Robert Griffiths’ Toxteth Park: Willaloo

Robert Griffiths, in his history of Toxteth Park (1907), mentions a area in 1850 by South Street, Toxteth going by the intriguing name of ‘Willaloo’, this small community was infamous for two or three drunken fights every Sunday morning, when the God fearing Toxteth inhabitants were at Church.

Apart from Griffith’s description, little is known of this ‘colony’. It was next to the then newly erected, luxurious merchant houses of Princes Park. The deprived and neglected area of Willaloo became the subject of a series of letters and stories in the Liverpool Mercury. The cause of such depravity was greatly debated, was it social neglect, Magistrates granting too many licenses to public houses or a lack of Christian guidance?

Maybe though, it was that this working class area had found itself in a surrounded by prime real estate and after being left to have its lease run out, it was left to rot, all was needed was a negative press campaign before the diggers moved in and the land sold on to developers?

Willaoo does not feature on Jonathan Bennison’s survey of Liverpool in 1835, but was surely in existence then, as just 22 years later, in 1857, it was in a dilapidated state and was demolished. By the early 1870s later the area was redeveloped with rows of terraced houses, erected by Welsh builders with suitably Welsh names, known aptly as “The Welsh Streets”.

Where was Willaloo?

Robert Griffiths, in his book from 1907, describes the area:

“This colony consisted of a number of two-storey cottages and two beer-houses, and was situated by the Tan Yards, on the north side of South Street (Princes Road end). Here, on a Sunday, the ship-carpenters used to congregate, and the two beer-houses, “Lee’s” and “Chadwick’s,” would be filled with customers, and every room would be packed with convivial spirits. Two or three fights took place before dinner-time every Sunday, and pickets were told off to watch for the police. There were only two constables in Toxteth in those days, and their names, Lunt and Lowey. The little bridewell was at the bottom of Cotter Street.

Willaloo as illustrated in Robert Griffiths’ book of 1907.

1835A section of Jonathan Bennison’s survey of Liverpool, 1835. Showing the land on the upper left, that became Willaloo, to be owned by Lord Sefton.

Willaloo map 1850sMap from the mid 1800s showing ‘Willaloo’, the area running along South Street.
The most prominent building being the Tan Yard.

The same map overlayed onto a Google Sattelite image, the Welsh streets lie directly on top of Willaloo with Wynnstay Street being on the site of the old Tannery. Ringo Starr’s house in Madryn Street is on the site of a cluster of small houses.

On researching the area, Griffiths’ illustration and short description seems to be a very romanticized view of the area. The illustration in particular could well be pure fiction.

Newspaper reports from the British Newspaper Online archives go into much greater detail about the location how unruly this area was. The piece below, from an article announcing its demolition, gives us a very vivid picture:

“Willaloo consisted of a cluster of small houses, in two or three small streets or lanes, on the north side of Aberdeen-Street, which runs from the principal entrance of the Prince’s-Park into Park-road. The dwellings were low, badly ventilated, and undrained; and as the lease of the land was nearly out, they were allowed to run into a most dilapidated state. The colonists, as we have before described, were almost a distinct race, sprung from the same stock, and lost all propriety or shame. They were principally poachers, dog fighters, tinkers, “dock wallopers,” and rogues and vagabonds of the lowest grade. For years this moral plague spot stood alone.”
Liverpool Mercury 10th April 1857

The Battle of Willaloo

The first mention I can find in any newspaper is a letter that appeared in the Liverpool Mercury on 5th March 1856 by someone calling themselves ‘An Englishman”:

“An Englishman” writes-” Permit me to suggest to the Irish Brigade, who assume so much about the cure of souls, to visit the purely English colony known as ‘Willalin’ (so we read the manuscript), north of Prince’s-park, whose inhabitants are notorious for cat-killing, rat-catching, pugilism, and beer-drinking, more particularly on the Sunday Morning.
Liverpool Mercury 5th march 1856

The ‘Irish Brigade’ is a reference to the Catholic clergy, Liverpool had seen a massive influx of Catholic Irish immigrants after the ‘potato famine’ (1845–49). The predominant faith of Willaloo, being ‘purely English’, was Protestant, but as their ‘notorious’ habits seem to to reach a climax on Sundays, it was presumed that the inhabitants were of no faith whatsoever.

