Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Washing Away All African Blood.

A Personal Study of Historic and Contemporary Institutional Racism As Revealed in Some of Liverpool’s Buildings and Spaces.

“I have not come here to be insulted by a set of wretches, every brick in whose infernal town is cemented with an African’s blood.”

So George F. Cooke, 18th Century actor, is supposed to have responded to an audience admonishing him for being obviously drunk at Liverpool’s Theatre Royal, Williamson Square sometime in the early 1770s. 
Theatre Royal, Williamson Square.
Source: The Internet  Archive and University of Toronto. 

Though the building no longer exists, the story lingers to remind us of the truth of Liverpool’s unquestioned central role in one of the major forces that shaped the world as we know it today. 

The Shakespeare Theatre.
Source: liverpoolpicturebook.com
Over a century later, in another theatre- The Shakespeare - a stone’s throw away, a young Black American actor was appearing in a play in which his character was required to whistle. He was totally incapable of doing this, so he was asked to sing instead. Somewhere on Fraser Street, Liverpool, where there is now only a car park, was heard on the professional stage for the first time in Britain, the glorious singing voice of Paul Robeson.

Charles Wotten plaque
Image: Dan Lewis
One wonders how welcome Robeson felt on that his first visit to the city, for only three years earlier - June 5, 1919, the city had witnessed a race riot in which a young Black man was chased by a mob into the river at Queen’s Dock, pelted with rocks, and drowned. His name was Charles Wotten, and he has been memorialized on a plaque on a three-foot-high stone dock bollard since early 2017. Some may consider it unsatisfactory that Liverpool’s first race riot of the 20th century - and its only victim - should be marked in so remote and seemingly so insignificant a spot, but that was not always the case. In 1974, with support from Liverpool City Council and in recognition of the fact that there was poor representation of Black people in higher education, the Charles Wootton [sic] College for Further Education was set up, and it catered primarily to Black people from the Liverpool 8 area, and the city. “The Charlie,” as locals called it, was housed in a converted Georgian building at 248 Upper Parliament Street and became something of a landmark in the city: one that not only kept the young man’s name alive, but also became a symbol for Black self-help and advancement in a city that has always struggled with its slave-trading history. Sadly, the Charlie closed its doors in 1994, for reasons too numerous and complex to address here, seemingly reflecting a halt in the progress that it represented. The building is now an anonymous block of flats, with no indication that it was ever a significant part of Liverpool’s Black History.
Stanley House Youth
Source: Liverpool 8 and Liverpool 1
Old Photos Group (facebook) 
A few blocks away, one comes to a much more modern building, Gladstone Court - another block of flats. It occupies the site of what was once Stanley House, a community centre opened in 1946 for the local Black community, with funding from the Colonial Office.

At its height, it provided activities and facilities for all ages, literally from cradle to grave. In its basement, a Black vocal group called The Chants was formed in the early 1960s.

They so impressed two white musicians that they persuaded the singers to let their group of four white boys be their opening act in one of their gigs some weeks later.

The Derelict Stanley House
replaced by Gladstone Court
Source: Philip Mayer, flickr

John Lennon and Paul McCartney, like countless other white musicians, had also been regular attendees at many of the dozens of clubs on and around Upper Parliament Street – like the Gladray, The Pink Flamingo, The Beacon, The Somali, Rachael’s, The Nigerian, where Black musicians from Liverpool and beyond, played all kinds of music from the US, the Caribbean, Africa and elsewhere - on their way to creating what would eventually become known as the Mersey Beat. It is likely however that most tourists travelling from the Cavern Club or the Beatles Museum to Penny Lane would drive along Upper Parliament Street or Princes Avenue without realizing how much modern Pop Music was spawned behind the facades and in the basements of the buildings they were driving past.

The father of the founder of the aforementioned group, The Chants, had first arrived in Liverpool from the Gold Coast (Ghana) around 1930, and soon became organist and choirmaster at a church called The African Churches Mission, started in 1931 by a Nigerian man called Pastor Daniels Ekarte. From the Mission, Pastor Daniels provided food and shelter to the poor of the Dingle area of Toxteth, to many Black immigrants who found themselves homeless or destitute, and to children abandoned by white mothers because they were the result of liaisons with Black men, some of them American GIs stationed nearby in WWII. For 33 years, he heroically continued with this work despite being repeatedly denied assistance from the City Council, and finally the Mission was demolished in 1964. In the early 2000s, a housing association built a block of flats on that site. It would have been nice if they had named it after Pastor Daniels, but they didn’t.

