john davies
notes from a small curate

    Thursday, July 08, 2004
    Parish Walks #3 - Following mislaid tracks
    At the back of Broadway phone masts predominate. Hidden, but only metres away from the busiest shopping street in the district, mobile phone providers' transmitters protrude from the back of garages, the edge of vandalised allotments, and beside the cycle path which informs our walk today. No healthy shopping here; but the people's daily radiation fix is not advertised on the high street.

    I am with Mark - vicar of this patch, his dog, and Judi - student on her last afternoon of a placement with us. We start - in the rain - atop the metal bridge which spans the double roundabout at the seething Utting / Townshend Avenue junction. Where we stand trains once ran, on the Liverpool Loop Line which skirted the city connecting the seasiders of Edwardian Southport with the merchants of the Cheshire Plain and Manchester beyond. It was "abandoned by British Rail in 1964," the information board tells us, and is now on a Sustrans route used by the odd bold commuter cyclist, short-haul dog-walkers and, as we shall soon discover, many youths who have made this slice of the city their own.

    This is backland; close to human activity but sheltered by deep, rich, undergrowth and the sandstone cuttings of the original railway. Walking south-eastwards towards West Derby the next clearing is at the Ethel Austin end of Broadway, where the pub of the same name marks the border between rough-and-ready Norris Green and aspirant Clubmoor. Though it is hard to discern precisely what is different between each side of the line, something is, in local consciousness. Old maps show that Clubmoor was here first, years before the dual carriageways sliced through the district. Edge of town, for a while, once. Upper Anfield. In the debris which was once Broadway station (tram link) a rat scutters through the undergrowth.

    The track is wide, well-laid and surprisingly tidy. Deep below the gardens of Morningside Road where a well-trodden path suggests one person takes the back route out of their house each day, some householders delineate between their world and outside by tipping debris over their garden walls, and from the backs of other gardens fecund and dripping with plantlife, trees and bushes tumble onto the steep banks, adding colour to the rich foliage mix: "Nice litter," Mark says.

    Not many people en-route: a couple of tracksuited mountainbikers, a dripping dog-walker: It is wet and after lunch - school's not out yet. But evidence of plenty of late-night activity, underneath the arches beneath Muirhead Avenue, Three Butt Lane, Mill Lane.

    If graffiti could sing then we would have had an operatic experience. For all along the route Ryans and Darrens and Daves and Tracys and Tanias and Dobbos and Debbies have left their mark. Much of it recent. Some of it on the tarmac. A fashion for tracing the outline of a cannabis leaf and adding one's name to it, requires the subject to have five letters only. It works for RYAN D and DAVE B, and I consider adding mine to claim some territory - JOHN D fits well, or REV JD, better still. Got no paint though, so walk on.

    Under the arches, evidence of many parties - roll-ups, beer cans, fire-blackened walls. The older bridges have inner arches so near to the sides of the cutting that they form caves, warm, dry places, well away from censurious ears and eyes and perfect for nefarious nighttime activities. This would be such a different walk at 10pm on a warm August evening.

    Spending a moment pondering the quality of life of folks on a new gated estate squashed into a strip of land alongside a sheer sandstone railway cutting, we move on when the CCTV cameras swivel our way. Soon emerge from the ruins of West Derby station into the slashing Mill Lane traffic. We cross beside the Bill Shankly Playing Fields. The old mischief-maker lived round here, spending his suburban days conceiving feeble gags against his city rivals: "If Everton were playing in my back garden," he once said, "I'd shut the curtains". Astonishing to think that the city and its adopted game have altered so much that the once-immortalised Shanks now seems near-forgotten.

    Into West Derby Village, St Mary's Church tower in view. The Halton Castle, cosy Cains pub we had three pints in last night. West Derby Glass and Glazing, Mark Powell Village Barber Shop, Rubens Restaurant, Leather Furniture Mill. And along Crosby Green where we watch a taxi disappearing through the electronically-operated gates of the new estate we'd found. It is called Birchtree Court, and we see its CCTV cameras swivelling our way again. On Eaton Road North the village gives way to credit-stacked suburbia, where the UPVC and conservatory salesmen have cashed in.

    At the far end we emerge onto Muirhead Avenue and shops - China Court, Eaton Drink, Christine David hairdressers, Barbarellos (ALL DAY BREAKFAST - HEALTHY OPTIONS MENU AVAILABLE), Liverpool Classic Motorcycles, Carburetters Unlimited, Pharmacy.

    A discovery - a secluded close of beautifully-kept almshouses, Ogden Court. They are Douglas Haig Memorial Homes for ex-servicemen, their benefactor Thomas Ogden, the Liverpool tobacco baron. A place for admiring the trim lawns whilst making connections between this fresh-air haven and the choking Boundary Street dockland sheds where St Bruno and Gold Block are still made, and between young squaddies lighting up in dank trenches and the hacking, retching, war-hardened elders who ended their days in these tidy out-of-town apartments. More cameras swing. We move on into Norris Green Park.

    The ruin of Norris Green is all that is left to remind us of the area's long human history. Above the arch, a crest: ALTE VOLO - "I fly high". Few high flyers this side of West Derby today, but the dog-walkers and weed-leery who use this (lovely) park retrace the steps of Liverpool's Norris family, best known for their Speke Hall connections. Lumby records that

    Leticia d. of Thos. Norris of West Derby married Thos. Norris of Speke and brought the West Derby lands with her ... The Speke family held West Derby lands until the end of XVIIc when they were forfeited for recusancy ... Norris Green is supposed to indicate the site of this estate, this being recorded in 1370.

    Recusancy - the refusal to attend Church of England services, the refusal to submit to authority or comply with regulations. As we slice through the undergrowth of the lost gardens of the Norris estate and we glimpse Mark's vast church St Christopher's (average Sunday attendence around twenty), it appears that the ground beneath us forever cradles rebellion.

    Graffiti on an inner wall of the Norris ruin: SAM - F - WILL ALWAYS BE WITH US.

    Tiny sign on Lorenzo Drive roundabout, designed by a schoolchild for a council campaign: SAY BYE TO LITTER TO MAKE LIVERPOOL GLITTER.

    It is still raining.

    [Norris source: Mike Royden's Local History Pages]