Moore, R. (1996) 'Crown Street Revisited', Sociological Research Online, vol. 1, no. 3, <>

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1996


Crown Street Revisited

by Robert Moore
University of Liverpool

Received: 22/7/96      Accepted: 30/9/96      Published: 2/10/96


This note describes a study to discover the extent to which it would be possible to follow the respondents in a 1978/79 social survey in inner Liverpool. The follow up would be used to describe the ways in which peoples' circumstances had changed in the intervening 17 years. It would also provide an opportunity to discover how the respondents themselves viewed the changes that had taken place in inner Liverpool (if that was where they still lived) and the extent to which they had realized the aspirations they expressed in 1978/79 (wherever they now lived). An additional benefit of the research was to 'test the water' for forthcoming policy related research in Liverpool.

The results of the pilot study are clear and unambiguous: it was not possible to follow up the previous respondents. Reasons for this are believed to include changing attitudes towards giving information and to reservations about collaborating in research projects which in the context of inner city Liverpool are seen to have no benefits to local people. The prognosis for future survey-based research is poor.

These findings are consistent with more anecdotal evidence from colleagues working elsewhere in inner city areas and in sharp contrast to similar work undertaken in the very different political climate of the 1970s.

Survey; Replication; Response Rates; Research Methods; Community; Locality; Liverpool; Inner City; Urban Studies


The Crown Street area was the name given to the districts around the university precinct in the study conducted by Vereker and Mays et al. in the Liverpool Department of Social Studies in 1955/56 (Vereker et al., 1961). The area was re-surveyed in 1978 and 1979 by Pickett and Gittus. Although the schedules for the original study have been lost those for the later surveys are now held at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne by Dr. Betty Gittus.

Crown Street

The Crown Street study was one of a series produced by the Liverpool department and is a minor classic, although overshadowed in critical attention by the work of the Institute of Community Studies in Bethnal Green (Family and Kinship in East London, etc.). The original Liverpool study noted the expansion of institutional property-owning in the area as the city council and the university made acquisitions for slum clearance and university expansion respectively. Parts of the Crown Street area have now been derelict for many years and parts of it, lying on the border between 'black' and 'white' Liverpool have been fought over in street violence. One estate has seen two cycles of demolition and rebuilding in fifteen years. The Liverpool 'riots' of 1981 ran along the southern fringes of the area. Today, in the section nearest the university, there are new housing developments and, most notably, a new Women's Hospital.

Crown Street was the name chosen for an area of which Crown Street itself was the backbone. To the east of Crown Street lay parts of the wards of Low Hill and Smithdown. This area consisted largely of red- brick terraced housing, including both private and council-built properties (see Map 1). The area to the west of Crown Street, Abercromby ward, was divided into two zone by the researchers. To the north was a mixture of terraced housing, the site for the Roman Catholic cathedral, a fine town square and the university campus. The area was mainly scheduled for university expansion, to which end the university had formed a housing association to provide for displaced residents. Within this area and Low Hill/Smithdown there were 'islands' consisting of corporation flats, mainly 'walk up' tenements, whose populations differed from those of the surrounding housing. Within Abercromby ward to the south of the university was the Canning area, once containing the homes of more prosperous Liverpool citizens living in elegant terraces that were to become part of a conservation area.

The authors of the first study were concerned with 'the problems presented by the blighted and partly blitzed inner districts of Liverpool' particularly in

the general topic of the interconnectedness of habitat and behaviour and of the creative relationship between personality and the social environment

and secondly

the nature and extent of residential mobility within that type of locality (Vereker et al., 1961: p. 3)

The authors were also concerned about the fit between redevelopment policy and the needs of an heterogeneous inner city population. They noted that in spite of slum clearance and re-housing programmes the population density remained constant and particular kinds of resident remained attached to apparently unattractive districts.

For this reason much attention was given, during the early enquiries ... to respondents' desire to leave the district or to remain in Inner City wards.(1961: p. 5)

Vereker et al. also recognized that the area would not be redeveloped at its then current housing densities. This raised two sets of questions the first of which concerned who would stay and who would move. The study noted an apparent paradox in that the most settled and established parts of the population were the most likely to wish to move. The second set of questions related to the fit between planners' plans and assumptions and the needs and aspirations of those for whom they planned. Vereker et al, in their Conclusions, made a plea for greater co- operation and understanding between the disciplines that contributed to the development of urban policy (1961: pp. 111, 119).

