Friday 1 January 2016

An Hispanic Liverpool Heritage Walk

On Tuesday, 29th December, Dr Kirsty Hooper of the Hispanic Liverpool Project - - arranged a meeting at the Baltic Fleet pub so that members of the group could catch up on the latest developments, pore over maps, and generally chat and exchange family stories before taking our heritage walk.

The Baltic Fleet - - proved to be the perfect place to gather. It's more than likely that any seafaring ancestors would have stepped through its doors when coming ashore after a long trip, and some members of the group have happy memories of drinking at the Baltic in more recent years. Although not everyone in the Hispanic Liverpool Group was able to join us, we were still quite a large group, but the Baltic's Landlord, Simon Holt, was happy to accommodate us. We arrived after lunch, but the sight of their signature dish, Scouse, (adopted by Liverpudlians from the Norwegian Lapskaus) being carried through to other customers, made me determined to return one day soon to sample it. I did enjoy the coffee though, and according to the men in the group, the beer was excellent!

When I look back fifteeen years to when I first began researching my family history, I am amazed at the progress Kirsty has made in placing Hispanic immigrants in Liverpool's history. I spent the early years of my research frustrated at the lack of information; for all my efforts, it seemed my Spanish ancestors had arrived, lived, raised a family, and died in the city without leaving any trace. There was a thriving Chinese community, celebrated by a splendid Chinese gate, even an area called Little Italy, but what of the Hispanic immigrants? I knew my grandparents couldn't have been the only Spaniards to arrive in Liverpool at the beginning of the 20th century. My research was made more difficult because my family had moved from the heart of Liverpool, way out into the suburbs, at the outbreak of WWII; perhaps if we'd stayed, I would have met other children of English/Spanish heritage and perhaps heard their family stories.

I have mentioned in a previous blog, that I met Kirsty when she was head of Hispanic Studies at Liverpool University and I attended one of her lectures. That night was a turning point for me, for the first time I was in a room full of people who had a shared heritage; whose grandparents had lived in the same streets as mine; whose grandfathers had worked alongside mine for the Larrinaga Shipping Line. That was the first time I gained a sense of my place in the city's rich multi-cultural history. Now, thanks to Kirsty and her team's ongoing, tireless, research, we have the Hispanic Liverpool Project, where we meet up, in workshops and on line, to share photographs, memories and family stories, and discuss our ongoing personal projects.

Before setting off on our walk to trace the homes of our Spanish parents and grandparents, using maps and old photographs to try to trace where their long-gone homes once stood, we gathered outside the Baltic Fleet while Simon gave us a brief, but very interesting, talk on the history of the building. We plan to meet there again at some point in the future and hear the full story - ghosts and secret tunnels, I can't wait!

After a December of above average rainfall, the weather that day proved kind to us, perfect for strolling, taking photographs, and above all reminiscing. We all had different addresses we wanted to trace and by physically walking the area around Park Lane we could get a sense of just how many Hispanic people lived in that part of the city. I could see Liver Street, my grandmother's first destination on arrival; and although there is now no trace of the house in Greetham Street where my mother was born, the street sign is still on the wall and part of the cobbled street remains. I was able to walk in my grandmother's footsteps and imagine her pushing my mother's pram, the first child of her Liverpool-born family.

Kirsty had taken a packet of chalks along on our heritage walk, and was soon marking precise spots on lamp-posts and pavements.

Old photographs and maps made it possible to trace where the homes and businesses of other Hispanic families once stood. We learned where Christina's grandparents had their fish and chip shop, and a secret family recipe - but that's her story to tell!

What Liverpool has suffered over the years, especially in the Blitz, has made it almost impossible for a family historian to find physical traces of their ancestors' homes. I have had more luck in Santiago de Compostela, where I have been able to trace, stand outside, and photograph, every house that my grandmother lived in, the churches where her family were baptised and married, and the cemeteries where they are buried. My next project is to trace my Spanish grandfather's roots - and, with a great deal of help, I am on the verge of an important discovery!

Until then, I am extremely grateful, and proud, to be a member of the Hispanic Liverpool community and I look forward to our next get-together. Thank you all - including my very patient other-half, who took the photographs!