Liverpool ’81: the voice of the unheard

1981:  burning milk float barricade on Upper Parliament Street

2011: the same scene today

Riots are the voices of the unheard
– Martin Luther King Jr

Sunday 5 July, 1981.  We live in a top floor flat on Canning Street in Liverpool 8.  Around seven in the evening we need some milk, so I pop over to the little backstreet store just behind Falkner Square.  Something seems to be going on; there are crowds of people milling around and a lot of noise – shouting and distant crashing sounds.  Sudden flurries of people run past, running away from the direction of Upper Parliament Street.  I say, ‘what’s happening?’  ‘There’s a riot.  The bizzies are getting hammered’.

Disturbances had kicked off two days earlier, on the evening of Friday July 3rd when the police had attempted to arrest a young, black motorcyclist at the junction of Granby and Selbourne Street.  An angry crowd had gathered, leading to a fracas during which the motorcyclist escaped but a different black youth, Leroy Cooper whose brother had been acquitted on what the local community regarded as a trumped-up charge in the Crown Court only the day before, was arrested for assault on a police officer.  There was more trouble on the following evening, but it was the events of Sunday 5 July that launched ‘Toxteth’ (as outsiders commenting on the events always called the area) into the national headlines.

1981: the junction of Granby and Selbourne Street

2011: junction of Granby and Selbourne Street today

On that Sunday night we watched as full blown riots ripped through the streets of our neighbourhood: pitched battles between police and youths throwing missiles including petrol bombs, cars seized, overturned and set ablaze to form barricades, buildings set ablaze, shops ransacked.  In the early hours of Monday morning CS gas was used for the first time on the UK mainland.

The rioting lasted for nine days, as disturbances rippled through other inner-city areas. Further serious rioting occurred on 26-28 July when, at the time of the royal wedding of Charles and Diana, a young disabled boy David Moore was killed when he was run down by a police riot vehicle.  By the time the disturbances had died down, more than 300 police officers had been injured and 500 people arrested. At least 150 buildings had burnt down or been demolished, including the former Rialto Ballroom (below), the Racquet Club, the UK’s first drive-through bank, and a sizeable proportion of the shops and pubs on Lodge Lane.

1981: Swainbanks used furniture warehouse in the Rialto burns

2011: the new Rialto building houses shops and a neighbourhood centre

In retrospect what I recall about that Sunday night is the strangeness of it all.  We watched from the grassy knoll on Upper Parliament Street as the Racquet Club opposite (a private club for judges and members of other elite professions) was set on fire.  We watched as hundreds of youths hurled missiles at the retreating police lines (all the force had on the mainland in those days were heavy riot shields that caught light when a petrol bomb hit, while protective grilles were only added to police vehicles after the riots).  We watched with no sense of fear – many of the rioters were familiar to us.  The atmosphere, as we strolled through the milling crowds, was carnival-like.  Young men in black balaclavas would fall back from their endeavours for a while and chat with friends on the sidelines.

1981: Falkner Terrace

2011: the restored Falkner Terrace, a grade II listed building

At the time my job was organising adult and community education courses in a local college.  One of the projects with which I was involved at the time was a course initiated by South Liverpool Personnel, an adult education centre in the Rialto buildings.  The aim of the course was to begin to rectify to the virtually zero representation of  local black residents on university courses and in professions such as teaching and social work locally.  The project in itself epitomised the deep social fractures that culminated in the riots.  Local community activists had been warning for several years of the probable consequences of these divisions.  Indeed, the 1973 Report of the Select Committee on Race Relations inquiry into educational opportunities for black people had noted that the black community in Liverpool was disadvantaged both inside and outside school.  The Select Committee concluded: ‘Liverpool … left us with a profound sense of uneasiness’.

Around midnight we were two blocks from our home, standing at the corner of Parliament and Catherine watching the NatWest drive-in bank and the Rialto burn. The Rialto was a sweet target for many of the rioters:  the disused cinema housed Swainbanks second-hand furniture warehouse, where many on social security had been forced to pay exorbitant sums for crappy furniture.

Someone ran past with a huge drum of olives, looted from the Greek deli in the Rialto.  One of my students loomed from the flickering shadows to apologise: he might be late handing in his essay that week.  The street was littered with fruit and veg, tins and bottles from the looted shops.  Scorched paper drifted like confetti in the air.  The traffic lights changed from red to green and back again, but there was no traffic.  And no police – they hadn’t been since for an hour or more.  A mile from the city centre, buildings burned, shops were being ransacked, and a shifting melee controlled the streets.

But – and this was also strange – it was as if there was an invisible barrier confining the uprising to the boundaries of Liverpool 8.  The pulsing mass of predominantly young people seemed unconsciously to confine themselves to their own turf.  It’s not that I would have wished it, but I have often marvelled at the way that rampaging power halted, even when the police had withdrawn completely.  (Though perhaps there is no mystery to it.  At that time, there were almost no black Liverpudlians employed in the city centre, especially in positions involving face to face contact with the paying public:   for black Liverpudlians the city was a no-go area.)

Strange it was too when, in the early hours of the morning and with work to get up for in a few hours, we left the scene and returned home.  Through our bedroom window the night sky was lurid with the flames rising from the burning buildings two streets away.  Yet, coming in, when we had met our landlord who lived downstairs on the ground floor setting out buckets of sand and water, we had thought him a little mad.



The following morning I did the usual thing of picking up a work colleague who lived further down Canning Street, to give him a lift to work.  I drove the car into Upper Parliament Street to show him the impact of the night’s events.  I negotiated the car around burnt-out vehicles, fallen rubble from collapsed buildings and looted detritus.  My colleague was not as sanguine as I was: by the end of term he had left Liverpool for East Anglia.

1981: the ruins of the Racquets Club

2011: replaced by new apartments

The following day the enormous scale of the destruction became apparent.  The previous night figures running out of the darkness had shouted excitedly that Lodge Lane was on fire from end to end.  Now we could see just how far the devastation extended.  The bustling Lane, with its shops and pubs was wrecked: though some buildings had survived – protected by desperate shop owners – the heart of a white working-class neighbourhood lay in ruins.



