April, 2012 Archives

What a fantastic spectacle! The three day Sea Odyssey lived up to all the media build-up and, like the Giant Spider, brought out the crowds in their thousands. There have been negative comments – the money should have been spent on this, that or the other – but the same criticism always surfaces (remember the International Garden Festival being dismissed as a glorified garden centre in spite of attracting over 3 million visitors). For three days, the city has made international news, all of it positive, and its status as a ‘happening’ city continues to grow year on year.
But my post today is of a slightly tangential nature. What was particularly noticeable was the astonishing number of photographs being taken. It seemed as if everyone had a camera, mobile phone or, in a few cases, iPad. How many millions of photos were taken? More pertinently, how many of the images will survive over the next 100 years? The photograph below was taken in 1900 to celebrate the Relief of Mafeking during the Boer War. Colonel Robert Baden-Powell (who later founded the Boy Scouts) became a national hero when he led a force of 2,000 men and overcame the 5,000 strong Boer force who had held the small town for over seven months. The news was greeted with wild excitement in Britain and the celebration in Exchange Flags illustrates the patriotic response (the banner on the right proclaims Baden-Powell “We’ve come to stay”.
As far as I know, this is the only photograph to survive that commemorates the celebration. Can we be sure that our digital record of today has the same lifetime? I worry that, in spite of the proliferation of images, few will be archived in an accessible form. The first megapixel camera has only been with us since 1998 and digital photography has radically changed the way we take, look at and store photographs. It has been estimated that each one of us will collect over 50,000 images over our lifetimes but, unless they are probably organised and filed, it will be impossible to sort through such an immense volume of photographs. Interesting times indeed!

I was delighted to read the news this week that planning permission has been granted to turn the Royal Insurance Building on the corner of Dale Street and North John Street into a luxury hotel. Of course, planning permission does not guarantee action but it seems as if this is a genuine application.
The building is one of the city centre’s neglected gems. It has stood empty for well over a decade and has begun to look tired and neglected. The architect J Francis Doyle worked closely with his friend and colleague Norman Shaw (architect of the White Star Building). The building is a particularly early example of steel frame construction in this country, further proof, if any was needed, of the innovative architecture taking place in the city.
I have a couple of contemporary photographs from the building’s opening in 1903. The first is of the Board Room, which has all the grandeur that an international company required. The last photograph is of a rain butt, which shows again the attention to detail now so sadly lacking in most of today’s buildings.

Lord Street c1887

Lord Street 1900

Lord Street 1955

Lord Street is a short street, litle more than a hundred metres from Whitechapel to Derby Square. According to Picton’s Memorials of Liverpool, in 1668-70, Castle Orchard ran from the castle down towards the original pool (where Whitechapel is today). The stream was crossed by a bridge with the path leading to the Great Heath (the land to the east of the pool and south of London Road). The land was owned by Lord Molyneux who fell into dispute with the Corporation as to the right of way. The dispute was settled by treaty and Lord Street (originally Lord Molyneux Street) was formed and a stone bridge was built across the stream. Intriguingly, Picton mentions that in 1851, excavations for sewers uncovered the arch of the bridge, which had apparently been buried a few feet below street level. The width of the bridge was about 15 feet. According to Picton, the bridge was covered up and still existed in 1873). Does it still remain? A fascinating prospect for a future Time Team exploration.
The top photograph was sent to me courtesy of Charlie Schreiner. He had bought it on eBay because the description suggested it was possibly a daguerrotype. In fact, the photograph is a peculiar hybrid but of a much later date (daguerrotypes had largely disappeared by the 1850s). Charlie forwarded me his scan of the photograph and it was soon clear that it was from the late 1880s (Hope Bros did not start trading at that site until c1887). The view up Lord Street terminates with the Church of St George,(1726-34), a fine building in the Classical tradition. A later addition was a fine east window by W.Hilton, described by Picton as one of the finest compositions of the English school. The council paid the artist ?1000 for the commission – a considerable sum. In Picton’s words: It is not often we have to record munificent encouragement of the arts in the proceedings of town councils. Let this stand to their credit.
The second photograph (courtesy of LRO), taken over a decade later, shows virtually the same view. There have been cosmetic changes to the buildings and the church is still there, although it had closed in 1897. Within a short time of this photograph, it had been demolished and the site cleared for the widely disliked (architecturally) statue of Queen Victoria. What happened to Hilton’s fine glass window?
The area around Lord Street suffered dreadfully during the war and virtually the whole of the left-hand side was blitzed. The 1955 photograph shows the extent of the damage and the start of reconstruction. Sadly, the 1950s replacements have little character compared to the fine Victorian shop facades.

I have just spent a week close by Lake Vyrnwy, in the heart of North Wales. This was my first visit to the area and I was stunned by the beauty of both the dammed valley and the surrounding country. The lake, or reservoir, was constructed during the 1880s to supply Liverpool with fresh water and was the first undertaking of its kind in the world. Another example of Victorian (and Liverpudlian) initiative, it was hardly appreciated by the inhabitants of the small village of Llanwddyn, who lost their homes under the lake’s water. Today the lake is a major tourist attraction and nature reserve managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
I was fortunate to enjoy an unbroken spell of sunshine – the best March spell in Wales for over 40 years. The downside is that with so little rain over the winter, talk of a serious drought has begun. Those old enough will remember the last major one in 1976, when a dry winter and spring was followed by a heatwave in July and August. A Drought Act was passed by Parliament as rivers and reservoirs ran dry. Standpipes were a feature of many streets and a Minister of Drought, Denis Howell, was appointed. As always happens, as soon as he took office, the heavens opened and a very wet autumn followed which went some way to restoring the depleted water stocks.
Today’s photograph is of an earlier drought, in June 1934, when emergency measures had to be taken. The tanker, containing salt water from the Mersey, is being used to water the streets. The location is Victoria Street, on the corner of Crosshall Street. The Liverpool Daily Post and Echo building is in the background.