January, 2013 Archives

The announcement that we are going to have a referendum on EU membership if the Conservatives win the next General Election might seem to have little connection with today’s photograph. The group of local councillors and arts administrators selecting the Autumn Exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery in 1938 is not exactly an image that has the serious implications of a plebiscite on Europe but there are similarities. Back then, the question of what was considered fit for our eyes and minds was heavily vetted not just in the case of the art on public gallery walls but also in the cinema, theatre and literature. Not only the Lord Chamberlain’s Office was involved but also the Board of Film Censors and, along the line, the local authority Watch Committee. If they objected to anything on the grounds of public taste, be it violence, nudity or whatever, they could put a banning order preventing public exhibition or sale (in the case of books). In other words, they did not trust the public to make up their own minds about what to see or read. Even as late as the 1980s, the BBC was banning the playing of records such as Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Relax amongst other records (with the inevitable result that it went to Number One).
The cries of anguish over the Referendum are of the same ilk – a refusal to believe that the British public can think for themselves. The committee of suited, mainly old and overwhelmingly male, Councillors might have made bold choices for all I know but it exudes the complacency of a paternalistic clique determining taste as they thought fit. Well, that is one way of looking at the photograph.

I chose this photograph for two reasons: first of all, I have neglected Old Swan in my many previous posts (as well as quite a few other areas I hope to get round to) but, more importantly, because it is an image taken in the early days of three revolutionary changes to society – the motor car, telephone and the cinema.
Steggles and Mitchell’s gaarage has long gone. It stood close to the corner with Green Lane (heading out from Liverpool). The year is 1913 and the garage did not exist in my 1910 directory (the premises were used as dry salters).
I am not sure when the first taxi with an internal combustion engine appeared on the streets of Liverpool but in London, it was 1903. (In September, 1899, the first American died in an car accident. Sixty-eight year-old Henry Bliss was helping a friend from a street car when a taxi driver lost control and fatally hit him).
The telephone has a slightly older history, the first service started in London with just 10 subscribers and the early years were dominated by private companies on licences. However, in 1912, just before the photograph was taken, the Post Office was granted a monopoly once these licences had expired. The only exceptions were telephone systems run by local authorities at Hull and Portsmouth. Until 2007 only Hull’s service remains independent, Portsmouth’s was sold to the Post Office in 1913. (In 2007, Hull sold its remaining stake in its company for over ?107 million).The photograph indicates that the taxi firm was one of the earliest subscribers with its number 185 Old Swan.
Liverpool had gained its first purpose built cinema only a year earlier – The Futurist, Liverpool?s first purpose-built cinema opened in 1912 (see my post for December 28th). The posters on the wall advertise Dynamited Love (an 1912 film) and Pimble’s Ivanhoe (1913). There is another poster advertising The Black 13 but I cannot trace this (there was a much later film of the same name where Black 13 was the number on a roulette wheel).
A year later, World War was to irrevocably change society. Did the three proud drivers survive the horrors of war? It is fascinating to examine photographs and search for clues. This one is a splendid example.

George’s Dock and Goree Piazza, 1891

Following on from my last post, here are three more stereographs. The card shown above can hardly be classified as one of Liverpool’s oldest photographs but it does show a scene almost unchanged from the 1860s. Sailing boats line the docks into the distance and horse drawn wagons trundle down the dock road with their heavy loads. The Goree warehouses with their arcades are on the right hand side (sadly demolished after the War).
An older photograph is that of the old George’s Dock (below) showing the Church of St Nicholas, the Sailors’ Church. The date is probably late 1860s, well before Mersey Chambers was built in the Old Churchyard in 1878. Tower Building is to the right (replaced by the present building in 1906). The image is not sharp but it is an interesting record of the Pierhead before the Floating Roadway and the Landing Stage were built (mid-1870s).

The third stereograph is easy to date (it is printed on the card). Lord Street is bedecked with bunting to celebrate the coronation of Edward V11. A nice, busy street scene with a new electric tram in the foreground.

Brunswick Dock c1865

Brunswick Dock detail

When I started this blog, I raised the question of whether any substantial archive of early Liverpool photographs existed. I posted an early photograph of St George’s Hall (1850) but have had no success in finding other images from that period. This is, perhaps, surprising because Liverpool supported one of the first photographic societies and there were some important photographers amongst its members, including Francis Frith.
The first relatively significant number of images in my possession are stereographs. These are two dimensional photographs of the same subject, slightly offset to separate the left eye from the right eye, which when viewed through a simple viewer give a 3D effect. Cards became available from the early 1850s and were still being produced well into the twentieth century. Stereo cards became very popular and were bought in their millions – which accounts for their survival. Local photographers, such as H. Sampson of Southport, could make a living from churning out local views and the image of Brunswick Dock is typical of his work. I am guessing the date is around 1865, although it could be slightly later. The windmill on Mill Street was still standing and the dock full of sailing ships.
The image below is of the old Adelphi Hotel, again by Sampson. The building on the right is a bedding manufactory owned by Catharine Sanderson. (The couple on the corner are wearing typical clothing of the 1860s). To the left of the Adelphi Hotel, on the corner of Copperas Hill (where the Vines public house now stands) is William Mardock’s pharmacy according to Gore’s 1865 Directory.