Rob Bremner’s Photographs of Liverpool and Merseyside, 1980s-90s

British Culture Archive

The 1980s was a troublesome decade for many industrial towns and cities across the UK, and Liverpool with its rich industrial heritage was hit particularly hard. Around eighty thousand jobs were lost between 1972-1982 and the city was left devastated by the impact of de-industrialisation.

Class War

The old tenements and tower blocks were being demolished and the lack of opportunity had a major social impact on its inner city communities. As with other major cities across the UK, police fallout and inner-city rioting ensued, and the city became embroiled in a class war with the Thatcher government, who many felt let their city rot when they most needed help.

Pier Head, Liverpool, 1989
Pier Head, Liverpool, 1989. Photo © Rob Bremner.

Rob Bremner’s photos captured the mood of Liverpool during the turbulent Thatcher years, they also highlight the everyday life and positive spirit of the people – colourful and casual fashions and local characters who were proud of their city.

Rob Bremner Kwik Save Bags Print. Liverpool, 1980s
Jonny and Pat. Vauxhall, Liverpool, 1987. Photo © Rob Bremner.

Rob Bremner

Rob was born in Wick, a small village in the North of Scotland and left school at sixteen with no qualifications. He got his first job working in a garage, which he didn’t particularly like, but he soon got acquainted with a press photographer in Inverness who gave him a job on a youth training scheme (YTS).

Wallasey School of Art

Rob didn’t know much about photography back then, he just didn’t want to work in the garage anymore. The scheme only lasted six months but he enjoyed so decided to pursue his newfound passion. In 1983 he enrolled on a photography course at Wallasey School of Art, and leaving his hometown of Wick, he swapped rural North East Scotland for the industrial landscape of the North West of England.

Bin Men in Everton, 1987.
Bin Men in Everton, 1987. Photo © Rob Bremner.
New Brighton

Whilst studying in Wallasey Rob became acquainted with photographer’s Tom Wood (who was teaching at the college) and Martin Parr, who lived nearby. He would help out in Tom’s darkroom and spend his weekends following Tom, and occasionally Martin around the faded resort of New Brighton as they famously documented the area.

New Brighton 1980s
New Brighton, 1987. Photo © Rob Bremner
Thatcher’s Britain

Rob was later accepted on to David Hurn’s respected School of Documentary Photography in Newport, Wales. It was around this time he started to photograph the Everton and Vauxhall areas of Liverpool, then the third most deprived area of Britain.

Rob: “It was tough times, but I found everyone to be warm and friendly, and on rainy days they would ask me in for tea. I left my college Bronica in a pub one night after some dockers invited me for a drink, I returned the next day and they had left it behind the bar for me. I wish I could say I was a socially aware photographer, campaigning against Thatcher’s Britain, but I just felt comfortable taking photos there and liked the people”.

Rob Bremner in his flat. Liverpool, 1980s.
Self Portrait. Rob in his flat, Liverpool, 1980s. Photo © Rob Bremner.

Pier Head

On completion of his course in Newport Rob came back to live in Merseyside, establishing himself as a freelance photographer in Liverpool. A local gallery looked at commissioning his Everton/Vauxhall work but this ended up falling through and struggling for work Rob ended up living in a bedsit and on the dole. Not being able to afford to work in colour he purchased cans of out of date 35mm black and white cine stock and It was during this time he took his black and white images of Liverpool’s Pier Head.

Photo of Couple In The Pier Head Cafe, 1989.
Pier Head, Liverpool, 1989. Photo © Rob Bremner.

Free Burgers

Rob:” Liverpool’s Pier Head at that time was really just a dilapidated bus station where people went to catch the ferries across the Mersey. It was the last stop for most buses and older people with their free bus passes would alight there. There was a café, the staff were friendly and you could sit there all day sipping the same cup of tea and not be asked to leave. It was cheaper than heating a home. Danny who used to the run the burger stand would give me free burgers.”

The Pier Head, Liverpool, 1989
Pier Head, Liverpool, 1989. Photo © Rob Bremner.

Rob eventually managed to secure a grant from the Prince’s business trust and joined the enterprise allowance scheme – another government scheme to get people off unemployment benefit and become self employed. That’s when he started to get freelance work, mainly for trade unions and social housing magazines. He continued to work freelance up until around ten years ago until both his parents developed dementia, when his mother passed away he returned home to Wick to care for his father.

Gallery

Vauxhall Ladies. Vauxhall, Liverpool, 1987.
Vauxhall Ladies. Vauxhall, Liverpool, 1987. Photo © Rob Bremner.
Girls in New Brighton, 1987.
Girls in New Brighton, 1987. Photo © Rob Bremner.
New Brighton, 1987.
New Brighton, 1987. Photo © Rob Bremner.
Rob Bremner Liverpool Nans Print, 1980s
Liverpool Nans, 1987. Photo © Rob Bremner.
Camouflaged Lady. Everton, 1987. Photo © Rob Bremner.
Margaret and Peggy. Liverpool, 1987.
Margaret and Peggy. Liverpool, 1987. Photo © Rob Bremner.
Dingle, Liverpool, 1996.
Dingle, Liverpool, 1996. Photo © Rob Bremner.
Sharon and Claire. Liverpool, 1987.
Sharon and Claire. Liverpool, 1987. Photo © Rob Bremner.
Liverpool in the 1980s Rob Bremner Print
Boys on Breck Road. Liverpool, 1987. Photo © Rob Bremner.
Rob Bremner Iconic Print Liverpool 1980s
Liverpool, 1987. Photo © Rob Bremner.
Vauxhall Girls, Liverpool, 1987.
Girls in Vauxhall, Liverpool, 1987. Photo © Rob Bremner.
Rob Bremner Liverpool Everton 1980s
Boy with his BMX. Everton, 1987. Photo © Rob Bremner.
Bremner Print Wood Street Liverpool, 1990s
Wood Street. Liverpool, 1996. Photo © Rob Bremner.
Rob Bremner British Culture Archive Print Liverpool, 1990s.
Colin and Lee. Liverpool, 1990s. Photo © Rob Bremner.

All images © Rob Bremner, all rights reserved. Words Paul Wright

Rob Bremner’s prints are available for the first time exclusively from our online shop.

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British Culture Archive is a non profit independent resource set up to document 20th century culture and social change in the UK. In 2022 we plan to open our permanent gallery and exhibition space where we can showcase our People’s Archive alongside exhibitions from our featured photographers. 

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