John Archer Hall
Source: geograph.org.uk
One building nearby actually bears the name of probably Liverpool’s most illustrious Black son. Born near the Brownlow Hill Workplace in 1863 to a Barbadian father and Irish mother, John Archer became Britain’s first (or second, if recent research is correct) Black mayor, in the Battersea borough of London, fifty years later. A fine portrait of him, painted about fifteen years ago by a Liverpool-born Black artist hangs proudly in Liverpool’s Town Hall, and at the junction between Upper Hill Street and Windsor Street in Toxteth, John Archer Hall is a well-used building, among whose uses are as an arts venue, offices for some Third Sector companies, and a community garden. Mr. Archer would be proud that his name is associated with such worthy causes so long after his death, but it would ironically also support the argument that as a Liverpool-born Black person, you often have to leave Liverpool to succeed professionally.

Many immigrants do thrive though - right there on Upper Parliament Street itself, one will find several African doctors working in the Women’s Hospital. In my own case, having completed my training at the Liverpool School of Architecture in 1992, I fared pretty well as a self-employed architect in the years leading up to, and following the millennium, with buildings here and around the North West. When I decided in the mid-2000s to become a developer however, things began to unravel, to such an extent that in 2009 I was forced to liquidate my architectural and property development companies. I did keep a community-interest company dormant, with the aim of resurrecting it at some future date, in case any of my “dreams deferred” looked like they might one day come to fruition.

52-56 Upper Parliament St.
Sales Brochure (2008)
The site remains undeveloped

Prior to that, shattered dreams included a showcase green block of flats which needed financial support from Liverpool City Council to fill a funding shortfall due to the expense of green technologies. After about two years of asking, the Council finally said they would consider providing some funding the following year, but this came too late to prevent the site being repossessed by the lending institution. Elsewhere, I was gazumped by a Housing Association on another site owned by Sefton Council, without correct due diligence procedures having been followed. I tried to stand my ground, and eventually an investigation was commissioned by the Housing Corporation (now Homes England). The association’s own auditors were engaged, and they never asked me a single question. Their report, obtained only after an intervention by my MP, confirmed lack of due process but still cleared the organisation on a technicality. A few years later, Cosmopolitan Housing Association went bust, and the ratings agency Moody’s downgraded the credit rating of the entire Social Housing sector, citing poor regulation as a major factor in their decision. After about five years out of the game (I have been touring nationally and internationally as a theatrical performer since 2008), another idea emerged – for a multi-generational housing community on a site owned by Liverpool City Council in East Liverpool, for which I negotiated a three-year Option to secure planning approval, partnership and finance. I revived my community-interest company (CIC) and very, very slowly (almost three years) got to a position where I accepted a lucrative partnership offer from a private-sector developer, although they weren’t interested in the initial idea, and even less so in the CIC. I requested more time from the council, and permission to change the CIC to a Limited Company. They took four months to grant a three-month extension and to inform me, without explanation, that I couldn’t change the company status. That developer walked away, and I was left with a few months to find alternatives. I was making progress with that, but the Council wouldn’t give any more time and withdrew the Option in February, reclaiming the site with the benefit of the planning permission I had obtained and paid for, with the loss of five years’ work and thousands of pounds to me personally.

62 Rodney Street
Source: ipernity.com
Someone suggested that if I had drugs money to launder, it would have been a different story. I won't comment other than to say that even here, one can find historical precedent. One particular house on Rodney Street (named after the Admiral that saved Jamaica for the Crown against France), No. 62 was built by one John Gladstone, owner of slave plantations in Jamaica and Demerera. When the Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833, Gladstone received the largest compensation on record - £83 million in today's money. His son William would become British Prime Minister four times.

