July, 2011 Archives

The Rialto 1974

Lodge Lane 1976

Lodge Lane 1976

I was asked last week why I had not posted anything about the 30th anniversary of the Toxteth Riots. A fair point which I hope today’s blog will rectify. I thought I might have a photograph of the Racquets Club, which was unceremoniously burned down along with The Rialto, but so far nothing has turned up. I knew one of the Club’s committee members and he expressed his delight at the outcome. Members, all from the professional classes, had been reluctant to visit the Club for some time prior to the riots and a financial hole had been created. The generous compensation wiped out the financial problems and gave them fine new premises in Chapel Street (in the Hargreaves Building). The Establishment won out as always, as no doubt did Swainbank who lost his furniture repository in the Rialto. In the case of Lodge Lane, the looting of the shops dealt a devastating blow to the street, from which it still has not recovered.

Upper Duke Street 1977

Seel Street 1980

Duke Street 1971

After my last post about School Lane and Hanover Street, I received a mixed postbag. Whilst most agreed with me that Liverpool had lost a valuable chunk of its early history, others felt the Liverpool One development was a substantial improvement on the semi-dereliction that existed before. My point was that the gradual chipping away at these streets happened before the conception of the Grosvenor plan – by which time the few remaining fragments were indeed rather meaningless. Certainly I would not argue against the Liverpool One effect – it has transformed the city centre, created much-needed jobs and raised the image of Liverpool.
To labour my point again, I have posted three photographs of the Duke Street/Seel Street area. Virtually all the early Georgian terraces have been removed in the last 30 years. Of course, preservation is nearly always an expensive option but there was little will to save them. The houses on Duke Street collapsed through neglect in the 1990s, the terraces on Seel Street were even more recent victims. Upper Duke Street may look grim in the photograph but renovated and repainted, the houses would be a far more interesting streetscape than the JMU building which occupies the site. We never seem to learn any lessons. Once gone, an important part of the city’s history disappears and no matter how many museums are built heralding the achievements of the city, the real heritage has already been dispatched.

School Lane, 1970

Hanover Street, 1970

I worked in the Bluecoat Chambers for over 15 years and loved the small group of buildings at the Hanover Street end that had survived against all the odds. Too small to be commercially viable, they were, nevertheless, a very visible reminder of an earlier Liverpool. Hornby Lowe’s Cutlery Stores, with its superb frontage, was in business from at least 1879. The shop, with its macabre display of hunting, fishing and, I suppose, stabbing knives, was living on borrowed time but it had a character that greatly added to the streetscape. Looking at my 1867 Gore’s Directory, the buildings had previously been occupied by an oyster dealer, a chandelier maker and a gas fitter. In 1857, Charles O’Donnell, a policeman, lived in the Hornby Lowe shop.
Once land values began to soar in the 1990s, their days were numbered. Few property developers have any respect for history; what are a few eighteenth century buildings when there is money to be made. The row of very early houses and warehouses on Hanover Street were demolished one by one until the Liverpool One development swept away the last surviving building. Sadly, their demise followed the standard practice of removing buildings one by one on the grounds that they are beyond repair until there is no cohesion to the street, leaving the surviving building like a single tooth only too easy to extract. This sad pattern has removed whole layers of history – buildings not of great architectural merit but of importance because they were examples of Liverpool’s first great wave of prosperity. Had someone suggested in the 1980s that the Shambles in York should be pulled down because they occupied valuable development land, there would have been a national outcry. The shame is that Liverpool lost so much with hardly a whimper.

Norton Street 1971

London Road 1973

Moss Street 1973

Norton Street 1976

London Road 1979

Following on from my blog about the demise of TJ Hughes, I have posted several images of London Road at the end of its ‘glory days’. All the photographs were taken in the 1970s and show the road was still a busy retail centre with nearly all the shops trading.
Perhaps it wasn’t too surprising. Liverpool still had a population of 610,000 at the time of the 1971 Census, although this was substantially down on the 1961 figure of 745,000. The decline continued and the last Census in 2001 registered a population of 441,830. A decline of that magnitude has to impact on the whole city and London Road has been hit very hard by the loss of its immediate population. Looking at the photographs, it is sad to see the subsequent loss of a number of fine buildings. I particularly like the showroom on Norton Street in 1976 with its impressive Gothic windows. Fortunately many of the buildings have survived although many are run-down. The Prince of Wales pub on the corner with Moss Street has always intrigued me. I have never been inside it (it seems to have been closed since the early 1980s) but it is a real gin palace on the outside with statues in niches and a chateau-style roof.
What is the future of London Road? I feel it is too far away from the city centre to have any hope of a retail revival and can only see a continued neglect, particularly once the focus of TJ Hughes is taken away. Change is inevitable but it is sad to see such a marked decline in a once buoyant area.

Another week and another Liverpool institution hits the buffers. TJs is the last of the great Liverpool department stores. Blackler’s, Owen Owen’s and Lewis’s have gone and George Henry Lee has been absorbed into John Lewis. Even that seemingly ever-present high street name Littlewood Stores is no more. Liverpool was once the centre for retail innovation (I have already covered the history of Compton House, now home to M & S, and its place in retail history).
Sadly, the charm and character of places such as TJ Hughes is being lost. Remarkably, in Liverpool, it had survived outside of the main shopping area by relying on its reputation and goodwill. That was clearly not enough. Its core business was to offer good quality goods at bargain prices. Today, Primark, Poundstretcher and Home & Bargains amongst other offer similar cheap and cheerful goods and the competition has clearly pushed TJs into a corner. Administration does not necessarily mean the end but the future of London Road will be bleak if the store closes its doors.