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
This is my last visit to the 1890s for a time. It was an important decade architecturally, starting with the completion of the University’s Victoria Building and the Royal Hospital (both by that master of red brick, Alfred Waterhouse) and ending with work commencing on the Royal Insurance Building and the Philharmonic Hotel. In between, Liverpool Overhead Railway, the White Star Building, the Palm House and Ullet Road Unitarian Church were completed – along with Kensington and Everton Libraries.
Impressively, only Liverpool Overhead Railway is no longer with us – a sad loss and preventable, as was the case of the Custom House. Along with the Sailors’ Home, these are Liverpool’s greatest post-War architectural losses. The Custom House was firebombed but its structure remained intact. There was a public campaign to save it – perhaps lacking the intensity of that to save the Overhead Railway, which was raised in Parliament – but after years of war, the Council’s intent to restructure the city won its way. Very sad looking at the photograph. Imagine had they all survived what an amazing collection of buildings Liverpool would have had with a bit of foresight.
Church Street c1895
Bottom of Water Street c1895
The dates are approximate but reasonably accurate. Within a few years, there would be changes to both these views. The photograph of Water Street shows Picton’s Tower Building (with the original street name Prison Weint on its wall as a reminder of its predecessor’s original function). By the turn of the century, the classical pile had been replaced by the current Tower Building with its white glazed facade (to cope with the soot-laden air). On the other corner, the rather plain block with the street name Back Goree, survived a little longer (until the 1920s) before being replaced by the Bank Of British West Africa, a rather fine Greek Revival building by Arnold Thornely, architect of the even more impressive Cunard Building.
Church Street was similarly ‘tweaked’ over the next decade. The semi-circular building on the corner of Whitechapel was pulled down and replaced by the Edwardian baroque of Bunney’s Corner (which lasted a mere fifty years before being replaced by Greenwoods, which in turn lasted fifty years before suffering a similar fate – a theme seems to be developing here). The building in the far distance caught my eye. The tower by the side of Central Station is part of the first Lewis’s store on Ranelagh Street. That was replaced by a second store in 1910 – which was bombed and largely destroyed in 1941 and replaced by the current building which is being renovated as a multi-functional building.
Change in Liverpool is usually quite subtle, like this. A building goes and is replaced by another – hopefully a better building. Over a few decades, a new vista emerges. In the case of Water Street, the other two big gains were India Buildings and Martin’s Bank – two Art Deco masterpieces that have definitely enhanced the city’s architectural stock.
Church Street suffered serious war damage, the buildings on the right at the junction of Lord Street and Paradise Street were destroyed in the War along with Russell’s Building (the corner of which can be seen on the right). The building on the corner of Church Street is Seel’s Building of 1872, a rare foray into commercial architecture by Edward Welby Pugin, best known for his churches. It is rather an odd building for Liverpool – where such stonework stands in complete contrast to all its neighbours. I like its quirkiness but perhaps he should have stuck with religion.
Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to put names to photographs. When I started my blog, I aimed to bring unseen images to greater attention in the hope that readers would add their opinions and information. Photography has a unique place in our appreciation and understanding of the past but only too often, the people in the photographs remain anonymous and one can only guess at their lives.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from Mary Mclean, delighted to have found the picture of her (above) used on the cover of my book Picture Post on Liverpool. It was the first time she had seen the photograph, which was taken by Thurston Hopkins in 1956 as part of his unpublished assignment on the Liverpool slums. Mary is now 62 and a grandmother but that is all the information she gave. My attempts to contact her failed, as her emails bounced back as undelivered. So I know little more than her name and age and that she married and had children (and that the photographs were taken in the vicinity of Scotland Road).
Thurston Hopkins is still alive (now 101) and living in Susses with his wife, Grace Robertson, who was also a Picture Post photographer and daughter of the broadcaster Fyfe Robertson (who you will have to be in your 50s at least to remember). It was Fyfe Robertson who accompanied Thurston on their controversial story about slum living which Edward Hulton, proprietor of Picture Post, refused to publish after pressure from Liverpool Council (who thought the article would be a slur on the city).
Hopefully Mary Mclean will discover this blog (she has only seen the book) and reply with more information about where the photograph was taken and about her subsequent life. In the meantime, here are two more photographs from the same session that have remained unpublished until now.
St Nicholas’s Parade, 1895
Tower Building and Liverpool Overhead Railway, 1895
John Massey corrected me on my last blog. I mentioned in my text that the occasion (on St George’s Plateau) worried me. The two key concerns were that if it was the visit by Queen Victoria, there was an absence of banners and that the Sessions House had been completed in 1884 (the photograph shows an unfinished facade). John rightly pointed out that the visit was illustrated in the Illustrated London News with a large engraving which clearly showed lavish decoration and a completed Sessions House. What is more, the visit was in pouring rain – not the sunshine shown in my picture. So that raises two points: the photograph must be from 1883/84 and there is no immediate explanation for what was a considerable gathering. Any suggestions?
