GREAT HOMER STREET
Great Homer Street in the late 1930s
This was an exclusively shopping street in the North end of Liverpool, the nearest equivalent to a present day 'Shopping Centre', if you can imagine the 'Centre' being stretched out on both sides of a mile long road, (known as ' Urban Ribbon development'). It was in effect a market consisting of probably two or three hundred shops, all but 5 or 6 of which would scarcely rate today as small Department stores, the hundreds of others being small specialist shops. Not one independent house or flat in the whole street.
There were probably 8 or 10 varieties each of grocers, butchers, greengrocers, fishmongers, bakers, household equipment, clothing, confectionery, tobacco and sweet shops, a number of bicycle shops, with a medium sized Co-operative food store, a few mini Departmental stores e.g. Rubins, Boyers, Carmichaels, Sturlas, Woolworths "nothing over sixpence" (21/2d), Marks and Spencer, the latter more akin to the original style of their first ever shop, than to the present day High Street ones. One small but memorable shop was Hu getts (??), a sweet shop making much of its own produce, which attracted customers from all over the city because of its magnificent homemade 'humbugs'.
On each intersection throughout the length of that long street were 2 or 3 "Barrow Ladies" each selling fruit or vegetables or flowers, some were moneylenders surrounded by people borrowing or repaying loans. The butchers had dozens of rabbits hung outside, whilst inside the butcher was chopping up whole sides of beef, lamb or pork, the cuts to be laid out on display trays. My mother shopped for her groceries at the CWS (Cooperative Wholesale Society) store at the corner of Great Mersey Street and Great Homer Street, and I was frequently sent there to do the shopping. She had bought a one-shilling share to become a member, and you quoted this membership number, and the transaction would be recorded manually by the assistant who gave you a receipt. (There were no recording tills then). Mum claimed a quarterly dividend, usually enough to buy some tea and margarine. I still remember the membership number 123908.
Great Homer Street was the dividing line between the 'Catholic' and the 'Protestant' areas of North Liverpool, and walking along it from the Kirkdale road end, the left hand side was known as the Protestant side. The HQ Church of the Orange Lodge run by the Rev. H.D. Longbottom (the Ian Paisley of Liverpool), was up the top end of Conyers St. At the bottom of Conyers Street, opposite Great Mersey Street, was a single hand-operated petrol pump "ROP", the only petrol pump of any sort within 3 or 4 miles. There were no 'Forecourts' of today's universal brand names then, and relatively few motorcars. "ROP" stood for Russian Oil Products! The neighbouring streets running uphill bore Eastern Mediterranean names, Zante, Conyers, Crete, Candia, and Mytelene.
Walking along Great Homer St. southwards, one passed Fulford St on the right, (a very narrow street used by the street traders many of whom lived there where they parked their hand-carts), and half way up you came to Fulford Terrace. This consisted of a group of about 10 exceedingly small houses terraced together round three sides, know as a "court'. None of these dwellings possessed a toilet or bath, and in the middle of the court was a row of three W/Cs, shared and kept clean by the residents. (The nearest public baths in Westminster Road provided the only facility for an immersion bath.) A correspondingly small fireplace was the only source of heat for those who could afford the coal; there was no electricity or gas for any part of this area.
The top end of Fulford Street opened onto Kirkdale road, and that corner was a square of waste ground, (the local name for such open spaces was "a hollow"). It was devoid of grass and uneven, and was used by the neighbouring men, all of them unemployed, as a recreational area where they played "ollies". This was a game of 'marbles' using stone spheres, (called "ollies"), almost the size of a golf ball, and a permanent 'course' was set out which had the requisite holes for the ollies. The men would gamble on this game usually for cigarettes. The hollow also served as a venue for "Pitch and Toss", in which the men gambled with pennies. In this game two halfpennies were placed tails-side face-up on the two index fingers of the 'tosser' who would flip them turning in the air, and the men would bet for or against them landing both 'heads up'.
