Category: Commercial Buildings


Stanley Dock and Tobacco Warehouse, 1920s.

I had an interesting conversation with one of Liverpool’s leading urban planners last week about how much Liverpool had improved in the last decade. Take retailing, for example. Before Liverpool One opened in 2008, the city was languishing in 25th spot as a shopping centre – alongside Stockport and Bolton. Now it is up to 5th place – almost up to its pre-War position. By any measure this is a remarkable achievement. What is particularly impressive is how Liverpool One has fitted almost seamlessly into the urban fabric, opening up the riverfront and Albert Dock along the way.

Our discussion shifted to the ‘next step’, the development that could make an even bigger impact on Liverpool’s future: Peel’s Liverpool Waters. It would appear that this is the year in which progress will be made. Peel are committed to pushing forward the development of the neglected docklands north of Waterloo Dock – although the plans are still largely under wraps. I am very much in favour of Liverpool Waters in principle. Threats to remove World Heritage status are largely a red herring – after all London built The Shard which impacts on three World Heritage sites in London (Palace of Westminster/Tower of London/Greenwich). It appears that the commissioners have chosen to pick a fight with Liverpool – a softer option than the centre of power and finance. The bottom line is what is more important – an accolade that is being increasingly handed out and will eventually become almost meaningless or a major regeneration of a neglected area of Liverpool that could create 1000s of jobs and a sustainable future.

My photograph is of Stanley Dock and the gigantic Tobacco Warehouse. A decade ago, plans seemed to favour demolishing the monument to smoking (it has very low ceiling heights and conversion seemed beyond the resources of any willing developer). Now it appears that Harcourt Development are pushing forward with plans for apartments, retailing and offices within the giant building. Their successful renovation of the Jesse Hartley warehouse next door into the 153 room Titanic Hotel is just the start of their ambitious plans. A point of interest in the photograph is the Overhead Railway, which connected the city centre to the network of docks from Dingle to Seaforth. Now word has it that a tramway is proposed to link Peel’s planned development with the centre (after all, improved transport is essential to the success of the scheme).

This is the start of a new phase in Liverpool’s history. The waterfront has been almost criminally neglected since the 1960s. We now have an opportunity to create a new and spectacular face to the river. I hope the developments are worthy of the setting.


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.


Sefton Park c1900


Caf?, Sefton Park, c1900

First of all, my apologies for not having updated my blog before Christmas. I am in time to wish all those who have taken time to read it the very best for 2015. It has been very heartening to generate such a good response to my posts and I can assure everyone that there is plenty more to come – starting with these two photos of Sefton Park from over a century ago. The caf? must be the earliest version – I presume it was on the same site as the current one.
One of my hopes for 2015 is that the Mayor sees sense and abandons his plans to build on Sefton Meadows. It is a dreadfully short-sighted proposal which will destroy the integrity of the park. There is no shortage of brownfield land throughout the city and using up green belt is not the answer.
I appreciate the City Council has to make tough decisions but not all work to the long-term benefit of Liverpool. One classic example was the decision to rebuild the St John’s Market area – for a new St John’s Market and a ridiculously over-ambitious civic centre. The destruction of a largely Georgian and early Victorian network of narrow streets and interesting squares removed in one blow the heart of the city. Below are two reminders of what was lost.


Great Charlotte Street c1960

Looking down Great Charlotte Street, the sandstone building on the right is the Fish Market, designed by John Foster as an adjunct to the main St John’s Market of 1822. Beyond, to the left of the Royal Court, is the Stork Hotel in Queen Square. In the foreground, I was unaware that Liverpool had a branch of Kendall’s – I had assumed that it was a Manchester shop only.


Roe Street c1960

This is a view of the back of St John’s Market. Picton made an interesting observation in his fascinating account of Liverpool’s history and architecture (published in 1873): To architectural merit it can hardly lay claim. The heavy carpentry of the roof and its division into numerous spans, give an air of lowness, almost of gloom. Allowance must be made for the period of its erection. As yet railway stations with vast iron roofs and enormous spans were things undreamt of. The comparison between the roofs of St John’s Market and Lime Street Station will show what a vast stride has been taken in five and forty years.
Fast foward the best part of a century and it would be hard to agree that vast strides were made in removing the whole area.


St John’s Market/Parker Street/Elliot Street 1964


St George’s Place 1960s

Standing in the throngs outside St George’s Hall last Saturday, I tried in vain to photograph the giants’ progress through the city. Too many people and I was in the wrong place. Standing opposite that awful advertising hoarding that shrouds the Lime Street side of St John’s Market, however, reminded me of a newspaper cutting I had saved for a future blog. New Giant in City shouts the Echo headline. But this is for 22 September 1962 and the giant was a dual proposal for the Ravenseft development to demolish the old St John’s Market area and another scheme to replace Central Station (and the adjoining Lyceum Club) with a 30 storey tower block (the Ranelagh Centre).
These were the swashbuckling days of out with the old and in with the new. Liverpool was to be modernised and history was bunk.


Fortunately the Ranelagh Centre scheme did not progress as planned, although Central Station was demolished and an awful low level development replaced it (the Lyceum was saved thanks to Michael Heseltine). What I find interesting reading the Echo is the unconditional support the newspaper always gives for such schemes. There is no hint of any sense that anything is being lost – simply that all such developments are good for a modern city. Ironically, the Chairman of the Development and Planning Committee was reported as saying: “We have been late in getting ahead, but the architects have possibly learned from some of the mistakes already brought about in other parts of the country and we have not only learned from them but have used it to advantage.” Lessons learned? That developers will promise the earth and fail to deliver, that shiny and new is not the same as good, that historic fabric can never be replaced?
In that context, yesterday’s decision to grant Heap Mill listed status is an interesting development. My fear is that the site will now be blighted because developers will walk away from the huge cost of any conservation project. It might appear my stance contradicts what I have written above but I do not think Heap Mill is a significant building and I would rather see the site redeveloped sympathetically. Oh dear! I am beginning to sound a bit like that Chairman of the Development Committee.

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