History, Liverpool Interest

Liverpool and the Slave Trade – In Conversation with Anthony Tibbles

Liverpool and the Slave Trade is the first comprehensive account of the city’s role in the slave trade. Drawing on recent research, contemporary documents and illustrations, it provides a detailed account of how the trade operated and was eventually brought to an end. We caught up with author Anthony Tibbles to discuss this recent publication.9781786941534

First, could you tell us a bit about Liverpool and the Slave Trade and what compelled you to focus your research in this area?

I first became interested in Liverpool’s role in the slave trade when I was asked to take charge of the development of the Transatlantic Slavery Gallery at the Maritime Museum over twenty-five years ago. In doing some initial research, it was clear that there were a lot of myths but very little academically sound published information, particularly about the scale and nature of the city’s involvement. Whilst a large amount of research has been carried and published since then on the transatlantic trade, very little has focussed specifically on Liverpool.

In 2007 I helped edit Liverpool and Transatlantic Slavery (Liverpool University Press), a volume of academic papers on various aspects of Liverpool’s role in the slave trade but I still felt there was a need for a comprehensive history especially one aimed at the interested general reader. In the same year, as part of the events organised to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade, I was asked to give a lecture on Liverpool and the slave trade at Gresham College in London. After I retired and decided to attempt to write about the subject myself, the Gresham lecture provided me with a template for my approach to the book.

This is the first comprehensive account of Liverpool’s participation in the slave trade. Why do you think this area of the city’s history has been overlooked?

I think for many years there was a reluctance to admit that the city had been so closely involved in what was by then almost universally condemned as an horrific and disgraceful trade. It was easier and less painful to pass over what had become regarded as a shameful episode in the city’s history and concentrate on the spectacular growth of Liverpool in the nineteenth century. I know when we developed the Transatlantic Slavery Gallery there were people who said we should put Liverpool’s role in the trade ‘behind us’, effectively forget about it, and look to the future. In fact, it is only by confronting uncomfortable aspects of the past and recognising that history, that you are able to move on.

Liverpool and the Slave Trade includes the use of contemporary documents and personal testimonies and experiences to explain the topic – are there any stand-out materials which you could tell us more about?

I have made significant use of the Davenport Papers which the Maritime Museum acquired in 2002. They are part of the extensive business archive of William Davenport who was one of Liverpool’s most active slave traders, responsible for over 140 voyages. The letters between him and his captains are particularly detailed and revealing of the complexities of the trade. They show the matter of fact way that Davenport and his captains discussed the buying and selling of fellow human beings and their total lack of concern for the enslaved, unless it affected the profitability of the voyage.

Could you tell us more about the cover image and why you chose it?

The cover image is a detail from a watercolour entitled Liverpool from Seacombe Boathouse which was painted by Michael Angelo Rooker (1746-1801) in about 1768 or 1769 and was published in 1770. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1769 along with its pair A View of Liverpool from the Bowling Green. I wanted an image that related to the subject of the book and although there are one or two paintings of Liverpool slave ships, they are not immediately obvious as such. I thought it was important to show Liverpool and the Mersey and this view shows the port during the height of the slave trade.

How does this volume pave the way for further research on the topic?

This book is a general overall survey of Liverpool’s participation in the slave trade and is intended as a summary of current research.

There are still a number of questions which have not been fully answered and where historians have different opinions. These include the extent of the importance of the trade to Liverpool’s development and economy; how the slave trade related to other trades that the town was involved in; the relationship between the trade and the industrial revolution; and why Liverpool and its merchants came to dominate the trade in the late eighteenth century. More research could also be done on the merchants themselves, who they were, what were their origins, how far they were involved in other trades and how important the slave trade was to their personal wealth and prosperity.

What are you going to be working on next?

I usually have a number of projects on the go at any one time. I have been researching members of the Watt family who owned Speke Hall in the nineteenth century and whose wealth came from Richard Watt (1724-96). He made his fortune in Jamaica as a factor, a dealer in enslaved Africans and a plantation owner and in his latter years was a shipowner and trader in Jamaican produce, particularly sugar and rum. Quite separately, I am also researching Liverpool marine artists and ship portrait painters with the intention of publishing a dictionary. The port was home to some of the most prolific and talented painters in this genre from the late eighteenth century until the immediate post-Second World War years.

