Blitzed: Liverpool Lives review

Written by Terry Sweeney

This exhibition is for anyone with an interest in Liverpool social history, or history during the Second World War. It uses photographs taken across the city by Liverpool City Police between  1940 and 1941 and starkly captures the devastation of Nazi bombing over that period, and particularly that of the May 1941 Blitz.

Liverpool was the most important port on the west coast of England for North American and Commonwealth supplies and was a key port in the Battle of the Atlantic. As such, Liverpool (and Birkenhead/Wallasey) was a key target for German Luftwaffe bombers during the Second World War (1939 to 1945).

During German air raids over that period more than 4,000 civilians were killed across Merseyside, 90,000 homes were destroyed and many thousands of people were made homeless.

Liverpool was hit multiple times during 1940 and well into 1941. The first major raid took place on 28 August 1940 when 160 bombers attacked the city. That raid carried on over the next three nights. There were 50 raids on the city over the next three month period. Some raids lasted over ten hours.

The air assault came to a peak in the Christmas Blitz of 20-22nd December. The Blitz continued into 1941 and the renewed bombing blitz peaked on 7 horrendous nights from 1st to 7th May 1941. The worst night of the bombing was Saturday 3 May 1941-Sunday 4 May. Fire brigade records show that on that night 298 enemy aircraft dropped around 363 tonnes of high explosives and 50,000 incendiary bombs.

The last German air raid on Liverpool took place on 10 January 1942, destroying several houses on Upper Stanhope Street.( Ironically, one of the houses destroyed was number 102, which had been the home of Alois Hitler Jr.-half brother to Adolf Hitler).

Liverpool suffered the second highest number of civilian deaths in air raids in the UK (after London). Due to press censorship, these deaths were often unreported or downplayed in the newspapers for propaganda purposes.

Many of the pictures in the exhibition are from the main roads in the City centre. But in addition to pictures from the docks and from the city centre, there are pictures from as far afield as Edge Lane, Lark Lane and Norris Green. German bombers often jettisoned their bombs as they left the target to save fuel and lighten the load to help them return home. Many fell on civilian’s houses rather than their intended target. 

Liverpool Overhead Railway, Strand Street and James Street, 2-3 May 1941, Merseyside Police

Many much loved buildings were destroyed, either during the Blitz, or were so badly damaged that they had to be pulled down afterwards. These include the Rotunda Theatre, shown here as it collapsed on fire; the Liverpool Overhead Railway (the ‘docker’s umbrella) which had to be completely demolished in the 1950’s.

The Customs Building was badly damaged and its beautiful dome destroyed, and it was eventually demolished. It is now the site of the Hilton Hotel and Chavasse Park. Many of you will be familiar with the fact that the rubble from the building was used as landfill to protect the beach as Crosby, and you can still find parts of the building today if you visit the front between Crosby and Hightown. 

St Luke’s Church, was destroyed by an incendiary bomb on 5 May 1941 and is now a monument to what Liverpool had to endure, and a garden of remembrance. It is of course, affectionately known as the ‘Bombed Out Church’.

There were major fires at St Sylvester’s School, and Great Georges Square, Lewis’s Department Store, the Bluecoat Chambers, India Buildings, Walton Prison, the former Mill Road Hospital ( where 85 people died including many mums and newborn babies), and buildings in Paradise Street, Hanover St, Lord St, South John St, South Castle St and Victoria Crescent were destroyed. Many are shown here by the Police photographers.

St Nicholas’s Church, opposite the Liver Building was gutted by a bomb and the picture of the aftermath of that raid lays bare the damage to the church. It’s worth visiting the repaired church after you have seen the exhibition to see how it has been lovingly restored.

The photographs are powerful enough but the personal testimonies putting the words of those people caught up in the events over still pictures of the action really bring home the effect on the local populace. Many of those who contributed to the testimonies were children at the time.

Louisa Street, Everton. 16 October 1940 Merseyside Police

Some of the stories they tell are devastating, others bring out some of the gallows humour of the situation. For example, one man tells of how he, as a child, scavenged cans of food found in the streets after explosions in the goods yards. With the labels blown off all you could hope was that they contained meat, but after taking them home often found that what they had in was spaghetti or peaches.

