Heap Mill, Beckwith Street, 1980
Bridgewater Street, 1980
Bridgewater Street, June 2014
I picked up a leaflet this week asking me to sign a petition to save Heap Mill. The ex-rice mill is in a prominent position facing Albert Dock and next to the Formule 1 hotel on Liver Street. Planning permission is being sought to demolish the dilapidated warehouse complex to build a block of apartments. Those in favour of the new development (according to online sources) seem to be fairly evenly split with those wishing to save the mill and see it converted to other uses. The conservation lobby argue that warehouses were a key element in Liverpool’s history and only a small number of the larger complexes remain. So on which side do I fall?
My heart is with those wishing to hold on to buildings which have such a key relationship with the city’s trading past but, in this case, I can see no future for what is a rather grim block which has long since served its purpose. I can see no developer coming forward to convert the building, which has bulk but little aesthetic charm – the cost would be astronomical.
What bemuses me is that two key warehouses on Bridgewater Street have just been demolished without, to my knowledge, any fuss being stirred up. Admittedly, again, the warehouses were little more than facades having been burnt out some years ago – but their prominence at the gateway to the Baltic Triagle was impressive.
I started by business life in a run-down warehouse om Manesty’s Lane. Apparently, the building was Tate and Lyle’s first warehouse but when I moved in (in 1973) it was almost a shell. The floor plan was literally a rectangle with a heavily beamed ceiling with a circular stone case in the corner as access. The roof leaked because of the parapet roof construction, it had no running water and in winter (or most of the year) was bitterly cold because of the metal loading doors on each level. My recollection of Liverpool at that time was of street after street lined with similar obsolete buildings, all decaying. I can think of no other city in England that had such dereliction within a few yards of its main streets.
So, sadly (for I am a great believer in keeping the best examples of our heritage), I will have to go with the modernisers on the Heap Mill question. There are more important battles to be fought.
In my last post, I brought up the problem of dating photographs. Probably only one in ten of my vintage images has a date that can be considered reliable. The other 90% I have to give an approximate date according to the photographic process used (only reliable to within ten years at the best), a specific event, people’s dress or buildings that existed at the time (again, often only good to within ten years).
On the whole, this is not a serious problem – more of a desire to be as accurate as possible. With many street photographs, it is easy to say 1890s but in quite a few cases, some of my images of bare-footed children were taken up to the early 1900s. (The fact that hand-held cameras only really started to make an impact in the early 1890s is one helpful clue).
Fortunately, the photograph of a busy Pier Head turned out to be relatively easy to date thanks to the internet. Reading up on the history of the ferries, it turns out that the Alexandra (the ferry in the foreground) was only in service for one year – in 1890. It was chartered for that year only (why and from whom is not stated). I imagine it must have been named after Princess Alexandra – consort of the Prince of Wales. I suppose I should dig deeper but, to be honest, transport history is not really my bag. Perhaps some informed reader can fill in the gaps.
One of the frustrations of interpreting historic photographs is correctly dating them. Perhaps the most popular subject for the Victorian photographer was St George’s Hall – and no wonder. When it opened in 1854, it must have been an astonishing sight. Towering above the city, like the Parthenon on the Acropolis, this great statement of civic endeavour and intent must have had an immense psychological impact on the fast growing town.
I remember my first trip to Liverpool from Sheffield in 1966. As I left Lime Street, I was confronted by this immense building which was anything but provincial (as most of Sheffield’s architecture was). Even though it was soot-black, it had a startling presence with its impressive plateau and statuary, including the much under-valued Wellington’s Column.
Getting back to my starting point: dating Victorian photographs can be quite imprecise. Clothing can give a clue but fashions lingered on for years and is anything but foolproof. Similarly, shop names can give an indication. A new shop would have a new sign but many businesses had long lives. The clue in today’s photograph is the original staircase on the Southern facade (below the eight columns on the left hand side). This had been replaced by the current arrangement by 1855: according to Picton ‘Originally access was obtained from the street by two narrow flights of steps descending right and left from the centre: but the taste of the local dilettanti being offended, an appeal was made to the council, by whose authority they were removed, and the terrace finished as it now remains.’
So the photograph can be dated to around 1854 to 1855. Not as old as the photograph I published in October 2010 (which shows signs of construction still in progress) but close enough. What makes the photograph special is that it is signed Forrest – a founder member of Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association (established in 1853 as one of the world’s first photographic societies – it is now part of South Liverpool Photographic Society). John Alexander Forrest was a glass manufacturer in Lime Street and his image is the earliest one of Liverpool by a named photographer I have come across.
St George’s Hall seems to be on the fringe of the city centre rather than a central feature. The shabby state of Lime Street is apparently to be addressed but the soulless dual carriageway and the dreadful lump that is St John’s Market with its crude advertising hoarding also need sorting. Do we really need a dual carriageway? If ever a site need creative thought and design, this would be my priority. By clever design, Liverpool One has brought the Albert Dock and Pier Head back into life. Now we need an equally smart solution for the Lime Street area.