The Merseyside Blitz: A spotters guide

More than seventy years after the raids that devastated so much of the region, you might think that spotting signs of the impact of the raids could prove difficult, at least without a handy reference guide. In many cases this is correct, for the region has seen massive changes in those seven decades, with whole areas rebuilt to such an extent that they would be unrecognisable to someone alive at the time of the attacks. There is however still signs of the blitz for anyone to see and this article will take you through some of them.

Signs and portents

Here and there throughout the region you will occasionally see signs for companies which have long since moved on or shut down. These are known as “Ghost Signs” and there is a rather excellent book on the subject by Phil and Caroline Bunford, which includes several wartime examples. One of these is this first sign, from the side of a building on Eberle Street (off Dale Street).

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Although as their book says, this sign looks like it’s in too good a condition to be an original, it certainly wouldn’t be surprising if it was, for the style and nature of the sign is perfectly in keeping for the times. It of course indicates an exit from a shelter, in this case in the basement of a prominent building. The Civil Defence workers would find such signs a great help, for if they had to rescue people from the building if it collapsed, knowing the location of emergency exits would save crucial minutes.

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Our second sign comes from a building in New Ferry currently occupied by Andy’s Aquatics. It indicates the direction of an Emergency Water Supply site. Created after the early raids, these supplies could take many forms, including swimming pools and the basements of demolished buildings that had been filled with water. This particular example may refer to the old New Ferry baths which were in the direction indicated by the arrow.

Visual signs of the past

Often you can tell from looking at a building when it has undergone some reconstruction in the past. Take the example of the building below, which was part of the hydraulic system used in the docks on the Wirral.

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You can quite clearly see the difference in colour between the bricks one the near corner of the building and the rest. The uneven line running down the wall suggests that this reconstruction wasn’t part of a planned rebuild, so it came as no surprise to find that the building was badly damaged during the blitz, with the damage corresponding almost exactly to the newer brickwork.

Another way is to look for remaining older features that look out of place with their surroundings. For example look at the balustrades surrounding the car park in this modern photograph.

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It looks rather unusual and slightly out of place, although not impossible of course given the prominent location (on Victoria Street, the car park is used by the Municipal Annexe, whose tower can be seen in the photo). A study of the wartime photos however reveals that the balustrades in fact once surrounded a rather grand building known as Government Buildings, which was burnt out during the May Blitz.

A newer model

You can also often tell when a building has been damaged by a quick comparison of its age and current style. The photo below for example shows the Bootle Protestant Free Church.

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Knowing that a church by the same name appears in the pre-war street directories provides a clue that it was probably hit during the raids. This building looks fairly modern and its style is quite likely post war. Sure enough, the archives contain a photograph of a building of similar layout, but quite different style, with heavy damage to the front of the building and its roof.

Mind the gap

Another common way to tell a blitz site is almost the reverse of the Government Buildings example, namely to look for modern properties or developments that look out of place with the theme of the area. One of the first photos I ever investigated was just labelled “Leopold Street” in the archives.

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A visit to the street in question (in Kensington, Liverpool) revealed it was a street of almost entirely terraced housing, with the two notable exceptions (above). Nothing their numbers (77 and 79, but there was no 81 or 83), I then matched the names in the street directories for the period to the lists of civilian war dead, and was able to confirm this was the exact location. Four pre-war houses had been demolished and only two rebuilt, each with its own garage. A mother and four daughters had been killed at number 81.

Another common feature of post-war reconstruction is when the bomb site is never really built upon after the raid. Often you will find the site converted into another use, such as this one from Laird Street in Birkenhead.

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The gap in the centre of the photograph is where 62-68 once stood, which doesn’t appear to have been built upon after the war. Instead it became the home to a set of billboard advertisements, perhaps a temporary solution to cover the eyesore that eventually became permanent.

Conclusion

So there we are, a quick guide to the kinds of things to look out for on your travels around the Merseyside region. Do you know any examples yourself? If so please get in touch, I would especially love to hear about any other examples of the signs I mentioned.

 

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