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).


Looking NW from Tunnel Road, 1970

First of all, my apologies for the long delay in posting a new blog. Unfortunately I had computer problems which have necessitated upgrading my system. All is well now and normal service is resumed.

I was interested to see that the Liverpool Echo has revived its Stop the Rot campaign. It is important that the city’s heritage is put under the spotlight. Too much has been lost unnecessarily and highlighting why buildings are important is essential to avoid past mistakes being repeated. As you might guess from previous posts, I am somewhat cynical about how far developers and public authorities are prepared to go once money is involved (the developers want to make it and the public authorities don’t want to spend it). That said, there are some ground for optimism. I have been helping with a publication about the Produce Exchange in Victoria Street – a building with a fine interior which is about to be converted into luxury apartments which will emphasise the original Edwardian details.

Other ground for optimism are the conversions of the Royal Insurance Building on North John Street, the ex-Municipal Annexe on Dale Street and the White Star Building on James Street into luxury hotels (with considerable respect for original features). This is all very promising, as are the pending plans for the Wellington Rooms (Irish Centre) on Mount Pleasant and the Welsh Presbyterian church on Princes Avenue. Not all buildings are safe but it is encouraging that in many cases, developers can see commercial benefits in not knocking down buildings to build the usual bland blocks of flats and offices (although Lime Street proves that they will only go so far).

The photograph shows the kind of ruthless approach that was adopted in the 1960s and 70s as Liverpool struggled to adjust to a falling population and an inherited stock of poor housing. The wholesale clearance of areas is even more shocking as time goes on. St Catherine’s church (More recently demolished) on Tunnel Road stands almost alone in a flattened landscape sandwiched between the two railway cuttings. On the left is newly opened Paddington School and, in mid-distance, the tenement blocks of Myrtle Gardens.

Perhaps there was no other way forward at the time. The problem was that there were no real plans to revive the area (and others like it). A great opportunity was lost to rebuild the city with imaginative and community-orientated housing schemes that might have prevented many of the social issues that we now face. Money again, I suppose. Rather than spend on quality, as was the case in the 1930s when some of the best council housing in Europe was built, everything got done on the cheap – which everyone knows is never a long-term solution.


I love photographs like this one of Lewis’s Soda Fountain. Taken on 30 August 1933 at 9.12 (if the clock is right). Photographs like this tell us so much – the men in charge in their suits, in central position, with a large staff of seventeen young men and women looking, in the main, rather miserable for the photographer. Social photography like this is so often lost when family albums are thrown out. Lewis’s is an important part of Liverpool’s history and images like this, of just one department, show how big an undertaking it was at its height.

It is sad to think that everyone in the photograph has probably long since died. There is a poignant message on the back of the photograph: “To my Darling Mother with best love from your loving daughter”. No doubt she is one of the young girls – maybe the only one smiling on the front row.


90 Duke Street (site of the Royal Mersey Yacht Club) 1975


The Monro (on the opposite corner, 1975

Duke Street in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was one of Liverpool’s finest streets. There are still good examples of its past, although far harder to find than thirty years ago. The buildings on the corner of Suffolk Street are a good example. They had survived until early this year but were unceremoniously pulled down to make way for a new headquarters for ACL.
Some might say that is a positive sign of progress, that the old buildings were a blot on the cityscape with no apparent interest in their salvation. Others, myself included, see their removal as yet another attack on the city’s heritage. Alright, the buildings were no architectural gems, just survivors from the past with their own bit of maritime history. Number 90 was the headquarters of the Royal Mersey Yacht Club, once one of the finest in Britain. It welcomed many an important dignitary (not that that is a reason in itself to save a building). More importantly, it fitted into the historical fabric of the street.

Could it have been saved? Well – it should have been. You only have to cross the street to admire the renovated and successful Monro gastro pub. That could just of easily been lost but someone had the vision to restore it and guarantee its future.

Liverpool’s heritage is threatened by these small, almost imperceptible, losses. The old eighteenth century block on Dale Street, the facade of the Futurist, the stable block at Cain’s Brewery. This is like the bad, old days, when any development was preferable to no development. There is a car park opposite The Monro, where an ugly 1960s block once stood. Wouldn’t a better solution have been for ACL to have built their block there?


The Strand c1865


The Great Dry Dock, 1890

Liverpool 800, that fine book published to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Liverpool’s first charter, describes the area around the Custom House as Sailor Town. Maybe it is not a commonly used expression but it is entirely appropriate, for this small area was the centre of Liverpool’s shipping trade. Sadly, although remnants of The Strand survived into the mid-1970s, there is little left to excite the keen historian wishing to make sense of the Port’s history. Only the Baltic Fleet survives of the many public houses that would have been thronged with visiting sailors. Heap Mill is a rare warehouse survivor in an area in which the predominate building was the tall, filing cabinet structures that lined every street.