Today’s pictures are far easier to date. The Overhead Railway opened in 1893 and St George’s Church (the spire on the right) was demolished in 1899, having closed two years earlier. That gives a six year window but as the photograph has 1895 pencilled in, I will settle for that date.
Most commercial photographs of Liverpool of that time cover the same subject matter: St George’s Hall, the Pier Head area, Church Street/Lord Street. Perhaps this is not surprising, after all they were in business to make money. In the 1980s and 90s, I produced dozens of different postcards of the city. I started off trying to be adventurous, with less well-known locations but the sales figures quickly taught me that visitors would only buy a small number of cards and what they wanted was the obvious: the waterfront, two Cathedrals, Albert Dock. Nothing really changes – the Victorians realised it and just aimed to take a better view than their competitors. My interest in such images is partly on the buildings but very much on the level of street animation. Without the horses and carts and other activity, the photographs would have far less appeal.
Visit of Queen Victoria 1886
Detail of main photograph
St George’s Plateau has been a meeting place since its early days. Over the years, trade unions, suffragettes, May Horse parades, Orange Lodge marches amongst many groups have made it their meeting place. In the 1960s, there was that famous photograph of dozens of Merseybeat groups on its step. More recently, it has witnessed football triumphs, French giants and the opening ceremony for 2008 Capital of Culture with Ringo Starr drumming on the roof of St George’s Hall.
Back in the nineteenth century such big events were somewhat scarcer. At first this photograph bothered me. In the background, the Sessions House is clearly in the process of being completed – its facade is bare and the winch above the building suggests work is in progress (the church behind is Christ Church in Hunter Street – demolished in the 1920s).
According to my references, the Session House was completed in 1884 but I am guessing the final additions to the facade must have over-run the official opening on August 4 because the great gathering on the Plateau can only have been for the visit of Queen Victoria in May 1886. The two day Royal Visit culminated in a drive from the riverfront along Lord Street, Church Street, along Lime Street and up London Road to Newsham House. I doubt any other event would have drawn such a crowd. The detail shows every vantage point being taken as the crowd tried to get a rare sight of the Queen at a time when the British Empire was the dominant force in the world.
The terrible devastation wreaked on Liverpool by the Luftwaffe in May 1941 was concentrated in a relatively short period. After May, bombing raids reduced significantly as the RAF gained supremacy in the skies. Raids did continue as the photograph taken near to the Royal Court in Roe Street shows. An eye-witness wrote many years later:
For some reason, just before Christmas, they (the writer’s family) all went along with my idea of spending the night in a place of safety. About midnight the shelter was hit and caught fire, and we were shepherded out by the Royal Court Theatre. Outside a fire engine had crashed into a bomb crater, and the whole area was lit with searchlights and chandeliers.
We were shown to different shelters in Elliot Street, Great Charlotte Street, Cases Street and, in my family’s case, to Lewis’s in Ranelagh Street. I later learnt that my sister had been playing the piano throughout the raid – Sonny Durband, Lewis’s resident pianist, had left his sheet music in the Music Department, which at that time was in the shop’s basement.
The last raid took place on 10 January 1942, destroying several houses on Upper Stanhope Street. By a quirk of fate one of the houses destroyed was number 102, which had been the home of Alois Hitler, Jr., half brother of Adolf Hitler and the birthplace of Hitler’s nephew, William Patrick Hitler.
Amene Mir asked recently whether I had any photos of St Michael’s Church in Upper Pitt Street. I am happy to oblige with this view of c1920.
Liverpool suffered serious losses to its architectural heritage during the last war. The Custom House was undoubtedly the single most important loss. The shell remained and it could have been rebuilt, but the City Fathers, in their wisdom, decided it had to go. The future of St Michael’s church on Pitt Street was less in doubt – it was comprehensively damaged in the May blitz of 1941 and finally demolished in 1946. Standing in a square between Kent Street, Upper Pitt Street, Cornwallis Street and Granville Street, it was one of the most elegant churches in Liverpool (and one of the last remaining Georgian churches in the city centre). Closely modelled on St Martin in the Fields in Trafalgar Square, building was commenced in 1816 and completed ten years later. It was replaced by a small, mediocre modern building, its size perhaps in keeping with the shrinking local population.
The whole area around Pitt Street up to Great George’s Square is a disappointment, a hotch-potch of apartment blocks, warehouses and, worst of all, the maisonettes on the east side of Great George’s Square, once reckoned to be the finest of Liverpool’s squares. The Baltic Triangle is showing great signs of improvement; hopefully the same spirit will cross over Park Lane in the near future.