October, 2016 Archives

South-Castle-Street-1973

South Castle Street 1973

Mount-Pleasant-1972

Mount Pleasant 1972

Queen-Square-1970

Queen Square 1970

I had a very interesting meeting with Catherine Morris, the Writer in Residence at Liverpool Central Library. Catherine is putting together an oral history archive that will tell the history of Liverpool. Not before time; this is something that should be an ongoing activity in every village, town and city in the country. Apart from fragments, we have already lost the voices of the generations born before 1920, who could tell us about life in the nineteenth-century, WW1, the 1920s and 30s Depression. We have lost their insight into the hardships, relationships, sacrifices and pleasures. Even their way of talking and use of dialect has been largely lost. This is important work and I hope Catherine’s work becomes a permanent feature of the Library’s work.

In our discussion, I talked about the Liverpool I first experienced when I arrived in 1970. It was a very different place when the population was over 600,000. Now it is down to 470,000 (but slowly increasing). The years of Merseybeat were long gone, not that they had halted the rapid post-War economic decline. My memories were of empty boarded streets, soot-blackened public buildings and a general down-at-the-heel feeling of neglect. True that was also the same with Manchester and Sheffield but Liverpool was the only city I had experienced where a 100 yard walk from Church Street would take you to streets of abandoned warehouses and commercial buildings. I worked in a project for a time in Manesty’s Lane (now absorbed into Liverpool One), where every warehouse was empty and available for virtually no rent to anyone foolhardy enough to make it watertight and usable.

I captured the last days of the Sailors’ Home in 1973, just around the corner. This was Liverpool’s most significant individual loss of the decade. I have commented before on its scandalous loss, made worse by the proposed redevelopment being called off, leaving a hole in the ground and scattered masonry for the next three decades. However, it is the scale of destruction of smaller buildings that had integrity through their unity that is particularly shocking. The streets around St John’s Market had been flattened before I arrived but Queen Square had survived almost intact. That was until a misjudged scheme for a massive civic centre was activated. These were the days of grandiose local authority ambitions and the huge building was planned to expand their activities to megalomaniac levels. Having demolished most of Queen Square, the Government called in the scheme as being inappropriate and out-dated, leaving behind a flattened landscape that served as a car park for the next 25 years. To add insult to injury, the new Queen Square development was heralded as being an exciting new mixed development with a feature square at its heart. Rather like the original although without its history and impressive architecture.

The Georgian houses that lined Mount Pleasant were similarly pulled down to make way for one of the ugliest multi-storey car parks it is possibly to build. The photograph shows the famous Mardi Gras, one of the city’s most popular night clubs that had made its home in an old chapel. Now the car park is doomed. At least its replacement cannot be any worse (can it?).

The impressive facades that lined South Castle Street could and should have been saved. The new Law Courts took out the small eighteenth-century Benn Gardens but why was this important row of commercial building lost?

It is this loss of unity that has damaged Liverpool most. Losing an individual building of significant architectural merit like the Sailors’ Home is unacceptable but it is the way whole swathes of buildings that told the story of Liverpool were removed, usually for very little or no gain, that is the real tragedy. have we learned any lessons? The destruction of Lime Street suggests otherwise.

13482-pembroke-place-liverpool

Pembroke Place is a rather forgotten area. I imagine most readers will have visited TJ Hughes at least once in their lives (it is to the left of the photograph)but the rather shabby area offers little for the urban explorer. This is sad because there is so much potential to make more of its situation. It is close to the city centre, it has interesting Victorian buildings, relatively low rent retail outlets available (especially around Stafford Street behind TJ Hughes, and it has a large, if transient, population of students and hospital workers.

Pembroke Place is the road that heads up towards Crown Street. Monument Place is the area in front of Myers & Co. (general outfitters), the impressive building shown in the photograph.The monument (out of picture) is the equestrian statue of George 111, by the famous sculptor Richard Westmacott. It was originally intended for Great Georges Square, at that time the most desirable residential area in Liverpool, but was relocated to London Road in 1822. Liverpool is well represented with equestrian statues having 4 (if one excludes Christ on an Ass at St Nicholas Church), London has 17 and there are 18 in the rest of England.