This letter stirred a hornets nest, as three days later a response by “A Willalooarian”, on the subject of religion he states:

“Is this a neglected colony? Are there not five “publics” (clergymen) to supply the spiritual wants of the people? What do people want when they have five jerry shops (public Houses) and an infant school? Then as to Mr. Harcus (clergyman), did he not deliver a course of lectures to working men at the hall in Hackins-hey, not above two miles from this colony? Has he not even this week been addressing Christian young men at their rooms in Renshaw-street? Does not the “Englishman” see how this can benefit the inhabitants of heathen Willaloo? and does he know how frequently Messrs. Gent and Johnson converse with “the natives?” He does not. Why will he then persist in writing in ignorance of such facts”

Surprisingly, rather than deny the lurid claims of Sabbath’s spent Cat-killing and beer drinking, he actually gives us a great more detail, with more than a pinch of sarcasm:

“But the colony progresses after a sort, and the pastimes of the people are primitive. The natives pride themselves on the breed of dogs, and it is really surprising to see with what skill they prosecute their sabbath morning enjoyments. I have seen a dog race and a rat killing match, attended by not more than 150 persons, yet even with this small number, the excitement  has been intense, the amusement delightful ; the bells might be tolling for the church a while, but what care the pugilistic pippins of Willaloo? Have they not five beershops and their infant school? Last Saturday night, at eleven o’clock, when the beershops were closed, I counted only seventeen young men, thirteen old or middle-aged, and seven young women in a state of beastly intoxication. Then the boisterous and jolly character of their mirth! The cheering homes which awaited these simple-minded colonists- the complete preparation for the Sabbath they had undergone – their untiring activity in their Sabbath devotions-all passed through my mind, leading me to exclaim “O thrice happy Willaloo, how blessed art thou with thy five beershops, four parsons, and infant school! The infant training in progress here must in the end produce a grand result.”

If there was any doubt to the writer’s thoughts on religion the final paragraph makes it clear:

“Now, in the name of common sense, what has the Irish brigade to do with the state of things? What have any ministers to do with the district? Why should these people be interfered with by “An Englishman,” or an Irishman either – I want to know why? Let the brigade look after its own affairs – let it see to missions to the heathen – to the Jews – to Ireland – to New Zealand – to the benighted districts of the town – to anywhere but Willaloo, leave Willaloo alone. Let Mr. White and Mr. Bardley spend their time in writing on Sabbath defense, for what minister would not defend such a Sabbath as Willaloo enjoys? Let Mr. Powell go to meetings with his hat and muffler on, or write long letters to show what the church has done for him and his education; let these men do all these things, but let them not go near Willaloo.”

In one fell swoop, the Sunday morning antics of the Willalooarians managed to upset the clergy, the authorities, their wealthy neighbours and the temperance movement.

The full letter is shown below:

Liverpool Mercury 08 March 1856Liverpool Mercury 8th March 1856, Find My Past British Newspapers

On the 15th March another letter was published, this time by a “Working Man”:

“And as Mr. Harcus (Clergyman) is a stranger, not long since in this neighbourhood, we should not be too hard upon him till we see what plan he intends to follow with regard to visiting, etc., in his own immediate neighbourhood. With regard to Dr. McNeile and the rest of the “parsons,” if they be Christian men, I think that, knowing the wants of the neighbourhood , as they do, they might exert themselves a little more to satisfy them. This is no apology for the parsons : it is not intended as such, but merely a more faithful representation of the case. But surely Dr. Roberts, the Unitarian minister, who resides nearer to the colony than any of the other four “parsons” and who lectures etc., very often at the Domestoc Mission House should not be omitted from the list of shirkers. But none of them seem to care anything at all about their own districts if they can make themselves popular elsewhere. I have lived all my life in the Park and in their immediate neighbourhood, and never received a visit from any of them”
“A Working Man”

Liverpool Mercury 15 March 1856Liverpool Mercury 15th March 1856, Find My Past British Newspapers

The Dr. McNeile referred to was Hugh Boyd M‘Neile, an Irish-born Calvinist Anglican of Scottish descent:

“Fiercely anti-Tractarian and anti-Roman Catholic (and, even more so, anti-Anglo-Catholic) and an Evangelical and millenarian cleric, who was also a devoted advocate of the year-for-a-day principle, M‘Neile was the perpetual curate of St Jude’s Liverpool (1834-1848), the perpetual curate of St Paul’s Princes Park (1848-1867), an honorary canon of Chester Cathedral (1845-1868) and the Dean of Ripon (1868-1875)

M‘Neile was an influential, well-connected demagogue, a renowned public speaker, an evangelical cleric and a relentless opponent of “Popery”, who was permanently inflamed by the ever-increasing number of Irish Roman Catholics in Liverpool.