The direct hit on the large underground shelter on Durning Road, Edge Lane, was the worst single incident in the Liverpool Blitz regarding loss of life. It happened on 29 November 1940. About 300 people were packed into the basement of the Training Centre on Edge Lane.

A parachute mine hit the building which then collapsed into the shelter below, crushing many of the occupants. The deaths from the bomb were made worse by boiling water pouring in and gas igniting. In all 186 men, women and children were killed in that basement and many more badly injured.

As well as the photographs and taped testimonies, visitors to the exhibition have been able to leave responses to the exhibits. For example, detailing how parents or grandparents had lucky escapes. My own mother was buried alive when St Bridget’s Church Bevington Bush, was bombed in May.

Those people caught there were dug out by neighbours and firemen, some having to use their bare hands. She was 17 at the time; she was saved but many of her school friends were not. We haven’t been able to find out how many people died in St Bridget’s.

You can see how blast tape was applied to house windows to help stop flying glass injuring bystanders. Some of the windows were completely blown out. Other houses are almost demolished but you can see one interior wall left with wallpaper attached. There are pictures of young boys clambering over the rubble of some houses, or residents behind cordons looking on to what remains of their homes.

Visitors have left messages telling how they squeezed into Anderson shelters with their whole families. Photographs show Air Raid Precautions (ARP) personnel searching through the bombed ruins of houses for survivors. They were specially trained to understand how the houses may have collapsed and where survivors may still be buried.

One photograph (from Lark Lane) shows some of the exhausted men resting their steel helmets on the remains of a fireplace, and ‘part of a piano, most probably someone’s treasured possession, lies on top of the rubble.’

Gwladys Street School, Walton. 18-19 September 1940, Merseyside Police

Obviously some children at the time didn’t appreciate how terrible an ordeal it was and look on it as an opportunity to get out of school and explore with their mates. One picture shows the aftermath of a raid from September 1940 which badly damaged Gwladys Street School. As one young boy (at the time) said,

schools closed at the time of the Blitz, so we had a great time. We were up in the morning, looking at the bomb damage in various places. It was quite an adventurous time…’

A World War 2 bomb was found in the City Centre as late as 2016, but over the years, Liverpool has been steadily repaired and there is little evidence now of the bomb sites and ‘hollers’ that we used to play on when I was a boy. This exhibition is a timely reminder of the spirit of the people of Liverpool and the horrors of war.

Blitzed:Liverpool Lives exhibition, Museum of Liverpool, until summer 2021. 

Don McCullin at Tate Liverpool Review

A review by Terry Sweeney

Don McCullin’s career spans more than sixty years. He is one of the UK’s greatest living photographers, and arguably our greatest ever war photographer.

But his subject matter is wide ranging. He has documented early 60’s street gangs in London, poverty in London’s East End, Liverpool and other Northern cities, still life, landscapes and the horrors of war in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The images on display here cover his whole career. The 250 plus images, often accompanied by his own captions to bring them to life, are vibrant and arresting, and show his wonderful compositional skills and his deep empathy for his subjects.

McCullin began his career in 1959 with a photograph of the London gang ‘The Guvnors’, which he took to the Observer. When he sold it, he was commissioned to take more of the same.

That £50 commission was a king’s ransom to the young McCullin and he used it as the springboard to a fulfilling career, particularly when photographing conflicts around the world

He spent almost twenty years at the Sunday Times. His photographs raised awareness of atrocities as they were happening, but at some personal cost to himself; both physically (he was wounded in Cambodia by a mortar bomb and one of the men he was with that day died), and emotionally, with feelings of guilt that he was profiting from other peoples misery. 

His empathy is obvious in his work, and was influenced by his own challenging childhood.  His early photographs of street culture in London, and the homelessness there and in Liverpool and across the north, are extremely powerful. They documented the social issues of the time and the impact of poverty and the death of many of the UK’s industries.

Unusually McCullin printed every image in this exhibition himself in his home darkroom. His printing expertise informs his compositional skills, and cements his memories of the events and people he has captured.

He also has a love of landscape photography. Some of the most haunting images here are from the Somerset levels, where he now lives. Even then, some of the landscapes are reminiscent of his war photography.