Video footage from the period

BBC News footage of the Toxteth riots broadcast on 6 July 1981:

1985 clip from the first BBC TV magazine programme covering issues and developments in UK ethnic minority communities:

Later that year a crew from Finnish TV came to Liverpool  to film a documentary examining the roots of the 1981 riots. I got interviewed discussing the causes of Liverpool’s decline against the backdrop of a derelict Albert Dock:

What caused this, the worst rioting ever experienced on the UK mainland?  To coincide with the 30th anniversary of these events, Liverpool University Press have published a new book Liverpool ’81: Remembering the Riots, edited by Diane Frost and Richard Phillips.


Significantly, the longest chapter is devoted to racism and policing in Liverpool 8.  And most accounts and analyses of these events draw the same conclusion: that although Liverpool 8 was (and remains) a severely deprived area with poor housing, high unemployment and negligible job opportunities, it was the brutality and racism of the police force, targeting Liverpool-born black youths, that provoked the uprising.  And that racism was endemic – from the Chief Constable down to the cop on the beat.

Looking back to that time, it’s difficult to take in just how deeply racist British institutions were.  Take, for example, this passage from James McLure’s over-excited Spike Island: A Portrait of a Police Division, approved by the Merseyside Chief Constable as ‘faithfully’ portraying the ‘often dangerous’ task of the police in the city:

To his left, the North Sub [sub-division], and it’s a bit of a desert island that side. All those cliff-dwellers in high-rise flats; the bucks running wild and a few buckesses too . . .then straight in front of him, the market place: all that glitters, merchants and moneylenders, beggars and meths-drinkers lying about legless! . . . Then, to his right, the South Sub [sub-division]: the jungle noises and even more the jungle behaviour of clubland; then yellow people country, Chinatown; then, up in the right-hand top corner, black people country, Upper Parliament Street, a bit of Liverpool 8 . . . Then, if he’s coming on Nights, he’ll probably see five sort of stockades with campfires burning; places he can get in out of the cold and be safe from a hiding for a while . . .

Even more startling from today’s perspective is the article that appeared in 1978 in the BBC Listener magazine, written by BBC reporter Martin Young.   The racist bile in this piece led to a protest meeting and peaceful demonstration by residents of Liverpool 8;  but, worse, Ken Oxford, the Merseyside Chief Constable, was fond of echoing its phrases in his own pronouncements on the people who the police were ‘up against’ in Liverpool 8:

Policemen in general and detectives in particular, are not racialist, despite what many Black groups believe. … Yet they are the first to define the problem of half-castes in Liverpool.  Many are the products of liaisons between black seamen and white prostitutes in Liverpool 8, the red-light district.  Naturally, they do not grow up with any kind of recognizable home life. Worse still, after they have done the round of homes and institutions, they gradually realize they are nothing.  The Negroes will not accept them as Blacks, and whites just assume they are coloureds.  As a result, the half-caste community of Merseyside – or, more particularly, Liverpool – is well outside recognised society.

The Merseyside police force at the time had a particularly bad reputation in the area for stopping and searching black youths under the hated ‘sus’ laws.  Two telling passages in Liverpool ’81 illuminate this.  In the first, local councillor and Community Relations Council member Gideon  Ben-Tovim recalls:

The concern of all of us from the CRC point of view was problems with the police, with young people getting into trouble   often   in   our  view   for   no   good   reason, with the courts often colluding with the police as part of a whole system involving people getting prison sentences or criminal records for sometimes trivial offences. By the end of the 197os there was clearly a lot of tension building up in terms of the relationship between the police and the community, young     men in particular.

In another recollection, Phillip Canter, a solicitor in Liverpool 8, recalls ‘a time in which there were very bad relations between the police and the general public and also between the police and some of the local solicitors, including us’:

Just to give an example of this, I was in close touch with the then Chairman of the Police Committee, Lady Simey, and she and I were working together in trying to make a dossier of cases. We’d had quite a number of cases in which we had been acting for particularly black young people, who had been arrested and turned out to be wrongly arrested, and were acquitted on trial. I had a folder with many cases in this, and we were on the point actually of making this public when the riots took place.

At the time, Margaret Simey, a respected local figure, was Chairman of the Merseyside Police Committee.  She worked ceaselessly to hold the police force and its Chief Constable to account for their methods, both before and after the riots.  She once remarked that in the face of such conditions the people of Liverpool 8 would have been ‘apathetic fools’ if they had not rioted.  Phil Scraton documented her struggle in his The State of the Police, published in 1985.  In Liverpool ’81, Diane Frost and Richard Phillips have excavated this revealing entry from her diary (now part of the Simey archive in Liverpool University library).  It’s November 1981 and she has been invited to address the AGM of the local Police Federation.  Simey vividly captures the culture of policing that she sought to confront:

Picture a room with a low ceiling. Crammed with beery bulky men. A jam~packed little platform: policemen are all so   hefty! And in the middle of it, me, the victim, cooked up as an Aunt Sally for their fun and entertainment. [After her speech:] Up then gets this crude Scotsman, Jardine, and rants and roars in true Hitler style. I was sickened and appalled. He urged them into battle against the ‘louts’ of Toxteth. He went for the Bishop and the Archbishop (who are Bishop Tutu types) and me and the Police Committee, ranting and roaring in the best Hitler style. The audience loved it, shouted and cheered and gave him a standing ovation. I think they were half drunk.  But how hideously frightening, that that low lot of illiterates should be sent out on the streets of Granby to chivvy our young people.

Both the Scarman Report (on the Liverpool disturbances as well as others in Brixton and Handsworth) and the Gifford Enquiry (specifically into the Liverpool events) concluded that racism and policing methods had created the conditions for violent protest.  But the Gifford report of 1988 went further, concluding that the problem of institutional racism extended beyond the police force into the procedures and recruitment practices of the City Council and local employers.  As for the police, despite the higher profile given to community policing after the riots ‘racial attitudes, abuse and violence’ still permeated the force, worsened with the introduction of armoured cars, riot vans and the new hard-line Operational Support Division.  In fact, in the months following the first riot, the police began to utilise the Norther Ireland tactic of driving armoured cars at high speed straight into crowds of youths in order to disperse them.  On 26 July this had deadly consequences when a disabled youth, David Moore, unable to run fast enough, was run down and killed.  Three more nights of rioting ensued.

