June, 2010 Archives

I was reliably told by a member of English Heritage some years back that there were about 30 equestrian statues (i.e statues with someone on them) in Britain. I have forgotten the exact number (33 springs to mind) and an internet search has been of little help. Liverpool has four of them (Victoria and Albert on St George’s Plateau/King Edward VII at Pier Head and George III outside TJ Hughes on London Road).
Now we have another statue of a horse (although without a rider) down at Mann Island (to be revealed once the new Museum of Liverpool is opened. This one is in tribute to the role the working horse (and carter) played in the vital transporting of goods to and from the docks. Today’s photograph celebrates their contribution and looks as if it was taken in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Once a familiar sight, their days were numbered as motorised transport took over their role.
As for the statue, I have only seen press photos so far – so I will have to reserve my judgement until I see it in situ. I hope it is better than many of the recent ‘school of realism’ efforts that have sprung up over recent years. It is interesting that the two most popular sculptures (Superlambananas and Antony Gormley’s Other Place) are far more abstract in concept than the literalism of most of the others. Perhaps an indication to those who commission art that people are more adventurous than they are given credit for.

While researching yesterday’s post about Squeaking Jimmy, I dug out my copies of Horne and Maund’s seminal five book series Liverpool Transport. A lifetime’s work – these are often described as books for ‘anoraks’ by those with only a passing interest in transport. To me, they belong to a fine tradition of writing about Liverpool that I believe is unrivalled in any other city.
Over the last 40+ years, the number of books keeps rising, including many seminal works such as Quentin Hughes’s Seaport – which had a profound effect on all who read it – and the Pevner series, recently brilliantly revised in two volumes by Richard Pollard and Joseph Sharples. There have been many other important books – including English Heritage’s six volume series published for Capital of Culture Year. I have published approaching 200 titles as Bluecoat Press and yet I have turned down five times as many because there is a limit to what I can do. The result of all this effort is a deep awareness of the Liverpool’s rich history – quite astonishing for such a ‘young’ city. Go to Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds or any other city and you will find nothing like the same breadth or depth of titles. Sadly, I see the number of books being published rapidly slowing down – after all, there are only two major bookshops (both Waterstones) in the city centre and little else outside. The internet is obviously a superb source of information but it is difficult to replicate the structure of a physical book (although ebooks will soon take on this function).
Publishing is at an interesting crossroads and I hope my blog helps in the transition from paper to digital. Today’s photographs are a case in point – two previously unpublished images of market life in the 1890s. Both are captioned Back o’ the Market and bear close similarities to Inston’s work. This is life in the raw as hawkers try to make a few pennies from selling rags, broken crockery or whatever else can make them a few coppers.

My apologies for the short break – and also for the quality of today’s photograph, an 1890s lantern slide which has deteriorated over the years. Nevertheless, it is a great image of street life taken with a hand-held camera. In my book on Charles Frederick Inston, I outlined the way in which camera technology became more portable and film became faster and easier to use once roll-film came into use. Naturally this changed the way photographers worked and candid street photography became a fashion that was reflected in the competition categories amongst amateur photographic societies. Within a short period of time, photography shifted from being a rich man’s pursuit to a popular medium within the pockets of working men and women.
The photograph is captioned Squeaking Jimmy, Church Street. The building in the background is Russell’s Building, which was bombed during the War and later replaced by Littlewoods (now Primark). As for Squeaking Jimmy – I can only guess that he was selling those little toy whistles that imitate bird noises or something similar – unless there is a more sinister interpretation to his name.

St Philip Neri, Catherine Street

St Francis Xavier, Salisbury Street

St Patrick, Park Place

Three more fine churches, starting with the relatively unknown St Philip Neri, on Catherine Street. Designed by PS Gilby and built between 1914-21, it has a striking Byzantine interior. The church is perhaps better known for its Spanish garden, which was built in the 1950s by the incumbent Dr John Garvey.
St Francis Xavier was originally part of an extensive group of religious buildings which included the former SFX School (now part of Liverpool Hope University). Built to the designs of John Scholes in 1848, it is built in stone in an Early English style of Gothic. The Lady Chapel adjoining the church was added in 1888.
St Patrick’s (1821-27) in contrast, is a strict Neoclassical church. Designed by John Slater, its exterior is lightened by a statue of St Patrick, which came from the St Patrick Insurance Company in Dublin. The huge altar painting is by Nicaise de Keyser of Antwerp (c1834).
Three very fine churches which have survived shrinking congregations and all the other issues facing inner city churches. Two of the biggest problems – vandalism and theft – unfortunately mean that these gems are rarely open to the public, which is a sad loss for a city trying to build up its image as a cultural destination. Open Heritage weeks are fine in a very limited way – but we really should be looking at a more comprehensive policy of opening up such important buildings on a regular basis.

St John the Baptist, Tuebrook

Princes Road Synagogue

St Agnes and St Pancras, Ullet Road

The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed an astonishing growth in the number of churches across Liverpool. As the population expanded, so did the number of places of worship to accommodate all religious persuasions. Many were quite modest but others were built to the highest standards. The twentieth century has not been kind to this Victorian religiosity. Churches are notoriously difficult to convert to other uses and are expensive to maintain. I have mentioned a few of the gems that disappeared through war, vandalism and redevelopment in previous posts but, fortunately some of the finest churches survived including the three featured today. I have concentrated on the magnificent roofs with the medievalism of George Bodley’s St John’s at Tuebrook (1868-70) contrasting with the decorated vaulting of W & G Audsley’s Synagogue of 1874 and the stone vaulting of John Pearson’s St Agnes and St Pancras in Ullet Road (1883-85). Three of Britain’s finest church architects and three very different styles – their survival something to celebrate.

