February, 2010 Archives

I used to go to a lot of auctions in the 1970s. It was a great time to buy, Victoriana was out of fashion and the auction houses were full of huge sideboards, mahogany table, wardrobes and other effects that were being cleared out of the mansions as a generation passed away. I was particularly interested in books, which you could buy by the shelf (for less than a ?1 usually). Sadly, to my lasting regret, I wasn’t looking for photographs at that time although, when I did show some interest in the early 1980s, I could still pick up 5 or 6 albums for a few pounds. They were usually full of topographical views, many from around the world, taken by professional photographers to sell to the tourist market. Every now and then, I would pick up a collection with Liverpool interest including a family album, taken in 1910 and 1911, which included these two photographs of a day out at New Brighton. I know my blog is about Liverpool but New Brighton was so much a part of people’s lives that I will make an exception. For many people, it was as near to a holiday that they got and must have been an amazing place on a hot summers day.

When I started this blog, my aim was to illustrate how photography had recorded Liverpool over the past 150 years. Wherever possible, I have been posting previously unseen images that add to the already large number of Liverpool photographs in circulation. My collection is obviously privately owned but I believe there is a responsibility to make it public, rather than hide it away unseen. Our interpretation of history is very much dependent on primary sources of information being made available and photography is an indispensible tool for all local historians.
This is nowhere more evident than in the photographs I have posted today. The desperate poverty shown in the first photograph (taken off Scotland Road by N. Steven in the early 1890s) compares dramatically with the second photograph, taken from one of the Earle family albums, of their relatives, the Swinburnes in about 1870. Admiral Charles Swinburne is photographed with his wife and three daughters, all dressed in their finest outfits – a total contrast to the rags and barefeet of the three girls. As the saying goes … a picture is worth a thousand words.

Which Liverpool-born person had the greatest effect on the world? The Beatles must be candidates, having launched a cultural revolution that still resonates fifty years on. From the nineteenth century, we have William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), four times Prime Minister and champion of Home Rule for Ireland. From the generation before, we have William Roscoe (1753-1831), a self-made banker and anti-slavery campaigner, whose love of the Italian Renaissance and the Medici’s city state of Florence defined the concept of the modern civic role of encouraging the growth of a cultural community in which merchants’ wealth was not an end in itself but the means to enlightenment.
What is remarkable about all of these is that their homes are still part of the city’s fabric. However, one of the most influential of all Liverpudlians is not honoured at all and all traces of his birthplace have long been obliterated.
Robert Morris (1734-1806) was born into poverty in Chorley Court, which was at the foot of Dale Street by the Queensway Tunnel entrance. At the age of 13, he left for America, helping out on his father’s tobacco farm. By the age of 18, he was a banker/shipping merchant in Philadelphia. Rapidly acquiring wealth, he put his weight behind the fight for independence from Britain, effectively bankrolling George Washington’s army. Responsible for establishing the financial and banking systems of the newly independent country, Morris was one of only two people to sign the three significant founding documents of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the U.S. Constitution.
Perhaps because of our ambivalent relationship with the USA, Liverpool failed to recognise the significance of Chorley Court and it was pulled down in the early 1930s to make way for the Blackburn Assurance building (later Stanley Leisure).

In my post of February 9th., I listed some of the fine churches that had disappeared. Many were demolished for housing or other developments but quite a number succumbed to vandalism and fire. Whether the destruction of St Catherine’s Church in Abercromby Square was vandalism or redevelopment is a matter of opinion. The whole integrity of the square was quite incredibly broken up by no less a body than the University of Liverpool in their drive for expansion. Street after street of Georgian housing was removed to allow for their vision of a modern campus and John Foster’s classical church of 1829 unfortunately stood in the way. At least until 1966, when it was reduced to a pile of rubble.

The Church of St Chrysostom might strike a chord with those familiar with Liverpool churches. The church of St John the Divine in Fairfield (its prominent steeple is a landmark as you travel along Edge Lane) was by the same, somewhat eccentric architect, W. Raffles Brown. His rather peculiar take on Gothic was regarded as muddled and inaccurate by The Ecclesiologist but W Herdman, at least, was impressed enough to include it his magnificent volume Modern Liverpool, writing that, ‘when we look back forty or fifty years, and see the enormous cost of such abortions at St Mark’s, St Mary’s, Edge Hill, St Anne’s and others and compare the results with the neat elegance as the one before us at a cost very much less, it must be admitted that some advance has been made in the essentials of church architecture.’ A familiar story of changing tastes over a couple of generations. Built in 1853, St Chrysostom, which stood in Audley Street, Everton, was destroyed by fire in 1972.

In 1973, I spent the summer working in a warehouse in Manesty’s Lane, off Hanover Street. I was fortunate to grab a last view of the interior of the Sailors’ Home (see earlier post). It was a sad sight; abandoned and neglected, waiting for demolition. The building had been deemed a serious risk under the strict fire regulations, which insisted on a thirty minute fire safety limit between floors of a building. This was understandable after the horrendous fire at Henderson’s store in 1960 in nearby Church Street, in which eleven people lost their lives. Fire regulations were tightened up but the Sailors’ Home was an open void and any attempt to fire-proof it would have posed an intolerable financial burden for a building that no longer served its original function. At the same time, the plot was sold in anticipation of a government department relocating to Liverpool. That did not materialise but demolition had already been completed and the end result was a hole in the ground for the next thirty years. Here, for the record, are two interior photographs of what was lost.

Last week I mentioned that, back in 1976, I had made a 16mm film of the Old Swan Community Festival (Super Swan). I am still trying to track down a copy so that it can be shown again. The British Film Institute apparently have a copy in their archives, so hopefully a dvd can be made to remind the community of what turned out to be a one-off festival.
I decided to look through my photographs – and I found a sheet of transparencies I had taken while filming was going on. It is a bit of a shock to think that almost all the kids photographed will now be in their forties and with families of their own. History is not just the big events but the everyday happenings – that take greater meaning as the years roll on.