Had my dreams come to fruition, I wouldn’t have been the first Black developer, or entrepreneur, in the city. Most of the clubs mentioned earlier were Black owned, though they no longer exist. It would be difficult to list the number of Black-owned lodging houses (where else would Black people find accommodation up to the middle of the last century?) that were compulsorily acquired in a so-called slum clearance, and made way for the expansion of the University in the 1960s. Much more recently, another Nigerian made national headlines when his company succeeded in developing many homes for some housing associations in the city in the mid 2000s. His company sadly no longer exists, and his recounting of the difficulties he had along the way may suggest one of the reasons. Sneaking a peak at his file during a meeting with a bank manager once, he told the Observer, he saw a card on which was written, 'Black, Nigerian, Liverpool, Living in Toxteth, High Risk.'

Following the Liverpool 8 uprising (the local description of the “Toxteth riots” of 1981), the Granby Triangle, the former centre of Liverpool’s Black population, is only now recovering from over thirty years of blight, as the vast majority of millions of pounds of regeneration money that flowed into the city as a result of the uprising seemed to bypass the area.

The 1989 Gifford Report on the uprising confirmed what the community had warned about in the years leading up to the riots: that such an explosion was inevitable because racial discrimination in the city was “uniquely horrific.” This would certainly have been at the back of the minds of the city’s leaders when in December 1999 they issued a formal letter of apology for the city’s involvement in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. It reads in part: “The City Council hereby commits itself to work closely with Liverpool communities and partners and with peoples of those countries which have carried the burden of the slave trade. The Council also commits itself to programmes of action with full participation of Liverpool's Black communities which will seek to combat all forms of racism and discrimination and will recognise and respond to the city's multiracial inheritance and celebrate the skills and talent of all its people."    

Twenty years on, I am sorry not to be able to offer myself as an example of this commitment having been met, nor does anybody else readily come to mind. I can however try to see what else is happening in the heart of Black Liverpool, in the world of property development. Let’s go back to Upper Parliament Street.

The Merseyside Caribbean Centre is a small building on a large piece of land owned by the City Council, leased to the Caribbean Community since the 1960s. In its heyday in the 1990s, the centre attracted visitors from all over the country to the annual carnival and to multiple year-round events, but it closed in 2013, the site now serving mostly as a car park for the Liverpool Women’s Hospital

A community-interest Company called the African Caribbean Heritage Centre recently took up responsibility for its residual affairs, which now include dealing with a private developer (introduced to them by the council) who has drawn up a scheme for over 400 residential units, on the understanding that a new Caribbean Community Centre will be included somewhere in the development, although affordability of the flats to the local community didn’t appear to be uppermost in the developers’ or Council’s minds.
Source: Save the l8 Caribbean Centre (facebook)/
Barbara Ainsworth
One tragic story associated with the Caribbean Centre concerns the son of one of the Jamaican men who was a regular there in the 1980s. In 2005, Anthony Walker was brutally murdered by a pair of racists, in a case that gripped the nation as much as Stephen Lawrence’s murder in London had, just over a decade earlier. In addition to charitable educational foundations, these two young men are memorialized in buildings: Walker in a large room – the Anthony Walker Education Centre in the International Slavery Museum at Albert Dock, and Lawrence in a building at Greenwich University. In Liverpool, it seems that as a murder victim, you have to have been world famous and foreign to be accorded such an honour: the International Slavery Museum renamed one of their buildings after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 2013, and there is a Steve Biko Court in Liverpool 8.

MLK Jr. Building
International Slavery Museum
Source: The Guide, Liverpool 
Dr. King famously spoke of his dreams of racial equality, peace and justice. Stephen Lawrence dreamed of being an architect, Anthony Walker a lawyer. One can only speculate what Charles Wotten’s dreams were before the salt water of the Mersey filled his lungs in June 1919, but they would certainly have been similar to most people’s: to be healthy, happy and well fed, and to do good for oneself, one’s family and for society in general.

I am grateful that my own dreams of developing property for social and environmental good have cost me only money, time and faith in the city I call home, and not my life. I have seen my local MP about the series of resistances I have experienced, and she has taken it up with the new Chief Executive of the Council. While one cannot expect a finding similar to that which followed the enquiry into the police handling of the Stephen Lawrence murder (in which the Met was described as “institutionally racist”), I can’t help feeling justified in describing my treatment by Liverpool as “institutional cruelty” at the very least.

