History is a personal thing. To really understand the history of a place, you can’t just read about it, you have to be part of it.
Let me explain what I mean. I like the countryside, go for days out in the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District whenever I can. But it’s an alien place. I appreciate the wide open spaces, but I don’t really get them. I don’t know why fields and dry stone walls and stiles have come to be the way that they are, I don’t understand the lives of the people who live there. So, nice as all the green stuff is, I know I don’t really belong there.
Where I belong, if anywhere, is Liverpool. My scouse accent may be long gone, 24 years after I moved to Yorkshire and hooked up with a southerner, but Liverpool is still the only place that makes sense to me. I go back there a couple of times a year, and it just falls into place. The dull sheen of wetness on St George’s Hall as you walk out of Lime Street Station in the rain is a homecoming as much as the feeling of a house-key turning in a familiar lock. These days, my base in the northwest is Southport, which means I spend a lot of time travelling to and fro along the coastal road and train line, from Southport’s sea-less sands, past dunes and marram grass, pinewoods, golf courses, south to the container docks at Seaforth where some sickly sweet industrial smell always lingers. If I’m driving into Liverpool I love to take the dock road, glimpsing the occasional ship behind the grey stone walls, and imagining the world of my grandfather and great grandfathers, the world of the dockers’ umbrella, Harland and Wolff, and the White Star Line.
I remember the Liverpool waterfront in the late seventies and early eighties, as a place you went to very occasionally, to greet relatives coming in on the B&I overnight ferry from Dublin, or to look around the occasional ship that was open to visitors. Recently, going through some old family photos, I came across some photos of the Albert Dock which my grandfather must have taken when what looks like a Russian sailing ship was moored there. In the background, a billboard poster on the derelict redbrick warehouses proclaimed that Granada TV were proud to be part of the redevelopment scheduled to complete in 1985. Fast forward thirty years, and the Liverpool waterfront is a fantastic asset to the city, teeming with tourists from every part of the world.
A huge part of the attraction is, in my opinion, the Liverpool museums. The Maritime Museum is part of the Albert Dock, and the purpose built Museum of Liverpool is a sleek modern building which opened in 2011 a short walk away.
Both, I think, go a step further than many other museums I’ve been to, where you basically just, well let’s face it, wander round and look at stuff in glass cases. But in Liverpool I’ve been on a guided tour of the 18th century Old Dock, the first commercial wet dock ever built and now preserved under a shopping centre (you can read more about these fantastic free tours here), seen a talk and demonstration from a wonderful sniffer dog and her handler from the Customs office, and taken part in some well organised and resourced children’s craft activities painting dazzle ships. Oh, and the displays of stuff in glass cases were much better than average too!
Sitting in a train carriage from the old Liverpool overhead railway, wondering if my grandad, or his father or brothers had perhaps sat in this exact carriage, and helping 4YO get to grips with the little model version of the railway, made me feel very connected with my past. On my next visit I’m going to spend more time on the Lusitania and Titanic exhibitions, as these are also part of my family’s story. In the meantime, I’d like to thank the staff at the Liverpool museums for the imaginative way they bring history – Liverpool’s and my own – to life.