Looking through my photographic collection, I am always reminded of what Liverpool has lost architecturally. Wartime bombing saw off a fair number of good (and occasionally great) buildings,but by far the greatest destruction was caused in the post-War decades, particularly the 1960s and 70s.
Waterloo Grain Warehouses can claim to be victims of both the Blitz and the 1960s readiness to dismantle the city’s heritage. Opened in 1867 to the design of George Fosberry Lyster, the City Engineer, there were originally three warehouses facing East Waterloo Dock. (The photograph is taken from Princes Half Tide Dock with its entrance into East Waterloo Dock). James Picton, architect and writer whom I so often quote, regarded the warehouses as ‘a great improvement on the massive ugliness of the Albert Dock’. Certainly there are similarities in construction, with the hauling machinery in this case being housed in the turrets that arise above the roof level.
The far block was destroyed by enemy bombing. The block on the left survived until 1969, when the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board demolished it at roughly the same time as Duke’s Warehouse, which was adjacent to Albert Dock. Two unnecessary acts that have greatly diminished our dockland heritage. Barratt Homes bought the remaining Waterloo Grain Warehouse and converted it to flats. The site of the other warehouses are now typical suburban houses – totally out of keeping with their once grand setting.
First of all, my apologies for the gap in posts. For years, the site has been with a server that was delivering an expensive and slow site. Moving to a new server has been a bit of a nightmare but will hopefully offer a much better service.
I have a large number of late nineteenth century images of Pier Head and the ferries. Perhaps this is to be expected. Pier Head was the only part of the river that was open to the public until the 1980s and the re-opening of the Albert Dock. As a result, it was not only packed with passengers for the ferries but was also a popular place to meet and promenade,
The photograph is unremarkable, although it has some great animation. I was particularly taken by the young man with a top hat. It must be a hot summer’s day judging by the open parasols, especially on the overcrowded ferry deck. It is a morning shot looking at the shadows and I am guessing that it might be a Sunday’s excursion to New Brighton.
Over the years of this blog, I have commented on the strange absence of photographs of Liverpool pre-1870. There are reasons in part for this. Photography for the amateur was a rich man’s hobby and its application was limited by the technology of the time: glass plates, slow exposure times requiring tripods for stability and availability of a darkroom. The commercial applications of photography beyond portraiture were hardly being explored (this was before photo-mechanical printing of photographs in books and magazines). However, Liverpool did have its rich amateurs, including the pioneer of landscape photography Francis Frith and they had grouped together in Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association in 1853.
It is hard to believe that photographing the rapidly changing town they lived in did not interest them. Indeed, I have already posted a photograph of St George’s Hall taken by John Alexander Forrest, one of the Society’s leading lights. But that is it. Fortunately, today’s image – of George’s Dock photographed in the 1860s – was copied and made into a lantern slide (probably in the early 20th century). It is a good copy and shows the same viewpoint of a stereo card view of 1891 I posted in January 2013. The difference is, of course, the incredible number of sailing ships. This is just one dock on the river; imagine how many ships must have been in the port at any one time. The buildings on the right are the Goree Piazzas, sadly pulled down in the 1950s following bomb damage (they could have been saved but the rule of the motor car was dominating planning decisions).
A fascinating photograph but I am sure there are still photographs out there that will help fill in the missing time gap. The search goes on!
The Strand c1865
The Great Dry Dock, 1890
Liverpool 800, that fine book published to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Liverpool’s first charter, describes the area around the Custom House as Sailor Town. Maybe it is not a commonly used expression but it is entirely appropriate, for this small area was the centre of Liverpool’s shipping trade. Sadly, although remnants of The Strand survived into the mid-1970s, there is little left to excite the keen historian wishing to make sense of the Port’s history. Only the Baltic Fleet survives of the many public houses that would have been thronged with visiting sailors. Heap Mill is a rare warehouse survivor in an area in which the predominate building was the tall, filing cabinet structures that lined every street.
