I was delighted to read the news this week that planning permission has been granted to turn the Royal Insurance Building on the corner of Dale Street and North John Street into a luxury hotel. Of course, planning permission does not guarantee action but it seems as if this is a genuine application.
The building is one of the city centre’s neglected gems. It has stood empty for well over a decade and has begun to look tired and neglected. The architect J Francis Doyle worked closely with his friend and colleague Norman Shaw (architect of the White Star Building). The building is a particularly early example of steel frame construction in this country, further proof, if any was needed, of the innovative architecture taking place in the city.
I have a couple of contemporary photographs from the building’s opening in 1903. The first is of the Board Room, which has all the grandeur that an international company required. The last photograph is of a rain butt, which shows again the attention to detail now so sadly lacking in most of today’s buildings.
Lord Street c1880
Detail of Lord Street photograph
I have been looking forward to John Sergeant’s series on Francis Frith, the Victorian photographer who helped change the way we look at the world. The first of a ten-part series started tonight on the pioneer who spotted the commercial potential of taking and selling photographs of every town and village in Britain.
Sadly, if the first episode is anything to go by, you will learn nothing about Frith. In fact, apart from a passing mention in Sergeant’s introduction, his name was not mentioned again. Instead, we had the master of the dance hamming his way through a few set cameos which gave no inkling of the life and contribution of the programme’s subject matter. This is a great shame because Frith is so important to the history of photography and his photographic life started out in Liverpool.
Frith moved from Chesterfield to Liverpool as a young man and established a wholesale grocers at 85 Lord Street. In Gore’s 1851 Directory, he is listed separately as a gentleman living at Beaumont Terrace, Seacombe. A founder member of Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association (along with James Newlands, Liverpool’s innovative Borough Engineer), Frith became enamoured by photography and sold his business at a substantial profit to pursue his hobby full-time. He made his name travelling to Egypt and the Middle East, where, under the most hostile conditions, he photographed the wonders of the Ancient World. His photographs were a sensation but, not one to rest on his laurels, Frith set about creating a photographic record of Britain that still survives largely intact to this day.
My disappointment in the first programme is that Frith has been relegated to no more than a prop. I have been researching his early life and was hoping to get a clearer picture of the man. Maybe, with nine more episodes to go, there will be something of substance but I am not holding my breath: the itinerary Sergeant has chosen on his round Britain trip does not even include Liverpool.
The photograph I have chosen today is by Francis Frith’s company and is of Lord Street c1880. The photograph has been slightly damaged as the result of being pasted on board. The glue has seeped through but fortunately only the sky in the background has been affected. The detail of the horse-drawn omnibus illustrates how well these prints (130 years-old) have survived.
Houghton Street, 1964
Daisy Day, 1965
In May last year, I included a photograph of Houghton Street looking towards Clayton Square. The photograph today shows the street from the opposite direction looking down towards Williamson Square. Within a year, the whole site was cleared to make way for the new St John’s Market.
One shop caught my eye – Madame Foner’s corsetry shop. The shop relocated to Bold Street and, last year again, rather incongruously to the front courtyard of the Bluecoat Art Centre. The last move seems to have been unsuccessful and it has been replaced by a gift shop. Small shops come and go but Madame Foner has had a long lifetime for a specialist shop.
The second photograph is of a fundraising campaign for Merseyside hospitals. I only arrived in the city in 1970 and I cannot recall Daisy Days. The small girl dressed as a nurse would appear to be helping her dad.
Two more photos (and the last for the time being) from Pat Weekes. Would anyone else like to submit their photographs of old Liverpool? Any date, any subject – this is a perfect forum for getting them seen!
First of all an apology. I have just realised that a few of my recent posts have had the right hand side of the image cropped off when viewed. This is due to me increasing the image width outside of the WordPress limits. In my browser, the images looked fine but I was shocked to see how they looked on another computer. So I have gone back and made the necessary adjustments – which will make sense of some of my references.
My last post about Victoria Street reminded me just how good Liverpool’s commercial buildings are. The 1930s photographs do not do justice to some of the finest Victorian streets in Britain. One of the great pleasures of walking through the city centre is to look above the ground floor, where too often the ubiquitous branding by national companies takes away all individuality. Look above their fascias and the detail is fascinating, from Classical to Gothic, from parapets to domes. Here above are two fine examples, of Castle Street and Victoria Street.
