View from St George’s, Everton, 1949
View from St George’s 2014
I have just received an email from my good friend Professor Charlie Duff, a leading figure in Baltimore’s renaissance:
I just read your (frankly terrifying) piece about selling parkland to developers. I will never forget visiting Liverpool parks with you less than a Brexit-and-Trump year ago. What magical places you showed me. Please tell your readers that an impartial American thinks that your parks are an astonishing treasure. So much of every city is just this-and-and-that, but the parks of South Liverpool are a triumph of the people and their city. I was amazed, not only by the quality of the landscapes (and waterscapes).
May I introduce you to my friend, Alex Garvin? Alex, a polymathic New Yorker who has done a million impossible things, has just published a book called “What Makes A Great City”, in which he argues that the answer is the Public Realm — streets, squares, and parks. His “culture hero” is Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York and created Americas’s tradition of the relation between Man and Nature, – and whose first park influence was the park you showed me in Birkenhead.
In a follow-up email, Charlie adds:
As luck would have it, my reading this morning was right on point with your post about selling municipal parkland. The article in the London Review is called “The Strange Death of Municipal England”. It’s in the 15 December 2016 issue. The author is, I think, Tom Crewe. He paints a very bleak picture of municipal governments financially dependent on a Whitehall that wants to increase inequality. Mayors and Councillors wind up doing less and less and getting blamed for it, and they often sell municipal assets to fund services. Crewe specifically mentions sales of parkland, though not specifically in Liverpool. He also argues that the Tories want to convert councils from “mini welfare states” to “economic development authorities,” which sounds plausible. And grim.
Charlie, as always writes eloquently and incisively about the danger we face in Liverpool in having a Council fixated on treating its land as a commercial asset rather than a resource that is there for the benefit of all the community rather than a small number of developers. Planning decisions are taken in which we, the rate payers and citizens, are dismissed as cranks or nimbys. In reality, there are many, like me, who have imaginative and realistic ideas of how Liverpool can make more of its many assets. It is time we made our voices heard.
The photographs I have chosen illustrate what can be done to redress the balance in a once overcrowded area. The packed terraces of Everton have been replaced by a stunning parkland. How sad that we are now taking parkland and green space back to provide unnecessary executive housing for a very small number of people. .
Necropolis, West Derby Road, 1913
Grant Gardens, West Derby Road, 1916
Following my last post about the future of Calderstones Park, I was surprised to learn at the Planning Meeting that Liverpool ranks tenth in the amount of parkland per city. Instead of looking at how to redress this situation, the City Council seem hell-bent of removing even more of this priceless resource.
It got me thinking about how to remedy this situation. I regularly drive into the city centre along Smithdown Road. On the left is the sprawling Toxteth Park Cemetery. A typical Victorian urban cemetery, it was opened in 1856 but is now a little visited and somewhat intimidating place. I understand the sensibilities surrounding burial places but there is a well-established precedent for decommissioning cemeteries in Liverpool and turning them into parkland. St John’s Gardens, below St George’s Hall, was once a cemetery that was created at the turn of the twentieth century following the demolition of St John’s church. St James’s cemetery, beside Liverpool Cathedral was tidied up (although many felt adversely) to make it safer and more attractive to visitors. Similarly, Necropolis on West Derby Road, pictured above, was converted into Grant Gardens, again in the early years of the twentieth century. In the latter case, the buried were left undisturbed.
In the case of Toxteth Park Cemetery, there are important monuments that need to be maintained, including war graves, but I do question why cemeteries must be seen as sacrosanct. With careful thought, this could be an attractive and welcoming park in an area undergoing considerable transformation.
All Hallows Church and the Harthill Estate c1935
In my time in Liverpool, I have seen numerous attacks on the city’s fine architectural heritage. A few (Lyceum Club and Albert Dock are two of the most prominent) have failed but most have been pushed through to the benefit of developers, who just move on after picking up their profits. I am not one who is against development per se. After all, Liverpool once supported almost double the population and has had to readjust as economic decline has changed its fortunes.
However, the City Council has now turned its attentions to selling off a part of our heritage that any right thinking citizen would regard as sacrosanct – its parks and green spaces. After pushing through its appalling decision to sell-off Sefton Park Meadows to its buddies, Redrow, it is following up that act of betrayal by carving up Calderstones Park for another grossly invasive housing development.
How does it get away with it? Thousands (this is not an alternative fact) of local residents have signed petitions against the development yet the Council plough on, oblivious to the destruction of the integrity of the park. They claim it is a brownfield – how convenient after their Militant predecessors tore down the much-loved Orchid Houses to leave a concrete standing that became the park’s depot.