The Very Reverend Hugh M‘Neile, Wikipedia

On the 17th March a letter in support of the “Willalooarian” appeared, declaring that the area was ‘free from Police interference’:

“I have been compelled to witness disgraceful scenes such as your correspondent describes, and many others if possible worse ; and how can it be otherwise, when the place is colonised by characters of the worst description and is resorted to as a place of security free from police interference? Indeed, it is their boast that, once in there, they are safe from molestation by the authorities Crime is admittedly on the increase in Liverpool. Can it be wondered at when such dens are knowingly permitted to exist – neglected by ministers of religion, feared or connived at by policemen?”
“Princes Park”

Liverpool Mercury 17 March 1856

On the 22nd March “A Willalooarian” responds, he puts the blame on Protestant clergymen neglecting the area, and of being more interesting in halting the spread of Catholicism than helping the Protestants in Willaloo.

“The fault lies here. Scripture readers appear to be chosen more for their hatred of Popery than their love of fallen Protestants”.

Willalooarian reply snippiet Liverpool Mercury 22 March 1856Extract, Liverpool Mercury 22 March 1856

On the same day, 22nd March, the Police make arrests in Willaloo. :

Beerhouse Liverpool Mercury 22 March 1856

“Advisable to be visited on an empty stomach”

In September the same year a large editorial piece was published. This graphic description of working class, impoverished Willallo is contrasted with the neighbouring rich merchant’s houses of Princes Park.

“With these impressions on our mind we indulged recently in a quite stroll in the vicinity of Prince’s Park, Toxteth, which, aided by culture, stood before us in sylvan grandeur and loveliness. The park, the property of Richard Vaughn Yates, Esq., is at once a monument of the wealth and magnificence of the proprietor. The public have free access to it daily, and we are pleased to find that the privilege is generally appreciated.

Passing St. Paul’s Church, which, seen from a distance in the clear sunlight, blended harmoniously with the surrounding scenery, we proceeded leisurely along the highway, and upon passing the end of Devonshire Road and turning to the right we met the blank aspect of a long, dead wall, which its dull monotonous outline, did not strike us as particularly ornamental, whatever useful purpose it might serve. A confused mass of houses, rickety and dilapidated in their general aspect, lines the opposite side of the road and extends some distance backwards. This motley assemblage of pent houses, huts, and tenements bears the general name of Willaloo, and is a place which, for various prudential reasons, we should scarcely deem it advisable to visit on an empty stomach.

Undeterred by certain premonitory warnings which addressed themselves powerfully to our eyes, nose and eras, we determined at all hazards to make ourselves acquitted with the place and its inhabitants.”

I have included the full article below but here are a few of his more colourful descriptions:

” One of them has a dog in his arms, the good points of which he is describing to his companions ; while another of the group, under the influence of some unpleasant reminiscence, declares, with fierce oaths and gesticulations, that he will kick the —–– guts out of so and so’s bitch at the earliest convenient opportunity. A few yards away distant from this group a number of hungry and ragged children are trying to develop the resources of enjoyment furnished by the mud of a shallow gutter, which, like some slimy, dark coloured reptile, creeps along the middle of a gap known – we presume for distinction’s sake as Simcock Street.”

“Many of the houses are at present untenanted ; and inside one of these, the doors and windows of which had disappeared, was heaped up a large quantity of what appeared to be nightsoil (human excrement collected at night and sometimes used as manure), damp and reeking, to the height of two or three feet, though the houses on both sides immediately adjoining were tenanted.”

“…With few exceptions we observe the same characteristics throughout – abject poverty, damp, grimy walls, rheumatic staircases, leading to comfortless chambers, where paper, putty, and rags are made indifferent substitutes for glass. Not a single window can be found in the entire district free from break of fracture ; and boasts of neither butcher, baker, nor provision dealer ; and the very sunbeams, to gain admission, have to force their way through the accumulated dirt of many a season, with which dilapidated casements are laden. No need for the aid of fancy here to heighten the picture”.

