October, 2011 Archives

I am always very careful when making judgments about old photographs. What might seem obvious can often turn out to be nothing of the kind on closer examination. Today’s two photographs are a good example. If one only has one photo to examine, the conclusion is that here is a very sad scenario of a tired bootblack grabbing a few minutes sleep outside St George’s Hall. Put the two photographs together and you realise they are both staged for dramatic effect. Of course the boy probably is a bootblack but the photographer has probably paid him a few pennies to pose for dramatic effect. A more fanciful (and totally unlikely) explanation is that the photos are cunning product placements for Martindales, an old Liverpool company that once dealt in coal and associated products but are now central heating engineers.

It is reassuring to read that the Lion locomotive, one of the oldest in the world, is to be displayed in the new Liverpool Museum Great Port Gallery (due to open in December). The Lion was built in 1837, along with its twin Tiger, to haul luggage trains between Liverpool and Manchester. In 1859, it was sold to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company to be used as a stationery pumping engine. In 1928, Lion was presented to Liverpool Engineering Society, who renovated it and eventually passed ownership to Liverpool Museum in 1970.
In one of my first blogs, back in February 2010, I bemoaned the fact that statues of Ken Dodd and Bessie Braddock had been sited prominently in Lime Street station, yet there was nothing there to highlight its significance as the oldest mainline working station in the world. I have nothing against having statues of local personalities scattered around the city but these two are incongruous in their present setting. Likewise, I have no real objection to artefacts being housed in museums but, as the photograph illustrates, the most dramatic setting for the Lion is where it once stood until 1941 – on a plinth at Lime Street. Thousands of people pass through every day and the message made would be quite clear – you are standing in a place where the greatest transport revolution in history started. Museums are important but I believe that we can often gain more by the imaginative siting of such historical objects in a more dynamic context,

I have many photographs of Liverpool pubs, particularly from the early years of the twentieth century. Brewers, in particular Walkers, took photographs as part of the licensing process and there are substantial ledgers of their pubs in Liverpool Record Office.
Interestingly, the breweries were only interested in the exteriors – often with the manager and staff standing proudly in the doorway. Interiors are much rarer and this is the first I have seen from the turn of the century. It was taken in 1908 by well-known Liverpool photographers Brown, Barnes and Bell of 31 Bold Street and published as a real photographic postcard. Such postcards were a lucrative source of income for photographers and they would sell their services to shops, pubs and even householders. The cards were usually produced in small numbers and, as a result, are quite rare (and expensive to buy nowadays). Everything could be made into postcards, from important moments such as the 1911 Transport Strike (by local photographers Carbonora), to more local events such as garden parties, road accidents and the like.
What I particularly like about the interior of the Parrot is the dress code of the barmen, all very proper, to the sign advertising Jones’ Knotty Ash beer at 2p a pint. Judging by the till, a customer has just paid for two pints (at what is still only 2p in modern money).
Many thanks to Martin Lewis for allowing me to reproduce today’s photograph (which found its way over to Seattle).

St John’s Gardens

New Brighton beach, 1913

My last two posts generated an interesting discussion about childhood, poverty and happiness. I am sure that children from an early age understand poverty, or at least hunger and the cold of winter. However, a superficial look at the three young boys sunning themselves in St John’s Gardens gives the impression they haven’t a care in the world.
The same can be said for the well-dressed children playing on the beach at New Brighton. Halcyon days, although it would be wrong to make any assumptions about any of their futures. They would all be too young to fight in the impending War, fortunately, but the 1920s and 30s were difficult decades for many in the region. Without any judgement, two fascinating images of childhood.

Following the photograph of the barefoot boys by the canal, here are two more taken by the same unknown photographer. Again, the year is 1910. Just a century ago and Britain was the greatest empire the world had seen. The Edwardian confidence, that was so forcefully expressed in the new Pierhead buildings, had seemingly banished the worst excesses of Victorian poverty. Yet here we have further evidence of shameful deprivation almost in the shadows of the newly constructed Liver Building.

Three barefoot boys sitting on a bridge spanning the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. I am not sure of the exact spot but I am sure some reader will know it.
This is Liverpool only a century ago. The photograph, taken by an unknown photographer, shows how tough life was for those at the bottom of the pile. This was 1910 and Liverpool was boasting to the world how important it was by building a cathedral and totally reshaping Pierhead. There was still plenty of money at the top but all these lads had to look forward to was a World War in four years time that they would be lucky to survive unharmed.
What has happened in the last century has been truly remarkable: technology has changed all our lives. Poverty, however relative, still blights the city though. What will the next century bring – and how will photographs of today’s deprived communities be viewed in 2111?

Houghton Street, 1964

Daisy Day, 1965

In May last year, I included a photograph of Houghton Street looking towards Clayton Square. The photograph today shows the street from the opposite direction looking down towards Williamson Square. Within a year, the whole site was cleared to make way for the new St John’s Market.
One shop caught my eye – Madame Foner’s corsetry shop. The shop relocated to Bold Street and, last year again, rather incongruously to the front courtyard of the Bluecoat Art Centre. The last move seems to have been unsuccessful and it has been replaced by a gift shop. Small shops come and go but Madame Foner has had a long lifetime for a specialist shop.
The second photograph is of a fundraising campaign for Merseyside hospitals. I only arrived in the city in 1970 and I cannot recall Daisy Days. The small girl dressed as a nurse would appear to be helping her dad.
Two more photos (and the last for the time being) from Pat Weekes. Would anyone else like to submit their photographs of old Liverpool? Any date, any subject – this is a perfect forum for getting them seen!