April, 2010 Archives

My recent posting on the Gaumont cinema, which I erroneously attributed to Camden Street (the suggestion is that it was The Savoy in Brougham Terrace) brought home to me the ease with which errors can be made and, if not corrected, become established facts. When I started publishing books, I soon realised that there were people out there with specialist knowledge on every subject you could name – but especially transport. Known unkindly as ‘rivet counters’, this body of men (they always are) have a detailed knowledge of their subject that would do a Mastermind contestant proud. A book I published with the Museum (The Liners of Liverpool) made a small number of mistakes, such as ship sailing to the wrong port, that immediately diminished its value as a reference book. So for today’s posting I am going to put up a disclaimer that all the information is from a highly reputable expert.
The line below the Overhead serviced the docks and was operated by British Rail. The locomotive is a 0-4-0 saddle tank shunter, nicknamed a ‘Pug’. Their short wheelbase made them ideal for the sharp curves of the dockland lines. Imagine, today, allowing a train to run freely where pedestrians could cross without any barriers or restrictions. I am not sure when the dock railway ceased to operate – but I am certain I am going to find out very quickly.

One event that anyone interested in football always remembers is their first football match. I was a late-starter, being 13 before I went along to watch the famous Spurs double team of 1961 play Sheffield United.
The match passed by in a blur but my abiding memory was being jostled in a huge crowd – mainly flat-capped men all smoking their Woodbines or Park Drives. There were the old wooden rattles and the odd handbell – all creating an atmosphere that got me hooked for life. Once I arrived in Liverpool, I did the unforgiveable and switched allegiance (not a bad thing since the last major honour won by a Sheffield club was back in 1935 I believe).
What I like about the photograph is that it captures the spirit of a typical Saturday afternoon match day. I can never understand why so few photographers film that aspect of the sport rather than what is happening on the pitch. Football is such an important part of our culture and needs a better photographic record. I have started taking match day scenes (in the expectation of a last season at Anfield – so a few more seasons to go) and have noticed one or two others are thinking along the same lines.

The history of hospitals in Liverpool is one of constant change and renewal. The building photographed here was the third Northern – the first opening in 1834 in Leeds Street. The influx of Irish immigrants into the area soon put it under pressure and the badly overcrowded hospital was replaced by a new hospital in Great Howard Street (the site of the old Pig Market) in 1844. (The architect was Edward Welch – whose best known building is Birmingham Town Hall).
The opening coincided with another huge influx of Irish escaping famine. 90,000 entered Liverpol in the first three months of 1846 alone and 300,000 in the following twelve months. No town in England was so densely populated and unhealthy and, again, the hospital struugled to cope. Finally, in 1902, a new hospital opened on a site bounded by Old Hall Street, Bath Street, Sutton Street and Brook Street. The architect was CW Harvey – an outsider much to the annoyance of local architects. The closure of the Northern in 1978 brought to an end nearly 150 years of medical care for the impoverished neighbourhoods of Vauxhall and surrounding areas.
One tragic story was the murder of a young nurse, Alice Jones. An American soldier, Joseph Hutty, had enlisted in The Canadian Expeditionary Force, and had been admitted to the Northern suffering from shell-shock. He became infatuated with Nurse Jones but, rejected by her, shot her dead outside the hospital entrance. He was found guilty but the jury recommended mercy on the grounds of his acute mental condition. Sentenced to death, Hutty was finally reprieved after a petition signed by the Lord Mayor amongst others persuaded the Home Secretary to commute the sentence.

I had never come across the annual Orange marches until I came to Liverpool. My first experience was when I worked in Seel Street in 1974 and heard an incredible thumping of drums and the wail of bagpipes. Rushing up to Berry Street, I was mesmerised by a long procession of pipers, drummers, baton carriers and serious looking men and women with orange bands all marching in time. Above all was the sight of numerous King Billys (all women dressed up with flowing wigs) with their consort, Queen Mary, alongside them.
This was the Dingle contingent marching to catch the train to Southport and, in the early 1970s, they made up a sizeable crowd.
Sectarianism is one of those unspoken aspects of Liverpool’s history and the violent riots of the early twentieth century have been pushed back from memory. However one views its historical past, I am surprised that the annual parades have not been better documented. They are a fascinating part of local history and judging by recent thinly attended parades, might follow Judas burning and other once common ceremonies into folk lore. Photographs like these two are not about partisanship but about recording for posterity – although I am not sure whether the three girls in their yellow costumes would be quite as keen.

I suppose you have to be a certain age but back in the 1950s and early 60s, the Saturday film show aimed at children was a fantastic institution. The films usually had a Hollywood B movie feel to them, with a preponderance of ‘cowboys and indians’. For adults, the 1950s were, at the start, difficult years as the country adjusted to post-War life but talk to most of those (now 50+) who were kids at the time and a different picture emerges – of freedom to roam, play in the streets and be your own age.
The Gaumont, in Camden Street off London Road, was one of four to bear that name in Liverpool (the other three were at Dingle, Anfield and Allerton). Originally named the Trocadero, it was renamed the Gaumont in 1950 and was the first cinema in Liverpool to install CinemaScope with stereophonic sound (in 1954). Its close proximity to the Odeon on London Road was its undoing. The final straw came when the Odeon converted to a multi-screen (four screens by 1973). The Gaumont limped on until its final performance in May 1974. It had a brief life as a snooker hall but was demolished in 1996. It may have gone but for a generation of kids it was a magical place for a few hours every Saturday morning.