The top photograph is an early view, with the Custom House’s impressive classical facade dominating the street. The position of the dome indicates what a huge building it was (although it apparently had a rather dingy and depressing interior). Its position is approximately where the Hilton Hotel now stands, facing the Albert Dock.
The second view shows the facade of the Custom House from the Albert Dock. The repair of the old wooden ships must have been coming to an end. There are two ships in the dry dock, with a small gathering of bystanders unknowingly watching a dying trade in ship maintenance.
I don’t buy many photographs these days. Occasionally the odd item catches my eye but I have restricted myself to only exceptional images (usually nineteenth century) that add to my collection rather than duplicate what I already have. That said, I couldn’t help buying a lantern slide I spotted on Ebay a few weeks ago. The subject matter was familiar and not particularly outstanding but what interested me was the name in the corner of the slide: C Inston.
Charles Frederick Inston was one of Liverpool’s foremost photographers at the turn of the nineteenth century. Highly respected throughout amateur photographic circles for his street life and river photographs, he was the President of Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association (LAPA) as well as a valued committee member of the Royal Photographic Society. In 1979, I curated an exhibition of his work at Open Eye Gallery based on copies of a set of lantern slides belonging to LAPA. Thirty years later, in 2009, I published a book of his work: Liverpool Characters and Streets (sadly no longer in print).
Inston was an interesting man. Born in Birmingham in 1855 to a carpenter, he served an apprenticeship as a printer before, at the age of 24, trading in his own name as a lithographic and general printer at 72 South Castle Street (later moving to 25 South John Street – now absorbed into Liverpool One shopping precinct). He lived initially in Chapel Road in Anfield before moving to 15 Belmont Drive (off West Derby Road – the house still stands although now rather shabby and in multi-occupancy). He died at the age of 61 after a long illness and the best information about him can be found in the fulsome obituaries in the photographic press. The British Journal of Photography wrote: Inston, the man of character and organisation, existed side by side with Inston the technician in pictorial photography and the personal characteristics of the man were marked equally in both fields of his activities. He was no poseur. He loved artistic work for its own sake … His own pictorial work was characterised by a frankness and vigour …
The Amateur Photographer concurred adding … he was a keen pictorial photographer and lecturer, a leading exhibitor and judge and a clever worker in the bromide, platinum and bromoil processes and also one of the earliest and best demonstrators of the pictorial possibilities of the hand held camera.
The lantern slide I have purchased is not a great Inston – but it is my only photograph of one of Liverpool’s most important photographers. The sad truth is that little of his work is left. Liverpool Record Office has an album of contact prints (of variable quality) and the Royal Photographic Society has a handful of his exhibition prints of seascapes. These apart, the only other substantial body of work is the set of lantern slides I copies back in 1979. They were in the possession of LAPA’s archivist, Joe Williams, who died in the 1980s. LAPA merged with South Liverpool Photographic Society, so I hope the slides are safe – they are an important record of Liverpool and an important part of the city’s photographic history.
Albert Dock from Salthouse Dock, c1885
Albert Dock from the Landing Stage, c1885
The Albert Dock is now the centre-piece of Liverpool’s historic docklands. That has not always been the case. When the complex was opened by Prince Albert in 1846, it was a giant step forward in dock design – the first enclosed warehouse system that allowed loading and unloading directly to and from ships berthed in the dock. No other dock could boast such a monumental structure of cast iron, brick and stone and its fire-proof and theft-proof benefits proved instantly attractive to ship-owners wishing to protect their valuable cargoes.
However, the construction of the dock had not foreseen the rapid technological changes in shipping design that saw the replacement of sailing ships with steam-powered iron ships within little more than a decade. The tight entrance to Canning Dock was too narrow for the new ships, and the dock network spread out to the north of Pierhead to accommodate them. Albert Dock was still used for storage but its use began to diminish from the 1860s. A century later, it was a romantic, brooding mass made even moodier by the silt that had been allowed to accumulate as a result of leaving the dock gates open.
