9HDU

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By David Cooper:

Outside, beyond the guanoed glass, was the place that I’d left two decades earlier. Each day, for three full weeks, I looked out to get a purchase on the city that, however long I’ve lived elsewhere, will always be fixed as home. Every so often, though, I adjusted my focus so that I could see the reflection of the room on the surface of the window. In the glass I was reminded that, behind me, my Dad’s failing body lay flat on a bed.

During those three weeks, I thought a lot about places. Inevitably, I thought about the places in which my Dad had spent his life. He’d always lived in cities. The first five years of his life were in Cardiff. Later on, he spent much of his twenties in pre-gentrified New Cross, just around the corner from Goldsmith’s. Nottingham, though, was my Dad’s city: the place that he spent most of his childhood and adolescence. Growing up, we listened to his stories of summer days spent fishing on the Trent and of Saturday morning meetings by the lions on Slab Square. In our house, the suburbs of Arnold and Mapperley, Carlton and Hucknall, were edenic elsewheres.

If Nottingham was a remembered place, Liverpool was an always-emerging present: the city where my Dad lived and worked for most of his adult life. Looking out of 9HDU, it was impossible not to worry about the politics of this place. Up here, from the ninth floor of the Royal, Liverpool seemed to turn its back on the rest of England. In the past, I’ve always felt a more-than-slight embarrassment with Liverpool’s narratives of exceptionalism. Yet, on 9HDU, unease was replaced by approval: I respected the city’s ambivalence towards establishment ideas of Englishness; I admired the apparent disinterest in the visions of Albion being pedalled by Rees-Mogg’s aristo-vaudeville act 200 miles to the south in the Palace of Westminster. Here, on the rim of the Irish Sea and looking towards north Wales, Etonian England seemed a long way behind us. But, of course, Liverpool is only ever semi-detached from the rest of the country and its political landscape. To the right, I could see the docklands whose transformation owed so much to European funding. Closer still was the shell of the new Royal. Originally scheduled to open in March 2017, building work on this hospital stalled early in 2018 as Carillion collapsed.

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Sitting, hour after hour in a punishing plastic chair, I also thought about the relationship between the worlds inside and out. In the day, the contrast was marked. Indoors, 9HDU was a zone of measured hyperactivity. The nurses – countries of birth: India, Italy, the Philippines, Portugal – danced between the beds with choreographed care. The doctors – countries of birth: England, Nigeria, Sri Lanka – monitored, reflected and, recorded. This sense of activity was acoustic too. Throughout the day, the keynote was the rhythmical beeps of the dialysis machines scattered across the unit. As my Mum put it on Day 12: ‘you tune into their music after a while’. In contrast, the world outside seemed serenely still. Although we looked out across the city centre, we couldn’t – through a geometric quirk - see any road traffic from our vantage point on floor nine. From here, then, the city seemed a static space. Over time, we got our eyes in and began to read the undulations on the Mersey in the middle-distance. We had to work pretty hard, though, to pick out such surface movements. For the most part, the ward window provided a frame for a motionless panorama; an updated version of Ben Johnson’s acrylic painting of the city a decade on from its year as European Capital of Culture.

The dark, however, brought a reversal. Towards the end, we spent a few long nights alongside my Dad in the hospital. During ‘the hours of hush’, the strip lights were dimmed and 9HDU morphed into a soothing space. This strange stasis was juxtaposed with the dozens of dots flitting across the autumnal darkness outside. Looking down, tiny lights progressed slowly up the Mersey and out into Liverpool Bay. Looking up, more lights flashed as planes followed the arc of the river when coming into land in Speke. At night, we were reminded that this is, and always has been, a city of comings and goings.

9HDU seemed to be hermetically sealed. If I shifted the plastic chair into a particular spot, however, I could feel cold air entering the room through a gap around a window that, absurdly, could only be opened through the nurses’ use of a stained silver tea-spoon. For the staff working on 9HDU, that gap was a practical problem as well as a constant reminder that the new hospital remained not much more than an architect’s fantasy. The only solution, to prevent the cold from getting in, was to shut out the city by pulling across the disposable curtains. I felt differently, though. I wanted those curtains to be yanked back so that my Dad, lying flat on the bed, could see the spikes and sandstone of the city’s two cathedrals. I wanted the cold air to come into the room and to flow towards him.