Canning is probably the least physically altered part of inner Liverpool. It was described by Vereker et al as an inner city zone of transition characterized by multi-occupation houses, providing cheap rooms and flats. There was a mixed population of long established locals, young couples in cheap accommodation, older single people, new arrivals to the city (ostensibly passing through the area) and a wide range of people with unusual or deviant life-styles for whom neither owner occupation nor the council housing sectors made suitable provision. The area also included what were then 'immigrants' and (in the language of the time) 'negroes'. There was a very high percentage of rented accommodation in the area, with ex-seafarers, single people, 'immigrants' and young couples often living in one or two rooms in a large houses. 39 per cent of the households expressed a desire to move out of the area and nearly a quarter wished to change their accommodation whilst remaining in the area.

Around the university the population was much longer-established and more homogenous; 27 per cent wished to change accommodation but remain in the area and another 27 per cent wished to move away altogether, these figures rose to 37 and 31 per cent in the north west of the area, around the Catholic cathedral and the Royal Infirmary.

To the east of Crown Street was an 'unplanned jumble of streets' with a population of long-established Liverpool people born locally or rehoused as a result of the blitz and dock-side slum-clearance. These latter residents and Irish immigrants were blamed for the decline of the area, an issue upon which the researchers were able to form no opinion. It was here that low rents were a disincentive to move but nonetheless over 40 per cent of the population expressed a desire to move away and only about a third wished to remain in their current accommodation. It was of this area that the authors said that

The sector originally estimated as most stable became, when judged by future aspirations, the most restless and desirous of moving (Vereker et al., 1961: p. 194, see also p. 118)

The residents in the corporation flats had largely been moved en masse in the slum clearance programmes. They were locally-born and bred and the researchers found many were known to one another or had moved at the same time as other family members and had remained in close proximity to them. They regarded their accommodation as 'commodious' compared with their previous homes and they enjoyed low, subsidized, rents.

The major reason given for wishing to move in the mid 1950s was to find a better social and physical environment and better education facilities for children. Couples wished to escape from cramped and old-fashioned houses and to have a house of their own with a garden (1961; p. 108). The young most wanted to leave and the corporation flat-dwellers were more likely to want to stay, perhaps, Vereker et al. speculated, because they were less aware of opportunities to move. Controlled, low rents were also a factor keeping people in the area, especially the flats.

Although over all 39 per cent wished to leave the Crown Street area the authors said that the Crown Street area would remain a residential area for the next quarter century although they could see that the total population would continue to decline as it had done since the 1921 census. They also expected living standards to rise throughout the period.

Crown Street Revisited

When Pickett and Gittus returned to the area in late 1978 Crown Street itself had virtually disappeared through demolitions, and two breaks created by a new police station (see map 2) and the sealing of the junction with Upper Parliament Street. They excluded the south-east corner of the original Crown Street Study area from their work. From 1978 until the end of 1981 they conducted research which included innovative work on the 'domestic economy' of households in the area. They also investigated the changing pattern of commercial and retail activity in the area, and Housing Areas and Housing Classes. The household response rate to their questionnaire was 72 per cent.

As we might expect they found both continuity and change. Pickett and Gittus found the Canning area in 1979 much as it was described by Vereker et al. in the mid-1950s, although one half of the later respondents wished to leave the area. This is much as we would characterize the area today (Hancock, 1994). Local activists are much concerned about the lack of accommodation and facilities for younger families, a factor believed to be contributing to the high turnover of part of the local population.

But there have been changes also, not least because Canning (now a conservation area) and the red-brick terraces to the east of Crown Street have been areas of intense activity by housing associations. These areas were amongst the first to be developed by the associations and thus now stand most in need of remodernization, at a point where the impact of the 1988 Housing Act makes this financially more difficult. The intervention of the local authority and the housing associations changed much of the tenure and saved the area to the east of Crown Street from terminal decline. With rent control many of the previous landlords had been unable to carry out essential repairs and maintenance and there were large areas of dilapidation. It was during this period of intervention by housing associations that Pickett and Gittus were working. In 1978-81 the southern part of the area was a General Improvement Area. The area to the north contained low rise medium density council housing which was replacing older terraced housing, much of which still awaited demolition. Future problems were indicated by Pickett and Gittus when they noted that the winding streets and unlit passages were not used at night. By 1990 both areas again had a run-down appearance.

