March, 2010 Archives

I must admit I do not have much background on Bunneys store. It had long gone by the time I arrived in Liverpool. Henry Greenwood, the outfitters, apparently bought the site (if not the business) in the late 1950s. Their new store was opened on the site in 1958 – so the photograph was taken some time before that. Bunneys building was slightly eccentric – a bit of Edwardian baroque in the high street. The 1950s building that replaced it is one of our better post-War buildings, although I imagine most readers will feel more strongly about the more characterful original.
As a publisher, I am surprised that there is so little written about shops, considering how much a part of lives they are and have been. (Although the same could be said about schools – where is the definitive tome about Liverpool schools?). Anyone up for the challenge?

Reading through my posts, I feel the need to redress some of the criticism I have thrown at the politicians and planners who contributed to the relandscaping of Liverpool. As today’s photograph of Rice Lane shows, much of our ‘heritage’ had deteriorated to a state where demolition was the most effective response. Rice Lane was just one of hundreds of streets which had been ‘thrown up’ in the nineteenth century by jerrybuilders catering for the explosion in population. Without maintenance, most houses will fall apart after fifty years – and Liverpool had too many for a city which lost in the region of 300,000 people beween 1951 and 1981.
The image of Rice Lane is particularly bleak. In the background is the tower of Walton church, but otherwise, there is little to raise the spirits (although I do rather like the street light with its elegant curves).

In the forty years I have lived in Liverpool, the city has undergone remarkable changes. Of course, if you take any forty year span in its history, change has taken place. The town of 1840 was substantially larger than that of 1800, and over the following forty years there were even more significant changes. What was perhaps remarkable about the greater part of my forty years here was the shrinking – rather than expansion – of Liverpool as it struggled to tackle inner-city blight and a rapidly declining population.
I particularly noticed the piecemeal reduction in the old warehouses that once lined the streets around the city centre. One by one they were demolished, leaving their surviving neighbours sticking out like the odd tooth. This attack on our heritage by stealth – removing less important buildings in architectural terms but important as a group within an urban landscape until there is no longer any cohesion – had already diminished the Georgian stock (although whole terraces were still disappearing well into the 1980s).
Islington is a case in point. I can remember the street still had some shape and character when I arrived – but bit by bit it was pulled down for road improvements and other developments. Today’s photograph, taken of the corner of Christian Street and Islington (showing the Wellington pub) shows something of what was lost.

When people talk about ‘lost’ Liverpool, it is individual buildings that usually come to mind – such as the Custom House or Sailors’ Home. Their loss is relatively easy to assess in terms of their architectural and historical merits. The Theatre Royal in my last post is one such building but it also illustrates precisely what was possibly an even greater tragedy – the destruction of the mainly Georgian context in which it was a key part. The whole area around St John’s Market, through Williamson Square and across to Queen Square remarkably survived serious war damage. Here were dozens of small businesses, pubs and shops – with very active markets spilling out into the surrounding streets. Their loss – for a soulless 1960s shopping mall – ripped out the character of an area that, had it survived could have been a Covent Garden of the North.
This photograph, taken on the corner of St John’s Lane and Roe Street, gives a small hint of some of the buildings lined up for demolition. (Possibly not the most dramatic photograph but one that has not been published before).

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My photographs?of the interior of the Sailors’ Home brought a great response – it would appear that they are the only colour images that anyone has seen.? I used to have passionate discussions (in the past rather than now) with photographers who believed that black and white brought out the true ‘sense’ of a place and that colour was a distraction. I was never of that school of thought although I could always appreciate the graphic qualities of a good monochrome image (I could never see Frederick Evan’s famous photograph of the ‘sea of steps’ in Wells Cathedral working as well in colour for example).

That said, today’s photograph is also a rarity. One of the last taken of John Foster’s Theatre Royal in Williamson Square before it was demolished in 1970. By that time, it was owned by the Union Cold Storage Company (a Vestey company – see the post regarding cattle below) who used it to store meat to service St John’s Market. The theatre opened in 1803 and staged both plays and opera. For years it held a monopoly in Liverpool, until a government act of 1843 introduced competition. In the face of new theatres opening (including the Star – now the Playhouse – across the square), the Theatre Royal went into decline and by 1890 it was acquired for use as a cold store.

