Liverpool – Factory of Dreams

Factory of Dreams – A history of Meccano Ltd – by Kenneth D. Brown is a book which was published in 2007

As a Trustee of the Maghull based Frank Hornby Trust (Hornby lived in Maghull for much of his adult life) I had been meaning to read this book for some time and lockdown gave me the perfect opportunity. The book runs to 230 pages of quite detailed information about the highs and lows of the company from start (1901) to finish (1979) and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about Hornby Railways, Dinky Toys, Meccano and indeed other products of the vast former Binns Road toy factory in Liverpool.

Many of the photographs displayed in the book are from my good friend and fellow Frank Hornby Trust Trustee Jim Gamble who has penned his own book – Frank Hornby Notes & Pictures the cover of which is displayed below (held by me) with Jim in Meadows Leisure Centre, Maghull.

For those of you reading this who don’t know, we have a permanent exhibition in Maghull celebrating the life, works & products of Frank Hornby. It’s called the Frank Hornby Experience and it’s a bespoke part of Meadows Leisure Centre which is run by Sefton Borough Council who are valued partners of the Frank Hornby Trust. Of course access to the exhibition has been curtailed during the pandemic lockdown but we hope to be able to reopen it soon and will publicise how it can be accessed.

Returning to the book which is the subject of this posting, what I liked about it is the very obvious attention to detail by the author who clearly put great effort into understanding how Meccano Ltd was run and indeed run down.

I suppose the sad part of the story is in many ways the most relevant, how the company went into decline over a long period of time. I certainly get the impression that it’s last 20 years were, with the benefit of hindsight, leading to just one outcome – closure. Indeed, when I got my Meccano set around 1966 the end of it being a Hornby family-controlled company had already happened (in 1964) and it was being run by Lines Brothers prior to Airfix taking over in 1971 with the end coming just 8 years later.

Despite the end being so sad the book is in fact a very good read indeed.

Click on the photos to enlarge them

Tony McCalmont-Woods RIP

Tony was a Conservative councillor in the Maghull area of Sefton Borough in the 1980’s and 1990’s. If memory serves he represented Park Ward for a number of years until the late 1980’s when a political power shift took place in the Maghull & Lydiate area and the Lib Dems came to the fore.

Tony was also a member of Maghull Town Council which is where I came to know him following my election to that Council in a by-election in 1985. Again, if memory serves, I think he continued to be a member of the Town Council until the late 1990’s.

My memories of him are of a chap who always wore a business suit and tie as was quite usual for gentlemen of his and my Dad’s generation. Indeed, my Dad (George Robertson) and Tony knew each other well as both were members of the former Conservative Club in Maghull – It became Kensington House Sports & Leisure Club.

In Town Council meetings Tony was always very business-like in his approach to matters and I, as a fresh faced young Liberal, looked upon him as a big beast in local politics. I was once told that Tony was expected to rise through the Conservative ranks on Sefton Council but this did not happen because of the change of political wind in Maghull & Lydiate towards the SDP/Liberal Alliance and then the Lib Dems.

I recall a conversation with him at some civic event when I asked him about his serious approach to pretty much all Council business and he laughed out loud taking me by surprise as a different side to his stern character surfaced. It wasn’t long after this that some new play equipment was being ordered by the Council and Tony was very keen that it should be galvanised to make it longer lasting. It then became a bit of regular political banter as some wag would add on to something Tony had said along the lines of ‘and get it galvanised’.

Tony also had his very own political opponent in the guise of Cllr. Audrey Beattie as every now and then they would have a reasonably ‘good natured’ set to over some matter or other much to the amusement of other members of the Town Council.

During my very last conversation with well known local journalist Jim Sharpe, a few weeks before he died a couple of months ago, he asked me whether I’d heard anything of Tony in recent times as he understood him to be quite unwell.

I did not serve on Sefton Council with Tony as he had left that Council before I was elected to it in 1999 I might add.

The last time I saw Tony was a few years back in Morrisons Maghull shop. We had a chat about the old days and he commented on how the political rug had been pulled from under his party’s feet by the Lib Dems and that Labour had now done the same to the Libs in Maghull. How true that comment was.

I was not close to Tony but I hope my recollections and memories of him, if only at the margins, illustrate the man, the politician and the local councillor.

Air quality in Sefton Borough

Air pollution has long been known to have a significant detrimental effect on all our lives, indeed it shortens lives.

I decided to have a look in more detail at this matter following Rebecca Hanson bringing the matter to my attention again recently. A good source of information is Sefton Council’s own website and in particular the page linked below:-

www.sefton.gov.uk/environmental-protection/air-quality.aspx

If you follow the links with the one above there’s a wealth of information and detail to plough through.

As a cyclist I probably notice and am more obviously impacted on by diesel particulates as I’m often sat within queuing traffic at junctions and traffic lights. Indeed, I often wonder how some diesel vehicles are still on the road based on what’s coming from their exhaust pipes!

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, why are Maghull’s circular buses not electric? And why for that matter aren’t the Royal Mail’s local delivery vans electric too? Both seem to be obvious, to me at least, for the ditching of diesel engines. I’m sure others could come up with additional examples where the routes are very local – maybe chemists prescription delivery vans, but you get my drift.

Not only is air pollution killing us it’s killing our planet!

Lydiate – Route of Sandy Lane – Moss Lane footpath identified

Dog run area seen looking towards Sandy Ln. The public right of way is to the left where the corner fence post is

I’ve blogged a few times over the issues surrounding the route of this public footpath/public right of way and the fact that this matter came to light as a consequence of Lydiate Parish Council creating a fenced in dog-run area on its Sandy Lane Playing Field earlier this year.