The poster outside The Jacey cinema is advertising Black Orpheus, a 1959 film about the Rio Carnival, but this is 1970 and the end of an era for Brown’s department store. Clayton Square was once Liverpool’s finest city centre square but it had gradually become rough at the edges and in need of serious investment. Had it got it, back in the 1970s, we would be admiring an interesting mix of late-Georgian/Victorian buildings which would have softened the brutal impact of St John’s Market. What we got was a repeat of the same mistake. Rip out the character and erect a shopping mall which, after little more than 20 years, is already showing its age. As is always the case, commercial interests run rough-shod over the sensibilities of the public – the very people they are trying to entice into their crumbling malls. In truth the public has voted – which is why these ‘shopping experiences’ are emptying out. Sadly, the damage is already done and no amount of hand-wringing can restore the period character to the area.

Park Lane/Jamaica Street c1930

The same area 1995

Another dramatic comparison between the Liverpool of the 1930s and today (or, more accurately, the 1990s). Annoyingly, the plane’s wing is obscuring Brick Street where Pat O’Mara (author of The Autobiography of a Liverpool Slummy) lived and where I have my offices but, directly below the wing tip you can make out St Vincent’s primary school, with children playing in the yard (see post of May 27). Everywhere is industry, from the long sheds of Park Lane Goods Station to the countless warehouses. The large block underneath the plane wing is now the Contemporary Urban Centre – but all around are equally impressive warehouses (all demolished). Great Georges Square is just above the wing – and a couple of streets along is the Church of St Michael (bombed in the War). In the centre (to the left of The Contemporary Urban Centre) is a rather pitiful playground for the hundreds of children who lived in the immediate locality.

Compare the density of the 1930s photograph with the one I took in 1995. Liverpool’s population had peaked in the 1931 Census at 846,00. By 1991, it had shrunk to 470,000 (over a much larger physical area). Back in the 1930s, that wedge of streets around St Michael’s church (Pitt Street, Kent Street, Upper Frederick Street) was a concentrated slum of overcrowded terraces and courts – many were demolished in the following years to make way for tenements. Park Lane was a major thoroughfare, lined with shops and businesses – a very different city.

Strand Street c1958

Aerial View, 1952

In previous posts, I have referred to the Dock Road, or in this case Strand Street as this stretch was more formally named. My April 21st post about The Trawler showed one of the last pubs on this street before it was demolished. In the top photograph, it can just be made out next to the building with an advert for Golden Stream Tea. In mid-shot is the same cabin (selling Senior Service cigarettes) that appeared in the April 12th post about the Overhead Railway. Originally, the kiosk was part of the James Street station. Only the railway lines under the Overhead are left – which must date the photograph to about 1958.
The position of the photograph is made clearer from the 1952 aerial photograph. The block of buildings can be seen in the bottom right hand corner, with James Street to the left of it (and the White Star building standing in isolation). The street after James Street (just before The Trawler) is Red Cross Street – one of the old ‘lost streets’ of the docks. Elsewhere, in the aerial photograph, one can see the concentration of dock buildings around Canning Dock, the remains of the Goree Piazzas and, in the distance the Three Sisters (the chimneys of Clarence Dock power station). How the city has changed in 50 years!

Here is a wonderfully, moody shot of a carter heading west along Wapping in the early morning. To his left is the Overhead Railway and in the shadows is the Baltic Fleet, a remarkable survivor of the many pubs that once lined the Dock Road. The photograph was taken in 1929 by John Newburn, a member of The Photographic Circle based in Birkenhead. Judging by the label on the back of the print it was a submission to The Amateur Photographer magazine’s Advanced Workers’ Competition. I hope it won, it really does capture the place and time. Perhaps more attention should be paid to the work of amateur photographic societies. For decades they were the standard bearers of photography in Liverpool but their efforts are often overlooked because of that dreaded word ‘amateur’. In truth, many of the photographers were highly skilled and dedicated and more than happy to pursue photography as a hobby. Commercial photography places different demands – working to commissions rather than having the freedom to just enjoy taking a shot simply for the sake of a pleasing picture.

The last post was about Liverpool pioneering pre-cast concrete. Today’s is about the city’s role in pioneering the uses of cast-iron for structural purposes in buildings. It is often said, incorrectly, that Ironbridge near Telford, was where the Industrial Revolution started – following Abraham Darby’s construction of the cast-iron bridge that still stands today as a major tourist draw. The bridge was constructed in 1779 – some seven years after iron was used for structural purposes in St Anne’s Church on St Anne Street (now demolished). Two years later, iron pillars were used in the construction of St James Church, on Upper Parliament Street, making it the oldest surviving use of cast-iron in Britain.
The photograph is of a later building, the Export Carriage and Wheelworks which stood on St Anne Street until the 1990s before it was burned down (the Fire Station is now on its site). With its facade reminiscent of the Southern States of the USA, it was highly regarded by Picton (‘among the very handsome buildings which Liverpool contains. This must be considered one of the ornaments of the town. The interior is arranged at the front of the building with large, commodious and very light showrooms, wherein are on view very handsome and first-class carriages of every description’). The building was opened in 1859 – some five years before Peter Ellis’s bold use of cast-iron in the construction of Oriel Chambers. Liverpool’s history of innovation with the material can still be seen in the two magnificent cast-iron churches of St George’s, Everton (1812-14) and St Michael in the Hamlet (1814-15), as well as the magnificent facade of Greenbank House (c1815). What a great shame that the Carriage Works and the Sailors’ Home have not survived to add to the list.