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Woolton Village

Woolton Street from High Street towards 
the Coffee House pub in Woolton Village.

Just across Menlove Avenue is Woolton Village which is on the surface a pretty suburb of  Liverpool which  to a large extent retains the vestiges of village life in the face of  an ever-encroaching and all-encompassing "improved way of life" which means in effect more traffic and more housing estates, just two factors  which have sounded the death knell of suburbia all over England.

The history of Woolton dates from the Iron Age and is named after a Seventh century farmer called Wulfa.  His homestead was his "tun" and Wulfra's tun translates quite easily into Woolton.  Quarry Street is the site of a vast excavation of sandstone used for the Anglican Cathedral and across the road are the cottages of the workers built of the same stone.

Old Quarry, Woolton Tip 1927

The beauty of the village is mainly due to the use of local stone for its houses great and small ranging from the Archbishops House to Quarry St itself.

The Archbishops House, Woolton, is a Grade II Listed building. It was once home to Archbishop Downie who served as the Archbishop of Liverpool from 1928 until his death in 1953. When it was sold in 1983 it was in a state of neglect, but it was restored and renovated.

Prior to the 1800's, the village was extremely tiny and retained fields and woods all around its centre.  It was after only 1800 that building expanded dramatically and in a theme that is familiar around Liverpool the finest buildings were of local stone and a tribute to the Victorian architects and builders.

There was once a village duck-pond which is now a car-park and could have been the template for a Joni Mitchell anthem and there's a 1927 cinema which over the years has fought to stay alive, but get up early enough before the cars are on the move and with a little imagination you can still see how the village used to be.

Woolton, The Pond

Half-way up Church Road,  St. Peter's Church benevolently overlooks the village and is one of the few churches these days that can boast an overflow of parishioners each Sunday.  Throughout much of the remainder of the week the pretty but innocuous church is an unexpected place of pilgrimage for music fans from all over the world- with the great majority travelling from Japan and America.

St. Peter's Church is unique in that has become a Mecca  for fans of the Beatles, this is the legendary meeting place of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the place where it all began in the long-ago summer of 1957. Rightly or wrongly,  the modest Church of St. Peters in Woolton  has become a shrine.  It has joined the select company of must-see sacred places throughout the land, on a par with St. Pauls Cathedral, Canterbury and York, there are many who would say for all the wrong reasons.   But  with laudable Northern pragmatism,  the Church itself  basks in the reflected glory of the worship of the two "latter-day saints" John and Paul, and welcomes churchgoers whatever their creed and whatever their reasons.  Nevertheless, tourists outnumber parishioners heavily and John Lennon's infamous "more famous than Jesus Christ" could be argued to be true in this place at least.

Visitors are shown the stage where the Quarrymen first played and where they took to the field in the village fĂȘte ,

but for most fans the headstone chiselled with the name of Eleanor Rigby is the highlight of any visit.  This is the legendary site of Paul's inspiration for the hymn to down-trodden people everywhere and fans stand with bowed heads and in awed silence as they come to one of Christendom's most hallowed places.

The words, familiar to countless millions around the world, are among the most poignant in popular music:

'Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name; nobody came.'

Eleanor, was born on August 29, 1895, at 8 Vale Road in Woolton  -  which, intriguingly, backs onto Menlove Avenue, where Lennon grew up.

The patriarch of the family was her grandfather John Rigby  -  her mother's father  -  a stonemason who presided over the poky, two-bedroom terrace house crammed with five adults and the infant Eleanor. Eleanor's real name, in fact, was Eleanor Whitfield, but with the Rigby family line on the cusp of dying out, her grandfather appears to have insisted that she take his surname  which now appears on the family gravestone. At the young age of 44, Eleanor died in the same house where she had been born, was interred in the graveyard of St Peter's Church, and had her name added prominently on an increasingly crowded headstone. 'That graveyard was a place John Lennon, in particular, knew very well, but it was also pretty close to Paul's house at the time. 'Paul has come up with various explanations for how they came up with the name Eleanor Rigby down the years, but the subconscious is a very powerful thing when you're writing music, and there is no accounting for it. Anyone who was growing up at the time will remember the kind of character The Beatles were singing about in that song.

Bermondsey showman, Tommy Steele, was so enamoured of the Eleanor Rigby legend that he went forthwith and created with his own hands a statue in honour of the poor woman which is sited in the city centre and all for a commission of half-a-sixpence.  The statue is quite unusual not just as the only tribute to a bag-lady in existence but there are a number of objects within the bronze which are significant ---the other half of the half-a-sixpence recalls Tommy's own successful musical of the same name, there's a copy of the iconic Liverpool Echo newspaper, a 4-leaf clover, a football sock, a page of the Bible, the Beano and Dandy, a football boot and four sonnets.  A plaque behind the statue dedicates the work to "All the lonely people".  There's also a solitary sparrow which is one of the very few left of once millions.  The mystery of the disappearing sparrow population is too complex to be discussed here but is an enigma worthy of note.

The grave of one of the finest Liverpool managers ever, in terms of achievements, Bob Paisley, can be found in St Peters. Bob became Liverpool Football Club's Manager in the summer of 1974. Born the son of a miner in the County Durham village of Hetton-le-Hole on January 23, 1919, Paisley's childhood was spent absorbing knowledge and advice.As his late widow Jessie recalled:

"Bob always tried to remember what his headmaster told him; that if you speak softly people will try to listen to what you're saying. If you shout they're liable to walk away and not take it in."

There is also the grave of the Unknown Soldier of the First World War and another  headstone which is rarely visited, standing in the far corner of the churchyard.  It is a family grave and the stone simply lists the death of William Sewell on the 8th January 1910, no more and no less.  There are no fancy swords or marble allegories but it is the last resting place of just a handful of Liverpool men who took place in one of the momentous and disastrous cavalry charges in history.

Portrait of William Sewell,
13th Light Dragoons
by J. Kitodily Williams
The Charge of The Light Brigade

On the 25th October, 1854, the harbour at Balaclava on the Crimean Peninsula was attacked at dawn by a force of over 3,000 Russian cavalry -- if the attack had been successful it would have been a major setback for the Allied forces.  Five regiments of British Heavy Cavalry deployed to stand in their way.  While the stage was set for a major cavalry battle four squadrons of Russian cavalry wheeled away and headed directly towards the harbour and the British troops.  There then took place one  of the many fabled engagements of  the British army which echo down the years and become more legendary with each telling.
The kilted infantry of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders led by Sir Colin Campbell hurried to block their path with numbers so few that they were forced to deploy in a narrow line, not more than three men deep.  Not one to mince words,  Campbell exhorted his men while they stood waiting for the onslaught, with the immortal words;

  " Men, remember there is no retreat from here.  You must die where you stand".

And stand they did, stopping the Russian cavalry in its tracks and entering the Military Hall of Fame by so doing.  The Highlanders have forever afterwards gone down in history as ;

The Thin Red Line.

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