My site, like many others, has many references to Robert Griffiths and his book ‘A History of The Royal & Ancient Park of Toxteth’. Indeed, there is hardly a history of the area since the book’s publication in 1907 that doesn’t reference it to some degree. So important is the book to anyone interested in the history of Liverpool that in 2001 Liverpool City Council chose it as the first of a range of books to be reprinted to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the King John granting Liverpool a Charter in 1207. This edition included addition images from the Liverpool Record Office.
Recently I was lucky enough to obtain a first edition of the book. I always wanted a copy, if only for the wonderful cover featuring a Knight sporting a fine Edwardian moustache. Now I have found a photograph of Robert I can see a strong resemblance, possibly a coincidence, but I believe that in this guise of a Christian Crusader was how Robert actually saw himself (more of that later).
The book has chapters on Toxteth Park, The Dingle, St. Michael’s, Otterspool and Aigburth. It covers the history of the area starting with The Calder Stones and then exploring the houses and residents of each area, occasionally correcting previous histories as goes.
Part of the charm of the book for me is that the informality of his writing style as he takes you on guided tours of a lost landscape. Sometimes he will go into great detail about a resident or property, other times he will give merely mention a name, a sign that some reference material was just an old map.
Some of the properties were only 60 or 70 years old in 1907, interesting when you consider a huge percentage of modern Britain (like myself) live in terraced houses that are over 100 years old. The shops and terraced housing around Aigburth Road where Robert lived and worked are now over 120 years old, the equivalent of a property in Robert’s time that was built in the 1780s!
I could find little information available about Robert Griffiths life other than he owned a printing and stationery shop at 104 Aigburth Road and died in 1914. Even the Liverpool City Council edition only states this much, so I thought I would try and put that right.
Census records gave his family details but an internment notice I found opened a whole new avenue of research that led to finding a photograph of him that was in an Liverpool Record Office, as this was in a publication called ‘Protestant Search-Light’ and as it was not linked to his work as an author, maybe this is the first time his portrait has been linked to him?
I found that there was a great deal more to the man than the historian and printer, it also shows how strongly religious beliefs and politics were entwined in Liverpool at the dawn of the 20th century.
A short biography
The photograph found in the ‘Protestant Search-Light’ 1904. Courtesy of Liverpool Record Office
Robert Griffiths was born in Stanley area of Liverpool on 30th November 1867, his parents were Evan Robert Griffiths and Julia Frederic Townson. Evan was born in Chester Street, Shrewsbury in 1836 and owned a sack and bag contractors in Brunswick Street called ‘Messrs. E. R. Griffiths & Co.’. Julia was born in Wiltshire in 1844 and lived at Princes Buildings, Bath. From their addresses they both appear to be from comfortable backgrounds. After moving to Liverpool they were married at St Francis Xavier Church in Everton in 1860 and set up home at 10 Chapel Place, West Derby.
By 1871 the family was living at 229 Parliament Street. On the Census of that year the 3 year old Robert has siblings Mary Emma aged 7 and George Frederick aged 2. Another two brothers were born later, Alfred in 1873 and Albert in 1876.
His father Evan died in 1879. The Renshaw confectionery company now has its premises on the site of the house.
1871 census, 229 Parliament Street, Robert is 3 years old
Robert was educated at Liverpool Collegiate in Shaw Street and appears to have been an outstanding pupil as he was awarded seven certificates and awards in just one year.
The Collegiate in 1854
Prize Giving in the Collegiate school hall, The Illustrated London News, 1844
Work as a Stationer
By 1881 they had moved to 208 Kensington and were taking in two lodgers, a Master Painter and a ship’s Mate. Although widowed Julia has enough finances to employ a servant. Robert’s mother died in 1886 aged 42 leaving the 21 year old Robert to look after the family, this sees a return to West Derby, this time Church Road. In 1882 Robert starts employment in the printing business as a Manager at a stationers whilst being an agent to his father’s estate.
In 1887 Robert had started his own printing and stationery business and then set up in the newly developed Aigburth Road. His shop was number 104, the premises is currently occupied by ‘4 Seasons Nail Spa’ and is located between Errol Street and Rosslyn Street.