I’ve also become interested in the history of bell ringing in Cornwall! This started from seeing a couple of delightful eighteenth century painted boards featuring images of bell ringers and a rhyme about rules for ringing. I’ve now found more than a dozen similar boards in local churches which seem to be unique to Cornwall.

For more information on Liverpool and the Slave Trade please visit our website.

 

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Literature, Liverpool Interest

The Liverpool English Dictionary – In conversation with Tony Crowley

Tony Crowley is transforming our understanding of the history of Liverpool, one word at a time. To celebrate the launch of The Liverpool English Dictionary, we quizzed him on the evolution of language in Liverpool and his favourite ‘Scouse’ words. 

Liverpool English Dictionary

Tweet your pictures of Liverpool to @livunipress by 25th October for a chance to win a free copy of The Liverpool English Dictionary and tickets to the launch.  

 

The Liverpool English Dictionary records the rich vocabulary of Liverpool, what made you focus on the history of language in Liverpool?

First and foremost, I was born and bred in Liverpool so its language is my language – the form I grew up with, am most familiar with, and feel most comfortable with. But given that the language of Liverpool is also one of the most stigmatised forms in Britain, at least nationally if not locally, I wanted to show the rich historical complexity of this form with all of its distinctive lexical sharpness, humour, and edge. I also wanted to shift the focus away from the Liverpool accent – which is what most people associate the place (usually in stereotypical form) – and on to the vocabulary itself.

This book has been over thirty-five years in the making, what were the sources that you used when researching for this book?

Yes, the book has been a very long-term project. I used as wide a range of sources as I possibly could – everything from the latest digital resources of linguistic corpora (enormous data bases of words), through to local newspapers, local history books, basic glossaries of ‘Scouse’, early sociological studies of Liverpool, working-class autobiographies… you name it. Most important though was my discovery of what I call ‘the lost literature’ of Liverpool – primarily the Liverpool novel. There is an astounding history of literary production in Liverpool, ranging from mid nineteenth century critiques of mercantile capitalism, to late nineteenth century Anglo-Welsh novels, Victorian melodrama, early twentieth century feminist novels, the amazing body of James Hanley’s work, mid twentieth century ‘race’ writing, and late twentieth century ‘Scouse’ dialect novels. That range of texts gave me my most valuable material.

How do you think the history and culture of Liverpool has affected the production of the Scouse dialect?

Well, as I showed in Scouse: A Social and Cultural History (LUP 2012), ‘Scouse’ is a very modern term and wasn’t used to refer to the language of Liverpool before 1950 (and not widely till the late 50s and 60s). But given that ‘Scouse’ is now mostly used in that sense, the answer to the question is that it is the very specific history of Liverpool that has produced this form of language and its role in the everyday culture of the city. As is always the case, the language, history and culture are intricately related and the vocabulary of Scouse reflects and refracts Liverpool’s changing fortunes over the past two and a half centuries.

How do you think that this book could transform our understanding of the history of Liverpool?

The book transforms our understanding of the history of the city by demonstrating that it was a multicultural, multilingual place. This is a challenge both to the received history of ‘Scouse’ but also to the rather narrow conception of Liverpool’s history. In both cases, there is a tendency to view language and history in limited, primarily British terms, whereas what I argue in the book is that Liverpool’s role as a major port-city opened it up to a whole variety of languages and cultures. The evidence is there in the vocabulary of the place – many of its words were borrowed from the host of peoples who travelled to and through Liverpool in a sustained way over a considerable period of time: migrants, traders, soldiers and sailors, workers, refugees, entrepreneurs…they brought their languages with them from all over the world and some of some of their words stuck. So I hope that broader perspective will change how we think of both Liverpool’s history, but also British history more broadly.

Did you find any of the words or phrases particularly interesting etymologically?

Masses of them. ‘Scouse’, in the sense of ‘stew’ dates to the early eighteenth century in the phrase ‘lobscouse’ (‘scouse’ is coined towards the end of the century in Liverpool). It might be from the Latvian ‘labs’, ‘good’, ‘kauss’, ‘bowl’, although the Latvian could be from the English. As with all the best etymologies, we don’t know. ‘Bullamacow’ is interesting – it’s Fijian pidgin, and I like ‘jigger’, which is traceable to sixteenth century cant, ‘gygger’, ‘door’, possibly ultimately from the Welsh ‘gwddor’, ‘gate’. One of my favourites is ‘gobshite’, which may be from the Irish English ‘gobshell’, ‘a big spittle direct from the mouth’, from the Gaelic ‘gub’, ‘mouth, beak’ and ‘seile’, ‘spit’, though it might simply be a combination of ‘gob’ and ‘shite’.