I rank the loss of the theatre amongst Liverpool’s most preventable. Georgian theatres are extremely rare – as are surviving John Foster buildings.?The Council announced?back in 2008 that Williamson Square was a ‘world-class square’? following its pointless refurbishment. With a ‘tin-roofed’ shopping block that you can see in any run-down city centre anywhere (in the place where the Theatre Royal once stood) and a insipid open space with a couple of bedraggled market stores, it really makes one wonder whether those responsible had ever been to Rome, Prague, Paris or Barcelona (to name just four places where ‘world-class’ might have some context).

Anyway, I will be at the Local History Show at St George’s Hall this weekend selling a fantastic collection of original maps, photographs and old books on Liverpool (I am thinning out my collection). I look forward to meeting you there.

Liverpool Overhead Railway photographed from Strand Street. The last vestiges of the Goree warehouses can be seen in the centre of the road (the road splits into The Goree, which was between the Pier Head buildings and the Goree warehouses – and The Strand, which was the road to the other side of the warehouses).
The effects or war damage are still very much evident. the White Star building is being restored on the far right and beyond, on The Strand, work is about to commence on the modern offices to replace those destroyed in the Blitz. For the politicians and planners, war damage had opened an opportunity to upgrade worn-out infrastructure with cohesive plans for linked up roads suitable for the growing shift to motor cars and for the zoning of business, retail and industry in specific areas (away from the Victorian laissez-faire approach to development). With hindsight, much of this thinking can be criticised but, at the time, the mood was for regenerating and modernising our towns and cities along American lines, with bright new civic centres, industrial estates, dual carriageways and high rise living.
The fate of the Overhead Railway was slightly more complex. It had been repaired after the war but it faced a total replacement of its tracks because of a design fault in the original structure (the lines had been laid on cast-iron cylinders which had seriously corroded over the sixty years of the railway). With dwindling revenues resulting from the fall-off in demand from shrinking dock activities, the railway company decided it was no longer a commercially feasible prospect and closed it down the year after this photograph was taken.

The sight of sheep and cattle being driven through the streets of Liverpool is unthinkable today but even into the early years of the twentieth century, it was the only way of transporting livestock to the abattoir. Liverpool was a major port for the import of meat – and fortunes were made supplying the needs of the exploding urban populations. Two Liverpool brothers, in particular, made their mark. The Vestey family had been local butchers for several generations but William and Edmund were to transform the business by taking advantage of Liverpool’s links with South America. Buying land and ranches in Brazil, Uraguay and Argentina, they began supplying meat in wholesale quantities. Using their wealth to start their own Blue Star shipping line, they were the first company to use refrigeration to transport meat.
Never far from controversy, they bought their peerage from the Lloyd George government and then fell out spectacularly over demands for exemption from income tax (nothing is new in politics) and moved abroad as tax exiles.
The Vestey company was better known for the Dewhurst chain of butchers – which ceased trading in 1996. An interesting fact I picked up in researching this piece is that Dewhurst’s were the first butchers to install glass windows in their shops, rather than have open displays. The Vesteys were also responsible for funding the tower of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral (still known as the Vestey Tower).
The livestock in the photographs would have come from fairly local sources – possibly North Wales or Ireland. The top photograph (probably in the early 1890s) shows cattle being driven along the Goree, with Princes Dock in the background. The bottom image is of livestock on Prescot Road on the way to Stanley Abattoir.

The courts and back streets of Liverpool’s slums were private places where few outsiders ventured. In 1856, the journalist Hugh Shimmin railed against ‘the old, dilapidated courthouses, with their fetid air and small squalid rooms’ which ‘still form the only dwellings which are supposed to be within the means of the labouring and casually employed poor … the Liverpool courts present scenes of social degredation and misery which it will be almost hopeless to induce people who have no practical acquaintances with the habits of the people to believe.’
Photographers tended to avoid the slums, probably with good reason. The hand-held camera allowed some anonymity, but most amateurs stuck to the street scenes around Pier Head and St John’s Market. You will not find Ben Jonson Street (rather inappropriately named after the dramatist and poet contemporary of Shakespeare) in Gore’s Directory because it is not listed (along with all the other surrounding courts and backstreets. The population was so numerous and transient that there was little value adding the current occupants to its list). This view of the street (which connected Comus Street and Scotland Road) is particularly interesting in that the raised viewpoint has captured a candid scene that contrasts with the later photographs of the City Engineer’s Department where a plate camera was used at street level. My immediate thought is that the photographer is sitting on the upper deck of an omnibus as it passed along Scotland Road.
The doss-house with its sign ‘good accomodation for travellers’ (sic) reminds me of the ubiquitous sign outside public houses offering good food and fine ales. When did you ever see a sign offering bad food or bad accommodation? The thought of a night in such a place does not bear thinking about.
Photograph courtesy of Liverpool Record Office.