This is a park that has belonged to the people of Liverpool for over a century. It is our space – not a plot of commercial land to be sold to the highest bidder (or not, in the case of Redrow, who have paid for preferred bidder status – a cosy relationship for a company sharing the same floor of the Cunard Building as the Mayor’s Office). The photograph shows the area in about 1935. I could digress and write about Mather Avenue with no traffic, or the 16 tennis courts, but my focus is on the land beyond All Hallows Church, to the right of what was Quarry Bank Grammar School (now Calderstones School). The road just beyond the church is Harthill Road and most of the land in photograph is earmarked for 51 executive properties.
There are so many arguments that make this development inappropriate but I have chosen the words of Professor Quentin Hughes. In 1999, I published his seminal book Liverpool: City of Architecture, which was a celebration of the city’s very fine architectural heritage. He wrote:
“Liverpool is famous for its parks. Few cities in the western world can compare with the green swathes of South Liverpool where parks have been laid out almost touching each other …. South Liverpool must be one of the loveliest places in any European city. Everywhere there are mature trees and open spaces on a scale unseen elsewhere, but slowly suburban growth is eating at their edges, destroying irreplaceable settings.”
I could add more but I know others have covered the key issues. Professor Hughes’s few words succinctly express what is at stake. For a measly sum of money, we are in danger of throwing away what makes Liverpool so special and treasured.
Unfortunately, planning permission has just been given to Redrow to go ahead with their scheme to destroy the integrity of the area. Sadly, they have the enthusiastic backing of a Labour council who should know better than to get into bed with developers.
Looking through my photographic collection, I am always reminded of what Liverpool has lost architecturally. Wartime bombing saw off a fair number of good (and occasionally great) buildings,but by far the greatest destruction was caused in the post-War decades, particularly the 1960s and 70s.
Waterloo Grain Warehouses can claim to be victims of both the Blitz and the 1960s readiness to dismantle the city’s heritage. Opened in 1867 to the design of George Fosberry Lyster, the City Engineer, there were originally three warehouses facing East Waterloo Dock. (The photograph is taken from Princes Half Tide Dock with its entrance into East Waterloo Dock). James Picton, architect and writer whom I so often quote, regarded the warehouses as ‘a great improvement on the massive ugliness of the Albert Dock’. Certainly there are similarities in construction, with the hauling machinery in this case being housed in the turrets that arise above the roof level.
The far block was destroyed by enemy bombing. The block on the left survived until 1969, when the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board demolished it at roughly the same time as Duke’s Warehouse, which was adjacent to Albert Dock. Two unnecessary acts that have greatly diminished our dockland heritage. Barratt Homes bought the remaining Waterloo Grain Warehouse and converted it to flats. The site of the other warehouses are now typical suburban houses – totally out of keeping with their once grand setting.
First of all, my apologies for the gap in posts. For years, the site has been with a server that was delivering an expensive and slow site. Moving to a new server has been a bit of a nightmare but will hopefully offer a much better service.
I have a large number of late nineteenth century images of Pier Head and the ferries. Perhaps this is to be expected. Pier Head was the only part of the river that was open to the public until the 1980s and the re-opening of the Albert Dock. As a result, it was not only packed with passengers for the ferries but was also a popular place to meet and promenade,
The photograph is unremarkable, although it has some great animation. I was particularly taken by the young man with a top hat. It must be a hot summer’s day judging by the open parasols, especially on the overcrowded ferry deck. It is a morning shot looking at the shadows and I am guessing that it might be a Sunday’s excursion to New Brighton.
Royal William, Crown Street, 1979
Alexandra, Upper Hill Street, 1976
A happy New Year to all followers of my blog.
When I started the blog over six years ago, I had no expectation that it would have more than a couple of years life in it. Time really does catch one out. I was at the Open Eye exhibition launch last night which was a celebration of its 40th year. When I founded it back in 1977, I was just 29. It really makes me think where those forty years went. One thing is certain though, I won’t be posting when I am 102.
The blog started out of my interest in the photographic record of Liverpool and a determination to make public not only my collection of photographs but, also those in other collections, both public and private. In the latter respect, I have not been too successful – so this year I will be making greater efforts to infiltrate other archives. This is our history and there is so much material that would interest a wider public.
In this context, I have make another resolution, and that is to respond to the many requests I get for specific locations. Not all are possible but I will do my best; after all, one of the best features of the blog is the comments section, which makes me feel that what I am doing is striking a chord.