His captions of the photographs displayed here give a deeply personal perspective on what he observed at the time of the photograph. The captions give when and where they were taken, but also his interpretation of those events as a first hand witness or as someone involved in what was happening.

Don McCullin Local Boys in Bradford 1972 © Don McCullin

Liverpool and the North 

He first visited Liverpool when he was fifteen years old, working on a steam train that travelled up from London every week. Later, as a photojournalist, he came back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s to record the changes to the city.

These included the slum clearances that took place (images that uncannily remind viewers of a war zone). Liverpool reminded McCullin of his own background, and he became very fond of the city. He also spent time with artists and poets including Adrian Henri and Brian Patten for a 1967 Telegraph Magazine story written by Roger McGough, and documented the poets for the Sunday Times in 1980.

His photographs of Bradford display his deep affection for that city and its people, and those of Consett show a way of life that has now vanished.

London’s East End

McCullin photographed men and women living on the edges of society (and the edge of London’s Square Mile). The photographs in the exhibition span the 1960s to the 1980’s.

What is striking in the images from Aldgate, Spitalfields and Whitechapel are that the streets are unrecognisable following the massive influx of money into London, and resultant property boom and gentrification, but despite that boom we still have people living on the streets some 50 years later.

Some of these London images look like echoes of another time; with two youths bare knuckle boxing in one street, and a farmer herding a flock of sheep across a bridge to an abattoir in the City. 

Don McCullin Shell-shocked US Marine, The Battle of Hue 1968  © Don McCullin

War zones

McCullin first travelled overseas as a photographer to photograph Berlin, as the wall was being erected.

He then travelled back to Cyprus (having been posted there during National Service), when Turkey invaded the island and the civil war between Turkish and Greek Cypriots was intense.

His photographs here from both of those locations and from subsequent conflicts in the Belgian Congo, Biafra, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Iraq and closer to home, Northern Ireland,  show his eye for an arresting image and his empathy for his subjects.

He won the World Press Photograph of the Year in 1964 but was not comfortable winning a prize for ‘depicting other peoples misery’.

Later career

McCullin took a memorable series of photographs from the southern borders of the Roman Empire. His images of locations like Palmyra captured a moment of time and recorded the far flung locations of Roman rule.

McCullin has now left behind war reporting. He spends time photographing landscapes. His images of the Somerset Levels, close to his home, show an elegiac view of the landscape, but also a brooding intensity, reminiscent of his war photography.

Don McCullin runs until 09 May 2021 at Tate Liverpool. Book tickets

All photographs © Don McCullin

Linda McCartney Retrospective Review

Self Portrait, Abbey Road Studios. London, 1975      © Paul McCartney

Linda McCartney Retrospective Review by Terry Sweeney

Those, whose knowledge of Linda McCartney is based on her days as the wife of a Beatle and a member of Wings, may be surprised that as Linda Eastman she was already a successful photographer by the mid 1960s, when she met Paul McCartney.

Her images of mid-1960s Rock stars were iconic photographs and some of them graced their album covers. Many of those photographs are collected here, and are a window into a time in music when new directions were being forged on a weekly basis. 

Eastman famously got her ‘break’ In New York, when Town and Country magazine received an invitation to photograph the Rolling Stones for a record promotion party on a yacht on the Hudson. She volunteered to represent the magazine as its photographer, and became the only photographer allowed on the yacht.

Linda enjoyed it, showed a knack for putting rock stars at their ease and realised that she could make a living at it. A few months later she was backstage as a photographer at the Shea Stadium where the Beatles were performing. The rest, as they say, is history.

Eastman then became an unofficial house photographer at the Fillmore East in San Francisco. Among the artists she shot there were Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendix,  B.B.King, Eric Clapton, The Who, and the San Francisco bands; Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Janis Joplin,  and Neil Young.

Brian Jones and Mick Jagger, Hudson River. New York, 1966      © Paul McCartney

Shots from the Stones on the Hudson, and many of the Filmore East photographs are shown here. Some of her most powerful photographs are of those artists performing, and the shoots of B B King and Janis Joplin capture the raw power of their performances.

Some of the more surprising shots here were actually taken by the stars themselves, including one of Linda by Clapton, and one by Jim Morrison. Her photograph of Young, taken in 1967, was used on the cover of his album Sugar Mountain-Live at Canterbury House 1968.