4 Seasons Nail & Spa, 104 Aigburth Road where Robert Griffiths had his shop. Google Street View.
The company appears to have been called ‘Bon Marché’ (roughly translated as ‘good value’, ‘cheap’) there was a large department store in Liverpool by the same name (later taken over by George Henry Lees), I don’t think there is any connection, perhaps he undertook printing services for them? An advert in a Welsh paper ‘Ye Brython Cymreig’ in 1910 show Robert’s shop as a supplier of Christmas and New Year Cards called the ‘Welsh Cambrian Series’ that were issued by Messrs. Hugh Evans & Sons:
The Aigburth Road shop would have had a small printing press producing leaflets stationery and booklets. He would have also supplied stationery for weddings and other occasions by printing over fancy pre-printed cards.
1911 Census for 104 Aigburth Road
Robert had two members of staff, the manager was Elizabeth Ann Williams and the assistant printer was Frank Senar. Robert was a witness at Frank’s wedding in 1897 at St Michael in the Hamlet. The bride was Margaret Whalley, probably the niece of another Margaret who lived at 104 who is listed on the census in 1911 as ‘totally blind since 38’. Robert was also a Stenographer, (able to write in shorthand and transcribe the shorthand on a typewriter).
Robert never married as he is listed as single on the last census before his death in 1914.
Robert the historian
Just ten years before he started his shop, a large part of Toxteth Park had still been rural with only a few farms and large merchant’s houses. The development of terraced houses had began in the 1880s around the area of the present Tesco store and had steadily grew towards the Dingle end of Aigburth Road. Robert’s shop was on the land that been Dingle Farm.
Robert was still seeing historic buildings being demolished to make way for shops and houses. He had seen the demolition of Toxteth Old Hall (early 17th Century) and the Lower Barn of Stanlawe Grange from the 13th century, (part of which still stands and is now a garden centre; Aigburth Hall Nurseries). He decided to record the area as these changes were taking place. The following 100 years after the book was written would see many more meet the same fate.
“The farms by the end of the seventeenth century appear to have been four in number (Yates and Perry’s map, 1768): “Parr’s” erected in what is now Mill Street, and known as “Grove Cottage”; “Rimmer’s” a group of six buildings erected in 1688 in what is now Dingle Lane; the “Three Sixes,” erected near what is now Fulwood Park in 1666, and at that time called the “White House Farm”, and “Jericho Farm,” at Otterspool. All these old buildings are still standing.”
Of the original four farms listed in 1907, only ‘The Three Sixes’ remains in 2016.
Robert chose to accompany his book with photographs taken by himself and the wonderful drawings of John Fisher, these add to work immensely and his clean sketches reproduced perfectly in the book, as can be seen in this adaptation of a pencil sketch of Dickenson’s Dingle:
The book was first published in 1907 and was also issued as small booklets, according to Lawrence Hall (HSLC 1919) it came out first in six fortnightly parts in 1907 although the only copies I have seen of these are later versions printed by James C. Cross and are held by the Liverpool Record Office.
Robert had intended to publish a larger edition with more illustrations but sadly this was not meant to be, after a sudden illness he died in 1914 aged 47:
“Early in 1906 I commissioned Frederick Beattie, the Liverpool artist, to make a series of watercolour drawings of the structures (Stanlawe Grange) as they then stood. He had partly accomplished this task when I became acquainted with Robert Griffiths, and learned that he was desirous of collecting all the available information to incorporate in The History of the Royal and Ancient Park of Toxteth, on which he was then engaged. I put into his hands the results of my investigations, and also offered to place at his disposal Mr. Beattie’s drawings for illustrating the larger and more complete edition he proposed issuing on the conclusion of his first small serial publication. Unfortunately this project came to an end in consequence of his untimely decease, and I have felt it incumbent upon me so far as lies in my power to amplify and complete his work”.
STANLAWE GRANGE AT AIGBURTH By Charles R. Hand 1919. Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire.
I hope to show these images on a future post.
Robert the Evangelical Churchman
I found a short biography in the Liverpool Library Archives in a publication called ‘Protestant Search-Light’ of which he was the editor. This short biography was written three years before his book was published and tells us that Robert was a communicant in St. Andrews Church, Aigburth Road and a teacher at the Church’s Sunday School.