Some of the corporation flats appeared as problematic in the 1979 study. For example Pickett and Gittus noted a concentration of 'severely underprivileged residents in the walk up blocks'. But even the low rise, high density accommodation in the Falkner estate was suffering from 'vandalism and deteriorating environment' (Pickett and Gittus: Appendix 5: 7) By 1995 one block of walk-ups had been gentrified and student accommodation built between it and the university campus. The shells of some remaining blocks of walk-up tenements now await a buyer. The Falkner estate has been swept away and replaced by the women's hospital, with Crown Street itself remodeled to cope with changed traffic patterns. At the other end of the area Pickett and Gittus found that the 'Bull Ring' walk-up tenements, a 1930s' model development was highly valued by tenants (largely Roman Catholics). In 1996 it is a listed building being refurbished as a combined council tenant and student block.

There was a 41 per cent reduction in the population between 1971 and 1991 in the inner wards(against a Liverpool reduction of 22 per cent) a process that was well under way by 1981. In the 1960s there was unemployment throughout the study area but the majority of households contained an earner, with 60 per cent of employed household heads working locally. By 1971 the unemployment rate in the same areas was about 18 per cent and by 1991 it was double this.

In looking at the schedules for the 1979 survey we found, for example, a household with three adult earners living in a council house. Today, besides being rarer, such a household would be more likely to be buying a house given that local authority rent levels would be similar to mortgage repayments. But in 1979 the wife and mother of the earners asserted that they had survived the war and were therefore entitled to a corporation house. Today council housing is increasingly seen as residual, then it was seen as a citizen's entitlement.

The original study found a high level of political passivity amongst the study population. The area is now notable for high levels of activity amongst residents and tenants, some of these activities have been described by Hancock (1994). Housing issues have been a regular focus of mobilization but also the redevelopment process itself. City Challenge, for example, has mobilised people in Canning because they were afraid that they would once again be bye-passed and lose out on resources. They organized around a series of important local issues; the lack of facilities for children, the through traffic, kerb-crawling and prostitution. These latter two issues had been identified as matters of concern for people in the Canning area by both the previous studies and the prostitution has now spread into the edge of the university campus. People around and beyond the immediate Crown Street area also mobilised in opposition to Project Rosemary, a joint City Council and Cathedral Estates development on the contested terrain of the derelict Falkner estate on the 'black' and 'white' borderline where the hospital was eventually built.

Pickett and Gittus were less interested in questions of who would move and stay than Vereker et al. They addressed the contemporary theoretical issues of 'housing classes'. Among their conclusions was that there is more to housing classes than tenure and the type of property occupied:

It may also be that at least among a part of the Liverpool inner city population, there is an attachment to the locality and a persistent network of kin and acquaintances which transcends the particular form of housing occupied (Pickett and Gittus: Appendix 5: 23)

This finding echoed the work of Wyatt, who, working with a very small sample of tenants in a city centre area concluded that the sense of belongingness was important because there was nothing stronger to break it

Neither economic aspiration (e.g. to get a better job), nor social aspiration (to live in a better area) can override it. (Wyatt 1970, p. 573)

Many of Wyatt's respondents had lived where they were studied for the whole of their lives, and identified with the local Catholic parish. Neither redevelopment nor crime and vandalism could shake their sense of belonging.

In the End-of-Grant Report Pickett and Gittus wrote:

Generally, the 1980 housing areas tend to be more homogenous in their characteristics than were the 1956 sub-areas (Vereker et al. used numbered sub- divisions of the areas according to housing types). Here and in the maps we use only the three broad areas plus the corporation flats.. This is largely the result of the massive redevelopment which took place in the 1960s, which was followed by the construction of a number of housing estates of standardized patterns. Elsewhere improved housing or housing designated for improvement similarly provides an impression of homogeneity....

The 1956 Crown Street study showed clearly that although a degree of homogeneity as regards residential structure was evident within each sub-area, differences between sub- areas could be considerable and Crown Street as a whole contains a number of very clearly differentiated communities. Although the nature of the differences has changed, Crown Street remains a patchwork of residential discontinuities, with few exceptions each housing area revealing some degree of deprivation, but with significant variation in form and extent (Pickett and Gittus: p. 6)

1995/96 Research Objectives

The demographic and economic changes that Vereker et al and then Pickett and Gittus observed have continued and tracts of their original study areas have either been transformed or disappeared (see Map 2).

