Fortunately, some things don’t change too much. Bold Street is one of Liverpool’s best loved streets and it is not difficult to understand why. It is a lively mix of mainly independent shops and restaurants and has an eclectic mix of buildings, ranging from the classical Lyceum (1800-02) at its foot, facing the early twentieth century HSBC bank (by James Doyle). Then we have the ex-Cripps shop (better known in recent years as Waterstones bookshop)and, further up, is the Music Hall (also a Waterstones in more recent years before becoming a bar). Elsewhere, there are good examples of modernist architecture (Radiant House), Arts and Crafts, even Graeco-Egyptian (number 92) and solid Greek Revival. It is a street that demands looking above the shop facades to appreciate how different styles can happily coexist and strengthen the urban landscape. And looking down on all of this is the Gothic Revival tower of St Luke’s church.
What a shame lessons are not learned. Bold Street succeeds because it is of a scale. No high buildings breaking its building line. Quentin Hughes used the expression ‘keeping in keeping’ and this is a perfect example. The destruction of the St John’s Market area was a disastrous misjudgment, replacing a warren of small streets with a lump of concrete that could be anywhere in the world. More recent examples, such as the demolition of Commutation Road and now Lime Street, show yet again that most developers are only interested in uniform developments that can be built from scratch. The recent plan for Renshaw Street, to include a large scale residential block, is another indication of this worrying trend to remove scale and variety from the city centre.
To get back to Bold Street. Until the last War, this was the fashionable shopping street where well-heeled ladies and gentlemen would shop (although, in contrast, there is a barefoot boy selling newspapers on the immediate left of the photograph). Van Gruisen, the first shop on the left, were pianoforte manufacturers. Next door was Arthur Medrington (photographer and artist) with another well known photographer (Barnes and Bell) next to him. (Bold Street was a centre for photography with several more having studios including Vandyke – whose sign can be seen on the opposite side of the street).
Fortunately Bold Street survives and it is this kind of street that gives Liverpool its character. So much has been lost since the 1970s on the grounds that the building fabric is beyond salvation (not only Lime Street but Seel Street, Duke Street and now Renshaw Street). How different Liverpool would have looked with greater consideration for the past.
In the early nineteenth century, Liverpool adopted a number of place names from London. Soho Street and Islington being two obvious ones. I assume naming a church St Martin-in-the Fields is another nod to the capital city and, at the time of its consecration in 1829, it would have drawn respectful comparisons with its counterpart. Erected by the Government at an expense of £20,000, it was designed by John Foster Jnr. who, along with his father John Foster Snr., was responsible for much of Liverpool’s Classical Revival. Between them, their list of buildings is astonishing, although some of their finest examples no longer survive, amongst them the Custom House, St John’s Market and St Catherine (Abercromby Square), St Martin’s Church is another lost building – like St Michael’s (Pitt Street) and St Luke’s (Berry Street) a victim of the 1941 May Blitz.
It is a forgotten church and images of it are quite rare. My lantern slide is inscribed The Black Church, by which it was locally known Surrounded by Silvester Street (the church on the left is St Silvester), Vauxhall Road, Blenheim Street and Limekiln Lane, it occupied a large tract of land. My 1835 map of Liverpool shows it surrounded by newly laid out streets, with industry and housing rapidly encroaching. It was built of red sandstone but had turned black thanks to its proximity to local industry (although most Liverpool churches had similarly turned black – it was clearly a local landmark). It would appear that its congregation had largely deserted it by the early twentieth century. This is not too surprising, by the mid-1840s it was in the heart of Catholic Liverpool following the mass Irish immigration resulting from the Irish Famines.
The church remained a shell until the early 1950s and was eventually cleared to make way for a children’s playground. St Martin’s Cottages (the first purpose-built council housing in Europe) were obviously named after then (and they suffered a similar ignominious fate, although at the hands of the Council, in 1977).
