Gerard Gardens was demolished 20 yrs ago
Memories of Gerard Gardens
By Jennifer Hawley
Ged Fagan and Paul Sudbury mark 20 years since the demolition of Gerard Gardens with the release of a new book and film. They share their memories of growing up in tenement housing.
Footage from 'Homes for Workers' can be seen in the film 'Gardens of Stone'.
Gerard Gardens played as a backdrop to the 1958 Rank film ‘Violent Playground’ which starred Stanley Baker and David McCallum.
In the 1986 Gerard Gardens was used in the film ‘Coast to Coast’ staring Lenny Henry and Pete Postlewaite.
Gerard Gardens was built to replace the unsanitary, overcrowded, slum and court property. Within a few years of the early 1930's, old property on Hunter, Christian, Gerard and Circus Street were demolished to make way for what would become Art Deco monuments.
Demolition was completed in 1987
By the mid 1980's however, the flats become run down, which along with plans to improve access to Kingsway Mersey Tunnel, marked the end for housing and demolition was completed in 1987.
What was life like living in a tenement in Gerard Gardens?
"Growing up in Gerard Gardens and Gerard Crescent was something I wouldn't swap even now. With 400 families, including relatives, close friends, school mates and a whole array of other kids your own age, making friends and finding things to do was easy. Made all the more easy in fact because just a stones throw away through the nearby subway was William Brown Street with its fabulous Museum, Walker Art Gallery, the Steble fountain, Wellington’s column and St. John’s Gardens where hide n’ seek, football, British Bulldogs, tick and the like would be played from dawn until dusk at the weekends as well as looking around the aforementioned buildings and getting to know every painting and exhibit in the process.
"There were many special memories, not least the football matches that went on between the different ‘squares’ that lasted until bad light stopped play, usually consisting of about 15 a side. Liverpool Football teams coming down Scotland Road to their civic receptions in William Brown Street as we gained great vantage points on the walk-overs across Byrom Street (which are still there) and of course Bonfire night, the build up of which would start weeks before as we raided bombdies (derelict buildings) to provide wooden doors and cupboards so that we could have the biggest and best bonfire in the area, provided that our ‘enemies’ lurking nearby didn't plunder our loot beforehand".
"In the mid 1970's I saved my pocket money up to buy a second hand Super 8 cine camera which cost £7.50. I used this to produce my own 'blockbusters' on a shoestring (£3.50 for a reel of film). Films of the day were emulated, including my own remakes of Rocky, Bruce Lee and James Bond films. All my friends from the area would co-star in the films, and our house would become 'The Odeon' on a Saturday night. Whilst my parents were on their weekend night out to a local pub, a gang of kids from the area would pay 10p to watch the (silent) films. All money collected on the night would be ploughed into the next big production".
Scale model by Ged Fagan
How did you feel when you moved out?
"Having moved from one of the Gerard Crescent blocks (Thurlow House) to Gerard Gardens itself in the mid 1970s (because it had an extra bedroom), my dad eventually got promotion within the Liverpool Corporation, or the Corpy as it was known back then, which meant we had to move half a mile down the road to what used to be Blackburn Chambers Assurance building on Fontennoy Street which had become the councils architects division. It was an exciting time actually because there was ‘bags of space’ in our new flat, an upstairs, a roof terrace, a basement, car park and being down the road meant I could just jog the 5 minutes up Hunter Street to Gerard Gardens so it was just like I’d never been away".
"My parents moved into Gerard Crescent in 1960 where I was born, with six of us living in the two bedroomed flat. My dad died in 1978, and I got married in 1985 and moved to Kirkdale with my wife Liz. My mam was one of the first to be moved from the flats in 1987, when the Hunter Street end of Gerard Crescent was demolished to make way for the road widening scheme. She was moved a further time into another vacated flat in a block at the Christian Street end of Gerard Crescent, before ending up in a new house in St Joseph's Cresent. This was located on the other side of Christian Street, and was a semi detached property with a front and back garden. However, she never really settled in the new house, and harked back to the days when she could stand on the landing talking to her neighbours. She died in 1995".
