SevenStreets has been rumbled. Caught in the act, tripod fully extended, a man approaches us.
“What are you doing lad?”
“Just taking some pictures,” we explain.
A thin rain has begun to fall on the two of us, as we hover at the edge of our personal zones. He: tightly clutched Tescos bag, muddy Parka, 60ish. Us: keeping a firm grip on our Panasonic Lumix.
“There’s nothing here. What you photographing? A brick wall? ” our passing inquisitor remarks.
It’s true. We are. We’re standing on a crumbling kerb leading to twenty metre-long road so seemingly insignificant even Google Maps have got it wrong. For most of its virtual route, the Google site has it incorrectly attributed, adding a full two-thirds to its length.
Back in the real world, the road is no more than a tarmac comma, biting into a fly-tipped verge. And look at us, snapping away as if we’d cornered Amanda Harrington in a Lanvin kagool.
“There used to be something here,” we say.
“Ah well, there’s not now.” he says, unarguably and finally. Then – seemingly struck by a more pressing concern – he shuffles off in the direction of the city.
Shame. He should have stayed to hear our story. He could have learned how this neglected corner of town has a past as incident-packed and colourful as any of our more celebrated corners. And, should he have hung around, he’d could have discovered our story ends with a big song.
But he didn’t. So we’re rather hoping you do – because, by now, it’s lashing down. And we don’t get soaked for just anyone.
We’re at Bevington Bush – not, alas, a private detective under the employ of Bertie Wooster, but one of the most curious corners of our city’s map.
Before the history lesson, a little geography. Bevington Bush curls in the crook between Scotland Road and Leeds Street. Just to the north, the Kingsway approach dives under the industrial hinterlands that scour the fields urban planners call brown, to the north of the city centre.
In the middle of the 18th century, however, the fields around here were gold and green. Bevington Bush was a hamlet hunkered within a thickly wooded hill. The ‘bush’, was a patch of elevated land on which a profitable crop of corn grew. In ‘A History of Corn Milling’ (illustration right – you can borrow our copy, but we want it back), Bevington Bush is listed as having four windmills in 1768. We’re guessing it looked like Fiddler’s Ferry, but without the plumes of steam. The tower of the most northerly mill was demolished in the 1960s. Our inquisitive friend probably remembers it, surrounded by the tightly packed streets off Scotland Road.
Two centuries ago Bevington Bush was a pastoral idyll. City merchants used to enjoy nothing better, on a Sunday afternoon, than to stroll from the industry of town to the open fields of Bevington Bush – the first village on the road to Preston.
They chose their route well. For Bevington Bush was home to a popular inn, perfectly placed for that reviving Sunday afternoon session. We’re guessing they didn’t have a carvery and ball pond for the kiddies.
In his book Liverpool: Our City – Our Heritage, (pub: Bluecoat Press) historian Freddie O’Connor reveals that “…In 1760, half a mile from St Patrick’s Cross (in what’s now Great Crosshall Street) along Bevington Bush Road was an inn called simply The Bush, which became a favourite haunt for folk to travel out into the country, to the Bevy Inn, as it became fondly known.”
And before you say anything – no, that’s not why we say we’re going for a bevvy. Obviously. Although ‘The Bevvy’ does get a mention in another book: Recollections of Old Liverpool (pub: Echo Press, Middlesex), “The sailors were very fond of going to the Bevington Bush Inn, or The Bevvy, with their sweethearts, and many a boisterous scene have I witnessed there. The view was really beautiful from the gardens…. Along the Scotland Road were cornfields, meadows and gardens…”
The gardens didn’t last long. With the opening of Scotland Road the ancient hamlet of Bevington Bush soon became surrounded by our ever-growing city. But the inn remained – even adding its own brewery, Hallsal Seager and Co, in 1834.
In time, Scotland Road’s manor houses and market gardens made way for a mass of cramped houses, most of them back-to-back. Many of Liverpool’s notorious tiny courts were to be found here, with families living close to the “thick smoke and foul vapours. Houses and courts squeezed in amongst industrial premises” (www.scottiepress.org).
The answer? Liverpool Corporation built St Martin’s Cottages in 1869, the first council houses in England, at Bevington Bush. And the impressive Bevington Bush Baths were the largest municipal swimming baths in the city.
Enlightened family housing wasn’t the answer for the transient population of labourers and dockers, who also needed a safe place to lay their head. By the end of the 19th century, up to 14,000 workers needed lodgings – many of whom saw sanctuary in the Bevington Bush Hotel, opened in 1900, offering 500 rooms for a penny a night. So long as you were sober.
The hotel became Arden House, and, eventually the city’s first Salvation Army refuge. It was demolished in 1986.
Since then, Bevington Bush has been pruned, pinched and penned into its present state – a slither of a street, crowded with cars parked by owners who’d prefer to stroll the short distance into town than pay the modern day highwaymen of NCP.
And the big song?
In the 1960’s, Liverpool songwriter, Glyn Hughes, immortalised the tale of a chap called Seth Davey, who ‘sat on the corner of Bevington Bush’, at the inn, in at the fag end of the 19th century.
Asked about the story behind the song, Gerry Jones, one of many local acts who recorded it (including The Spinners) said: “Seth Davy was a real person, and he died a couple of years into the 20th century. There was a street and a pub, both called Bevington Bush just north of Liverpool City Centre, and Seth Davy did do a busking act outside.”
Need another clue? Shall we sing you the chorus?
“Come day, go day. Wishing me heart for Sunday.
Drinking buttermilk all the week; whisky on a Sunday.”
So, a corn field, a country village, an inn, a brewery, an experimental social housing scheme, rambling hotel and inspiration behind one of the city’s finest folk songs.
Now, call us sentimental, but that’s got to be worth hanging around in the drizzle to take a snap or two, hasn’t it?
All together now: “Come day, go day…”