“The subject of our sketch is well-known in protestant circles in Liverpool and is a familiar figure on every protestant platform, although constantly addressing huge audiences in the various open spaces in the City in condemnation of the lawlessness in the National church and the injustice which the present Educational Act inflicts upon Nonconformity, Mr. Griffiths does not believe in controversial meetings on the Sabbath day, and during the summer months he may be seen every Sunday, after church, in company with his co-workers, on the waste land South Hill Road*, proclaiming the wonderful story of God’s love, and many to-day bless the hour they heard that pleading voice inviting them to fly to refuge to the Friend of Sinners.”
Protestant Search-Light. Courtesy of Liverpool Record Office.
As well as being the Editor of the ‘Protestant Search-Light’, Robert’s shop on Aigburth Road was the magazine’s headquarters. Pastor George Wise submitted regular articles but one written by Robert himself protested of the building of Liverpool Cathedral on St James’s Mount, it was entitled ‘Our case against the Liverpool Cathedral’ (CofE). He starts by proposing that Cathedrals are “not part of the Church of England system” and that Protestant reformers had historically merely adopted Roman Catholic buildings (with the exception of St Pauls, London). Robert then goes on to propose a financial argument:
“We cannot forget too, that while £500,000 is going to be lavished upon a “temple exceeding magnifical,” £250,000 is urgently needed in the diocese for addition churches, as recommended by the Bishop’s commission. We oppose the building of the Liverpool Cathedral, therefore, in the first instance, because we consider that the good effected, if any (and we never heard yet of any one soul being converted to God in a cathedral), can never in any degree compensate for the sinful waste of money.”
But at the heart of his opposition is the influence of Roman Catholic ritual in the Church of England.
“..As before stated, cathedrals are a relic of the Romish dark ages, when scenic display took the place of spiritual worship. Hence it is only natural that, of the many designs submitted for the Liverpool Cathedral, those of Mr, Gilbert Scott–a Roman Catholic–carried off the plan”. “…we do not wish to see the ”Protestant citadel of the North” under Priestly domination, and the candle Latimer and Ridley lighted, extinguished.” “…an object lesson to be found in Rome’s “temples exceeding magnifical”, and the accompanying squalor and spiritual deadness of Southern Ireland”
As a Protestant evangelist against the influence of any Catholic ritual in the Church of England, a fear of anything ‘Romish’ is the main criteria of ‘Search-Light’, to the degree of obsession. Page after page features; Roman Catholics statistics for Lancashire, contempt for golden candlesticks in churches, a protest of the ‘Notorious’ church of St. Thomas in Warwick Street having a Nativity crib at Christmas and a deep concern that the newly crowned King Edward had met with the Pope.
As well as editor of ‘Protestant Search-Light’, Robert was the principal contributor to the ‘Christian Times’ and the ‘Protestant Standard’. He also founded an organisation called ‘The League of Latimer and Ridley’ (names of the The Oxford Martyrs executed by Queen ‘Bloody’ Mary in 1555):
“… a Society whose object is to keep alight the candle kindled by the Reformers, primarily by means of united and continued prayer, and secondarily by the preparation, publication, and gratis circulation of Protestant tracts, and up to the present moment has placed in circulation 500,000 of these silent messages and many of these are from his pen. On September 29th, 1898 Mr. Griffiths was elected President of this Society, a choice which the members have since confirmed each year. In December 1899, Mr, Robert Griffiths founded, with the aid of Protestant friends, the Protestant Search-Light,… has now grown to a circulation of 60,000 copies per annum.”
At the same time Robert appears to have been prolific in his letter writing to newspapers, below he is protesting about the newly built St. Faiths in Crosby (an Anglo-Catholic Church):
“A letter from an R. Griffiths in the Liverpool Daily Post of two days before complained of the impending arrival of the Archbishop of York, and the threatened procession that was to accompany him. ‘As most people have heard of the idolatrous nature of the Northern Primate’s consecration, is it not high time that Protestants roused themselves and repudiated these iniquitous proceedings which are surely being introduced into their beloved church without their assent?’“.
