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.
Royal William, Crown Street, 1979
Alexandra, Upper Hill Street, 1976
A happy New Year to all followers of my blog.
When I started the blog over six years ago, I had no expectation that it would have more than a couple of years life in it. Time really does catch one out. I was at the Open Eye exhibition launch last night which was a celebration of its 40th year. When I founded it back in 1977, I was just 29. It really makes me think where those forty years went. One thing is certain though, I won’t be posting when I am 102.
The blog started out of my interest in the photographic record of Liverpool and a determination to make public not only my collection of photographs but, also those in other collections, both public and private. In the latter respect, I have not been too successful – so this year I will be making greater efforts to infiltrate other archives. This is our history and there is so much material that would interest a wider public.
In this context, I have make another resolution, and that is to respond to the many requests I get for specific locations. Not all are possible but I will do my best; after all, one of the best features of the blog is the comments section, which makes me feel that what I am doing is striking a chord.
So, on to today’s requested images. The Royal William, on the corner of Crown Street, is one of those unfathomable losses that the city has suffered in recent years. A fine Regency period building, it was named after the transatlantic paddle steamer, built in 1837. In most other cities, it would have been listed and appreciated. Not so Liverpool where it was demolished in 1998 and left as a piece of wasteland.
Another loss is the Alexandra public house on Upper Hill Street, which has been replaced by housing. A neat, typical Victorian pub, it served its neighbourhood for generations. I appreciate there were far too many pubs in Liverpool, particularly after the population collapse from the 1960s onwards, but too many good buildings were lost when they could have served another function. Which brings me back to Open Eye and its original location – the former Grapes Hotel on the corner of Hood Street and Whitechapel. The layout of the building proved perfect for an arts project with plenty of accessible public space and in a prominent location. The Royal William could have certainly had an alternative use had the will been there.
South Castle Street 1973
Mount Pleasant 1972
Queen Square 1970
I had a very interesting meeting with Catherine Morris, the Writer in Residence at Liverpool Central Library. Catherine is putting together an oral history archive that will tell the history of Liverpool. Not before time; this is something that should be an ongoing activity in every village, town and city in the country. Apart from fragments, we have already lost the voices of the generations born before 1920, who could tell us about life in the nineteenth-century, WW1, the 1920s and 30s Depression. We have lost their insight into the hardships, relationships, sacrifices and pleasures. Even their way of talking and use of dialect has been largely lost. This is important work and I hope Catherine’s work becomes a permanent feature of the Library’s work.
In our discussion, I talked about the Liverpool I first experienced when I arrived in 1970. It was a very different place when the population was over 600,000. Now it is down to 470,000 (but slowly increasing). The years of Merseybeat were long gone, not that they had halted the rapid post-War economic decline. My memories were of empty boarded streets, soot-blackened public buildings and a general down-at-the-heel feeling of neglect. True that was also the same with Manchester and Sheffield but Liverpool was the only city I had experienced where a 100 yard walk from Church Street would take you to streets of abandoned warehouses and commercial buildings. I worked in a project for a time in Manesty’s Lane (now absorbed into Liverpool One), where every warehouse was empty and available for virtually no rent to anyone foolhardy enough to make it watertight and usable.
I captured the last days of the Sailors’ Home in 1973, just around the corner. This was Liverpool’s most significant individual loss of the decade. I have commented before on its scandalous loss, made worse by the proposed redevelopment being called off, leaving a hole in the ground and scattered masonry for the next three decades. However, it is the scale of destruction of smaller buildings that had integrity through their unity that is particularly shocking. The streets around St John’s Market had been flattened before I arrived but Queen Square had survived almost intact. That was until a misjudged scheme for a massive civic centre was activated. These were the days of grandiose local authority ambitions and the huge building was planned to expand their activities to megalomaniac levels. Having demolished most of Queen Square, the Government called in the scheme as being inappropriate and out-dated, leaving behind a flattened landscape that served as a car park for the next 25 years. To add insult to injury, the new Queen Square development was heralded as being an exciting new mixed development with a feature square at its heart. Rather like the original although without its history and impressive architecture.