Linda also shot photographs that became album covers for a number of McCartney and Wings albums, and the cover shot for the single ‘The Girl is mine’, by McCartney and Michael Jackson.

She photographed Clapton for Rolling Stone magazine and became the first woman to have a photograph featured on the front cover (May 11, 1968). 

We were already familiar with many of these images, having seen an exhibition of Linda and Mary McCartney’s photographs; Mother Daughter, in Fotografiska, Stockholm in 2017. Seeing them again here reinforces the freshness and power of the shots, and what a fertile period this was for music, and for Linda.

The Walker Art Gallery major retrospective of Linda McCartney’s photography ranges from these iconic depictions of the music scene of the 1960s, to family life with Paul. It features over 250 images that reveal what a prolific photographer Linda was, and how her love for the natural world, her surreal sense of humour, and an exceptional eye for capturing the spontaneous, gave her work an inimitable style.

Paul, Stella and James. Scotland, 1982      © Paul McCartney

The exhibition also includes a selection of images taken in Liverpool and Wirral which have never been on public display before. 

The family photographs are perhaps the most poignant images here. One of Paul and one of the children peering out from a bath full of bubbles showcases her surreal sense of humour, and ability to see exactly the right composition and framing.

Other images from their home in Kintyre and Surrey with the children and family pets demonstrate how the couple managed to carve out a stable home life away from the world of music and celebrity that they inhabited as Paul and Linda McCartney.

Linda McCartney Retrospective runs until 10 Jan 2021 at Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.  Book tickets

All photographs © Paul McCartney / Photographer: Linda McCartney


Looking up after lockdown, a day out in Liverpool by Elizabeth Longwill

We have entered a new and odd phase of lockdown in our house. Childcare is open and we are still furloughed, so our three year old  daughter is now the only one ‘going to work’.

This means child free days, together, at a time when things are opening up. 

Without wanting to sound flippant about the awfulness of the global pandemic, anyone with small children will appreciate that this is an exciting situation to be in.

So, we decided it was time to go on a jaunt. We would have a jam-packed day, one that still meant we would be back in time for nursery pick up.

We moved to Wallasey in December, we had barely unpacked before lockdown happened, so we have plenty to explore.

First stop had to be to ‘Ferry across the Mersey’ on the iconic Snowdrop dazzle boat. We set off on our bikes to Seacombe. We didn’t bring our bikes on board, but it is an option if you want to continue your cycle around Liverpool.

Being able to sail into the city is in my opinion the best form of public transport and it is also pandemic friendly, there was plenty of space and fresh air. Face coverings must be worn on board. We took a seat and enjoyed the view as the Liverpool waterfront came into to view.

Buildings, people, shops, traffic, I felt giddy with excitement. We ambled around the city centre and Liverpool One. The streets were quiet, but the atmosphere was friendly, the shops are well organised with reminders to mask up and hand sanitiser stations on entry.

Liverpool One has a one-way system and arrows on the ground to follow, for someone like me who finds shopping centres quite overwhelming and has a terrible sense of direction this is actually pretty useful. 

It was lovely just to walk around and go into shops and have those little social interactions with strangers that we haven’t had in the last few months, I hadn’t realised how much I had missed that. 

Anyone who knows us will know we cannot go too long without being fed. I had booked a table for second breakfast at Lunyalita in Albert Dock. It is a Spanish style tapas restaurant. It was well organised and laid out for social distance and the staff were welcoming and friendly.

We enjoyed a Spanish version of a full breakfast and a strong coffee, then refreshed we headed to our next stop the Walker Art Gallery.

The Gallery is open, but you need to book a visiting slot online. We were welcomed at the door and given a quick run through. Most of the gallery is open apart from some of the interactive exhibits and they are operating a one-way system.

We started off in Sculpture through to stern Victorians and pouty Pre-Raphaelites, then around the John Moores prize winners exhibition which features winners since 1957.

The exhibition is a great showcase of modern British contemporary art,  it’s a really diverse exhibition featuring realism, abstraction, pop art and figuration, there are some big names like Hockney and Warhol and also some artists I wasn’t familiar with, but was inspired to find out more about! 

