John Hussey has been a writer for many years and has published several books on the history of Liverpool as well as several history articles in various publications and journals in the UK and US.
I caught up with John for a quick Q&A on his new book Liverpool Forgotten Landscapes, Forgotten Lives.
What made you decide to become a history writer?
My lifelong interest has always been the history of Paris and also the Victorian era in England. For a long time, I had never considered the history of my own city for the same reasons that we drive to Chatsworth House say and ignore the charms of Speke Hall. But once I started to become interested in Liverpool history I found it was fascinating in every aspect. The thing is my studies of Paris and other areas of history have come in very useful as they place Liverpool history into context.
What inspired you to write Liverpool Forgotten Landscapes, Forgotten Lives?
For one thing I wanted to know whether the people who lived in Liverpool from the 1700s onwards were any different to us in the present era and for another I wanted to know what the architecture and landscape looked like. The curiosity to know about the buildings and houses stemmed from the question we all ask at some time - "I wonder what was there before they built that?" There was also the realisation that there lived in the city many people whose lives have gone unrecorded and been lost in the mists of time and I have tried to resurrect some of the Liverpudlians whose names can only be found in dusty corners of the city archives.
How long did the research take?
The research was really the culmination of my life lived in Liverpool and all the knowledge acquired over the years. I believe that you have to have lived in a city to be able to write about it with any authority.
What’s the most fascinating or unknown fact you discovered while researching?
There's quite a few I could have chosen but for some reason the duel between William Sparling and Edward Grayson in 1803 always resonates. The duel was brought about by an anonymous letter to Sparling concerning his fiancee, Ann Renshaw, with allegations which were "too horrible to mention." I thought it was quite poignant that the poor girl should have been impugned in such a such way and as a result lost her fiancee and her reputation but what really struck me was that I had walked past the site of her house in Bold Street for most of my life without ever knowing of her.
What is your most favourite chapter in the book?
I like all of them really. Most people seem to like the Newsham Orphanage chapter best but for me Lighting Up The Town is of great interest as it illustrates how Liverpool reacted to events in the wider world. In particular, the city fathers and shop owners disliked and feared Napoleon intensely as shown by their joy when he was defeated; however, it was plain that they were only interested because it served their own ends as the lifeblood of the city which was shipping was brought to a halt when Napoleon was in power.
If you could travel back in time and have a wander around Liverpool in the time periods you write about, who would you want to meet and what particular places would you want to visit?
I would have liked to have watched the waters of the Mersey lapping up to St Nicholas Church and visited the Liverpool Tower on Water Street in order to ask the French prisoners of war their experiences. I would have also liked to have spoken to the Surgeon Henry Park and whisper to him the causes of some of the diseases he was faced with.
Thank you for your time answering these questions!
Liverpool Forgotten Landscapes, Forgotten Lives is available in bookshops and on Amazon UK