So, on to today’s requested images. The Royal William, on the corner of Crown Street, is one of those unfathomable losses that the city has suffered in recent years. A fine Regency period building, it was named after the transatlantic paddle steamer, built in 1837. In most other cities, it would have been listed and appreciated. Not so Liverpool where it was demolished in 1998 and left as a piece of wasteland.
Another loss is the Alexandra public house on Upper Hill Street, which has been replaced by housing. A neat, typical Victorian pub, it served its neighbourhood for generations. I appreciate there were far too many pubs in Liverpool, particularly after the population collapse from the 1960s onwards, but too many good buildings were lost when they could have served another function. Which brings me back to Open Eye and its original location – the former Grapes Hotel on the corner of Hood Street and Whitechapel. The layout of the building proved perfect for an arts project with plenty of accessible public space and in a prominent location. The Royal William could have certainly had an alternative use had the will been there.
Liverpool University from Paddington, 1964
Queens Dock, 1964
Two photographs with very identifiable buildings yet so much has changed in 50 years. The photograph of the university and still to be completed Metropolitan Cathedral is taken from wasteland that was soon to be the new Royal Hospital. Today, the growth of the University and the construction of the new hospital have totally changed the area. I googled ‘Liverpool’s student population today’ and was surprised to read that it is 70,000. Back in 1964, I doubt it was a tenth of that figure (there was only one university and a polytechnic). No wonder there has been such a growth in buildings – 70,000 is approximately the population of Bootle.
The second image is of the last days of the South Docks. Once again, the change over half a century is profound. The docks ceased to operate soon after the photograph was taken and lay dormant for over 30 years before Liverpool began to reinvent itself as a tourist destination. The Arena and Conference Centre coupled with the new Exhibition Centre have pushed out the line of attractions along the waterfront. Over the Dock Road, where the building displays African Oil Mills (on Norfolk Street), the Baltic Creative Quarter continues on its upwards trajectory. I have had warehousing there for 25 years and have seen the remarkable changes over the last six or so years. For the first time in decades, there is a demand for land to build apartment blocks, studios and creative workshops. I have always felt that an area so close to the centre of Liverpool (it only takes five minutes to walk to John Lewis) was prime development territory. Now it is fulfilling that potential.
Looking at the two images, what will Liverpool look like in 2064, a hundred years on from when Pat Weekes took them? The Cathedrals and Victoria Tower will no doubt be there, but what else will remain?
Pavement artist outside the Custom House, 1894
Newspaper sellers, James Street, 1894
I am fascinated by old photographs of Liverpool, particularly the candid street photography of the 1890s and early 1900s. This was a time when technology took a great leap forward: motor cars, airplanes, moving pictures to name but three. Photography was revolutionised by the impact of portable cameras using the newly introduced roll film which, coupled by the clever marketing of Kodak, allowed people without darkrooms to send their film to be processed at a relatively low cost. This democratisation of photography, comparable to the introduction of digital photography in recent years, meant that it was possible for those on modest incomes to indulge in a creative activity that had been previously restricted to the well-heeled.
Street photography was a vogue that had spread throughout the burgeoning amateur photographic society movement. Competitions were held annually with awards for the best candid photograph. In Charles Frederick Inston, Liverpool has one of the great exponents and his work was recognised nationally. Today’s two images, however, belong to a different tradition – travel photography. They were taken by a Charles A Swift in 1894. I know nothing more about him except that these images were part of a much larger album of images taken in Liverpool and Chester, Dresden, Prague and other central European locations. I am guessing that Charles Swift was an American tourist on his own Grand Tour. Disembarking in Liverpool, he spent a few days travelling around the city and Chester before moving on to Germany. Like most tourists, his interest was centred around what he saw on the street: the pavement artist outside the Custom House and the newspaper girls in James Street (many of the European photographs are of a similar nature).
Helpfully, he has captioned his photographs although both are easy to locate. The sign on the warehouse on the right reads Dodd and McNeilly, who were merchants at 4 Hanover Street. The newspaper girls look relatively well-dressed and are selling the Liverpool Mercury, which was later absorbed into the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo. Behind them is St George’s Crescent.
I am still managing to acquire photographs of interest – thanks to that other great innovation, the internet. It is exciting to think that there are still undiscovered images out there that will add to our growing picture of Liverpool in the last 150+ years.
South Castle Street 1973
Mount Pleasant 1972
Queen Square 1970
I had a very interesting meeting with Catherine Morris, the Writer in Residence at Liverpool Central Library. Catherine is putting together an oral history archive that will tell the history of Liverpool. Not before time; this is something that should be an ongoing activity in every village, town and city in the country. Apart from fragments, we have already lost the voices of the generations born before 1920, who could tell us about life in the nineteenth-century, WW1, the 1920s and 30s Depression. We have lost their insight into the hardships, relationships, sacrifices and pleasures. Even their way of talking and use of dialect has been largely lost. This is important work and I hope Catherine’s work becomes a permanent feature of the Library’s work.