Mixing Religion and Politics
Robert was an active member of the Liverpool Protestant Party. This grew out of the increasing dissatisfaction felt by many militant Protestants (and Orange Lodge members) with the Conservative and Unionist Party. The LPP lasted until 1973 and its members eventually merged with the Conservative Party. The unease with the Conservative Party was caused by a number of issues:
• The use of the Conservative whip in parliament to oppose the extension of factory inspection to convent laundries
• The Education Act 1902 making public money available to Roman Catholic Schools (“Rome on the Rates”)
• The failure to enact a new Church Discipline Act, or amend the old one, to provide for a more effective counter to extreme ritualism in the Church of England. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liverpool_Protestant_Party
“Rome on the rates” was a term to describe the proposal that Roman Catholic Church schools should receive financial backing from the state.
Robert the Political Campaigner
Robert stood in the Liverpool bye-election of 1904 representing the Princes Park Ward, gaining 42% of the vote, he lost to the Liberal candidate Max Muspratt who gained 58%. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liverpool_City_Council_election,_1904#Prince.27s_Park
(During the First World War, Sir Max Muspratt, 1st Baronet served as Lord Mayor of Liverpool from 1916 to 1917. In 1901 he was MP for Liverpool Exchange. He was born at Seaforth Hall and died in 1932 at Fulwood Park; Wikipedia)
A pamphlet that Robert printed and issued in his campaign is shown below. It shows the leader of the LLP, Pastor George Wise, trapped constrained in a barrel by clergymen, with the title “Conservative Protestantism, How they captured Walton”.
Protestant Search-Light, Courtesy of Liverpool Record Office.
“There was disquiet due to the reluctance of the Conservative-controlled Liverpool Corporation to set aside areas of public open space specifically for outdoor meetings. George Wise, a prominent local Protestant leader, had been imprisoned for refusing to be bound over to keep the peace following disturbances at meetings held in public squares and gardens. On his release from Walton Gaol on 6 June he decided to pursue independent Protestant representation on the City Council. Support was centered among Wise’s adherents including large numbers of members of the Orange Order and the congregation of the Protestant Reformers Church of which he was the Pastor. Traditionally the “orange vote” would go to the Conservatives but in 1903, the LPP was formed as a distinct party by George Wise”.
The drawing of the motor car in the background of the flyer may refer to transport the Conservatives used in their campaigning:
“The Princes Park Municipal Bye-Election clearly proves that this young Protestant Federation, holds every Conservative seat in Liverpool in the hollow of its hand. Princes Park, the most aristocratic ward in Liverpool, a veritable Tory stronghold polled 728 votes in favour of Protestantism and this in a three-cornered fight without the aid of vehicles, the press, or any of those powerful auxiliaries of which both the Liberal and Tory Candidates had unlimited command. This seat too, it was clearly shown, would have been captured for Protestantism had there been only two contestants instead of three, for the Conservatives after frantic efforts, were only able to record 857 supporters, and had the Liberals not been on the ground the Protestant Candidate’s figure would have been swollen by the votes of Protestant Liberals but the Tory figures would have remained unchanged.”
The Editor (Robert Griffiths) Protestant Search-Light.
Courtesy of Liverpool Record Office.
He ends his editorial with strong words and perhaps gives us a flavour of his evangelical speeches he delivered standing on waste ground in the Dingle:
“The political horizon is growing black and the storm is fast gathering strength. Protestantism holds the whip, the balance of power, and the frown is settling fast upon its brow. We invite the Leaders of Conservatism to quickly drop invective and insult and the Government to take us into its confidence, otherwise the “Fourth Party” will drive a wedge into every constituency and unseat not only every Conservative in this city but every Tory representative in the Kingdom.”
*After reading about Pastor George Wise, I wonder if that is why Robert’s biography from the ‘Protestant Search-Light’ says his speeches were on ‘Waste land South Hill Road’, possibly because if it was a public space, Robert himself could have been arrested?
Loyal Orange Lodge
From the Internment notice below, we can see that Robert was a member of Loyal Orange Lodge, 765, No 7 (St. Paul’s Toxteth).
Buried at Anfield Cemetery Jan 30th 1914,
104 Aigburth Rd, Dingle,
aged 46, eldest son of the late E. R. GRIFFITHS
this city member of L.O.L 765, No 7, St Pauls district,
interment Anfield Cemetery today Anfield Cemetery Internments.