Tony Crowley is Professor of English at the University of Leeds. Born and bred in Liverpool, he has taught at Oxford, Southampton and Manchester Universities. He was the Hartley Burr Alexander Chair of the Humanities at Scripps College, California (2005–13), and is a Fellow of the English Association. His previous books include Scouse: A Social and Cultural History (Liverpool University Press, 2012).

Waterstones Liverpool One – Wednesday 25th October

 

20% off this title when you use discount code CROWLEY at the checkout.

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History, Liverpool Interest

The contribution of Black seafarers to British maritime history – in conversation with Ray Costello

 The Black Salt exhibition at the Liverpool Maritime Museum is due to reveal the contribution Black seafarers to some of the most significant maritime events of the past 500 years. To celebrate its opening we spoke to Ray Costello, author of the accompanying book Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships about the roles of and experiences of Black sailors in the British navy. 

Black Salt

The Black Salt exhibition opens at the Liverpool Maritime Museum 29th September. Could you tell us a bit about the exhibition?

This major exhibition the Merseyside Maritime Museum are putting on is derived from my LUP book, Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships (2012). It will occupy most of the ground floor, beginning in the reception area, and is to be presented as –

BLACK SALT: “… in the shipboard company of ‘old salts’… the greatest ‘melange’ of different cultures, races and languages… an important ingredient were seafarers of African descent – Britain’s Black Salt.”

I had already approached LUP to publish Black Salt when Rachel Mulhearne, the former Head of Merseyside Maritime Museum, told me that she was very keen on the idea of staging an exhibition based on this topic. This seemed a good idea at the time, as the book would be a good companion, but it was unfortunately at a decidedly ‘iffy’ time insofar as funding was concerned. At the time, the exhibition did not happen but fortunately the book went ahead and was considerably more than a slim ‘companion book’, never to be forgotten by the Maritime Museum, thanks to Janet Dugdale, the Head of Waterfront and Rachel’s successor, who was adamant that this exhibition was going to happen one day. Through her determination, it has!

How does it emphasise the ways in which sailors of African descent contributed to Britain’s maritime identity?

Black seamen have served on British ships since at least the Tudor period, and by the end of the period of the British slave trade at least three per cent of all crewmen were black and a far higher percentage since. Both the new exhibition and the book, Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships, (Liverpool University Press 2012), help to highlight this overlooked group of servicemen by examining the work and experience of black sailors in the British merchant marine and Royal Navy. These ranged from all over the Black Diaspora, from impressed slaves to free Africans, British West Indians, and even remembering African Americans who served on British ships both before and after the independence of the American colonies.

One of the most important roles has also been in wartime, of course, spanning centuries. This includes not only actually fighting in the Royal Navy, but also the tremendous contribution made by black merchant seafarers. At the Battle of Trafalgar, one of Britain’s most important naval victories, sailors of African descent can be found in a variety of roles. The outcome of the battle would determine the command of the oceans for decades, of course, and when Nelson gave his famous signal, ‘England expects that every man will do his duty’, many of his ‘old salts’ had sailed and fought with him before, including Britain’s seamen of African descent.

How does the exhibition depict the challenges faced by sailors of African descent both at sea and ashore?

In the exhibition we show that the dangers faced by even free early black sailors during the slave trade era could range from being captured by enemy ships and sold in America and the West Indies to being sold by the captain of the ships on which they served.

Later in their history, black crew working below deck could sometimes be overcome by heat exhaustion, especially in the tropics, when the temperature could rise to anything between 120 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Black tartaric acid ointment was used to smear on burns, most men working in the stokehold wearing protective leather boots and an old pair of trousers. Trimmers in the bunkers sometimes wore little more than boots. This, then, became the norm well into the twentieth century and lasting until the decline of British shipping.

How did you come to focus your research on the topic of sailors of African descent in the British navy?

Over the past year I have enjoyed co-curating this exhibition, so I am naturally pleased. It had to be Liverpool, of all locations, as its old black community is largely derived from seafarers. As black seafarers have been an established part of both the Royal and Merchant Navies for centuries, it comes as a surprise to many that, although there been at least a publication in the United States about their own black sailors, there has been never a comprehensive exhibition or book on the topic in Great Britain. Any national memorial to seafarers of African descent is still lacking. The history of seafarers of African descent on British ships is very much a forgotten narrative, unknown to most people, and we have been happy to perhaps play a small part in rectifying this situation!

