Memories of 'Mr Seel's Garden': Engaging with historic and future food systems in Liverpool


Principal Investigator: Dr Michelle Bastian
Co-investigators: Professor Chris Speed, University of Edinburgh; Dr Niamh Moore, University of Manchester; Dr Alexandrina Buchanan, University of Liverpool; Dr Alex Hale, RCAHMS
Collaborators: Friends of Sudley Park; Friends of Everton Park; Transition Liverpool; Liverpool PCT; Liverpool Council Greenspaces Division;
Duration: From 2012 to 2013

On the outer edges of Liverpool ONE, a 42 acre regeneration area of the city centre, there is a Tesco Superstore. This is unremarkable in itself – you can’t go very far in Liverpool without running into one – however, if you venture just around the corner of the main entrance you’ll find a set of plaques that reproduce an 18th Century map of the area. The description states that this area was once ‘Mr Seel’s Garden’. Drawing the contemporary viewer into a lost past, the description states: “you are standing on what was the garden, represented by an asterisk”. You are not all that stands on what was the garden, however, as the Tesco itself is also directly on top of the garden site. Yet, even while you might catch yourself becoming a little nostalgic – imagining a kindly Mr Seel handing you a freshly cut cabbage – the description lets you know that “Thomas Seel was an eighteenth century merchant. He made money out of the dreadful slave trade, but used some of it to pay for Liverpool’s first infirmary”.

The uncanny juxtaposition of current and historic food systems, made visible by this map, has been commented on by a number of Liverpool local food activists. The vivid experience it produces, draws together multiple elements – food, maps, history, time, power, cruelty, memory, intertwined local and global communities – to paint a complex picture of the changing nature of communities and the systems that connect them together. Our pilot demonstrator project aims to engage with the productive knots and tangles woven together by ‘Mr Seel’s Garden’ through a collaboration between a broad range of partners with a shared interest in time, food and community engagement. Working with community organisations within Liverpool’s fledgling local food movement, this project will explore how engaging local communities with the changing patterns of food production could contribute to current grassroots efforts within Liverpool to raise awareness around current food issues.