NOTE: FRANKIE CONNOR AND HIS BROTHER FREDDY WILL BE SIGNING COPIES OF THEIR HIGHLY RECOMMENDED BOOK ‘LIVERPOOL: IT ALL CAME TUMBLING DOWN’ AT THE BBC RADIO MERSEYSIDE SHOP (HANOVER ST, LIVERPOOL) ON SATURDAY MAY 11 AT 12 NOON. A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO BUY THE BOOK, GET IT SIGNED AND MEET THE AUTHORS!
(The article below originally appeared in Issue 4 of The Merseysider magazine.)
It All Came Tumbling Down is a ‘lost’ book about lost Liverpool. Originally published in 1986, it’s been out of print for twenty years and almost impossible to find. Now finally available again in a new edition, it’s a remarkable photographic record of the many Liverpool buildings that disappeared between the Sixties and the Eighties.
There have been numerous books about Liverpool’s architecture but, as Freddy O’Connor points out in It All Came Tumbling Down, these have usually been about the grand city centre buildings which reflect Liverpool’s past as the world’s greatest port. He adds, ‘This book is about the humbler, vastly more numerous but equally important buildings that were the dwellings and places of recreation of ordinary people. It is an attempt to record what has happened to the places where real Scousers lived – the working class people whose labour went to produce the wealth that made 19th century Liverpool one of the richest cities in the world.’
Freddy’s brother Frankie Connor – the popular BBC Radio Merseyside presenter and member of Sixties group the Hideaways (who played the Cavern more times than any other act) – helped to put the book together and has written a foreword for the new edition. He explains, ‘The original book’s been quite extensively revised. We’ve left in everything that was in the original, but the new version has a larger format and we’ve added more photos – all of them never published before.’
The book’s full of incredibly evocative photographs of streets that are now car parks, vanished pubs and long-lost landmarks. It’s a fascinating reminder of types of housing that have now all but disappeared: back-to-backs, narrow houses with one room per floor, ‘landing’ houses, walk-up flats, raised terraces, terraces where the back was just a long blank wall completely devoid of windows.
Frankie tells me how the photos in the book originally came about. ‘Freddy started taking the photos in 1961, when he was 13. He had no intention of creating a book – he was just our kid, whose hobby was going round Liverpool with his Box Brownie, taking pictures. He was inspired by his love of the city and went everywhere: Edge Hill, Kirkdale, Dingle – he roamed around all over the place. He had no technical knowledge about cameras, and just had to pick it up as he went along. He’s still a keen photographer today. I remember when Freddy went to sea with the merchant navy for two years, our brother Ray took over and went round taking photographs. We’ve included a few of his in the book, so it’s a real family affair.’
Freddy developed a particular interest in buildings that were being knocked down, and as a result the book is a unique record of Liverpool before the large-scale demolitions of the Sixties and Seventies. Occasionally he was too late. Frankie says, ‘I remember that one Wednesday he planned to photograph some houses in Netherfield Road that he knew were due for demolition. But he ran out of film and when he went to the chemists for more it was closed. He went back on Friday and the houses were gone.’
For many the book is a reminder of the communities that were lost when entire streets disappeared and people were moved in their thousands to the outskirts of the city. ‘When the book was first published, so many people came up to me and said they’d found in it the only photograph they’d ever seen of the street they grew up in as a child. Billy Kinsley from the Merseybeats, who’s been a good friend of mine for many years, couldn’t believe it when he saw a photo of Fedora Street, off the West Derby Road, where he’d spent his childhood. I think that’s the essential appeal of the book – it triggers so many memories. When it was first published a lot were sold abroad, to expatriates living in Australia, Canada or the United States. I remember one of them contacting us to say the book had a photo of the house she was born in.’
At the same time, the camera cannot lie and people might sometimes be surprised at what they see, as Frankie explains. ‘We all have a picture in our minds of where we’ve lived in the past – a kind of mental polaroid – but memories can be inaccurate, and photographs can prove us wrong. It’s a book that can end arguments, but it can start them as well – about what was round the corner, or just out of shot.’
The photographs are accompanied by a detailed, informative commentary. It traces the architectural history of Liverpool, with a particular emphasis on the planning blunders of the mid-20th century, a period which saw ‘the indiscriminate use of the bulldozer rather than renovation’. Decisions made by the city’s town planners destroyed communities as well as buildings. Families were moved out to estates such as Kirkby, only to find that ‘Gone was the corner shop, the choice of pubs, the sense of community and, as the nearby industrial estate declined, gone was the chance of local work.’ In some cases the demolished houses were replaced by high-rise blocks which were themselves soon judged unfit for purpose.
Nevertheless Frankie, whose own family lived originally in Hopwood Street (off Scotland Road), before moving to Anfield in the 1950s, doesn’t allow himself to get too misty eyed about the bygone era that’s so successfully captured in the book. ‘Some of the houses deserved their fate and we shouldn’t mourn their loss – it was right that they were pulled down. But there were others that should have been saved, along with some of the fine public buildings that are also in the book, such as the Sailors’ Home or the David Lewis Theatre.’
The photos in the book certainly support Frankie’s view. Many are of elegant Georgian or Victorian buildings which, if sometimes fallen into decay, deserved renovation rather than destruction. A typical example was Victoria Square, near Scotland Road. Built in the 1880s as part of an ambitious scheme to replace the appalling slums of the 19th century, the five storey blocks won architectural awards when first erected but were demolished in 1966. Although the book’s main focus is residential housing, as Frankie says there are also photographs of other types of building. These include imposing warehouses that are now demolished, churches and numerous old pubs. The book also describes how the slum clearance programmes of the 1960s were followed by the mass demolition of factories in the 1980s, as Liverpool’s economic fortunes declined (a notable victim was the huge Tate and Lyle sugar refinery plant, demolished in 1983).
Freddy’s own childhood memories occasionally add a personal dimension to the text. These include playing football in the cobbled streets of Anfield (matches would last for hours, reflecting the absence of traffic), and watching shows in Stanley Park – he saw Frankie sing an Everly Brothers song at one of these in 1958.
‘I think of us as brothers in arms,’ laughs Frankie now. ‘We fought to get the book published in 1986, and we’ve spent a lot of time together working on the new edition.’ It’s certainly been time well spent: It All Came Tumbling Down is a moving, unforgettable book.
It All Came Tumbling Down is published by Countyvise.