My Grandma Great Aunt and Great Grandad Outside their home off Smithdown Road
In our latest blog local student Cody Willoughby talks about her feelings towards Smithdown Road, the road her Grandma grew up on and the subject of our display The Secret Life of Smithdown Road…
For most people, Liverpool feels like home no matter where you are from and that was the same warm feeling I got when I first saw the Secret Life of Smithdown Road display in the Museum of Liverpool.
I’d always thought of Smithdown Road as the street that my Grandma, Florence Willoughby, grew up on, which has been taken over by student housing. There was something about the Secret Life of Smithdown Road's display of black and white photographs from all the different events, people and buildings over the years that captured my imagination. I spoke to curator Kay Jones to find out about life on Smithdown.
The display was opened in 2011 and I was surprised to find out that a lot of the content was crowd sourced through Facebook, drop-in outreach sessions and reunion events, including one for former nurses of Smithdown General Hospital. Kay explained to me that she “wanted the display to explore and show how the communities of the area had changed over time”. The display evolved from a wider European project about migrant entrepreneurs and shows how Smithdown Road is the perfect example of how Liverpool encompasses a range of ethnicities, social circles and business trade.
The display focuses both on residents, past and present, and shopkeepers. A large section is dedicated to the different shops that have existed in the area and trades that are still there now. There is even a glass display case featuring the bestselling items from each business – ranging from a replica kebab and acrylic nails, to a selection of items from Miss Finne’s ladies hairdressers (closed in 1985).
My Grandma fondly remembers the Pavilion Theatre (that she called the ‘Pivvy’) and a milk bar owned by American Italians. The change over time shows a shift from niche trades like umbrella repairers in Victorian times (a skill I didn’t even know existed), to big institutions, like the hospitals that existed to benefit newly developed communities. Over time communities have come and gone, some moving along the length of the street and then further afield, including the Jewish community.
The street is characterised by three distinct sections. The top end, towards Tunnel Road is generally home to people from many diverse communities, including recently arrived migrants. The middle is home to many students but also established families in the traditional terraced streets. The bottom end towards Penny Lane is seen as more affluent and the types of shops here reflect this. The regeneration of the top end of the street, where lots of streets were demolished and new houses were supposed to be built, didn’t happen; lots of pubs were closed and there was a lot of anger which was captured by the project.
The Earl Marshall Pub, near to Smithdown Road, 1950’s. Photograph provided by Hilda Rose.
The Earl Marshall Pub near to Smithdown Road 2006 . Photograph provided by Hilda Rose.
Despite the differences, Kay Jones described how the bringing together of communities along the length of the street is symptomatic of the city in a wider sense. She shared the story of a Muslim shop keeper who stocks the Jewish Telegraph for the elderly people living in Shalom Court, opposite, and how they share their cultures with each other. A lovely example of how the communities within Smithdown mix together; not forgetting the influx of students affecting the shared identity of the area.
Reconstruction of court housing, Museum of Liverpool. ©Mark McNulty
The display will only be on view until September – so if you haven’t seen it yet, I urge you to. It will be replaced by a tribute to the history of another beloved Liverpool community from Pembroke Place. This display will feature the newly-conserved tiled frontage of the Galkoff’s Kosher butcher shop to accompany the existing reconstruction of court housing. I can’t wait to see how else they will bring Pembroke to life.
Cody Willoughby is a student at Liverpool University studying Communications and Media.