Ged, why did you decide to write the book?
"In 2004 I was looking for photographs of where my family was living when I was born, namely Holly Street which was over the road from Gerard Gardens and where I lived until I was 6 in 1968. We had to move out as our flats were coming down to make way for St. Anne street police station. I was also looking for photographs of Gerard Gardens and Gerard Crescent so I went onto the Scottie Press website to make a request.
Talking about life in tenements
"It was here that Paul Sudbury, himself ex Gerard Crescent and in fact was in the same secondary school as me, just a year below, was mentioning that he was putting together a little film documentary for his immediate family. By now I had accumulated a fair number of photographs from the Liverpool records office and together with those of my own that I took in the 1980s, old family snaps from the 60s and 70s and others from other sources, Paul and I decided to collaborate on a venture that would culminate in his creation of the brilliant social history film documentary entitled ‘Gardens of Stone’.
"I had such great success with my first book that the natural progression was for a follow up and the third book was the result of people from other areas of the city requesting that their tenements had yet to be published anywhere. I decided to create the model on a whim to coincide with the Premier screening of Paul’s film and my book launch at FACT on Friday 7th October 2005 as an added attraction".
Paul, what inspired you to make the film?
"It was whilst transferring my old cine film to DVD that I realised the footage was more than just a record of a miss-spent youth, but also a time capsule of a community which no longer existed. I decided to make a documentary of the area, and discovered Ged was working on a book covering similar material. There were two main reasons why I decided to produce the film; one was to chronicle the history of the area for the many people (like me) who were unaware of how the communities developed, the other reason was to provide some balance to the 'bad press' the area had been given over the years.
"The area may have become run down by the 1980's, but this didn't stop the residents being proud of their heritage and communities. Some people had looked at the residents of such tenements as second class citizens, and I wanted to prove that these were not necessarily bad places to live. The communities may have been poor in wallet, but were rich in spirit. The film was was made in my spare time on a home PC over a period of 2 years.
"The greatest pleasure I have got from the several screenings of the film, is the bringing back together of the original communities, 20 years after the flats were demolished. Many of the older residents had not seen their Gerard Gardens neighbours since the demolition ball rolled in 1987, and old friendships were rekindled. This included a recent 'Scouse-Italian' reunion night organised by Ron Formby from the Scottie Press. Ged and I now offer the film and model for free exhibitions, so that others can witness a piece of social history, and Ron has been very supportive in the promotion of such events".
How did you feel when Gerard Gardens was demolished?
"By 1986 as the first signs of demolition were taking place, I was aged 24 and having lived away from Gerard Gardens for almost a decade, I had by now stopped going up there as frequently as before except to visit relatives. It was a time for reflection, for remembering the great times and to wonder why they had to come down at all. When you consider that over half of the community was moved to outlying districts and the only possible reason seems to be to widen a road and kill off another (Christian Street), it seems to be badly conceived when you further consider that city centre high-rise living in mass populated blocks seems to be back in vogue as can be seen in Hatton Garden, Marybone and Tithebarn Street, not forgetting that a similar tenement block, the Bullring (St Andrews Gardens), has been listed and saved".
"I feel particularly upset by the way my mam was treated during the demolition. She was a widow living on her own who was treated like a pawn by the local council, being moved twice into vacated run down flats before eventually ending up in a new house. She, like many of the older generation would have preferred to stay in the flats. I feel that lack of vision and investment by subsequent councils led to the premature demolition of the flats. In just 50 short years Gerard Gardens had gone from one man's vision of Utopia for the masses, to a dilapidated demolition site".
What are your memories of Gerard Gardens and tenement housing in Liverpool? Share your stories below.
last updated: 10/01/2008 at 17:06