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Blog (40)

Fill in this gap on the waterfront

We are going to be publishing a series of articles by the volunteers (Garretteers) who have worked on collating and cataloguing the archive. They have selected items that interest them and written a response. The first published below is by Sue Smith.
Fill in this gap on the waterfront
George Garrett
20 Aug 1957
Published letter on the future plans for the development of Liverpool's waterfront and The Lanny (Landing Stage)
I chose this object because I could hear George Garrett's voice coming through clearly in the article. It amused me, and moved me, and I hope that it contributed to the eventual development of the waterfront as I see it now!
The object is a yellowed and slightly battered scrap of newspaper containing the published letter written by George. George was contributing to an ongoing discussion as to the future of Liverpool's waterfront. It is a heartfelt piece giving a colourful history of the part the waterfront played in the lives of ordinary Liverpudlians. He outlines the joy and spectacle of a ship leaving port, but also underlines the working life that exists behind the carnival atmosphere. “Hundreds of coloured streamers were occasionally tossed down from the deck to extended hands on the jetty. As the liner pulled away the streamers lengthened, tautened and finally tore, leaving behind the women's misty eyes and hopes that the severance would not be for long”.
He also points out that The Lanny played a crucial part in the cultural and social life of the city “one of the healthiest lungs, probably its most stimulating . . young couples arm-in-arm . . enjoying the sea air, river panorama and glint of each other's eyes”
This letter was written towards the end of George's life but exemplifies his attitude to life and work and his love of the city of Liverpool.
Sue Smith

Armistice Day 2014

Armistice Day with a heightened significance. One hundred years. None of those that clung to life in the trenches, or at sea, are with us now, who fought in the ‘Great War’. George Garrett could well have been one of those to lose his life; torpedoed twice, taken prisoner aboard the famed German destroyer The Kronprinz Wilhelm, forced to sign a declaration against taking up arms again and interned only to escape from a camp in Argentina, the very place he had returned from, giving up his youthful days roaming the countryside and living as a beachcomber just prior to the war breaking out. In 1914 he signed on officially as a Stoker with The Potaro, the ship he sailed on back from Argentina to join up with the war effort. He’d been a stoker for some time after being discovered as a stowaway among the hay bales on a tramp steamer bound for Argentina that he’d snuck aboard from the Liverpool docks. He’d secretly cried with the pain of those early days at the stokehold furnace. But he was a big lad, and soon enough his frame filled out to match the task in hand. He served the whole of the 1914-18 war at sea, which in the early days of submarine warfare must have been a life filled with terror for all the seamen above and below decks.


Stage Performance of Flowers and Candles

The staging of George Garrett’s second play, Flowers and Candles, on Friday 31st October 2014, was not only an event of historical significance, it was also, and in my view most importantly, a dramatic success. The performance was a rehearsed reading – the actors with scripts, a few props and a touch of dramatic action to ‘lift the play off the page’. However, such was the strength of the performances that I’ve lost count of the number of people who have told me they forgot the cast had the scripts in their hands. This is also a testament to the strength of the play itself, which here needed little embellishment to bring home the full force of George’s writing. In structure, dialogue, drama and pacing, it’s hard to believe that this is the work of a self-taught working class writer, who had put his shoulder to the stokehold shovel before he put his hand to the pen.


Rediscovering Alan O’Toole Our Lost Historian - The Man Who Found Tressell’s Grave

By Tony Wailey

Writers sometimes tend to forget who the main actors are in their own story. Alan O’Toole was a great working class historian, but sadly we know little of his life except that he has been lost to us for more than a decade. His role in finding, clearing and publishing the fact of Robert Tressell’s grave in Liverpool in the middle 1970’s is his most well-known work, but he was also responsible for publishing other sadly unrecognised figures, lost to history, much like himself.   
The years 1976 – 1982 were his most productive period. Dave Harker, one of the foremost authorities on the published biographies on the work of Tressell, notes in his bibliographical sources on the Author of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (published in Liverpool Free Press (1976), of the importance of Alan’s work. All those years ago we find him and his big mate, the seaman John Nettleton, searching for and finding Robert Tressell’s grave, and then reporting and publishing their findings in the History Workshop Journal with the support and guidance of Raphael Samuel.


Celebration Month Successes and Thanks

I got four heads inside my mind
Four rooms I'd like to lie in
Four selves I want to find
And I don't know which one is me 
I got four hang-ups I'm trying to beat
Four directions and just two feet
Got a very very secret identity
And I don't know which one is me.
Four Faces, The Who.


Update - 13th March

It’s been an important part of the project keeping the family involved and updated about the development of the archive and our activities. So on Saturday 8th March we held our third Garrett Family Update day at the fabulous Central Library. We were made up to see them again and spend the afternoon discussing the archive and our plans for the celebration events in May. We were particularly pleased that George’s two remaining sons, Derek and Roy, were able to join us.

Tony Wailey, in a Herculaneum effort, managed to condense our sixteen week course down to twenty minutes, in a superb presentation, ably assisted by his glamorous assistant (Me!) on the slide show. We wanted to make sure the family had a wider understanding of the context of George’s work, and they seemed suitably satisfied at the end of the discussion.

It was very generous of David Stoker, Service Manager for the Central Library & Archive, to give up his time on a Saturday to join us for the full session. David spoke with the family about the archive and how George’s artefacts would be treated and stored if they are stored at the Library.