As I sat there, I thought about the wind moving towards us. It came over the Clywdian Hills and across the flatlands of the Wirral. It travelled over the Mersey and snaked through the city’s streets and alleys, squares and churchyards; it picked up pace as it headed past Lime Street and up London Road towards the Royal. I imagined that something of the city came with that wind as it crept through the gap and into 9HDU. The city flowed into the room, and into my Dad, as, at the last, he struggled to breathe back out.

***

Three months on, I spoke to my Mum on the phone one evening. It was getting dark outside but she told me that didn’t want to shut the curtains in the living-room at home. ‘We used to close them to tuck ourselves in’, she said, ‘but I can’t feel tucked in anymore’. Those curtains have remained open.

***

David Cooper is a Senior Lecturer in English (Place Writing) at Manchester Metropolitan University whose research concentrates on literary geographies. David on Twitter.

Cities in the rain

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By David Lewis:

Once, in Amsterdam, it rained forever.  Rain spattered the aeroplane window and the strange and beautiful journey to Centraal Station, rain shrouded the Hotel Botel’s solid presence on the swollen Ij river, rain seemed to drain the flat sky of the last of the light.  For three days we woke to the rain outside the cabin, felt a cool rain-wind in our faces on the deck, watched a coot’s nest bobbing in the wake of a passing barge. Rain on the red-brick façade of the railway station, darkening the old walls, rain on the cobbles, rain in the canals, falling softly, unceasingly.  Our days were dominated by water.

We were guided by the memories – not the ghost, for he is still mooching through the rain, still causing trouble - of writer Jeff Young, fresh with Amsterdam stories when I first met him thirty years ago.  From his Amsterdam days I inherited a brown leather jacket and a heavy Dutch butcher’s bicycle, and in my mind’s eye he limps along Herrengracht in his junk shop overcoat, turns a corner, disappears. We drank in his bars, smoked Dutch roll-ups, had coffee in the windows of his brown cafés.  I remember young leaves on the trees along the canals, the endless silver curtain of the rain, soft, gentle, almost apologetic. In the flea market on Waaterloplein I found a battered book, sepia images of the vulnerable doorways and ornate windows that we passed daily, generating a sense of déjà vu, of having known the city in the past.  It gave a watery depth to our walks: we never seemed to be dry. From the Rijksmuseum the old painters reached out to us through the rain, washing the tall counting houses along the great canals in clouds and bright skies, illuminating street conversations with a sunshine we never saw. I remember the Frans Hals canvases in Haarlem, scrubbed puritan faces in blacks and greys, explosive white lace flashes at throat or cuff: outside, the rain-crunch of gravel, the green shine of leaves in a clipped garden, the screaming of swifts falling on us like an unseen cloudburst.

Amsterdam was a sea city on the edge of Europe.  At night we walked home through Centraal station, beneath the great trains silently leaving for Antwerp, Rome, Vienna.  It was city of wet golden distances and black waters, a city of brick streets, cyclists, walkers.  On the evening of our last day we drank in the little hotel bar, a glass box on the deck, the golden lights and blue flags outside smeared by the streams of water.

If we choose, if we are fortunate, places do not leave us.  Liverpool too is a sea city on the edge of Europe and, cycling along old brick streets to city parks and smoky bohemian cafes, I allowed Amsterdam to tint the whole city.  Eventually all Jeff’s gifts continued their journeys without me – the butcher’s bicycle was given to the elderly American in the flat downstairs; beyond repair, the leather jacket was artfully displayed on a dustbin and walked off on its own.  And it was not hard to imagine the city as a water-city, as had once been dreamed; canals and huge industrial channels opening from the Mersey, seeing Liverpool’s old streets as a criss-cross of narrow waterways. Gradually this feeling slipped away, and the old streets felt less watery.  But even today, if I am lucky enough to walk the city in the rain, the belief that Liverpool is a city of ghost canals rises to the surface once again.