Watching Michael Portillo’s programme Great British Railway Journeys, it struck me how often it is outsiders who make the most of Liverpool’s heritage. In this instance, Portillo was enthusing about the unique place Lime Street Station held in the history of the railway. His first impression – the magnificent canyon cut out of rock as you approach the station – was exactly the same as mine on my first visit to Liverpool in 1965. He marvelled at the station – but was somewhat bemused at the statues of Ken Dodd and Bessie Braddock. I too am puzzled. With no disrespect to either local personality, why isn’t British Rail shouting from the rooftops that this is where the greatest transport revolution in history started. Thousands of strangers arrive at Lime Street each year – and most will not have a clue who Ken Dodd or Bessie Braddock are – but they would certainly appreciate the fact that they are standing in one of the oldest working railway stations in the world (I suppose Crown Street comes first). So why not something eye-catching to celebrate our great claim to fame instead of a couple of, for me, dull statues that have little to do with the great age of steam that transformed the world.

In starting this thread about Lost Liverpool, I was concerned with those buildings that would have enhanced today’s city had they survived. The underlying criterion is that of architectural merit but that would probably not apply to Liverpool Overhead Railway, which was not a particularly beautiful structure. In the case of other inclusions, such as the Old Hutt, the historical context is of greater importance – offering clues as to pre-Industrial Revolution Liverpool. One of the other areas worth adding to the list is the building’s significance within the context of social/public health reform – and here Liverpool was the centre of many pioneering ideas.

15 Upper Frederick Street Wash-House

One hundred and fifty years after her death, Kitty Wilkinson is to be honoured with a statue in St George’s Hall. Born in Derry, in 1785, Kitty courageously took in the washing for over 85 families each week during the cholera epidemic of 1832 in an effort to stop the contagion spreading. Her persistent petitioning for better facilties led to the first public wash-house being opened in Upper Frederick Street in 1842 (and later rebuilt in 1853). The idea took hold and further wash-houses were built in Liverpool and elsewhere. The wash-house was still operating up to 1925 but was demolished shortly afterwards. Modern housing now stands on its site.

16 The last court

Probably my most controversial selection – but what a tragedy that no courts survive. The last one disappeared in late-1960s and with it a huge piece of Liverpool’s history. (The photograph is certainly one of the last to be inhabited). This was how hundreds of thousands lived for much of Liverpool’s post-1800 history. The politicians were in such haste to remove these ‘blots’ on the conscience of a modern city (albeit to create the disasters of new towns and high rise living) that they did not stop to think of the educational potential of keeping an example for future generations. Today we are building a multi-million pound Museum of Liverpool – but we could have had a museum like Ironbridge or Beamish that told a far more meaningful story (and at a fraction of the cost). I suppose hindsight is easy – but these humble buildings were as much a part of Liverpool’s history as any of the churches or commercial buildings I have posted.

The rapid expansion of Liverpool in the late 18th and early 19th century saw the wealthier merchants and professionals move eastwards from the city centre, taking possession of the new housing being built around Rodney Street. Naturally, where there were people, there were churches and in a very small area (probably little more than a square kilometre) the different denominations built their places of worship: St Andrew’s on Rodney Street, the Church for the Blind and St Philip’s on Hardman Street, St Catharine (Abercromby Square) and St Mark’s on Duke Street to name but five. Of these, only St Andrew’s survives, although in a desperate state. Two other churches are featured here, both photographed in 1875:

Myrtle Street Baptist Church

The church stood on the corner of Hope Street and Myrtle Street, on a corner site which is now a car park (facing the Philharmonic pub). A Nonconformist church, it had as its preacher Hugh Stowell Brown, who was so popular that the church had to be expanded to seat his growing congregation (Howell Brown conducted the funeral of John Hulley – see earlier post re. Liverpool Olympics). The church itself was greatly admired although James Picton was a bit sniffy about its style of architecture: ‘not up to the demands of the age in ecclesiastical structures.’ Design by WH Gee and opened in 1844. It did not see its centenary and was demolished just before the Second World War. The stone clad building to the right has recently been demolished.

Catholic Apostolic Church, Catharine Street

Many people reading this blog will have seen the shell of this church, which was finally pulled down in the mid-1990s and replaced by a block of flats. It stood on the corner of Catharine Street and Canning Street and was a building that stood out from its brick built neighbours (what I presume was the prebytery still survives and looks somewhat out of place clad in rather unsympathic stone). Picton again was critical of the church’s external dimensions but the church had a fine interior by all accounts.

New Brighton 1889

Sefton Park 1889

While sorting out my lantern slides for further pictures of the Dingle to follow on from yesterday’s post, I noticed that the Sefton Park slide was dated February 11th, 1889. A few days too late for its anniversary, perhaps, but worth remembering that they had hard winters back then (and coped with them a lot better). The two photographs were both taken by N. Stephen, who also photographed the children carrying beer mugs in an earlier post. I have had difficulty pinpointing any real details about Stephen. The only match in Gore’s Directory (1910) is of a Nathan Stephen of 22 Russian Drive, Stoneycroft. Stephen is listed as a County Court officer, so was presumably relatively well-paid. Hand-held cameras had just been introduced in the late 1880s, so Stephen was an early proponent. The advent of hand-held cameras and roll film were to democratise photography. Even so, it still wasn’t a cheap hobby and it would take a further ten years or more before it became a truly mass medium.
If anyone has more information on Stephen, I would be grateful. It is good to give credit when due, however belatedly.