I have written extensively about the lost buildings of Liverpool but today’s blog is about another lost institution – that of good journalism. If we are to judge a period in history by its newspapers then today’s sad offerings would be an interesting pointer. Both Liverpool Echo and Daily Post seem to have finally abandoned the kind of reporting that was once the hallmark of the best provincial papers. The old adage about today’s paper being tomorrow’s fish and chips wrapper could not be more apt (even if they no longer use newpapers for that purpose). Looking back at a golden age of jounalism, I was taken by an 1889 article in the Liverpool Review captioned Eight Hours on the Landing Stage.

During the summer months, the Landing Stage is seen at its best from midday until 7 or 8 o’clock at night. Through the intervening hours, the bridges and approaches are thronged with continuous streams of people on pleasure bent. The greater number of this day-by-day procession are trippers from inland towns, to whom a look at the Mersey and the ships is next to a peep at heaven, and our own Liverpudlian mammas who, when father, dear old struggle, is toiling over his desk, or dodging six months’ bills, take upon themselves the pleasurable duty of giving the children an airing.
Arrived on the Landing Stage, the half-dozen streams of health-hunting holiday seekers converge towards the ferry boats, those plying to Egremont and New Brighton getting the bulk of the passengers. Going down the gangway on to the boats there is, as a matter of course, a good deal of clinging to mamma’s jacket or dress, and a chorus of maternal voices, while a score of maternal eyes anxiously look round, call out, “Now, Charlie, mind where you are going!” “Are you behind me, Cissie?” and a dozen other directions besides.
… Of the boatsmen and hangers-on who dawdle about the Landing Stage from early morn to dewy eve, I can tell you nothing that is not well known; the boatsmen dawdle about for jobs, the hangers-on dawdle, dawdle, dawdle for anything gratis from a copper to a quid of tobacco. The hangers-on who really contrive to enjoy themselves are the hatless, bare-footed, ragged urchins, whose sole ambition in life appears to be to live with dirty, crust hands and face and dodge around policemen. They are remarkably expert at the latter amusement, and on the Landing Stage live in an Elysium of laughter, horse-play and dodgery. PC No. _ and a few others know this to their cost. I must admit that I like these young ragamuffins ‘baiting’ and so do the bystanders.

If only today’s Echo or Daily Post could rustle up such meaningful accounts – but that would be running against the grain of contemporary editorial requirements.

Liverpool has made an invaluable contribution to the cause of dentistry through two of its great industries: tobacco and confectionary. They both have a long history, although little remains of either. Liverpool as a major importer of sugar was well placed to benefit from the spin-offs and, in the late eighteenth century, an Everton woman, Molly Bushell, decided to increase her income by using recipes from her local doctor to make toffee.
The business boomed and others started up in competition, including Mary Cooper in 1810. Trading from a cottage in Browside, her Everton toffee achieved national fame. In a local rhyme of the time:

Everton Toffee! Ever dear to lass and lad:
More certain cure than balm of Gilead.
Come friends, come buy – your pennies give.
While you keep sucking you’ll be sure to live!

Balm of Gilead referred to ‘cures’ of snake-oil salesman, Dr Solomon of Liverpool, who made a fortune out of his patent medicines. At least toffees gave a burst of welcome glucose!
The memory of this small local industry lives on in the nickname of Everton Football Club. I am not sure when the cottages on Browside disappeared although I have seen a late nineteenth century photograph of them in disrepair. The photograph above was probably taken in the 1880s. The style of cottage was very much the original vernacular Lancashire style, that was gradually replaced by Georgian and, later, Victorian terraces.