The main objective of my blog is to reveal the way photography has documented the history of Liverpool in the last 150+ years. Photographs are taken for all kinds of reasons – to document progress, mark celebrations, to reveal social deprivation etc. My interest is in examining photographs to find out what they can tell us about both the photographer’s intent and, of course, the subject matter.
The photograph I have chosen is not a difficult one to determine the purpose of the photographer. It was taken by the firm of James Valentine, a Dundee-based company that rivalled Francis Frith in the selling of photographs commercially. Before the advent of postcards, real photographs were very popular as keepsakes and companies like Frith and Valentine sought out views that they could sell to the general public. Frith was the market leader (Francis Frith, as I have written about before, started his photographic career in Liverpool in the early 1850s before selling up his business and embarking on a career as a full-time photographer) but Valentine’s competed keenly in the same territories.
So why take a photograph of Myrtle Street. The clue is in the building next to the Gymnasium: the Liverpool Eye Hospital, which had just opened (1880). It is still there, with its fine terracotta exterior, although it has been converted to flats. Liverpool led the world in its provision for the blind and the specialist hospital was an extension of the other innovatory services it had developed during the nineteenth century. No doubt Valentines saw a potentially lucrative market from grateful patients.
The Liverpool Gymnasium was featured in my blog of 14 February 2010: How the Olympic Movement Started in Liverpool. The brainchild of Charles Melly and John Hussey, it was opened in 1865 as host to the first meeting of the National Olympics Association. Now, 150 years later, the whole world can enjoy a sporting spectacle that had its roots in our city.
Two other buildings are worth commenting on. The building just visible below the Eye Hospital is Myrtle Street Baptist Church. The preacher Hugh Stowell Brown was an electrifying preacher who attracted thousands to his sermons. It is reassuring that his statue, paid for by public subscription on his death, has now returned to its former home as part of the new student accommodation (having been recently found in the stables of Croxteth Country Park).
Finally, a rare sight of the roof of another church – St Philips, Hardman Street, which stood on the site of what was Kirklands (Fly in the Loaf). By 1880, it was already in a dilapidated state and was auctioned off and soon after demolished.
The photograph was taken from the site of what is now the Philharmonic Hall. Here is a section of an 1881 map of the city. The section of street we are looking at is just below the green plot of land.
Back in March, 2011, I posted a photograph of a church asking if anyone could locate it. Quite a few replied naming it as All Saints, Bentley Road near to Princes Park. I have just come into the possession of two further photographs – of the exterior and interior – which add further confirmation (not that it is needed) that the identification was correct.
The Victorians obsession on reverting to a medieval style of architecture is somewhat bizarre given the inventiveness of science and industry. I can appreciate that ecclesiastical thinking was a reaction to the seismic changes in society (and thinking – especially Darwinism) which had thrown traditional beliefs into turmoil but the churches they built were generally austere and forbidding places. I can appreciate the craftsmanship but a Sunday spent on those hard benches, especially in winter, would have been purgatory.
My eye is caught to the building on the right. It has the name John Wilson – who is listed in my 1893 Directory as a dealer in horses and job master.Bentley Road was a solid middle-class area with a good mix of nationalities: Hermann Straus (merchant), Myer Kuno (professor of languages), Auguste D’Almeida (wine merchant), Decio Ferreira (wine merchant), Josef Hanliezek (chemical manufacturer) living alongside surgeons, engineers, surveyors and printers. I have avoided all mention of Brexit but here is proof, in one short street, that Liverpool was a bustling cosmopolitan city well over a century ago.
Over the years I have been writing my blog, the posts that create the highest response rates are hospitals and school. The former is mainly ex-nurses who trained and worked at the now demolished Northern Hospital (a very positive experience for most). The schools posts – there have been a number – have created their own Friends Reunited mini-sites. I wrote a long time ago that a photo book on Liverpool schools was well overdue. Perhaps I should have published one but the opportunity seems to have slipped by.
