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notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Thursday, November 09, 2006Parish Walks #10 - Boundary slippage
A walk along the Sugar Brook boundary, in search of the point where the Alt meanders under the East Lancs Road and starts to wend its way to Aintree. This may once have been a lovely rural watercourse but in living memory it's always been industrial. Millions of good memories reside in this golden earth, for one of Liverpool's largest ever employers, English Electric, stood here. Thousands of our citizens - many of them from our neighbourhood - spent the whole of their working lives in that factory, with a company which embraced them into networks of friendships and relationships which defined their whole adulthood. These are the generation I am now commending to their graves, and though all looks desolate by Sugar Brook today, large corporations are investing vast sums of European money in a hope of resurrection they're calling Stonebridge Cross.
As I walk beside the slurry being formed into new roadways by contractors of the Liverpool Land Development company I recall that once 14,000 people were employed here by English Electric in operations including steam and water turbine, aero engine, electric power equipment and domestic appliance manufacture. The proposed business park will, we're told, 'comprise offices, light industrial, storage and distribution uses, together with a public ecology park on a redundant factory site and vacant land'. The intention is 'to transform this unattractive 'gateway' site into a high profile and prestigious business/commerce park. This will deliver massive investment, create considerable jobs opportunities for local people and enhance the ecological value of the area.'
A new Alt course?
When English Electric was here the River Alt visibly crossed the East Lancs at the junction with Stonebridge Lane, forming the triangle still visible on the aerial picture above. Today that junction is a mess of roadworks and the only visible and sizeable waterway I can see in the area where the old maps show the old watercourse - and our parish boundary - is this new trench-like creation. The old maps are becoming daily less viable as guides to this place. As are the cultural maps which guided generations. When English Electric merged with GEC in 1968 they declared that 4,800 men and women would be made redundant nationally, with over 3,000 concentrated in Merseyside. 1,500 were to go in the East Lancashire Road factory. The consequence was a series of one-day strikes and mass marches through the streets of Liverpool, 'sit-down' strikes and demands for nationalisation under workers’ control of this firm which (Militant leaders said) had clearly failed the workers.
Such activities prompted the rest of the world to begin to shape a view of Liverpool workers as troublemakers, dinosaurs unable to move with changing times. Another view is that they were acting on a strong set of communal values which, ironically, the company itself had helped form. I squint through the wire fence as isolated, massive trucks guided by lonesome men scratch at the edges of the water.
Behind the petrol station Sugar Brook still runs, though its course is being reshaped to maximise the area of exploitable land. Exploit it, I say, it's awful land. Between the Brook and the roadway all is thick undergrowth, impenetrable thistles and bushes. A stink blowing across from the water treatment plant just beyond (they don't call them sewage farms any more) is an everyday feature of Sugar Brook. Unwittingly I walk directly into a swarm of gnats, pull my baseball hat downwards, pull my collar tight, move quickly on parallel with the Brook but lose it somewhere near the massive satellite tower which marks the place where - spotting a rare break in the rabid traffic - I cross six lanes of the East Lancs and head home.