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800 Years of Haunted Liverpool
By John Reppion
The History PressCopyright © 2014 John Reppion
All rights reserved.
LIVERPOOL – CITY OF GHOSTS
Liverpool's name is thought by some historians to derive from Liuerpul (meaning 'muddy pool') in reference to the Mersey inlet, upon which the settlement was originally built. Others claim that the community was originally called Eelverpool in honour of the abundance of large eels which could be caught in the local waterway. Slightly more convincing to my mind is the idea that 'liver' comes from the word lither meaning 'lower', which would have distinguished the place from the nearby Hitune or 'High Town', known today as Huyton.
The story of Liverpool began in earnest when King John, arch enemy of the fabled Robin Hood, took control of the area in 1207. Though it would be some 400 or so years before Witch-finder Gen. Matthew Hopkins, plied his trade across the country, it is perhaps worth noting that John's short reign did see some of the first officially sanctioned executions of accused witches on English soil. The King, who was also Lord of Ireland, needed access to a port from which he could easily send men and equipment to Eire. John procured the area from local landowner Henry Fitzwarin and on the 28 of August 1207 presented his letters patent (a type of legal document in the form of an open letter) at Winchester. The manuscript invited people to come and settle in the hamlet of Liverpool where, for a rent of one shilling a year, they could enjoy a new life by the River Mersey. John's reign lasted for nine more years but, despite all the effort he had exerted in founding Liverpool, he seldom visited the region. The King died in October 1216 at Newark Castle in Nottinghamshire; his restless spirit is said to haunt one of its crumbling towers to this very day.
Liverpool's own castle was built under the orders of the Earl of Derby, William de Ferrer, during the reign of King John's successor Henry III. The castle stood until 1725 at the junction of today's Castle Street (which follows the line of the long vanished channel or 'pool' after which the city is named) and Lord Street in the city centre. The site is now known as Derby Square and is occupied by the Queen Victoria Monument, erected in 1906. The castle fell under the control of Royalist Cavaliers during the English Civil War, following an eighteen-day siege by Prince Rupert – the Mad Cavalier. Rupert's raid left a lasting impression on the city and the spectres of fallen Royalists have been reported as far afield as the southern village of Woolton (see 'Ghosts of Woolton Village', page 38). Surprisingly, a modern-day visit to the castle is not entirely out of the question as a full-sized replica of its ruins exists some 30 miles (48km) north-east of the original site in the village of Rivington, Chorley.
The port of Liverpool benefited from improved trade with America and the West Indies during the latter part of the 1600s and the city's economy steadily improved. It was October 1699 when the first recorded slave ship, Liverpool Merchant, left the port bound for Africa. The ship arrived in Barbados with more than 200 chained and starving Africans in her hold, who were treated as cargo rather than human beings. Soon Liverpool was second only to London in terms of its wealth and, though much is made today of the claim that no slave was ever bought or sold within its boundaries, it is undeniable that the city profited hugely from the barbaric trade. There are those who tell stories of tunnels leading from the docklands into holding cells secreted in the vaults beneath certain buildings, tales of long-forgotten flooded cellars found with the remains of rusted chains hanging upon their slime-covered walls (see 'Terror in Toxteth', page 44). Whoever you believe, there is little denying that the spectre of slavery still haunts this city, one way or another. The Albert Dock is now home to the International Slavery Museum (www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism), which opened its doors to the public in August 2007, some 200 years after the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was originally passed by the House of Lords.
Liverpool's success as a port continued through the 1800s and on the 15 September 1830 the world's first intercity passenger railway was officially opened between Liverpool and Manchester. A train can still be caught on the original line which runs from today's Liverpool Lime Street Station to Manchester Piccadilly. Back in 1830, the launch was a star-studded affair, with many of the era's personalities embarking on the inaugural journey. Taking advantage of one of the locomotive's temporary stops, noted member of parliament and statesman William Huskisson alighted from his carriage and wandered down the tracks. He was engaged in conversation with Prime Minister Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, conducted via the duke's carriage window, when he was struck by an oncoming steam engine. Huskisson's place in the history books was assured by the fact that he was not only the world's first passenger railway fatality, but was lethally wounded by none other than George Stevenson's famous Rocket locomotive. An elaborate memorial to William Huskisson stands in the sunken St James' cemetery, which served as a sandstone quarry up until 1829. The sound of heavy footsteps has reportedly been heard echoing inside the hollow monument as if someone were pacing impatiently within.
Between 1845 and 1852 the Great Irish Famine (also known as An Gorta Mór – 'the Great Hunger') led to the death of over one million Irish citizens. Many of those who fled the country found themselves in the overcrowded port of Liverpool where living conditions amongst the poor were, sadly, not much better. Typhus took the lives of many immigrants living in truly dreadful circumstances and the bodies of thousands were buried hastily in unmarked graves. Even so, for many Liverpool held a brighter future than Eire and some estimate that as much as 25 per cent of the city's total population were Irish by 1851.