In 1995 an attempt was made to contact the respondents in the 1979 study. This was not intended as another visit to Crown Street because the Crown Streets of 1956 and 1980 were no longer there. What was intended was a follow up study of the people who had lived in the area and who formed the Pickett and Gittus sample. There were three reasons for doing this:

  1. As a technical exercise to establish the extent to which is would be possible to create a longitudinal study around the subjects of an earlier cross sectional study.

  2. To discover the strategies adopted and their outcomes for families who had either decided to stay or move (or had been moved) from the study area, in the light of the reasons they gave in the earlier studies. Had they, for example, found the better schools that they had hoped for in the new estates or suburbs?

  3. To collect some commentary upon the extensive changes in the area in terms of the personal and family histories of the original respondents. Revisiting the Crown Street residents, in other words, would enable us to collect some oral histories that reflect upon the changes as seen by local families.

Oral histories have been collected before without the benefit of a previous survey schedule, so they have had to rely upon individual and family memories plus such documents as may have survived in the household. We had the opportunity to start from a firm historical base from which we could, if necessary, prompt our respondents rather than relying upon their recollections only.

We also had subsidiary objectives. Most notably the development of a 'Liverpool School' of sociology and social policy in the successor department to the old Department of Social Studies (the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work Studies) renewed our interest in the outcomes of post war urban policy in inner Liverpool. One starting point for reflection was to be found in a review of existing surveys and the censuses in order to establish and exploit the data that were already available. Objective One was also creating the need for baselines against which current policy initiatives might be evaluated. The end of the century also invited stocktaking in a city that had seen one hundred years of policy innovation. It seems likely that this stocktaking will take the form of policy- relevant surveys and other types of research. So in addition to having the chance of studying change and interpreting it through the eyes of our former research subjects we could also test the water for future inner city research by contacting known respondents before embarking upon new work. Wyatt had conducted a similar exercise in 1975 and seems (the description is unclear) to have contacted 70 per cent of the original respondents or their kin, finding them in the same dwellings 18 years after the original study (Wyatt, 1970: p. 559).

A simple contacting exercise plainly has considerable technical merits but is likely to be intellectually unstimulating for researchers and subjects alike. Four clusters of issues were identified for empirical investigation. The first concerned the changing family and household structures of the respondents, their parents and children. Older couples may have been parted by death or divorce perhaps creating problems of care for the younger generation while the children of the 1979 households would largely have completed their full-time education and begun to form their own households. Changing household and family structures across the generations of specific families would provide an illuminating insight into the changes that may be observed at aggregated levels in the census. The data collected might also be compared with, for example, households in the British Household Panel Study to discover any uniquely 'Liverpool' element in local patterns.

Secondly because the nature of employment has changed rapidly since 1980 in Liverpool and elsewhere we could explore the benefits (and costs) of the choices made to pursue new opportunities elsewhere or to exploit existing opportunities by staying put in the Crown Street area. The possibility of elaborating the interplay of housing and labour markets would also enhance work undertaken in 1991 and 1992 (Moore, 1992).

Finally and of particular interest to the author was the question of housing careers; had those respondents who had remained in employment, and their children who gained employment, progressed from private renting to council tenancies to owner-occupation described by Savage et al. (1990)? Conversely would those who failed to find work find themselves marginalized in council housing? Is council housing 'residual' or still a desirable form of residence, aspired to by young and old in Liverpool or do the desire to own and the incentives to do so operate as strongly in Liverpool as elsewhere? The manner in which the supply and location of housing had effected lifetime decisions relating to household formation, education and employment would also contribute to a critique of local housing policies.

Another, more subjective, aspect of housing careers could also be explored in a project using the Crown Street respondents. Many of those remaining in the area were likely to have experienced changes of landlord from private to local authority or housing association, or from local authority to housing association (or both changes in succession). Others would have become owner-occupiers. We thus had an opportunity to discover the respondents' perceptions of different landlords and tenures for a period spanning nearly two decades, starting with 1980 data. For some of the older 1979 respondents we could construct life-long housing histories.

