Sunday, 22 August 2021

Liverpool, the Blitz and UNESCO - and if you know your heritage

Everton's planned new stadium at Bramley-Moore dock has been in the news lately. Firstly because preliminary building work has at long last started. And secondly because the project was cited as a reason for the revocation of Liverpool's World Heritage Site status as the Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City, with the UNESCO's World heritage Committee deciding that the project had resulted in a "serious deterioration" of the historic site. 

Most sources describe Bramley-Moore as "semi-derelict".  The site was inaccessible to the public behind locked gates before the preliminary work on the new stadium started.  The entrance doesn't exactly look like "heritage", though the modern building you can see in this photo is not at Bramley-Moore, which is round to the left:

A quick perusal of an aerial photo, for example on Google Maps here, will demonstrate that the area isn't exactly prime real estate. There isn't very much there other than the dock itself. (Bramley-Moore dock is immediately to the left of where someone has pinned "New Goodison Park" though the ground won't be called that). However, I'll save you the trouble with this photo from the Liverpool Echo:

A number of points are evident from the photo. Firstly the site is nearly a mile and a half away from the famous 'Three Graces' buildings at the Pier Head and further from the Albert Dock. Secondly, you can see the main use for the area seems to be parking vehicles, though until recently the dock has been in use to moor Mersey tug boats, for which there are plenty of other options. 

From very old photos of the dock it looks to me like the low building along the far, south side is original though it has obviously been re-roofed in modern materials. This is the only building adjacent to the dock apart from the hydraulic tower which stands at the north east corner (not on above photo):

The Grade II listed structure provided hydraulic power to dock gates and lifting equipment. It is in severe disrepair but Everton has committed to invest in heritage by repairing and restoring the tower for public use as a visitor centre.

Other than that the place looks like a bomb site. I believe it looks like a bomb site because that's pretty much what it is.

I remember being teased in 1970 when I went of to uni and first mentioned I was from Liverpool, which was an easier way of saying "a suburb of Liverpool that's actually in Lancashire" (it's now in Merseyside). I can vividly recall what was said: "hah, that's where they haven't rebuilt all the bomb damage yet". Many a true word is spoken in jest - they were right. Everywhere around Liverpool city centre in the 1960s you could see bomb clearance sites, together with the demolition and clearance of slum areas. Either way there were a lot of "holes" in the nominally built up areas. I also remember travelling into Liverpool on the train then and seeing all the cleared and derelict areas around the northern docks. Not only had the damage been tidied up at best by 1970, it wasn't much different by 1982. Here is the famous Albert dock, known since 2018 as the Royal Albert Dock:

Opened in 1846 it was the first structure in the UK to be made from cast iron, brick and stone with no structural wood. It was also considered to be revolutionary in its design because ships were loaded and unloaded directly from or to the warehouses. Two years after it opened it was modified to feature the world's first hydraulic cranes. Nevertheless, 37 years after World War II ended it was still derelict. It took the Toxteth riot and the creation of the Merseyside Development Corporation by the Thatcher government to pave the way for renovation, which was completed in time for the tall ships race and International Garden Festival held in Liverpool in 1984, attracting millions of visitors. Granada TV took a tenancy and millions watched ITV's new morning tv show This Morning hosted by Richard and Judy being broadcast from there, including the weather forecast on a map of the British Isles floating in the dock:

The buildings now house the marvelous Merseyside Maritime Museum,  the Tate of the North art gallery, the Beatles Story museum and a hotel.

This photo gives you an idea of how bad the damage to Liverpool was: it was taken near the city looking towards the river (you can see the Liver Buildings at the Pier Head in the distance):

But it wasn't only the area near Liverpool city centre that was damaged by wartime bombing as Liverpool's docks were essential for supplies to arrive via the Atlantic and they stretch nearly 6 miles along the Liverpool waterfront, with another couple of miles over the water* at Birkenhead. Indeed, the north docks area was probably harder hit: maybe harder than anywhere in the country with the possible exception of London. And with reason: Liverpool was the country's main port. 31% of the total trade handled by all UK ports between April 1940 and April 1941 came in via the Mersey to Liverpool and Manchester. The Mersey handled more than twice as much as the next port, Glasgow/Greenock.

The northern docks are adjacent to the residential housing areas of Kirkdale and Bootle. For four days just before Christmas in December 1940 the Liverpool docks were attacked affecting the residential areas of Bootle, but the main bombing came in May 1941 when half of the 140 docks were put out of action. In the first eight days of the May 1941 Merseyside was attacked every night, killing 1900, seriously injuring 1450 and making 70,000 people homeless. In Bootle 8,000 out of 17,000 homes were destroyed or damaged.

I find these statistics on the damage to housing particularly chilling as my wife's family lived in Bootle. Her grandfather was  a merchant navy captain, originally from Nefyn in north Wales. We await publication of the 1921 census to find out more but we know he and Carole's grandmother, born in Merthry Tydfil but brought up on Anglesey, married in Bootle in 1916. By the 1930s they had a semi-detached house on the outskirts of Bootle, in what would have been a very smart residential area then but still walkable with a kitbag from the docks. 

