Albert Dock from Salthouse Dock, c1885
Albert Dock from the Landing Stage, c1885
The Albert Dock is now the centre-piece of Liverpool’s historic docklands. That has not always been the case. When the complex was opened by Prince Albert in 1846, it was a giant step forward in dock design – the first enclosed warehouse system that allowed loading and unloading directly to and from ships berthed in the dock. No other dock could boast such a monumental structure of cast iron, brick and stone and its fire-proof and theft-proof benefits proved instantly attractive to ship-owners wishing to protect their valuable cargoes.
However, the construction of the dock had not foreseen the rapid technological changes in shipping design that saw the replacement of sailing ships with steam-powered iron ships within little more than a decade. The tight entrance to Canning Dock was too narrow for the new ships, and the dock network spread out to the north of Pierhead to accommodate them. Albert Dock was still used for storage but its use began to diminish from the 1860s. A century later, it was a romantic, brooding mass made even moodier by the silt that had been allowed to accumulate as a result of leaving the dock gates open.
What might have happened next is the stuff of horror movies. A London property developer came up with the plan to demolish to complex, fill the dock in and build a skyscaper and car park. By good fortune, it came to nought but the Mersey Dock and Harbour Board were ready to sell without any concern for the historic fabric. Today – forty years on – it is hard to image what the waterfront would look like without these stunning buildings. It is just a shame that the clock tower (designed by Hardwick and removed in 1960) has not been replaced. It is surprisingly difficult to find nineteenth century images of Albert Dock. Possibly because they were part of the Dock Estate, and therefore not open to the public, photographers turned their interest to more accessible areas where commercial sales could be more guaranteed. Both images are by Francis Frith’s company and date from the mid-1880s.
Stanley Dock and Tobacco Warehouse, 1920s.
I had an interesting conversation with one of Liverpool’s leading urban planners last week about how much Liverpool had improved in the last decade. Take retailing, for example. Before Liverpool One opened in 2008, the city was languishing in 25th spot as a shopping centre – alongside Stockport and Bolton. Now it is up to 5th place – almost up to its pre-War position. By any measure this is a remarkable achievement. What is particularly impressive is how Liverpool One has fitted almost seamlessly into the urban fabric, opening up the riverfront and Albert Dock along the way.
Our discussion shifted to the ‘next step’, the development that could make an even bigger impact on Liverpool’s future: Peel’s Liverpool Waters. It would appear that this is the year in which progress will be made. Peel are committed to pushing forward the development of the neglected docklands north of Waterloo Dock – although the plans are still largely under wraps. I am very much in favour of Liverpool Waters in principle. Threats to remove World Heritage status are largely a red herring – after all London built The Shard which impacts on three World Heritage sites in London (Palace of Westminster/Tower of London/Greenwich). It appears that the commissioners have chosen to pick a fight with Liverpool – a softer option than the centre of power and finance. The bottom line is what is more important – an accolade that is being increasingly handed out and will eventually become almost meaningless or a major regeneration of a neglected area of Liverpool that could create 1000s of jobs and a sustainable future.
My photograph is of Stanley Dock and the gigantic Tobacco Warehouse. A decade ago, plans seemed to favour demolishing the monument to smoking (it has very low ceiling heights and conversion seemed beyond the resources of any willing developer). Now it appears that Harcourt Development are pushing forward with plans for apartments, retailing and offices within the giant building. Their successful renovation of the Jesse Hartley warehouse next door into the 153 room Titanic Hotel is just the start of their ambitious plans. A point of interest in the photograph is the Overhead Railway, which connected the city centre to the network of docks from Dingle to Seaforth. Now word has it that a tramway is proposed to link Peel’s planned development with the centre (after all, improved transport is essential to the success of the scheme).
This is the start of a new phase in Liverpool’s history. The waterfront has been almost criminally neglected since the 1960s. We now have an opportunity to create a new and spectacular face to the river. I hope the developments are worthy of the setting.
When I moved to Liverpool in 1970, I was shocked by the extent of dereliction once I walked a few hundred yards from the main shopping streets. Most Northern cities had their fair share of run-down areas but none as pronounced as Liverpool. A mere 100 yards behind Church Street and you were into an abandoned warren of streets with crumbling warehouses and the ever-present smell of rot and decay.