What might have happened next is the stuff of horror movies. A London property developer came up with the plan to demolish to complex, fill the dock in and build a skyscaper and car park. By good fortune, it came to nought but the Mersey Dock and Harbour Board were ready to sell without any concern for the historic fabric. Today – forty years on – it is hard to image what the waterfront would look like without these stunning buildings. It is just a shame that the clock tower (designed by Hardwick and removed in 1960) has not been replaced. It is surprisingly difficult to find nineteenth century images of Albert Dock. Possibly because they were part of the Dock Estate, and therefore not open to the public, photographers turned their interest to more accessible areas where commercial sales could be more guaranteed. Both images are by Francis Frith’s company and date from the mid-1880s.
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.
In my last post, I brought up the problem of dating photographs. Probably only one in ten of my vintage images has a date that can be considered reliable. The other 90% I have to give an approximate date according to the photographic process used (only reliable to within ten years at the best), a specific event, people’s dress or buildings that existed at the time (again, often only good to within ten years).
On the whole, this is not a serious problem – more of a desire to be as accurate as possible. With many street photographs, it is easy to say 1890s but in quite a few cases, some of my images of bare-footed children were taken up to the early 1900s. (The fact that hand-held cameras only really started to make an impact in the early 1890s is one helpful clue).
Fortunately, the photograph of a busy Pier Head turned out to be relatively easy to date thanks to the internet. Reading up on the history of the ferries, it turns out that the Alexandra (the ferry in the foreground) was only in service for one year – in 1890. It was chartered for that year only (why and from whom is not stated). I imagine it must have been named after Princess Alexandra – consort of the Prince of Wales. I suppose I should dig deeper but, to be honest, transport history is not really my bag. Perhaps some informed reader can fill in the gaps.
First of all, best wishes for 2014 and with it my New Year resolution – to get back to a weekly (or thereabouts) blog. The last few months have been a difficult time but there is nothing like a New Year to get back on track.
Today’s image is by that prodigious producer of local views, Priestley and Sons. The family originated from Huddersfield, where they had a successful studio but relocated to Wallasey in the 1890s. For a couple of decades, the company produced hundreds of images of local landmarks on both sides of the Mersey, specialising in shipping subjects. The views were ‘popular’ subjects which could be easily sold – so there were plenty of images of St George’s Hall, the Town Hall and the Landing Stage.
This particular photo (number 1495) is of King Orry of Douglas, one of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company’s fleet. It was the second King Orry and was built in 1871. In 1912, it was scrapped and replaced by King Orry (3), which sank during the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940.
Following my last post about Sefton Park Meadows, the City council has taken another step towards approving the sell off of this important green space. Mayor Anderson claims that the impending ‘bankruptcy’ of the Council leaves him no other option and that the people of Liverpool understand and are behind him. I doubt his assumption and can only ask why this particular piece of land? There are acres of brownfield land that needs regenerating, so why choose perhaps the most sensitive plot for luxury, speculative housing.
Today’s photograph is of one such brownfield site that has been successfully redeveloped. The architecture of the new Princes Dock is bland and unexciting but, at least, it contributes to the regeneration of the city. Its redevelopment came at the early stages of Liverpool’s renaissance – perhaps too early in the sense that later development might have meant better buildings. However, as Quentin Hughes once pointed out to me, most buildings are only temporary and will be replaced in the course of time – unlike green space which once built on will nearly always remain built on.
The 1880s view of Princes Dock has only one familiar landmark – the spire of the Church of St Nicholas. The scene is devoid of people and, judging by the lack of shadows, must have been taken close to midday. My guess is on a Sunday. At any other time, the dock would have been a hive of activity. The long exposure meant that movement would be blurred, so the photographer has timed his exposure to eliminate such a risk.