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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, October 26, 2006
    It's a vast book, Liverpool 800: Culture, Character and History. Advertising itself as 'the definitive biography of this magnificent world city' and published to mark the 800th anniversary in 2007 of the founding of modern Liverpool by King John, it claims to offer 'a warts and all portrait of a city which has inspired contempt (‘a black spot on the Mersey’) and adulation (‘the centre of consciousness of the human universe’) but rarely indifference.'

    I haven't got into reading it just yet - still getting used to balancing it on my knees - but the pictures are fascinating, not least the set of posters / cards from The Liverpool Exhibition of 1913. I never knew there'd been a Liverpool Exhibition in 1913 till I saw this. In the early 1900s Tory politicians and business people were concerned that the city was suffering from image problems due to its unsightly poverty, and the Exhibition was an attempt at 'civic boosterism' to keep ahead of its commercial competitors. The Edge Lane Hall Estate thus became the site of the Palace of Industries, a 400-feet long industrial exhibition and pleasure fair, an 'excellent balance of educational interest and rollicking amusement.'

    The amusements included astonishing sideshows, a massive collection of wild animals and the largest and longest scenic railway in the world, constructed at a cost of £10,000. But Liverpool Exhibition Limited went into receivership within a few months of opening in 1913, and it was left to the local press to take on the task of boosterism on a far humbler basis.

    Boosterism - now where have we come across that more recently? How about on the back cover of Liverpool 800, which reminds the reader of our European Capital of Culture status and asserts Liverpool's standing as 'a true World City', presently in the act of reinventing itself. I take this as a case of historians being ironic, as this book, obviously assiduously-researched and well-written, is hardly designed to be seen by future historians in the same light as the 1913 Exhibition souvenir programme, sponsored by Blackler's now is: part of a failed exercise by the city's self-selecting elite to remould the place into a shape (ill-suited to its true culture) which it could not keep for long... is it?