May, 2012 Archives

Peter Ackroyd, the noted biographer, likened walking on London’s pavements to walking on skin. I thought that was a clever way of capturing the human history of a city beneath the stone artefacts left behind. Walking the streets of Liverpool, I can understand the pull of the past – even if Liverpool’s history cannot match that of our capital city. My fascination with photographs is not simply with the changing shape of the urban landscape but with the people who made it come to life.
The photographs I have posted today are a good example of forgotten times and lives. The building is still there on Orphan Drive alongside Newsham Park, although derelict and waiting for a new use. Designed by that great Liverpool architect, Alfred Waterhouse, it was opened in 1874 to house some of the hundreds of orphaned boys and girls. By 1899 there were 321 children in the orphanage, while 508 were receiving outdoor relief in the form of monetary grants and clothing. Children of all religious denominations were assisted, with preference given to orphans of British seamen connected with the Port of Liverpool.
I think the photographs of the three classes pre-date the Newsham Park building. In 1869, the Liverpool Seamen’s Orphan Institution opened in temporary rented accommodation in Duke Street, and by the end of that year there were 46 boys and 14 girls in residence. The success of the orphanage persuaded the Council to give land in Newsham Park for a purpose-built institution but the building in the background of the three photographs suggests the earlier temporary accommodation. The photographs were taken by Simon Kruger, who had a studio at 171 Park Road in 1871.
I bought the three photographs together, which suggests they belonged to one person. Perhaps in each photograph is a member of the same family: three siblings facing an uncertain future as orphans. I imagine they were treasured before being passed on to the next generation and then the next until their family name was finally lost.

Aerial view 1930s

Great George Street 1976: showing The Clock public house and Henry Willis’s organ works

Great George Street 1976: showing Rushworth & Dreaper’s organ works and the David Lewis Centre

Looking at the aerial photograph, it is hard to believe that so little of the area has survived (with the obvious exception of the Cathedral). Most of the architecture is not particularly distinguished, apart from the Jacobean-style David Lewis Hotel (as it was known then). I have touched on this street before but have revisited some of my colour transparencies from the 1970s and they struck a chord: almost literally because the photographs show two great Liverpool companies in their death throes. One of the city’s less well-known industries was organ building and the organ works of both Henry Willis and Rushworth & Dreapers have been captured before demolition. For those with long memories, the pub on the left in the second photograph is The Clock.
It is easy to point the finger at planners and politicians, but the removal of this mix of Georgian and Victorian houses, shops and institutions happened at the nadir of Liverpool’s fortunes. The ring road, later to be aborted, blighted whole chunks of the city and the clearances went ahead anyway. The result is a soulless stretch of road from the Park Road/Parliament Street junction to Duke Street. The recent renovation of The Florence Institute in Mill Street only emphasises what was lost when the architecturally superior David Lewis building was demolished (along with Doctor Duncan’s original South Dispensary at the foot of Upper Parliament Street.

Manchester Street is hardly the grand street the region’s second city deserves. Tucked alongside the Tunnel entrance, it is passed by thousands of motorists daily who probably give it only the most cursory glance. Before the tunnel was built, it had a more significant role, linking Victoria Street with Dale Street, but now, thanks to the Churchill Way flyover it is just a dog-leg of a road cutting back on itself to Victoria Street.
The photograph, taken in about 1964, shows its short stretch full of shops, all long departed. The names will be well-known to many: Abraham Silver (tailors) next door to Eric’s the Tailors, Yates Wine Lodge rubs shoulders with Hessey’s large shop selling televisions in one part and musical instruments in the other.
Further down are, amongst others, the Catholic Truth Society Library, the Royal Tiger Club, Joseph Welsh (fish merchant) and D Samuels, another musical instrument dealer. The traffic policeman and the two traditional telephone boxes add a distinctly period feel to the scene, along with the pubs advertising Walker’s and Higson’s ales.

Last week I posted a photograph of Pierhead in the 1880s and commented on how the Liverpool waterfront had changed over the last 150+ years. The change in the twentieth century has been dramatic, starting with the filling in of George’s Dock to create the modern Pierhead through to the addition of skyscrapers, the redevelopment of Princes Dock and the dramatic changes to the immediate hinterland. Today’s photograph shows the city in the early 1960s. The Cotton Exchange is still there but the Overhead Railway has been dismantled. Key 1960s buildings including the John Moores Centre on Old Hall Street have not been started and the White Star Building on James Street is still standing in isolation. An Empress liner is berthed at Princes Dock – in the final days before the liner trade switched to Southampton and elsewhere.
Fifty years on and today’s waterfront is, again, significantly different, with the new Museum of Liverpool, Liverpool One and all the other recent developments significantly changing both the landscape and the height line. Originally, the JM Centre was planned to have several extra storeys but had to restrict its height so as to be in keeping with its surroundings. Clearly the rule no longer applies except in the thinking of the inspectors for Unesco in their threats over World Heritage Site status. What will the outcome be? One thing is certain – in 50 years time, the waterfront will be significantly different from today.

The Floating Landing Stage was a marvel of engineering. Originally constructed in 1874, it was consumed by fire before opening. Two years later, it had been rebuilt and, with additions, became the largest floating structure in the world, stretching for nearly half a mile. Sadly, in 1974, the structure was dismantled and replaced by a concrete pontoon – which sank, rather inevitably in January 1976 only to be rebuilt. I suppose neither the old or new structures are of any great aesthetic appeal – purely functional – but the top photograph shows the original in use in the late 1880s.
Back in the early 1990s, I met a young American, Zane Branson, who was trying to raise funding to bring a Mississippi paddle steamer over to Liverpool as a tourist attraction. The timing was completely wrong and the idea went back across the Atlantic with him but, as the photo shows, paddle steamers are not a new phenomenon to the Mersey. The nineteenth century ferries were nearly all driven by paddles. What a great shame none have survived.

The photograph shows Liverpool waterfront at the height of its economic prosperity. A radically different townscape to the one we are used to, although St Nicholas’s Church and the dome of the Town Hall (on the right above the ferry) are two surviving buildings. Everything else has long since disappeared, from the warehousing lining the dock road to the elegant, colonnaded public baths designed by John Foster and opened in 1828. The baths served their purpose for the best part of 80 years before being demolished to make way for the filling in of George’s Dock to create land for what we now call the Three Graces (the Royal Liver, Cunard and Port of Liverpool buildings). To the right of St Nicholas’s is the Tower Building, which was replaced by W. Aubrey Thomas’s white tile clad building in 1908. Thomas, the architect of the Liver Building created a building with crenelated turrets in an allusion to the original tower.
What is particularly noticeable about the photograph is the height line of the buildings. The scale is modest and in complete contrast to today’s approach of building high. It is interesting to speculate on how the skyline will change in the next century, especially with the potential impact of Peel Holdings’ Liverpool Waters development. It is only when you look at the photographic record that you really understand how much has changed in a relatively short period. After all, in 1785, the Liverpool skyline was unrecognisable from the photograph above.