In my 1884 Directory, the area was a centre for the furniture trade but also had the usual array of small tradesmen from oyster dealers and cigar importers to cycle makers and chandlers. Even today, there is a sense of the past pervading the area. Sadly, it has had its losses, including the elaborate interior of The Monument public house, photographed by David Wrightson in the early 1970s.

Monument

In the early days of my blog, I railed against the neglect of Lime Street. Now something is being done to rectify that problem (I take no credit especially since the solution is not one I can endorse). Maybe someone will listen to my plea for Monument Place. With imagination, it could become an exciting alternative retail/small business area. After all, it is only a stone’s throw from Lime Street, St George’s Hall and William Brown Street. The Baltic Triangle has been a huge success and is running out of space, so why not London Road?

Thanks again to the Keasbury-Gordon Archive. Copies of their book Liverpool in 1886 are available from https://www.amazon.co.uk/Liverpool-1886-Andrew-Gill/dp/1533188947/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473848694&sr=8-1&keywords=liverpool+in+1886

13478-Clayton-square-Liverpool

I was in the city centre yesterday checking up on how the refurbishment of Clayton Square is getting on. There is still some way to go but much of the new paving is already down. The new steps are still a work in progress, so it is difficult to make a judgement at this stage. I imagine work will be completed in time for Christmas.

Clayton Square has been badly treated. The 1980s redevelopment was seen as a mark of progress at the time: a futurist shopping mall in the centre of the city. Unfortunately, it did not work out too well. Most of the retail units were too small for major retailers and too expensive for small independents. The two key ‘anchor’ stores were Boots and Virgin Records but they were not enough to create the excitement a new retail outlet needs.

There was considerable opposition at the time but the demolition of the nineteenth century east side of the square went ahead. Rather than refurbish to existing buildings (which were big enough for national retailers) that would have created a far more interesting townscape, the whole lot went in a misplaced effort to modernise the city.

This is not a new story, of course. The Lyceum, at the bottom of Bold Street, nearly went in the hideous redevelopment of Central Station and the unspeakable damage resulting from the building of the new St John’s Precinct is a prime example of the danger of giving developers a free hand in determining the shape of our city.

The photograph is of the west side of Clayton Square. The row of shops on Houghton Street was demolished in the mid-1960s for the St John’s project and the building on the immediate left was replaced by a late 1920s Portland stone faced building that housed Owen Owens and, more recently, Tesco. The shops are fascinating. The late-Victorian vogue for all things Japanese is reflected in Clayton Brothers caf? and bamboo furniture shop but it is the next shop that is particularly striking with its large sign Habit Makers. I can imagine thousands of nuns writing in from all over the world for the latest in habit fashions. A niche business today, perhaps, but obviously big business a century or more ago.

Thanks again to the Keasbury-Gordon Archive. Copies of their book Liverpool in 1886 are available from https://www.amazon.co.uk/Liverpool-1886-Andrew-Gill/dp/1533188947/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473848694&sr=8-1&keywords=liverpool+in+1886

Georges-Dock-1860

Over the years of this blog, I have commented on the strange absence of photographs of Liverpool pre-1870. There are reasons in part for this. Photography for the amateur was a rich man’s hobby and its application was limited by the technology of the time: glass plates, slow exposure times requiring tripods for stability and availability of a darkroom. The commercial applications of photography beyond portraiture were hardly being explored (this was before photo-mechanical printing of photographs in books and magazines). However, Liverpool did have its rich amateurs, including the pioneer of landscape photography Francis Frith and they had grouped together in Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association in 1853.

It is hard to believe that photographing the rapidly changing town they lived in did not interest them. Indeed, I have already posted a photograph of St George’s Hall taken by John Alexander Forrest, one of the Society’s leading lights. But that is it. Fortunately, today’s image – of George’s Dock photographed in the 1860s – was copied and made into a lantern slide (probably in the early 20th century). It is a good copy and shows the same viewpoint of a stereo card view of 1891 I posted in January 2013. The difference is, of course, the incredible number of sailing ships. This is just one dock on the river; imagine how many ships must have been in the port at any one time. The buildings on the right are the Goree Piazzas, sadly pulled down in the 1950s following bomb damage (they could have been saved but the rule of the motor car was dominating planning decisions).

A fascinating photograph but I am sure there are still photographs out there that will help fill in the missing time gap. The search goes on!