The media’s fascination with Liverpool is not a recent phenomenon. It used to really annoy me back in the 1980s when London-based newspapers continually featured pictures of Liverpool to illustrate urban deprivation in Britain. I particularly remember the Sunday Times leading with a photograph of the Pier Head shot from Birkenhead. In the foreground was a car breakage yard – the cheap headline being Liverpool on the scrapheap!.
For years, Liverpool was the target of television and newspapers features seemingly revelling in the spiral of decline the city was facing – but then, in 2008, it all started to disappear as the realisation dawned that it was no longer such a soft target. However, one interesting legacy is that future generations will have no shortage of images to illustrate those hard years. In a similar way, the city attracted press coverage in the 1930s and the photograph of Byrom Terrace was used to illustrate an article in the Daily Herald with the caption: The terrible conditions under which people live in the slum areas of Liverpool are strikingly illustrated by this picture of Byrom Terrace.
No doubt the image annoyed many people in the city – who maybe felt such photographs gave a distorted view of Liverpool (and I would have been amongst them had I been around at the time). But you cannot have it both ways – and the photograph is a valuable reflection of what life was like for a sizeable number of citizens back in the 1930s. Poverty is poverty and pretending Liverpool is just about fine buildings and great tourist attractions is no real answer.
I have just returned from a few days break – so straight back into the 1960s. The photograph was taken before Byrom Street was widened- removing the buildings on the right. What catches the eye is the amazing art deco street light that was positioned in front of the Queensway Tunnel entrance. Herbert Rowse, the architect of India Buildings, Martins Bank and the Philharmonic Hall, was commissioned to put the style into Basil Mott’s great engineering achievement. He wasn’t too happy about it, complaining: ‘the engineer too often feels he can cover up his mistakes by calling in an architect to add pretty things to hide them.’
Whatever Mott’s mistakes were, Rowse, who was inventing a new decorative style for the modernist movement, did a brilliant job including designing the lining of the tunnel with a dado of black Vitrolite glass framed in stainless steel. (Les Cooper, ex-Stewart Bale and one of the partners of Elsam, Mann and Cooper photographers was very proud of his kitchen which he fitted out with left-over Vitrolite panels. I wasn’t quite so keen on it but it would have looked incredibly modern in the 1930s when he fitted it).
The lighting pylon was a particular feature which marked either end of the tunnel (the Birkenhead one survives). Another own goal for Liverpool when the one in Haymarket was unceremoniously pulled down sometime in the 1960s. Rowse, Liverpool’s finest architect of the twentieth century, deserved better.
I promise to post no more July 12th photographs for the foreseeable future but today’s image is somewhat special. I am guessing it was taken in about 1890 (possibly slightly earlier or later) and, as such, represents the earliest visual record of this annual event. The building on the right is the Museum (its current steps were introduced when the street was lowered in 1902). Lloyd’s Outfitters in the background, were at 1-3 Byrom Street – and were there throughout the late 1870s into the 1890s. My only other clues to the date are the clothing – never a precise way of dating – and the nature of the photograph (a carte de visite which had fallen out of popularity by the early 1890s).
The actual date aside, the photograph shows a large crowd stretching to the foot of Dale Street. I know very little about the history of the Orange parades but here is a bit of visual evidence that can be added to our understanding of Liverpool’s history, however unsavoury it has been at times.
Below is a close up of the large banner – ‘Lily of the North’ with a large central image of King Billy on his stallion.
Byrom Street/Cartwright Place 1950s
For me, the most interesting news item over Christmas was the revelation that Geoffrey Howe had advocated the managed decline of Liverpool following the Toxteth Riots. I wasn’t particularly surprised by the ‘shock’ headlines, there had been suggestions soon after the Riots that the Government had been advocating a market forces strategy with Liverpool. What I did find intriguing is that a policy of managed decline only came into Cabinet discussions in 1981 – I thought that Liverpool’s whole post-War history had been planned to scale down the city.
