Wednesday 26 September 2012

Stocky Wood

Stockton Wood Infants School,
All Saints Road
L24 3TF

Stockton Wood School in the late 1980s

In the 1930s Liverpool Council had been forced to develop large housing estates on the outskirts of the city. Three sites had been purchased before 1939 but the advent of the Second World War halted any new building developments as resources were diverted elsewhere.

One of the sites was Speke, in the south-east of the city where building work had started in 1936. When the war ended the development rapidly gained momentum and by the time it neared completion in 1957 more than 6000 homes had been built.

Paul McCartney had just turned five when his family arrived in Speke in August 1947, the furthest south any of the McCartneys had lived. His mother Mary had taken a job as the Liverpool Corporation's  Municipal Midwife on the new housing estate.  With the job came a new house, 72 Western Avenue, a road so new that it was still under construction when they moved in. Saplings had been planted in the central reservation but the grass had yet to take seed.

Their move from Sir Thomas White Gardens in Everton co-incided not only with Jim McCartney's return to work in his beloved Cotton Industry (he was unable to do so during the war years) but also the start of Paul's schooling.

Although both his sons had been baptised Catholics, Jim decided that he didn't want them to go to a Catholic faith school believing they spent too much time on religion and not enough on education. Paul was duly enrolled at Stockton Wood Road Infants, a new* Church of England School behind the McCartney's house.

The School had been built to accommodate more than 1000 children but such was the post war "baby boom", together with the influx of new families onto the estate it would soon exceed that number.

Many of the new families had come from underprivileged slum areas of the city where high unemployment was only one of the hardships they faced.  Inevitably many (but not all) of the children from these families had grown up tough and mixing with them on a daily basis both Paul and Michael found out quickly that the only way to survive in school was to fight.

Paul recalls that "I started off going to school in a dead rough area of Liverpool. i used to have just as many fights as anyone else. I remember one day getting hold of this fellow and clubbing him with a big bar. I was only about five".

For this misdemeanor, Paul received a telling off from the headteacher during an assembly in front of the whole school and a more severe rebuke when he got home.

Mike McCartney writes in "Thank U Very Much" about the many times his big brother came to the rescue in the school yard.

In his later years Mike became the boss of his own little gang "Charging against the 'enemy' across the school yard in full war cry" and on one occasion teaching an older bully a lesson (he was hitting little girls) by throwing a house-brick on his head. 

"After this bloody, awful incident, he didn't bully little girls, or anyone else for that matter".

It was at "Stocky Wood" that Paul and Mike saw their first film, Dick Barton: Special Agent, starring Don Stannard in the title role. It was released in May 1948, the first of three Barton films made by Hammer Film Productions based on a BBC radio series which was a great favourite of the young McCartneys.

Paul was not so keen on the film. Sitting on wooden benches in the darkened hall Paul was reportedly scared out of his wits, clambering over his class mates such was his hurry to leave, much to the amusement of his younger brother.

Not that they always bothered to go to school, even at this age. Whilst Paul was bright and capable of being top of his class his attention was easily diverted elsewhere, usually accompanied by his brother. Mike recalls the balmy summer of 1951, when he and Paul would sag off (play truant) and make their way past war camouflaged rubber factories, through the stately grounds of Speke Hall and down to the banks of the river Mersey where they'd go skinny dipping in the unpolluted waters. 

Playing truant came to an abrupt halt in September that same year. When the post war birth explosion in Speke reached 1,500**, Paul and Mike were moved from Stockton Wood to Joseph Williams Primary School in Belle Vale (Gateacre) which, as luck would have it, was short of older pupils. It's not clear whether Mike went at the same time as Paul and 50 or so other kids - or with his own age group a year or so later.

Apparently Mike McCartney has made it known over the years that one of his most sought after items is a Stocky Wood badge - "black and yellow, with a picture of a Spitfire flying over the River Mersey" - if you have one I'm sure he'd like to hear from you.