***

David Lewis has written five books of history/landscape/psychogeography about his native Liverpool and Merseyside.  He posts urban/rural images on Instagram - davidlewis4168 and mutters about the world on Twitter - @dlewiswriter

Catholic Ghosts on Vauxhall Road

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By David Lewis:

Note:

Liverpool has a small old Jewish community but, as Islam and Hinduism are traditionally not strong faiths in the city, even now there are few mosques or temples.   The religious landscape, fading or vigorous, is overwhelmingly Christian.  Once the division between Catholic and Protestant was deep and strong.  Protestant Orange Lodge marches and Catholic celebrations of St Patrick’s Day could lead to violence.  Schools were segregated on sectarian lines and even the football teams were divided between Catholic Everton and Protestant Liverpool.  These faultlines have largely disappeared. 

The new city can pall; too much glass, too much steel, too many towers.  I turned inland to hunt ghost pubs, the alcoholic ruins along Vauxhall Road, where derelict Victorian public houses stand like broken teeth in a new urban landscape.  The Atholl Vaults, boarded and violated, plaster crumbling; the Castle, alive but closed; the Glasshouse on the corner of Eldon St; and wildernesses of bramble and buddleia behind faded advertising hoardings, the sites of mourned pubs like the Great Mersey, their ghosts silent.

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On Eldon Street I turned to the Catholic church of Our Lady of Reconciliation.  Scaffolding and tarpaulins dripped with rain and melting frost, as if the huge church had just risen from the bottom of the sea. This was a strong Irish Catholic district, fiercely political.  The area returned a Nationalist MP to the British parliament for over forty years, and a store of pre-IRA weapons was found in the cellars of a local pub in the late 1800s.   But I found that this pub too had been demolished, leaving only a brick scar.  I thought about taking one of the old bricks, to have a small piece of Liverpool Irish Nationalist history.  But why?  Perhaps one day the sounds in inanimate objects will be heard; the anxious voices, the thuds and curses as the boxes of rifles were manhandled downstairs; but not in my lifetime. 

From lost pubs, I began to see Catholic ghosts in road names and old churches.  This was now a meander across a landscape of invisible parishes, destroyed shrines torn apart in the mechanised Reformation of the 1960s when Liverpool savagely regenerated many of the older districts.  On Titchfield Street I found cobbles beneath the tarmac, stone Victorian ghosts, which took me to Trinity Catholic Primary School.  A trinity of Anglican churches - St Martin’s in the Fields, St Alban’s and St Titus’s - were lost many years ago.  The towers and walls of the Catholic St Sylvester’s survive, but they are embattled, razor-wired against vandals and arsonists, gradually being smothered by buddleia.  St Brigid’s has suffered even more.  Demolished for the Kingsway Tunnel, a slash of Brutalist concrete, it survives only as a place name behind St Sylvester’s, a clustering of Catholic names gathered as if for safe keeping. 

There are deep echoes of the Reformation on these old streets.  St Sylvester’s stands near Latimer Street, named after the bishop who was martyred for his Protestant faith.  Catholic churches, Protestant streets.  Churches stand empty, street names have lost their meanings.  Nobody in Liverpool takes these divisions seriously any more, only rain-tramps like me, trudging these darkening streets; only gutter-historians, church-watchers, people who care for the memories of the city.  And we do not believe, we just remember. 

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The people are still here, of course.  Old terraced houses have gone and bungalows and semi-detached houses with gardens and driveways line the streets.  Pubs and churches are the last to go, closed, abandoned to the weather, and then demolished, their love and faith dispersed, forgotten.  But the people remain, living modern lives in a landscape of fading Victorian ruins, architectural, cultural, theological. 