David then took them on a tour of the archive rooms, demonstrating to them the up to date technology that exists there. This is an ongoing discussion and the family now have copies of the agreements to consider for the future.

We then discussed the celebration month and our proposals, and we were delighted the family granted WoW permission for us to republish copies of two of George’s writings in a small booklet myself and Tony have written as an introduction to his work and the archive. This will be published for the May celebration events.

All done, we took some pics and headed off to Dr Duncan’s for some welcome lubrication.

The George Garrett Volunteer group met again on Monday to continue cataloguing the archive, and have now begun inputting all the information into templates. These will accompany the archive and provide a guide to the material available, as well as providing information for tagging the material on the website. The group worked like clockwork, and it’s always a surprise when 8pm comes round. Time flies when…

We’ll be continuing this work next Monday, and expect to have everything logged by that point, so we can move on to the other thousand and one things we are working on to prepare for May!

The George Garrett Archive project workshops are free and open to all. We meet every Monday, 6-8pm. For our next session on Monday 17th March, we will be meeting at LJMU’s Aldham Robarts Library, MaryLand Street. L1 9DE (off HopeStreet).


Update - 28th Feb

The shortest month of the year feels like the busiest for some time. For the last week our feet have hardly touched the ground. Here’s how it’s been with the project in the past five days:

Monday 24th:
Morning - Very excited to meet some fabulous, although pretty nervous looking, second year Art and design students from Liverpool John Moores University presenting the latest designs for the installation. Can’t tell you how impressed me and Tony Wailey were with their work and their proposals. As you can see from the image, it is designed to suggest a stokehold on a ship, while carrying as much information as possible, including many archive items, in a way that is accessible to all ages. It will also, through the use of the pipes, include a ‘soundscape’, suggesting the noise of the sea. The next stage is a mock up, and then on to the build.

Evening - The Archive volunteers met again on Monday evening. Led by Tony Wailey and Val Stevenson, the group got down to the task of cataloguing and indexing the artefacts we have collected. This is now the key task required to get everything in to place for the opening of the archive exhibition at Liverpool Central Library in May. Great work by the group, and something we will be continuing with each Monday evening at LJMU’s Aldham Robarts Library, Maryland Street, 6pm, every Monday.
Evening - On Monday night we also had local actor, Paul Duckworth, with us. He took time out from his rehearsals for the new Everyman Theatre’s opening play, Twelfth Night, to record the voice over of George Garrett’s Voice for the short film. We have been granted the use of a state of the art recording booth from LJMU for this work – much thanks to them for that.

Tuesday 25th: Mike Morris travelled over to Nottingham with Chris Chadwick from The Hatch TV -, to film Professor John Lucas. John pioneered the research and discovery of neglected and forgotten working class writing, and was the main mover behind the publication of Michael Murphy’s excellent collection of George Garrett’s short stories. John, although retired is incredibly active with his own writing, and also as a publisher with his ‘Shoestring Press’, through which he publishes a huge amount of memoir and poetry. He’s the type of person you could chat with all day, extremely knowledgeable, generous with his time, and also with his thoughts on George Garrett’s work, which he regards very, very highly.

Wednesday 26th: Almost disaster, but Alexei a trooper. In the midst of lots of prep for Thursday – finalising the script for the voice over recording, working out locations, etc., Alxei Sayle emails to say he’s been in bed all day with a heavy cold…but he’s still coming on Thursday to record the VO with us. Hallelujah!

Thursday 27th: Me, Wes storey, Chris Chadwick, Tony Wailey and Stuart Borthwick (WoW Trustee and LJMU Programme manager), recce at the Redmond Building to finalise details for the day. Me and Tony then get down to Lime Street to meet Alexei off the train. Quietly spoken, suffering with cold, but no doubt delighted to see us, we whisk him back up to the Redmond building and, by way of grabbing coffee and water, get straight into the recording studio. He’s surprising clear even with his cold, and it’s a take in just over an hour. Happy days. We do the inevitable shot down at a very windy Albert Dock, and get him inside for a warm lunch. I’m sure he was disappointed to leave us, but he did look rather relieved to be getting back on the train. And not one ‘hello John got a new motor’ gag from us all day.

Friday 28th: I wrote this blog, and sorted all the receipts. As you do. Roll on the weekend!



Module Four - Workshop Four

The Subterranean Theatre 1918-1955. The Writer as Historian. 1945 – 1955.

Tony opened tonight’s session by referring to an interview we filmed with George’s two remaining sons, Roy and Derek (for future broadcast in the short film we are making about George Garrett). Towards the end of the interview I asked them if they ever felt, or got the impression, that George was disappointed by life. Their response was emphatically ‘No’. They said he always had a song, he had his faith and he had his family. But what, Tony asked, did they mean by this?

Alan O’Toole, in his as yet unpublished monograph on George, makes the point that more space should be given to that form of libertarian socialist, the anarcho – collective endeavour, and the pursuit of justice by individual radicals. He argues that this strand of left-wing radicals, this way of thinking, which applies to George Garrett, has been washed over by the tendency to look at radical history through the lens of the Communist Party and organised Labour generally.

All too often activists who fell out, for example, with the CP, became bitter, or even reactionary. Jack Carney, a radical from Widnes, who like George sailed to America and became an activist, became so jaundiced with the communism that he ended up working with the CIA, campaigning for ‘free’ trades unions. Jack Braddock, who in his early days as a Communist was what we may now term ‘ultra-left’, went over to the right at a pace of knots after WW2.

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