“…In close proximity to the buildings are heaps of decaying animal and vegetable matters, the foetid exhalations from which, combined with the effluvia arising from stagnant ditches in the immediate vicinity, are in their continued existence a reproach to the health committee of the borough…”

The writer then questions the social injustice that allow such poverty to exist side by side with extreme wealth. He compares the squalid living conditions of the area to the stables, built for the merchants horses, located just 100 yards from Willaloo:

On the living conditions for the horses of the nearby stables:
” The building, which occupies the three sides of a quadrangle, the fourth side being formed by the outer wall and the larger gateways. In the middle of the level area, which we estimated at about 40 yards in length and 30 in breadth, is a capacious tank covered over with a thick covering of sheet iron having doors at convenient distances. The ground is thickly strewn with small clean pebbles, and a thorough system of drainage is established. The flooring of the stables is laid with with blocks of hard stone, each block having grooves deeply cut along the length and breadth of its upper surface. The woodwork of the mangers is beautifully laid and polished, and these, with the racks and other appurtenances, are in strict keeping with the handsome exterior of the building.

The arrangements for warming and ventilating, for supplying water, both hot and cold, and for supplying provender with the least possible expense of labour, are perfect of their kind. All that wealth could supply could supply or a knowledge of the animal economy could suggest has been here furnished in profusion”.

Compared to the welfare of the people Willaloo:
For a single moment divest him (The Willaloarian) of his humanity – look not upon him as a brother, but as a mere living animal organism, without hope, intelligence, or responsibility. Then place side by side the denizens of the hovel and stable, the man and horse of Willaloo ; and just contrasted let the magistrate on the bench and he who ministers in holy things answer, each for himself, on what grounds can this contrast be justified? What has this man done that he should stand in in abject inferiority in the presence of a brute?

At last free from his nightmare journey through Willaloo the columnist finally reaches the end and returns to newly erected merchant villas:

“Further up the road we came in sight of a lofty pile of handsome buildings, partly concealed in their lower stories by the foliage of trees skirting the road, occupied by the gentlemen of wealth and opulence, for the accommodation of whose horses the stables just referred to had been built. Fit mansions were they, judging by their exterior, for the merchant princes of Liverpool. Nothing that taste could suggest, art supply, or wealth purchase had been spared in the splendid structures before us, and the care with which every arrangement had been made for combining comfort and elegance had to us a deep significance.”

The stables mentioned still stand and are situated on Devonshire Road. If anyone thought the writer was exaggerating the grandeur of the stables they are now Grade II listed buildings:

“Square courtyard block, originally stables, later converted into garages. It is built in brick with stucco dressings, and has a slate roof. The Devonshire Road face has 17 bays with a central arched opening above which is a pediment. The end and central bays project forward and have an entablature, a frieze and a parapet. The front facing South Street contains entrances, pitching holes, and four pedimented gables”.

Stable block, built in the 1850s, Devonshire Road

Here is the article in full:

Liverpool Mercury 27 September 1856Liverpool Mercury 27 September 1856

The debate continued in October 1856:

Liverpool Mercury 11 October 1856

Willaloo demolished

By April 1857 it was announced that Willaloo would be demolished:

“The dwellings were low, badly ventilated, and undrained ; and as the lease of the land was nearly out, they were allowed to run into a most dilapidated state”

Liverpool Mercury 10 April 1857Liverpool Mercury 10 April 1857

This enlightened article was printed in June the same year, strongly hinting that the reason was to clear the land for profitable redevelopment:

“Change, which in turn visits all things, has visited Willaloo. The piled-up heaps of bricks, mortar, timber and lath and plaster which at a distance were often mistaken for habitable dwellings now lie in heaps : knocked down under the auctioneers hammer…”

He puts the blame on the number of public houses that were allowed to have licenses in the area and people from outside of Toxteth being drawn to an area with so many public houses:

“Degraded beings from other parts of the town who were attracted thither early on Sabbath mornings in summer by the facilities it furnished for the indulgence of the most filthy habits and the lowest propensities will miss their place of weekly resort…”

The editorial then goes on to say that “the evil has not been destroyed, but merely diffused” with the residents being moved just a quarter of a mile away, living in terrible conditions, a number of families crammed into a room fit only fit for one and two families crammed into a tiny cellar.