It is surprising how relatively short-lived most schools are. The raft of buildings built in the wake of the 1870 Elementary Education Act have largely disappeared. A small number have been replaced by more modern buildings and their names kept but most have simply vanished. Chatsworth Street School, pictured above is a rare survivor (although now called Smithdown Primary School). I pass it most days on my journeys up and down Upper Parliament Street and marvel at how it has managed to survive intact. Its neighbourhood has changed considerably in recent decades but the school is a constant presence. The Gothic-influenced building was built in 1874 for the School Board and is a rather unusual building for Liverpool with its pale sandstone facing. Having survived for nearly 150 years, hopefully it will continue to light up what has been a rather drab and desolate corner of the city.
Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of taking my good friend Professor Charlie Duff around Liverpool. Charlie is a leading figure in Baltimore’s revival and sees many comparisons between Liverpool and his hometown. Both are of a similar size and have suffered comparable post-War declines. Anyone familiar with The Wire will have a certain knowledge of the level of urban decline parts of Baltimore have suffered.
Of course, like Liverpool, there are plenty of very pleasant areas but the media are always more interested in the dysfunctional. Charlie was particularly keen to look at how our city’s urban fabric knitted together (especially after he had spent a couple of days in Leeds and Manchester), so we set out on a journey in glorious sunshine to explore as much as we could in a day. I loved it – nothing is better than showing someone round your city when the light is perfect. An amble through Liverpool One to examine how it had brought the Albert Dock seamlessly into the pedestrian flow, followed by an examination of Castle Street/Water Street and Victoria Street to marvel at the great commercial architecture and ponder on why Manchester and Leeds had taken away Liverpool’s role as a banking and insurance centre. Charlie had an endless stream of questions about how I saw Liverpool’s future – which I am still pondering. Rental yields in Manchester and Leeds are substantially higher than Liverpool – which equates to developers looking there rather than here (and both cities are regarded as being more business friendly).
With heavy questions on my mind, we headed towards the University and Georgian Quarter, stopping at 19 Abercromby Square (now part of Liverpool University) to admire the remaining symbols of what was the unofficial consulate of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, before heading off towards Falkner Square. The light was perfect and I stopped to photograph the fine terrace in Back Falkner Street South. We could have been in Knightsbridge or other exclusive London areas. Whatever Liverpool’s future is, it has the physical assets that few other British cities have. I felt a great sense of pride walking along Canning Street and Huskisson Street before heading down to the Baltic Triangle to examine how creative businesses were transforming a previously semi-derelict area.
We continued with a tour of Port Sunlight – one of the most astonishing housing experiments in Europe – and that forerunner of all public parks, Birkenhead Park, before crossing back to look at the vast empty acres of Liverpool Waters by Stanley Dock. If this is the future of Liverpool, it would be good to see some activity, the place is eerily deserted and raises so many questions about Peel’s intentions.
Fortunately, we finished on another high as I drove round Sefton Park. There was a wedding in the Palm House and everything looked magical. A great day to be a tourist in my own city.
Following up with the last post, here is another fascinating interior. This time, I know the exact location and year it was taken. The year is 1890 and the location is 65 Renshaw Street. Had you asked me what the interior was, I would have suggested a rather upmarket fashion shop (although they were mainly on Bold Street at that time). Checking my Gore’s Directory for 1893, all becomes clear. The premises were occupied by John Wannop & Sons, decorators. Obviously more than mere house decorators – more like interior designers. They were still there in 1910 but my next Directory for 1932 has BNB Radios occupying the shop.
Renshaw Street is somewhat off the main stream of footfall for it to be thriving. The loss of Rapid Hardware (on the opposite side of the street) diminished its appeal. I am somewhat surprised, it could be an exciting area for a good mix of independent retailers. At the moment, 65 is a rather sad looking Noodle Bar, with empty properties all around. Once the redevelopment of Lime Street is underway (hopefully saving a certain cinema facade), attention needs focusing further along to the east.
