Wellington Column 1875
Wellington Column c1900
Wellington Column 1928
Liverpool has many fine monuments which would take pride of place in any city. Some are badly neglected, like the statue of George 111 in Monument Place, outside TJ Hughes. I use the word neglected in the sense that it is no longer the best site for such a noble statue (there are very few equestrian statues in Britain yet Liverpool has four of them, more than any other city outside of London). I would like to see it in a more prominent place – perhaps at the intersection of Church Street and Lord Street – where is can become a focal point.
The Wellington Column is another fine focal point but, again, is rather ignored. It is no less impressive than Nelson’s Column and every bit as striking as Grey’s Monument in Newcastle upon Tyne (and Grade 1 listed). Possibly the setting for Wellington is too overbearing, with some of the best municipal buildings in the country surrounding it. More probably, it is the location away from the centre of the city. Grey’s Monument is in the heart of the shopping area and is an obvious landmark for people to meet, and Nelson’s Column has a fantastic location in front of the National Gallery and at a major traffic junction. Our Wellington is just a bit cut off now that traffic through Lime Street has largely been diverted. Sad too that the fine range of Victorian buildings on Commutation Road were so unnecessarily pulled down for the bland housing association building. (Incidentally, the church to the left of the column in the 1928 photo is Holy Trinity on St Anne Street, late eighteenth century and demolished in 1970. The church with a spire, on the right, is St Francis Xavier on Salisbury Street).
A Francis Frith photograph of Albert Dock and the Custom House. The date is approximate but it is certainly pre-1878 because Lyster’s Albert Hydraulic Power Centre (or The Pumphouse as it is now known) has not been built.
Frith is the great pioneer of Liverpool photography – and he was active from the early 1850s. Annoyingly, although there are hundreds of his early photographs of other English towns and landmarks (in particular cathedrals, abbeys and churches), I have come across no photographs by him pre-1870. I still hold out hope that there are photographs in some collection – there are still many unexplored sources. If there are 1850 photographs, they would coincide with the completion of St George’s Hall, so I would expect it to be the most likely candidate (Frith and Company photographed it many times in later years). I would hope that the waterfront would feature but, in many ways, the view shown above would have looked quite similar to a photograph taken in the 1850s. I would not expect to find heavily peopled photographs, photographic plates were far too slow to capture movement and photographers generally settled for unpeopled landscapes and building shots.
Nevertheless, the 1870s photographs give a strong impression of an important seaport and underline the great loss to Liverpool’s architectural heritage when the Custom House was first firebombed and then unnecessarily demolished after the War.
My apologies for the lack of activity in recent weeks but I have been on holiday to India, where I spotted this marvellous sign. India is an experience like no other. Temples and palaces are falling down and, in the case of the palaces where I found the sign, over-run by monkeys. Yet the magnificence of the buildings is overwhelming. I was reminded of a newspaper article shortly after the Albert Dock re-opened in 1984, where the journalist derided the restoration as bourgeosification. He complained that by cleaning the soot-blackened bricks and stonework, the patina of decades had been lost and that the building was all the poorer for it. I was angered by the article at the time – like most people in Liverpool, the Albert Dock restoration marked a milestone in the city’s revival and a London-based writer’s observations seemed insensitive and gratuitous.
My travels in India, though, did chime with his sentiments to some extent. There is something romantic about buildings that are bashed around the corners. I remember the roads off Duke Street (Lydia Anne Street/Henry Street/York Street) which until relatively recently had the feels of the old seaport – you could almost imagine Charles Dickens on one of his Liverpool night trips with the police. They still exude an atmosphere but without the smell of rot and damp that once permeated the area.
Much has been done to improve Liverpool in the last decade but the idea of sustaining our heritage took a rather inglorious bash this week when the Victorian Society voted Langton Dock Pumping Station as one of its ten most important Victorian buildings at risk. Unfortunately, I haven’t got a photograph – something to rectify in the next few weeks. Isolated on the edge of a container park, it is a fine red brick building of 1879 by Lyster (although, surprisingly, Joseph Sharples omits it from his fine book on Liverpool’s architecture). Hopefully, Peel Holdings will put some effort into safeguarding the site (if it is their responsibility).
There are quite a number of buildings that are seriously at risk. Two I pass regularly are the Wellington Rooms on Mount Pleasant and the Welsh Presbyterian Church on Princes Road. Both are in a desperate state but not beyond salvation. The Wellington Rooms, in particular, could quite easily be restored as an arts venue. Better known in recent years as the Irish Centre, the building was erected in 1815 by public subscription following the Battle of Waterloo. Initially assembly rooms for dancing and concerts, the building has changed ownership on a number of occasions. After the last War, it became the Rodney Youth Centre, before being taken over by Liverpool’s Irish community.
Liverpool has precious few Georgian buildings of this quality. It really is time for action.
The Welsh Presbyterian Church is a more daunting prospect, since it has been stripped of its internal fittings and a large section of its roof. Its steeple is a magnificent sight but, unless action is taken, it won’t be there for future generations to enjoy.