The main objective of my blog is to reveal the way photography has documented the history of Liverpool in the last 150+ years. Photographs are taken for all kinds of reasons – to document progress, mark celebrations, to reveal social deprivation etc. My interest is in examining photographs to find out what they can tell us about both the photographer’s intent and, of course, the subject matter.
The photograph I have chosen is not a difficult one to determine the purpose of the photographer. It was taken by the firm of James Valentine, a Dundee-based company that rivalled Francis Frith in the selling of photographs commercially. Before the advent of postcards, real photographs were very popular as keepsakes and companies like Frith and Valentine sought out views that they could sell to the general public. Frith was the market leader (Francis Frith, as I have written about before, started his photographic career in Liverpool in the early 1850s before selling up his business and embarking on a career as a full-time photographer) but Valentine’s competed keenly in the same territories.
So why take a photograph of Myrtle Street. The clue is in the building next to the Gymnasium: the Liverpool Eye Hospital, which had just opened (1880). It is still there, with its fine terracotta exterior, although it has been converted to flats. Liverpool led the world in its provision for the blind and the specialist hospital was an extension of the other innovatory services it had developed during the nineteenth century. No doubt Valentines saw a potentially lucrative market from grateful patients.
The Liverpool Gymnasium was featured in my blog of 14 February 2010: How the Olympic Movement Started in Liverpool. The brainchild of Charles Melly and John Hussey, it was opened in 1865 as host to the first meeting of the National Olympics Association. Now, 150 years later, the whole world can enjoy a sporting spectacle that had its roots in our city.
Two other buildings are worth commenting on. The building just visible below the Eye Hospital is Myrtle Street Baptist Church. The preacher Hugh Stowell Brown was an electrifying preacher who attracted thousands to his sermons. It is reassuring that his statue, paid for by public subscription on his death, has now returned to its former home as part of the new student accommodation (having been recently found in the stables of Croxteth Country Park).
Finally, a rare sight of the roof of another church – St Philips, Hardman Street, which stood on the site of what was Kirklands (Fly in the Loaf). By 1880, it was already in a dilapidated state and was auctioned off and soon after demolished.
The photograph was taken from the site of what is now the Philharmonic Hall. Here is a section of an 1881 map of the city. The section of street we are looking at is just below the green plot of land.
Following up with the last post, here is another fascinating interior. This time, I know the exact location and year it was taken. The year is 1890 and the location is 65 Renshaw Street. Had you asked me what the interior was, I would have suggested a rather upmarket fashion shop (although they were mainly on Bold Street at that time). Checking my Gore’s Directory for 1893, all becomes clear. The premises were occupied by John Wannop & Sons, decorators. Obviously more than mere house decorators – more like interior designers. They were still there in 1910 but my next Directory for 1932 has BNB Radios occupying the shop.
Renshaw Street is somewhat off the main stream of footfall for it to be thriving. The loss of Rapid Hardware (on the opposite side of the street) diminished its appeal. I am somewhat surprised, it could be an exciting area for a good mix of independent retailers. At the moment, 65 is a rather sad looking Noodle Bar, with empty properties all around. Once the redevelopment of Lime Street is underway (hopefully saving a certain cinema facade), attention needs focusing further along to the east.
It is time to move on from the last post – the chocolate must be long past its sell-by date.
Today’s image intrigues me. It was taken by J. Mayle, photographer of 28 Bold Street. The date is probably mid-1870s. Mayle lived in West Derby from 1864 to 1872, working as a photographic artist, before moving to Derby (Derbyshire). The firm continued in Liverpool under the name J.Mayle and Sons until at least 1908 – so the dating of the image might well be out by a few years.