The fourth issue concerned opinions on urban policy. The 1980 sample has had substantial experience of the effects of a series of urban renewal and housing policies over a period of at least fifteen years, but possibly for longer. Their views either as consumers (or victims as one respondent suggested) are seldom sought, but here we had an opportunity to gain a bottom-up assessment of social policy, as an addition to any critique we might ourselves develop. As part of this it would be possible to invite respondents to evaluate the outcome of their own choices in staying in or moving from central Liverpool. This final set of issues would in a true sense constitute another visit to Crown Street because it was in order to develop a sociological critique of urban policy that the original research was undertaken.

Methods - Summary

It was our intention to administer a questionnaire to as many of the original respondents as could be traced and to supplement this with a more limited range of targeted interviews.

Because of the undertaking given by the original research team to protect the privacy of their respondents we sent out letters using an address list (without names) provided by Dr. Gittus. Initial contact with the former respondents was to be used, crucially, to seek their permission to re-open their previous interview schedule. We specifically asked if people had been respondents or if they remembered other members of their household being interviewed in 1979 because we intended to use whichever member(s) of the 1979 households were currently available. We asked former respondents (or the family member receiving the request) if they were willing to be interviewed. We made provision for the recipients of our enquiry to pass it on if they were not the original respondents but knew the location of a previous resident in their dwelling.

When it became clear that we were not going to get a heavy response to our first trawl we adopted a more open-ended approach, meeting respondents and asking them about their original household members and constructing family trees in order to map the careers of respondents and their parents, children or siblings in terms of education, housing, employment and family formation. In addition we explored in open-ended conversation the extent to which mover or stayers had fulfilled their aspirations by either moving or staying.


During the last week of August 1995 the address list for 1979 was compared with the current electoral register to identify those dwellings that had been demolished since 1979. Thirty dwellings were identified. This suggested that the surveyed population had been resident in buildings that were not mainly located in the areas of mass demolition. However, 110 of our letters were returned the day after posting marked DEMOLISHED by the Post Office. The Post Office later told us that these dwellings were newly unoccupied, in other words nearly twenty years after the original study over a third of the respondents (or their dwellings) had finally been caught up by redevelopment programmes. The housing association which owned property including some of the 100 demolished houses sent a further copy of the letter to their current tenants. This was something of a scatter-gun method, but it was necessary because the association could not identify the movement of tenants from the specific houses in which we were interested.

We recognized that not all the former respondents would be contacted by the mail-shot. But given the reduction of the potential follow-up sample to 136 (half the original) it became even more important to pursue other modes of contact.

Simultaneously with the posting of the letters, a press release was sent to local and regional newspaper offices and radio and television stations. The 'human interest' aspect of our project appealed to the press and stories appeared in the Liverpool Post and the Liverpool Echo. The Catholic Pictorial also ran a feature on the project because the Crown Street area had once contained a thriving Catholic community. All newspaper articles carried an address and telephone number for anyone to contact the project if they thought they or their family might have been involved in the 1979 survey.

I also appeared on a local radio talk show. This morning show is listened to across Merseyside and claims a very high following amongst older people. The research and its objectives were discussed in a friendly and at times humorous way with the two show hosts. Names and telephone numbers for contacting the project were repeated a number of times during the programme. We hoped that this broadcast would generate wide interest and perhaps enable us to contact former respondents who had moved away from central Liverpool into the wider Merseyside or north western region. The radio programme only stimulated one telephone call, from a woman who had not been an original respondent but who wanted to make sure that we told the story about the shabby way in which she believed the people of inner Liverpool had been treated.

During the weeks following the letters and the press and radio appeals 14 people made contact. Of these only eight were part of the original sample and promised to be re-interviewed. We had found less than three per cent of our original sample.

In the event it proved very difficult to arrange interviews with the former respondents and only three were finally interviewed (one per cent). We tried to arrange meetings with the remaining five up until May 1996 but suspected that the difficulties we continued to encounter may have arisen from a reluctance on the part of the respondents to be interviewed rather than to practical difficulties. We abandoned any further attempts to contact these people.