In our discussion, I talked about the Liverpool I first experienced when I arrived in 1970. It was a very different place when the population was over 600,000. Now it is down to 470,000 (but slowly increasing). The years of Merseybeat were long gone, not that they had halted the rapid post-War economic decline. My memories were of empty boarded streets, soot-blackened public buildings and a general down-at-the-heel feeling of neglect. True that was also the same with Manchester and Sheffield but Liverpool was the only city I had experienced where a 100 yard walk from Church Street would take you to streets of abandoned warehouses and commercial buildings. I worked in a project for a time in Manesty’s Lane (now absorbed into Liverpool One), where every warehouse was empty and available for virtually no rent to anyone foolhardy enough to make it watertight and usable.
I captured the last days of the Sailors’ Home in 1973, just around the corner. This was Liverpool’s most significant individual loss of the decade. I have commented before on its scandalous loss, made worse by the proposed redevelopment being called off, leaving a hole in the ground and scattered masonry for the next three decades. However, it is the scale of destruction of smaller buildings that had integrity through their unity that is particularly shocking. The streets around St John’s Market had been flattened before I arrived but Queen Square had survived almost intact. That was until a misjudged scheme for a massive civic centre was activated. These were the days of grandiose local authority ambitions and the huge building was planned to expand their activities to megalomaniac levels. Having demolished most of Queen Square, the Government called in the scheme as being inappropriate and out-dated, leaving behind a flattened landscape that served as a car park for the next 25 years. To add insult to injury, the new Queen Square development was heralded as being an exciting new mixed development with a feature square at its heart. Rather like the original although without its history and impressive architecture.
The Georgian houses that lined Mount Pleasant were similarly pulled down to make way for one of the ugliest multi-storey car parks it is possibly to build. The photograph shows the famous Mardi Gras, one of the city’s most popular night clubs that had made its home in an old chapel. Now the car park is doomed. At least its replacement cannot be any worse (can it?).
The impressive facades that lined South Castle Street could and should have been saved. The new Law Courts took out the small eighteenth-century Benn Gardens but why was this important row of commercial building lost?
It is this loss of unity that has damaged Liverpool most. Losing an individual building of significant architectural merit like the Sailors’ Home is unacceptable but it is the way whole swathes of buildings that told the story of Liverpool were removed, usually for very little or no gain, that is the real tragedy. have we learned any lessons? The destruction of Lime Street suggests otherwise.
Pembroke Place is a rather forgotten area. I imagine most readers will have visited TJ Hughes at least once in their lives (it is to the left of the photograph)but the rather shabby area offers little for the urban explorer. This is sad because there is so much potential to make more of its situation. It is close to the city centre, it has interesting Victorian buildings, relatively low rent retail outlets available (especially around Stafford Street behind TJ Hughes, and it has a large, if transient, population of students and hospital workers.
Pembroke Place is the road that heads up towards Crown Street. Monument Place is the area in front of Myers & Co. (general outfitters), the impressive building shown in the photograph.The monument (out of picture) is the equestrian statue of George 111, by the famous sculptor Richard Westmacott. It was originally intended for Great Georges Square, at that time the most desirable residential area in Liverpool, but was relocated to London Road in 1822. Liverpool is well represented with equestrian statues having 4 (if one excludes Christ on an Ass at St Nicholas Church), London has 17 and there are 18 in the rest of England.
In my 1884 Directory, the area was a centre for the furniture trade but also had the usual array of small tradesmen from oyster dealers and cigar importers to cycle makers and chandlers. Even today, there is a sense of the past pervading the area. Sadly, it has had its losses, including the elaborate interior of The Monument public house, photographed by David Wrightson in the early 1970s.
In the early days of my blog, I railed against the neglect of Lime Street. Now something is being done to rectify that problem (I take no credit especially since the solution is not one I can endorse). Maybe someone will listen to my plea for Monument Place. With imagination, it could become an exciting alternative retail/small business area. After all, it is only a stone’s throw from Lime Street, St George’s Hall and William Brown Street. The Baltic Triangle has been a huge success and is running out of space, so why not London Road?
Thanks again to the Keasbury-Gordon Archive. Copies of their book Liverpool in 1886 are available from https://www.amazon.co.uk/Liverpool-1886-Andrew-Gill/dp/1533188947/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473848694&sr=8-1&keywords=liverpool+in+1886