A memorial to those who died as a result of the famine has recently been erected in the grounds of St Luke's church, which stands on the corner of Berry Street and Leece Street in the city centre. St Luke's is known locally as 'the bombed out church', having been hollowed out by an incendiary bomb on Monday 5 May 1941. The skeletal building was reputedly the site of the ghostly encounter involving a six-year-old child named Abbey in 1991. Escorted into the building by an unknown old woman, the child later described seeing an intact church interior and roof rather than an open-topped, turf-floored ruin. The girl parted company with the old woman when a tall, top-hatted gentleman took her hand and guided her away from the building. The man in question was apparently witnessed escorting Abbey out of the church then turning and disappearing into thin air. Similar odd episodes involving so-called time slips have been reported in adjacent Bold Street (see 'Bold Street – Out of Time', page 70).
During the Second World War the busy docklands made Liverpool a prime target for aerial bombings, with almost half of the city's residential properties being either destroyed or damaged in the Blitz. One such residence was No. 102 Upper Stanhope Street, birthplace of Adolf Hitler's nephew, William Patrick Hitler. 'Paddy' Hitler was the child of Adolf's half-brother Alois Hitler Junior and his first wife, Irish-born Bridgette Dowling. By the time the house was destroyed, however, William was already an American citizen doing his bit in the war against the Nazis.
One particularly dreadful air raid in 1941 claimed the lives of more than 200 residents of the Lawrence Gardens area, off Scotland Road. Amongst the casualties was a local police officer, known for his trick of tapping his truncheon on railings as a means of navigation as he patrolled the blacked-out streets. During the 1970s there were reports of a figure dressed in an old-fashioned police uniform being sighted in the area at night. The officer is said to have been wearing a tin hat, carrying what looked like an old gas mask case and tapping a truncheon upon the walls and railings as he strolled along. When approached the figure is said to have simply disappeared. All in all, more than 2,000 Liverpudlians were killed during the bombings with many thousands more left injured and homeless. Even the inmates at the city prison up in Walton lost accommodation and in some cases, their lives (see 'Walton-on-the Hill's Haunted Prison', page 27). Liverpool still bears the scars of the Blitz: many of the ruined buildings have never been reconstructed. The Hitlers' home is one such remaining bombsite, as is the aforementioned St Luke's church.
After the war, Liverpool entered a period of economic decline which saw many people leaving the city in search of new jobs and opportunities. Even the worldwide interest generated during the mid-1960s by the Beatles, the Cavern Club (see 'A Hoax at the Cavern?', page 75) and Merseybeat wasn't enough to pull Liverpool out of its slump. By the 1970s the importance of the city's docks had greatly diminished. The 1980s saw unemployment worsen in England with Liverpool being one of the hardest hit areas in the country. In July 1981 riots broke out in the historic neighbourhoods of Canning and Toxteth, triggered when the police force were accused of unjustly harassing members of the local community. The rioting lasted nine days and saw the first use of CS gas by British police outside of Northern Ireland. One person was killed and more than 500 were arrested with at least seventy buildings totally destroyed during the disturbances. Though the incidents were originally portrayed as 'race riots', it later became clear that the events had just as much to do with social deprivation and the immense frustration that much of city's populace felt at the time.
Liverpool has been undergoing 'regeneration' of one sort or another since the 1980s and for many that process has culminated this very year, in 2008, with the city named joint European Capital of Culture (shared with the city of Stavanger in Norway). Since winning the Capital of Culture bid in 2004, interest in Liverpool has been significantly renewed; a great deal of new industry has been attracted to the city and a vast number of homes and businesses have been, or are currently being, constructed. However, it is worth noting that conservation of Liverpool's historic architecture to date has for the most part been incidental; the majority of Victorian and Georgian terraces which still stand throughout the city only do so for lack of funds to 'move forward'. Liverpool's new economic status will change this, but whether such preservation will play a part in the city's future remains to be seen. Certainly, it has not been a priority in the past and many remarkable sites have already been lost to the demon of 'progress'.
During the 1800s there was a city-centre church called St Thomas' whose grounds were filled with graves and vaults. The noted Liverpool philanthropist and eccentric, Joseph Williamson – who built a vast and uncharted network of tunnels beneath the city – was laid to rest there in his family vault in 1840. St Thomas' fell into disuse and in 1911 the church itself was demolished leaving the graveyard to become wild and overgrown. The site (opposite today's Canning Place) remained neglected or more than half a century until some less-than-visionary developer decided that it would be a good spot for a car park. Headstones were relocated to St James' cemetery, but the bodies were left wholly undisturbed. The car park itself has been bulldozed to make way for the Liverpool's new Paradise Street Development; the city's bright new future built upon the corpses of once respected God-fearing Liverpudlians.