The government had evacuated children and other vulnerable people from Liverpool and other cities at the start of the war in September 1939 as part of what was called Operation Pied Piper. As no bombing materialised for over a year many children migrated back into the cities. Carole's grandfather was wise enough to send his wife and their daughters - Carole's mother, then aged about 10 and her aunt - to live with friends of the family on Anglesey, and there they stayed until the Battle of the Atlantic was over.

Her grandfather survived three sinkings on Atlantic convoys even though he couldn't swim. He said he never saw the point in learning, if you were out in the middle of the oggin with no-one there to save you it was better for the end to be quick! And the house was undamaged. Carole lived there for the first five years of her life: her grandparents, parents, her aunt and a small child sharing a three bedroomed house, though it did have a bathroom, still a luxury for many even by the late 1950s. 

Fortunately for Liverpudlians after the hammering in early May 1941 the Germans turned their attention to Hull. Churchill said later that, if the German attacks on Liverpool had continued, the Battle of the Atlantic would have been even more closely run than it was. Nevertheless the people of Liverpool felt ignored and unappreciated as Churchill's government decided, understandably, not to publicise the extent of the damage there in order to avoid damage to the country's morale. It wouldn't be the last time scousers felt neglected.

The damage to the area was so great that one dock (not Bramley-Moore) had to be filled in when a munitions ship exploded:

In the far background of this picture I think you can see what was known as the Liverpool Overhead Railway. This was mentioned in an impassioned letter from an 83 year old scouser, Richard Fearnett, to the Liverpool Echo, who said: 

"I have never responded to the media before today. First let me explain that I am an 83 year old born and bred in Liverpool. I am sat here with tears in my eyes thinking of my earliest memories. Being bombed out of our house in Fairfield and having to eventually be evacuated after the May Blitz. Returning to the flattened city and docks, the people of Liverpool and surrounding areas got up and resurrected what they could. Since that awful time we have been deprived of real support to enhance the overall environment. As a teenager I travelled to work on the overhead railway and because of my apprenticeship I saw and attended most docks, the north end and Bootle were particularly smashed. Now at last excellent and exciting projects are under development and planning is bringing people back to the area. The city lost the cream of its youth at that time and it wasn’t until the 60s it began to improve."

And in a direct response to UNESCO, 83-year-old Richard added: ""So now some ghostly shadows who have NO IDEA who and what we are make insults to the city. So f*** i* we are back."

If you won't believe me, take it from Richard: there wasn't much to preserve at the northern docks, apart from what Everton had already committed to restore as part of the stadium project. 

However, there is a but.... To be fair the Everton stadium isn't being built at Bramley-Moore dock but in it: the dock will be infilled once the walls have been stabilised. Historic England opposed the plan, primarily on these grounds, but has also said it understands the strength of feeling among Liverpudlians for the project, which got a 96% positive vote in a public consultation. OK that was run by Everton FC but it was open to all respondents and 80% of non-Evertonians supported the project. Indeed Historic England supported the need for "a state of the art facility that reflects the club's status and history".

The fact is there are only so many docks that can pull in tourists and there are plenty of others left in addition to the superb restoration at the Albert Dock, as you can see from the photo of Bramley-Moore above. Liverpool still has the largest single collection of Grade 1 listed buildings anywhere in UK, at the Albert Dock. This panorama shows just how close the Albert Dock is to the Three Graces (on the left, this photo is worth zooming in):

Once this superb renovation had been complete in the 1980s I started to recommend Liverpool as a city to visit to anyone who would listen. "If you went for a meeting in a British city other than London and it got put back 24 hours so you were stranded for a day, which city would you choose it to be?" I would ask my colleagues at our head office in Oxfordshire. None of them said Liverpool and they were all surprised when I did. This, after all, was the decade of the Toxteth riots and the Heysel stadium disaster. I would list the attractions: the buildings, art galleries, museums, theatres, orchestra, etc. Just two years ago an old work colleague called Keith who remembered my advice got in touch to say he and his wife had been on a three day break to Liverpool. They are serious arty, highbrow types and they loved it. It was the buildings in particular that they fell for. "There's so much we couldn't see it all and will have to go back". You can see why from this photo, which shows that the old and new do work together:

So, as Liverpool councillors have pointed out, they may not have UNESCO status but they still have  "all the assets". The heritage is all still there. The Everton stadium project will breathe new life into an area that has effectively been derelict for nearly 80 years. It will mean the area will become open to the public with some historic features restored. It will be an asset and a huge improvement to the dock area to the immediate north of the city centre that hasn't had much going on there since Hitler bombed it. Some of it will be more available to the public than for decades. Actually the docks weren't open to the public, so for ever in practice.