The Post Office c1900
Victoria Street is one of Liverpool’s more recent main streets. By more recent, I mean it was constructed as late as 1867/68 to connect North John Street to Manchester Street. The area had been basically an area of narrow streets with slum housing interspersed with industry (including a herring house, which must have been a pretty unpleasant neighbour). Of its earliest commercial buildings, Fowler’ Buildings is a good example of the intention to make the new street a prime commercial location.
Today, it is one of Liverpool’s best-preserved commercial streets, with many fine buildings from the 1880s and 90s. It suffered less severely from enemy bombing than other streets, although the Government Buildings (where the Municipal car park) and the Post Office were victims (the Post Office was rebuilt but without its French chateau style upper tiers which can be seen in the photograph above). The Produce Exchange (on the left in the top photograph) was at the centre of the fruit and provisions trade, with many of the surrounding warehouses in Mathew Street and Temple Court utilised to store and distribute produce.
The two photographs show a heavily congested street during the 1930s. The lorries in the top photograph are all servicing the fruit and vegetable trade, with a crowd of people assembled outside the Produce Exchange. When the Mersey tunnel opened in 1934, traffic increased substantially and I think that both photographs were taken to illustrate the problem.
I have too few photographs of many suburban areas. The ‘Golden Age’ of postcards, at the turn of the twentieth century was a time when commercial photographers would trawl the streets for customers who would pay for small runs of real photographic postcards of their business, home and family. This view of Lawrence Road is one such postcard, which could be sold to any of the shops shown. The campanile of St Bridget’s church is to the left (a very interesting interior if you can get access – one of the city’s hidden gems) and the bakers shop of Walter Moore can be seen on the corner of Portman Road. The shops in view are a typical good mix of the times. On the far corner is James Hanson (dairy), a sub-post office, John Hughes (grocer), William Johnson (fishmonger), Daniel Higgin (butcher) and William Hargreaves (greengrocer). Just one small stretch of the road and all the basics provided for. It must have been a profitable area because Hargreaves had another shop two blocks further on, at the corner of Bagot Street. Lawrence Road must have been a thriving centre, in spite of being relatively close to the city centre. Other shops included a drapers, bookseller, tobacconist, shoe and boot dealer, stationers and chandlers.
How different from today with the almost unstoppable spread of the supermarket. I cannot imagine there is much money in selling postcards of Asda or Tesco.
Here is another previously unpublished photograph of Lark Lane in 1893. The horse-drawn omnibus is advertising the Liverpool Overhead Railway, which had commenced services in January of that year. The shops behind the omnibus are William Truesdale (grocer), Elizabeth Handley (tobacconist) and, on the right of Truesdale, Arnold Thomas (glass and china dealer) and the Wesleyan Chapel.
Back then, Lark Lane had a good mix of shops including bakers, shoe and boot manufacturers, a stationers, a saddler, milliner, fish and game dealer, grocers, butcher etc.
Sadly, like many similar suburban shopping streets, the diversity has gone; in Lark Lane’s case to be replaced by bars and restaurants. Perhaps with the ever-increasing cost of transport, people will look towards local areas more favourably, although the relentless spread of supermarkets has probably seen off all but a few specialists. How many more Tesco’s can South Liverpool take? Should we care? I think the list of trades in 1893 and the skills they represented says we should. Why can’t we turn back the clock and recreate suburban centres of specialist retailers who care about serving their community.
A busy view of Ranelagh Place and Lime Street in 1931. The building, partly shown, on the direct left is the original Lewis’s department store which was bombed in May 1941. Nearby Blackler’s store and the facing block on the corner of Lime Street (the building with the strange observation tower in the top photograph) were no less fortunate. The Palais de Luxe (whose awning can be seen just beyond the second tram) was also badly damaged but reopened only a month later. After a further fire in 1951, it was modernised again – only to close for the final time in 1959 to make way for the modern development which is still with us (I have reposted the photograph of Peter Robinson’s store in the 1960s as a comparison and reminder).
Looking at the 1930s photograph, it makes sense of the ostentatious and somewhat unnecessary tower on The Vines public house. It looks as if the architect was trying to balance the streetscape. Against the 1960s modern development, it looks more eccentric than it would have in its original setting.