In the immediate aftermath of the disturbances there was a feeling of hope in the air. In late July, the Minister for Merseyside, Michael Heseltine, arrived in the city and a month later announced a package of measures for Liverpool, including clearing a stretch of riverside wasteland polluted with toxic waste to establish the first International Garden Festival. There were plans, too, to clean up stretches of the derelict docks, including the Albert Dock, where the Tate Gallery eventually opened.

The Merseyside Task Force, consisting of high-level civil servants, was established and, along with colleagues, I had the heady experience of negotiating with members of the Task Force to obtain funds to rent and furnish a building in Liverpool 8 which would house a Black Access course.  This partnership project between the LEA, two local FE colleges and Liverpool University resulted, in the following two decades, in hundreds of individuals from Liverpool 8 – of all ages and ethnic backgrounds – gaining entry to university degree courses and then professional employment.  Looking back, I hope that it is not just my personal involvement with this project that leads me to conclude that it was one of the most positive and beneficial outcomes of the riots.

The broader question of how much has changed in Liverpool 8 since the riots is both complex and one which provokes many different and passionate responses.  What most local observers agree upon is that the big headline projects – the Garden Festival, the Albert Dock and the Tate, had little to do with Liverpool 8 (though technically they lay within the ‘Toxteth’ boundary).  Some question whether many residents of Liverpool 8 gained employment through them: often labour was recruited from outside Merseyside.

In Liverpool ’81, local councillor Gideon Ben-Tovim offers a measured assessment, suggesting that though government   initiatives did produce benefits, these did not filter through to the people who needed them most:

One of the legacies of that period was the movement to a greater regeneration of Liverpool as a whole, so the work of the Merseyside Task Force set up after the riots by Michael Heseltine certainly had a wide civic impact for Liverpool. In one sense the renaissance of Liverpool began after the riots in the 198os with the Liverpool Garden Festival, the development of the Albert Dock, the establishment of the Merseyside Development Corporation, and later City Challenge, all of which had an important city-wide impact. Thus an effect of the riots was to bring Liverpool to the attention of national politicians and to kick-start a long and overdue process of regeneration, culminating in the 2008 Capital of Culture achievement.

But l don’t think that such a huge amount was actually invested in Liverpool 8 after the riots, as compared to what was spent on the wider city. There was some cosmetic improvement to the Princes Avenue Boulevard. A process of housing improvement began, seeing in due course some of the removal of the worst quality council accommodation in Liverpool 8. There were some modest targeted initiatives that emerged through the Task Force in that period that  have had an impact in trying to achieve a better degree of black representation  in certain fields of employment. Thus there was a  positive action training scheme which involved the housing associations offering places and the Community College delivering the training, leading to the eventual employment  of some black housing staff. This had some impact on the local housing associations, and helped some individuals to develop themselves in that field.

The significant investment of the NHS in the Women’s Hospital in Liverpool 8 can be seen as a positive outcome of the riots, a deliberate attempt by the then Dean of Liverpool to invest in Liverpool 8 through his ‘Project Rosemary’. So in the period since the riots we have seen some investment  in housing and the urban infrastructure; some incremental  bits of positive action training, including housing associations and social work; the College-University Access partnership and the sustained College recruitment of Liverpool 8 students; a successful new primary school and children’s centre;  a major NHS investment in the area; some improvements in the workforce profiles of the City Council and the NHS.

However, overall I would say there have not been enough targeted interventions, and a lot of what we saw after the riots was a rather general regeneration which on the whole bypassed Liverpool 8. Within Liverpool 8  itself some of the worst council accommodation has been cleared and better council or social housing accommodation put in its place, but even here there are the ‘Four Streets’ in Granby [above] that have still not had their future decided, and Granby Street itself has not been regenerated, with many boarded-up shops remaining. However, this is bordered by a new school and attached Sure Start Centre … which recently received an ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted inspection assessment.

The International Slavery Museum at the Albert Dock currently has an exhibition of photographs of the riots taken at the time by local residents. The pictures have been preserved by Sonia Bassey-Williams, then a young resident of the Toxteth area and now project manager for the Merseyside Black History Month Group. She went on to work with the Liverpool 8 Defence Committee to which local residents donated the photos.  The photos can also be seen on the Group’s 1981 Toxteth Riots website.

Coincidentally, the Museum also has an exhibition of photos of dramatic and iconic moments from over 40 years of South Africa’s history, captured by Lancashire-born Magnum photojournalist Ian Berry.  The exhibition culminates with the display of an anti-apartheid banner carried on protests organised by the Liverpool 8 Defence Committee, established in response to the riots (above).  This reminded me of something significant back in 1981 – the strong and empowering currents in black culture, especially in music, and the sense of shared identity with black experience in other UK cities and in other parts of the world, especially South Africa.

American soul music from the ghettos, Jamaican reggae and British ska and reggae all explored the theme of discrimination against black people.  In Britain, amidst recession, rising unemployment and bitter hostility in the inner cities to the government of Margaret Thatcher there had also been several years of assaults on black and Asian communities by the National Front, which had in turn led to the formation of the Anti-Nazi League. 2-Tone music from bands such as the Specials and Selecter fused elements of ska, punk rock and reggae and provided much of the soundtrack to these years.  In their songs, British reggae bands like Misty in Roots, Aswad and Steel Pulse linked the tribulations on the streets at home with struggles in Africa and elsewhere.

The lyrics of Steel Pulse’s ‘Handsworth Revolution‘ not only summed up the injustices felt by black Britons living in the inner cities, but also expressed the sense of hope and strength that many gained from Rastafarianism:

Dread we are for a cause
Deprived of many things
Experienced phony laws
Hatred Babylon brings
We know what we got to offer
We know what’s going on
Don’t want no favours
Cause there is still hunger
Innocent convicted
Poor wage, hard labour
Only Babylon prospers
And humble suffer
They are brothers in south of Africa
One Black represent all, all over the world
Can’t bear it no longer
Blessed with the power
Of Jah Creator
We will get stronger
And we will conquer
And forward ever, and backward never

Above all, the songs of Bob Marley gave young people in the inner city a sense of the justice denied them, as well as strength and purpose:

Get up, stand up
Stand up for your rights
Dont give up the fight!

Most people think
great God will come from the sky
Take away everything
Make everybody feel high
But if you know what life is worth
You’ll look for yours on earth

Some of these artists responded to the riots, the most striking example being The Specials, who, in the most perfect coincidence of music and politics topped the charts with ‘Ghost Town‘ as the the riots spread from city to city.