This game and all forms of street betting, including that on Horse racing were illegal in those days, and look-outs had to be stationed to watch for plain-clothes policemen. If you were caught in gambling of this sort, you were taken in the Black Maria van to the central police station (known as the Bridewell) to be formally charged. My brother Harry, crippled by poliomyelitis from his early years, and consequently unemployable in those days, acted as a bookies clerk, until he was caught for about the fourth time. The fines increased each time and he had become 'too expensive' and lost that 'job'. These rules look ludicrous today, when we experience such widespread street sales of drugs on the streets, with such little police control.
Further along Great Homer St on the left was my mother's favourite provision shop where she always bought the bacon "Rollstons", almost at the bottom of William Moult St., and opposite on the 'Protestant' side was another provision shop 'Irwins" and a Presbyterian Church. At the Scotland Road end of William Moult St was Mrs. Law's bakery, and on Saturdays I earned a few pence delivering her bread by hand - cart, which at the age of nine I pulled 'up the brew' to her customers in the protestant area.
Half way down Great Homer Street was a narrow lane called Chapel Gardens, which led into Scotland Road. At the top of this lane on the right was the famous St. Anthony's Catholic Church, (about which I have written a separate story), and on the left lay the equally famous pub, "The Throstles' Nest", which many of the stall-holders from the North Market, including my Dad used for their social 'Happy hour". If he was late home Ma would chide him with ' I suppose you've called in at the 'Throstles'. Further on still was a ladies' clothing shop run by a lady who sported a somewhat untidy hair style, the shop being known affectionately as " Tatty Head's".
In those days when Marxist Communism was fashionable among the mass of unemployed, (there were even one or two Communist MPs at Westminster,) here in Great Homer Street, in the midst of one of the poorest areas of Britain, during the greatest economic recession in history, the 1930s, economic marketing competition was at its sharpest. The poor, and many of the not so poor walked the length of each side of Great Homer Street, comparing the prices, to find the best value for what little money they possessed. This period was part of "The Great (economic) Depression " which followed the Wall Street "Crash" of 1929 and when the top of the pops for too many years was a song called "Buddy can you spare a Dime?" Middle Class men were begging in the streets, and boys leaving school were fortunate if they could find the most menial job. It was here, untrammelled by, or more truthfully ignorant of, the doctrinaire theories of Marxism and Capitalism, (which I was unable to study until much later in life), and therefore still ignorant about the attributes and otherwise of those theories, (at that period the subject of intense public debate), that I learned my first lessons in practical economics.
The model that springs to mind most vividly is Christmas Eve in Great Homer Street during the mid 1930s. Here most of the raw elements of capitalism were at play; lots of choice of so many 'goodies', coupled with tremendous competition. The laws of supply and demand were in operation absolutely, and value was a key player. Their variable components on this eve of Christmas were noticeably changing by the hour.
Great Homer Street was a busy daily shopping centre, very busy on Saturdays, but on Christmas Eve in particular, whole families patrolled its length throughout the afternoon, looking for a new jersey for young Paul or a frock for Mary, some toys for the children's Christmas stockings, and FOOD.
Chicken in those days was a luxury reserved for the rich or those convalescing from illness; there were no chicken farms, and battery hens were unheard of. The less affluent and even the very poor had been saving for this day, but they had to be very canny about how the money was spent. Turkeys were the most popular choice, and sold well during the afternoon and evenings, but the prices at that stage were beyond the means of the poorer citizens. But as the evening wore on, the prices of the perishable commodity foods began to fall, as the tradesmen assessed the slowdown in turnover, and glanced anxiously behind them at the unsold stock. Their strategy was to ensure that they balanced the degree of price reduction in relation to time, so as to keep up a satisfactory rate of sale designed to achieve at the end of each day a relatively full till and an empty shop.