My last ghost was a church that I had watched disappear.  St Gerard Majella’s was a strange brick and concrete church near Scotland Road, and I watched it’s demolition over a month or six weeks.  The brick tides of the city have closed over this sunken church, and the name survives only in a street and a new courtroom.  I contemplated a further walk to Cranmer Street, another martyred bishop, another faded street bookended with ghost churches; but the rain was heavier and the day was darkening.  I turned towards the river, and walked slowly down to the warm shiny truths of the new city. 

David Lewis has written five books of history/landscape/psychogeography about his native Liverpool and Merseyside.  He posts urban/rural images on Instagram - davidlewis4168 and mutters about the world on Twitter - @dlewiswriter

Am I Alone In Dreaming Of Rubble

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By David Lewis:

I am walking through a blunt triangle of empty terraced streets, dominated by a long low red brick church, closed and boarded up; a hole in the boards allows local children to once again play in the church porch.  It is starting to get dark.

Twenty years ago, in a period of deep, isolated research, I began to have dreams about Liverpool.  I was studying the city’s churches, curious about how they define the city; how their spires contribute to the roofline, how their architecture dominates a street, how the city is changed on the date of their demolition.  I worked alone, spending weeks in the city’s Records Office poring over memoirs and old street plans.   Days were spent immersed in the stark and beautiful photographs of Liverpool in its Victorian prime, and in the dark and destructive 1960s when many of the city’s older churches were demolished.  I took many long journeys to find the sooty, bruised survivors, only to discover that this destruction was ongoing.  In some cases I arrived only days after the final clearance, to a raw slash in the urban landscape, a sense of wounded stone and dust settling.  I began to see all buildings as temporary, as part of a rolling history of the fabric of the city.  Lines began to blur. 

And I started to dream.  Carl Jung famously dreamed of the city; mine were more prosaic. They have always been short and in black and white, and fall into two categories.  In the first, I can see small details of the city - street corners, ruined walls, unnamed streets reduced to fields of rubble.  Some districts appear time and again; Edge Hill, Toxteth, Netherfield Road, places that have been in a radical process of decay and regeneration since the 1960s. I started to record the dreams as accurately as I could, in a staccato, notebook style.  Sometimes they help me remember more detail; in other cases they are all that is left of the dream. 

Unknown derelict dockland streets, ironwork, weeds, tall closed warehouses.  A steep cobbled street called St George’s Place, behind a railway station. Early morning. 

The dreams were fuelled by the photographs, but I came to realise that they were also reviving memories.  The Liverpool of my childhood was a city partly in ruins, and blitz-memories were still strong.  Older people talked of evacuation to north Wales, of nights in air-raid shelters, of bombers over the city.  The destruction continued after the war, when in a spurt of self-loathing the city demolished with a frenzy, and on car journeys to visit relatives in the northern reaches of the city I saw miles of cleared terraced streets.  In those days all gaps in the landscape were known as ‘bommies’, a word which meant bomb sites but also bonfires; urban folk memory overlapped urban function.  I had a recurring dream of a large square black building in the middle of a demolished city, a composite view of the boarded-up churches and barely-open pubs I saw on the disappearing streets of north Liverpool. 

In the other dreams, I see residential areas associated with my grandfather’s family.  Vincent Lewis was born in 1904, and grew up surrounded by family in the working-class streets of Liverpool 8.   As a child I knew many of the streets with family connections, and as an adult it was these places that began to appear in different dreams; sometimes in ruins, sometimes full of people, sometimes just streets of alleyways and tall brick walls. 

Cockburn Street in the early morning.  There are no cars and the street is deserted but I can see down another cleared street to the Mersey below me, gleaming silver.  Tall walls behind me. 

I came to realise that all these dreams, these blurrings of old photograph and old memory, are a creative response to the demolition of my grandfather’s city.  The books I have written on Liverpool are an attempt to understand and articulate the Victorian city that is gradually disappearing.  Yet the pace of urban evolution is so quick that one day all our familiar places will have gone or been radically changed and everyday memories, however commonplace, will have become history.  I still walk the vulnerable city as often as I can, exploring and recording amputated streets, stretches of cobble and redundant warehouses.  Often after these long walks I dream once more of the city in ruins, feeling now that our rubble dreams tell us more than we know.      

