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notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Tuesday, June 07, 2005Whose idea of paradise
Peace - Music - Ecology
We were having a picnic lunch together, we and twenty others, on the top of Paradise Street Car Park. Which was why she asked the question.
Jean Grant had got us together - a mixed bag of city planners, punters, regeneration people, on this soon-to-be-demolished concrete slab, to look out over the enormous tract of reclaimed land which is The Paradise Project, and contemplate its meaning.
Some people's idea of paradise involved fine wine and sunkissed islands. Mine was closer to the Woodstock ideal, not so much a physical place as a state of (well-) being. As the cranes swung overhead and down below, on the once-green Chavasse Park, men stood ankle-deep in mud surveying plans, I couldn't help thinking of Joni Mitchell's words:
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,
With a pink hotel, a boutique,
And a swinging hot spot.
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got till it's gone?
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.
Actually it's naive to assume that this area has ever been paradise to anyone except nineteenth century sailors seeking the company of women. Ron's website informs us that a guidebook of 1816 advised visitors of the "spectacle of vice and misery in their lowest forms" on view in Paradise Street. And he names Maggie May, Tich Maguire, Mary Ellen, "The Battleship", Harriet Lane, Jumping Jenny, Cast-Iron Kitty and "The Dreadnought" - all famous prostitutes who hung around Paradise Street or Lime Street in those times.
Paradise Street was one of the streets between the centre and the docks where brothels and pubs were particularly numerous, Francois Poirier writes, and "Liverpool was the seaman's heaven when New York was not, and Americans were seen by Liverpudlians as easy prey... No surprise then, that the fact of having been to Liverpool was the badge of manhood for the American sailors: if they survived it, they were truly Yanks."
Out of all that rough stuff came a massive canon of shanties celebrating the raw life of the sea, many mentioning Paradise Street by name. The inevitable casualties of such extreme living were offered refuge and respite in the celebrated Paradise Street Sailors' Home, and The Mersey Mission to Seamen just around the corner.
residential - retail - business
All this on the site of the old pool, Jean's subject of exploration, the waterway which attracted the settlement which became this city. This area has always been at the heart of the commercial life of Liverpool, and it's carrying on that way. But, has it ever, will it ever, be anywhere like paradise?