I remember this well. On Christmas Eve, my parents usually went for a drink from about 9pm, as a prelude to the holiday, and before venturing to Great Homer Street, only a few hundred yards from our home. Dad's business as a Wholesale Fruiterer had gone bust with the combined effects of the 1930s recession and the downturn of his fruit imports caused by the Spanish Civil War. When the pub closed at 10pm, dad, accompanied by Ma, and in the mid-thirties by me, walked the length of Great Homer Street, weighing up the different butchers stalls, the quantity of turkeys or geese still unsold, and their prices, making his own assessment of what he might do for the best, but taking his time to decide. It was a dangerous game, which many others were playing, and if you delayed too long holding out for a better deal, the last of the turkeys or geese could go quickly as the prices dropped, and one could end up with sausage and mash for Christmas dinner. My mother (not a lover of sausage and mash), who was equally aware of these dangers, periodically, and increasingly as the night wore on, would exhort Dad to clinch a deal at one stall or another. Even I, a great supporter of sausage and mash, became anxious at the brinkmanship at play, and of the drama it engendered.
As the game proceeded, one could gauge the state of the market from the smiles and joviality of the butcher, or from the furrows of his brows which mirrored the extent of the lowering rate of return he was likely to suffer, and from the diminishing crowd as more and more of them opted for deals with his competitors, and went home with their bargains.
All poultry was priced 'per bird', not per pound as in the supermarkets of today, which made it that much more difficult for the customer who had therefore to assess the weight in relation to the price. While probably all butchers carried a set of scales, as required by the law, which they would be happy to use up to the late evening, they were reluctant to do so afterwards when the closing sales had become a frantic auction. Thus a turkey whose equivalent had sold for (say) twenty shillings in the middle of the afternoon might diminish in price to 18 shillings a few hours later, then to 16, and perhaps to 14 shillings or lower by 1130pm. Closing time for the butcher was not fixed, it was either when he sold out, OR when the last of the customers left the area.
If, say, turkeys were valued by the merchant at 20 shillings each at 5pm, those remaining unsold were losing their value to him as the evening wore on, and should he fail to offload them by about 1am when the last customers left, then they ceased to have any value to him at all. Being perishable, and without cold storage, his only option was to donate them to a local establishment for the destitute, and often this was the case. Unsold turkeys would rot very quickly if not cooked soon, and by law in those days, no shops were allowed to open after Christmas Eve for at least two more days.
Although it was not for some years, when I began to study economics, that I recalled this experience, and began to realise how much I had unconsciously absorbed. The major lesson I think was my appreciation of the power of such a competitive market economy to override the less acceptable facets of Capitalism (monopoly power), even in a deprived area. With so many competitive forces in the field in such circumstances, no degree of control could have succeeded in achieving a monopoly, or even a near-monopoly.
So I found this a most exciting game and I admired the skills of my dad, sometimes not deployed until close to mid-night, when after clinching a deal, there would be a mad dash home with the turkey. Then off to Mid-night Mass, followed by my then going to bed while my parents were left to pluck, de-gut, and stuff the bird to prepare it for the coal- fuelled oven which was (exceptionally) kept lit for the rest of that night/morning, so that after only a few hours sleep for Ma and Dad, the cooking could begin. Quite how my mother survived all this sheer neurosis of marketing activity and the loss of sleep, I shall never know. What I do know is that between them my parents always managed to contrive a traditional Christmas dinner, despite the economic rigours of those days.
