May, 2013 Archives

I have tended to concentrate on how the physical shape of Liverpool has changed over the years. Social changes are often a bit more subtle to capture on film. In today’s case, however, there is no room for any ambiguity. The carte de visite (probably 1880s) proclaims ‘the most wonderful child ever exhibited’. On the reverse: The INFANT JUMBO is only six years of Age, Weighs 206lbs!! Height 4ft5in! Circumference of bare Chest 50 inches!! and the rest of his body in proportion. Exhibited for the first time at Reynold’s Exhibition, facing St George’s Hall, Lime Street, Liverpool.
Reynold’s Exhibition was an early example of the American ‘dime museums’, where everything and anything was exhibited under the banner of education and entertainment including, displays of the body beautiful or grotesque, painted panoramic scenes, fasting men and fat women and magic and illusion tricks. Reynold’s was one of the most long-standing and prominent venues in the North of England. The original waxworks exhibition opened in 1858 and initially the attractions were based on the model presented by Tussauds in London. However, over the decades the main focus of the entertainments on offer became very different, comprising of live entertainment shows and their particular specialisation, freaks of nature. Despite the popularity of the waxworks, Reynolds continued to change and refresh the type of attractions on display perhaps in order to compete with the range and variety of attractions presented by rival concerns in Lime Street. The inclusion of live entertainment alongside anatomical models, waxworks and the chamber of horrors was bringing to the British spectating public the type of entertainments first promoted by Barnum in the ten in one dime show or museum. Opening hours in Reynolds followed this pattern of all day entertainments with patrons being admitted at 10am until 10pm. Cost of admission started at threepence with the price increasing to sixpence if one wanted to enjoy the entertainments that were shown twice a day (3pm and 8pm). Acts comprised of the performing fleas, the Norwegian Giant and Tiny Tim, and a vocal and instrumental recital by Miss Beatrice Vaughan, as well as a mystic magical entertainment by Major Devono. Children who were employed for entertainment purposes at this time included the Infant Jumbo, the ‘most wonderful child ever exhibited’, who at the age of six weighed over 205 lbs. By the late 1880s and early 1890s it appears that the show side of the exhibition was the means by which the exhibitors could constantly refresh the attractions on view. The use of novelties and freaks to entertain and educate the public was a continuation of a side-show tradition taken directly from the fairgrounds and shop-shows and marketed by Barnum to a higher level than previous attained, freak shows as presented by Barnum were not on the edges of society or part of illegitimate theatre practices but firmly within the mainstream and appealed to a family audience.
By 1894 live entertainment appears to be a mainstay of the attractions on offer. Princess Paulina, the Living Doll makes her first appearance at the exhibition, later modelled into a waxwork effigy in the historical waxworks hall. Ethnographic attractions also became a feature of the exhibition with both the Aztecs and the Circassisan Brothers thrilling audiences in October 1894. Reynold’s Waxworks Exhibition opened its doors from 1858 to 1922 and provided the people of Liverpool with a range of shows and attractions all within one fixed venue. Catering for a largely working class audience, it maintained its position as an arena for spectacular and entertainment for over seven decades all for the price of a sixpence. Incorporating waxworks, live performances, freak show exhibits and the latest technological wonders of the age, it contents may have been largely British in character but the exhibition was both inspired and presented through American showmanship and exhibition practices. (Taken from the National Fairground Archive).
Today, the idea of exhibiting an obese six year old to a paying audience is almost beyond comprehension. We may not like how the physical fabric of the city has sometimes changed but in the case of the exhibiting of so-called ‘freaks’, I doubt there is anyone who would call it entertainment.

Regular readers of my blog will be used to my posts about the unnecessary damage to Liverpool’s architectural heritage over the decades. Today’s image presents a different take on what has happened over the last 30 years. The key date was 1984 with the International Garden Festival, the Tall Ships’ Race and the most enduring legacy, the reopening of the Albert Dock. If anyone is in any doubt as to the significance of the latter event, the photograph above is a reminder of how far the neglect had gone, with the dock filled with millions of tons of silt following a Dock Board decision to keep the dock gates open. The photograph must have been taken only a couple of years before the re-opening (the police headquarters are complete and operational). On the left, the Canning Place complex can be seen (it was finally demolished c2000) and in front of the Cathedral, the land has been cleared prior to new housing being built (a shame, I feel, I would have preferred to have kept the site as a landscape park).
Without a doubt, Liverpool has improved beyond measure in the last three decades. The re-opening of the Central Library is further proof that the city is going in the right direction. I went to the opening night and was blown away by the refurbishment and rebuild. If you haven’t had the chance yet – go and be amazed.

The name of the pub could not be clearer – but where is it. The name Sefton appears on many pubs – usually the Sefton Arms (there were 8 in 1964). Only three were named Sefton Hotel – one on North Hill Street, one on Smithdown Lane and the other on the corner of Robson Street and Vienna Street. Checking through my photos, I have discounted both North Hill Street and Smithdown Lane – so that points to Robson Street. I have my doubts though. I am pretty certain the pub has been demolished – so it would be useful to know exactly where it was.

The photograph above, of Commutation Row, sums up the way Liverpool’s heritage has been treated in recent years. An interesting row of nineteenth century buildings, none of great architectural merit perhaps, could have been restored to enhance the magnificence of St George’s Plateau and William Brown Street. Instead they are pulled down to make way for an undistinguished block of offices for a housing association, which soon after vacated them. Why is it so difficult for decision-makers to understand what is worth keeping? Does developers’ money always get the last word? Let us hope the plans for Lime Street are not for wholesale clearance and replacement by nondescript architecture.

Although I never made use of its services, I was impressed by the exterior of the Ministry of Labour building on Leece Street (it also doubled up as the Ministry of Transport Driving and Traffic Examiners Department for much of its life). The Post Office has survived but the Labour Exchange was demolished shortly after being sold off to a property developer – who left behind a hole in the ground. How many times has the same scenario repeated itself – the most notorious case being the unforgivable destruction of the Sailors’Home? How do we get around this almost routine removal of buildings of note by both the private and public sector who promptly run out of money to take their ideas further? The mess of the abandoned Baltic Triangle development and the unfinished scheme on the corner of Sefton Street and Parliament Street are just two example of ill-thought out schemes without the money to complete them.
I have been a bit quiet recently (working on a new book), so here is another photograph of a lost building: the Berkely Arms on the corner of Upper Stanhope Street and Berkely Street (was this Hitler’s local? No – that is meant as a joke not a serious question). The pub is seen here in the early 1970s (I like the two versions of The Ghetto and The Getto on its wall – playing safe).Was the building with the balustrade part of the pub?