David Lewis has written five books of history/landscape/psychogeography about his native Liverpool and Merseyside.  He posts urban/rural images on Instagram - davidlewis4168 and mutters about the world on Twitter - @dlewiswriter

The shingle beach, Crosby

All Images: Chris Hughes

All Images: Chris Hughes

About a month ago we published the essay The War Memorial in the Sea by David Lewis. As always, we love to hear what people think about the work we publish both here on the blog and in the print journal, and we are especially pleased when it inspires as moving a response as this, from a long-time friend of Elsewhere, Chris Hughes:

Following on from David Lewis’s fascinating piece about the architectural rubble spread on the beach north of Crosby promenade after the clearance of bomb damaged houses and major public buildings in Liverpool and Bootle at the end of the Second World War I send you these photographs taken a couple of years ago on the beach just south of the shingle. Like David I have tramped across the shingle to find the remnants of the large buildings of Liverpool destroyed in the bombing and once found wonder in imagining which of the buildings a remnant comes from. Looking at the photographs from the time, and to see the sheer scale of the destruction, it is doubtful that even the most brilliant architectural historian could identify the pieces; it’s enough to find them and marvel that their presence is still here.

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But what of the bricks, thousands, probably millions of bricks, half bricks and the grainy rubble that was once a brick that lie scattered along the beach, some still resembling the cuboid they once were, others pummelled by the tide over and over again to become a rounded pebble? What a range of colour and texture is here considering that all were created from the clay of the local area and the North Wales brick works.

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Following the death of a good friend who was also a lover of stones, shells and drift wood, we were asked to bring a stone to the funeral from our own area and a cairn would be built of these stones as a symbol of our love and friendship. There are no natural pebble beaches on the Sefton coast; it’s all sand, so it was here, to Crosby shingle beach I came to select two very different rounded remnants of bricks to add to the cairn. And very good they looked too, bright red and orange among the predominantly grey and white stones from other parts of the country that were piled up along with them.

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On a very windy day in February 2015 we went to walk among Anthony Gormley’s cast iron men on Crosby beach and I saw the way that the wind had carved out the patterns on the sand, blowing away the smaller grains, leaving the heavier stones and shells each with a tail of sand in the lee of the gale. The larger pieces, almost whole bricks, ended up isolated in little pools of water; a tiny moat around the brick castle. I started to look for the different colours in the bricks, the reds and browns, oranges and yellows, but also the blue and black. Was this a different band of clay? Was it crushed shale or even clinker from the iron furnaces of the day? I’ll probably never know but the colours will always remain in the bricks of the Crosby shingle beach.

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The War Memorial in the Sea

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By David Lewis:

On a grey summer’s afternoon the Crosby beach is busy with holidaymakers.  The waterfront of Liverpool follows the great curve of the Mersey as it pours into the Irish Sea, but at Crosby the urban sprawl runs out of enthusiasm and is broken with open spaces – playing fields, parks, farms.  At the end of the long promenade there is a Lifeboat station, an ice cream van, a car park.  Here the long beach starts, the hard sands that run along the coast to the Lune river estuary fifty kilometres or so north.  This is a raw coastline.  The Irish Sea is a cold expanse of water, emptier than it once was, although the slow container ships still slip quietly in and out of Liverpool.  There are cruise ships now as well, vast white hotels drawn by the renaissance of the city centre.  Haunted by the cries of gulls, the coastline sprawls beneath vast mutating cloudscapes and feels wary and unpredictable. 

Beyond the Lifeguard station a low flat field of broken stones runs for two hundred, maybe three hundred metres along the shore.  At the beach’s edge the stones are slippery with seaweed; pools form among the stones, limpets colonise the surfaces.  It looks like builders’ rubble and most visitors ignore it in favour of Antony Gormley’s famous Another Place sculptures and the great expanse of hard golden sand.  But there is deep history here, old stories in these stones, there is remembrance, and there is forgetting.

