Liverpool University from Paddington, 1964
Queens Dock, 1964
Two photographs with very identifiable buildings yet so much has changed in 50 years. The photograph of the university and still to be completed Metropolitan Cathedral is taken from wasteland that was soon to be the new Royal Hospital. Today, the growth of the University and the construction of the new hospital have totally changed the area. I googled ‘Liverpool’s student population today’ and was surprised to read that it is 70,000. Back in 1964, I doubt it was a tenth of that figure (there was only one university and a polytechnic). No wonder there has been such a growth in buildings – 70,000 is approximately the population of Bootle.
The second image is of the last days of the South Docks. Once again, the change over half a century is profound. The docks ceased to operate soon after the photograph was taken and lay dormant for over 30 years before Liverpool began to reinvent itself as a tourist destination. The Arena and Conference Centre coupled with the new Exhibition Centre have pushed out the line of attractions along the waterfront. Over the Dock Road, where the building displays African Oil Mills (on Norfolk Street), the Baltic Creative Quarter continues on its upwards trajectory. I have had warehousing there for 25 years and have seen the remarkable changes over the last six or so years. For the first time in decades, there is a demand for land to build apartment blocks, studios and creative workshops. I have always felt that an area so close to the centre of Liverpool (it only takes five minutes to walk to John Lewis) was prime development territory. Now it is fulfilling that potential.
Looking at the two images, what will Liverpool look like in 2064, a hundred years on from when Pat Weekes took them? The Cathedrals and Victoria Tower will no doubt be there, but what else will remain?
Pavement artist outside the Custom House, 1894
Newspaper sellers, James Street, 1894
I am fascinated by old photographs of Liverpool, particularly the candid street photography of the 1890s and early 1900s. This was a time when technology took a great leap forward: motor cars, airplanes, moving pictures to name but three. Photography was revolutionised by the impact of portable cameras using the newly introduced roll film which, coupled by the clever marketing of Kodak, allowed people without darkrooms to send their film to be processed at a relatively low cost. This democratisation of photography, comparable to the introduction of digital photography in recent years, meant that it was possible for those on modest incomes to indulge in a creative activity that had been previously restricted to the well-heeled.
Street photography was a vogue that had spread throughout the burgeoning amateur photographic society movement. Competitions were held annually with awards for the best candid photograph. In Charles Frederick Inston, Liverpool has one of the great exponents and his work was recognised nationally. Today’s two images, however, belong to a different tradition – travel photography. They were taken by a Charles A Swift in 1894. I know nothing more about him except that these images were part of a much larger album of images taken in Liverpool and Chester, Dresden, Prague and other central European locations. I am guessing that Charles Swift was an American tourist on his own Grand Tour. Disembarking in Liverpool, he spent a few days travelling around the city and Chester before moving on to Germany. Like most tourists, his interest was centred around what he saw on the street: the pavement artist outside the Custom House and the newspaper girls in James Street (many of the European photographs are of a similar nature).
Helpfully, he has captioned his photographs although both are easy to locate. The sign on the warehouse on the right reads Dodd and McNeilly, who were merchants at 4 Hanover Street. The newspaper girls look relatively well-dressed and are selling the Liverpool Mercury, which was later absorbed into the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo. Behind them is St George’s Crescent.
I am still managing to acquire photographs of interest – thanks to that other great innovation, the internet. It is exciting to think that there are still undiscovered images out there that will add to our growing picture of Liverpool in the last 150+ years.