Friday night, Picton High Street. Screeching karaoke shatters the windows of The Prince Alfred or The Thatched House. The mish-mash of punters in The Clock imbibe within its rickety confines. The would-be gangsters and their molls chill in Chillies. You have to wonder whether or not they ponder upon how lucky they are…
As they weave among takeaways and roaring cabs long past the witching hour, they’re free to hit the hay provided they don’t find themselves mired in scuffles or bad feeling. Yes – ha, ha, Gin Lane, the demon drink – the bottled nectar has always played a huge role in the structure of our industrial, working class towns and cities. But one of Wavertree’s most distinguished and revered landmarks is an embodiment of the battles between authorities, the working people and the drink. And a lot more besides.
The octagonal yellow sandstone structure planted in the triangular green adjacent to Lake Road was purpose built in 1796 to house the drunks of Wavertree who suffered from the curse of One Too Many. Any number of zig-zaggers would find themselves slung into the tight confines of The Lock-Up to dry out at the behest of Wavertree’s local constable. Prior to the establishment of The Lock-Up, that same constable – the 18th century version of a PCO with his job being voluntary – was paid two shillings per night, from the local purse, for housing drunks and other ne’er do wells in his own home. Tiring of the constant expenditure, Wavertree’s residents lobbied for a more permanent arrangement. But you can’t please everyone, and John Myers – the upper-crust owner of Lake House – voiced concerns that the whole affair was designed to rile him up. His concerns overruled, The Lock-Up was erected.
Its original flattened roof – replaced with a pointed roof and weathervane in 1869 by James Picton – provided an easy means of escape for the building’s temporary residents, who found that by simply smashing a hole through it allowed the addled prisoners a means of freedom. It was hard to blame them. Even with the presence of a small stove for heat, and the basic allowances of bread and water, the sandstone would have been damp, rough and distinctly uncomfortable for even the most paralytic prisoners. Over time, The Lock-Up showed a more heartless and sinister side: records show the building being used to segregate victims of cholera – most likely being left to die in huddled, frightened groups – and being filled to the brim with destitute Irish families who had escaped an Gorta Mór in search of a better life across the Irish Sea.
Much like last week’s The Monks’ Well, today’s chosen curio found itself unwanted, in disrepair and (much like its prisoners) staring down the business end of an uncertain and undignified future. From a focal point of local ‘justice’, The Lock-Up tumbled into obscurity and became nothing more than a storage facility for the village fire hose and other gardening equipment. Again, similar to The Monks’ Well, it just about survived the ravages of time and in 1952 became one of Liverpool’s first listed buildings… and with good reason: it remains one of the region’s most historically important landmarks.
The triangle sits on the only piece of Common Land in Liverpool and The Lock-Up itself is one of only two similar buildings: the other one being located in Everton village green and also the emblem of Everton Football Club. The triangle’s modern day status was aided as far as back as 1768 and the Wavertree Enclosure Act, by the village’s Lord of the Manor, a certain Mr Bamber Gascoyne – yes, an ancestor of his University Challenge (near) namesake. Now, there’s a good starter for ten next time you’re gabbing and drinking on the High Street.
Don’t have too many, though: you really wouldn’t enjoy an up close and personal tour of The Lock-Up…
Read the first in our series – ‘The Monks’ Well’
Pic courtesy Roy Pledger