July, 2010 Archives

Vernon’s Pool, 1936

Central Cafe?, Central Station

Looking through all my posts to date, I was somewhat surprised how little emphasis I had placed on the people of Liverpool. The great majority of my photographs were of street scenes and buildings rather than the people who lived in them – so I am making amends this week with a series of images celebrating the lives of working women and their contribution to the economy of the city.

The first photograph is of women working at Vernon’s Pools in 1936. Football pools has started in 1923 when John Moores and two friends handed out 4000 coupons outside Old Trafford. Initially, the business was slow and John Moores bought out his two partners who had lost confidence in the loss-making enterprise. Moores quickly turned Littlewoods round and millions of working people began to spend a few pence each week in what was the only national gambling competition (at that time it was based on agents house-calling rather than by mail). Vernons followed in 1925 – making Liverpool the centre of an industry which employed thousands of women checking the weekly returns.
The February, 1936 press photograph relates to the Football League’s attempt to keep secret football fixtures to crush the pools industry. They were angered that none of the ?20 million a year profits were going to the game and had decided that enough was enough. The tactic was impossible to sustain but it did force an agreement whereby a percentage of pools money went to the League. The importance of the pools to the area took a mighty hit in 1994 when the National Lottery was introduced – but the photograph is a reminder of one of the key industries of the city in the twentieth century.
The bottom photograph is of Central Cafe?in Central Station. I guess it was taken in the 1930s. A Mrs Carey was the manageress (seated above the hot-pot sign). With 14 women employed, it must have been a thriving enterprise. It is sad that this kind of photograph is no longer as common as it was. Companies used to take a pride in assembling their workforce for group photographs but that, like the Central Cafe?and Lancashire hot-pots, is a thing of the past.

Mann Island c.1898

Mann Island c.1890
Liverpool’s constant renewal has left the city with a legacy of buildings spanning three centuries. The top photograph can be placed immediately because of the presence of the White Star offices, which opened in 1897. Around it are three of the city’s architectural losses. To the left, are the Goree Piazzas – magnificent early nineteenth century warehouses which were firebombed during the War and then pulled down for road widening. In front of them runs the Liverpool Overhead Railway – opened in 1893 and demolished within a few years of the Goree in 1957/58. The church in the background is St George’s Church in Derby Square (as it is now named), which only just lasted to the end of the nineteenth century before demolition.
The importance of photographic documentation can be seen in the bottom image, which was taken before the Overhead Railway was built. The tower in the centre was the hydraulic tower for James Street Station – again a victim of wartime bombing.
Looking at sites such a YoLiverpool – it is refreshing to see so many photographers are making the effort to record Liverpool’s changing face. Not all photographs are masterpieces but in 20+ years time, a new generation will be grateful for today’s photographers who are so passionate about their city.

Not so popular Poplar Street

Unromantic Valentine Grove

The debate over slum clearance has been well aired over the last fifty years. There are many who believe the wholesale clearance of housing across Liverpool was an unmitigated disaster and that communities would have been best served by careful renovation of run-down properties. On the other side, there is the argument
that the housing stock was in such a poor condition that only demolition and rebuild would be appropriate if living standards were to improve. The residents of Valentine Grove along with their neighbours in equally inappropriately named Venus and Cupid Streets (off Larch Lea) had already departed when the photograph was taken in 1972.(Who thinks up such street names?). In nearby Poplar Street, the inhabitants were prepared to voice their indignation in a graphic and eye-catching way.
Perhaps not the most photogenic images – but such records are an important reminder of what the city was like and the kind of conditions its citizens endured.

Myrtle Gardens, 1969

Boys’ Orphanage, Myrtle Street, 1885

Girls’ Orphanage, Myrtle Street, 1885

The site of Myrtle Gardens has an interesting history as these three previously unpublished photographs show. In 1800, the original Botanic Gardens were sited there before being removed to Edge Lane in 1836. Myrtle Street was a pleasant rural lane but was soon absorbed into the rapidly expanding town. A female ophanage school was commenced in 1843 and opened in November of that year. The boys’ orphanage school was completed in 1854 (at the same time as the Church of Holy Innocents on the same site). The architect was John Cunningham (architect of the Sailors’ Home) and the buildings are in a simple, unpretentious style in keeping with their purpose.
In 1934, the multi-storey Myrtle Garden flats were built on the site (subsequently sold in the 1990s to a private developer for refurbishment into modern apartments and renamed Minster Court). There were, until recently, reminders of the original Botanic Gardens in the street names: Grove, Olive, Almond, Laurel, Mulberry, Peach and Vine Streets. To help with locating the site. here is a 1930s map:

