July, 2012 Archives

Garston Library (opened 1909)

Toxteth Library (opened 1902)

Kensington Library (opened 1890)

Liverpool has a proud place in the public library movement. It was a Liverpool-born (and Liverpool MP), William Ewart, who promoted the first Public Libraries Act in 1850, which led to the first public library opening in Duke Street (the building is still there although now used for commercial offices). In order to get the Bill through Parliament, William Ewart was forced to make an important compromise: only boroughs with populations of more than 10,000 would be allowed to open libraries.
Sir William Brown MP realised the Duke Street building was inadequate and personally funded the entire cost of the Brown Library, which he opened in 1860 on Shaw’s Brow (now William Brown Street). The new library attracted magnificent donations, including the famous art library of Hugh Frederick Hornby.
Liverpool did not rest on its laurels and its pioneering library work continued. Books were loaned to prisons in 1853 – anticipating the prison library service and this was followed by book loans to hospitals (1856), books to the blind (1857) and music being issued (1859). Branch libraries were opened in Everton (1853) and Toxteth (1853).
The rate that boroughs could charge for libraries was increased to one penny in 1855 but it was not enough for councils to fund new libraries, and the growth of libraries was heavily dependent on the donations of philanthropists. In Liverpool’s case, Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-born steel magnate, personally funded six branch libraries – Sefton Park, Walton, West Derby, Garston, Kirkdale and Old Swan. Without his help, libraries in Liverpool would have made no progress until after 1919, when the penny rate was lifted.
The three libraries illustrated above were all designed by the talented Corporation Surveyor, Thomas Shelmerdine, whose motto was ‘modernise everything’. His work includes the Bridewell at Kirkdale, the Fire Station at Hatton Garden, Lister Road public baths, parts of Fazakerley hospital and the Hornby Library (within the William Brown Library). The opening of the rebuilt William Brown Library next year will show once again how much the city still values its libraries as a crucial part of its cultural and educational life.

First of all, my apology for the delay in adding a new post. I have been working on an exciting new Liverpool photography project which I will reveal before the end of the month.
The decision last week to save a total of 374 homes around Liverpool FC ground was received with widespread approval amongst residents. The saved homes, of which 168 are vacant, will all be refurbished. A further 224 houses, 116 of which are vacant, will be demolished. Hopefully, this will end years of uncertainty for the local community, which has seen the area rapidly deteriorate over the last decade.
I hope the plan works and gives Anfield a new face. Certainly the shabbiness of the approaches to Anfield do the city few favours. I had given little thought to the humble terraced house until last year when I spent a day taking Charles Duff, one of the leading lights in reviving inner city Baltimore, around Liverpool. He was particularly interested in terraced housing which, to my great surprise, is an almost uniquely British form of housing (apparently, there are some examples in Belgium and the Netherlands). I suppose terraced housing is so much a part of the landscape, particularly in the Northern industrial belt, that you just take it as an almost universal style. Not so, and we spent an afternoon looking at the Georgian terraces around Rodney Street before heading out to Anfield. I though I would shock Charles with the degradation of the streets but his reaction was one of astonishment. He loved the small houses and could not understand why they were boarded up. These were the kind of houses he felt could help regenerate Baltimore which had, like Liverpool, hit the bottom as industry had been sucked out of it in recent decades. (Anyone familiar with The Wire will have an idea of what parts of Baltimore look like).
The idea of the Anfield regeneration is to knock down streets to create garden space, to join up two houses into one to make bigger family houses and to improve the paving and streets. This has worked well in Salford and elsewhere and is an intelligent way of preserving the unique character of Liverpool’s built heritage for the benefit of the community.

Everton Library 1998

Everton Library and Mere Bank public house, 1975

Liverpool has too many good building at risk and it is particularly sad when they belong to the City Council. The news last week that Everton Library is on track to receive a major renovation is very welcome news.
Libraries have had a very difficult time in recent years. Nationally, local authorities have been closing them down as spending cuts squeeze their budgets, citing declining use and the need to protect more essential services.
I am of a generation brought up to use and value libraries and their essential role in education. For many, they have been a source of inspiration, a treasure trove of learning that they could never afford themselves. Everton Library, in the heart of a deprived community, provided a priceless resource for adults and children alike. Designed by a very talented City Surveyor, Thomas Shelmerdine (who was also responsible for Kensington, Toxteth and Garston Libraries amongst other works)and opened in 1896, it is one of Liverpool’s finest art nouveau buildings.
More on Shelmerdine in the next blog but the hope is that, in 2016, a completely refurbished library and community meeting place will reopen to serve its community for generations to come.
A brief mention for Mere Bank public house, a splendid half-timbered pub standing next to the library and opposite St George’s church. Quentin Hughes was particularly fond of the proportions and craftsmanship displayed and included it in his Liverpool: City of Architecture as the building to kick-off the twentieth century (it opened c1900). The last time I passed it, it was closed and up for sale. Another sad reflection of our times.