By kind permission of www.old-merseytimes.co.uk
Newspaper clipping from British Newspaper Archive
Liverpool has been one of Lodge’s main strongholds. At the time Robert was a member the Third Home Rule Bill for Ireland was about to be introduced but was delayed due to the outbreak of WW1 in 1914, (which started 8 months after his death). Robert may well be on this photograph below of a visit by Dingle Orange Lodge to Sefton Park:
Dingle Orange Lodge day out at Sefton Park (Circa 1895). Could that be Robert bottom right?
Thanks to: www.liverpoolpicturebook.com/p/l8.html
I was surprised to discover Robert’s strong political/religious views as there is little hint of either in his book that I can see, there is a slight hint to his Protestant doctrine in his book when he describes his Church St Andrew’s and Archdeacon Taylor who instructed him:
“The original building was constructed in 1835. The beautiful church in Aigburth Road was built during the incumbency of the VEN. ARCHDEACON TAYLOR, D.D., the greatest ecclesiastical controversialist of his day. The preaching gown and bands, the mixed choir and evangelical traditions of old St. Andrew’s were strictly maintained until the day of his death, in March, 1906. The new incumbent, on his appointment, made alterations in the character of the service, which called forth public protests from members of the congregation.”
Robert Griffiths 1907
I’m quite sure that Robert would have led those protests himself!
Protestant Search-Light. Courtesy of Liverpool Record Office.
Anti-Catholic/Irish sentiments are easier to find in another book published in the same year; ‘Liverpool’ by Walter Dixon Scott. This book, although beautifully illustrated by J. Hamilton Hay, has a supercilious tone about the working class and on a few occasions, Catholics. Here Dixon Scott talks of the slums:
“Of these (and this is the second and more interior peculiarity), the majority are either Irish or of Irish descent.* It follows, therefore, that here alone in Liverpool do you get a specific dialect. They speak a bastard brogue: a shambling, degenerate speech of slip shod vowels and muddied consonants a cast-off clout of a tongue, more debased even than Whitechapel Cockney, because so much more sluggish, so much less positive and acute. It follows, too, that the ruling religion of these quarters is Roman Catholicism. There are about a dozen Catholic churches actually in the Slums, and to pass suddenly into one of them out of the stench and uproar of some dishevelled court is to taste again, in a very peculiar measure, the sweet, rich silence that has so often broken on one’s palate in the towns and villages of the Continent. Here, as on the Continent, too, the people slip in and out all daylong, genuflecting, sitting in apathetic huddles, going back once more to their sorrowful outer world. And you constantly see the figures of priests moving to and fro among the lanes and alleys. * The northern Slum forms a large part of the only English constituency returning a Nationalist Member to the House”.
Dixon Scott 1907 (Asterisk is the author’s own)
No such tone is adopted by Robert Griffiths, then again he doesn’t mention the slums at all, even though a large area of West Toxteth was composed of Court housing. Toxteth Park Workhouse is only listed in the “Annals” section at the back and slavery or “The African Trade” (as it was often politely referred to) is left out all together, even though quite a few of the rich merchants made their money from it, either directly or indirectly.
Oddly, Robert Griffiths’ parents appear to have been married in the Roman Catholic Church of St. Francis Xavier, a richly decorated church that had been “enlarged to allow for the swelling numbers of Irish Catholics coming to Liverpool due to the Great Famine”. (Scottie Press)
Discovering Robert’s religious and political beliefs, I can imagine though how the idea of a “Royal and Ancient Toxteth Park” populated by Puritans (later Unitarians) with their simple chapel would appeal to him.
“Toxteth Park in the days of our Grandfathers”
But, it is for his history of Toxteth Park that he will be remembered and for which his city will be forever grateful. Because of a handful of authors like Robert Griffiths and artists such as William Gawin Herdman and Henry Magenis, who realised the importance of recording the city at a time of great change, our knowledge of Liverpool in the 19th Century is so much greater.
I can’t help but think that if Robert had seen his Toxteth in the mid 20th Century he would have been heart broken, the Croppers mansions torn down, Roscoe’s Dingle and house obliterated, Knots Hole filled in and a great area of the shore turned into a rubbish dump.