Wolstenholme Square, off Hanover Street, was one such area. I remember looking at one of the properties with a view to setting up my arts project. Everything needed doing – rewiring, re-roofing, re-plastering – it was dirt cheap to rent but beyond any resources I could muster (it is still there today seemingly unoccupied). What I do remember is that there was a magnificent Eagle Press in one of the ground floor rooms with its trays of metal type. Solid cast-iron, it was a thing of beauty but would have required a crane to lift it out.
That was typical of my many explorations of those neglected offices and warehouses. Most have since disappeared but some have been saved and converted to various uses. Suffice is to say that there is no longer a pungent smell of dry rot as I walk through the streets. Wolstenholme Square is one of the last places to be caught up in the developers’ web for the student accommodation bug appears to be moving in (do we really need another development?). For over twenty years, the Square has housed some of the best nightclubs in the country but it appears their days are numbered.
The photograph I have chosen pre-dates my time in Liverpool. The very un-Liverpool style building with its Dutch-style roof was built for Goodlass Wall (famous for Valspar paint) as a paint factory. It must have been a terrifying site when it went up in flames during an air raid in December 1940.
First of all an apology for getting the date of my last post out by 30 years and many thanks to John Massey for his excellent and detailed correction. I had dated the photograph on the superficial basis of the girl in the foreground (not very clear admittedly). What I did not realise was that the rather elaborate bell tower above the porch was only erected in 1926 as a memorial to the men of the parish who died in WW1. The date makes much more sense of the children’s playground – which is very much in keeping with its new date rather than being some forward thinking by the City Council in 1900.
I am avoiding dating today’s images of old Walton Village. I would hazard a guess at the 1910s looking at the lady on a bicycle but I could be out by a decade. It is hard to picture Walton as a semi-rural retreat – and by the 1930s it had certainly been overtaken by the outward sprawl of Liverpool – but it had retained a picturesque area around the parish church. Of course Walton has a long history (being named in the Domesday Book, unlike Liverpool which was not mentioned, and the parish church was in control of Liverpool until the consecration of St Peter’s church in 1699) and survived as a separate township until 1895 when it was incorporated into Liverpool. Sadly, most of the charm of old Walton has disappeared apart from the fine church and the facing seventeenth century Old School House.
I remember seeing an exhibition at the Walker in the 1980s of the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, the French master photographer. There were three or four images of Liverpool he had taken during a visit in 1962, including a fascinating photograph of workmen in the semi-circular graveyard of St Mary’s church. Why he wandered out to Walton is a mystery – although he was part of a team documenting northerners. He wasn’t impressed: “Writing about the same people of the North at work amounts to the same as writing about them at play. Their looks are not so different neither are their clothes. There is no exuberance on their faces nor gestures. They are hard at it but in a resigned sort of way. Their vacationing seems just an occupation as any other.” Perhaps he should have returned the following year, when Liverpool became the centre of the cultural universe.
Nothing is more annoying than to have an unlabelled image that you know will take hours to locate. I thought this image might have been relatively easy to caption – a church in a square with a large warehouse with the prominent sign Wool Warehouse, a photographic engravers, a bakers on one corner and a pub on the other. Okay, a pub on the corner was not exactly a rarity in Liverpool but I reckoned the other features would be easy to place using my Gore’s 1910 Directory.
Not so easy, unfortunately, although I did have an idea of where it could be. The square is the clue. Liverpool had a few but it clearly did not fit most of those I knew. I took a stab at Pownall Square, off Tithebarn Street, and everything fell into place. The church is St Mary’s – a building by Augustus Welby Pugin, originally built in Edmund Street in 1845. In 1885, the Edmund Street site was needed for the expansion of Exchange Station, and the church was dismantled and reassembled in nearby Highfield Street. (The Catholic Almanac described is as ‘a grand monument of architectural skill’) (Thanks to David Lewis’s The Churches of Liverpool for this information). The church was destroyed in the Blitz and replaced by a fine modern building by Weightman and Bullen in 1953 that has, in turn, been pulled down for an office development.
