The Photography of Peter Leeson
The Bluecoat Press (£9.99)
Scotland Road. The name once rang down through the generations. ‘Scottie’
and all the streets and places off it - Ashfield Gardens, St Sylvester’s,
Portland Gardens, The Jem, St Anthony’s. Names picked up from mums
and dads, aunties and uncles, and mates of theirs you didn’t know
- all with a wistful look in their eye. It must have been great, that
sense of belonging. Now, only the old timers know the real Scottie, and
they will be the last.
Peter Leeson came to Liverpool as one of the design and planning bureaucrats
to tear Scotland Road apart and scatter close communities to the four
winds of Croxteth, Huyton, Kirkby and beyond.
He couldn’t do it.
Slum clearance was the ‘thinking’ of the day and took everything
in its path. Leeson left his job in the council to photograph what was
left. You would think the war had just ended with ‘bombed’
derelict houses and rubble in the streets, but this is the mid 1960s.
The kids loved it of course, as one picture called Urban Playground shows
two mates, aged seven - if that - holding an iron bar, and the serious
end of a mangle in a heaven of junk and muck.
In other shots old dears in shawls cross the rubbled ground extra slow
to get the ‘messengers in’; or stop where street corners used
to be to chat if they meet someone; a man coming home from work passes
Woodstock Gardens, still occupied, and looking like it will last forever.
Shouldn’t treat people like that. Or good buildings.
The photographs take in empty dockland, the ferries, and the optimism
of playing kids but it is the isolated figures trudging through the ruins
of Scottie you remember.
Goodbye Scottie Road is a homage to lost community and a regret of hierarchical
decision-makers and ‘experts’ who don’t know what they
are doing, and who - because of that - don’t care. Even today the
idea of consultation is pretty token, look at the wasteland that was the
Boot Estate in Norris Green.
The young planner came to Liverpool thinking he was part of an era of
enlightened regeneration but soon learned it was having a “disastrous
effect on Liverpool’s historic fabric”. How could it happen?
Well, the ideas officials have of those they have never met nor understand
can be incredible:
“In a huge city, it is a fairly common
observation that the dwellers in a slum area are almost a separate race
of people with different values, aspirations, and ways of living. One
result of slum clearance is that a considerable movement of people takes
place over long distances with devastating effect on the social grouping
built up over the years. But, one might argue, this is a good thing when
we are dealing with people who have no initiative or civic pride”.
(1963 Planner, later Chief Planner, Dept of Environment)
No wonder Peter Leeson wanted nothing to do with them.