Nonetheless, I have one new dream to share. I have a dream that in a few years, the site of the former Caribbean Centre will be developed into social housing primarily for people of African descent, regardless of financial means. I have a dream that the development will be led by a community-owned company, using Black developers, architects, builders and the like. I have a dream that it will be self-sustaining, spawning several thriving community-interest companies. I have a dream that little Black boys and little Black girls will live and play there together, with their mothers and fathers, their grandmothers and grandfathers, all caring for one another and enjoying together beautiful music, art, stories and good, clean air. I have a dream to share. I have a dream that Liverpool City Council, with several Black men and women in its leadership, will be a national and international example of excellence in promoting community cohesion and prioritizing people over profit. I have a dream that all the contributions that Black people have made to Liverpool, and to the world from Liverpool, will be properly recognised in the naming of streets and buildings, and that people will come from far and wide to celebrate and marvel at their achievements. I have a dream to share.

I’m sure many Liverpudlians – Black, White, Brown, Yellow, whatever - would share this dream.

And the council? Well, if the extent of their creativity is to use a community-interest company’s legal status to thwart a great idea, I fear that they might be institutionally incapable of sharing this dream.


Dedicated to the memory of three men whose funerals I attended in the space of a single week at the end of June 2019:

Alhaji Captain Miftah Osi-Efa, one of the founder-members of the Al Rahma Mosque, Liverpool.
Paul Agoro, one of the founders of the Granby Residents Association, who successfully resisted plans for the wholesale demolition of the Granby Triangle.
Bala Lloyd-Evans, whose first business idea was in employment for ex offenders, but was knifed to death in an unprovoked attack. His funeral reception was held at the Caribbean Centre.

UPDATE 1, 20 Nov 2019. On September 6, following an email from Dame Louise Ellman MP to Tony Reeves, the Council's Chief Executive, a meeting was convened which included David Turner and Pauline Iveney of the Property and Asset Management Services Department (PAMS), the Council solicitor Brian Beattie, Dame Louise and myself. In the meeting PAMS stated, disingenuously, that they had informed me through my solicitor of the reasons for denying the change to a limited company. At Dame Louise's request, they promised to forward proof of this. As of November 1, this had still not been sent, and Dame Louise repeated her request, to no avail. She has now resigned as an MP.

UPDATE 2, 2 Dec 2019. The prospective Labour Parliamentary Candidate to replace Ms. Ellman is Ms. Kim Johnson, who happens to be a local Black woman. If she decides to take on this case, another piece of information she will have is that at the aforesaid meeting of September 6, PAMS confirmed that the party they were selling to (no tender, advertising, anything) is Cobalt Housing Association, with whose John Westerside I had been negotiating when the Option was terminated. What communications there had been between Cobalt and PAMS during that negotiation process will probably never be known, but my reluctance to trust housing associations is probably vindicated.

UPDATE 3, 19 Dec 2019. The Liverpool Echo reported today that two arrests were made by the police: one is the managing director of Elliot's the developer behind the thwarted take-over of the site of the Merseyside Caribbean Centre and to whom a site previously earmarked for a Slavery Memorial, St. James's Church, had been sold, for housing. The other person under investigation is the Council's Head of Regeneration, under whom PAMS serve.

UPDATE 4, 28 April 2020. My new MP, Kim Johnson, finally made contact three weeks ago. It appears that the allocation of staff to her following her election to Parliament has been particularly tardy. We have started liaising, and Covid-19 notwithstanding, I remain hopeful that her intervention will help get to the bottom of this.

UPDATE 5, 12 May 2020. On the advice of a local councillor, I submitted a formal complaint online. If not resolved to my satisfaction, it could eventually get to the Local Council Ombudsman. In going back through historic correspondence and writing it up, it seems that the case is even more shocking than I realised! It can be read here.

UPDATE 6. 3 July 2020. Complaints procedure in motion with Liverpool City Council. It is currently being investigated by a Council officer. Letter here.

UPDATE 7. 9 July 2020. Letter received today from the Council, rejecting my complaint in its entirety. I will proceed to the Local Government Ombudsman.