This was one of the first "Beatle locations" I went to photograph, long before I learnt that it was always an idea to check if the building I wanted to photograph was still there before setting off.

Unfortunately I was too late. A new purpose built school stands on the site and nothing remains of the original buildings.  The new school operates a house system named after the four Beatles, a nice acknowledgement of the link to one of their most famous former pupils.

Stockton Wood Primary School today


This photograph shows the teachers at Stockton Wood circa 1950-51, towards the end of the McCartney's time at the school. The photograph below shows Mr. Kellet and his pupils in one of the school's classrooms in 1952.


* Opened June 1940.

** Reportedly making Stockton Wood the biggest Primary School in the UK


Thank U Very Much - Mike McCartney's Family Album" (Mike McCartney)

Crossing Western Avenue to "Stocky Wood"

Tuesday 25 September 2012

The Tommy White Album

Sir Thomas White Gardens,
St. Domingo Road,
Liverpool 5

The McCartneys in Everton 

St. Domingo Road, Everton at the time the McCartneys lived here. The chimneys of "Tommy Whites" are visible on the top left of the hill.

Taken almost from the same position as the previous photo but dating from the 1960s after the trams were taken out of service

Upon leaving R.O.F. Kirkby Jim McCartney’s next job brought him back into Liverpool, to Everton where he had grown up. Unable to return to the Cotton Exchange for the duration of the war, he found work in the Cleansing Department of Liverpool Corporation as an inspector of refuse collectors, a position created to ensure that the dustmen did their jobs properly. A far cry from the Cotton business and no doubt not a job Jim relished, but with a wife and now two infant sons to look after it would make do for the time being.

Mary had been at home looking after young Paul and Michael for the last two years and as a consequence of returning to Walton Hospital to give birth to both sons she realised how much she missed her former vocation. Perhaps also because they were short of money Mary too found work through the Liverpool Corporation, as a municipal midwife. The job allowed her to work from home and brought the family a rented flat at 75 Sir Thomas White Gardens, a huge tenement block in St. Domingo Road.

It was an exhausting, but rewarding job for Mary who needed to be on call at all hours of the day. The boys would see their mum leave the ground floor flat in her starched blue and white midwife’s uniform, a respected figure in the community while poor Jim continued with his dreary work , checking up on dustmen and waiting for the day that he could return to his proper trade. He may not have been an actual dustman, or had to wear their hat or  ‘cor blimey trousers, but in any event here they were, living in a council flat. During the times when both Jim and Mary were out working, one of Jim’s sisters would step in and mind Paul and Mike.
Map showing the position of
 St. Edward's Roman Catholic College

The tenements were only 5 years old when the McCartney family moved in. Between 1938 and 1940 348 flats were built on the former site of St. Edward's College which had been established as a boarding school in 1848 in a large mansion called St. Domingo House (named after the Isle of San Domingo, where one George Campbell, a privateer and subsequently Mayor of Liverpool (1763–64) had prospered).

The Catholic population of Liverpool increased dramatically during the years of the Great Irish Famine (1845-52). It is believed that barely 5% of their children were receiving any education at the time the College was founded.

At the same time, the coadjutor bishop of Liverpool, Alexander Goss (1814-72) saw the need for a cathedral to accommodate his swollen congregation and chose the grounds of St. Edward’s College. In 1853 Goss awarded the commission for the building of the new cathedral to Edward Welby Pugin (1833–1875).

Our Lady Immaculate which stood at 69A St. Domingo Road, Everton, L5 4LH 

The Lady Chapel of the pro-cathedral was opened by Bishop Goss on 7 December 1856. However, with higher priority given to the building of new churches and the education of Catholic children, funds were diverted elsewhere and work on the building ceased at this point. Instead, the Lady Chapel – now named Our Lady Immaculate – served as the parish church to the local Catholic population, one of whom no doubt was Mary McCartney, moving into St. Thomas White Gardens in 1945.

