Church Street c1895
Bottom of Water Street c1895
The dates are approximate but reasonably accurate. Within a few years, there would be changes to both these views. The photograph of Water Street shows Picton’s Tower Building (with the original street name Prison Weint on its wall as a reminder of its predecessor’s original function). By the turn of the century, the classical pile had been replaced by the current Tower Building with its white glazed facade (to cope with the soot-laden air). On the other corner, the rather plain block with the street name Back Goree, survived a little longer (until the 1920s) before being replaced by the Bank Of British West Africa, a rather fine Greek Revival building by Arnold Thornely, architect of the even more impressive Cunard Building.
Church Street was similarly ‘tweaked’ over the next decade. The semi-circular building on the corner of Whitechapel was pulled down and replaced by the Edwardian baroque of Bunney’s Corner (which lasted a mere fifty years before being replaced by Greenwoods, which in turn lasted fifty years before suffering a similar fate – a theme seems to be developing here). The building in the far distance caught my eye. The tower by the side of Central Station is part of the first Lewis’s store on Ranelagh Street. That was replaced by a second store in 1910 – which was bombed and largely destroyed in 1941 and replaced by the current building which is being renovated as a multi-functional building.
Change in Liverpool is usually quite subtle, like this. A building goes and is replaced by another – hopefully a better building. Over a few decades, a new vista emerges. In the case of Water Street, the other two big gains were India Buildings and Martin’s Bank – two Art Deco masterpieces that have definitely enhanced the city’s architectural stock.
Church Street suffered serious war damage, the buildings on the right at the junction of Lord Street and Paradise Street were destroyed in the War along with Russell’s Building (the corner of which can be seen on the right). The building on the corner of Church Street is Seel’s Building of 1872, a rare foray into commercial architecture by Edward Welby Pugin, best known for his churches. It is rather an odd building for Liverpool – where such stonework stands in complete contrast to all its neighbours. I like its quirkiness but perhaps he should have stuck with religion.
Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to put names to photographs. When I started my blog, I aimed to bring unseen images to greater attention in the hope that readers would add their opinions and information. Photography has a unique place in our appreciation and understanding of the past but only too often, the people in the photographs remain anonymous and one can only guess at their lives.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from Mary Mclean, delighted to have found the picture of her (above) used on the cover of my book Picture Post on Liverpool. It was the first time she had seen the photograph, which was taken by Thurston Hopkins in 1956 as part of his unpublished assignment on the Liverpool slums. Mary is now 62 and a grandmother but that is all the information she gave. My attempts to contact her failed, as her emails bounced back as undelivered. So I know little more than her name and age and that she married and had children (and that the photographs were taken in the vicinity of Scotland Road).
Thurston Hopkins is still alive (now 101) and living in Susses with his wife, Grace Robertson, who was also a Picture Post photographer and daughter of the broadcaster Fyfe Robertson (who you will have to be in your 50s at least to remember). It was Fyfe Robertson who accompanied Thurston on their controversial story about slum living which Edward Hulton, proprietor of Picture Post, refused to publish after pressure from Liverpool Council (who thought the article would be a slur on the city).
Hopefully Mary Mclean will discover this blog (she has only seen the book) and reply with more information about where the photograph was taken and about her subsequent life. In the meantime, here are two more photographs from the same session that have remained unpublished until now.
St Nicholas’s Parade, 1895
Tower Building and Liverpool Overhead Railway, 1895
John Massey corrected me on my last blog. I mentioned in my text that the occasion (on St George’s Plateau) worried me. The two key concerns were that if it was the visit by Queen Victoria, there was an absence of banners and that the Sessions House had been completed in 1884 (the photograph shows an unfinished facade). John rightly pointed out that the visit was illustrated in the Illustrated London News with a large engraving which clearly showed lavish decoration and a completed Sessions House. What is more, the visit was in pouring rain – not the sunshine shown in my picture. So that raises two points: the photograph must be from 1883/84 and there is no immediate explanation for what was a considerable gathering. Any suggestions?
Today’s pictures are far easier to date. The Overhead Railway opened in 1893 and St George’s Church (the spire on the right) was demolished in 1899, having closed two years earlier. That gives a six year window but as the photograph has 1895 pencilled in, I will settle for that date.
Most commercial photographs of Liverpool of that time cover the same subject matter: St George’s Hall, the Pier Head area, Church Street/Lord Street. Perhaps this is not surprising, after all they were in business to make money. In the 1980s and 90s, I produced dozens of different postcards of the city. I started off trying to be adventurous, with less well-known locations but the sales figures quickly taught me that visitors would only buy a small number of cards and what they wanted was the obvious: the waterfront, two Cathedrals, Albert Dock. Nothing really changes – the Victorians realised it and just aimed to take a better view than their competitors. My interest in such images is partly on the buildings but very much on the level of street animation. Without the horses and carts and other activity, the photographs would have far less appeal.
Visit of Queen Victoria 1886
Detail of main photograph
St George’s Plateau has been a meeting place since its early days. Over the years, trade unions, suffragettes, May Horse parades, Orange Lodge marches amongst many groups have made it their meeting place. In the 1960s, there was that famous photograph of dozens of Merseybeat groups on its step. More recently, it has witnessed football triumphs, French giants and the opening ceremony for 2008 Capital of Culture with Ringo Starr drumming on the roof of St George’s Hall.
Back in the nineteenth century such big events were somewhat scarcer. At first this photograph bothered me. In the background, the Sessions House is clearly in the process of being completed – its facade is bare and the winch above the building suggests work is in progress (the church behind is Christ Church in Hunter Street – demolished in the 1920s).
According to my references, the Session House was completed in 1884 but I am guessing the final additions to the facade must have over-run the official opening on August 4 because the great gathering on the Plateau can only have been for the visit of Queen Victoria in May 1886. The two day Royal Visit culminated in a drive from the riverfront along Lord Street, Church Street, along Lime Street and up London Road to Newsham House. I doubt any other event would have drawn such a crowd. The detail shows every vantage point being taken as the crowd tried to get a rare sight of the Queen at a time when the British Empire was the dominant force in the world.
The terrible devastation wreaked on Liverpool by the Luftwaffe in May 1941 was concentrated in a relatively short period. After May, bombing raids reduced significantly as the RAF gained supremacy in the skies. Raids did continue as the photograph taken near to the Royal Court in Roe Street shows. An eye-witness wrote many years later:
For some reason, just before Christmas, they (the writer’s family) all went along with my idea of spending the night in a place of safety. About midnight the shelter was hit and caught fire, and we were shepherded out by the Royal Court Theatre. Outside a fire engine had crashed into a bomb crater, and the whole area was lit with searchlights and chandeliers.
We were shown to different shelters in Elliot Street, Great Charlotte Street, Cases Street and, in my family’s case, to Lewis’s in Ranelagh Street. I later learnt that my sister had been playing the piano throughout the raid – Sonny Durband, Lewis’s resident pianist, had left his sheet music in the Music Department, which at that time was in the shop’s basement.
The last raid took place on 10 January 1942, destroying several houses on Upper Stanhope Street. By a quirk of fate one of the houses destroyed was number 102, which had been the home of Alois Hitler, Jr., half brother of Adolf Hitler and the birthplace of Hitler’s nephew, William Patrick Hitler.