Think we have rows today? Well, a teacher has written about the most turbulent period in Liverpool’s history. David Charters reports
AH, YES, they were thunderous days in many ways, when revolution stirred the souls of restless men and the streets of Liverpool itched and jumped with life.
Far away, chained and terrified African men, women and children were loaded into the bowels of our ships like any other “cargo”.
At home, mothers were judicially whipped for stealing household goods or money to feed their babies, while seafaring husbands had their wages slashed.
Preachers roamed the streets promising places in Paradise to those who prayed, but pout-lipped girls with the eyes of milk-maids offered Heaven on Earth to those who paid.
Spivs sold “smelling medicines”, which cured scurvy, pimples, scalds, rheumatic pains and all cutaneous eruptions.
St James’ cafe, on Castle Street, alarmed the livers of customers with wine, beer, porter, punch and spiced port wine, as well as coffee and tea for the less adventurous.
Boys with their hands bound behind their backs leapt into cockpits in a bid to win a bag of money by flopping on a bird and then seizing the hapless squawker in their teeth.
And now Frank Howley, the author of a book about Liverpool during those momentous years, is looking through office windows at today’s life passing along Old Hall Street, just above the old maritime quarter of Liverpool.
Some young men still walk with that cock-of-the-parade strut known to all Liverpudlians – born in hope and sustained by arrogance, it reminds you of a gun-slinger swinging the doors to the saloon in a frontier town.
“Of all the people on Liverpool’s streets, the seamen were the toughest,” writes Frank, a married father of two.
“The typical seaman wore baggy breeches cut a few inches above the ankle, which were made of thick flannel or linen and were brightly coloured . . . They were heavily tattooed, using a needle to prick the skin and gunpowder for pigment.
“Their gait also gave them away, as they swung their arms and took broad strides, as though they were still countering the pitch and the roll of a ship.”
Few Liverpudlians go to sea these days, but do you still see a hint of that gait in the walk of the younger ones, whose ancestors might well have been sailors?
Frank was the fifth of seven children born to Kathleen Howley and her husband, Tony, a master hairdresser, who ran Maison Howley, on Seaview Road, Wallasey, where young men with “short, back and sides”, were salted by breezes from the river.
From Wallasey Technical Grammar School, Frank studied for his Certificate of Education at St Katherine’s College (now part of Hope University), Childwall, Liverpool. He taught at Fazakerley Comprehensive School and then for 28 years at Shorefields Comprehensive School, Dingle Vale, where he was head of history and humanities.
He is now a supply teacher in Wirral.
His book starts with the Liverpool riots of 1775, which resulted from the bosses’ plan to cut seamen’s wages from 30 to 20 shillings a month.