Close up, this is unusual rubble; Victorian bricks dissolved by the salt water into gritty, lumpy, mosaic sand, chunks of sea-glass worn pale-grey and smooth, ancient bleached china electrical fittings. But the clue to this landscape does not lie in the bricks.  There are larger pieces; not uncut stones, not quarry-refuse, not landfill.  They are architecture. 

Some of these pieces are small, a metre long, but others are quite large – the size of a sofa, say, or an upright piano.  Some are hand-carved sandstone, deep flowers fading into sand; others are granite, untouched by seaweeds or limpets, as sharp as the day they left the mason’s yard in the 1870s.  Some have letters carved into them, a teasing suggestion of names and landmarks.  I have often wanted to identify the buildings they came from, through old photographs and architects’ plans.  Would it be possible to separate these small piles of loss back into individual buildings and fit them together like a sea-worn jigsaw puzzle?  Ultimately they could be restored to the street; the cornices and friezes, words and titles once again seventy feet above the pavements.  But what would this achieve?  Standing on the shore, this dream no longer seems possible or even desirable. 

These ruins were taken from the cityscape of Liverpool and especially Bootle, cleared after the terrible blitzkrieg unleashed by the Germans in 1940 and 1941.  Once these fragments were parts of banks, insurance offices and hotels, buildings which added dignity and strength to the streets.  Every stone comes from a bombed building, every brick comes from a bombed house, perhaps from a house where people died.  And so this long field of stones and bricks is a war memorial.  Not a solemn classical monument at the heart of the city, but a war memorial nevertheless.  4000 people died in Liverpool in the Blitz, and Bootle alone lost over 400.  This is an informal war memorial open to the elements, a war memorial washed twice a day by the tides, a war memorial covered in seaweed. There is no forced solemnity, no guards, no flags, no eternal flame.  No Dulce, no Decorum.  Children scramble over these ruins, they hunt for shrimps in the pools among the weedy stones, sit on the warm sand with their backs to giant lumps of the city.  Adults take pieces of brick as souvenirs, perhaps to remember the dead, perhaps remembering the war itself.  Most do not know the history of these fragments, these splinters of city.  It is irrelevant.  Nothing can be done to them without heavy machinery, no amount of souvenir hunters can damage the integrity of these stones and bricks.  Three hundred metres long, but how deep?  Without massive human interference, only time will fade these ruins.

At dusk in the summer the beach is clear.  This is not the Mediterranean; the cool air from the Irish Sea means that on the warmest day the heat does not linger.  The lights come on in Wallasey three kilometres away across the Mersey, and the ruins fade into the dusk again, as they have done every night since the late 1940s.  I do not think that this memorial-landscape should be formalised, protected, solemnised; this should be a quiet place to remember our unknown dead in a very Liverpool way, informal but never unserious, to the lament of waves running across the evening sands and gulls crying in a grey sky. 

David Lewis has written five books of history/landscape/psychogeography about his native Liverpool and Merseyside.  He posts urban/rural images on Instagram - davidlewis4168 and mutters about the world on Twitter - @dlewiswriter

The Great Ruins of Love Lane

Image: David Lewis

Image: David Lewis

By David Lewis:

Cities are in a permanent process of evolution, fast or slow, and districts within a city change at different speeds, depending on investment, need, attitude.  Nowhere is this more evident than in Liverpool, which is no longer the crumbling monochrome city of the early Beatles photographs, but a modern holiday and conference destination.  Confidence roared through the city again from the late 1980s, building luxury hotels and celebrity-chef restaurants, revamping museums, opening new visitor attractions and developing the huge Liverpool One shopping development complex, a shopping mall in the heart of the city. 

A slower, more varied pace of change can be seen in the 1840s docklands north of the city centre, which have evolved since 1945 through bomb damage, obsolescence and redundancy.  This has left a bruised landscape of old warehouses and railway yards, closed pubs and overgrown vacant lots.  There is silence here, and sunlight, and huge empty skies.  The Mersey is never far away.

