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The Laz Word... on the Christians

Barrow boys and flower sellers have always been close to the hearts of the people, says Larry Neild

Published on May 24th 2010.

The Laz Word... on the Christians

WILL Liverpool’s most famous ‘barrow boy’ family, the Christians, return to their popular pitch in Bold Street?

The Christians desperately need to start earning a living again and people (in this year of health and wellbeing) need easy access to fresh and cheap produce

It’s an early dilemma for new leader Joe Anderson and his Labour administration, due to officially take over the reigns of power at the council AGM tomorrow night (Tuesday).

It’s also an irony, given an issue about street traders inherited by Mike Storey when he led the Lib Dems to victory in May 1998.

Then Cllr Storey, who completes his year of office as Lord Mayor tomorrow, made three vows to the electorate – one being to rid Church Street of the traders.

The continuing presence of the stalls in what was Liverpool’s busiest shopping street had become a cause celebre for the Lib Dems. The traders had been involved in a long running legal cat and mouse game.

Eventually the solution found was to clear Church Street of the traders, but instead of moving them on altogether (as some politicians had wished), they were plonked in and around Parker Street and Williamson Square. Many of the traders couldn’t believe their luck, but the critical think they were driven out of Church Street. Actually some people feel they should be welcomed back to give the street a bit of a lift now Liverpool One is open.

The street traders were split into two camps – the traditionalists (flower sellers and the barrow boys), and the so-called ‘other commodities’.

Flower sellers and the fruit and veg stalls had, over the years, won the hearts of the people of Liverpool.

They had been selling their perishables on city centre streets since the 1800s. In the 1960s there was a skirmish that saw some of the traditional sellers arrested, and in some cases jailed.

It prompted people like Sir Trevor Jones, then a newly elected Liberal councillor, to call for a city-wide referendum. The turnout was low, but the result was overwhelmingly in favour of allowing the traditionalists to stay.

Fast forward to the 1980s and a new group of street sellers were appearing, selling everything from ciggie lighters to cheap clothes. Regularly police officers chased these traders – unkindly referred to by some as the swagmen - and many were arrested and fined.

The Labour administration of the day decided to allow legal street trading, with the new non-commodity stalls joining the flower sellers and barrow boys for available pitches.

The decision to empty stalls from Church Street led to the existing traders to be dispersed around the city.

The fruit and veg stall run by members of the Christian family ended up on a temporary site in Bold Street.

So successful was the stall, and the demand for fresh and cheap fruit and veg, that a lean-to was erected. That was closed a few weeks ago with a promise that the business would re-emerge on the site, in some way, quite quickly.

Ok, I agree the pre-fabricated stall, close to the main square leading to FACT was never going to win a RIBA award.

But surely there must be a simple solution. The Christians desperately need to start earning a living again and people (in this year of health and wellbeing) need easy access to fresh and cheap produce.

The Street Trading Committee will have to decide whether the pitch vacated by the Christians should be given the legal status it needs.

There must be scope for a good compromise: such as fitting colourful awnings to the gable way in the Ropewalks Square off Bold Street, so the stall can function in the daytime and at night the land can be adopted for evening economy use.

The street sellers and barrow boys have served the people of Liverpool for a period spanning three centuries.

In the scale of things their plight is a small problem at a time of major problems by the economic downturn.

But caring for this much loved group of city traders is worth its weight in gold.

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