Linton Kwesi Johnson responded to the riots in Brixton and elsewhere with ‘The Great Insurrection’ (below) and ‘Mekkin Histri’.

well dere woz Toxteth
an dere woz Moss Side
an a lat a addah places
whey di police ad to hide
well dare woz Brixtan
an dere woz Chapeltoun
an a lat a addah place dat woz burnt to di groun

it is noh mistri
wi mekkin histri
it is noh mistri
wi winnin victri
– Linton Kwesi Johnson, Mekkin Histri

And let’s not forget Liverpool 8’s own The Real Thing, who in 1977 had released their second album, Four from Eight(originally to have been called Liverpool 8 in honour of the neighbourhood where they grew up and still live, before their record company rejected the title).  The album concludes with the fine trilogy ‘Liverpool 8 Medley’: ‘Liverpool Eight’, ‘Children of the Ghetto’ and ‘Stanhope Street’.

Children of the Ghetto
Runnin’ wild and free
In the concrete jungle
Filled with misery
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Theres no inspiration
To brighten up our day
None at all, not at all, none at all
So out of desperation
I would like to say:
Children of the Ghetto
Keep your head
To the sky

In 2011, Liverpool 8 in general looks better. There are examples of much improved housing and the schools are new,  better performing and treat children of all backgrounds with the same care and respect. Relations between the police and the community are undoubtedly better than they were. But there is a risk, if you’re someone comfortably off living on the edge of the district, of being taken in by surface stuff. Dig deeper and the reality is that Liverpool 8 is still one of the poorest areas in the country.

Nevertheless, let’s keep our head to the sky and end on a positive note, with a look at two examples of the people of Liverpool 8 aspiring to better things.

Lodge Lane at the time of the riots was a largely white working class district.  The area was devastated by the riots and subsequent housing renewal, with residents being dispersed to other parts of the inner city. Today, though, it is the centre of a highly diverse community, many of whom are more recent arrivals in the city, whether from Africa, the Middle East or Eastern Europe.

Walk the mile-long length of the Lane, and there is scarcely a shop boarded up with businesses that appear to be doing reasonably well.  There are no chain stores here: there’s a real sense of small entrepreneurs from every conceivable ethnic background pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.  There are takeaways offering a diverse range of ethnic food – whether your preferences is Caribbean jerk fish or chicken, English fish and chips, Chinese,or Middle Eastern cuisine. There are stores selling halal meat and poultry, barber shops offering every kind of cut including Rasta, an Internet cafe,two international call shops, a mobile phone repair shop,the Islam Lifestyle store, newsagents, a Middle Eastern restaurant, off-licences, cafes and pubs.

As well as places looking to sell you something, there are offices of organisations that support and strengthen the community: the Liverpool Arabic Centre, Lodge Lane & District Credit Union, Granby-Toxteth Development Trust, and the Muslim Enterprise Development Service.  At the top of the Lane, next to the ruined public baths building, there’s the local branch library and the ‘Pivvy’, the Pavilion Bingo Club.

At the other end of the Lane, with one of last year’s Go Penguins standing guard, is the Greenhouse Project which for the last 14 years has been providing after-school child care and running multicultural play and arts projects. The project encourages local kids to explore and celebrate the diversity of the local community. One group of young people aged 14-18, recently started a campaign called ‘Loving Lodge Lane’ to bring together business owners, residents and local services to demonstrate pride in the area.  Another group has produced a short film, These Streets, which has just won a national award.

Meanwhile, it’s a different story over at Granby Street, which is a ghost of its former self. The top end of the street has largely been demolished and alongside the new school and Sure Start centre there are new housing developments that look to be of a reasonable standard.  Further down, though, is a scene of utter dereliction: Granby Four Streets is a distressed neighbourhood where most of the houses are bricked up and empty.

But amidst this devastation, the remaining residents of Cairns Street, Beaconsfield, Ducie and Jermyn Street, off Granby Street, have joined forces to green up and regenerate their area and fight Council plans for demolition. They want to save all of the empty houses in the Four Streets area – 128 in all – and turn them into affordable homes again. The last few years have been a hard grind of lobbying, meetings and negotiations with the local council and potential developers.

At the same time the eight remaining residents of Cairns Street have taken matters into their own hands, tidying up their street, painting the boarded up houses in pastel colours, and planting flowers, shrubs, vegetables and fruit in every available space.  On the first Saturday of every month they hold a community market.

Ironically, the spending cuts have made the situation a lot more optimistic – basically, the money for demolition and rebuilding has run out, so there might just be a chance to save the houses and revive the area.

The Four Streets Trust has issued a declaration of hope for the area:

We firmly believe that it is possible to retrofit the existing houses so that they emit 70-80% less carbon than similar houses, and generate some of their own energy. This will help to protect residents from fuel poverty and make the neighbourhood a green and pleasant place to live.  We also want jobs and training in construction and renewable technologies for local people to be a major feature of this project – so investment stays in the area, and helps to make the neighbourhood truly sustainable in the long term.

They have produced a short video setting out their hopes for the future and how they intend to use this ‘chink of light, this chance of change’ for the place and for the people:

You can listen to Richard Phillips and Diane Frost, authors of Liverpool ’81: Remembering the Riots, discuss the riots on Thinking Allowed with Laurie Taylor on this YouTube clip, illustrated with photos of riot locations then and now.


Update 17 August

41 thoughts on “Liverpool ’81: the voice of the unheard

  1. At the time, in Liverpool 1, “Chinatown” to visitors,we tried to keep our children in the play centres in the triangle of Park lane and Great Georges, away from the “attraction” of the riots up the hill, though many of the older youth went up to watch or join in. The results are mixed, many positives as described above but ironically the key showcase improvements, the Albert Dock, the Garden Festival had little effect on the L8 community. The Garden Festival was sadly temporary, vandalism often cited as the cause of its demise, but it was just neglect, accidental or deliberate. Property developments, taking place in the past twenty years on the river front and festival site are unlikely to benefit L8. One outcome has been the mistaken popular view that the L8 area gets favourable economic treatment, compared to the [equally] deprived Anfield and other parts of North Liverpool. It is also believed, true or not, that L8 is a no go area for the police, in contrast to Croxteth and Speke. It is still the case that if you want to see housing poverty in 21st century Liverpool, catch any of the buses traveling north out of the city via Anfield and Everton or Edge Lane/Prescott Rd to Old Swan. As with Park Road, Smithdown Road, and Old Swan,they have brand new shiny giant shopping arcades. 21st Century progress indeed.