The area around the Custom House was a warren of alleys and narrow streets, its last remnants disappearing in the early 1970s to make way for the Law Courts and the proposed new Canning Place development. A description in the 1930s conjures up a lost world: ‘ …when I first stepped from Litherland Alley, near Canning Place, into Ogden Weint. It would not appear that with any stretch of the imagination this exccedingly narrow by-way could belong to a modern city … Ogden Weint is so narrow that even two pedestrians have difficulty in passing one another without rubbing shoulders. The large stone flags are very unevenly placed and at night time when the passage is dimly illuminated by flickering yellow light from a gas lamp, one has the feeling of passing down the alleyway of an old sailing ship, and the little doorways, resembing those of ships’ cabins, serve to accentuate the impression.’
The Trawler was the last of the pubs along Strand Street to be demolished. The photograph shows it sometime in the late 1960s under the name Frayne. In my Gore’s Directory of 1910, James Frayne is listed as the landlord of The Mersey Vaults at 11, Strand Street. In 1927 (and in 1931), he is listed in Kelly’s at The Trawler at 12 Strand Street – so he obviously had a long career in the licensed trade. Pubs are a good barometer of the dynamics of a neighbourhood. Their decline in recent years a clear indication of changing patterns of behaviour and, in the case of the Dock Road pubs, the catastrophic decline in the economic activity of the area.

Church House stood on the corner of Lord Street and South John Street (on the corner facing Debenhams). Built in the then fashionable Victorian Gothic, its red-brick and terracotta contrasted strongly with the Regency plasterwork which surrounded it according to Professor Charles Reilly. I have struggled to find more about when the building was erected and who was the architect. It has strong suggestions of Alfred Waterhouse, who was responsible for many of Liverpool’s best Gothic buildings including the Seamen’s Orphanage in Newsham Park, the North Western Hotel on Lime Street, the old Royal Infirmary and the Victoria Building (for the University). I am guessing it was built in the 1880s but, hopefully, someone can fill in the details. It was bombed in the War and replaced by an office block which, in turn was demolished to make way for Liverpool One. At least its replacement, a rather garish coffee bar, has a bit of character.

There can be no area of Liverpool that has been changed as many times as Pier Head. Almost every decade, a new plan is implemented guaranteeing a ‘world-class’ environment. Never has such an expression been so widely misused. (I can remember only recently the City Council describing the new Williamson Square as ‘world class’ – a particularly inappropriate description for the collection of tin sheds masquerading as shops on one end and a soulless empty area in front). Pier Head traditionally was the only area of the river giving free access to the population, the rest falling under the control of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. It was a place to watch the river, get a ferry ‘over the water’ and understand the source of Liverpool’s greatness.
Today’s photograph of the Landing Stage was taken around 1966 just before yet another restructuring (the Chinese restaurant phase). In the following years, the bus terminus was removed, grass areas were brought in and then taken away and, but probably not finally, a canal cut through the area. Each change is heralded as ‘world class’ and therefore unlikely to last more than another generation. The new ferry terminal is yet another attempt to stamp a contemporary vision on the waterfront but I find it bland and dated.

Here is another previously unpublished colour photograph of a prosperous looking London Road, in the days when it was an important shopping centre serving a densily populated neighbourhood. The year is 1960 judging by the film on show at the Odeon – Swiss Family Robinson – which was released that year.
What catches the eye are the well-maintained shops and the unmistakeable facade of the Legs of Man pub (with two workers precariously balanced on ladders – no Health and Safety in those days). I last called into the Legs back on June 26th 1996. The day was an unfortunate clash of two unmissable events – England v Germany at Euro 96 and Bob Dylan playing at the Empire in his first return to Liverpool since 1966. No contest – I watched Dylan play a scintillating set (with Al Kooper on organ) to a two thirds full auditorium. Fancy giving up your seat to watch the inevitable penalty shoot-out!
The Legs went soon after – as have most of the other buildings. London Road is a shadow of its former glory, with only TH Hughes offering any real connection with the past.

In my list of Liverpool ‘grot spots’, this corner of Ranelagh Street would be near the top (along with the rest of the block along Lime Street). My reaction, though, is generated by the lack of care and maintenance rather than the intrinsic quality of the architecture. In fact, looking at how the building was when it first opened, as Peter Robinson’s new store, one can see the boldness and brightness of the architect’s vision. Concrete is not a material that ages well, but the addition of strong colour gives a cohesion and life to the building that is sadly lacking today.
Post-War architecture is slowly coming back into fashion as a new, younger generation looks at it with different eyes. Just as Georgian architecture fell out of favour with the Victorians and Victorian architecture, in turn, was disliked until the 1970s, the modernist movement of the 1950s and 60s has had its years in the shadows. Much that was built in the rush to reconstruct after the War was substandard but there are gems which should be appreciated. I would not go so far as to include this building in Ranelagh Street, but it would certainly look much better if restored to its original colour scheme.