Anyway, there was a site meeting a few days ago between Lydiate Parish Council and Sefton Council’s Rights of Way Officer, which I was unable to attend but now know the outcome of.

Firstly, the legal line of the public right of way is not affected by the fence of the dog enclosure. Investigations (by Sefton’s ROW Officer) have shown that the path (looking at it from the Sandy Ln end) runs to the east of the fencing, in an area of overgrown vegetation but as the path heads towards Moss Lane it straddles the edge of the mowed grass of Sandy Lane Park and the overgrown vegetation. I’m told there are some metal posts within the vegetation that appear to correspond with the eastern edge of the footpath.

The consequence of these findings is that the legal line of the path will need to be reinstated, which Sefton Council will lead on. The legal line has clearly not been used for some years and as a result some of the vegetation has become well established. I’m told it was agreed that setting out the footpath and a full assessment of the works required is difficult at the moment due to the growth of the vegetation and that the Parish Council remains happy for people to continue to use the edge of the park until the matter is resolved.

Footpath sign at Sandy Ln – There’s a similar one off Moss Ln

I understand that Sefton Council will review the required works in early autumn, with the Parish Council, and agree the extent of them. The Parish Council expressed a wish to try and keep some of the more established trees. Sefton will consider this where possible.

I’d like to thank Sefton’s ROW officer for his efforts to resolve this issue working with the Parish Council. It seems like a mutually agreeable way forward has now been found.

Dog run area seen looking towards Sandy Ln. The public right of way is to the left where the corner fence post is.

Ray Hughes moves out of Lydiate

Many Lydiate folk will know Ray from his many years as a Sefton Borough councillor for Park ward in the 1980’s and 1990’s and also from his time on Lydiate Parish Council.

I thought it apt to mark Ray and indeed his lovely wife Hazel (also a former Lydiate Parish Councillor) leaving Lydiate to live in West Lancashire.

I was talking the other day to my old chum Andrew Blackburn who also knew Ray well from his councillor days and he reminded me of the ‘Ray Hughes Point’. What he meant was that Ray was always finding things to point at for photos of casework items he was working on. They could be pot-holes, broken street signs and just about anything else a local councillor could be asked to help sort out. I recall that Ray would often get ribbed for his pointing in photos.

Seriously though Ray was a good local councillor who seemed to know a huge number of people. His phone would ring day in day out because he was such a well known local councillor. A true Pavement Politics councillor if I ever saw one…

Well all the best Ray and indeed Hazel, you certainly did your bit for the community in Lydiate and Maghull.

Local Democracy – Who investigates the goings on in local government these days?

I recently came across a scheme funded by the BBC (or more to the point more probably by its licence fee payers) to address a matter I have long had concerns about – see the link below:-

www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2017/local-democracy-reporters

Having been a councillor since 1985 I have watched the demise of local reporting on local government with increasing concern. The demise has followed the loss of many local newspapers but even where the local newspapers do exist there is rarely any serious investigative journalism going on these days. I can recall 3 former newspapers that served my community from the not so distant past – The Maghull & Aintree Star, The Maghull Times & The Maghull & Aintree Advertiser and of course we have also lost the regional Daily Post too. This loss of local newspapers is sadly replicated across most communities.

I recall the days when the Maghull reporter for the Maghull & Aintree Advertiser would sit through most meetings of Maghull Town Council listening to and reporting on the debates that went on. Every year or so the reporters would change as new trainees were taken on. Nowadays you would be hard pressed to see local reporters at any meeting of Sefton Borough Council (or Merseytravel, the Fire Authority, NHS decision making bodies etc. etc.) unless a big issue is already on the agenda and even then the reporting is usually of ‘x’ said this and ‘y’ said that nature. You might say the local media often just passes on opinions these days. My point is there is little in the way of getting behind the politicians/officials spin.

A local paper on the warpath would once have been as worrying to a local council as the District Auditor if things were going wrong; now neither pay much attention to what a Council does so who is uncovering the goings on within local government and indeed within the other local decision making bodies that affect the lives of us all? Putting it bluntly no one the vast majority of the time.

Yes we see local government stories in the local press but they are virtually always built upon press releases from councils or the politicians who run the councils, or they are about party political spats between opposing politicians.

Is the issue that the remaining local media is not training young journalists to get to the heart of what is going on in local government? Is it that they can’t afford to pay the kind of wages required to bring on good investigative journalists? A good and experienced local government reporter would once have been expected to know as much or indeed more than the local political bigwigs they were reporting on so that they could take on the spin and expose the facts.

The problem is of course a national one, of that I have little doubt. I wonder how many uncomfortable moments that councils and publicly accountable local bodies across the land should have had (and would have had in the days when the local media was a force to contend with) are not being picked up at all these days, unless the matter is so bad that it reaches the national press/media such as the Rotten Boroughs page of Private Eye?

This challenge is, I think, what the BBC scheme is trying to address but will it have any effect? Are a new generation of independently minded investigative journalists going to be created via it? Is the present day poor reporting by the BBC a reflection of too few good investigative journalists coming through the system and is that why the BBC has launched the scheme?

As the majority of journalists will have started at the bottom of the journalistic ladder reporting on the goings on of the local parish councils will we once again see bored young reporters sat listening to the debates of Little Twittering Parish Council awaiting a juicy story?

In a functioning healthy democracy well informed investigative journalists are a big part of keeping the powerful on their toes and I fear the demise of them at a local level is doing us all a disservice.