In the top photograph, the corner block housed John Tyler (shoes and boots), The Fifty Shilling Taylors, Meeson’s (confectioners) and Finlay & Co. (tobacconists). Looking at my 1932 Gore’s Directory, it is surprising how many creative industries (as we now call them) were concentrated in Lime Street. Apart from the four cinemas (the Forum, Scala, Palais de Luxe and Futurist) along with The Empire Theatre, there were all manner of small businesses including photographers (Dorondo Mills and Carbonora), Jazon and Montgomery (theatrical agents), the Variety Artists Federation (agent Ma Egerton), the Cinema Publicity Supply Company (poster writers), Liverpool Press Club (and sundry press photographers), Radio Pictures Ltd (film renters), Walturdaw Cinema Supply Company and North Western Film Booking Agency.
It is sad to contemplate Lime Street today. This lively mix of businesses has been replaced by a very dead thoroughfare. True the buildings on the right hand side have all survived but they look uncared for and are an ugly mix of empty shops and cinemas and fast food outlets. A facelift is long overdue to restore some of its grandeur. As for the facing 1960s block, the less said the better. The marvellous new panorama of Lime Street which has been gained from removing the blocks fronting Lime Street Station is sadly framed by an eyesore which will probably remain for years given current public sector funding. A great shame that it missed out on the spending spree of the last decade.
119 Limekiln Lane c1900
Langsdale Street c1900
It is now over ten years since I published Freddy O’Connor’s Pubs on Every Corner series (four in all). What astonished me then was the incredible number of pubs – many of them faithfully documented by the brewery (in both cases here by Peter Walker’s). Liverpool was the first city to embrace brewery-managed pubs. In most places, the pubs were owned by landlords or run by tenants. Walker changed all that and introduced an efficient pub system with strict rules laid down by the brewery. The result was the Walker family grew very rich but, also, Liverpool inherited brewery-built pubs like the Philharmonic which had few equals.
Both the pubs shown here were more modest. The Langsdale Street pub was run by Catharine Kip, who stands proudly outside (whilst one of her customers is leaving with a jug of ale from the other door. Langsdale Street ran down off Shaw Street (see map below).
Both photographs come from the Walker archive, now in LRO. The brewery photographed all its pubs for licensing purposes and stuck the photographs in large ledgers with the address of each one. Other breweries, such as Higsons, did the same – but unfortunately their archives have not been kept intact, although there are a quite a few in private hands, as I discovered when I put together the books with Freddy. What we really do need is a collaborative effort to bring such photos into the public arena. They are part of Liverpool’s history and add to our understanding of how the city grew. The internet opens up a fantastic opportunity to share images which sacrificing ownership – and I hope this blog will encourage like-minded collectors to join in. I would be delighted to post other people’s photographs if they wish to contact me.
South Castle Street
Two photographs of the Castle Street area. The first is largely unchanged – although the block of offices on the left had been replaced by the turn of the century. The main area of interest is the horse-drawn omnibus alongside the row of carriages. To the right, the old Exchange building can be seen, behind the Town Hall.
The view of South Castle Street is a Frith photograph of about the same time. The ghostly spire of St George’s Church can be seen above the buildings on the left. In the foreground are the shops of Thomas Ogden (presumably the Ogden’s tobacco magnate), who also had shops in St James Street, Mill Street, Green Lane, Park Lane and Cornwallis Street according to my 1874 Gore’s Directory. On the other corner, at 61 Castle Street, is J. Sewill, Watch and Chronometer maker (and still trading from their current shop in the Albert Dock).
Ogden’s building on the left (and much of its terrace) survived wartime bombing – but was swept away in the early 1970s to make way for the monstrous Canning Place development. It had survived for over 125 years – their concrete replacement managed 25 years. Enough said.
Francis Frith made his fortune in Liverpool before devoting his life to photography and becoming one of the great topographical photographers of the 19th century (particularly through his amazing photographs of Egypt and Sinai). His commercial enterprise covered the country but he was particularly strong on Liverpool – taking hundreds of photographs of buildings and ships. I am particularly interested in finding out more about Frith and would welcome any information on his time in Liverpool and of any photographs he took (especially earlier ones). He deserves a book – but I need to dig out a few more facts first!