Although I never made use of its services, I was impressed by the exterior of the Ministry of Labour building on Leece Street (it also doubled up as the Ministry of Transport Driving and Traffic Examiners Department for much of its life). The Post Office has survived but the Labour Exchange was demolished shortly after being sold off to a property developer – who left behind a hole in the ground. How many times has the same scenario repeated itself – the most notorious case being the unforgivable destruction of the Sailors’Home? How do we get around this almost routine removal of buildings of note by both the private and public sector who promptly run out of money to take their ideas further? The mess of the abandoned Baltic Triangle development and the unfinished scheme on the corner of Sefton Street and Parliament Street are just two example of ill-thought out schemes without the money to complete them.
I have been a bit quiet recently (working on a new book), so here is another photograph of a lost building: the Berkely Arms on the corner of Upper Stanhope Street and Berkely Street (was this Hitler’s local? No – that is meant as a joke not a serious question). The pub is seen here in the early 1970s (I like the two versions of The Ghetto and The Getto on its wall – playing safe).Was the building with the balustrade part of the pub?
Corn Exchange 1907
Adelphi Hotel 1892
Lord Street Arcade 1902
I was going to blog about Rapid Hardware going into administration (and probably out of existence) but I was surprised to discover I had no photograph of their once near monopoly of Renshaw Street. A poor state of affairs, really, not to capture what was one of the longest shop facades in Britain. The buildings still remain, of course, and other shops have taken their place since they moved to the George Henry Lee building.
It made me think how many other businesses and buildings have similarly passed into history without any physical record (although there will be plenty of photographs of Rapid, I expect).
The three photographs selected today show the value of the photographic record. Each building featured suffered different fates, with only the Lord Street Arcade surviving as the original building,
The Corn Exchange was a fine James Picton building constructed in Brunswick Street in 1851 (replacing a smaller exchange). Following the Repeal of the Corn Law in 1849, Liverpool grew ever more important in the world market and the new Exchange represented the aspirations of Liverpool’s merchants. Sadly, the building was destroyed buring the Blitz. The Corn Exchange that now stands there (completed in 1959) is one of Liverpool’s best post-War office blocks, although without a trading floor (or any corn trade).
The Adelphi Hotel illustrated is the first one (built in 1826 but modified later). One of the finest hotels in Britain, it was replaced by the present hotel in 1911. A more modest hotel in size (see my post of January 4th for an exterior view), it was famed for its lavish interior.
The exterior of the Lord Street Arcade survives but the interior has been converted into a single retail outlet. Back in the 1980s, I had an office on the second floor when the building operated as serviced offices. A suspended ceiling had replaced the fine cast-iron barrel-vaulted roof and the galleries had been floored over at each level. It made for a soulless interior and I only stayed for a few months. The architect, interestingly, was Walter Aubrey Thomas, whose most famous work, the Liver Building was built a decade later.
These are rare photographs – too much of our urban landscape has gone unrecorded. There really should be a more organised structure for methodically documenting our city for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.
I chose this photograph for two reasons: first of all, I have neglected Old Swan in my many previous posts (as well as quite a few other areas I hope to get round to) but, more importantly, because it is an image taken in the early days of three revolutionary changes to society – the motor car, telephone and the cinema.
Steggles and Mitchell’s gaarage has long gone. It stood close to the corner with Green Lane (heading out from Liverpool). The year is 1913 and the garage did not exist in my 1910 directory (the premises were used as dry salters).
I am not sure when the first taxi with an internal combustion engine appeared on the streets of Liverpool but in London, it was 1903. (In September, 1899, the first American died in an car accident. Sixty-eight year-old Henry Bliss was helping a friend from a street car when a taxi driver lost control and fatally hit him).
The telephone has a slightly older history, the first service started in London with just 10 subscribers and the early years were dominated by private companies on licences. However, in 1912, just before the photograph was taken, the Post Office was granted a monopoly once these licences had expired. The only exceptions were telephone systems run by local authorities at Hull and Portsmouth. Until 2007 only Hull’s service remains independent, Portsmouth’s was sold to the Post Office in 1913. (In 2007, Hull sold its remaining stake in its company for over £107 million).The photograph indicates that the taxi firm was one of the earliest subscribers with its number 185 Old Swan.
Liverpool had gained its first purpose built cinema only a year earlier – The Futurist, Liverpool’s first purpose-built cinema opened in 1912 (see my post for December 28th). The posters on the wall advertise Dynamited Love (an 1912 film) and Pimble’s Ivanhoe (1913). There is another poster advertising The Black 13 but I cannot trace this (there was a much later film of the same name where Black 13 was the number on a roulette wheel).
A year later, World War was to irrevocably change society. Did the three proud drivers survive the horrors of war? It is fascinating to examine photographs and search for clues. This one is a splendid example.