He then questions the hypocrisy of the courts at the time:

“Our police establishment for the detection and punishment of crime is wonderfully perfect – to keep it so we wisely spare no expense. But surely it is a state of things deeply to be deplored that the terrors of the powers they possess, while employing the terrors of the law in the punishment of crime, to protect the criminal from vicious influences which, unchecked, will sooner or later render him amenable to the law.

“We speak not this as the claim of humanity, but as the demand of justice. They who are subject to punishment of the law have a right to the protection of the law. Yet strange anomaly is continually witnessed of a magistrate punishing with severity a crime committed under the influence of intoxication, and within a few hours after the same magistrate may be seen consenting to grant a license to a man to traffic openly in articles the results of which he has just before availed himself of the law to punish.”

Here is the full article:

Liverpool Mercury 08 June 1857

Was Willaloo really that bad?

I am in no doubt that the sanitation and housing conditions of Willaloo, like many areas of Liverpool, were shocking and needed to be replaced, and there can be no doubt that the well built, modern “Welsh Streets” that replaced them were a Godsend to the working class of Liverpool. But, after months searching newspaper articles I have struggled to find much evidence that the area had a worse crime rate than anywhere else in Toxteth or Vauxhall at that time. The crimes that do appear in the press seem to be around 1856, which makes me wonder if Willaloo may have fell victim to a campaign to ensure the area was redeveloped as quickly as possible. If it was demolished for health and moral reasons, it doesn’t seem as though the original inhabitants benefited as they were forced into sharing one room with several families or in overcrowded damp cellars.

Miller Court Willaoo 1851
1851 Census for Miller Court, off South Street. Part of the ‘Willaloo’ area.
Two tanners, a painter, a wheelwright, a laundress, an annuitant (a person who collects the benefits of an annuity or pension) and two children in school. Just another Liverpool census. For 1851, there is an unusually high percentage of Liverpool born residents.

The urgent need for new housing in Toxteth

In the mid 1800s the population of Toxteth grew massively and fever epidemics, caused by poor sanitation and overcrowding, created a need for huge areas of land to taken over to accommodate adequate housing. At the same time industry was spreading ever further south towards the traditional more rural areas to the east and south of Toxteth Park.

It wasn’t just the working class of areas like Willaoo that suffered under the relentless surge of development, in 1846 the Yates family, who would later donate the land for Princes Park, were forced to succumb to the modern world when their “Happy Valley” of rural Dingle was subjected to noise from a newly erected ship-building yard on the South Shore. 700 workers from the ship-yard were now a stone’s throw away from the Yates residence.

When the Yates family took the complaint to court, they lost, and were put in their place by the Magistrate for trying to stop the progress of the city. It was suggested here that the real reason Yates brought it to court was to prevent “700 Dirty fellows from coming into the neighbourhood of a few gentlemen’s residences”. 300 – 400 residents of Toxteth had signed a petition to stop the prosecution:

Yates Dingle Liverpool Mercury 10 April 1846Liverpool Mercury, 10th April 1846. Find My Past British Newspapers.
Where some of these workers the ships-carpenters that Griffiths mentions in his description of Willaloo?

What’s in a name?

The name “Willaloo” doesn’t appear on any maps I can find, neither does it appear in any newspapers until 1856, so I assume it must have been a nickname for the area.

‘Willaloo’ appears to be of Irish origin and relates to the terrifying, shreiking wail of a Banshee, (in Irish mythology a banshee is a female spirit who heralds the death of a family member). The ancient Irish epic Táin Bó Cúailnge uses the phrase in a funeral lament for Cethern:

“Felled by double-headed pike,
Cethern’s hand held, with their crimes,
Seven times fifty of the hosts,
Fintan’s son brought to their graves!
Willa-loo, oh, willa-loo!
Woman’s wandering through the mist.
Worse it is for him that’s dead.
She that lives may find a man!”

Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera Iolanthe uses the term “Aiaiah! Willaloo!”  as fairy language expressing grief and woe but this opera did not premiere until 1882.

I can only presume that Willaloo was a derogatory name. The inhabitants were predominantly English Protestants, so perhaps it was a slant on the racket they made as they carried on with their so-called drunken debauchery on the streets?

For a Banshee’s call announcing death, it couldn’t have been more apt as just one year after the term first appears, the whole area had been wiped out by the developers.

