Monthly Archives: February 2023

Liverpool’s vanished necropolis

Grant Gardens (formerly Low Hill Cemetery), Everton, Liverpool

People who know Liverpool well will be aware of St James’s Cemetery which lies in the eighteenth-century quarry below the site of the twentieth-century Anglican Cathedral. Opened in 1829, it’s the well-known resting place of nineteenth-century Liverpudlians but it’s not the first such cemetery in Liverpool.

The Low Hill General Cemetery was opened in 1825 where Brunswick Street becomes West Derby Road on the approach to Everton – a compact, level five-acre site around which the Liverpool architect John Foster Jnr placed boundary walls and an austere but elegant Greek Revival entrance.

Its title “General Cemetery” indicated that it was open to any who did not wish to be buried according to the rites of the Church of England:

The chapel will be at the service of such persons who may wish to use it, and any religious funeral ceremony may be formed in it by the minister, or other person chosen by the parties who may require its use, provided such ceremony is not an outrage upon the decencies of life or offensive to civilised society…or, if preferred, the interment may be made without any form or religious rite.

The Necropolis Burial Ground, as it came to be called, remained a popular burial place throughout the mid-Victorian period, until in the late 1890s it became full with eighty thousand interments, and was closed by the City Council as insanitary.

The buildings were demolished and the gravestones cleared, but the bodies remain in situ beneath the blank lawns that have replaced the flower beds of Grant Gardens (named after the chairman of the Parks & Gardens Committee), which opened in 1914.

Nothing above ground survives of John Foster Jnr’s design.  The existing ornamental gateposts bear no resemblance to the entrance in early twentieth-century photographs, nor are they in the same position:  Liverpool Necropolis Information – Toxteth Park Cemetery.

No-one would recognise the site now as a place of burial.  However, on at least one occasion dog-walkers in Grant Gardens were made disconcertingly aware of what lies beneath.  In February 2021 a sinkhole appeared caused by an incorrectly backfilled crypt:  Sinkhole appears after former crypt collapses at mass grave site – Liverpool Echo.

There is a compilation of newspaper reports of burials at the Necropolis at Necropolis burial ground (

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

Forty Bridges

Great Northern Railway Pinxton Branch: Giltbrook Viaduct (1973)

One of the highlights of my freelance history lecturing work is speaking to the Kimberley Historical Society, north of Nottingham, where I’m made welcome and feel I know many of the members after repeated visits.

Almost invariably, my lecture is introduced by the chairman, Roy Plumb, and a few years ago I looked forward to visiting as a guest to sit back and listen to Roy lecture on the railways of Kimberley and the neighbouring settlement of Awsworth.

It didn’t work out because of a mix-up of dates, but I eventually caught up with Roy’s presentation when he spoke to the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct at the Hogs Head Pub and Restaurant at Awsworth on January 31st this year.

Roy continues to use a Carousel projector to show his slides, and achieves a clarity and precision that rivals digital projection.  He also has a steady hand with a laser pointer – a skill which I lack – and his account of the growth and decline of the local railways from 1797 until the early 1960s was masterly.

Two rival railway companies served the area between the Erewash and Leen valleys, the Midland and the Great Northern, bitter rivals trying to grab the coal trade from each other.  The Great Northern’s ambitious Derbyshire & Staffordshire Extension opened in 1878, running to Derby Friargate and beyond and with a branch up the Erewash Valley to Pinxton, and the Midland’s Bulwell-Bennerley Branch began working freight trains a year later.

Both lines entailed heavy civil engineering.  The Great Northern built the now-celebrated Bennerley Viaduct, which survived because its wrought-iron construction made demolition uneconomic in the 1970s.

At Awsworth Junction, where the Pinxton branch diverged from the Great Northern main line, the Giltbrook Viaduct curved across a road, two Midland Railway lines and the Greasley Arm of the Nottingham Canal.  Almost a third of a mile long, it was known locally as the Forty Bridges, though there were in fact forty-three arches,

Two arches, 8 and 23, were occupied by four-storey dwellings, which were used by construction workers and later served as an air-raid shelter for Awsworth schoolchildren during the First World War.  Their chimney pots graced the viaduct’s parapet.

