ouse to be special but the River dissects the town and when under control, which is what it should be, the River adds to the beauty of the City. The riverbank through the City is not as extensive as that of the Thames but it has an elegance, beauty and charm that are irresistible. Just avoid in the summer months and make sure you miss the flood. The locals are not so lucky.

Next week, the end of this journey around Britain and where I began, Whiston, Merseyside

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.