  2. Good photo piece :)

    Let’s hope the Tories don’t drag us back to riot scenes like those from the 80’s.

    There was ‘slum clearance’ around the Elephant & Castle area of London. They put everyone up in smart new flats, flats which they are now demolishing. Meanwhile a vast area where people used to live had been converted into an extensive park, but it’s an eerie place I find: you can still work out where things like streets used to run by lumps and bumps in the landscape. I really think they should have rennovated the houses which were already there – wherever possible – maintaining a sense of place.

  3. Thanks, Gerry, for such an evocative post from thirty years ago to today. I spent much of the Sunday night in the same way, on the way home from a film in Stanley House. Was similarly awestruck by the precise targetting of anger against police, with no hint of backlash against white by-standers. Other memories are of the huge force of the police lines being steadily beaten back, yard by yard, up Upper Parliament Street, a milk float of empty bottles from the dairy at the top being raided to be filled, and the smothering, choking CS gas. Much has changed, but so much remains the same, if better masked.

  4. We made the Granby 4 Streets film and are working now with the residents on creating and negotiating for what they want.
    And we are very honoured to have our film linked to this blog – the story of what has happened here, and why. We hope this ‘chink of light’ truly is the beginning of a happy ending to this long and tragic story.

    1. When I wrote this piece I never imagined that within a couple of weeks we would see a re-run of the events of 1981 in Liverpool 8, with some differences, but definite parallels. For example, how one mishandled police action can be the spark that leads to both righteous anger and destruction. How that spark can ignite a large pool of unemployed, idle, bored and socially excluded youth into the excitement of burning buildings and fighting the police. How large groups of youths from outside the community can seize the moment to try their hand at some opportunistic looting.

      Meanwhile, somewhere in the distance politicians intoxicated with the religious fervour of neo-liberalism fumble and bumble as the economic system, drained of its lifeblood by profiteers, collapses.

  5. Er, not youths Gerry, big boys – white men drove in from outside, lookin’ for lootin, as you say. Lodgie was destroyed last time and never recovered, let’s hope it is better this time, as far less ‘political’ populace, so I’m pessimistic about outcomes this time (it was bad enough last time!!).
    Great site – nice one!

  6. Point taken about the looting,Ben, although I doubt it was exclusively outsiders – things just aren’t like that. I’m pessimistic about the outcome this time – precisely because these riots can be written off as having no political meaning, ‘pure criminality’, ‘feral youth’, etc, etc.

  7. Hi have people got positive things to say about living in l8 today as am just about to move there from a very prosperous area in the south of england.. that quite frankly starves me of creativity and bores me to tears …

    1. Cheers, Peter, glad you found the post useful. Good luck with the assignment. I’ve had a quick look at your own blog – I think it’s an interesting way to record your progress and the development of your ideas as you work through the course.

  8. Liverpool and its pivitol role in the Slave Trade, left a legacy of institutional, economic, social racism and exclusion as its legacy.
    The Toxteth Uprising, were the “chickens of 500 years of British Imperialism, Colonialism and Genocicide coming home to roost “.

    This means Liverpool is a symbolic gateway for humanities descent into human captivity, economic exploitation and spiritual cultural and political degradation of Africa, the Black Diaspora world wide and those people of colour whose people suffered the inhumanity and cruelty of the Great British Empire.
    This includes China, the Indian Sub Continent, the indigeous peoples of the Americas, both North and South, The Caribbean and Australian !
    Shame and guiltiness rests upon those institutions that propogated and profitted from this human misery and evilness.
    If you know your history , you will know this is the real truth and the real definition of the Great British Empire. However the “Real Truth is not taught in British schools”.

    The Toxteth Riots represented the struggle of, the working classes and the voiceless under classes, A multicultural and diverse community of peoples, of all colours and races coming together in an “ephinany moment of clarity” to throw of the shackles of the political Beast that had conquered and enslaved poor people across five continents of our planet.

    Young people who stood up collectively, to the might of the System and Establishment and told them in no uncertain terms…





    Liverpool and in particular Toxteth has numerous people of exceptional talents and abilities. When the powers that “think they control the city”… wake up to this reality and invest, promote, “believe in and trust” in its working class Black and White Diverse Commnities, then a beautiful and truly, awe inspiring transformation, will take place in Liverpool.
    The city that represented the enslavement and degradation of the peoples of the world, will become a city of cultural freedom for all. A city of invention and a unique world embracing creativity.
    An enclusive, multi cultural “peoples powerhouse” of a city. A vibrant and potent symbol of what can be achieved when all people are valued, respected and encourage to make a positive contribution thier society…


    This is my comment 30 years on and my vision for Liverpool and its future…

    My name is LEROY COOPER, The Artist. contact number 0797 660 1341
    My art work is on exhibition at KEITH”S WINE BAR, LARK LANE, LIVERPOOL 17.

    Visit for more examples of my written work and photographs of Toxteth and Liverpool Life. The articles are under the title


    Visit part of the LIVERPOOL BIENNIAL 2012
    For video and blog reply written by LEROY COOPER in response to work by an artist featured in the Biennial….

    Google “LEROY COOPER, LIVERPOOL ARTIST” and click on the link for capital of culture and find links to examples of my photography, documentary film making, paintings and graphic work..


    Leroy Cooper
    Intellectual Property Corporation

    30 12 12


  9. ‘An inclusive, multi cultural powerhouse of a city. A vibrant and potent symbol of what can be achieved when all people are valued, respected and encourage to make a positive contribution their society’…I’ll go with that, Leroy. Thanks for reading and commenting. But btw – I couldn’t find your photo link on the Diverse website.

