Last Sunday I took a couple of visitors around Liverpool, stopping at Pier Head for a short walk around.
The place was packed, a fair was in full swing and there was a great atmosphere – perhaps lacking the ferries so evident in the photograph but reminiscent of its Victorian heyday when it was the place to go for a promenade and to observe the shipping. (Until the 1980s, most of the docks were out of bounds and Pier Head was the only public point of access to the river).

Pier Head was also a favourite place for the Victorian commercial photographer. Crowds and boats were guaranteed particularly on a fine sunny day (the photograph was taken close to midday judging by the shadows). The detail is fascinating; it might be summer but most of the women are dressed in heavy black full length dresses apart from the two standing out in white. The ferries are full and, in the foreground, two boys are playing.

I am guessing the photograph was taken in the early 1890s. It is surprising to see so many sail ships
lined up on the right – these were their last years. The river is Liverpool’s greatest asset – no other city has such a magnificent stage. So much more can be done to enhance it – the modern buildings are uninspiring, particularly when set against the Royal Liver, Cunard and Port of Liverpool buildings. Somewhere along the years, that confidence has been lost – epitomised by the fiasco of the Fourth Grace and the subsequent Mann Island development. The city deserves better.

Commutation Row c1975

Hare and Hounds c1975

It is hard to believe that Commutation Row was removed little more than a decade ago for an office block that has struggled to find a tenant since its previous occupant, a housing association, moved out.

What a shocking piece of vandalism. No doubt the lack of uniformity of the Victorian facades insulted those who prefer uniformity and blandness but I loved the fact that each building had a different face – unified only by keeping to the same height line (more or less). Look at any photograph from the 1880s onwards and there they are – a historic part of the city’s fabric. Just like the Lime Street facades further down – something important is lost each time the developers move in.

Amongst the losses on Commutation Row were three interesting pubs. The County on the corner of Islington, the Hare and Hounds (in the middle) and the Court House, a few doors to the right. Three traditional pubs with interesting interiors – all part of the social history that the public house represented.

Interior of The County

Fortunately, Bob Thurlow, founder of Merseyside CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), decided to write about the rapidly disappearing city centre pubs back in the mid-1970s. Even more fortunately, he commissioned David Wrightson (the photographer of much of Quentin Hughes’ Seaport) to photographs the pubs and their interiors. Even more fortunately, Bluecoat Press is publishing their work in a new book Inn Liverpool due out in early December. More to follow in the next post.

Roseberry Street, L8

Mozart Street outing to Ainsdale

Haigh Heights, Haigh Street, Everton

Three more powerful images from the forthcoming book Like You’ve Never Been Away by Paul Trevor. Paul was here in the mid-1970s and is back in Liverpool finishing of a film that brings the story up to date. He has contacted children in the photographs – now in their 50s – and has interviewed them about their lives to date.
There is still a week left to back the Kickstarter campaign to fund the book (a limited edition – of 500 – hardback, signed by Paul): goo.gl/e3Rj4a

Crosbie Heights

Haigh Heights

Two more images from Paul Trevor’s upcoming book about childhood in Liverpool in the 1970s. This is a new hardback version (in landscape format). It is running as a crowdfunding project this month to raise the funds to publish it. We are well on the way but if you are interested in supporting the book,click through to Kickstarter: goo.gl/e3Rj4a

Crosbie Heights

After a long break, I am back in action. I decided to take time off after seven years running the blog. Not actually a holiday – I have been finishing six books in the meantime and they needed my focus. Now they are out of the way, I can concentrate on getting back on track.
Today’s title is very appropriate – it is the title of my new version of Paul Trevor’s fantastic photography of childhood in 1970s Liverpool. The work was shown at the Walker Art Gallery in 2011 and I published a soft cover book to accompany the exhibition. It rapidly sold out and has been in high demand ever since. It is now being republished in a new landscape format.
Paul’s work is in a word poignant. It captures the essence of growing up in inner city Liverpool. The hard surroundings do little to dampen the energy and enthusiasm of the children he photographed – although in today’s eyes, it is shocking how we allowed children (and still do) to grow up in such grim conditions. For one of the richest nations in the world, it begs many questions as to why so little is done to create a more fitting environment in our inner cities.

Haigh Street

Look at the school and its excuse for a playground in Haigh Street. How could any child flourish? Or the disaster of high rise living summed up in the top photograph of a young girl in her corridor playground.

I have launched a crowdfunding project on Kickstarter to get the book published. It is a fantastic collection of images – please take a look:goo.gl/e3Rj4a

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.