The top photograph is an early view, with the Custom House’s impressive classical facade dominating the street. The position of the dome indicates what a huge building it was (although it apparently had a rather dingy and depressing interior). Its position is approximately where the Hilton Hotel now stands, facing the Albert Dock.

The second view shows the facade of the Custom House from the Albert Dock. The repair of the old wooden ships must have been coming to an end. There are two ships in the dry dock, with a small gathering of bystanders unknowingly watching a dying trade in ship maintenance.


First of all, my apologies for the break in service. I am back refreshed and with a whole new batch of images to share.

Today’s photograph is of the original Adelphi Hotel, one of the great hotels of the Victorian era, My reason for posting it is that plans for the regeneration of Lime Street are moving a step nearer after the City Council approved the developer’s scheme this week. The news has hardly met with great rejoicing, in spite of the universal acceptance that something needs to be done to upgrade the street. As I have mentioned before, the new scheme removes most of the historic fabric, including early nineteenth century buildings as well as the important Futurist cinema facade (I accept that the actual body of the cinema is beyond salvation).

SAVEBritain’s heritage are now involved but whether the scheme is referred back in now up to the Communities and Local Government minister. I am not holding my breath.

Of course it is wrong to object to development purely for the sake of it. The Adelphi Hotel pictured above was unceremoniously demolished and replaced by the current hotel just before the First World War. But what a replacement! Under any criteria, the new hotel is an upgrade and a very welcome addition to the streetscape. I have mentioned Commutation Row before, where an ecletic row of buildings was replaced by a bland office block. The proposed Lime Street scheme seems little better – an unexceptional and unexciting block that could find its equal in any of a dozen cities. Liverpool deserves better.

On a final note, I am puzzled as to why the facade of the Futurist cannot be saved. Unless the brickwork is damaged beyond repair, why cannot it be dismantled and rebuilt as part of the new scheme. After all, this is the twenty-first century!


The Ulster Queen, Woodstock, East Belfast.

Liverpool’s history is littered with forgotten and untold stories. I have eluded to some of these in past posts but today’s blog is one I only became aware of through my work with Stuart Borthwick.

We have started a Kickstarter project to raise funding for his brilliant book about the political wall murals of Northern Ireland – of which more later. The photograph and text below are from the his book The Writing on the Wall:

Liverpool has always been an outpost of Ulster loyalism, with a number of active Orange Order and independent loyal lodges. On 12 August 1971, three days after the introduction of internment, a report in the Liverpool Echo informed readers that supplies of food were being stored locally in preparation for “refugees from Ulster”. Although that day’s newspaper informed readers that no Northern Irish citizens had arrived on that date, a report the next day informed readers that a group of around 90 “Protestant women and children” from Springmartin in West Belfast had arrived on the Ulster Queen ferry at 6.30am, and were welcomed by members of the Liverpool Grand Lodges. The following day, a further 39 children and eighteen adults arrived from Springmartin and the Shankill on the Ulster Prince ferry “to escape sniper fire and threats of violence” (Liverpool Echo). By 17 August, the Echo put the number of evacuees at 35 – a figure later increased to 500 in a parliamentary debate a month later.

The dramatic mural shows the close connection between Northern Ireland and Liverpool and is just one of 150 examples illustrated in The Writing on the Wall. Stuart Borthwick’s book is the first major publication that looks at their context as a chronology of Northern Ireland’s troubled history as well as cultural expression of international importance and unique to the country. Please help fund the project if you are interested (or just to look at further images). The project is live on Kickstarter and all support is greatly appreciated.


Victoria Street from North John Street


Victoria Street at Temple Court


Victoria Street by Crosshall Street

It was heartening to read that the long-disused Produce Exchange on Victoria Street is about to be renovated and converted into luxury apartments. It is a few years since I last poked my head around the, by chance, open door to the auction room – only to withdraw sharply as a couple of rats darted across the floor in front of me. There was talk at the time of other uses but they came to nothing. Hopefully, this new scheme will bring back to life one of the city’s lesser known gems.
Victoria Street is one of Liverpool’s finest streets, yet rarely gets mentioned. It is also one of the city’s newest (if you can call mid-nineteenth century recent) main thoroughfares. It was cut through a densely populated area in 1867/8 to improve the flow of traffic from Castle Street. The map below shows the area in 1850 (the line of Victoria Street continued that of Temple Court before the latter turned at a right angle into Temple Place).


Living in that neighbourhood must have been unpleasant to put it mildly. There is a large iron foundry off Cumberland Street next to a soapery. Elsewhere are breweries, a tobacco factory and an incredibly high density of courts. Picton claimed that some of the last remnants of Crosse Hall could be found amongst the chaos of housing and industry before Victoria Street was cut through.