  10. Hi Gerry..go to the website, gerry and “log in” as…
    a member / friend of the mag using…. this id…

    name : future angel
    password : bikobiko…..

    this will give you access to the magazines in which my photo-journalistic articles are published. There are five magazines out of 7 that have articles within in them…you can literally turn the pages of the magazine… I would like you to contact me early in the new year to collaborate on some web publishing projects etc for the new year, if you are interested that is…
    I have over 200,000 photos taken since 1984 of Toxteth and Liverpool that I am now ready to publish as the start up of my creative, artistic concepts to transform firstly my own LIFE… circumstances and situation but as a stepping stone to establishing

    “FusionMEDIA33 :
    Intellectual Property

    As a viable channel and medium to promote not only my own artistic works but also the creativity and brillance of the talented people I have networked with locally, nationally and internationally. I think you are the kind of person I should be working with and supporting to build my enterprises and create a positive future for my self and others through the power of having an indomitable sense of self belief, sense of purpose and destiny but most importantly of all “believing in Liverpool and its peoples” ability to get things done when we put our minds to it….

    The educational benifit of my archives alone cannot be under estimated… as source material for present and more importantly future generations to see and eventually hear the voices of those people who have lived through the political, economic, social and cultural transformation and upheaval that Liverpool and Toxteth has gone through and is still going through….

    Thank you for your already immense contribution to throwing light into a “dark corner” of a very important but unheard and overlooked part of Britains social history.

    I look forward to hearing from you,
    Thank you for your time and future support…
    My phone number is 0797 660 1341 …

    Leroy Cooper
    31 12 12

  11. Leroy Cooper FusionMESIA33

    30 years on : A Life Lived Through The Chaos Theory .

    Leroy Cooper …. 2012
    Photographer, Journalist, Poet, Painter,
    Multi-Media Artist,DJ and Musician,

    Screenplay writer and Film Director..

    Liverpool, Toxteth, July 3rd 1981…

    An innocent motor cyclist.

    An insensitive, ignorant, right wing, racist police force.

    A city and a community suffering the full brunt of
    Margaret Hilda Thatcher’s right wing conservative policies…i.e.

    High unemployment leading to :

    Cultural, Economic and Social exclusion.
    This was the volatile and inflammable atmosphere that only required a spark to ignite centuries of racial aggression and repression in the former… “ Slave Trading ” Port of Liverpool.

    That Spark manifested in the person and personality… of Leroy Cooper.

    His arrest, in the multi cultural neighbourhood of Granby Street, Toxteth, that fateful summers evening was to have earth shattering political,
    social, cultural and economic consequences for a city and a country in the last decaying death throes of post empire and of the colonial urban imperialism ”of its own multi cultural communities”.

    Even H.R.H Queen Elizabeth II was aware of the notorious name of…
    THE 1981 TOXTETH RIOTS… if only because it was the first time C.S gas was deployed in a crowd control situation on her British mainland.

    One can imagine a royal flunky informing …

    “Her Royal Highness” …

    “ Ma’am the natives are restless up North…

    A bit of a kick off by all accounts … ”

    After 4 days of confrontation between thousands of balaclava wearing urban warriors and the combined police forces of several regional divisions the score was …

    A young man, run over and crushed to death by police landrover,…

    David Moore………..

    (No police officer ever investigated, held accountable or prosecuted.

    Still no plaque on the ghetto wall to commerate David’s fall….. )

    Over 750 police officers receive hospital treatment. That no police officer was killed was remarkable.

    However in the Bridgewater Farm Riots in
    Tottenham, North London 1985 a police officer did loose his life P.C. Keith Blakelock. For which Winston Silcott was wrongly imprisoned.

    CS gas used on British mainland for the first time.

    Millions of pounds of damage due to burning and looting.

    A nation in shock, a city’s racist police force exposed and a community
    torn apart.

    The names of Toxteth, Liverpool along with Brixton, London go around the world focusing attention on the new Britain Margaret Thatcher was creating.



    At the centre of this social and political implosion a young black man hung out to dry, the scapegoat, the sacrificial lamb… Leroy Cooper.

    Sent to HMP Hindley (Borstal) where he had to overcome a bungled attempt to plant drugs in his cell (30 valium tablets) by a racist and corrupt prison officer.

    The prison governor had smelt a rat and not wanting media attention brought to an already over stretched and incompetent prison regime dismissed the trumped up charges against Leroy Cooper.

    Leroy Cooper returned to his community with a new found political awareness, an exercise book full of poetry and a burning desire to educate and up lift himself and those around him.

    The hand of fate had dealt him a colossal social millstone.

    “ Who wants to employ the man blamed for starting a riot, a social uprising, a political and cultural revolution.”


    No one could have predicted the inner strength, the creativity and
    integrity of Leroy Cooper.

    It would have been easy for him to have become another“ cocky ” thug….

    It would have been easy for him to have become

    a hooligan fooligan.

    But against the backdrop of all the… “social environmental hazards” … associated with life in a ghetto….

    e.g. unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, police harassment, economic and social exclusion, institutional racism,

    Leroy Cooper chose to walk a different path.

    Out of the chaos, that was his post 1981 life, in the fractured and divided Liverpool of 1981, Leroy Cooper was inspired to pursue a career in the Arts.

    Armed with his talent and ability for writing insightful and perceptive poetry, he embarked on a journey of self development, self discovery and self promotion.


    The path Leroy Cooper chose covered the broad spectrum of “THE ARTS”

    As Performance Poet appearing in several 80’s documentaries including :

    Liverpool Black Media Groups documentary …


    BBC 1’s flagship current affairs programme
    “ PANORAMA ”

    Granada’s “ WORLD IN ACTION ”


    Leroy Cooper is an authentic…. Voice of Britain.

    The Voice of The Marginalised…

    The Voice of The Oppressed
    The Voice of The Inner City
    And yet also…A VOICE OF HOPE…


    As a graffiti artist he painted the street signs of Toxteth, the red, yellow and green of Rastafarian Culture and called it an Urban Installation. Well before Banksy turned up…

    A simple yet effective way of making a statement about self determination and celebrating, a community, an identity, a culture and Liverpool’s hidden heritage.

    As an actor in 1990, he made his feature film debut in an Independent film called…

    THE FRONTLINE : Directed by PAUL HILLS : available via

    A music career that covers creating along with close friend Marcus Gallagher.. the internationally respected Sound System… COSMIC AMBASSADOR HI FI.

    Club Dj and M.C. Frontman for notorious House and Dance Music Producers…THE PORN KINGSon their European tours.

    Recording artist with NEW ATLANTIC.