It is time to move on from the last post – the chocolate must be long past its sell-by date.
Today’s image intrigues me. It was taken by J. Mayle, photographer of 28 Bold Street. The date is probably mid-1870s. Mayle lived in West Derby from 1864 to 1872, working as a photographic artist, before moving to Derby (Derbyshire). The firm continued in Liverpool under the name J.Mayle and Sons until at least 1908 – so the dating of the image might well be out by a few years.
It is, however, the subject matter that is interesting. Of course, there is always a strong possibility that the interior is not in Liverpool at all. It has a grandeur that could only match it to a very limited number of buildings. The Town Hall and St George’s Hall are both ruled out (I know what they look like). The Custom House is a possibility but it was built in a strict Classical style to the design of John Foster, the Town Surveyor. James Picton, in his Memorials of Liverpool (a must read reference book – even if published in 1873), was unimpressed by the building, which he considered dark and dingy. The dome was supported internally on Ionic columns – which rules the Custom House out of consideration. This leaves only one secular building with a dome – the now demolished Exchange Newsroom. The Exchange Building (on Exchange Flags) was originally a fine Georgian building, which opened in 1808. After fifty years, it was decided to replace it with a more commodious building and in 1862 work started on its replacement, a Gothic building designed by TM Wyatt in a style described as Flemish Renaissance by Picton – who added that the Newsroom “is a noble apartment, free from all obstructions and well-suited for its purpose.” The new building opened in 1867 yet, like its predecessor, was to survive for little more than half a century with work starting on its replacement (the current Exchange Buildings) in the 1930s. The War stopped work temporarily and demolition and replacement was completed by the early 1950s.
I have searched in vain for an interior photograph of the Newsroom. The date of its opening is close to the date of the photograph – so it would have been of interest as a symbol of the new Liverpool. Can anyone throw any light on this?
First of all, apologies for a long absence which has been due to family circumstances. These are now behind me, so I am back with renewed energy. I will start going through the many requests I have received in the next couple of weeks.
The image above might surprise anyone born post-1953. On February 5th of that year, sweet rationing was abolished to the delight of children. According to newspapers, piggy-banks were emptied and shops were cleared out of stock in hours. Apparently, toffee apples, sticks of nougat and liquorice strips were the best sellers. Adults joined in, with 2lb boxes of chocolates and boiled sweets the favourites.
The photograph pre-dates this sugar rush. The sign states that this is their entire stock and no pre-orders can be taken in advance of the Saturday sale. How cruel for the three tots standing outside. From another perspective, with sugar such an issue today and with sweets available by almost every till in every shop, perhaps the idea of rationing might not be the worst idea for the sake of public health.
Marie with her mother and lodger (who Marie was clearly unhappy with)
Patsy with his pet duck, Oswald, and hen
Bobbie at home with her baby
I often get annoyed by the tiresome ‘enmity’ between Manchester and Liverpool. Football is tribal and the rivalry is understandable but I frequently talk to people who have an almost pathological hatred for the other city. Competition can fuel ambition but it can also hold back development. A united North is, in my eyes, far more powerful than a divided one. As someone who has spent all his life in three great Northern cities – Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool – I tend to see similarities rather than differences, positives rather than negatives.
In this light, I hope readers will forgive me for travelling 40 miles eastwards. Beeton Grove is in Levenshulme, near to the centre of Manchester. In the 1970s, Chris Hunt photographed the inhabitants of this wholly working-class terraced street in Manchester. However, the book is far more than a collection of great photographs because Chris also interviewed his subjects about their lives and hopes, giving a unique insight into life in a hard industrial city in the 1970s.
I only wish someone had done the same in Liverpool – although I am sure there would be many common factors in their lives. Beeton Grove is a very powerful statement and I have decided to turn the 100+ photographs and interviews into a book. Follow the link and find out more (and any support would be very gratefully received).