Over the years I have been writing my blog, the posts that create the highest response rates are hospitals and school. The former is mainly ex-nurses who trained and worked at the now demolished Northern Hospital (a very positive experience for most). The schools posts – there have been a number – have created their own Friends Reunited mini-sites. I wrote a long time ago that a photo book on Liverpool schools was well overdue. Perhaps I should have published one but the opportunity seems to have slipped by.
It is surprising how relatively short-lived most schools are. The raft of buildings built in the wake of the 1870 Elementary Education Act have largely disappeared. A small number have been replaced by more modern buildings and their names kept but most have simply vanished. Chatsworth Street School, pictured above is a rare survivor (although now called Smithdown Primary School). I pass it most days on my journeys up and down Upper Parliament Street and marvel at how it has managed to survive intact. Its neighbourhood has changed considerably in recent decades but the school is a constant presence. The Gothic-influenced building was built in 1874 for the School Board and is a rather unusual building for Liverpool with its pale sandstone facing. Having survived for nearly 150 years, hopefully it will continue to light up what has been a rather drab and desolate corner of the city.
Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of taking my good friend Professor Charlie Duff around Liverpool. Charlie is a leading figure in Baltimore’s revival and sees many comparisons between Liverpool and his hometown. Both are of a similar size and have suffered comparable post-War declines. Anyone familiar with The Wire will have a certain knowledge of the level of urban decline parts of Baltimore have suffered.
Of course, like Liverpool, there are plenty of very pleasant areas but the media are always more interested in the dysfunctional. Charlie was particularly keen to look at how our city’s urban fabric knitted together (especially after he had spent a couple of days in Leeds and Manchester), so we set out on a journey in glorious sunshine to explore as much as we could in a day. I loved it – nothing is better than showing someone round your city when the light is perfect. An amble through Liverpool One to examine how it had brought the Albert Dock seamlessly into the pedestrian flow, followed by an examination of Castle Street/Water Street and Victoria Street to marvel at the great commercial architecture and ponder on why Manchester and Leeds had taken away Liverpool’s role as a banking and insurance centre. Charlie had an endless stream of questions about how I saw Liverpool’s future – which I am still pondering. Rental yields in Manchester and Leeds are substantially higher than Liverpool – which equates to developers looking there rather than here (and both cities are regarded as being more business friendly).
With heavy questions on my mind, we headed towards the University and Georgian Quarter, stopping at 19 Abercromby Square (now part of Liverpool University) to admire the remaining symbols of what was the unofficial consulate of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, before heading off towards Falkner Square. The light was perfect and I stopped to photograph the fine terrace in Back Falkner Street South. We could have been in Knightsbridge or other exclusive London areas. Whatever Liverpool’s future is, it has the physical assets that few other British cities have. I felt a great sense of pride walking along Canning Street and Huskisson Street before heading down to the Baltic Triangle to examine how creative businesses were transforming a previously semi-derelict area.
We continued with a tour of Port Sunlight – one of the most astonishing housing experiments in Europe – and that forerunner of all public parks, Birkenhead Park, before crossing back to look at the vast empty acres of Liverpool Waters by Stanley Dock. If this is the future of Liverpool, it would be good to see some activity, the place is eerily deserted and raises so many questions about Peel’s intentions.
Fortunately, we finished on another high as I drove round Sefton Park. There was a wedding in the Palm House and everything looked magical. A great day to be a tourist in my own city.