BBC RADIO MERSEYSIDE, 20 FEBRUARY 2009
ttp://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p0026b4k/Tony_Snell_in_the_Morning_20_02_2009 (start: 1 hour 19 mins)
TONY SNELL: Now I’ve been looking forward to doing this for many, many years. People in Kensington, down in Kenny if you live there, you’ll probably know about this place we’re going to talk about. You’ve wondered “What’s behind the big gates?” and it’s in front of a really overgrown plot of land on Deane Road in Kensington and, this week, a Heritage Lottery Fund bid has been submitted which, if it’s successful, will just breathe new life into – get this – “a disused Victorian cemetery, where some of the leading names of Liverpool’s early Jewish community are buried”. You’ve probably passed it a thousand times and just thought “Oh, dunno what it is”, well over now to Leanne who’s in the van today. Is it spooky at this time of the day down there is it, or what? LEANNE HARPER: Well it was when I first arrived Tony, I must admit; I did stay in the car for a little bit longer until my guests arrived!
TONY: Well d’you know what, it’s not the dead you should be afraid of, it’s the people who are alive! The dead can’t hurt you, that’s for sure!
LEANNE: Very true! But now that daylight has started to break here in Kensington, we were able to get a much better look at the site here on Deane Road. In fact, I’ve just been through the gates and just had a little look beyond where the actual gravestones are. Now, as you said, this is all about this Heritage Lottery bid, to try to restore the site here on Deane Road in Kensington, which is just off the main road of Kensington. Now joining me is Saul Marks who, among your many titles here, you’re the project manager for the restoration project, and Councillor Louise Baldock, who’s the Labour councillor for Kensington and Fairfield. Good morning to you both. Saul, if I can just start with you, just tell us a bit about the history of this place.
SAUL MARKS: Well it was opened in 1837, the year that Queen Victoria came to the throne, and it ran until 1904, after which it was reserved plots only, and the last reserved plot was filled in 1929 after which, sadly, the cemetery became very overgrown and derelict. There was a bit of vandalism, a lot of decay and a lot of foliage grew up – trees and bushes well above head height throughout the whole area of the cemetery – and there were a number of restoration attempts that didn’t work, and now we are, by far, the most advanced of all the restoration attempts that have happened here and we’re looking to complete the job.
LEANNE: Now you said that it was in use for around roughly about a hundred years or so, and in that time some very important figures in Liverpool’s history were actually buried here.
SAUL: Yes, that’s right. The most famous of our “residents” – if you like – at Deane Road is David Lewis who founded Lewis’s Stores, along with Moses Samuel, whose daughter-in-law founded H Samuel the jewellers’ chain, and other notables such as Baroness Miriam de Menasce and David Behrend who founded Bahr Behrend shipping company. And there are many others, of course.
LEANNE: Now we’ve just had a look through the gates there and we can see all the stones lined up, but I mean they are standing, but just how safe are they or just what state of disrepair has it fallen into?
SAUL: A lot of them are actually fairly safe; they made things pretty good back in the Victorian era. There are quite a number of stones that have fallen and they are a danger because a lot of foliage grows out from underneath them and makes it very difficult to get around the cemetery in some places, so we’re hoping to get funding to get those re-erected. The boundary walls and the archway at the front are what are also causing concern. They are Grade II listed structures and need to be restored in line with the appropriate guidelines. So, all in all, there’s a lot of work to be done.
TONY: Saul, we love our history in this city and I’d be interested to know how many people who have lived in Kensington all their lives have just gone “Oh, I think it’s a cemetery, I’ve not really paid it that much attention,” but, you know, some of the names you’ve mentioned there, there will be those people in Kensington who know all about it but, if we leave things to just kind-of overgrow, we tend to just forget about them, don’t we, which is really sad.
SAUL: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, we’ve had visitors here who say “Oh I’ve always known that it’s here and I’ve never been able to get in and it’s wonderful to get in and have a tour.” Some people have said “I’ve been up and down this street for 30 years and passed it every day and never knew it was here,” so we get a whole range of responses.
TONY: Not being a member of the Jewish community, maybe you could explain this to me, but I’ve passed the Jewish cemeteries in Allerton, you know down by Springwood, down that way, and all the headstones seem to face in a particular direction. Is it the same in that cemetery and would you just explain to me and to other people who don’t know about that?
SAUL: Well there’s no real rule in that sense. I mean, the cemetery which followed on from Deane Road is Broad Green, next to Broad Green Hospital, and the layout there is there’s a path up the middle and the graves all face in towards the path from each side, so there’s no rule as to which direction they face.
TONY: So that’s just a myth then is it?
SAUL: Yes, it is, very much so.
TONY: Oh well, thanks for dispelling that for me, I’ve learned something this morning, but it would be great, as Leanne mentioned before, you know, if people could come along and we’re great for tracing our family history, sitting at home on the Internet and doing it now, but to actually get out there down to Deane Road and do that would be a little special thing for a lot of people to do within the community.
SAUL: Well exactly. I mean, one of the things about tracing Jewish families is that every Jewish person has a Hebrew name and that Hebrew name is comprised of not only their name but also their father’s name, so you can always go back one more generation if you can find a tombstone with your ancestor’s Hebrew name on it, because it’ll have the father of that ancestor on it.
LEANNE: Now Councillor Baldock, if I can just bring you in here, we’ve been talking about, you know, people have walked up and down this road, not even knowing what was behind the gates, but it would be an important part for the whole community, not just members of the Jewish community in Liverpool.
LOUISE BALDOCK: Absolutely. We really want to win this £220,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund so we can restore the cemetery and make it available for visitors. We want, for example, school children to come. We’ve had some letters of support from some of the local schools because they can teach the children about things like the Victorian period, they can teach them a little bit about different religions. It’s really interesting for them to come, they can take rubbings of the stones and do their artwork. That’s one group. The Victorian Society in Liverpool are very interested in being able to come regularly and have tours. As Tony was talking about, the family historians: there’s lots of interesting people who have relatives buried here that they would like to come and take photos and so on.
LEANNE: Just very briefly, you said last year that you’d had an open day and there was a great response from people who were interested to find out more.
LOUISE: That’s right. We opened the cemetery for half a day, just to see what the level of interest would be and 200 people came; we were absolutely amazed.
SAUL: In the rain!
LOUISE: Yes it was, it was raining all afternoon and they still came. Some of them were people who live right here in Kensington who just wanted to see the mystery that’s on their doorstep. Some of them had come, you know, a long way, just because it’s a particularly special place.
LEANNE: Ok, Councillor Louise Baldock and Saul Marks, thank you for joining me this morning. Well Tony, as we’ve said, the bid’s only just been put in for this Lottery Heritage Fund, so it’ll be a few months before we’ll find out whether they are successful but, fingers crossed, there is a great piece of Liverpool history here that, hopefully, won’t be allowed to decay any further.
TONY: Leanne Harper, our history correspondent here. Well, you did St George’s Hall, the minton floor, this week…
LEANNE: I know!
TONY: …and Deane Road Cemetery as well – I can see you making a little niche for yourself now, Leanne! Great, thanks very much as well, it’s fascinating stuff. I love anything to do with local history as well and, hopefully, we’ll be able to look over the fence or actually go in if the money comes through and piece together some more of our fine history from all of the communities here in Liverpool.