We couldn’t dilly dally too long as the clock was ticking. The staff greeted us again on our way out and asked if we had enjoyed our visit. We dashed back for the 2pm ferry crossing, then hopped on our bikes home. A successful jaunt. Later our daughter Clara informed us that she had spent the day at nursery dancing and being a dinosaur, and what had me and Daddy been doing today? 

Oh nothing much.

Written by Elizabeth Longwill 


Mersey Ferries


Walker Art Gallery

Cultural spaces reopening on Merseyside

As the lockdown eases, many of our fantastic arts and cultural venues are reopening. It’s amazing to see but can be difficult to navigate all the different times, dates and venue requirements.

We’ve compiled a handy list of all the current information, so you can head out and enjoy the region’s unique cultural spaces again.

Atkinson Gallery – Open for the library, box office, museum, gallery, shop and takeaway café. Monday – Saturday, 11am – 4pm. Visitor numbers are limited.

Bluecoat – Open, Thursday – Saturday, 11am – 4.30pm. Limited number of visitors, three at one time.

The Beatles Story – Open, 10am – 6pm, pre-booked only.

British Music Experience – Open, pre-booked only.

Calderstones Park – Open, the exhibition and shop are open Saturday – Sunday, 12pm – 5pm.

FACT – Cinema and galleries both open. Galleries open Wednesday – Saturday, 12pm – 7pm, Sunday, 12pm – 5pm.

Plaza Cinema, Waterloo – Open, pre-selling tickets from their box office.

Strawberry Field Visitor Centre – Open, pre-booked only.

Tate Liverpool – Open, pre-booked only. Café and shop only open to pre-booked visitors

Liver Tours – Open, operating City Walks from Albert Dock to Mathew Street.

Liverpool Cathedral – Open for Private Prayer only, daily 11-3pm in the Lady Chapel. Pre-booked only.

Ness Botanic Gardens – Open for members and volunteers. Pre-booked only.

Mersey Ferries – Open weekdays and weekends, with a maximum number of 90 people per journey. Special cruises are cancelled until August.

Merseyside Maritime Museum – Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am-5pm. Booking is essential. 

Metropolitan Cathedral – Open for Private Prayer only, daily 12pm-4pm. Sunday Mass is held online via their Facebook and YouTube pages.

Museum of Liverpool – Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am-5pm. Booking is essential.

Speke Hall – Grounds only open. Pre-booked only.

Unity Theatre – Opens 31 August. Phased reopening for artist support, community engagement and business hire.

World Museum – Open Wednesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm only. Pre-booked only.

Walker Art Gallery – Open Wednesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm only. Pre-booked only.  


Keith Haring at The Tate: The UK’s First Major Exhibition

Keith Haring’s vibrant and iconic creations are currently being showcased at Tate Liverpool, 14 June – 10 November 2019, as the UK’s first major exhibition of his artwork.

Coming from the New York art scene, Haring drew on graffiti, pop art and underground club culture for inspiration. He has been highly influential since his rise to fame in the 1980’s, shining light on pressing social issues including politics, racism, drug addiction, the environment, homophobia and AIDS awareness.

The artist devoted his time to creating truly public art, making a name for himself by drawing on unused advertising panels in local subway stations. Covered in matte black paper, they made the perfect canvas, and soon his white chalk drawings became familiar to commuters of all kinds. He was often arrested for vandalism, while a number of policemen considered themselves to be his fans.

Throughout his career, Haring worked alongside world renowned music artists and fashion designers – including the likes of David Bowie and Vivienne Westwood – once again expanding his audience as he introduced his work through a large variation of mediums. Andy Warhol was by far his most admired fellow artist, who quickly became his mentor and dear friend following Haring’s second exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in 1984, where they met.

Having achieved international recognition, Haring opened the Pop Shop in 1986, which he considered to be an extension of his work. He painted the interior as an abstract mural, covering the ceiling, walls and floor in black and white paint. Despite criticisms from his peers in the art world, he went ahead. Selling posters, magnets, tees and more, his artwork became even more accessible to the public, allowing anyone to walk in and buy something to cherish at a low cost.