    Leroy Cooper is a film director and documentary maker and has directed and filmed for BBC VIDEO NATION.

    He is a published poet, writer, photographer and journalist.

    His widely acclaimed articles…

    Life in Liverpool…Thru The Lens… of Leroy Cooper… in … Establishing him, clearly, as the leading social commentator on Liverpool’s attempts to address 500 years of racial and working class exploitation…

    If your having trouble reading between the lines of past, present or future… local, national and international politics, them ask Leroy Cooper for his opinions. He jokingly claims…

    “ Its everyones human right and entitlement to MY opinions “

    No denying he possesses an ego… but he never steps over into naked arrogance…

    Leroy Cooper is a playwright, a writer of short stories and screenplays for films and animation.

    He jointly co-ordinated a community publishing project with Dorothy Thomas to publish an illustrated anthology of Liverpool based poets, photographers and illustrators…UNDERCURRENTS: available from Liverpool Central Library


    Leroy Cooper : The Photographer and Painter

    Ultimately it is as photographer and painter that he found his vocation and a twenty year something photographic (still on going) and painting project, was born.

    Leroy Cooper has consistently taken photographs of Liverpool as well as photographic missions to other cities.
    His collection numbers over 150,000 images and presents a glimpse into his perception of…


    A Liverpool that is only now coming to terms with its unsavoury past and seeking POSITIVE new directions for its Post Millennium Future.
    Leroy Coopers reputation and confidence allowed him to approach his subjects and to engage them in a
    “ magical moment of creativity ”…

    When the notoriously famous man takes
    your picture a little bit of REALITY stardust is sprinkled over you too.

    “Get your 15 seconds of frameFAME” …..


    In a ” Leroy Cooper ” photograph.
    Leroy Cooper’s dedication, persistence and positive attitude are to be commended and celebrated.

    He brings his life experience to his work which
    is informative, educational and at the same time entertaining BUT QUESTIONING.

    Leroy Cooper knows about life at the shitty end of the stick but has gone on to achieve great things despite the negative hurdles he has had to surmount.

    The quality of his images has to be seen to be truly appreciated.

    The work speaks for itself, of the passion,of the struggle, of the anger, of the joy, of the pain, of the frustration and of the sense of overcoming
    Leroy coopers work speaks about the ugliness of urban poverty and decay.

    The work speaks about the inner beauty of the people who are psychologically trapped by the racism of the wider, white society in the inner city of Liverpool.


    Ultimately Leroy Coopers work speaks about the celebration and regeneration of life itself. As Liverpool and Toxteth, move forward, together, towards the future with more genuine confidence.

    Leroy Cooper

    The Cosmic Painter : The New Skool Kool !

    The contrast between the black and white gritty images screams out sharply, with the vivid cosmic colours, of his paintings…

    The inner world of Leroy Cooper is one full of light a vibrating, resonating kaleidoscope of abstract forms and intense colours…

    The paintings are far more about the inner workings of person who has been forced to look inside themselves to find their inner connection to the beauty of the world inside and outside of the world of ghettoes.

    Someone seeing beyond police harassment, exclusion from the work place and the rat race of paying the mortgage and keeping up with the materiality of the Jones’s.


    In recent times he has been celebrated at TATE LIVERPOOL in 2007. He specifically avoided being involved in he called the 2008…


    Not wishing to give undeserved credit
    to what he calls… ” money grabbing vultures and exploiters ” of Liverpool s Working Class Roots and Culture…

    If life is about the relationships between… peoples, their environments and their inner selves, then Leroy Cooper has been granted access to…

    “The Secret Life of Liverpool”.

    Not for him the negative images peddled by a National Media (apparently) hell bent on crucifying Liverpool through 80′s and 90′s.
    Leroy Coopers work is perceptive and full of a unique insights into everyday life that challenges the status quo and asks the reader or viewer to look at life from different angles, to open their minds and come out of their comfort zones and discover new truths that might set them free, to be truly, themselves, with no apologies.



    The cliche states…


    In a city that is still gripped by, social and economical instability for the poor and marginalised communities.

    Leroy Cooper stands out as an inspirational figure.

    In a city where the “GANGSTER” is still the most common role model for impressionable and vulnerable inner city youth, Leroy Cooper picked up the
    pen and not the knife. He picked up, canvasses, paint brushes and spray cans not chains, knives and knuckle dusters.

    In a time where any ” wanna be… bad boy” can get hold of a…”sawn off shot gun or 9mm hand gun for hire”…to sort out any of “LIFES PROBLEMS”…

    Leroy Cooper picked up a 35mm SLR camera to disprove once and for all, media myths perpetrated about…

    “His Liverpool” and in so doing clear up…

    A 30 year character assassination, against his own character and that of his Toxteth Community.

    For nearly two years now Leroy has had a very successful exhibition of his paintings and photography at Keiths Wine Bar on Lark Lane L17, that has become the talk of the town and has been viewed by thousands of customers while enjoying good food, good wine and good company. His work is fresh, colourful, vibrant and thought provoking with such titles as, CHRIST AS FEMALE, YOUR SOUL, SON FLOWERS WITH CAT, FAULTY TOWERS and the magnificent Picasso like, THE LOVERS. If you have not been and seen, get there while they can still be seen for free OR leroy cooper revealed and Google, Leroy Cooper, Liverpool artist and view the online promotional highlights.

    Recently Leroy has been meeting some of the “movers and shakers in the city” to forward his ambitions of starting his own gallery and multi-media company in Hope Street, these include Keith Blundell, Head of Tourism at Liverpool City Council, Kevin McManus, Director of MERSEYSIDEacme, Cheryl McGowan from Liverpool Galleries and Museums, Robin Ellis from George Downings Property Company. Things are all moving in the right direction for Leroy for at last the quality of his work is doing the talking for him and it is gathering positive support from whoever sees the work.

    It’s not too far fetched to say Liverpool has a true creative genuis lurking in its artistic underground that is ready to blossom and take off to Olympian heights and proportions during 2012 and 2013. As Leroy himself says…

    “The time is right to create a Black, Multi-Cultural, Diverse Arts and Multi-Media Company and Organisation that can truly represent the massive amount of talent that Liverpool has but never promotes or invests in. I am an example of that myself. It’s been 30 years that my name has been known in this city by other photographers, painters and artists, musicians, DJs and producers, writers and film makers and ordinary, everyday people from Liverpool’s social scene and street culture.