St. Edward’s relocated from St. Domingo Road to Sandfield Park in West Derby on 19 September 1938, an event which was marked by every pupil walking the 3 miles from Everton to the new site. Demolition of the college took place shortly afterwards and construction work commenced on the new tenements. Part of the original sandstone wall belonging to the college was incorporated into the surrounding wall of Sir Thomas White’s in Penrose Street and ironically is the only remnant of either building still in existence today.

According to the Sir Thomas White Gardens' Facebook page the lady about to cross Penrose Street is Mrs Ringworm (photo circa 1973). Part of the large stone wall is still present today.

The artists impression for Sir Thomas White Gardens with St. Domingo Road running to the left, Beacon Lane to the right, and Penrose Street across the top

As can be seen from the original design above, the new building had to accommodate the site of the existing church. The plans were ultimately scaled back, presumably due to the outbreak of the Second World War, and the flats in the bottom right corner were never built.

Sir Thomas White JP was a Liverpool Councillor who had began his working life as a cabin boy before building his career in the brewing trade. He entered local politics and became chairman of the Tramways and Electricity Committee and was later chairman of both the Liverpool Housing Committee and Speke Airport Development Committee. He died in 1938 and as a tribute the new housing development was named after him.

Both Paul and Michael McCartney have written autobiographies and "Tommy Whites" is mentioned in both books, but neither appear to have retained any memories of the place. As Mike admits, he was only three at the time. 

Returning to his former home in the late 70s to take a photograph for his book Mike formed a more lasting impression of the place, or at least his foot did. He stepped out of his car right into a pile of dog muck! Not the return to his old stomping ground that he'd hoped for...

Paul and Mike circa 1947

These tenement flats, like many in Liverpool, were built around wide communal squares and housed hundreds of people. Whilst Paul and Mike were barely there long enough to form any sort of attachment it is clear that those who lived there longer hold many fond memories. Whilst doing research for this blog I was surprised to discover a Facebook page set up and devoted to “Tommy Whites” and its former residents, all of whom, seemingly without exception recall their time there with great fondness and sentimentality. Clearly the tenants here shared strong bonds and a sense of community. With Everton being one Liverpool’s poorest areas the families here may never have had much wealth to speak of but they looked after each other.

Dave Parkinson was a former resident and lived in flat 72 between 1949 and 1965. His flat was in the front square on beacon lane and recalls “we was all posh we had an indoor toilet, not like me granddad, he lived in (nearby) Calder Street, he shared his outside bog with his pigeons. Great memories”

Anne Hess recalls that "when I grew up there (many moons ago) we used to walk around the first square under that very arch and sing ‘We are the tommy white gang, we know our manners and how to spend are tanners we are the tommy white gang”

Mavis Ellis: “I used to go out down the slope, but back home up the steps, because the bus stop was right opposite, I used to hate going home, running through the arches across the squares, then up the stairs, sometimes the lights were out on the staircase, I used to be terrified some times, I don't know how we did it, when I think about it now, Ha!!!”

Mary Jones: “Does anyone else remember the smell of Sunday roasts coming out of all of the kitchen windows onto the landings. Lovely memories”

Debra Jones has more specific memories regarding Our Lady Immaculate: “The large middle window of the church was the alter .. The left side of the church, was where the crib was situated at Christmas, the confessionals were on the left also... If you walked up from the altar to the middle of the church, there was a double door, this led to the vestry and the sacristy.. At the very back of the church was the organ , Mrs Walsh from Our Lady's school played the organ... I remember the smell of the candles, the polish, and Father Carr’s tobacco... Our bench was facing the christening font by the doors...”

Freddy O’Connor, author of “Liverpool It All Came Tumbling Down”(revised edition 2013) recalls his daily walk through the flats with his brothers, sister and friends when at school. “Occasionally we would encounter sectarian trouble, not that we’d even heard of the word then just the Orange (protestant) and the Green (catholic) to us, and our school was in an Orange area anyway, although Catholics also lived here”

It seems another big memory for a lot of the former residents is the games of football which took place in the big square. Freddy O’Connor: “It was amazing, no one ever knew how many a side were playing, it could have been anything up to 30 odd each team, or even more, and the score would be as high, no one ever got it quite right, far too many goals!”

