The Historical Context
The 1840’s saw a massive influx into the area of Irish immigrants who settled in Vauxhall. They primarily lived and worked by the docks just to the north of the city centre, housed in poor quality high volume housing where disease and social deprivation was rife. The workforce was largely low paid and involved in semi-skilled work. The 1930s saw the demolition of the slum areas of Vauxhall, and their replacement by council-owned walk up tenement blocks. While a huge improvement on the overcrowded and unhygienic court housing that had existed before, these blocks would soon create their own social problems. Much of this was removed by the enormous destruction inflicted on Liverpool in the Second World War, recognition of the city’s huge importance to the war effort, its vital role in bringing food and other goods into the country from the USA, and its importance as an industrial base. Liverpool was the second most heavily bombed city in the UK, after London.
The area’s proximity to the dock complex in the north of the city, and the inaccuracy of many of the bombing raids, meant that large residential parts of the Vauxhall area were left in complete ruins: one particularly heavy raid in December 1940 killed nearly one hundred people (including entire families) in Blackstock Street. The victims of this raid are remembered to this day by a commemorative plinth located on the junction of Vauxhall Road and Carruthers Street.
The destruction of the war required an enormous rebuilding effort that continued through the 1950s and 1960s, years which also saw a boom in the dock trade central to the city’s economy.
An Area in Decline
By the late 1970’s the dock complex that the Vauxhall area so heavily relied upon for work and employment opportunities was beginning to decline, as changes to the global economy meant that less and less material was being transported to or from the western side of the UK. Factory closures followed from this decline in trade, resulting in high levels of unemployment, with whole families thrown out of work by the loss of a single large-scale employer. In turn, the area started to depopulate, as people sought work elsewhere. The social consequences were to manifest themselves in poor housing conditions, a poor urban environment and a lack of local facilities.
The First Regeneration Scheme
This background of social and economic decline sparked the first attempt to reverse the trend, with the creation of the Portland Gardens Co-operative in 1978. Started by local residents determined to safeguard their future and the future of the community, this project aimed to commence community-based regeneration by redeveloping five sites around Portland Gardens to build 130 new homes, and a 36-unit refurbished sheltered housing scheme. The Co-operative was a response to plans drawn up by Liverpool City Council to clear the old decayed tenements and to disperse the population living in them throughout Merseyside: the desire to keep the community together and strong was a key driving force behind the development.
1980’s: Time for a Change
However, the election of a new city council in 1983 saw the Portland Gardens project municipalised, again threatening to disperse the community of Vauxhall to estates all over Merseyside. Another devastating blow to the area had seen the closure of the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery on Vauxhall Road in 1981, and the British American Tobacco plant on Commercial Road. Over 3,000 local jobs were lost as a result of these closures, and the economic future of the Vauxhall area seemed to have evaporated overnight. The Tate & Lyle site was also heavily contaminated and polluted, and its closure left a huge derelict area in the middle of the Vauxhall ward.
The Eldonians were determined to respond to these enormous problems to create a better future for all, to work to keep the community together and to provide quality, affordable housing to allow families and friends to stay in close proximity. The combination of the community’s need for new affordable housing, and the huge derelict site left vacant by Tate & Lyle started the Eldonians on the road to totally re-developing the area. The rest, as they say is history.