Digitized by Backstage Library Works

Using his fame for the good of the people, Haring’s legendary ‘Crack is Wack’ mural was made during the crack cocaine epidemic in 1986, big, bright and close enough for passing cars on the nearby road to see. Although he initially painted it without any permission, the piece was immediately put under the protection of the City Department of Parks.

If that isn’t Haring’s most famous and impactful piece, then it has to be ‘Ignorance = Fear’, his interpretation of the ancient Japanese proverb, three wise monkeys. The artist used the same hand gestures – see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil – to convey the struggles faced by those living with AIDS, after being diagnosed himself in 1988. Soon after, he set up the Keith Haring Foundation, providing funding and imagery to AIDS organisations and children’s programmes, and sadly died in 1990 due to health complications.

The exhibition itself will include over 85 bold pieces and related events will be available for Tate Members to attend on Thursday 13th June, such as the private viewing, curator talk and guided tour. An official after party will also take place at Constellations, hosted by Liverpool’s own Sonic Yootha.

Why we’re excited about Physical Fest 2019

Physical Fest is back! After taking a break last year, they have returned even bigger and better, with some incredible performances and workshops lined up around Liverpool. Being the only festival of its kind in the UK, they showcase the best contemporary physical work from local, national and international creatives.


Presented by Tmesis Theatre, Physical Fest takes place from 10th to 15th June, theming this year’s celebrations around female artists and premiering a selection of show-stopping pieces.

It’s really not one to miss, but if you don’t have time to see everything, here are a few highlights we think you’ll love…

I Cried Because I Had No Shoes Until…

Global teacher, director and performer Izumi Ashiwara explores ‘Shoes’ in gender and racial politics, using Japanese physical performance styles and puppetry. Watch her memories come to life and dissolve in a dreamlike, heart-wrenching masterpiece.

Tuesday 11th June, 7.30pm, Unity Theatre
Tickets: £12 – £15

Mothers who Make

Mother and maker Matilda Leyser’s peer-support group invites artistic mums of all kinds to join her growing national initiative. Acknowledging the similarities between crafting and raising her children, as well as the cultural assumption that the two are incompatible, Matilda challenged this idea and has since been invited to discuss her achievements on The Guilty Feminist podcast. Take part in a crafty morning with likeminded people – children are welcome, too!

Wednesday 12th June, 10.30am – 12.30am, Unity Theatre
Tickets: Free (booking required, go to the Unity Theatre website)


Catalan circus company Animal Religion explore the relationship between clay and body – ‘constantly transforming’ – in the UK premiere of their acrobatic performance, Fang. Expect to see something unique, as they take you on a journey using 500kg of clay and their trademark surreal humour.

Wednesday 12th June, 7.30pm, The Capstone Theatre
Tickets: £10 – £12


Devoted and Disgruntled

It comes as no surprise to working-class creatives that the arts are lacking in broadened backgrounds. But what can we do about it? Claire Bigley, producer of Physical Fest, invites you to join the discussion and create a path for female working-class artists.

Thursday 13th June, 11.00am – 3.00pm, Unity Theatre
Tickets: £5 (bring your lunch along)



Kill a Witch or Die Trying

Meraki Collective celebrate the formidable power of women in their dance theatre work, Kill a Witch or Die Trying. Once burned at the stake, now falling victim to the trolls of twitter, women are constantly demonised for speaking and standing out. Take your seat for this ‘visually captivating, belly laugh inducing’ performance.

Thursday 13th June, 4.00pm, Unity Theatre
(Pay what you decide)


What a treat – three extracts of new work in one evening! Dive features Teatro Pomodoro, Madame Senorita and the Reetta Honkakoski Company, exploring each piece through clown, bouffant and physical styles of theatre. These performances are bound to be unusual, intense and unforgettable.

Friday 14th June, 7.30pm, Unity Theatre
Tickets: £8 – £10

The Thinking Body of a Physical Actor

Physical theatre practitioner Reeta Honkakoski runs a playful day of technical exercises, improvisation and ensemble work. She strives to find a physical form for that which is invisible, using her artistic roots in Corporeal Mime to explore expression of thought through the body.

Saturday 15th June, 10.00am – 5.00pm, The Arts Theatre
Tickets: £45


For tickets and more information on Physical Fest, go to their website.