Certainly the effects of wartime bombing had seriously damaged the city’s housing stock and infrastructure. Rebuilding in the immediate post-War period was frustrated by a chronic shortage of building materials and Liverpool limped through the 1950s attempting to reinstate its docks, city centre and housing. But there is more than a sneaking suspicion that the damage to the city had created a canvas that the politicians and planners could work with. Road schemes proposed in the pre-War years could become a reality and the ideas for a grandiose civic centre and new zones for shopping and business could take centre stage. (Not only in Liverpool, in Coventry the City Architect, Donald Gibson, the bombing was “a blessing in disguise. The Jerries cleared out the core of the (medieval) city, a chaotic mess, and we can start anew.”) Alderman Shennan, a practising architect and Chairman of the Planning Committee was a strong advocate of clearing out much of old Liverpool and creating a car-friendly transport system that would take out whole historic areas when implemented. In tandem, the city’s housing and industry was to be revamped by a dual policy of creating satellite towns in Kirkby, Skelmersdale, Speke, Runcorn and Northwich and by demolishing whole neighbourhoods to make way for tower block living.
This is an over-simplification but the policies led to a near halving of Liverpool’s population in less than forty years. If that wasn’t managed decline, I am not sure what is. Yet Liverpool is still officially England’s poorest city. Some management! The tragedy is that the voice of the people is never heard. It is left to a small handful of experts to impose their plans and, as has been shown time after time, they are deeply flawed in their assumptions (high rise living, new towns, importing large-scale industry which subsequently failed, destroying historic buildings for no gain). What I would like to see is a Royal Commission on the future of our cities and have a proper discussion about the future shape and function of Liverpool and its counterparts. It might take years to come to its conclusions but it would focus attention on so many pressing issues.
To illustrate one aspect of my point, the first photograph is of Byrom Street in the 1950s – a cobbled street with buildings of character, wide pavements for pedestrians and an efficient transport system. Below is an aerial view from 1964 showing a central block of buildings sandwiched between the Technical College (on the left – now part of Liverpool Museum) and the offices of Blackburn Assurance on the right. The next photograph captures this block in preparation for demolition to make way for road widening from the Mersey Tunnel. Finally, the 1978 photograph showing the end result. All character has been removed in favour of the motor car and the wide pavements reduced to a precarious sloping strip relegating the pedestrian to an afterthought. Geoffrey Howe couldn’t have done better!
Byrom Street 1964
Byrom Street 1966
Byrom Street 1978
I am guessing that the year is 1965. The John Moores Centre (top left) appears to have been finished, with a nearby crane working on Phase 2. The pub on the corner of Fontenoy Street and Great Crosshall Street (the road running up from Byrom Street the left), is the Australian Vaults with Holy Cross Church prominent just beyond.
The tenements, euphemistically named Fontenoy Gardens, without a blade of grass in sight, are split by the tunnels for Waterloo Goods station, across the road from Waterloo Dock. Further along the docks, the ‘Three Sisters’, the chimneys of Clarence Dock power station are another landmark. With the exception of the JM Centre, all these features have now disappeared in the reshaping of the city over the last thirty years – although the refuse lorry is little different from its modern counterpart (at least some things were designed to last).
Here is a photograph of the building on the right of the previous blog. Before the road was widened, Dale Street projected a block further down (towards the Tunnel) to a junction with Byrom Street. I thought that identifying everything in the photograph would be plain sailing but, unfortunately, after hours of checking through various Gore’s and Kelly’s, I am still short of answers. Blackburn Assurance, the building on the far left replaced a block of slum property including Chorley Court (see earlier post) in the 1930s. The pub on the corner of Fontenoy Street was the Red Lion – although my last mention of it is in 1927. The pub seems to have been converted to offices, including the famous solicitors’ partnership of Silverman & Livermore, whose names will be familiar to all students of Liverpool’s criminal history. The Liverpool Co-operative Society have an entrance in the centre of the block, although the main facade was along Byrom Street (they owned Unity House, which can be seen with two posters of Winston Churchill – was this in recognition of his death in 1965?). By this date, however, the Co-op was no longer trading. In fact, it is not listed in the 1964 Kelly’s (it is in the 1962 edition), which suggestes the block was being cleared out before demolition. The lamp standard on the left is another of Herbert Rowse’s designs for the Tunnel approaches.