Category: Business

When Liverpool’s most important buildings are discussed, it is surprising how often retailing is left out. In Quentin Hughes’s City of Architecture, not a single shop features in his selection – a surprising omission. Cripp’s on Bold Street (now Waterstones), GH Lee on Basnett Street, Lewis’s (one of the better post-war buildings) and Premier Buildings (on the corner of Church Street and Hanover Street) were all worthy of inclusion. However, the shop that should have been in for both architectural and historical significance is Compton House – now home to Marks and Spencer, Joseph Sharples describes it as majestic and of international significance because it was one of the earliest (if not the first) purpose-built department store, finished five years before Bon March? in Paris.
The store replaced an earlier building destroyed by fire in 1865. Two brothers, William and JR Jeffrey financed a new building, which opened in 1867. In Picton’s words, tragedy struck: “Mr William Jeffrey, the brother and right hand of the principal, was cut off suddenly by apoplexy and JR Jeffrey was left to fight his battle alone. The battle was a losing one.” The receipts of the new shop never met the outgoings and in March 1871, the shutters were closed.
The photograph shows its later reincarnation as Compton Hotel, with William Russell as proprietor. On the ground floor, the shops are Lilly Addinsell (hatter and hosier), JR Cramer & Co., William Hay & Co. and, on the right hand side, Watts & Co., drapers.
In the revised City of Architecture (due next year), Compton House will find its place as one of Liverpool’s great pioneering achievements.

I mentioned in my recent post about the Queensway Tunnel that Herbert J Rowse was, in my opinion, Liverpool’s greatest architect. His four great Liverpool buildings are:

India Buildings (1923)
Mersey Tunnel (1925-34) including George’s Dock Building
Martins Bank, Water Street (1927-1932)
Philharmonic Hall (1933-39)

Of these, Martins Bank is probably his masterpiece – a cathedral to commerce which would not look out of place on Wall Street. A student of Professor Charles Reilly, at Liverpool University, Rowse was a perfectionist who designed every aspect down to the smallest detail. Rowse persuaded Martins Bank that an expensive building was a good investment and the Travertine marble, bronze and gilding presents a stunning spectacle inside the icing sugar white exterior. What a magnificent building – but clearly not suitable for modern banking since its last tenant, Barclays vacated it.

Vernon’s Pool, 1936

Central Cafe?, Central Station

Looking through all my posts to date, I was somewhat surprised how little emphasis I had placed on the people of Liverpool. The great majority of my photographs were of street scenes and buildings rather than the people who lived in them – so I am making amends this week with a series of images celebrating the lives of working women and their contribution to the economy of the city.

The first photograph is of women working at Vernon’s Pools in 1936. Football pools has started in 1923 when John Moores and two friends handed out 4000 coupons outside Old Trafford. Initially, the business was slow and John Moores bought out his two partners who had lost confidence in the loss-making enterprise. Moores quickly turned Littlewoods round and millions of working people began to spend a few pence each week in what was the only national gambling competition (at that time it was based on agents house-calling rather than by mail). Vernons followed in 1925 – making Liverpool the centre of an industry which employed thousands of women checking the weekly returns.
The February, 1936 press photograph relates to the Football League’s attempt to keep secret football fixtures to crush the pools industry. They were angered that none of the ?20 million a year profits were going to the game and had decided that enough was enough. The tactic was impossible to sustain but it did force an agreement whereby a percentage of pools money went to the League. The importance of the pools to the area took a mighty hit in 1994 when the National Lottery was introduced – but the photograph is a reminder of one of the key industries of the city in the twentieth century.
The bottom photograph is of Central Cafe?in Central Station. I guess it was taken in the 1930s. A Mrs Carey was the manageress (seated above the hot-pot sign). With 14 women employed, it must have been a thriving enterprise. It is sad that this kind of photograph is no longer as common as it was. Companies used to take a pride in assembling their workforce for group photographs but that, like the Central Cafe?and Lancashire hot-pots, is a thing of the past.

Who would have believed 50 years ago that there would be no Tate and Lyle in Liverpool and that the company would no longer be in the sugar business? Last week’s news that the sugar business had been sold brings to an end a company history that started in Liverpool in 1859, when Henry Tate became a partner in a small sugar refinery in Manesty’s Lane (just off Hanover Street). My own business career started back in 1973 in a warehouse owned by Tate and Lyle on the site of the original refiners (although the warehouse was built in the 1870s and demolished in the 1980s).
The history of sugar in Liverpool is, I imagine, likely to cause more than a few readers to stifle a yawn – but, pay attention at the back, as teachers used to say in school, it really is an interesting part of the city’s history. Along with tobacco and cotton, the wealth of the city was built on the import of goods from the New World. Sugar had its own spin-offs. The famous Everton toffee mentioned in an earlier post was the fledgling start of a much bigger confectionary industry (Barker and Dobson amongst others) as well as providing the basic ingredient for the massive Hartley’s jam business.
The Love Lane Refinery was completed in 1873 and in its time employed thousands from the surrounding Vauxhall district. Other local refineries such as Farrie’s and Macfie’s could not compete with Tate’s and were absorbed into the sugar empire. Henry Tate, himself, was a benefactor on a significant scale – building the Hahnemann Hospital on Hope Street, providing the funds for Liverpool University’s library block, as well as generous donations to the Royal Infirmary and Liverpool Institute. His biggest gift was to found the Tate Gallery in London – now with its Liverpool offshoot. Ironically, the opening of the Tate Liverpool came only a few years after the closure of Love Lane in that brutal period in the early 1980s which also saw other great names including British American Tobacco pull the plug on their Liverpool bases.

The sight of sheep and cattle being driven through the streets of Liverpool is unthinkable today but even into the early years of the twentieth century, it was the only way of transporting livestock to the abattoir. Liverpool was a major port for the import of meat – and fortunes were made supplying the needs of the exploding urban populations. Two Liverpool brothers, in particular, made their mark. The Vestey family had been local butchers for several generations but William and Edmund were to transform the business by taking advantage of Liverpool’s links with South America. Buying land and ranches in Brazil, Uraguay and Argentina, they began supplying meat in wholesale quantities. Using their wealth to start their own Blue Star shipping line, they were the first company to use refrigeration to transport meat.
Never far from controversy, they bought their peerage from the Lloyd George government and then fell out spectacularly over demands for exemption from income tax (nothing is new in politics) and moved abroad as tax exiles.
The Vestey company was better known for the Dewhurst chain of butchers – which ceased trading in 1996. An interesting fact I picked up in researching this piece is that Dewhurst’s were the first butchers to install glass windows in their shops, rather than have open displays. The Vesteys were also responsible for funding the tower of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral (still known as the Vestey Tower).
The livestock in the photographs would have come from fairly local sources – possibly North Wales or Ireland. The top photograph (probably in the early 1890s) shows cattle being driven along the Goree, with Princes Dock in the background. The bottom image is of livestock on Prescot Road on the way to Stanley Abattoir.