The schedule we used for the interviews was based in part upon the responses given in the 1979 survey. The three completed interviews are interesting pieces of local family history. All three respondents were interviewed in the same houses as the original interviews - they had never moved. The respondents had very dense kinship connections in their immediate locality and a pattern of intense visiting. The respondents and their children presented the wide range of domestic arrangements and of problems and conflicts that one would expect to find in families in the mid-1990s. There were features of each family's history which would make them identifiable to friends or neighbours if they were to be published. We have decided simply to add these family histories to our general stock of local knowledge and not to publish any details.

The Outcome

If this project had been a social survey in which we had achieved a 1 per cent response rate it would be deemed an abject failure, but perhaps a notable failure because of its scale. Our conclusion is that the research was successful because it was a pilot study to discover whether or not the earlier survey would provide a basis for research on families' experiences of change in inner Liverpool. The answer is unequivocally no. The findings of the pilot study are therefore both clear and useful.

What other outcomes might we have expected? Our main source on this question is Atkinson, Maynard and Trinder's attempt to trace the children of Seebohm Rowntree's 1950 York sample for their follow up survey of 1975 (Atkinson et al., 1983). In chapter 3 the authors refer to earlier studies; in Sweden

In the follow up by Husen in 1964 of the original sample of children (aged 9-11) in Malmo in 1938 'practically every individual' was eventually traced, apart from those who had emigrated. (p. 46)

Nearer the authors' own problems was

the study by Olneck (1977) of brothers in the Kalamazoo, Michigan school system. He sought to trace in 1973 a sample who had records drawn from the period 1928-50 and achieved the remarkable success rate of 57.9 per cent (p. 46)

The York, Malmo and Kalamazoo studies were, like ours, attempts to find respondents after a significant interval. Longitudinal studies such as the National Child Development Study and the British Household Panel Study have maintained or intend to maintain frequent contact over longer periods and have therefore retained a high proportion of their respondents. The results of this kind of research are not technically comparable to our work and that of Atkinson et al.

The York team were working with rather less adequate data than us, one third of the original schedules having been lost (Atkinson et al.: p. 43). They were able, however, to work with an only slightly out of date copy of the now discontinued Kelly's Street Directory which gave them 653 out of a possible 1363 addresses. Use of the Electoral Registers brought this up to 916 families, or 67 per cent. They then wrote to each address with a follow up letter to non-respondents enclosing a copy of an article on the research which had appeared in The Yorkshire Evening Post. But the researchers needed the addresses of the children of the subjects of the original study and here their initial success rate was 41 per cent; 500 addresses were supplied and 65 respondents reported no surviving children. Of the remainder 37 were unwilling to help, 186 made no reply and 128 families either made an incomplete reply, were the wrong family or the letter was returned by the GPO.

The final stage of the York tracing was very labour intensive and entailed visiting a 10 per cent sample (73) of the 'difficult to trace' families. Some turned out to be willing respondents who had failed to return their forms, others were traced through neighbours or other relatives living at or near the original address. A final attempt at tracing others was made by locating 1950's neighbours - and tracing them if they had moved. By this method 44 successful traces were made. If these latter cases are grossed up to 100 per cent then 440 traces were made out of a potential 730. This gives an overall success rate for the tracing exercise of 76 per cent.

Why were we not as successful as the York researchers?

  1. If we received no answer to a letter and a reminder we could not know if it was a refusal to help or the result of a former respondent moving away, or whether a respondent had simply forgotten that they had been interviewed, or had died. Our undertaking to the original investigators, and through them to the original respondents, was to protect the privacy that had been promised in the original research. We did not feel that we were able therefore to visit people who may simply have chosen not to respond to us. That was their right and we did not wish to do anything that might be thought to challenge it.

  2. We lacked up to date street directories and would therefore have had to rely upon electoral rolls for tracing respondents. Given the movements of the population we would have needed to have searched the electoral registers for the whole of Merseyside, and perhaps the North West. Since the introduction of the Community Charge (Poll Tax) people have been known to fall off the electoral roll, introducing a further element of uncertainty into any tracing exercise.

  3. Our resources did not stretch to the kind of intensive work that had been done in York.

With adequate resources we could, hypothetically, have visited the dwellings of the non-respondents and if they had moved sought information from present residents and neighbours. In addition to this we might have sought permission to search local authority and housing association records of rehousing. Finally we could have searched electoral registers for former respondents' names throughout Merseyside, written to them or visited them to discover which had been respondents and which were people with the same names as respondents. But whatever our resources the main reason for us not pressing on with contacting former respondents was that we could not because did not have access to the names. To protect privacy we only had addresses. In this we may have been over scrupulous, but this is preferable to being less than scrupulous. Furthermore it was an undertaking on privacy given to professional colleagues that had made the work possible in the first place.