It is, however, the subject matter that is interesting. Of course, there is always a strong possibility that the interior is not in Liverpool at all. It has a grandeur that could only match it to a very limited number of buildings. The Town Hall and St George’s Hall are both ruled out (I know what they look like). The Custom House is a possibility but it was built in a strict Classical style to the design of John Foster, the Town Surveyor. James Picton, in his Memorials of Liverpool (a must read reference book – even if published in 1873), was unimpressed by the building, which he considered dark and dingy. The dome was supported internally on Ionic columns – which rules the Custom House out of consideration. This leaves only one secular building with a dome – the now demolished Exchange Newsroom. The Exchange Building (on Exchange Flags) was originally a fine Georgian building, which opened in 1808. After fifty years, it was decided to replace it with a more commodious building and in 1862 work started on its replacement, a Gothic building designed by TM Wyatt in a style described as Flemish Renaissance by Picton – who added that the Newsroom “is a noble apartment, free from all obstructions and well-suited for its purpose.” The new building opened in 1867 yet, like its predecessor, was to survive for little more than half a century with work starting on its replacement (the current Exchange Buildings) in the 1930s. The War stopped work temporarily and demolition and replacement was completed by the early 1950s.
I have searched in vain for an interior photograph of the Newsroom. The date of its opening is close to the date of the photograph – so it would have been of interest as a symbol of the new Liverpool. Can anyone throw any light on this?
90 Duke Street (site of the Royal Mersey Yacht Club) 1975
The Monro (on the opposite corner, 1975
Duke Street in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was one of Liverpool’s finest streets. There are still good examples of its past, although far harder to find than thirty years ago. The buildings on the corner of Suffolk Street are a good example. They had survived until early this year but were unceremoniously pulled down to make way for a new headquarters for ACL.
Some might say that is a positive sign of progress, that the old buildings were a blot on the cityscape with no apparent interest in their salvation. Others, myself included, see their removal as yet another attack on the city’s heritage. Alright, the buildings were no architectural gems, just survivors from the past with their own bit of maritime history. Number 90 was the headquarters of the Royal Mersey Yacht Club, once one of the finest in Britain. It welcomed many an important dignitary (not that that is a reason in itself to save a building). More importantly, it fitted into the historical fabric of the street.
Could it have been saved? Well – it should have been. You only have to cross the street to admire the renovated and successful Monro gastro pub. That could just of easily been lost but someone had the vision to restore it and guarantee its future.
Liverpool’s heritage is threatened by these small, almost imperceptible, losses. The old eighteenth century block on Dale Street, the facade of the Futurist, the stable block at Cain’s Brewery. This is like the bad, old days, when any development was preferable to no development. There is a car park opposite The Monro, where an ugly 1960s block once stood. Wouldn’t a better solution have been for ACL to have built their block there?
First of all, my apologies for the break in service. I am back refreshed and with a whole new batch of images to share.
Today’s photograph is of the original Adelphi Hotel, one of the great hotels of the Victorian era, My reason for posting it is that plans for the regeneration of Lime Street are moving a step nearer after the City Council approved the developer’s scheme this week. The news has hardly met with great rejoicing, in spite of the universal acceptance that something needs to be done to upgrade the street. As I have mentioned before, the new scheme removes most of the historic fabric, including early nineteenth century buildings as well as the important Futurist cinema facade (I accept that the actual body of the cinema is beyond salvation).
SAVEBritain’s heritage are now involved but whether the scheme is referred back in now up to the Communities and Local Government minister. I am not holding my breath.
Of course it is wrong to object to development purely for the sake of it. The Adelphi Hotel pictured above was unceremoniously demolished and replaced by the current hotel just before the First World War. But what a replacement! Under any criteria, the new hotel is an upgrade and a very welcome addition to the streetscape. I have mentioned Commutation Row before, where an ecletic row of buildings was replaced by a bland office block. The proposed Lime Street scheme seems little better – an unexceptional and unexciting block that could find its equal in any of a dozen cities. Liverpool deserves better.
On a final note, I am puzzled as to why the facade of the Futurist cannot be saved. Unless the brickwork is damaged beyond repair, why cannot it be dismantled and rebuilt as part of the new scheme. After all, this is the twenty-first century!
Great George Place 1905
Great George Place today.
Great George Place looking towards the Cathedral.
Detail from 1898 map of Liverpool.
Where the David Lewis building was, stood St James’ Market (next door to Dr Duncan’s Dispensary, which was needlessly pulled down for the inner ring road in the early 1980s). Also of interest is the site of the short-lived St James’ Station, which campaigners are hoping to see reopen.