The problem for Liverpool with the UNESCO World Heritage Status was that UNESCO wanted to tie their hands on development. In 2016 they called for a two-year ban on new schemes anywhere near the waterfront (which I've already noted is extensive). The Liverpool mayor at the time, Joe Anderson (yes, the one who "temporarily" stood down in December 2020 after being arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation) pointed out that 

"Part of the problem that we face is if we go out and say to people: “Please come and invest in our city,” but then say: “You can’t put in a planning application for two years” – then our growth is going to suffer.’ This would  send out the message that the city had ’shut up shop and was closed for business’. Investment and jobs would suffer. 

A friend (who will read this blog and probably comment) challenged me at the time of the UNESCO decision: "Phil, are you saying that UNESCO are wrong?" I said I didn't know, but Liverpool needed to move forward. Having thought about it I'm with my old friend Keith, who didn't think Liverpool was being spoiled, far from it. And I'm with Richard Fearnett: f*** it UNESCO, Liverpool is right. 

UNESCO wanted development to be 'heritage led'. That would be entirely wrong for Liverpool. The city needs development that is sensitive to heritage, preservation and restoration but is primarily aimed at building a better, modern city of the future that meets the needs of its population. I can't help thinking that many on the UNESCO committee would be only too pleased to see the UK, with all its history, be shackled by having to preserve everything of historic interest at the expense of being able to compete internationally. That won't feed, clothe, protect and educate our grandchildren. It won't give us the wherewithal to protect our heritage; it would be left to rot as the Albert Dock was for nearly 40 years.

Liverpool only got the UNESCO status in 2004, by which time tourists had been flocking to the Albert Dock for two decades.  Everton's stadium will bring in more visitors than Bramley-Moore dock would have, had it been made safe for visitors and preserved in aspic.

Two other sites have lost world heritage status: the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman and the Dresden Elbe Valley in Germany, the latter in 2009 when the Germans proceeded to build a huge bridge across the valley. It had only gained world heritage status in 2004. Presumably this didn't cause the Germans a minute's loss of sleep. Liverpool's loss of UNESCO heritage status is equally not much to be concerned about. There is a proviso: Liverpool and the national planners need to continue protecting and enhancing the setting of those heritage assets. I think they will as you can see from the plans for Everton's new stadium, which look awesome:

Nil Satis, Nisi Optimum (a reference Everton fans at least will appreciate).

UNESCO can do one. Liverpool should have no regrets about moving forward.


Of course the title of this post is a reference to the song the Everton fans sing, which goes

"It's a grand old team to play for

It's a grand old team to support

And if you know your history

It's enough to make your heart go wo-wo-wo-woaaaah"(or something like that)

There's more, but it descends into the vernacular at that point.....


*"The water" is what scousers call the river Mersey, as in the lyric of the Zuton's hit song Valerie, also covered by Amy Winehouse

Forget Venice, here's Llanberis: How Wales slate region defied doubters to win World Heritage status. The Independent, 1 August 2021, - oops that's a trailer for a future blog...

Another aerial view of Bramley-Moore dock before construction started can be seen at,-3.0069607,806m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

Historic England's statement on the approval of Everton's stadium, along with a 1927 aerial photo of Bramley-Moore dock can be found at  has the data on casualties and damage to residential areas. has the data on imports in 1940-41 Photos of damage

The 83 year old's letter and the Liverpool Echo's aerial picture of Bramley Moore is at

Everton FC's public consultation is at It was presumably done this way because the planners wanted Everton to bear the cost of the consultation. Over 40,000 people responded


  1. I pointed our professional historian daughter at this blog posting and in turn she pointed me and indeed you at this rather different interpretation of the matter - - From what I have noted your position put simply seems to be 'we did not want UNESCO WHS, we did need UNESCO WHS, we're glad it has gone'. Am I being unkind to you?

    1. If it comes across that I didn't want Liverpool to retain UNESCO World Heritage status, that isn't what I intended. I would much rather Liverpool had retained it and I'm somewhat saddened that it's been lost. The reference is interesting: please thank your daughter for pointing me to it, I learned a lot. If all Liverpool needed to do produce were some strategy documents about how it was going to protect its heritage then it was remiss in not doing so, given several opportunities. As you have noted separately the Caller report is very critical of other aspects of Liverpool's administration (or lack of it) and it seems there are systemic failures. However, I still hold that UNESCO's aim for LIverpool of "heritage led development" - rather than heritage protecting and enhancing development - is wrong for a city like Liverpool. And, while I am not familiar with the Ten Streets area as it is now (though I look forward to walking through it on the way to the new stadium in a few years' time) I still hold that the Bramley-Moore stadium is the first significant redevelopment scheme to be launched in the northern docks area since Hitler flattened it. So you are being unkind in suggesting I am glad UNESCO status has gone as that's a bit of a parody of what I've said, which I would summarise as being that moving forward is more important. The city has needs beyond heritage but it needs also to protect its heritage assets which are much valued whatever UNESCO thinks, says or does.