28.10.11

The Spirit of an Unconquered People

Friday, 15 September 1871 - Liverpool, England

Liverpool Customs House
Today I visited largest building in Liverpool. In most cities that would be a cathedral or a castle or a palace. Here in Liverpool, a city that lives by trade, it’s the Customs House.

A Customs House is where the offices are located for the folks who handle all the paperwork for the goods coming in and going out of the country. The officials also collect taxes and regulate commerce. In most cities the customs house just an office building, but here in Liverpool it looks like a Greek temple to the god of commerce.

Built between 1828 and 1839 on the site of the original old dock, the Custom House overlooks the bay, greeting foreign ships coming in. She is one of the city’s great landmarks. The University of Liverpool especially wanted me to record as much of her as I could. In seventy years she will be gone.

We have all heard of the London Blitz in World War II, but London was not the only target. Glasgow, Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Manchester, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Southampton, and Swansea were all hit. However the Luftwaffe’s second biggest target was the Liverpool area. If the London Blitz was a strike at the heart of Britain, then the Liverpool Blitz was a kidney punch. This was her major port for supplies from America and Canada. This was also where Britain’s Atlantic fleet was headquartered.

Liverpool after the Blitz
From 1940 and 1942, the folks of Liverpool slept lightly, poised to run for air-raid shelters. Even those were not safe in a direct hit. Between August and December of 1940 alone, .the Germans attacked fifty times. Most raids were only a few planes, but some had as many as 300 bombers. The RAF valiantly tried to stop the Luftwaffe, but could only slow them down. Thousands of homes were destroyed in Liverpool and the suburb towns of Bootle, Wirral and Birkenhead. 4,000 people lost their lives.

The docks were Germany’s main target, so was only a matter of time before the Customs House would be hit. It was completely gutted and the dome destroyed. What remains of the shell was demolished six years later. To this day there is still a debate as to whether or not the Customs Building could have been repaired or if it was a lost cause. No one wanted to see it go.

Bombed Out Customs House
The Customs House will by no means the only building destroyed in the Liverpool Blitz. I have been given a list of ones that are now here in 1871. This is my chance to save their memory for the folks back home.

Despite the great blow from the Blitz, Liverpool will carry on. When Prime Minister Winston Churchill came to survey the damage, he summed it up well: "I see the damage done by the enemy attacks, but I also see ... the spirit of an unconquered people."

Scousers Carrying On
(Like that twit Hitler could slow them down)

2 comments:

Ian Patterson (@Psytac) said...

I worked, as an Officer of Customs and Excise, in what later replaced the old bombed-out Custom House whose activities were eventually transferred to the Cunard Building, overlooking the River Mersey. A large part of the Cunard Building, itself a grand structure built during WW1, located between the Royal Liver Building and what was then called the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Building (built 1907, later called the Port of Liverpool Building) was adapted to be the Custom House and therefore the headquarters of HM Customs and Excise in Liverpool.

Ian Patterson (@Psytac) said...

Another very interesting building, close to the old bombed Custom House, was the Sailors' Home (1877). An interesting account and picture of this splendid looking building will be found at http://www.old-liverpool.co.uk/sailors.html. I stayed there several times in the early 1960s with my father, an officer then at the Training Ship "Indefatigable".