    No one can deny that my “talent, hard work and perseverance” in the face of the massive discriminational hurdles that I have had to overcome because of The 1981 Toxteth Uprising and my accidental involvement, in “the sparking out” assault of “3 police officers incident” that led to “The Riots”, is something to be proud of.

    When my career moves up a couple of notches (which it will do) and the whole city can share in my success and be genuinely appreciative of all the talented people I intend to bring through with my Multi-Media Company “FusionMEDIA33″, then we will be able to see that a change for the better has has taken place in Liverpool and Merseyside.

    Only those uneducated, ignorant racists would not wish for a better future for our city where its most talented prosper and in so doing lift Liverpool to new heights of social, cultural and economic inclusivity and excellence. For a city that has been dogged for years for being racist and backward in its attitude to race, cultural diversity. and gender issue. This would be the true beginning of the healing of very a painful past, where the place that represented the gateway into bondage and slavery becomes the gateway to creativity, freedom and equality on the global stage, setting an example and a blueprint that others will follow”




    Liverpool has something to say to the whole world and Leroy Cooper is one of those who can articulate it.

    So look without prejudice , feel without fear and get to know the hidden beauty of Liverpool.

    Thank you for your time, forward this document to those you think may appreciate Liverpool’s hidden inner beauty …




    They must not be reproduced any where

    else without the signed permission of…











    Leroy Cooper M.D.


  12. Gerry here is a link
    to my some examples of my work at bbc website liverpool…
    I look forward to hearing from those who appreciate the time and effort
    taken over 25 years to collect, protect and preserve.
    There is a life times work waiting for the world to discover,
    that deserves a wider audience. t

  13. Do you not think that Lady Simey’s description of the Police as, large, beery low, illiterate, Hitlers is not as bad or even worse, as the descriptions that the journalist and the police gave of L8 residents, in the exerts you used to illustrate the endemic racism of the time. If so then if the point you are attempting to make that the police weren’t up to policing the area because of their prejudices then surly Lady Simey wasn’t up to being Chairman of the Police Committee, if she had made this kind of pre-judgement about the cops. These kind of things work both ways, I don’t have an axe to grind either way, but surely if you use prejudiced description of 1 side to illustrate how wrong they are, you can’t then use an equally prejudiced description from someone who you obviously believe is on the right side. Everything has swung so far back the other way now that we don’t even need to read an article to know who’s side it will be written from, we all know now that the right side is the anti police anti racism side, which I would argue to heavily against, it just makes us lazy, everyone is scrambling so hard to be PC and not to be seen as a racist, that no one stops to question the perceived wisdom of these things, no one dares poke their head up above the parapet in fear of it getting shot off, but anyone with half a brain if the y stop and think about it knows that bad things this way lie.

    1. I assume Lady Simey, writing in her private diary, was simply recording what she saw and heard. As the other witnesses quoted testify, tensions were running high between the police and the local community at the time. Merseyside Police would be the first to admit today that methods of policing, and training of police officers at the time were inadequate and counterproductive. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  14. why do ppl with blogs who invite comments always feel the need to moderate them first, I think there should be a law that says ppl who have comments at the end of their blogs should have to reveal that the comments have been censored first, what’s the point of having a comments section if you are not going to just let ppl say what they want, what are you afraid someone daring to have a view contrary to your own, please feel free to publish this comment if you want, but I would be obliged if you deleted my first comment (I don’t know if you would have published it anyway), but I’d prefer not to have my views included in a censored comments section, that’s what the Nazi’s did.

    1. It’s not the blogger,it’s WordPress,the organization that hosts the blog. If you are a new commentator on the blog they require the blogger to approve the comment before it is posted (not only so that the blogger can restrict offensive remarks, but also to prevent spamming). You can now respond freely on this blog.

  15. Was back in L8 for the first time in decades at the end of 2104. During the ’81 riots I lived in Falkner Square and worked in Solway Street. My father had for years been involved in running what was then Stanley House on Upper Parliament Street. I remember as a kid in the late 60’s playing snooker there on Sundays while he did admin work in the office and training in Ju Jitsu in the basement during the week. I even remember playing in Margaret Simey’s front room in the late 60’s while she, my father and other people would talk in the kitchen. The photos and records you have collated bring that place and time back into focus for me.

    In ’81 I remember coming back from a week away backpacking in France and walking down Upper Parliament Street from the Smithdown Road end through a surreal landscape of smoke, groups of police and residents standing around, and widespread destruction and thinking ‘what the **** is going on?’

    Was really impressed with the area now – things change, and even for the better sometimes!

    Thanks for a great resource.

    p.s. I don’t use my google mail address but will check in occaisionally.

    1. Thanks for those memories, Marc. I remember Stanley House, too. There was always something going on there, it was a good place to meet up with friends. I think Liberty Hall met there for a while, before moving to the Everyman Bistro. Margaret Simey, too – now there was a councillor!

  16. interesting to read I lived here in the 80’s and my flat was just opposite the Rialto, interesting viewpoints that you have living in the area some of it never registered with me we knew which areas to avoid, where the business girls stood etc I lived ina flat in 79 upper parliament st, in a housing trust owned building. I got some nice bits of antique furniture from the Rialto, I only worked part time in George Henry’s but it was not that dear for some old edwardian stuff at the Rialto… I remember the rioting coming down Parliament St from the Lodge Lane end and it all being outside our buildings. I never felt unsafe living in this area, we used to go to the Somali club to dance and drink, to the greek deli for groceries, to Jackson and Canters for legal advice I also knew Margaret Simey. Interesting but odd person. Long time ago now

  17. I used to live on Lodge lane from when I was a kid, my Family and I used to live above Tom’s Carpet shop next to Jean’s chippy and in 1981 we were burnt out of our flat above the shop but if it was not for my uncle coming to check on all of us my family and I would be dead now, after the roits we got a new house up in Longfellow street and lived there for many years until my mum had to move as the house was not suitable for her to live in anymore as she suffered with Rheumatoid Arthritis and had to move out of Liverpool 8.

  18. Very interesting and optimistic
    A visit to Liverpool to catch the Coral in their hometown has brought me here…!
    Wishing you all the best!

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