The feature of the photograph that caught my eye is the playground in the square. Offering a very limited choice of seesaws and swings, it is the earliest image of such a provision I have found. Inner city Liverpool was home to tens of thousands of children who probably spent their leisure time roaming the streets, so to discover a purpose-built play area shows that there was an official awareness of the need for better facilities.
One of the great successes of Liverpool’s renaissance has been Otterspool Promenade. For much of the time I have been in Liverpool (since 1970), it has been neglected and uninspiring. Most cities would give a fortune for such a dramatic riverside site: I doubt Manchester would have allowed such an asset to be starved of investment. So it is great to see the recent changes – the adventure site with its impressive café, the new railings, the revived Garden Festival Gardens and the cycle hire. Much more needs to be done – I would love to see a linear sculpture park and the dreadful Britannia Inn replaced (it was only meant to last for duration of the Garden Festival in 1984 and is well beyond it lifespan) – but the crowds are coming back and that can only be good.
Originally, the shoreline was used by fishermen and the hand-coloured photograph shows the last relic of that cottage industry. Local historian, Mike Royden has compiled a fascinating history of Otterspool: http://www.roydenhistory.co.uk/mrlhp/local/otterspool/otters.htm in which he writes:
The cottage had been home to generations of fishermen who maintained their occupation despite many attempts to dislodge them. In the second half of the 19th century several such attempts were made by the Cheshire Lines Committee who had purchased the adjoining land, and in 1898 the Corporation tried to levy rates on the occupant, Mr.Samuel Kennerley. Fortunately for Mr. Kennerley, a judicial decision was made in his favour, which ruled that in the eyes of the law he ranked as a squatter. At the turn of the century, however, the day’s of the fisherman were over. Kennerley complained; “Twenty years ago, there was plenty of fish to be got on the Mersey waters. At this spot, salmon, codlings, whiting, fluke sole and shrimps (none better) – but now…”, he added with a sigh, “…the dirty water has driven them away. Garston Docks spoiled the fishery, and the Manchester Canal has given them the finishing touch”.
After his death in 1927, the cottage was occupied by his son- in-law, who no longer protected by squatter’s rights, was evicted in 1933. The Corporation, desperate to proceed with a new waterfront development, offered him employment and accommodation to encourage his departure. The cottage was swiftly demolished and the last tangible reminder of the Mersey fisheries was swept away.
Sefton Park c1900
Café, Sefton Park, c1900
First of all, my apologies for not having updated my blog before Christmas. I am in time to wish all those who have taken time to read it the very best for 2015. It has been very heartening to generate such a good response to my posts and I can assure everyone that there is plenty more to come – starting with these two photos of Sefton Park from over a century ago. The café must be the earliest version – I presume it was on the same site as the current one.
One of my hopes for 2015 is that the Mayor sees sense and abandons his plans to build on Sefton Meadows. It is a dreadfully short-sighted proposal which will destroy the integrity of the park. There is no shortage of brownfield land throughout the city and using up green belt is not the answer.
I appreciate the City Council has to make tough decisions but not all work to the long-term benefit of Liverpool. One classic example was the decision to rebuild the St John’s Market area – for a new St John’s Market and a ridiculously over-ambitious civic centre. The destruction of a largely Georgian and early Victorian network of narrow streets and interesting squares removed in one blow the heart of the city. Below are two reminders of what was lost.
Great Charlotte Street c1960
Looking down Great Charlotte Street, the sandstone building on the right is the Fish Market, designed by John Foster as an adjunct to the main St John’s Market of 1822. Beyond, to the left of the Royal Court, is the Stork Hotel in Queen Square. In the foreground, I was unaware that Liverpool had a branch of Kendall’s – I had assumed that it was a Manchester shop only.
Roe Street c1960
This is a view of the back of St John’s Market. Picton made an interesting observation in his fascinating account of Liverpool’s history and architecture (published in 1873): To architectural merit it can hardly lay claim. The heavy carpentry of the roof and its division into numerous spans, give an air of lowness, almost of gloom. Allowance must be made for the period of its erection. As yet railway stations with vast iron roofs and enormous spans were things undreamt of. The comparison between the roofs of St John’s Market and Lime Street Station will show what a vast stride has been taken in five and forty years.
Fast foward the best part of a century and it would be hard to agree that vast strides were made in removing the whole area.
