Category: Leisure

There are quite a few Liverpool institutions I have missed out on over the years. The Overhead Railway had long gone by the time I arrived in 1970. I also missed out on the old Cavern. It was still there but no longer a place at the cutting edge of music. I did get to look inside the Sailors’ Home before they pulled it down and there is still the opportunity to see a Grand National. Sadly, the Grafton is one place I will not get to visit. It had crossed my mind from time to time to take a camera and take a few shots but it closed down before I made a decision.
I am disappointed with myself because the Grafton and club life in general should be recorded for posterity. Such places played an important part in the lives of many people and it is a shame there is not an archive of photographs to draw on. This particular image was taken in June,1956 by a Detroit News photographer. I am not sure what the news angle was – possibly the lives of GI’s in Britain after the War (there were US servicemen based at Burtonwood). The couple in the shot appear to be deep in conversation rather than dancing but there are no obvious clues as to why the photograph was taken.

When this photograph of the Odeon, London Road, was taken, the cinema was just 20 years old. The cinema was built on the site of a boxing stadium which had closed in 1931 and opened as the Paramount in 1934. Its opening was not without incident as the Scala, Futurist and Palais de Luxe all objected to it on the grounds that the Paramount company produced, distributed and exhibited films – making competition virtually impossible. The objections were overruled and a state of the art cinema erected. Interestingly, the frontage was restricted to about half the building’s width because of the presence of the neighbouring store. The architect made up for the lack of width by building tall, with a distinctive stonework central feature which was illuminated by neon lights.
The cinema was designed for a single screen with stalls and a circle and a seating capacity of 2670 (1972 in the stalls and 698 in the circle). A resident organist gave shows every day and was in almost continual use until the cinema was split into twin screens in 1968. In 1942, Paramount sold the cinema to the Odeon Deutsch group and it was renamed the Odeon. In 1954, the year of the photograph, it became the first Merseyside cinema to be equipped for CinemaScope films, later replaced by the larger ToddAO system (the screen was 51 x 24.5 foot). Following a record run of The Sound of Music, the cinema converted to twin screens. All the architectural features in the foyer and auditorium were lost in the conversion, which introduced Panavision and full stereo sound. One particular point of interest was the performances of The Beatles at the cinema in the early 1960s (before conversion). In 1973, an additional screen was added, followed in quick succession by a fourth and fifth screen (in 1979), followed by further subdivisions which finally gave the cinema 10 screens by 1999. This was to mark the end of development and the opening of Odeon’s new cinema in Liverpool One was to prove the end of the road for a cinema that had provided great entertainment for over 60 years.

The scene is little changed today – although the boat house has been replaced by an impressive modern cafe?.
I need a clothing expert to date these three photographs. My suspicion is that they are late 1890s/early 1900s but they could be earlier. The December of 1890 was the coldest on record until this month, so possibly the photographer was recording that severe winter. The lake is well and truly frozen over – with no Health and Safety worries for the dozens of skaters taking advantage. (I particularly like the photograph of the young girls letting their hair down).
Clearly, from the warm outfits, this was mainly a middle-class day out. It is shocking to think that there were thousands of children walking around with bare feet only a few miles away but Liverpool really was a tale of two cities.

Sefton Park, 1890s

Entrance to Liverpool Zoological Gardens, Rice Lane, 1975.

Brochure for Liverpool Zoo, Elmswood Road.



Map of Elmswood Road Zoo

Liverpool’s history never fails to throw up interesting subjects to research. Sifting through my photographs, I came across the (top) photograph of the entrance to Liverpool Zoological Gardens on Rice Lane – sandwiched between the then offices of Dunlop and The Plough public house. My knowledge of Liverpool zoos is somewhat limited but I did know there had been one off West Derby Road (between 1833 and 1863) as well as a number of smaller menageries of around the same time. In the twentieth century, two attempts – at Otterspool and Elmswood Road – fared little better.
The Rice Lane Zoo opened in 1884 but closed less than a decade later. I can find little about its layout or contents – but the entrance building still survives as a reminder of the area’s former life (I believe it is now the Cavendish Retail Park).
Liverpool Zoological Park in Elmswood Road had an even shorter life – opening in 1932 and closing in 1938. It had a varied but small collection of animals and birds – the star attraction being a chimpanzee named Mickey which escaped in 1938 and attacked (not seriously) a number of keepers and visitors before being shot at a nearby house. The zoo followed Mickey into oblivion shortly afterwards and the land was sold off for housing. The final page in the brochure is a full-page advert stating:
All Living Specimens of Animals, Birds and Reptiles on Exhibition at the Liverpool Zoological Gardens Can be Purchased. Apply for Prices to the Office. Now that is one way to run a zoo. Imagine walking home with a black bear in tow!

I used to go to a lot of auctions in the 1970s. It was a great time to buy, Victoriana was out of fashion and the auction houses were full of huge sideboards, mahogany table, wardrobes and other effects that were being cleared out of the mansions as a generation passed away. I was particularly interested in books, which you could buy by the shelf (for less than a ?1 usually). Sadly, to my lasting regret, I wasn’t looking for photographs at that time although, when I did show some interest in the early 1980s, I could still pick up 5 or 6 albums for a few pounds. They were usually full of topographical views, many from around the world, taken by professional photographers to sell to the tourist market. Every now and then, I would pick up a collection with Liverpool interest including a family album, taken in 1910 and 1911, which included these two photographs of a day out at New Brighton. I know my blog is about Liverpool but New Brighton was so much a part of people’s lives that I will make an exception. For many people, it was as near to a holiday that they got and must have been an amazing place on a hot summers day.

New Brighton 1889

Sefton Park 1889

While sorting out my lantern slides for further pictures of the Dingle to follow on from yesterday’s post, I noticed that the Sefton Park slide was dated February 11th, 1889. A few days too late for its anniversary, perhaps, but worth remembering that they had hard winters back then (and coped with them a lot better). The two photographs were both taken by N. Stephen, who also photographed the children carrying beer mugs in an earlier post. I have had difficulty pinpointing any real details about Stephen. The only match in Gore’s Directory (1910) is of a Nathan Stephen of 22 Russian Drive, Stoneycroft. Stephen is listed as a County Court officer, so was presumably relatively well-paid. Hand-held cameras had just been introduced in the late 1880s, so Stephen was an early proponent. The advent of hand-held cameras and roll film were to democratise photography. Even so, it still wasn’t a cheap hobby and it would take a further ten years or more before it became a truly mass medium.
If anyone has more information on Stephen, I would be grateful. It is good to give credit when due, however belatedly.