To me, the story of St Thomas' is a metaphor for Liverpool's own progress. The city is represented by the graveyard; neglected and overgrown perhaps, but still full of memories, history and memorials to all that has gone before. In a sense this book is my own small attempt to metaphorically right the broken tombstones, cut back the ivy, clean off the lichen, and pay my respects accordingly. It seems infinitely preferable to concreting over everything and starting again. For, if we were to choose the latter option, would the spirits of those thus dishonoured – the ghosts of our ancestors – ever truly be able to rest in peace? As Spanish/American philosopher George Santayana famously wrote, 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.' As for those who actively seek to erase history, we can only guess at their fate.CHAPTER 2
Northern Liverpool was, for a short time, home to Thomas de Quincey, Manchester-born author of controversial works Confessions of an English Opium Eater and On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts, amongst others. De Quincey was a mere teenager at the time, living in Everton first with his family and then on his own. Leaving the city for London in 1802, Thomas could scarcely have imagined that within two years he would become an opium addict and meet with kind-hearted harlot, Anne of Oxford Street, whose sudden disappearance was to haunt his dreams until death. De Quincey's work influenced many authors and amongst his devotees was the illustrious American Romantic, Edgar Allan Poe. Exhibited in the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, USA (www.poemuseum.org), in a space known as the Raven Room, are forty-three paintings by Liverpool artist James William Carling. Carling was born in Addison Street off Scotland Road in 1857, eight years after Poe's death. A talented pavement artist since the age of eight, James left for America with his older brother to seek their fortune in 1871. There he produced a series of exquisite illustrations to accompany Poe's gothic masterpiece The Raven, but was unable to find anyone willing to publish them. Returning to Liverpool in 1887 with the intention of enrolling at the National School of Art, Carling fell ill and soon found himself in the workhouse at Brownlow Hill. He died there at the age of twenty-nine and was given a pauper's burial at Walton Park cemetery. Today, Carling's work is becoming more recognised, and a plaque dedicated to his memory hangs within the Old Chapel, now used as a visitor centre at the cemetery.
Prince Rupert – the Mad Cavalier (see 'Ghosts of Woolton Village', page 38) – was another one-time resident of the area: his cottage, which was demolished in 1845, stood on today's Eastbourne Street in Everton. It was from this historic residence that Rupert made his famous proclamation that Liverpool was 'a mere crow's nest which a parcel of boys could take'. Skeletons believed to be those of the Mad Cavalier's fallen men were found in the early 1800s, 1½ miles (2.42km) north of their leader's former home. The ground where they lay is now the graveyard of St George's church, also known as the Iron Church, which was built in 1814.
Nearby, at an intersection once known as Four Lane Ends, roughly on the site occupied by today's Kelper Street, a very curious burial is reputed to have taken place. In 1680, almost thirty years after the English Civil War ended, a local man is said to have murdered his wife and taken his own life in a fit of remorse. The crime was treated as a double murder, for killing oneself was just as bad as taking the life of another. Until 1825 (when an Act of Parliament abolished the custom), suicides and those who had been executed were traditionally buried at crossroads. Some say that the idea was to confuse the spirit of the deceased should they return from death (as suicides were thought to be apt to do), making it impossible for them to find their way home and haunt those who knew them in life. Others say crossroad burials have their origins in the customs of our ancient Germanic ancestors who sacrificed individuals on purpose-built altars which stood at primitive intersections. The body committed to the Everton earth in 1680 was reportedly run through with a great spike which was driven into the ground beneath. Whether this was a precaution against vampirism, a means of keeping the man pinned in the grave or 'to prevent his body being carried away by the "foul fiend"', I cannot say for certain.
Everton was also home to Liverpool's very first municipal cemetery which opened on I February 1825. Christened the Necropolis ('City of the Dead') by its designer, architect John Foster Junior, the local populace knew the burial ground as Low Hill Cemetery. In its seventy-three years of use the four-acre cemetery was crammed with more than 80,000 bodies – at one stage allegations were even made that corpses had been exhumed from their designated resting places and re-interred in mass pits in order to make room for new burial plots. So many were interred at the Necropolis that the plot was declared hazardous to the health of those who lived around it and the burial ground was closed in 1898. In 1914, with the headstones cleared, the plot was opened as a public space and renamed Grant Gardens. The park can still be visited to this day, extending from the corner of West Derby Road and Everton Road up to Mill Road, occupying the exact same space as the Necropolis once did. Recently, there was some talk of Liverpool being provided with a tram system similar to that which runs in nearby Manchester. A portion of the Grant Gardens' site was excavated, having been selected as a possible branch of the anticipated route. Such plans where quickly abandoned when the council realised that 80,000 nameless corpses still lay beneath the park's earth.
So, there are many who go to their burial place all too soon and some whose eternal rest is disturbed unduly by the meddling hands of the living but, in North Liverpool at least, it seems that there are also a few reluctant to stay within the confines of their grave ...
A Family of Phantoms at Stanley Park Lodge
Excerpted from 800 Years of Haunted Liverpool by John Reppion. Copyright © 2014 John Reppion. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
1. Liverpool – City of Ghosts,
2. North Liverpool,
3. South Liverpool,
4. East Liverpool,
5. Central Liverpool,
6. Mysterious Merseyside,