It is precisely this neglect that makes the docklands vulnerable to development.  Slowly, with altered attitudes, the pace of change is quickening and the confidence is spreading northwards.  New uses have been found for giant survivors; Jesse Hartley’s Stanley Dock buildings have become the Titanic Hotel, and the hulking Tobacco Warehouse next door, once the largest brick building in the world, is being converted into urban apartments.  

Image: David Lewis

Image: David Lewis

I walk these streets now with a new sense of urgency.  Blackstone Street, Cotton Street, Saltney Street, Dublin Street - I am at home here, clearing street dust to discover cobble or street railway, granite kerb, a softness of old sandstone.  These ground-level Victorian ruins add colour – rusts and steel blue-greys – to the streets.  Old Liverpool is a city of brick, and walls snake through the old districts; ubiquitous and invisible, shiny red or gleaming hard blue-grey; heavily sooted, organic, hand-made.  On the oldest warehouses the brick folds into narrow doorways and narrow barred windows capped with sandstone or rusted iron.  The bricks and mortar have flaked away after 170 years of river weather, but these structures add fluidity and definition to the city and warm colour – chalky reds, dark blues – to the streets.  Each brick was hand-laid decades ago, on bright days or damp days, sooted with river fogs and steam-smuts or laid in warm sunshine as the city roared north along the river; brick by brick, wall by wall, street by street.

This hinterland is full of oddity and unexpected glories.  Gateposts, fragments of walls, arches in stone or brick, monolithic survivors like ruined sandcastles left behind by the tide.  Some have found new uses and stand, silent and dominant, in new fences, new boundaries.  There are also ghost places, vacant lots full of buddleia and butterflies which once housed large railway yards or churches, their histories forgotten.  Nothing survives of the Martyrs’ Church, St. Augustine’s on Chadwick Street; nothing survives of the giant goods stations of Waterloo, Great Howard Street, or Canada Dock, apart from stumped walls and fragments of story. 

Ruins can be invisible here.  Love Lane lies beyond the huge railway arches carrying commuter trains up the coast, and is connected to whole streets of redundancy, truly empty places, scenes for a car chase or a clandestine meeting, film sets for unmade films.  Sprainger Street, Little Howard Street, streets of walls and graffiti, windows and doors bricked up, more buddleia and more grasses, silence, a beautiful decay.  Nobody seems to be here. The air smells of rotting rubbish, vegetation and illegally-dumped engine oil.  At night the few streetlights illuminate the darkness rather than dispel it, sending a weak light spilling across the cobbles to create great polygonal slabs of velvet darkness.  These lost streets are dominated by the amputated, hacked remains of another railway viaduct, overgrown and crumbling, a lost route to the lost station of Liverpool Exchange.  The bricklayers’ art has created great swirls of brick, smooth and close-fitting like dragon scales or armour.  These arches are muscular, seeming to crouch, tense and full of unexpressed energy.  They have the deep calm of gigantic Roman ruins, solid and seemingly permanent. 

Image: David Lewis

Image: David Lewis

And yet these old walls, these folds of brick and obsolete arches, are increasingly vulnerable.  A grandiose, long-term plan called Liverpool Waters is promising apartment blocks, and open squares of bars, restaurants and shops along the waterfront.  Everton Football Club have confirmed a £300m move from Goodison Park to the Bramley-Moore Dock.  At ground level, the Ten Streets project will deliver new work/living spaces, renovated buildings, more public space. 

I believe that cities need dark streets and grey areas, places of awkward, disjointed history and ambivalence.  Cities need to regenerate periodically, but they also need the old, the quiet, the derelict, a sense of faded history.  Is it not possible to have rough edges to our cities, dark corners, un-developments?  We should be able to discover something of our cities for ourselves; not everything should be signpostedPerhaps these old streets are where the city has most potential, perhaps these scraps of buildings and stumps of walls remind us that all things are possible within a city; perhaps without decay there can be no sense of potential, and ultimately no regeneration.  Our ruins should be left to their decay. 

David Lewis has written five books of history/landscape/psychogeography about his native Liverpool and Merseyside.  He posts urban/rural images on Instagram - davidlewis4168 and mutters about the world on Twitter - @dlewiswriter