Monday, 7 March 2011

The Taskersons’ House, "Clevelands", Meols Drive, West Kirby, Wirral

The Taskerson's house was one of the subjects of a chapter I wrote for the book Malcolm Lowry: From the Mersey to the World in 2009.

Back in 2008 while I was researching the Taskerson's house, I met the current occupant who told me about the above postcard. Last Saturday, I managed to find a facsimile of the card at a local history fair. The Taskerson house is the one on the left of the postcard with the red topped gate posts.

This find coincided with my latest research into the topography of Under The Volcano which will be the subject of the post following this one.

The text below is an adaption of what I wrote back in 2009:

"The Taskerson family are characters in Lowry’s Under the Volcano. They ‘adopt’ Geoffrey Firmin, the novel’s hero, as a boy; it is while on holiday in France with the Taskersons that Geoffrey meets Jacques Laruelle, whose reminiscences of his friend a year after his death open the novel. After the holiday meeting, Laruelle is invited to visit the Taskersons’ home in Leasowe, England.

According to Russell Lowry, his brother based the Taskersons on a local Wirral family, the Furnisses. In his preface to Ann Smith’s book The Art of Malcolm Lowry Russell points out the attraction the family had for Malcolm:

A big quiet room at the top of the house [Inglewood] was furnished as a study for him. No good. No booze. No amusing company. He seems to have found both among the Furness [Russell’s spelling] brothers – later sublimated into the Taskersons. Malcolm had known them at his first school, years earlier. I never met them. With the Furness brothers Malcolm did his marathon beerwalks and of course found Inglewood even more boring when he got back.

With the aid of Russell’s memoir, Gordon Bowker established that the Furniss family had lived at "Clevelands", Meols Drive, West Kirby during the time that Lowry knew them. Lowry had originally met James Furniss at "Braeside" (Lowry's childhood school in West Kirby), where James rescued him from being bullied. Lowry gives us the following description of the Taskersons’ home in the first chapter of Under the Volcano:

The Taskersons lived in a comfortable house whose back garden abutted on a beautiful, undulating golf course abounded on the far side by the sea. It looked like the sea; actually it was the estuary, seven miles wide, of a river: white horses westward marked where the real sea began. The Welsh mountains gaunt and black and cloudy, with occasionally a snow peak to remind Geoff of India, lay across the river. During the week, when they were allowed to play, the course was deserted: yellow ragged sea poppies fluttered in the spiny sea grass. On the shore were the remains of an antediluvian forest with ugly black stumps showing, and farther up an old stubby deserted lighthouse. There was an island in the estuary, with a windmill on it like a curious black flower, which you could ride out to at low tide on a donkey. The smoke of freighters outward bound from Liverpool hung low on the horizon. There was a feeling of space and emptiness. Only at week-ends did a certain disadvantage appear in their site: although the season was drawing to a close and the grey hydropathic hotels on the promenades were emptying, the golf course was packed all day with Liverpool brokers playing foursomes. "

"Clevelands" is now split into three flats. I spoke to one of the residents who told me that the house had always been called "Clevelands". A check of the 1911 Census showed that at that time John and Mary Furniss and their family lived at 2 Grosvenor Road in West Kirby. However, the 1920 Electoral Register confirmed that the family lived at 103 Meols Drive.

"Clevelands" is located opposite the Royal Liverpool Golf Course which is the course referred to in the above extract from Under The Volcano. Lowry played golf on the course with his friends including the Furniss brothers. The house fits into the topography of the descriptions given in Under The Volcano for the fictional "Leasowe" which Lowry depicts in his novel.

Since writing about the "Clevelands" for the 2009 book, I have been re-thinking the topography of the Lowry's "Leasowe" especially how one view of the Wirral landscape could bring all the elements of his "Leasowe" together.

I recently walked from "Clevelands" to Caldy via a footpath to Grange Hill, Column Road and Caldy Hill. This is possibly a route Malc would have made taken many times as a youth on walks between his home and his friend's house. The next post will be about the views on this walk and their relevance to the topography of Under The Volcano.