The Welsh Streets

After Willaloo was demolished in 1857, the site was later developed into rows of terraced housing. The new houses were constructed by the mid 1870s, by architect Richard Owens and the builder D. Roberts, Son and Co. They reputedly built more than 4,000 houses in Toxteth alone. Owens and Roberts named the streets after Welsh towns and villages such as; Rhiwlas Street, Madryn Street, Powis Street, Gwydir Street, and Kinmel Street.

The houses were of a much higher standard of comfort, warmth and sanitation as they were built to comply with the bye-law standards brought in by the 1875 Public Health Act. The Welsh Streets and houses like them were total luxury compared to the slums and courts of Willaloo, and for that matter a great part of old working class housing that covered Toxteth and Liverpool:

“The 1875 Act imposed a duty on local authorities to regulate housing by the use of byelaws, and subsequently all byelaw terraced housing was required to have its own privy (outhouse), with rear access for the collection of the night soil (Human waste). The houses had to meet minimum standards of build quality, ventilation, sanitation and population density.”

Liverpool’s Welsh builders are rightly praised for their vital contribution to the building of large proportion of the city’s affordable housing for the working classes. Before Messrs. Owen and Roberts, and prior to 1875 Act, the houses houses for the working class were constructed by inexperienced, unqualified builders, and so it claims in the article below, were surprisingly also often Welsh.

In the article below ‘Toxteth and its Fever Sheds’ from 1883, the blame for Toxteth’s Court Housing, built before the Act, is placed not only on the shoulders of “Welsh ‘Jerry’ Builders” and the no other than the ‘philanthropist’ Richard Vaughn Yates, to anyone, lacking in any form of building experience, to make a quick profit through property development.

The article refers to a meeting of the Toxteth Guardians who had suggested a separation of the area from the township of Liverpool. This demonstrates the huge advances made after the Act by developments such as the Welsh Streets:

“The man who suggests a separation from Liverpool knows little or nothing of the past history of Toxteth, and what a terrible wretched place it was before the township was attached to Liverpool. The narrow streets, the courts and the alleys erected under the old highway board are hotbeds of fever, and the ill-constructed, sewers and drains made them now belch forth the poison which fills the ill-constructed, cramped, and filthy dwellings, without an outlet to allow the breath of heaven to sweeten the air…

From my own knowledge, I was acquainted with the sort of builders who erected houses in the park. They were for the most part shoemakers, tailors, labourers, and many men of that class who had saved a little money, bought land from Joseph B. Yates, Vaughn Yates, and the rest of the family, and obtained advances as they proceeded. In this way nearly the whole of the streets, etc, and the houses were constructed, from Stanhope-street to beyond Park-street, and from Mill-street to Grafton Street. In this circle the fever rests, and will until the wind is allowed to blow through it and the sewers are sweetened, and the dirty, drunken women are compelled to be more cleanly.

Let Toxteth Park return to its former regime allow the Welshmen–the jerry-builders–to erect their slim dwellings and fearful hovels they did before Liverpool took the township in hand, and then we would again see, as I have, hundreds of houses empty and streets almost unused, and the owners of property bankrupt.

Welsh Jerry Builders 12 October 1883

Rhiwlas street Liverpool Mercury 09 December 1876Advertising the sale of seven houses in Rhiwlas Street.
Liverpool Mercury, 1876. Find My Past British Newspapers

This Google Earth image below shows the proximity of the Welsh Streets to Princes Park. The contrast of the regiments rows of the terraced houses with the sweeping curve of the Merchant Houses surrounding the park is clear:

Google earthImage: Google Earth

For over 120 years, the 400 or so houses of the Welsh Streets were home to countless thousands of people of Liverpool 8, one of which was Ringo Starr, who was born at 9 Madryn Street.

Planned demolition; The Battle of The Welsh Streets

Since 2001 the Welsh Streets had been the scene of a battle of words between the residents with opposing views, developers and Liverpool City Council, over plans to redevelop the area by demolishing most of the houses.  For years the houses were left neglected and boarded up while the campaign to save them, or finding an agreeable solution on developing them, continued.

