This time yesterday I was sitting beside the Beatles Museum, looking over at the Ferry across the Mersey and within a shadow’s fall of the Liver Building. It was all so Liverpool: the essence of that bustling, vibrant and very human city that Margaret Thatcher was once prepared to consign to the dustbin.
Well Maggie, May you weep as you see what this great city is capable of. This was one of the greatest port cities of the world, where emigrants flocked to cross to the New World and immigrants arrived from Ireland, looking for opportunities in a new city and new nation. It was home to dozens of shipping lines, hundreds of ship masters and thousands of seamen of all colours and hues: all belonged and al played their part. The re-developed Waterfront spreads across where the complex dock system once played host to ships that sailed around the globe. This was home to Greenlandmen who braved the Arctic to bring back whales, slavers who sailed to West Africa, traders to and from all corners of the world, seamen such as James ‘bully’ Forbes, master of Marco Polo, the ‘fastest ship in the world,’ Captain Johnny Walker who was the scourge of the U-boats during the Second World War, and the infamous Packet Rats, the incredibly tough seamen who manned the packet ships that crossed and re-crossed the Atlantic between Liverpool, Boston and New York to a regular time table whatever weather the Atlantic could throw at them.
Of course, as a port city, Liverpool also attracted the less savoury characters. There were thieves that targeted the ships and cargoes, crimps who waylaid the seamen and robbed them blind, murderers like the chilling Black Widows, gangs of teenage thugs such as the High Rip, and prostitutes such as Maggie May (recognise the name) who would befriend young seamen and leave them naked and robbed in some stinking court. It was this sordid reality of life in any dock side that brought me to Liverpool, for I was talking at the truly superb Maritime Museum there, courtesy of Dr Claire Jones of Liverpool University’s programme of Continuing Education.
I do have a family connection as my grandmother was born and raised in Toxteth Park, my great grandfather was a Liverpool policeman and my dad sailed from the port on Atlantic convoys during the Second World War. So it was not long before I felt quite at home. In saying that, it would not be hard for anybody to feel at home in Liverpool: it is that kind of welcoming place.
Now the docksides, once the work place of seamen and dockers and the haunt of predators, are an amazing place of hotels and museums, restaurants and cafes, memorials and barges, Mersey-views and places to just sit and me. Liverpool, a city once discarded by others, was never rejected by its own people. Liverpool has come to terms with the sordid parts of its past in the Museum of Slavery, an immensely moving experience, and still lauds its famous sons and daughters. The city has re-invented itself. I am immensely proud that part of my blood belongs there: it is a city of music, passion and a history that it displays, warts and all.
Here’s to you, Liverpool!