The Spirit of Scouse: In His Latest English Journey, Our Writer Visits Liverpool and Finds the Great Port City Grappling Again with the Forces of Recession
Platt, Edward, New Statesman (1996)
Merseyside--or the small part of it that I know best--occupies a disproportionately large area in my mental map of England. I lived in many different parts of the country as a child, but my longest single stretch was spent on the Wirral Peninsula, the fat green thumb that protrudes into the Irish Sea between Liverpool and Wales, and is to Liverpool as Cheshire is to Manchester--the favoured suburb of its affluent professionals, its own home county.
We moved to a town in the peninsula's more prosperous western half in 1975, when I was seven years old, and we left in 1983. We had long-standing family connections--my mother's family owned a well-established clock and jewellery business in Liverpool--but it was my father's work that took us back. He had been appointed to run the Liverpool office of a company called the International and Commercial Finance Corporation that had been set up by the clearing banks and the Bank of England at the end of the Second World as a kind of national investment fund. It has subsequently changed its name to 3i, dismantled its network of regional offices and mutated into a private equity firm, but in 1975 it was still pursuing its founding remit, and the north-west was in need of the kind of "risk capital" or equity investment--long-term, small-scale funding--that it provided.
If Liverpool is perceived to have suffered more than any other northern city from Britain's post-imperial decline, that is partly because it had so far to fan. "Liverpool, by its imports, supplies the country with food and corn," says one of the panels on the walls of St George's Hall, the grand neo-Grecian building at the heart of the collection of museums and public buildings that make up a kind of "civic forum" near Lime Street Station.
During the 19th century, 40 per cent of all world trade passed through Liverpool's docks, which the American novelist Herman Melville described as one of the man-made wonders of the world. "The extent and solidity of these structures seemed equal to what I had read of the old Pyramids of Egypt," he wrote in his 1849 novel Redburn: His First Voyage. The trade supported a large manual workforce and many associated legal and professional trades, and the notion that Liverpool imported cotton and Manchester made it into cloth inspired the phrase "Manchester men and Liverpool gentlemen". At times, Liverpool's wealth was said to exceed London's, and its Custom House was the largest contributor to the Treasury
As the port was Britain's gateway to the Atlantic, even those with no connection to the city were drawn to it. Millions of migrants passed through Liverpool on their way from eastern Europe to New York in the late 19th century, and it was the point of embarkation for many destinations in the British empire. When my paternal grandfather left his home town of Hull and travelled to Brazil to run a factory in 1929, he caught the boat from Liverpool. The port sustained great hotels, such as the now-faded Ade1phi, and funded great architecture: of English cities, only Bristol and London have more listed buildings than Liverpool. The trio of waterfront buildings known as the Three Graces--the Liver Building, the Port of Liverpool Building and the former headquarters of the Cunard Line--are particularly renowned.
Liverpool's prosperity was matched by its strategic significance, and during the Second World War it became the headquarters of the campaign known as the Battle of the Atlantic. My mother's father played a minor part in the "longest, largest and most complex naval battle ever fought". He spent three years as a ship's doctor on convoy protection in the Atlantic and in April 1942 he took up a shore posting at the Royal Naval Hospital at Seaforth, north of Bootle. "In this filthy and overcrowded hospital we had a nice mess and I enjoyed a very busy two years," he later wrote. Most people were evacuated from the urban areas to the countryside, but my mother's family followed him to the second most bombed city in the country, and she was born in Blundellsands, in north Liverpool, in 1943.
The scars of the bombing are still apparent in the car parks that pock the city centre, but the postwar years inflicted …
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Publication information: Article title: The Spirit of Scouse: In His Latest English Journey, Our Writer Visits Liverpool and Finds the Great Port City Grappling Again with the Forces of Recession. Contributors: Platt, Edward - Author. Magazine title: New Statesman (1996). Volume: 141. Issue: 5115 Publication date: July 23, 2012. Page number: 28+. © Not available. COPYRIGHT 2012 Gale Group.
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