There is some irony that Robert’s printing business on Aigburth Road was one small part of the very development that changed the area forever, something Robert was well aware of:
“Fast are disappearing the landmarks of Old Toxteth; all traces of the lovely dells and dingles of the once famous Royal and Ancient Park are rapidly being obliterated. The influx and growth of population in this great city must rapidly expand; modern residences and business premises be erected; wider streets, docks, railways and the auxiliaries of modern industry extended. Amidst all this change our endeavour has been to snatch from oblivion a little of the misty past, to afford pleasure to the aged by painting afresh in the store-house of their memory the scenes of happy childhood, to enlighten the stranger in our midst, to instruct the young, and to present to generations yet unborn a faithful picture of Toxteth as it appears in our time.”
Robert Griffiths 1907
Toxteth as it appears in our time
As soon as I read the book I wanted to know how much of what he recorded was still around 110 years later, at first glance not much! but on reflection there’s more than you may think, here is a selection of places mentioned in the book that have survived.
Of course the list for buildings and beauty spots we have lost would be very much longer:
The Calder Stones
Robin Hood’s Stone
St James Church Toxteth, built 1774
King John’s Hunting Lodge
Three Sixes (there but obscured by trees)
Barkhill Mansion (now I. M. Marsh Campus)
Holmleigh ‘A Gentleman’s Hunting Lodge’
Ancient Chapel of Toxteth
Part of Stanlawe Grange
Old Stone Mounting Steps Wavertree
John Cragg’s House
St Michaels Hamlet
Sefton Park Palm House
The second Brookhouse
Below you can still still see the date stone of the original Brookhouse that Robert writes about. Robert recommends that this should be kept in a special museum of Toxteth Park. Paul Halligan, the General Manager of the Brookhouse sent me a photograph of a copy of the stone that is above the fireplace, the original is still in the garden as Robert described.
Left: The date stone from the original Brookhouse from Robert Griffiths’ book.
Right: 2016, The copy Paul Halligan had made and placed above the fireplace, the original is still in the garden as Robert Griffiths mentioned.
Many thanks to Paul Halligan, General Manager, Brookhouse.
More elusive is the statue of “The Lady of the Dingle”. This celebrated a poem by William Roscoe and which “many years ago stood in the old alcove on the head of the promontory overlooking the Mersey”. Robert tells us of the statue’s location in 1907:
“This figure stood for many years under the trees in the glen itself, and was finally
removed to the grounds of the Turner Memorial Home, where it still be seen under the trees by the side of the main walk”.
I wonder if it is still there? I have tried contacting the home several times but not had a reply.
As well as the buildings he mentions, the area (like many in Liverpool) still has whole streets of charming and impressive period buildings, the Princes Park area in particular with the lovely Windermere Terrace and stately Prince’s Park Mansions, and hidden leafy roads such as Grove Park. A favourite of mine has always been Hadassah Grove off Lark Lane.
If you are new to the area, “A stranger in our midst”, there is much for you to discover, hidden off the busy main roads.
I would like to think that if he returned now and saw fishermen on the south shore of the Mersey once again “the cleanest it has been since the industrial revolution”, the public parks he knew relatively unchanged and a large part of the river’s embankment returned to recreation, maybe he would think that 110 years of change hasn’t scarred the area too much after all?
If anyone would like to add to the list of surviving places from Robert Griffiths’ book I would be very pleased to include them here.
First edition 1907
Second Edition, J.C. Cross 1923
This revised edition with corrections was published in 1923 by James C. Cross of 81 Hanover Street.
Liverpool City Council Edition 2001
This has corrections and additional photographs from the Liverpool Record Office and therefor the best for a reading copy. If you live in Liverpool you can get this from your local library, not just the free option but you’ll help in a little way to keep the Liverpool libraries from going the same way as most of the buildings in the book.
Book Clearance, St. John’s Shopping Centre Edition
This was available until a short while ago for just £3 from their shop in St. John’s Shopping Centre, now you can get it from ebay for about £7.
Liverpool Described by Dixon Scott
Read for free online with a free full colour pdf to download
Liverpool Record Office
For anyone interested in the history of Liverpool this place is a must, the archive is within the wonderful Central Library on William Brown Street. You can use this search tool to find an item in the archive and then book an appointment to view it. It is free, all you need is a Library card.