Whether elegant and stately, or timeworn and tired, our historic corners seem to be permanent fixtures of the city. Yet we only have to look to the recent obliteration of Edge Lane’s beautiful Victorian terraces to realise that some places we take for granted may not always be around.
Thankfully, within our city boundaries, there are certain areas that are deemed to be worthy of conservation. We have 36 conservation areas in Liverpool (the full list can be found on the City Council website). Some of them are quite obvious: Castle Street, Rodney Street, Canning Street – but what of the places tucked away in parts of the city that we don’t often venture?
Whilst out recently, I took a wrong turn and stumbled upon one such area, Derwent Square. This is a real hidden gem. Just off Green Lane in Old Swan, past a few run down shop blocks and decaying pubs I came across a road full of delightful Georgian houses culminating in a large square of grand and opulent residences similar to that of Falkner Square in the Georgian Quarter. It seemed quite sad that this beautiful part of the city had not been more widely reported and written about. I decided to look into this further.
The area around Derwent Square was open farmland in 1850, nearby roads Mercers Terrace and Sandstone Road are dated 1851 and were probably the first houses to be built. Looking to street directories, it seems they were first occupied by 1855 and followed by the Square’s first residents by 1862.
One of this area’s unusual features is that the dwellings were built around a landscape of lawns and trees, even more unique than the earlier Abercromby and Falkner Squares in the city centre. The area became a Conservation area in 1981, thanks to the campaigning of its far-sighted residents.
Venturing out of the city centre heading towards Childwall, you could drive along Thingwall Road in Wavertree and never notice the hidden village that lies behind the main road. Turn left into Southway, and you’ll disappear into a quaint snapshot of the past in Wavertree Garden Suburb.
Built between 1910 and 1915 by Liverpool Garden Suburb Tenants Ltd – the hamlet was a ‘co-partnership’ housing company in which the tenants themselves were shareholders. This was a scheme which had been a success elsewhere in the country (in places such as Letchworth Garden City), and Liverpool’s ever-expanding suburbs seemed an ideal location.
The original intention was that the estate should comprise up to 1,800 houses, but only 360 had been built before the First World War brought development to a halt. The houses began to be sold off to owner occupiers in the 1930s, but the Garden Suburb Institute remains as a reminder of the community ideals of the Suburb’s founders. Most of the original houses – together with the row of shops in Wavertree Nook Road and the Victorian villas in Heywood Road – became part of the Wavertree Garden Suburb Conservation area in 1971.
Wandering a few miles up the road, near Lennon’s former stomping ground, Woolton Village is another gem. Woolton was incorporated into the City of Liverpool as late as 1913, and it still retains a lot of its Victorian character and charm, and its own art deco cinema still in operation.
At the centre of the village, there sits a fine group of Grade II listed buildings, grand Georgian terraces, impressive Victorian municipal buildings and some very fine parks and gardens. Awarded Conservation area status in 1969, the residents of the Village are determined to keep the atmosphere of the original area alive.
Staying in South Liverpool, returning towards the city centre, you pass Grassendale and Cressington Parks. Behind ornate gates and lodge houses are classic villas and Victorian grandeur laid out in the early to mid 19th century, both leading to an elegant riverside promenade. Cressington even had its own station when the Cheshire Lines opened in 1861.
Continuing towards the city, just off Aigburth Road, lays Lark Lane, situated near to Sefton Park. Not so much a hidden gem, the Lane’s bars and bistros occupy a pleasing hotch-potch of houses and villas dating from the early 19th century to the present day. It also has a former police bridewell, made infamous for housing Florence Maybrick after her arrest in 1889 for the poisoning of her husband, Ripper suspect, James Maybrick.
In all, about nine per cent of the city is covered by Conservation areas, protecting some 19,000 properties. To be granted official conservation status, you’ll need consent from the Council and official bodies, but after that, it’s up to you to do the conserving. The people that keep these areas alive are a smattering of dedicated groups and societies that meet as often as they can in their spare time.
It seems an outdated notion that people would give up their free time for the benefit of others; yet in a time when we’re force fed the political spin of the ‘Big Society’, we often take for granted the people that have been keeping our history alive, in our own city, for generations.
Buildings, parks and village squares are something to be treasured and admired, but the communities and people they are built for, and who care for them, are the real heroes.
Cressington pic: Irate