The book draws attention to the fact that the navy was possibly unique in that black and white could work alongside each other. Was this the case in any other industries? What was the impact of this?

You could say that black and white sailors simply had to have some sort of relationship, as, particularly in the Royal Navy, charged with protecting King and country, they were very much reliant upon one another. This did have its limitations, however, as there was always the possibility that as soon as they set foot on dry land their relationship could at least be altered as the cold reality of the societal norms of the day were re-established once more. Even aboard ship, there could be expressions of segregation, such as the ‘chequeboard’ system of a black crew keeping watch for so many hours, only to change with an all-white crew for the next watch. Few other forms of employment in shore jobs offered even a temporary relaxation, as men would be working together, or more likely segregated, in a very different ‘world’ from the strange little society of the ship at sea. In spite of these restrictions, we always find exceptions throughout the book, and in many different scenarios, an example being the officer who kept up a life-long friendship with a black able seaman, even leaving him something in his will. There was a good reason – this black seafarer had saved this officer’s life at the Battle of Trafalgar!

How did the experiences of black seamen or sailors differ to those of their white counterparts?

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, covering the Napoleonic Wars, they were to be found in deck occupations such as gunners, deck-hands and ‘top men’. ‘Top men’ were very much respected by both crew and officers alike, as they had the responsibility of working at heights in the rigging, setting sail and looking out for enemy ships, etc.

There were far less favourable conditions in the age of steam than in the days of the old sailing ships, when a black seaman could occupy a far wider range of employment aboard ship in both the Royal and merchant marine. In the age of the steam-driven ironclad ships, there were changes in the employment of seafarers of African descent, who were more likely to be found below deck; as cooks, stewards and stokers from the West African coast, India and Madagascar, as they were thought to be better suited to the heat of the engine room. Steam ships required fewer sailors of the traditional type, schooled in the intricacies of rigging and sail, and a newer breed of seaman replaced them.

Larger passenger ships also meant more black seafarers occupying a life below deck, as they were not thought to be suitable for passenger-facing jobs. Compare this with the first black female captain Belinda Bennett shown in our exhibition as now being in in charge of a passenger vessel!

Was there much chance of mobility in terms of rank for black seamen and sailors?

Needless to say, during the early days, certainly the period of the slave trade, black seafarers served at a time when the status of black people in European society was possibly at its lowest ebb, regardless of their social rank in their home countries, but even during the eighteenth-century, examples of royal naval officers of African descent individuals can be found who rose above that situation, finding respect and recognition from their crew-mates. It was by no means easy, however. A very sad case was that of a Black British seamen, 25 ­year­ old Norfolk-­born Barlow Fielding, who was thought to be petty-officer material, possibly at least a boatswain, by his captain, John Colpoys of HMS Orpheus. It did not take long before Fielding asked to be demoted, as his white fellow seafarers took exception to his rank and were making life difficult. His captain tried his best to help by having him transferred to another ship, but failed, resulting in Fielding having something that we would probably now call a nervous breakdown and ending up in Hasler Hospital in Portsmouth.

The book draws upon the experiences of individuals during this time, ‘their experiences span the gamut of sorrow and tragedy, heroism, victory and triumph.’ How did you discover these experiences? Did the experience of any one individual particularly surprise or move you?

Apart from the usual secondary and primary documentary sources, contemporary narratives written or dictated by black seamen themselves were sought, alongside oral testimonies of living seamen. Oral histories are the most fascinating, as some of the sailors’ stories have never seen the light of day before, adding something new to the narrative.

Although not oral testimony, I think my favourite is probably the Jamaican-­born John Perkins, possibly the first British post captain of African descent in the Royal Navy. The rank of post captain is an obsolete alternative form of captain in the Royal Navy, extremely high-ranking, even more than an officer in charge of a ship who is usually called captain regardless of rank, or commanders, given the title of captain as a courtesy, even if they did not currently have a ship! A post captain could eventually become an admiral if he lived long enough. What is surprising is that John (nick-named affectionately by his men as ‘Jack Punch’) is that he was black and achieved that rank in 1797 when the slave trade was still in operation. Later in their history, it was less unusual to find officers of African descent on commercial vessels and smaller riverine craft, but the Royal Navy would have to wait until the late twentieth century for another black captain, along with the United States, who did not commission its first African American naval officers, a group known as the ‘Golden Thirteen’, until 1944.