©2006 John McQuiggan
I don't know exactly where the name came from? I am not literate in the knowledge of a Market that seemed the core of Greatie. Although previously aware there was a market in Cazenau Street many years before? Now named St Martins Market known locally as Paddy. The hub of the "Madding Crowd" racing around for a bargain on a Saturday, remembering times when younger at my Grandad's flat in Virgil Street. Quite in awe of a place that had it's own unique smell? Women selling their wears reminding me of day's gone by, a past kept alive by few stalls, old lady's standing proud to offer you a bargain. A treasure trove of the past, yet continuing to move with modern time their age no limit as to getting out of their bed offering us a tradition. Time stood still in the Market Hall, although many new stalls graced the aisles they were not what Paddy's Market stood for. I bet you Paddy would be proud? The continued force of Great Homer Street, a meeting place for some for many years. It brings my memory to a place where I can feel a time when urchins walked the street's barefoot, making imprints upon the ground leaving their own mark within a place so full historical meaning. Mist filled air, the hustle and bustle of busy shops and pubs, providing future history and global interest. A past place of retreat for many, although carpeted with hard times and sometimes poverty. Yet made hard working hands and courage filled souls I am glad for improvement but resent a little, a time when "Lamplighters" lit the night sky and overcrowded courts represented shelter and not always warmth. The coal man on hand to tempt a fire, cobblestone lined the street. Underneath I wonder? Are they still there? Hiding a million imprints of people that graced the roads, each unique with their own troubles and tales of woe? Blistered feet, cold arms outstretched but with smiling faces willing to say "Hello". When newspaper went hand in hand with a potato at Vincent's Chippy, a simple bag of chips that cured a yearning hunger. One like Paddy's Market not wanting to leave the scent of Great Homer Street, stagnant like the smell of rot that graced the Streets many years before. "Paddy's Market" as much a familiar landmark and religious worship, as those who enter it's cousin's door "Paddy's Wigwam". For they have been, walked, shared the air and have stood were we have stood. But experienced far more than us, way back when I was a child the CO-OP, Fitzpatricks- Clarksons and Henry Homer. An air of mystery lines the streets, a familiar buzz is waiting in the wings, Scotland Road is now exactly what it says on the tin "A road". Scottie and Greatie are really long gone I never knew them and I wish I had. Wanting to indulge in the gracious, meaning-full and hope-full time when prosperity opened many a door, when "Please and Thank-you" really meant so much. When "Love thy neighbour" was "Forgive and Forget" it built forging life-long friendships, the foundation for "Community spirit".
Willing to move with modern time "Yes" as years past, yet I really don't think this is what our gracing spirit's hoped for sometimes? I wonder if Jennifer will be as happy as Paddy? Time will tell? Will the light re-ignite on Scotland Road when we are introduced to Paddy's sibling? Will a community open its arms outstretched to embrace a forgotten air, one that hard labour engulfed into its lungs and created unison amongst its tenants? When one earned his name as a "True Scottie Roader" salt of the earth, community spirit is forever present, gracing the hidden stone underneath our busy feet. Memories build our long gone streets and roads, smell fuses our imagination, conducts silent Prayer at Saint Anthony's Church, and enters the bustling shops such as Selina's and the Holy Shop. As will the women on a Saturday in Paddy's Market, close your eyes, feel the time, embrace the banter and smell, a building no more, but forever present embedded in a million hearts. Thoughts and memories submersed in culture, history, spirit, past and present meaning. They say "Out with the old and in with the new" although it is what was yearned for in yesteryear, but somehow I will miss Paddy and what he stood for. As will future occupants of Jennifer's time a tradition somewhat passed down from a generation, sitting proudly on her throne, who is next in line? That we may never be fortunate enough to see? Greatie's Royalty "Paddy" three cheers for the lost Jewel in the Crown. He stood tall, and proud, withstood the test of time, was part of what made Great Homer Street, Great!" I will remember you with fondness when taking trips down memory lane "You are Gone But Not Forgotten
R.I.P Paddy" a unique culture with a capital P.
GREAT HOMER STREET
Liverpool City Council currently promotes shopping in Great Homer Street with the following description of the Great Homer Street Saturday Market.
'Every Saturday over 300 traders gather on a pavement site in Great Homer Street, affectionately known as Paddy's Market. Great Homer Street Market has stalls to suit every need including food stuffs, jewellery and along with St Martin's indoor market hall, next door, means more variety for the local shopper. Just one and a half miles from the city centre and with ample parking in the area, Great Homer Street Saturday Market is ideal for shopping.
Great Homer Street was once a thriving shopping area and as such was an integral feature of the history of the Scotland Road area. Great Homer Street became world famous and as such we wish with this webpage to acknowledge the role that this road played in the history, heritage and culture of the Scotland Road and indeed the city of Liverpool. We welcome hearing from readers who remember shopping on the road when it was crammed tight with shops on both sides. We welcome hearing from readers who may have worked in those shops. We also welcome receiving any photos that readers think will be good for this webpage.