I regularly get requests for photographs of specific locations (and dates). Most I cannot help with, particularly early photographs of streets away from the city centre. The City Engineer’s Archive in Liverpool Record Office is the most likely source of early twentieth century images, otherwise it is largely a matter of chance. Chance intervened when Margaret Scotland asked: ‘My grandmother and her family ran a family business at 24 Great George?s Place opposite the David Lewis Centre. Do you have any photos from 1911 era?’
Well, it happened that I did have a print of a City Engineer’s photograph taken in 1905. (Credit to Liverpool Record Office). I have avoided using LRO images – my aim is to publish photographs from my archive – but this was a very appealing subject. I pass Great George Place everyday and have seen it change in the last 30 years. (Great George Place is not Great George Square – which is nearby). First the David Lewis building was demolished in 1980, along with the row of early nineteenth century buildings fronting Great George Street. Then the Nelson pub, attached to what is now The Wedding House, was pulled down only a few years ago, and the area around grassed over.
The main photograph is full of interest. The building in the centre is a public weighbridge with, on the left, a public urinal. The Wedding House building was then The London City and Midland Bank (numbers 3/4 Great George Place). The street numbers cross over to the other side of the street (the David Lewis side) and work their way round to the pub on the left (the White Lion) at 33. (Sadly number 24 the Cocoa Rooms run by Lewis Mark is out of shot). The building behind the weighbridge is also a Cocoa Rooms (Berminghams) but its address is on St James Street rather that Great George Place. Next door belonged to Meux Brewery – but is clearly just a retail outlet. Tudor Laundry is not mentioned but appears to be boarded up.
The area seems to be constantly changing. At the time of the photograph, it was the playground of Pat O’Mara (of Liverpool Slummy fame) who was born in Brick Street (the tall chimney sticking up behind Bermingham’s was just behind his house). Were he around today, I imagine he would feel completely lost, with only the bank building as a point of reference. Everything else has gone and the street is degraded as a result. The Baltic Creative is changing the landscape but this is yet another corner of the city that has been stripped of its history and character.
Lime Street, 1978
Lime Street, 1970
Back in January 2011, I blogged about the sorry state of Lime Street and the need to regenerate this important gateway to the city. I was glad that the City Council felt the same way (I don’t think I can take any credit) and announced a new scheme would be unveiled that would restore grandeur to the street. Sadly, the new proposals have not cut it with most commentators, myself included. Merseyside Civic Society have spoken up forcibly, describing the proposed scheme as ‘poorly conceived and entirely inappropriate’. The removal of historic facades (including the Futurist Cinema) and their replacement by bland, unsympathetic blocks is blasted: “It should not be beyond the wit of those concerned with conceiving a scheme for the development of the site to come up with a proposal that has more evident merit, while providing an equally attractive, if not greater, return on the investment involved.”
Strong words and I completely concur – this is yet another example of any development will do. Developers seems to hate different styles of building standing cheek to cheek. Look what happened with Commutation Row at the other end of Lime Street. A whole terrace of interesting Victorian buildings was removed to make way for the bland headquarters of a housing association (who should have known better). Now that building is empty after less than a decade and no amount of wishing will bring back the character of the buildings so needlessly demolished.
While I am on my hobby horse – what is happening about the ugly 1950s buildings on the other side of Lime Street? It must be the most depressing block in the city centre.
Lime Street, 1970
When I moved to Liverpool in 1970, I was shocked by the extent of dereliction once I walked a few hundred yards from the main shopping streets. Most Northern cities had their fair share of run-down areas but none as pronounced as Liverpool. A mere 100 yards behind Church Street and you were into an abandoned warren of streets with crumbling warehouses and the ever-present smell of rot and decay.
Wolstenholme Square, off Hanover Street, was one such area. I remember looking at one of the properties with a view to setting up my arts project. Everything needed doing – rewiring, re-roofing, re-plastering – it was dirt cheap to rent but beyond any resources I could muster (it is still there today seemingly unoccupied). What I do remember is that there was a magnificent Eagle Press in one of the ground floor rooms with its trays of metal type. Solid cast-iron, it was a thing of beauty but would have required a crane to lift it out.
