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Sectarian violence in Liverpool
Orangemen
Protestants and Catholics clashed in the streets

On 20 June 1909 Liverpool experienced its worst outbreak of sectarian trouble when Catholics and Protestants violently clashed in the streets.

A proposed march from a local Catholic church ended in riots with police when members of the Protestant community tried to block the route.

The sectarian violence led to the city being dubbed the 'Belfast of England'.

The trouble, in Juvenal Street near Scotland Road, led to several days of trouble across the city.

1909's riot was the culmination of many years of simmering tensions between Liverpool's Catholic and Protestant communities.

Professor Frank Neal, a Research Professor at the University of Salford and Honorary Professor at the University of Liverpool's Institute of Irish Studies, is the author of Sectarian Violence - The Liverpool Experience, he says that Liverpool's sectarian divisions really date from the influx of Irish following the Potato Famine, beginning in 1845, although the city's first Orange procession in 1819 ended in a riot.

By the mid 19th century Liverpool's Irish born population stood at 83,000, 22% of the city's total.

Communities divided

The Irish community was concentrated in one area north of the city close to the docks, with Great Homer Street marking the division between the mainly Protestant areas clashes were inevitable.

In the 1851 census for Liverpool there were 43,000 Irish in the area around the docks, "That was more Irish than the majority of Irish towns," says Professor Neal.

"These problems arose with grinding poverty.

"Liverpool was top of the list of every index of depravation."

The situation worsened with the arrival of a Protestant campaigner, George Wise, around 1888.

Wise began a campaign against High Church practice in the Church of England but soon turned to anti-Catholicism holding a series of meeting in Islington that usually ended in disturbance.

Over the next few years there was a build up of tension between the Catholic and Protestant communities.

The 1909 trouble, Professor Neal says, began in April when a procession from Holy Cross Church was rumoured to be planning to include a consecrated host.

The rumours were false, but in June in the north end of the city Catholics asked for permission to decorate streets with religious flags and when the Health Committee agreed, tensions again rose.

Matters came to a head with a procession from St Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Grosvenor Street

"On the 20th June the procession started walking down towards Juvenal Street," Professor Neal explains.

"The Orangemen were gathered in Juvenal Street and the police cleared them, and according to the accounts of the Orangemen they used unnecessary force.

"It ended in quite an ugly scene and it triggered five days of violence across the north end."

In a report on the violence The Times stated that "One house was actually set on fire.

"Many of the mob carried swords, files, and other weapons.

"The entire neighbourhood was in a state of great excitement the whole afternoon and evening, and two other charges had to be made by the mounted police to disperse the crowd.

"A great many arrests were made, a good number of those taken in to custody being injured."

A government inquiry, which would run to almost 2000 pages of evidence, was set up and would label Liverpool as 'the Belfast of England'.

"A Father Fitzgerald gave evidence," Professor Neal says

"He claimed 3,200 Catholics had to leave Everton and move in to safe areas."

"The commission also heard that a number of Protestant families had to leave the dock areas"."

"The whole thing was just put down to the build up of feeling between the two communities which had been going on for quite a long time."

Although there were subsequent flare ups of trouble, the 1909 riot marked the worst point in Liverpool's sectarian troubles, "In many ways 1909 represented the apex of religious conflict in Liverpool," Professor Neal says.

The aftermath of the Second World War saw changes to many of the dockland communities and a growth in affluence which effectively ended the divisions

"In slum clearance the communities were broken up," explains Professor Neal.

"At one time whole streets in Everton and in the south end were entirely Orange, and they were broken up in the slum clearance programmes of the 1960s.

"People were wealthier and more concerned with going to Magaluf and Benidorm than worrying about religious issues."

Professor Neal's book 'Sectarian Violence - The Liverpool Experience 1819-1914 is published by Newsham Press.




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