Books Round-Up 2014


Here’s a selection of some of the Merseyside-related books published in 2014. We’ve divided them into three main sections: Local History, Sport and Fiction.


Local History: Liverpool

Ken Pye’s a well-known local historian who appears regularly on Radio Merseyside, gives talks on local history and has published several books. His Liverpool: The Rise, Fall and Renaissance of a World Class City (Amberley Publishing) is an authoritative history, taking us from the dinosaur footprints discovered in Crosby and elsewhere through to the present day. The ‘Fall’ referred to in the title is the period of postwar decline that followed the collapse of empire, and actually only occupies one chapter out of sixteen. The story’s well told and there are plenty of illustrations. One of its advantages compared to the many available Liverpool histories is that it’s up to date, covering such recent events as Joe Anderson’s election as Mayor in 2012 and Peel Holdings’ Liverpool Waters scheme.

A Liverpool history with a narrower focus is Adrian Jarvis’s Liverpool: A History of ‘The Great Port’ (Liverpool History Press). This impressively detailed work concentrates on the period from 1672, when land was acquired for construction of the first dock, to 1972, a momentous year which saw the closure of the south docks, the re-structuring of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and the opening of a new container terminal at Seaforth. The book is lavishly illustrated with numerous historic photos and images, but the text is also commendably thorough. The book is a serious work of scholarship but Jarvis has a very readable style.

Liverpool In The 1980s (Amberley Publishing) is a superb collection of black and white photographs taken by Dave Sinclair. It was a very significant decade in the history of the city, when unemployment and economic decline were causing serious problems but when there was also a mood of resistance reflected in demonstrations and the election of a Labour council (led by Derek Hatton) in 1983. The decade ended tragically with the Hillsborough disaster of 1989. Dave Sinclair was present at many of these momentous events, and he has a fine eye for the human beings at the heart of them: groups of teenagers demonstrating in support of the 1985 school students’ strike, women workers at Bibby’s shortly before the factory closed down, a solitary man in a warehouse. The images bring the 1980s vividly back to life, as does a memorably candid and impassioned Foreword by Jimmy McGovern. (The 2015 print edition of The Merseysider magazine will have more about the book, and an interview with Jimmy McGovern.)

The title of John Belchem’s Before The Windrush: Race Relations in 20th Century Liverpool (Liverpool University Press) appears self-explanatory, though the second half of it is more accurate than the first, as about a third of the book continues the story beyond the arrival of the Windrush – a ship that brought West Indian immigrants to Britain – in 1948. It’s a fascinating topic, and Belchem doesn’t flinch from revealing the levels of hostility and prejudice many immigrants (Irish and Chinese as well as Afro- Caribbean) faced. He’s a Professor of History at Liverpool University and it’s a pity the first page gives the impression the book isn’t one for the general reader. How about this? ‘Migration is now perceived as a creative “in-between” without secure roots, the point of departure for existential trans-national routes crossing geographical, chronological and imaginative boundaries, enabling and facilitating multiple subjectivities.’ Fortunately most of the book isn’t like this, providing a wealth of information on an important subject.

Tristram Hunt is a prominent historian as well as a Labour politician and his Ten Cities That Made An Empire (Allen Lane) includes a chapter on Liverpool. In fact it’s the only British city to feature (though Dublin is also included), reflecting Liverpool’s pivotal role in the expansion of Britain’s empire. It’s interesting to read an assessment of Liverpool’s global significance in a book that also has chapters on Boston, Cape Town, Calcutta, Bombay, Hong Kong, Bridgetown, New Delhi and Melbourne. He looks at the city’s architecture, the development of the docks, how the influx of migrants and foreign sailors helped shape its culture and how the modern city has responded to the loss of empire and consequently of the wealth that it brought to Liverpool.