The final photograph show a section of street that is miraculously unchanged. In fact, I spend four years in Carlisle Building, seen on the left with the gargoyles. The terracotta faced building has an impressive frontage yet is basically a warehouse block. How long before it too becomes luxury apartments?

Victoria Street 1930s


I don’t buy many photographs these days. Occasionally the odd item catches my eye but I have restricted myself to only exceptional images (usually nineteenth century) that add to my collection rather than duplicate what I already have. That said, I couldn’t help buying a lantern slide I spotted on Ebay a few weeks ago. The subject matter was familiar and not particularly outstanding but what interested me was the name in the corner of the slide: C Inston.

Charles Frederick Inston was one of Liverpool’s foremost photographers at the turn of the nineteenth century. Highly respected throughout amateur photographic circles for his street life and river photographs, he was the President of Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association (LAPA) as well as a valued committee member of the Royal Photographic Society. In 1979, I curated an exhibition of his work at Open Eye Gallery based on copies of a set of lantern slides belonging to LAPA. Thirty years later, in 2009, I published a book of his work: Liverpool Characters and Streets (sadly no longer in print).

Inston was an interesting man. Born in Birmingham in 1855 to a carpenter, he served an apprenticeship as a printer before, at the age of 24, trading in his own name as a lithographic and general printer at 72 South Castle Street (later moving to 25 South John Street – now absorbed into Liverpool One shopping precinct). He lived initially in Chapel Road in Anfield before moving to 15 Belmont Drive (off West Derby Road – the house still stands although now rather shabby and in multi-occupancy). He died at the age of 61 after a long illness and the best information about him can be found in the fulsome obituaries in the photographic press. The British Journal of Photography wrote: Inston, the man of character and organisation, existed side by side with Inston the technician in pictorial photography and the personal characteristics of the man were marked equally in both fields of his activities. He was no poseur. He loved artistic work for its own sake … His own pictorial work was characterised by a frankness and vigour …

The Amateur Photographer concurred adding … he was a keen pictorial photographer and lecturer, a leading exhibitor and judge and a clever worker in the bromide, platinum and bromoil processes and also one of the earliest and best demonstrators of the pictorial possibilities of the hand held camera.

The lantern slide I have purchased is not a great Inston – but it is my only photograph of one of Liverpool’s most important photographers. The sad truth is that little of his work is left. Liverpool Record Office has an album of contact prints (of variable quality) and the Royal Photographic Society has a handful of his exhibition prints of seascapes. These apart, the only other substantial body of work is the set of lantern slides I copies back in 1979. They were in the possession of LAPA’s archivist, Joe Williams, who died in the 1980s. LAPA merged with South Liverpool Photographic Society, so I hope the slides are safe – they are an important record of Liverpool and an important part of the city’s photographic history.


St Martin’s Cottages, 1954


St Martin’s Cottages, 1973

Housing is once again top of the political agenda (or near to the top if one excludes the European referendum, immigration and austerity measures) and so it should be. The population projections for Britain should be giving politicians nightmares – particularly in overheated London (where there could be a 40,000 shortage of school places within the decade). Too few new houses have been built and the cost of those available is out of the reach of most young people.
Of course, as with most things, nothing is new. Liverpool in the mid-nineteenth century faced its own population explosion (mainly from Ireland) and the result was chronic overcrowding in slum housing (with thousands crammed into insanitary cellars). Disease was rife but the laissez-faire politics of the time made it impossible for local authorities to spend ratepayers money on practical solutions. That was until the Liverpool Sanitary Amendment Act of 1864 gave the Council special powers.
The first project was St Martin’s Cottages, a development of 124 dwellings opened in 1869. This was one, if not the first, municipal ventures of its kind. Hardly an earth-shattering initiative but a significant piece of history (the next Liverpool involvement was 16 years later in 1885 with Victoria Square – see my post of 13 August 2010 – which added a further 282 dwellings. In fact, by 1900, all the Council initiatives only added about 700 new dwellings).
The legacy of bad housing still persists. I am astonished by how generation after generation has had to endure substandard conditions at a time when Britain has generated so much wealth. St Martin’s Cottages were, in fact, condemned before the War but I can remember visiting an old man there in the mid-1970s, shortly before they were demolished in 1977.
My two pictures throw up a question. The 1954 block has a nameplate identifying the building as St Martin’s Cottages but the building is clearly only three storeys. To my knowledge the only blocks built were four storeys (bottom photograph). The building style is clearly the same but where was this smaller block? Can anyone throw any light on this?
Finally, I will be at the Look 15 Photobook fair at the Bluecoat Art Centre this Sunday (31st). If you are interested in photography, there are some interesting publishers attending and you can also catch Tricia Porter’s exhibition of her Liverpool 8 photographs.