Walton Gaol 1974

Walton Gaol 1930

If a gaol was to be built on your street, you would probably care little for the architecture – you would just want to move to another place. Prisons stir up deep emotions and it is unlikely that one would be built in the heart of a residential community. Nevertheless, there is no reason why prison buildings should not have architectural merit. Architect Charles Peirce and John Weightman, the Corporation Surveyor, realised the need to reassure the community and their castellated Norman fortress (of 1855) certainly suggests military strength. Unfortunately, in remodelling the prison c1974, the outer fortified gatehouse was demolished to make way for an ugly brick bastion topped by a curved metal string course. A shame, from an architectural perspective but I am sure most people would not consider the reshaping of the prison with much sentiment other than that of relief for the additional security provided by the new wall.
Interestingly, it is apparently against the law to take a photograph of any HM Prison. I was stopped from taking a shot of the new exterior wall by a prison officer, who politely asked me to put my camera away.

Who would have believed 50 years ago that there would be no Tate and Lyle in Liverpool and that the company would no longer be in the sugar business? Last week’s news that the sugar business had been sold brings to an end a company history that started in Liverpool in 1859, when Henry Tate became a partner in a small sugar refinery in Manesty’s Lane (just off Hanover Street). My own business career started back in 1973 in a warehouse owned by Tate and Lyle on the site of the original refiners (although the warehouse was built in the 1870s and demolished in the 1980s).
The history of sugar in Liverpool is, I imagine, likely to cause more than a few readers to stifle a yawn – but, pay attention at the back, as teachers used to say in school, it really is an interesting part of the city’s history. Along with tobacco and cotton, the wealth of the city was built on the import of goods from the New World. Sugar had its own spin-offs. The famous Everton toffee mentioned in an earlier post was the fledgling start of a much bigger confectionary industry (Barker and Dobson amongst others) as well as providing the basic ingredient for the massive Hartley’s jam business.
The Love Lane Refinery was completed in 1873 and in its time employed thousands from the surrounding Vauxhall district. Other local refineries such as Farrie’s and Macfie’s could not compete with Tate’s and were absorbed into the sugar empire. Henry Tate, himself, was a benefactor on a significant scale – building the Hahnemann Hospital on Hope Street, providing the funds for Liverpool University’s library block, as well as generous donations to the Royal Infirmary and Liverpool Institute. His biggest gift was to found the Tate Gallery in London – now with its Liverpool offshoot. Ironically, the opening of the Tate Liverpool came only a few years after the closure of Love Lane in that brutal period in the early 1980s which also saw other great names including British American Tobacco pull the plug on their Liverpool bases.

Palatine Club, 1969

Palatine Club, 1864

The Post-War reconstruction (or destruction depending on your point of view) of Liverpool city centre, saw many fine buildings swept away. This fine palazzo at the foot of Bold Street was one. Built in 1854 to the designs of G.O. Parnell, it was painted by William Herdman for his great undertaking, the book Modern Liverpool. The fine chromo-lithograph shows an impressive building with classical detailing built out of shining Bath stone. Herdman (son of WG) was impressed by the building but not by its use – perhaps cocking a snook at the London rich:

The principal building in this view is the Palatine Club House. Club life has never found a congenial atmosphere in Liverpool, which is an arena for busy hands and fertile brains to labour and scheme and thrive in, but affords very small scope for wealthy leisure to expend itself in enjoyment. The habits of life engendered by commercial pursuits are quite unfavourable to the “dolce far niente” (translation pleasant idleness/sweet doing nothing) principle, which is essential to the club lounger.

I remember the building in the mid-1970s. The Press Club was its last tenant if I remember correctly. Why pull down such a good building for the characterless modern shops that replaced it is an almost pointless question? I wish I knew the reasoning behind such wanton destruction. On a totally unrelated point, note the hand-drawn milk float further down the street.