“In 2004, The Welsh Streets became the focus of a national debate on housing and regeneration, when a block of Victorian and 1950‘s built homes was threatened with demolition courtesy of a New Labour scheme called HMR Pathfinders. Significantly, the bulk of these homes were owned by CDS (now Plus Dane) a handful were  owned by Liverpool City Council, LHT or Maritime Housing Associations. Around 30% were owner occupied…”

“The Welsh Streets Home Group was formed in 2004 by some 20 neighbours who discovered their homes were included in what would be the biggest land clearances since the 1960’s. Their combined efforts brought together over 200 residents from across the proposed clearance site,  all unwilling to see their homes and community destroyed. The Welsh Streets Home Group connected with other local groups opposed to demolition and to the national campaign co-ordinated by Homes Under Threat (WSL HUT)”

Many local residents appealed for alternatives to demolition, determined to remain in their homes. They began  a campaign, which  debated the wisdom of  the HMR plans The campaign  forewarned  later  pressures on housing affordability and supply.

Wynnstay street
Madryn Street
Wynnstay and Madryn Streets from Google Street View July 2017

Looking at the rows of streets with hundreds of houses, boarded up with no windows, I am reminded of the descriptions of Willaoo from 1856:

“Many of the houses are at present untenanted ; and inside one of these, the doors and windows of which had disappeared.

Not a single window can be found in the entire district free from break of fracture”

Powis Street Peaky Bliders
The TV ‘Peaky Blinders’ used Powis Street as their main location.

Powis Street
The street left painted after filming Peaky Blinders. Google Street View.

Some residents were keen to see the area redeveloped:

“Mary Huxham OBE, who lived for 68 years in Powis street, had to move out in 2007 but has continued to campaign for redevelopment with the Welsh Streets Community Champions. She told the inquiry that the houses were refurbished in 1979 but those improvements had long since deteriorated. She said: “We need to look to the future not the past.”

“Carol O’Brien, who grew up in the Welsh Streets, spoke on behalf of her mother, telling the inquiry that her dad had waited for years for a new house with a garden he could tend. But he had passed away last Christmas still waiting.
Danielle Dooley, who lives on Pengwen Street, told the inquiry  she was concerned about her house’s condition  for the sake of her children. She said: “They worry about the house falling down on them while they are asleep at night.”

Whilst other residents wanted to save the houses:

“Former resident of Madryn Street Magda Maylam gave an impassioned defence of preserving the homes. The mum-of-two had moved out in 2008 when they were bought out by the council, but she said she hoped one day her sons ‘will be able to buy back their childhood house in Madryn Street’.
She said they loved living in their terraced house which had a lot of  character but was also ‘like a blank page’ where they were able to ‘make our house our home’.  
Like others she criticised the council’s scheme which originally came from a national policy of demolition and rebuilding called Pathfinder.
She said: “The Pathfinders scheme was an extremely divisive project creating an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality of those who wanted to stay and those who wanted to go.”

As I was researching this post, news of a proposal to keep a lot of the properties and converting some into larger homes was announced:

“Cabinet members are being asked to approve plans for a six-month exclusivity agreement with PlaceFirst, which specialises in transforming old properties, so that surveys and investigations can be carried out prior to developing a new masterplan for the area.

It is hoped a significant number of the 300 homes could be refurbished, with some knocked ‘three in to two’ to make them larger, while those in conditions which are too costly to repair could be demolished to make way for community open space and new properties in their place”.

The news from The Welsh Streets website:

Light at the End of the Tunnel
The Welsh Streets Home Group often meet people admiring the newly refurbished houses on High Park Street and Voelas Street. People say they are glad to see ruined houses transformed for future use. The big news for us today is that tenure mix has been taken on board so a wide range of people can access living in this unique area. There will be affordable rent and private rental properties, and also rent to buy, shared ownership, and market sales in the new Welsh Streets. Perhaps people who used to live here will return, to join new arrivals, some of whom campaigned to save these homes for many years. We foresee that the Welsh Streets will once again be home to a thriving and caring community”.


Further reading:
The Welsh Builders.pdf



One comment on “Robert Griffiths’ Toxteth Park: Willaloo

  1. David Steers says:

    Excellent piece of research and a fascinating story. I had no idea about this backstory to the Welsh Streets, and had never heard before of Willalloo. I am sure you are right that proximity to a wealthy area put the place under the spotlight and made it ripe for development yet the census report seems to suggest a fairly settled community, not obviously “rogues and vagabonds of the lowest order”. Strange this terminology of ‘colonists’ too. Interesting also how religion gets mixed into things in the usual combustible way! By chance I recently acquired Hugh McNeile’s carte de visite and was planning to blog about him at some point. I will add a link to this post if I may.
    Many thanks,

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