There are others, such as William Hall, the first black Royal Navy recipient of the Victoria Cross, but that, as they say, is another story, also included in the Black Salt Exhibition.

How to you think the book and the exhibition pave the way for wider discussion and further research into black seafarers and their role in the British navy?

I think that there is endless scope for further research, as most people I have spoken to seem quite surprised that so little has been done in this area, as, particularly in ports such as Liverpool, black sailors are common-place. I have been delighted at the interest already shown in the book and look forward to seeing the public’s response to the exhibition. I am sure that my publishers, ever in the lead of promoting new research, are no doubt as interested as I am.

There are both individuals and groups out there whose stories, both oral and written, have hardly been looked into. My own hope is that other researchers will ‘take the bait’ and delve into what must surely be a vast area of untapped knowledge just waiting to be discovered and publicised in a way that shows just how diverse a country Great Britain really is and has been for a surprisingly long time. Both the Black Salt book and exhibition at Merseyside Maritime shows that the City of Liverpool, with its old black community descended from African seafarers, is an excellent place to start.

Ray Costello is an independent historian and writer and an honorary research fellow of the School of Sociology and Social Science, University of Liverpool.

Black Salt: Britain’s Black Sailors opens on 29th September at the Liverpool Maritime Museum. Click here for more information.

For more information on Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships please visit our website.

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History, Liverpool Interest

How Battles Over Booze Shaped Modern Liverpool – In Conversation with David Beckingham

How did Liverpool transform its 19th century reputation for drunkenness? David Beckingham, author of The Licensed City explains the social impact of licensing laws in a city centred on drinking culture. 

What made you decide to study Liverpool and what did you focus on in your research?

For much of the nineteenth century, Liverpool enjoyed a terrible reputation for drunkenness. According to police statistics it was at various times the most drunken city in England. At its peak in the 1870s, there was something like 20,000 annual police proceedings for drunkenness. I was interested to find out more about why Liverpool looked so at odds with other cities.

I began by considering the role of numbers in constructing municipal reputations. I was cautious of these numbers, aware that they were counting incidents of policing and not every act of consuming alcohol. But I wanted to know what that record said about Victorian Liverpool, a city whose civic ambitions betrayed a series of social anxieties.

This meant asking why the authorities in Liverpool thought that the city had such a drink problem. Because policing reflecting anxieties about largely public behaviours, I started to consider the role that drink played in the social and street life of the city. This took me on a kind of archive tour of the docksides, the slums of north Liverpool, the mercantile heart around the Town Hall, and the theatre land of Williamson Square. I focus on the regulatory mechanism for controlling the sale of alcohol through pubs. This is the licensed city of my title, a city where regulators were keen to address the links between drink and a range of social problems.

How did you go about your research for this book? Were you surprised by any of your findings?

My book grew out of a PhD in Geography. Most of my research was done in Liverpool’s Central Library, where I read the minute books of the Council, Watch Committee (which was in charge of policing) and magistrates. Newspapers were also fantastically useful. I particularly liked reading old satirical papers like Porcupine. They provide a very different angle on the sometimes rather dry tone of official minute books and, even through their criticisms, revealed the sense of civic pride and identity so central to social reform.

The archives also have some wonderful temperance material, produced by reformers campaigning against drink. This included an amazing set of maps of pubs in different parts of town, which are reprinted in the book. Being trained as a geographer, I was interested to think about what kind of political work was done by representing information in this way. They show us how tempting it can be to construct reductive moral arguments about people and places.

I really wanted to learn about the cultures of Liverpool’s pubs. We know what they looked like: plans formed part of the licensing process and there are plenty of street photographs that reflect changing branding and design. Liverpool still has some famous examples of pubs from the period. I tried to imagine what they would have sounded like as people talked over their beer about their daily concerns. The written records aren’t really set up for that, of course. Things were usually recorded when they went wrong, but by understanding this it is still possible to glimpse daily life.

