The first time I walked along Canning Street I was awestruck. It was 1973 and I’d just started at the University. And one lunch time I went out of the back entrance of the Eleanor Rathbone building where I’d just started going, and crossed Myrtle Street into Liverpool 8. Yards later I was in Canning Street, still now the most magnificent terraced street I have ever seen in my life.
Its magnificence at that time though was like that of an ancient relic. Because it looked like it was crumbling away.
Nowadays it’s hard to remember how Canning Street and its surrounding Georgian Terraces were back in the mid-seventies. How poor so many of the people who lived there were. How exploited they were by the private landlords who’d split the magnificent terraced houses up into so many tiny and badly maintained flats.
Because now, though there is still plenty of social housing in the Canning area, there have also been flats selling there in the last few years for a quarter of a million pounds. That day back in 1973 I could never have imagined that.
My first job in housing in Liverpool had been in the City Council housing office on Benledi Street, just off Scotland Road. It was a little brick fortress where about twenty of us ‘managed’ 14,000 tenancies in North Liverpool. In truth it was more like crowd control than management. There were good people in there, but most of the old hands despised the tenants and referred to them all, collectively, as ‘deadlegs’.
Some days I’d be sent off to the sub-office in Netherfield Heights, at the top of the hill in Everton. On the way up there I’d pass The Piggeries. These were three high-rise blocks, built as recently as 1965 and already on their way to being uninhabitable slums. Crosby, Canterbury and Haigh Heights, as they were really called, had recently staged a rent strike, because of the appalling conditions and the Council’s failure to maintain the blocks. Most Council employees entirely blamed the tenants, of course. But, spending some time at the local Repairs Office, on Shaw Street, I was shown how to prioritise and file repairs requests. And told to put requests for Piggeries repairs ‘in that box down there’. At the end of the day ‘that box’ was emptied into the bin.
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