That was typical of my many explorations of those neglected offices and warehouses. Most have since disappeared but some have been saved and converted to various uses. Suffice is to say that there is no longer a pungent smell of dry rot as I walk through the streets. Wolstenholme Square is one of the last places to be caught up in the developers’ web for the student accommodation bug appears to be moving in (do we really need another development?). For over twenty years, the Square has housed some of the best nightclubs in the country but it appears their days are numbered.
The photograph I have chosen pre-dates my time in Liverpool. The very un-Liverpool style building with its Dutch-style roof was built for Goodlass Wall (famous for Valspar paint) as a paint factory. It must have been a terrifying site when it went up in flames during an air raid in December 1940.
Nothing is more annoying than to have an unlabelled image that you know will take hours to locate. I thought this image might have been relatively easy to caption – a church in a square with a large warehouse with the prominent sign Wool Warehouse, a photographic engravers, a bakers on one corner and a pub on the other. Okay, a pub on the corner was not exactly a rarity in Liverpool but I reckoned the other features would be easy to place using my Gore’s 1910 Directory.
Not so easy, unfortunately, although I did have an idea of where it could be. The square is the clue. Liverpool had a few but it clearly did not fit most of those I knew. I took a stab at Pownall Square, off Tithebarn Street, and everything fell into place. The church is St Mary’s – a building by Augustus Welby Pugin, originally built in Edmund Street in 1845. In 1885, the Edmund Street site was needed for the expansion of Exchange Station, and the church was dismantled and reassembled in nearby Highfield Street. (The Catholic Almanac described is as ‘a grand monument of architectural skill’) (Thanks to David Lewis’s The Churches of Liverpool for this information). The church was destroyed in the Blitz and replaced by a fine modern building by Weightman and Bullen in 1953 that has, in turn, been pulled down for an office development.
The feature of the photograph that caught my eye is the playground in the square. Offering a very limited choice of seesaws and swings, it is the earliest image of such a provision I have found. Inner city Liverpool was home to tens of thousands of children who probably spent their leisure time roaming the streets, so to discover a purpose-built play area shows that there was an official awareness of the need for better facilities.
Church Street c1895
Bottom of Water Street c1895
The dates are approximate but reasonably accurate. Within a few years, there would be changes to both these views. The photograph of Water Street shows Picton’s Tower Building (with the original street name Prison Weint on its wall as a reminder of its predecessor’s original function). By the turn of the century, the classical pile had been replaced by the current Tower Building with its white glazed facade (to cope with the soot-laden air). On the other corner, the rather plain block with the street name Back Goree, survived a little longer (until the 1920s) before being replaced by the Bank Of British West Africa, a rather fine Greek Revival building by Arnold Thornely, architect of the even more impressive Cunard Building.
Church Street was similarly ‘tweaked’ over the next decade. The semi-circular building on the corner of Whitechapel was pulled down and replaced by the Edwardian baroque of Bunney’s Corner (which lasted a mere fifty years before being replaced by Greenwoods, which in turn lasted fifty years before suffering a similar fate – a theme seems to be developing here). The building in the far distance caught my eye. The tower by the side of Central Station is part of the first Lewis’s store on Ranelagh Street. That was replaced by a second store in 1910 – which was bombed and largely destroyed in 1941 and replaced by the current building which is being renovated as a multi-functional building.
Change in Liverpool is usually quite subtle, like this. A building goes and is replaced by another – hopefully a better building. Over a few decades, a new vista emerges. In the case of Water Street, the other two big gains were India Buildings and Martin’s Bank – two Art Deco masterpieces that have definitely enhanced the city’s architectural stock.
Church Street suffered serious war damage, the buildings on the right at the junction of Lord Street and Paradise Street were destroyed in the War along with Russell’s Building (the corner of which can be seen on the right). The building on the corner of Church Street is Seel’s Building of 1872, a rare foray into commercial architecture by Edward Welby Pugin, best known for his churches. It is rather an odd building for Liverpool – where such stonework stands in complete contrast to all its neighbours. I like its quirkiness but perhaps he should have stuck with religion.