Brunswick Dock c1865
Brunswick Dock detail
When I started this blog, I raised the question of whether any substantial archive of early Liverpool photographs existed. I posted an early photograph of St George’s Hall (1850) but have had no success in finding other images from that period. This is, perhaps, surprising because Liverpool supported one of the first photographic societies and there were some important photographers amongst its members, including Francis Frith.
The first relatively significant number of images in my possession are stereographs. These are two dimensional photographs of the same subject, slightly offset to separate the left eye from the right eye, which when viewed through a simple viewer give a 3D effect. Cards became available from the early 1850s and were still being produced well into the twentieth century. Stereo cards became very popular and were bought in their millions – which accounts for their survival. Local photographers, such as H. Sampson of Southport, could make a living from churning out local views and the image of Brunswick Dock is typical of his work. I am guessing the date is around 1865, although it could be slightly later. The windmill on Mill Street was still standing and the dock full of sailing ships.
The image below is of the old Adelphi Hotel, again by Sampson. The building on the right is a bedding manufactory owned by Catharine Sanderson. (The couple on the corner are wearing typical clothing of the 1860s). To the left of the Adelphi Hotel, on the corner of Copperas Hill (where the Vines public house now stands) is William Mardock’s pharmacy according to Gore’s 1865 Directory.
I have commented before on the state of Lime Street. What should be a showpiece street for the city (as the first place many visitors see when leaving Lime Street Station) is an eyesore. The poor quality 1950s buildings on the west side are beyond redemption – they need pulling down (although the 1930s Art Deco Forum Cinema must be kept). On the other side of the street, it is a different story – for the buildings here have real character. Most date from the nineteenth century but among the neglected gems is the old Futurist Cinema.
I first visited the Futurist in 1973 to attend a press showing of the film Deliverance. It was a brilliant experience – just three of us in the Circle being plied with brandy by the manager as we watched what became one of my favourite films. I always had a soft spot for the place thereafter. A piece in today’s Liverpool Echo sparked off that memory – and, more importantly drew my attention to an important campaign being launched by Lesley Mullally and Sue Gilmore to save the building. The Futurist was Liverpool’s first purpose-built cinema and opened in 1912, the year of the photograph above. Its original name was The Picture House and a full history can be found on Lesley and Sue’s website:
What surprised me is that the building is not listed – which makes it vulnerable to redevelopment. There may not be an immediate threat but Lesley and Sue have started a petition to get something done. I take my hat off to them – many fine buildings lost in the last few decades might have been saved had more people taken the same active approach to our heritage.
Tate and Lyle Sugar Silo, Regent Road, 1998
I was interested to read all the controversy over Preston Bus Station. To many, it is an eyesore – brutalist architecture at its worst (or best depending on your interpretation). To others, particularly in the architecture establishment, it is a modern masterpiece. Its future is about to be decided – demolish or keep and renovate.
Taste is a moveable feast. I remember back in the 1950s and 60s, Victorian Gothic was almost universally disliked, opening up the opportunity to tear city centres down and rebuild. One of the issues was the decades of soot that coated many of the buildings, obscuring the original colour and details. The North West Hotel on Lime Street came within a whisker of being demolished – being described as an eyesore and a shame on the city. Other buildings were less fortunate as the drive to modernise the city took root. Corbusian ideas of cities in the sky dominated planning decisions as a new vision of Liverpool was drawn up. I remember the large model of the future city that dominated the entrance to the Planning Department – all high rise blocks and motorways.
Now, we are re-evaluating the Post-War architecture and there is a growing appreciation of its merits and distinctiveness. I did a check on listed buildings post-1945 and was surprised to find only 424 buildings had been listed nationally out of over half a million listed buildings. Many, as expected, are in London. Plymouth, apparently has the most of any provincial city. Liverpool has only two – The Metropolitan Cathedral and the Sugar Silo on Regent Road (which is currently on the At Risk Register). Built between 1955 and 1957, it is a marvellous structural sculpture in concrete, which could serve any number of functions having an unobstructed interior (concert hall/sports arena?).
I am surprised other buildings have not made the list, particularly some of the buildings on Liverpool University’s campus. There are commercial buildings which make a bold statement – the Corn Exchange, Lewis’s, Littlewood’s and even the Midland Bank on the corner of Castle Street and Dale Street, which was a brave attempt to mimic Oriel Chambers down the road. As is always the case, it takes a new generation to appreciate the past and I would be interested to find out what other readers think are the best buildings of the last 50 years.