Most surprising, to me, was just how detailed these records could be. They show magistrates manipulating the layout of pubs, doing away with screens or doors to cosy corners where people could get up to mischief. My favourite examples come from cases where publicans were tasked with managing women who were reputed to be prostitutes. The law didn’t ban women from seeking liquid refreshment, but it asked that they stay no longer than was necessary for ‘reasonable refreshment’. Importantly, it didn’t spell out how long this was. One London Road publican was told that if he spotted a known prostitute she should not be allowed to stay on his premises for longer than four minutes. The obvious concern was to prevent pubs being used by prostitutes to solicit for sex. To me it conjures up an image of the pub’s staff lining up clocks along the bar. I can’t imagine the magistrates’ intention was to endorse speed drinking, but this tells us a lot about their priorities. It has been really instructive to see just how these gendered moral codes ran right the way down through the social life of the city.

Photograph courtesy of Colin Wilkinson at Blue Coat Press

Why did alcohol become such a pressing political issue in the nineteenth century?

In a way, that concern with prostitution helps explain something very important about drink. It intersected with such a broad range of social issues and policy arenas, right the way from labour productivity and criminality through to health and housing reform.

It is clear to me that the problem of prostitution played a particular role in politicising the management of pubs in Liverpool, in no small part because of the political clout of some of the city’s brewers. This helped turn drink from a question of individual moral responsibility into a collective question about the city’s management to be challenged through the ballot box.

Nationally, the growth of the temperance movement also reflects a distinctive feature of drink: it made really very tangible an important and unresolved debate about the rights and reach of the state to govern individual behaviours. This is really what got me interested in drink in the first place. It is a great case study for understanding the developing governance of everyday life in Victorian Britain.

To what extent did you find that reforming licensing laws tackled the social issues that Liverpool was facing in the nineteenth century?

That’s a really important question. It is wrong to assume that the broader social changes I narrate were all down to licensing. Licensing has to be seen alongside other reforms such as slum clearance, as well as changes in prosperity and social attitudes to drink. But that’s the interesting thing about drink: it links to so many other features of urban life. The magistrates reduced the numbers of licences, particularly beerhouses in the working-class parts of town, and they really did try to address what went on in pubs. They also learnt how to use licensing to shape the world beyond the pub. In that, they showed that licensing was a useful tool of social governance, and the argument I make is that this was often directed at behaviours other than simply drinking.

It would also be wrong to see any successes as all their own work, however: I place great emphasis on the campaigns of social reformers. They were central to the definition of particular behaviours as problems that required intervention. For me the most telling thing is that reformers thought that licensing was working. This fed into a really useful political narrative that their social action was helping transform how their city was run. That takes us full circle back to the idea of reputation.

 

For more information on The Licensed City please visit our website.
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Literature, Liverpool Interest

A Whistle-stop Tour of the Life of a Working-Class Hero: Five minutes with the editors of ‘Ten Years on the Parish’.

We sat down with Co-Director of Writing on the Wall Festival Mike Morris, Tony Wailey and Andrew Davies, editors of Ten Years on the Parish to learn more about working-class hero George Garrett ahead of the May Day parade in celebration of his life.

Can you tell us a bit more about George Garrett and give a quick overview of his life?

TW: Essentially, you can divide Garrett’s life into five periods; 1896-1926, 1926-1936, 1936-1946 and 1946-1961, which was when he retired.  For the first thirty years he was a seaman and traveller all over the world during the first world war, but mainly in the United States.  So that’s where he got his radical ideas. Between 1926-1936 was his most creative literary period, when he was actually writing his short stories and the autobiography.  Between 1936-1946 he set up the Unity theatre and was involved in radical dramatisations all across Merseyside and then between 1946-1961 he was periodically writing for the Liverpool Echo but most of his time he was working on a tug on the river Mersey and on Manchester Ship Canal.

What is it about Ten Years on the Parish that makes a valuable contribution to the history of Liverpool?

AD: I guess it’s not just the history but it’s the geography of Garrett for me. He’s really an important figure in bringing together a whole host of different traditions, particularly with regards to his understanding of internationalist perspectives from his travel around the Atlantic. He brings all of that through a very particular lens of understanding what was going on in Liverpool at the time and writing about things he was seeing on a day to day basis. Things like poverty, inequality, injustice, and writing about that from a perspective that was not just about a local idea of what was going on. It was about challenging bigger systems, about the nature of inequality, and the nature of capitalism which he sees as this thing that drives a lot of inequality, and, how that feeds through into wider systemic things which, for me as a geographer and a historian of empire, shows he was drawing out some of those connections about the inequality of imperialism at a time when racial inequality was rife within the city. He brings together a whole host of different theoretical topics in a way that a lot of people at the time weren’t doing, people weren’t thinking across those divides in the way that he was.