Liverpool Co-operative Society
Smithdown Road/Dacre Street
Smithdown Road is one of the most travelled roads in Liverpool. For generations of students, it was their familiar landscape on the way to and from the halls of residence in Mossley Hill. For most of us who live in the south end, it is a journey with its irregular points of interest: the Brookhouse pub, Toxteth Park Cemetery, and the long-disused Martins Bank at the junction with Tunnel Road and Lodge Lane. In 1966, it was still a functioning bank but by 1976, it was locked-up and up for sale. Just below it was a Liverpool Co-operative Society shop (also functioning in 1966) and, further down, Dacre Street and an already decaying row of shops.
Fortunately, the bank has survived but the rest of the road has been almost totally cleared to make way for what will be a new school for Archbishop Blanche. I had got quite used to the cleared site with the impressive St Dunstan’s Church highlighted against the cleared terraced streets. Another part of Liverpool has changed forever. I doubt too many people will mourn the loss of a few decayed terraces – they looked beyond salvation – and the school will no doubt become another familiar landmark (although to far fewer students once they have decamped to the city centre).
Lock-ups, Tunnel Road
St Catherine’s Church
Former Tunnel Cinema
Fruit and Vegetable Depot
Driving along Tunnel Road last week, I was shocked to see the row of brick lock-ups which lined the east side of the road had been demolished, revealing a large area of railway land (presumably ready for a housing development). I do not know their history but have always assumed they must have been part of the original Edge Hill Station – the oldest working railway station in the world. They had been boarded up for as long as I can remember but they did represent a link to an older Liverpool and I could not allow their passing to go unnoticed.
Tunnel Road has undergone a transformation since the four photographs above were taken in 1973. Each photograph shows a piece of social and economic history of a once vibrant area. St Catherine’s church was a plain church, very much a working class place of worship. It was decommissioned in 1973 and survived for well over a decade before demolition. The cinema too has gone, although it had a final throw of the dice as a bingo hall. The elaborate gates of the Fruit and Vegetable Depot survived long after the Depot had ceased to operate. Again, I am do not know its history but presumably it was the servicing point for Queen Square and the central Liverpool markets in their heyday.
None of the buildings were of any architectural importance and their demise was almost inevitable, remnants of a Liverpool that has largely vanished. The 1970s was an immense period of change as the city contracted and was being re-shaped to accommodate a future (largely unsuccessful) vision of the future.
Photos courtesy of Getty Images
It was only a month ago, I posted a set of photos by the master of photojournalism Thurston Hopkins. Sadly, within days, he passed away at the grand age of 101. I was privileged to have had a correspondence with him arising out of my book Picture Post on Liverpool, in which I included his magnificent series on the Liverpool slums. The assignment was never published; Picture Post proprietor, Edward Hulton, gave way to pressure from Liverpool City Council who were worried that the planned feature would paint them in a bad light. Ironically, the sequence won the following year’s coveted Encyclopaedia Britannica prize. The review in the British Journal of Photography (an august publication that has its roots in the original journal of Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association in the mid-nineteenth century). The reviewer wrote:
‘Here we have a set of 22 pictures of commonplace scenes; scenes which might possibly – in fact almost surely – be duplicated in a number of our great cities. They are pictures of everyday life; of men, women and children fighting for existence, struggling to maintain the comforts of home life and striving to retain some of the dignity of humankind under conditions which are appalling and which cannot be realised by many million whose lot has been cast in happier surroundings.
Thurston Hopkins has lifted a stone in our vaunted Welfare State and shown with unemotional clarity some of the things which many people would prefer not to see or know about. Here is superb photography, stark in its realism; an example of photographic journalism at its best. The pictures tell their own story, carrying their own message, and while being a damning indictment of the City Fathers of Liverpool are perfect examples of how it is possible to weld the trained eye of the cameraman to modern photographic technique in order that a civic conscience might be aroused. This sequence is the high spot of the 1957 Encyclopaedia Britannica exhibition, and should be seen and carefully studied by all photographers, whether amateur of professional.’
Over half a century later, how shall we judge the Welfare State? We need a Thurston Hopkins of today to stir the conscience of the nation. There is a willing publisher here.
Thurston Hopkins 1913-2014 RIP