Thanks to all who have bought Streets of Liverpool 2. It is in all local bookshops and on Amazon
The 1970s was not the best decade in Liverpool’s relatively short history. The economy took a real bashing – although the real damage happened a decade later, when the city was almost abandoned by the Conservative government – and little happened in terms of new building (although the disastrous decision to progress with an inner ring road created a property blight across the city centre). I was looking for a new base for my arts organisation (Merseyside Viual Communications Unit – an ugly name, I must admit but it sounded vaguely official – I later shortened it to Open Eye). I was offered any number of buildings to buy or rent. One of them was a former bakery on Hardman Street. It was mine if I could stump up £11,0000, which of course I hadn’t got, or available to rent. I liked the building and had a vision of turning it into an art house cinema. Unfortunately, the upper floor had been reinforced with concrete to take the weight of ovens, and conversion was out of the question. In the end, I took over a disused pub on the corner of Hood Street and Whitechapel on a six-month let, which turned into nearly 10 years.
Fortunately, the bakery in Hardman Street soon attracted new owners and a chapter in Liverpool’s social life began with the opening of its first wine bar. The year was, I think, 1976 and I videoed the first night (the tape was recorded over a few years later). In a rather depressing decade, Kirklands was a bit of a revolution in drinking with its large windows opening onto the street, which had tables and chairs on the pavement during the day. Café society had arrived. Kirklands had created a game-changer in Liverpool’s drinking culture.
Across the road was an equally influential drinking establishment – Chaucers. Famous for its live gigs – with bands such as Deaf School appearing – it made Hardman Street, for a short time at least, the place to be seen. The history of the building is of greater interest, having been constructed as a synagogue in about 1835. It was abandoned in the 1850s when a new building was erected in nearby Hope Place. In its more recent history, it has become a fancy dress shop (Lili Bizarre). Kirklands still remains a fine drinking establishment although renamed The Fly in the Loaf, with possibly the best range of real ales in the area.
First of all I must apologise for the dreadful error with my last post. As several readers have already pointed out, the photographs are of Richmond Fair NOT Cambridge Street Almhouses. Mea culpa! I have edited the post – so accurate information is now available. I can’t promise I won’t make mistakes in the future but please correct me when I do, there is nothing worse that putting out badly wrong information.
Today’s post was triggered by a walk past the now closed Lewis’s store in Ranelagh Street. Covered in scaffolding, it had a board up announcing a new Odeon cinema and a mix of fast food outlets to the Central Village. Having already dealt with the euphemistic term ‘Gardens’ when applied to tenements devoid of anything growing, I can’t help having a dig at whoever names these developments. No – it isn’t a Village – not in any context I understand. (Even less than Stockbridge Village). No cricket on the green or ducks in the (artificial) lake, I fear.
Nonetheless, I look forward to the development opening. At least Lewis’s has been saved and, hopefully, the statue by Jacob Epstein will look even better when set against the newly cleaned walls. Lewis’s original building was a victim of bombing in 1941. The replacement went up in 1947 – remarkably soon after the War ended. Materials were in short supply but the Portland stone cladding gives a quality of finish that must have been quite uplifting at that desperate time when the city was struggling to get back on its feet.
The statue by Epstein is another bold statement of a brighter future. Its official title is Liverpool Resurgent, although it is more commonly known as ‘Dickie Lewis’. I particularly fond of the three panels underneath, also by Epstein, of children at play.
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.
Exchange Flags, May 1886
Exchange Flags, 1829
I must apologise to John Sergeant. He did visit Liverpool and included a mention of Frith being a founder member of Liverpool Photographic Society (although not the founder as was stated) in 1853. By way of illustration, a photograph of cotton traders and other merchants was shown – all gathered for the camera in Exchange Flags.
As John Sergeant mentioned, this was a clever commercial ploy. Photographing so many together would have guaranteed healthy sales – as any school photographer worth his/her salt knows.
My particular interest is not in the realities of commercial photography – a difficult business at the best of times – but in the setting. Exchange Flags has been through three major transformations. The photograph of Wyatt’s Exchange Buildings, built in a ‘Flemish Renaissance’ style in 1867 reveal an ornate and impressive building in sharp contrast to the building it frames, the Town Hall. It replaced a smaller building in the more complementary Classical style which is illustrated above. By the 1930s, Wyatt’s building itself was felt to be too small and the current buildings were erected, although not finally completed until after the War. I have ambivalent thoughts about the ‘modern’ buildings. I used to dislike them but my views have softened now that they have been cleaned up.
My biggest problem is with Exchange Flags itself. It should be a magnificent city square but it is a soulless place. The statue to Nelson is a superb centre-piece but there is nothing else to break up the view. Tree planting is out of the question, I suppose, because of the underground car park, but surely a more dynamic setting could be designed that will actual encourage people to sit down (seats would be a good starting point) rather than rush though. Liverpool is not good on squares – Williamson Square and Clayton Square are dreadful and Derby Square is little better in spite of its recent upgrade. The best continental squares are where people want to be, with cafés, fountains and interesting sculptures. Somehow, we cannot create such places. Exchange Flags would be a good place to start.