There are perhaps other reasons why we had such a very low response to our efforts. In many respects the inner areas of cities have been under siege for some time, their inhabitants have been vilified at party conferences, in the press, by politicians and by a minority of extreme right-wing academics. They have been the targets of punitive social policies; rather than being treated as citizens they have found themselves increasingly treated as parasites and potential criminals. Surveillance and control have become increasingly obvious features of their lives whether it be in DSS offices or on the streets. People in inner city areas have become suspicious of and hostile to people who look like officials and ask questions (especially if they write down the answers). There is evidence to be gathered in a wide range of social situations that in Liverpool people are becoming weary of being the objects of research by academics, local authorities and consultants. They have answered questions for years but nothing changes, it is said.

The fear of crime is also a problem for research, especially in the inner city. People say they are less willing to open their doors or go out at night. Two of our respondents referred to the dangers posed by young people on the streets and drug-related crime.

Considerable hostility has been experienced by some field workers in Liverpool, including threats of violence. Less dramatically, research fatigue has set in in certain well studied zones as the local residents are only too willing to tell the fieldworker. Any researchers entering the field in the mid 1990s therefore have to overcome suspicion, inertia and fatigue on a scale that was not encountered by the York researchers in the 1970s. One other factor likely to reduce our success rate would have been the high turn-over of residents in part of the Crown Street area. Had we adopted the York methods we might not have increased our success rate by very much.

Perhaps willingness to co-operate in research belongs to a more corporatist period in which people believed in the state's willingness and capacity to take beneficial action. Near the heyday of the welfare state when Atkinson and his colleagues researched York the cuts, the punitive policy and surveillance were unthinkable. Although working class and especially poor working class people have never experienced a golden age of welfare state provision it was still the case in Liverpool in 1979 that it could be thought that every citizen had an entitlement to a council house.

Our letters and brief appearances in print and on the air would have done little to offset the effects of the contemporary political climate and a great deal of patient field work would have been needed to raise our response rate. Not to have got a response rate into double figures but to have scored virtually zero may be as much a sign of the times as a reflection upon our capacity to use the available resources effectively.

Our findings are unambiguous. The 1979 survey in inner Liverpool does not provide a basis for further study and any future survey research is likely to be fraught with difficulties.

Is research no longer possible in areas like Crown Street? It is important to note that this project was a very specific enterprise to relocate an old sample. In spite of the difficulties survey research is still possible given appropriate investment in explaining the purposes for research and inviting local organizations to contribute. We have to be more sensitive to local fears and expectations. A little local accountability is not only right but useful. In addition the availability of census data for enumeration districts enables us to compile a substantial profile of areas such as Crown Street (Betty Gittus was very active in persuading local authorities of the value of census data). Given this basic background data quota- sampling or snowballing techniques can be used in a more informed and critical way. The census data may then be used to moderate or offset the effects of not having pukka random samples. Panel studies, focus groups and the pursuit of the often elusive 'key informants' also remain potential sources of rich material.

One method of study therefore proved not to be useful in inner Liverpool. Like Bruce's spider we need to keep trying, and in so doing we build up a stock of local knowledge and experience of a kind that can not be gained through the one-off social survey. Patience will always be rewarded, if not in this RAE then in the next.


The project was funded by a grant from the Nuffield Foundation to whom the author wishes to express his grateful thanks. He also thanks Marya McCann who worked as a Trainee Information Officer on the project.


ATKINSON, A. B., MAYNARD, A. K., TRINDER, C. G. (1983) Parents and Children. SSRC/DHSS Studies in Deprivation and Disadvantage 10, Heinemann Educational Books.

Hancock, L. (1994) Tenant Participation and the Housing Classes Debate. Unpublished PhD thesis: University of Liverpool.

MOORE, Robert (1992) 'Labour and Housing Markets in Inner City Regeneration', New Community, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 371 - 386.

MOORE, Robert (1994) The Black Population of Inner Liverpool in the 1991 Census. London: Runnymede Trust.

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