Remarkable tales of Liverpool that were ‘hidden from history’

A talented boxer held back by racism and the clubs that changed Liverpool's music scene forever are among the stories being unearthed by a determined group of historians.

Scousers love to celebrate the remarkable stories of our city – yet, for far too long, the stories of people from Liverpool's black communities have been "hidden from history".

Heritage Development Company Liverpool is one organisation in the city determined to change this.

Set up in 2013 and headed up by three well-known and well respected community figures from Toxteth, Ray Quarless, Louis Julienne and Albert Fontenot, the organisation has worked along side institutions such as the Liverpool Records Office and National Museums Liverpool.

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Ray told the ECHO: "The work we do is to understand the significance and contribution that black people have made to the culture of Liverpool over the past 200 years.

"The stories are nothing new, they've just been hidden from history.

"In the process, we also unearth some hidden secrets, things that people didn't know about."

The launch night of the exhibition about black boxers in Liverpool

One such example is around the ban stopping black boxers from competing for national titles, which was in place from 1911 to 1948.

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Known as the "colour bar", the ban directly affected several of Liverpool's talented black boxers, including Peter Banasko who is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest boxers of his era, but who was never able to fight for or claim the British title many said would rightfully have been his due the racist ban.

Exhibitions held by the Heritage Development Company Liverpool have included Black to the Future, an exhibition about the Liverpool 8 clubs which spawned many of the city's well known musical stars, including the Beatles; a retrospective about the key L8 organisation the Charles Wootton Centre; and most recently Black Punch, an exhibition which is currently on display at Kirkby library, about the remarkable legacy of black boxers in the city.

Now the organisation, with help from a recently-awarded £12,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant, is working to put together a new exhibit that will reach as broad an audience as possible by telling the story online.

Ray said: "We decided to do exhibitions as it was an easy way to tell the story and it's about attracting a new audience – this is really significant in how we deliver the story, as it's not been done before.

"It's now gone beyond that and we're looking at other ways and means of getting the message across from a historical point of view, whether through film, online exhibitions or at a venue.

"We're not going to stand still and we have several projects in development."

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One such project is for an interactive map of L8 featuring all of the clubs and shebeens that flourished in the area, bringing together all the information Ray and his colleagues have painstakingly amassed through archival research and by gathering oral testimonies and artefacts to build a picture of a scene which changed the city's musical heritage for ever.

The project has been made even more timely due to the Black Lives Matter movement, which received renewed support after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in the United States in May.

Ray said: "We've had a lot of interest recently, people have been approaching us during lockdown about what we're doing and have done, and on the back of Black Lives Matter it has really brought the subject into the open.

"People are getting in touch for information, looking at possibilities of doing collaborations and research about different aspects of every day life. We're out there and people are talking to us."

"There's so much more to say – when we were doing the exhibition about Liverpool's black boxers, even after we'd finished putting the research together, after we'd put the exhibition out there, we were finding more and more boxers, dozens of them – there are just so many more stories to tell."