The lady who has helped me out most with my research is Christina Smith another former resident from the Facebook page. One of the other members of the group posted the photograph above. The girl with her hand in her pocket is Christina’s sister and the little boy at the front is her brother. What’s remarkable here is that the photograph also shows the actual flat where the McCartneys lived. 

Christina confirms that the two ground floor windows on the bottom right hand side belong to number 75, and to the right of it is the “wonderfully historic Beacon Lane”.

She adds “If you’ve never put a piece of wood on top of a set of pram wheels and hurtled down the Beacon Lane cobbles, you’ve never lived!”. To my knowledge, this is the first time the McCartney’s flat has been positively identified. Thanks Christina!

Another view of the McCartney's flat viewed from Beacon Lane 

List of voters for Sir Thomas White Gardens with Jim and Mary at no. 75

In August 1947 the McCartneys moved to South Liverpool, a first for any of them. Liverpool Corporation’s Municipal Midwifery Service needed a midwife living on the new housing estate in Speke. The job came with a rent free house, 72 Western Avenue, and Mary took the position. After two years in Tommy Whites, the McCartneys were on the move again.

Paul himself seems unsure as the reason behind their move to Speke: I don’t know why; maybe she volunteered. Maybe she wanted to get a new house because a house came with the job.

A document exists of the minutes of a 1947 health committee meeting concerning the transfer of Mary McCartney to 72 Western Avenue and reads: “Nurse McCartney has incurred expense in removing her furniture to this address and as the transfer was effected in order to meet the convenience of the Midwifery Department, the Medical Officer recommends that she be paid a sum not exceeding £5 to cover her expenses, in accordance with the usual custom”

"It all came tumbling down" -  the rubble in the 
foreground was formerly block 16 to 20

The flats were demolished in 1984-5 and despite having listed status, the Chapel of Our Lady Immaculate was demolished in 1990.

"Tommy Whites" viewed from Penrose Street

The colour photo below was taken in the late 1960s by Philip G Mayer: Looking east across St Domingo Road we can see STW on the right. From left to right - The church of St Cuthberts which stood on the junction of Robson Street and Burleigh Road South until demolition in 1970, in the foreground is the short Hodder Street, then Calder Street, Carmel Street (where my parents-in-law were living when my wife was born in 1970), and Penrose Street adjacent to Tommy White’s.

Carmel Street (Nos 3-23 on 12.1.68) - with housing typical of many streets surrounding "Tommy Whites". All would be cleared by the early 1970s.

A new housing estate now occupies the triangular site of "Tommy White's". Comparing today's map with the one at the start of this blog, the clearance of the surrounding "slum housing" in the late 1960s and subsequent redevelopment is all too evident. Beacon Lane for example, is a fraction of its former length.

Another aerial view with the triangular site of Tommy White's left of centre. The two football stadia of Goodison Park (Everton) and Anfield (Liverpool) can been seen towards the right of the photo, separated by the green-space of Stanley Park.

It was not only the Victorian terraced streets that were cleared. In many cases whole areas of Everton were demolished, good housing with the dire, often with little thought as to what should replace them. In doing so, the heart was ripped out of the community who found themselves receiving compulsory purchase orders before being dispersed to new estates in Kirkby, Speke and Cantril Farm. It is often said that the slum clearances by Liverpool Council caused a destruction greater than anything inflicted by the Blitz.

Some of the cleared areas have only been built on in the last decade or two. Part of the problem was that with support from government grants, purchase and demolition was relatively cheap. However, during the 1970s and 1980s there were insufficient funds for rebuilding. Whilst Everton remains one of the most deprived parts of Liverpool it has been redeveloped with masses of green space, and still enjoys the best view over the city centre to this day.




Freddy O’Connor: Liverpool It All Came Tumbling Down (revised edition 2013)

Share your memories of "Tommy Whites" here!