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

    Monday, April 30, 2007
    The steps, the stones and the stories they hold
    The Shorefields are amongst the most filmed streets in Liverpool. People familiar with Carla Lane's stereotypical-but-amusing Boswell family sometimes call these 'The Bread Streets'. Steeply hanging a hundred feet above the old south docks, they offer a breathtaking view across the wide Mersey. They're part of the iconography of the city. I lived in the area a decade ago and it remains one of my most treasured places.

    In the sheer cliff face below the Shorefields, commuter trains disappear into the deep, dark Dingle Tunnel. Beneath this, on land reclaimed from the old Herculaneum Dock, where tiny archway workshops used to host many small businesses, a leisure club / executive housing complex has recently risen. And at the far end, connecting the high redbrick terraced streets to the riverside apartments, are The Steps. A long, long flight at the far end of Grafton Street, built with the dock, to give the workers access. When you walk them breathlessly today you may be aware of the age of the stones and the countless stories they hold.

    People have never stopped using the steps. Today, children, as ever, play on them. Workers walk them en-route to the bus stop or Brunswick station. Joggers intent on punishing themselves slog up them on routes which carry them from this wondrous waterside through some of the greatest parks in Britain. According to their taste in public houses, friends either walk down them to the riverside food-and-couples pub The Britannia, or ascend for the more folksy delights of The Beresford. I would sometimes take them as a route down to the river's edge, to the place which used to be called The Cassie, The Cast Iron Shore.

    Just a flight of steps. Just a pile of stones. But the stories they hold ... which is why it's been good today to read a booklet called Stories of Steps [download pdf], an outcome of a community arts project which got local people out on the steps to tell, share and celebrate their stories . Artist Janette Porter of Late Exchange, described the process as 'an attempt to research the way in which people and places have been linked via their steps ... to understand how, over time, those lives have been affected by the city’s developmental process.' The result is very impressive, a real rich mix of life past, present - and future - in the words of the people who use the steps. True stories, not a Boswell cliche in sight.