Local History: Changing places

Amberley Publishing’s ‘Through Time’ books are a popular series in which carefully selected images are presented alongside each other to show how particular locations have changed through history. An addition to the series this year is Bootle Through Time, which has a commentary by Hugh Hollinghurst, who also compiled (and in some cases took) the photographs. In World War Two Bootle suffered more war damage for an area of its size than anywhere else in the country, and the juxtaposition of old and new photographs often illustrates how streets were extensively rebuilt after the blitz. But it’s also reassuring to see old buildings (including Bootle’s oldest, the Old Hall on Merton Road) which survive to this day. Hugh Hollinghurst also put together this year Waterloo, Seaforth and Litherland Through Time. The many memorable images include a photograph of a huge fire at Litherland’s North Western Rubber Company in 1909; a new Tesco now occupies the site. The art deco Regal Cinema building on Church Road was demolished in 2003, though as Hollinghurst says (and as the photographs show) the building that’s taken its place ‘echoes features of the original’. A book with a similar approach is Runcorn Through The Ages (also Amberley Publishing), compiled by Jean and John Bradburn. These books offer hours of interesting browsing, especially for residents of the relevant districts.

An important visual record of the past is of course provided by postcards, and Amberley Publishing has a series (the ‘Postcard Collection’) devoted to those as well. 2014 saw the publication of Wallasey: The Postcard Collection, compiled from his own impressive collection by Les Jones, who also provides a very informative commentary. The pictures of New Brighton are especially interesting in view of the recent redevelopment of the seafront, but there are also chapters on Liscard, Wallasey Village, Poulton, Seacombe and Egremont. We owe a debt to the postcard manufacturers of the past, who thought ordinary street scenes as worthy of publication as more obvious sites of interest. Again any Wallasey resident is likely to find much to enjoy and wonder at in this book.

Local History: Maritime

While Amberley Publishing – who really are excellent publishers of local history books – are in the spotlight, we shouldn’t overlook their coverage of maritime topics. Phil Page and Ian Littlechild’s River Mersey: From Source to Sea charts the journey of this iconic river from the centre of Stockport (where much of it is paved over) to its final few miles between Liverpool and the Wirral, before it merges with the Irish sea. The authors’ detailed commentary is accompanied by photographs (many taken by themselves), maps and old pictures. Many Merseysiders looking at the images in this book are likely to be seeing for the first time the elaborate wrought iron sculpture which marks the beginning of the river, or the timber-framed cottages which can be found in a picturesque village called Heaton Mersey.

Another book about the Mersey published this year was Ian Collard’s Mersey Shipping Through Time (Amberley Publishing), tracing through photographs and an accompanying commentary how shipping on the river has changed and developed over the years. From traditional sailing ships and the old ferries to modern container ships and gigantic cruise liners, they’re all here. Ian Collard is a Wirral author who’s written many books on local shipping, and this year he also published Pacific Steam Navigation Company: Fleet List & History (Amberley Publishing), another authoritative, thoroughly researched volume. The Liverpool company was founded in 1838 and was the first to operate steamships in the Pacific, most of which travelled to and from South America. The company name eventually disappeared when it was absorbed into a larger conglomerate in 1984. As well as full technical details of the company’s ships there are many photographs, showing the ships at sea and life below decks. Period posters and other memorabilia further enhance an impressive book.

Andy Wood’s Abandoned and Vanished Canals of England (Amberley Publishing) is an ambitious work which details all of England’s lost canals. Those of particular local interest include Bromborough Pool. You might be surprised to learn that the Bromborough Pool docks were once the biggest privately owned docks in the world. The area’s still worth a visit, not least because a new river park, affording magnificent views of the Mersey, was recently opened. The book has a few photographs but mainly comprises written text, describing the history of the one hundred or so canals that are featured. (The 2015 print edition of The Merseysider magazine will include a description of a walk along the Liverpool section of the Leeds-Liverpool canal.)

Local History: Wartime

There have of course been many books about World War One published this year, and two that stand out because of their local significance are Wirral in the Great War and Liverpool in the Great War (both written by Stephen McGreal and published by Pen & Sword). Our reviewer Lee Ruddin was impressed by the first of these, and you can read his review by clicking HERE. Liverpool in the Great War was published just recently and Lee’s review will be on our website in the near future.

Local History: Social history

We nearly made the above heading ‘Local History: Crime’, but Kate Colquhoun’s superb Did She Kill Him? (Little, Brown Publishing) is a much broader study than our original heading would have implied. The book’s subject is the famous late 19th century trial of the young American Florence Maybrick for the murder of her husband James, a Liverpool cotton broker. The couple lived in Aigburth and the world of suburban Victorian Liverpool, as well as the city centre where James worked, is vividly brought to life. The case revealed much about Victorian morality and attitudes towards women, and illustrates how the society of the time was both changing and resisting change. It’s also a classic crime mystery, as the title of the book suggests. (The 2015 print edition of The Merseysider magazine will include a feature on the book, and an interview with Kate Colquhoun.)


