In a spirited re-reading of regional modernity, Charlotte Wildman dispenses with traditional images of decay, depression and the dole forever associated with inter-war Liverpool and Manchester. Without denying the economic, social and political turbulence of the times, Wildman shows how local politicians, business figures and religious leaders responded to adversity in dynamic and innovative ways. Under their aegis, and with the support of the local press, civic boosterism became the order of the day in both cities. Largely successful, if obscured from later view by the fixation on poverty and distress, this reformulation of the Victorian city allowed more inclusive and ‘demotic’ forms of urban culture. With modernist fervour, urban redevelopment extended from re-designed town centres (best exemplified by the new Manchester Central Library and the extension to the Town Hall) to ambitious (if incomplete) major housing provision in new suburbs, accessible by boulevard-style ring roads. In the process, localism acquired an enhanced relevance and a dual purpose: to attract much-needed inward investment while encouraging civic patriotism and citizenship among the inhabitants in troubled times. In arguing the case, Wildman deploys the spatial turn, the ‘cultural-historical framework’ and other fashionable historiographical developments to underscore some key points: the reciprocal relationship between identities and urban space; the intersection of class with other forms of collective identity; and the continued resonance of religion. The strongest sections of the book deal with gender and religious selfhoods, showing how Catholic women balanced and adjusted their faith with emerging opportunities in urban consumer culture, leisure and employment. While well informed in historiographical terms, the book is narrow and unduly selective in its use of evidence, a criticism that applies, at least where Liverpool is concerned, to all three parts of the text. Part One on civic culture and urban regeneration highlights the achievements of ‘Tory Democrat’ Archibald Salvidge, while ignoring ‘the dingy, drab and derelict’ operation of the still formidable Tory machine under his successor, Thomas White. In the words of the Liverpolitan, the leading local progressive periodical of the day, 1930s Liverpool had become ‘a stagnant city, commercially, administratively and culturally’. During Salvidge’s tenure, Liverpool pioneered ‘civic weeks’, elaborate celebrations to attract local popular support as well as inward investment, aims endorsed by the business pressure group, Liverpool Organization Limited, spearheaded by Fred Marquis, later Lord Woolton. As Wildman chronicles, such civic celebrations were soon emulated in Manchester in a familiar spirit of competitive rivalry. There is a notable omission, however, from her survey of the Liverpudlian festivities, albeit one held on the largest open-air stage then erected: the Great Rail Pageant of 1930 to mark the centenary of the Liverpool–Manchester railway. While civic rivalry was intense, the two cities were proud of their interconnection and regional predominance, an alignment much strengthened by the East Lancs Road, perhaps the most significant symbol of inter-war progress but absent from Wildman’s text. Less surprisingly, there is no place in her analysis for those with a more backward vision. Contemporaneous with the Liverpool Organization, the Society of Lovers of Old Liverpool reached far beyond the business community. Members included T.P. O’Connor, long-serving Irish Nationalist MP for the Scotland division; Sir Leslie Scott, Tory MP for Exchange; Jack Hayes, the city’s first Labour MP; and George Milligan, dockers’ leader in the north end and the Society’s first president. C.A. Healy of the Daily Post served as secretary of this remarkable exercise in social and political unity, an indication of the need to rally to the defence of the city in unwonted decline. Here the response to post-war turmoil and depression was not progressive redevelopment, but a comforting relapse into heritage and nostalgia. Part Two explores the emergence of a vibrant and ‘demotic’ retail culture in the newly redeveloped city centre, focusing on the role of department stores. Here, too, the selection is unduly restricted: the Liverpool section includes only Bon Marché and George Henry Lee, both under the ownership of the American retail pioneer Harry Gordon Selfridge; and Lewis’s, where Marquis was in charge. For all the insistence on widening participation in retail culture, there is no mention of T.J. Hughes, who discovered the discount formula to ‘triumph over the obstacles presented by low purchasing power, high rents and high rates’. When Owen Owen moved to fashionable Clayton Square, cheap and cheerful T.J. Hughes took over its London Road premises (the site of the Industrial Exhibition in Civic Week 1926) and soon had to add extensions. By this time, too, John Moores, ‘the housewives’ saviour’, had developed a successful national mail order business building upon the postal networks of the booming Liverpool-based Littlewoods Football Pools. Bolton stands as proxy for Manchester in this section of the book as Wildman makes use of Mass Observation material on the town to explore how dressing fashionably became a central concern to increasing numbers of women. Part Three, on religion, is selective by definition, an investigation of Catholic urban culture concentrating on the Whit Walk processions in Manchester, episodic expressions of faith which ‘allowed women to combine popular forms of consumer culture and spending, particularly in terms of dress, for more explicitly spiritual roles’, and on ‘Dickie’ Downey’s thwarted attempt to fund and construct in Liverpool a Lutyens’ designed cathedral, second only in size to St Peter’s Rome. Wildman is the acknowledged expert on ‘The Cathedral That Never Was’ but pays little attention to other forms of Irish, Catholic and Scouse culture and endeavour. On a couple of occasions, Pat O’Mara, the self-proclaimed Liverpool-Irish slummy, is located incorrectly, uprooted to Scotland Road, far from his habitus in the south end of the city amid ‘almost every nationality under the sun’, a cosmopolitan presence of black and ethnic minority groups who seldom appear in this restricted study. © Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 10, 2018
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