Our team went over to OOMOO to work with a group of locally based young people as part of the Uncovering Birkenhead’s working class history project.
OOMOO is a local project run by the Open Door Charity to create a space for young looked after people on Wirral. They offer a range of weekly wellbeing activities across sports, arts, music and more.
We wanted to work with OOMOO on this project to make sure that everyone has a say in shaping the people’s history and inputting stories right up to the present day. Championing the stories and places of importance from wirral’s local young people.
For this session we went for a walk around Argyle street, Hamilton square and down to the Woodside dock as the young group had expressed that these were places of importance to them and hold memories and stories unique to them. Our team and the OOMOO team took 15 young people out across the area, cameras in hand and got them to snap pictures of any locations or places that mean something to them and their history.
We had a great and slightly chaotic time as we traveled but unfortunately didn’t get to finish the full tour, but we will be collecting all of the images and stories from this session and adding them to the Interactive Map. We will also be going back to work with OOMOO carers and young people again in the New year so look forward to seeing more.
Make sure to check out the images and stories from this session!
Birkenhead Park History Day
Saturday 26th November.
We hosted a full day launch event at the iconic and historical Birkenhead Park. There were a number of activities throughout the day for people to drop in and get involved with. We had a map and card activity looking to draw out memories related to specific locations, a world cafe/mind mapping space to dig deeper into prompts such as family life, work life, leisure, nightlife etc and a space where Andy was conducting short interviews with attendants.
We also had local writer and researcher Kevin McCusker join us for the day who was talking to people about his book: Sectarian Birkenhead: Riots and religion in a Victorian town. The book uncovers the history of the reception received by Irish catholic immigrants upon landing, living and working in Birkenhead. The Book is available to purchase at Oxton book shop in the williamson art gallery.
This was the first public event/group for the Uncovering Birkenheads Working Class History project and it was great to have a good group of local residents come down and be so open to sharing stories and talking about recent working class history. It was fascinating to hear people’s memories and also begin to see the shared memories that the community have in common.
We ended up sitting in one by group towards the end of the day and having a big group conversation all about their history, whilst we tried our best to keep up with the chat and document as many of the stories as we could. So have a read of the stories and check out the map, some of the stories are in a shorthand format as we noted to keep up with the flow of the conversation.
If any of these stories or memories bring up anything for you please be in contact and share your histories with us. We also took some video interviews, which we are processing and will present later on!
Stories from the day:
Name: Martin Pin
Location of memory: Hamilton square
Date/era of memory: 1970s- spring
Memory: We used to go shopping in both Birkenhead and Liverpool. The first time i saw hamilton square station as a 5yr old was when my mother took us from New Brighton on the number 10 bus (then destination NEW FERRY). Back then it was no hassle to get both the bus and/or ferry or even train to liverpool thus using more than one mode of transport, as back then there were so many ferry services as well as bus routes (unlike now, sadly) and of course fares were literally only pennies cheap!!
This, though, was my first experience of the Merseyrail underground railway at hamilton square. At the time i did not even reconcile that this station, that was deep underground at hamilton square, was on the same route as the train to New Brighton, so this was completely new to me. I could never forget how dark + strange the station looked back then, with cream coloured tiles + loads of old advertising signs, plus the old maroon British Railways station name plates. It also had that really unmistakable smell of either dampness or disinfectant which you can still make out to this day if you’re standing on either hamilton square or james street in liverpool. The lifts were amazing as well hydraulically operated and with those distinctive lattice doors which were manually pulled aside by attendants. Its seems almost quaint to reflect back on what the station looked like in the early 1970s before the modernisation of the merseyside underground took place a few short year later between 1974 and 1977. All the stations were rebuilt as part of the upgraded Merseyside loop+link system.
Location of memory: North end of Birkenhead
date/era of memory: late 1950s
Story or history:
Late father, in the early 1950s when there was a coal shortage, used to travel to Penny bridge to try and get coal. Because of the living conditions and the coal shortage, parents would use the “Great coat” from the war as a blanket. Great coat was the family duvet until he left school.Ray remembers that “five of us lived in the upstairs bedroom. The room was only ever headed with coal when one of the kids were ill otherwise it was never lit”.