This magnificent sinuous structure has disappeared because unlike the Bennerley Viaduct its brick-arch construction made it practical to demolish.  It was taken down in 1973, and much of the trackbed of the Pinxton Branch as far as Eastwood became the A610 trunk road.  Local people of a certain age still bemoan the loss of a magnificent landmark;  younger people haven’t a clue it ever existed.

If I’ve read the 1899-1900 25-inch Ordnance Survey sheet correctly, the Hogs Head pub stands on or near the site of Gilt Briggs Farm, which was surrounded by a cat’s cradle of railway lines.

Stepping out into the night at the end of Roy’s talk, it was possible to sense the ghosts of great embankments and bridges, and the clatter of goods trains in the night, trundling across the arches sixty feet above ground level.

The National Library of Scotland website provides an overlay of historic Ordnance Survey maps against modern satellite imagery:  Explore georeferenced maps – Map images – National Library of Scotland (  If necessary key the name ‘Awsworth’ into the search panel.

Standing at the Sky’s Edge

‘I love you will U marry me’ graffito, Park Hill Flats, Sheffield (2014)

One of the many pleasures of seeing the revised Chris Bush/Richard Hawley drama, Standing at the Sky’s Edge, at the Sheffield Crucible Theatre is that when you walk out at the interval into the bar there through the huge windows – particularly at matinée performances – you see Park Hill Flats, and the horizon behind is Sky Edge.

The play, written by Chris Bush around Richard Hawley’s evocative music, is a tribute to Sheffield – Dan Hayes’ review in The Tribune called it “a musical love letter” – using Park Hill, the landmark 1960s housing development, as a backcloth to the changing fortunes of the city and its people.

Its intricate plot interweaves the lives of three sets of occupants of the same Park Hill flat – a 1960s newly-wed couple, a 1980s family of Liberian refugees and a 2010s London woman seeking a new life up north.

Using the dramatic technique of simultaneous setting, the three narratives overlay in fascinating, pertinent ways.  At one point members of the three families sit at the same dining table, oblivious of any time but their own, and are served meals from the same oven – freshly cooked decades apart, plated up in the kitchen on stage and served with a bottle of Henderson’s Relish.

Newcomers to Park Hill arrive in hope yet don’t necessarily live entirely happily ever after.  The promises on which these streets in the sky were built in the 1960s die unfulfilled.  The bitterness of the 1980s hurts the entire community as the flats begin to decay.  The refurbishment of the largest Grade II* listed building in Europe from 2009 onwards removes the families who remain from the beginning and replaces them with newcomers who are also usurpers.

The script highlights aspects of local culture that resonate with the story of the flats and the city.  The original families moved in alongside their old neighbours to walkways named after the demolished streets of terraces.  A generation later, the working-class tenants who wanted to stay put were evicted.  The story behind the celebrated graffito “I Love You Will U Marry Me” does not end happily:  Sheffield: ‘I Love You Will U Marry Me’ graffiti reinstated – BBC News

I sense that Standing at the Sky’s Edge is becoming a classic which will celebrate Sheffield for future generations, resonating with the way the Park Hill Flats dominate the city’s skyline.  It could achieve national stature as a document of ways our society has changed since the 1960s.

The production transfers to the National Theatre, opening on February 9th 2023.  It will be interesting to see how well it travels.  In the Crucible there was a strong audience reaction to local allusions like Henderson’s Relish (don’t ever compare it to Worcestershire sauce), the rivalry between Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United and the belief that Leeds people are not a patch on Sheffield folk.

Both Richard Hawley and Chris Bush are Sheffield-born, and Richard has customarily named his albums after Sheffield locations – Coles’ Corner (2005), Lady’s Bridge (2007), Truelove’s Gutter (2009).  The title Standing at the Sky’s Edge comes from his 2012 album and identifies the scene of illegal pitch-and-toss activities dominated by Sheffield’s notorious Mooney and Garvin gangs in the 1920s.

The physical locations – Sky Edge, Park Hill and the Crucible Theatre – and Richard Hawley’s outstanding music and lyrics combine to celebrate places and people in a city that doesn’t make a fuss and gets on with life.