At the time of writing Liverpool’s season is proving to be a huge disappointment, so if you’d rather be reminded of last season’s incredible feats you couldn’t do better than Make Us Dream by Neil Atkinson and John Gibbons (deCoubertin Books). The two authors are diehard Liverpool followers well known their involvement in The Anfield Wrap, a fan-driven enterprise which embraces a Radio City programme, a podcast, a website, an online magazine and live events in this country and abroad. The book’s a tremendously interesting and entertaining diary of the 2013-14 season, recording how Atkinson and Gibbons (and occasionally other contributors) responded to matches as what proved to be a momentous season unfolded. Along the way there are digressions on all manner of football-related topics, and descriptions of what the writers get up to before and after the matches.

If on the other hand you’re a Blue and enjoy delving further back into the past, Brian Viner’s Looking For The Toffees (Simon & Schuster) might well be the book for you. Brian Viner’s an experienced, award-winning journalist who’s mostly written about sport although he’s also the Daily Mail’s film critic. He’s originally from Southport and in his teens his great love was Everton FC. In this outstanding book – part memoir, part football history – he goes in search of his boyhood heroes to discover what’s become of them since. His focus is specifically the team of 1978, which wasn’t hugely successful but which included many fine players, such as Bob Latchford, Andy King and Dave Thomas. He tracks them down, interviews them and reflects on what their stories tell us about football and how the game has changed. Some of the players’ lives have turned out fine, others’ less so. There’s also a fund of humorous anecdotes and an interview with former manager Gordon Lee, an underrated figure who Viner clearly has a bit of a soft spot for.

(The 2015 print edition of The Merseysider magazine will have features on both Make Us Dream and Looking For The Toffees, including interviews with the authors.)

Dave Hickson, the legendary 1950s player known as The Cannonball Kid, is another Everton hero, though he also played more briefly for Liverpool. He scored 111 goals for the Blues, and before his death in 2013 co-operated with James Corbett, who’s produced the biography The Cannonball Kid (deCoubertin Books). It’s a fitting tribute, lavishly illustrated with a striking range of memorabilia, including letters, newspaper cuttings and payslips (which reveal Liverpool were paying him £20 a week in 1960).


Willy Russell once told an interviewer that Liverpool’s gift was for the spoken rather than the written word. His definition of ‘spoken’ included singing, and it’s true that while the city has produced an extraordinary number of highly successful playwrights, actors, songwriters, musicians and comedians, very few of its novelists have made a similar impact. Even poets such as Roger McGough are as well known for performing their poems as they are for writing them.

A notable exception is Linda Grant, who has won the Orange Prize for Fiction and been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. This year she published Upstairs At The Party (Virago), about a character (Adele) whose childhood and teenage years are spent in Liverpool (as were Grant’s). The action then shifts to a thinly disguised York University, where Adele goes to study. The novel’s mostly set in the early Seventies and there’s a strong evocation of the ideas, attitudes and tastes of the time. Also very apparent is Grant’s first-hand knowledge of her native city, summed up early in the novel as ‘…Liverpool, sea city. Liners, docks, salt winds, Beatles, African seamen, Nigerian Friendship Society, the American Bar.’ (The 2015 print edition of The Merseysider will have a feature on Linda Grant and Upstairs At The Party.)

A female novelist who made her debut this year is Victoria Somerled, whose Bramblewell Star was published by Appin Press. It’s a work of romantic fiction that handles impressively an unusually wide array of characters, time periods and locations. The primary focus is Jacqueline, an 18 year old French girl who comes to Liverpool to study and finds herself torn between the French boyfriend she’s left behind and the Chester schoolteacher she meets in England. But we also revisit Liverpool in the Sixties, where Jacqueline’s grandmother had an experience not dissimilar to her own. If you or anyone you know enjoys romantic fiction this novel is highly recommended. For more on Bramblewell Star, you can read our review by clicking HERE.