UPDATE 8. April 6, 2021. Local Government Ombudsman, after much correspondence, states (contrary to much apparent evidence of foul play and Council withholding of evidence) that she won't investigate the case, as she is "unlikely to find fault in the Council's actions." I requested a review of the case, pending receipt of information requested from the Council under the Freedom of Information Act, being strangely delayed.  Ombudsman would not confirm that I would be granted an extension of time in which to request the review. I referred the matter to the Information Commissioner's Office, who eventually compelled the Council to release documentation, finally received 30 October. Of the 80 pages, only 5 were of any interest, and they were heavily, or completely redacted. This basically provided me with no more information than I had at the beginning of the process. A further complaint to the ICO was referred to them, and on 29 March they wrote to say that my complaint was not upheld.


  1. Marjorie H Morgan3 July 2019 at 09:52

    Sober reading.

    I hope your dream is fulfilled and no longer thwarted.

    God speed, sir!

  2. Absolutely superb piece of work Tayo. Worthy of you who was the first ever black member of Liverpool's Athenaeum Club.

    1. Thanks, Ronnie! Ah, yes. The attraction was the chance to have the share once owned by abolitionist William Roscoe, which I was proud to do as long as finances allowed.

  3. Excellant article Tayo. Your dreams are mine also and may they come to fruition

  4. Tayo Dreams come True
    International institutional cruelty is a nightmare of which one day we shall awaken
    If you, I and many others stop dreaming the world would be a dark place
    We shall dream on BECAUSE Brother Tayo dreams come true
    Sister Barb ��

  5. Very interesting read. May the Most High bless your every endeavour and may your dreams come to fruition!

  6. Great historical coverage. Let's hope that speaks positively to the contemporary challenges and dreams

    1. Indeed, we must keep our eyes on the prize.

  7. Fantastic historical read. Some of which I have to confess I knew nothing about. Lets hope common sense prevails with Liverpool Council!

    1. Thank you. Glad to have shed some light. I share your hope.

  8. I would love to collaborate with you to make this dream a reality.

  9. Fine article Tayo - my own research has found that Liverpool's architecture can be understood as the largest 'spatial fix' of the 19th century; such was the vast quantities of capital accumulated through the Transatlantic Slave Trade and it's aliquot trading goods and services. Through our mutual brother Laurence I found out that even the TST building bonanza in the city included money from Africans - both free and former slaves - it is ironic that a Black man is thwarted at every stage in modern Liverpool.

    Just a final comment - due to the worries of the African Caribbean Heritage Group's dealings with the so called development - I was part of grassroots movement that took possession of the vacant building and cleaned, cleared and refurbished the building and land with only the sweat of volunteers and a few material donations. We constituted as the African Caribbean Grassroots Initiative - a charity who the council believe are a fit and proper group to take the building and land forward. The plan is to lock the land into perpetual community ownership for future generations.

    Keep the dream alive - your community needs you bro.


    1. Thank you, Michael. A great idea - the only way to safeguard it from the continuing rapacious onslaught. Good luck with that, and see you soon.

  10. You have taught me so much, my dear Tayo. Not just about the history of Liverpool, and its treatment of you, but of the absolute necessity to stay strong and keep fighting. I hope that Liverpool will erect some sort of memorial - at least a plaque - for Daniels Ekarte.
    Marika Sherwood

    1. having read the articles relating to this great man I am. convinced that I am the grandson of this wonderful man. my own father was adopted in Liverpool and my father tells me his dad was a African slave who opened up the first childrens home in Liverpool for black children. I am deeply moved and somewhat liberated to read this wonderful history and am taking it further as I feel he should of had some sort of recognition for this vital work he did.

    2. Forgive me for not responding to this earlier. I am glad that this blog was so warmly received by you. All good wishes in your quest to bring his name back to prominence. The description of him as a slave is wrong, however, as you probably realise. Nobody was more free than he!

  11. Thank you, Marika, for these words of encouragement, and for bringing Pastor Daniels, and so much more, into my (and so many other people's) consciousness. Stay well.

  12. Great article Tayo, I salute your persistence in the face of unbelievable obstructions and chicanery. I don't know much about Liverpool (other than a base for WWII anti-submarine efforts and home of the Cavern Club!) but have taken a step in a fuller understanding. Best wishes, Justin

    1. Thanks Justin. All the best.

  13. Just come across this tale, Tayo. Lots of info. I hope you don't mind if I share the link. When I reflect back to when we met, I have realised that [knowing what I know now] there was never any good reason for you to have left the organisation we both worked for nearly 30 years ago.