Could you tell us about Garrett’s encounter with George Orwell and the influence this had on the work of Orwell?

MM:  Well, he was recommended to George Garrett by a friend, who was more part of a literary scene, to show him around Liverpool and show him the conditions and various aspects of Liverpool’s life. He met George Garrett in February 1936 and he takes him down to the docks and he shows him the hiring stands and people queuing and bustling for work and then they stayed up all night talking about literature and radical activities. Then the next day he showed George Orwell around Liverpool’s housing. Council housing was being built in Liverpool at that point, it had a big effect upon Orwell, who wasn’t the Orwell we know now in many senses, he wasn’t the literary giant, it was early days for him. He was seen as a bit of a poverty tourist from the point of view of working class writers who lived what they wrote about. Orwell throughout his life made strenuous efforts to get very close to that, for example in Down and Out in Paris and London, and The Road to Wigan Pier. But Garrett’s editor notes how Orwell’s nose almost turned up at the smell, with those encounters of working class life whereas Garrett was part and parcel of the life and understood and experienced it on a daily basis. When Orwell brought out The Road to Wigan Pier which was based upon his encounters with Garrett and many other people throughout the country, Garrett’s response was that it was like one long sneer, particularly the second part, in his opinion.  He said he thought he caught some of the conditions well but said that one of his responses to The Road to Wigan Pier was that he wanted to write a book about unemployment that really showed how it was. So, interestingly, there were two sides to the encounter between them. What’s interesting is that Orwell was a very educated man, and Garrett wasn’t phased by him. He was extremely educated in himself and was able to sit up all night and debate literature and radical ideas with him. He was then published alongside Orwell in various magazines of the day.

TW: I think that the most important point there was the very fact that Garrett wanted to write his own version of events and this is what we’ve got before us.

Ahead of the May Day parade, could you tell us the significance of having George Garrett as the figure head? We believe there’s going to be a five metre model.

MM:  In 1921 and 1922, Garrett led the unemployed marches around Liverpool which led to reforms in terms of welfare benefits and payments and the benefits system over all. He then led the hunger march from Liverpool to London in 1922 which also forced changes from the point of view of welfare payments and how the unemployed were treated. So, we thought it would be a fitting launch for our festival which is themed ‘Revolution’ and for Garrett’s Ten Years on the Parish to be launched with a May Day parade. We wanted to include George in that and we wanted to recognise George’s varied interest and how he welded together and integrated his radicalism, his writing and drama. On the hunger march to London in 1922, he organised a mock funeral for what was called ‘bully beef’. This was beef fed to soldiers in the trenches at war, which they hated. On the march, they went to Rugby and they were given bully beef so they protested against it, a prop- theatrical protest. They did this funeral march and he made a speech dressed as a priest and they buried the bully beef. So, we decided that we would like to recreate that and have George within the march itself. We commissioned Brian Hanlon, an experienced model maker from Liverpool to build a five-metre-high model of George based upon the hunger march. The suit he’s wearing is pinstriped and the volunteers included in the project have written on those pinstripes texts from Ten Years on the Parish. It’s a very political statement and embodies everything that Garrett’s done for us. It’s grown out from there and captured the imagination of people, we’ve got theatre taking place throughout the march, we’ve got dancers, drummers, LIPA’s cast of Made in Dagenham are performing as well as a young hip-hop artist Blue Saint and his spoken word artist Dorcas Seb. They are creating their own version of two songs that Garrett wrote for the unemployed demonstrations back in 1922.

What we’re doing with the parade is recognising the historical importance of Garrett, and the notion that work and his writing is very contemporary and addresses issues that people are suffering with today such as unemployment, austerity, the way people are being treated in the benefit system. So the whole idea of it is to bring together people from diverse communities in Liverpool, from the trade union movement, cultural organisations, the universities, to both highlight these issues and have a celebration of the life of one of Liverpool’s most significant figures and certainly, as John Lucas the professor at Trent University said, one of the most significant working class writers of his generation.

 

Writing on the Wall Festival will see the launch of Ten Years on the Parish at the May Day parade – 1st of May, 12:30pm outside Toxteth Library. Follow #WoWFest2017 on twitter to find out more on local events throughout the month of May.

For more information on Ten Years on the Parish please visit our website.

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