The role of a slavery defending Liverpool MP has been acknowledged in the heart of the Toxteth community – almost 40 years after his statue was removed following the infamous riots.
The new inscription at the plinth for William Huskisson, who gained notoriety as the world’s first train fatality in 1830 when Minister for Transport, is a key feature in a unique community-led regeneration scheme that has transformed a former Victorian boulevard into a reimagined event space, complete with artwork, tree and wildflower planting and a new 1km long cycle lane.
As well as explaining Huskisson’s role (he defended slavery in Parliament whilst being funded by slave traders) the £4m revamp also celebrates the role of activism, music, faith and the historical diversity of the L8 community whilst also celebrating its connections with former South African President Nelson Mandela.
Contractors for Liverpool City Council have upgraded Princes Avenue and Road as part of a scheme which also includes toucan crossings, carriageway surface, drainage and footway improvements.
The innovative scheme was officially unveiled by community leaders this morning (Thursday, 17 September). A website telling the story of the unique transformation has also been created at https://www.cultureliverpool.co.uk/princes-avenue/
As well as the highways improvements, the L8 community and a range of stakeholders, led by Friends of Princes Avenue and Mandela8, and including over 150 children from Windsor Primary, Princes Primary, Kingsley Primary, St Patricks and St Silas Primary schools, helped shape the design of public artwork, the granite paving and inscriptions, and interpretational signage.
Culture Liverpool led on the creative engagement process which saw them working alongside the Friends of Princes Avenue and Mandela 8 to commission local arts organisations.
They included Writing on the Wall, Toxteth TV and visual artist, Helen Davies who all worked with the community and local schools to develop creative writing and artwork that helped inform the designs of appointed landscape architects, BCAL. Toxteth TV have recorded the development.
Two existing features of the Boulevard were the subject of discussion in the community engagement, the Huskisson Plinth and the ‘8’ sculpture.
The Huskisson plinth, once celebrated the former MP William Huskisson. It has been empty since 1982. The reasons for this have been acknowledged with a new inscription acknowledging his role in the slave trade.
Liverpool’s Mayor Joe Anderson recently announced the city was to explain its pivotal role in the transatlantic slave trade in greater detail at streets and statues commemorating those with slave trade connections. The first 20 streets have since been announced.
The much-loved ‘8’ sculpture has been given an enhanced setting with an accompanying ‘L’ and other sculptural pieces, telling the story of the journeys of the communities in settling in the L8 area.
The innovative scheme, believed to be the first of its kind in the UK, falls between Upper Parliament Street and Princes Park Gate, and aims to stimulate the wider regeneration of an area that was created in Liverpool’s Victorian maritime hey-day.
The wide, tree-lined boulevard styled avenue leading up to Princes Park was built for the city’s merchant class and boasts grand houses as well as a stunning range of religious architecture, including the Grade I listed Gothic/Moorish revival masterpiece that is the Princes Road Jewish Synagogue.
There are a series of interpretational panels along the Boulevard telling the history of the Avenue, the faith buildings, the activism of the local community and the many nightclubs that once featured on the Avenue.
As part of the planting a special Chestnut Tree on Princes Avenue has been placed to celebrate the connections to the Nelson Mandela tribute in Princes Park – with it representing the “Tree of Life” which has great significance in South African culture. Associated creative writing at the base of tree, inspired by a community member, says, ‘Paths of peace, trees of knowledge, birds of freedom, leaves of hope’.
The Princes Ave/Road scheme is part of Liverpool City Region’s Sustainable Transport Enhancement Package (STEP) and the city council was successful in being awarded £1.925m from the STEP programme. The remainder of the funding will be provided through the council’s £500m Better Roads programme.
The STEP programme is part of the Local Growth Fund (LGF). Local Growth Funding is awarded to the Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and invested through the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority through its Strategic Investment Fund.
Principal designers for the Princes Avenue/Road schemer were Amey Consulting. Landscape architects were BCA Landscaping with principal contractor – nmcn Plc.
The completion of Princes Avenue/Road comes just a month after the council completed a £1.5m upgrade to nearby Upper Parliament Street.
Liverpool City Council currently has £100m of works taking place to improve the city’s highways, including new permanent cycle routes and a network of pup-up routes.