Location of memory: Birkenhead market
Date/era of memory: 1906
Story or history:
My great grandfather , who worked on the luggage ferry, was going through Birkenhead market with his wife and came across two men having an altercation as one of the men was trying to rob the other at knife point and said he’d “do him”. My Great Grandfather tried to stop this altercation, it ended up in court as he had his hand cut trying to stop the robbery. The man who caused the altercation apologized to everyone and said it was because he was drunk.
Location of memory: Birkenhead
Date/era of memory: 1950s
Story or history:
Buses and the introduction of the heated upstairs. My dad was a bus driver, used to drive the old double decker buses which were open at the back and very cold. They then introduced the heated upstairs on some of the newer buses so everyone used to sit up there but the inspectors wouldn’t allow kids upstairs.
Location of memory: Lairds Shipyard
Date/ Era: not given
Your story or history:
Grandad Alf worked as an unskilled worker on the of the boats cleaning. Him and others would then ‘acquire’ the lead paint and paint their own houses with it. Maries mum came home to find him passed out from painting the house with the paint as its poisonous.
The pub they also used to congregate in was the County Pub!
On the 23rd November we headed; with 2 of our volunteers team over to Birkenhead Market to speak with stall holders about the projects and see what stories they had to share of the space both past and present.
The market has been a cornerstone of the community in Birkenhead for everyone. Nearly everyone we have met has a story of the Market. These people here have an important story to tell, and still today are a vital part of our community.
The Market has been situated at multiple locations in Birkenhead, now off Claughton Street. You can read more about its old sites here: http://www.wirralhistory.uk/birkenhead%20market.html
Birkenhead Market is in a period of change like much of Birkenhead. With proposed plans for a new market, much of our conversations centred around the market now, the situation faced by the stall holders and the impact of regeneration on their businesses. It has come up in every conversation when discussing with them their history of the market. This first visit and blog post is an introduction to this site within this project and hopefully the beginning of an ongoing conversation where we can best give a platform to the voices of these people who have been present in our community for such a long time and the challenges they face today.
We caught up with a few of the stall holders on the day, with some happy to be recorded and others as conversations, we heard a history of the past 50 - 60 years, the halcyon days of the market, the situation now, and the characters over the years as we begin to look at this markets role in the working class community and still within our community today.
We spoke with Eric first, who spoke candidly about the market now and issues he and others face as stall holders as well as why he set up the stall.
We then spoke to a few of the traders in the outdoor section of the market, many of which actually travel into the area. Noting that Birkenhead Market was one of the best markets regionally - so North West, England and that was why they set up here. There was often a queue in the morning for traders and for them to get a pitch with every stall throughout the market full.
Here we spoke with Monica who sells bags, and has done since her 30s. Someone who again had fantastic memories of the place and how it had played a huge role in her life.
We then met Jon in the back right corner, who sells rugs and has done for 45 years. We spoke with them also about the decline with the market, and then about some more favourable memories. They also chatted to us about catching thieves and prominent characters over the years. Along with Jon we also spoke with Kevin, who told us about the showman Eli, who used to work in the market and would juggle plates.
Within the indoor market we spent some time speaking with John, Mike, and PJ. John who works on the signs and printing stall, Mike who works at Billy Hills curtains and PJ who runs the magic shop.
With John along with speaking about the impact of the changes to the market to their business told us about favourite memories, often food related or computer shops. He said he used ‘to pester the shop owner about the latest games’, about how towards christmas there were ‘bomb scares’ from certain members off staff to get off early in the 80s. About sliding down the ramps in car parks on binbags in the 80s too during snowy winters. As well as there being a job for someone literally to butter the bread, thats how busy it was at one point.
Mike, from Billy Hills curtain a family firm running for 75 years, who have been at both markets, curtaining the Wirral and beyond for all those years. We spoke about the move from the old market to this one, and it being packed end to end. He spoke about working with his family and good times with them during the 80s in particular.
PJ spoke about the market being quiet in the mornings and his experience of the market changing over his 35 years working here. He also told us about Redrum the grand national winning horse coming to the market, famous people turning on the christmas lights and performed us a card trick.
We want to spend the time over a more prolonged period to speak with stall holders and traders to tell their story. So we have video footage we want to spend time processes to best share the voices of those who work there soon.
As a place it’s somewhere special to us, as its where Convenience Gallery began in 2019, and is now changing once more - with many traders moving on and the proposed new site and build. Its where we hosted our first exhibitions, community engagement and built Convenience into something we’re incredibly proud of. We will next be there on the 10th December to unpack more stories and history from this historically significant site and place for Birkenhead.