The Georgian houses that lined Mount Pleasant were similarly pulled down to make way for one of the ugliest multi-storey car parks it is possibly to build. The photograph shows the famous Mardi Gras, one of the city’s most popular night clubs that had made its home in an old chapel. Now the car park is doomed. At least its replacement cannot be any worse (can it?).
The impressive facades that lined South Castle Street could and should have been saved. The new Law Courts took out the small eighteenth-century Benn Gardens but why was this important row of commercial building lost?
It is this loss of unity that has damaged Liverpool most. Losing an individual building of significant architectural merit like the Sailors’ Home is unacceptable but it is the way whole swathes of buildings that told the story of Liverpool were removed, usually for very little or no gain, that is the real tragedy. have we learned any lessons? The destruction of Lime Street suggests otherwise.
I was in the city centre yesterday checking up on how the refurbishment of Clayton Square is getting on. There is still some way to go but much of the new paving is already down. The new steps are still a work in progress, so it is difficult to make a judgement at this stage. I imagine work will be completed in time for Christmas.
Clayton Square has been badly treated. The 1980s redevelopment was seen as a mark of progress at the time: a futurist shopping mall in the centre of the city. Unfortunately, it did not work out too well. Most of the retail units were too small for major retailers and too expensive for small independents. The two key ‘anchor’ stores were Boots and Virgin Records but they were not enough to create the excitement a new retail outlet needs.
There was considerable opposition at the time but the demolition of the nineteenth century east side of the square went ahead. Rather than refurbish to existing buildings (which were big enough for national retailers) that would have created a far more interesting townscape, the whole lot went in a misplaced effort to modernise the city.
This is not a new story, of course. The Lyceum, at the bottom of Bold Street, nearly went in the hideous redevelopment of Central Station and the unspeakable damage resulting from the building of the new St John’s Precinct is a prime example of the danger of giving developers a free hand in determining the shape of our city.
The photograph is of the west side of Clayton Square. The row of shops on Houghton Street was demolished in the mid-1960s for the St John’s project and the building on the immediate left was replaced by a late 1920s Portland stone faced building that housed Owen Owens and, more recently, Tesco. The shops are fascinating. The late-Victorian vogue for all things Japanese is reflected in Clayton Brothers caf? and bamboo furniture shop but it is the next shop that is particularly striking with its large sign Habit Makers. I can imagine thousands of nuns writing in from all over the world for the latest in habit fashions. A niche business today, perhaps, but obviously big business a century or more ago.
Thanks again to the Keasbury-Gordon Archive. Copies of their book Liverpool in 1886 are available from https://www.amazon.co.uk/Liverpool-1886-Andrew-Gill/dp/1533188947/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473848694&sr=8-1&keywords=liverpool+in+1886
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!
It is over five years since I blogged about the rundown state of Lime Street and the urgent need to upgrade it. I suppose it is a case of be careful of what you wish for; having seen the proposed replacement development, I am hesitant to lavish any praise on what seems to be a bland and uninspiring proposal.
What is slightly reassuring is that most buildings have a limited life – maybe 50 or 60 years in many cases, especially if the economy is booming. The photograph of Lime Street was taken at the turn of the twentieth century, just before the east side of Lime Street underwent a similar radical change. The Vines pub (more widely known as The Big House) is named after its landlord, Albert Vines, who built this pub in 1869. The new Vines dates from 1907 and is one of Liverpool’s finest gin palaces. The Adelphi Hotel, on the right, was the second one on the site, replacing a Georgian conversion of two houses on the site of the former Ranelagh Gardens.The current hotel was built between 1911-14 to the design of Frank Atkinson and was regarded as the finest hotel outside of London.
Both the Vines and the Adelphi are undoubted fine additions to Lime Street and show how streets can change for the better. It does not always have to be a backward step, Developers take note!
Regarding the dating of the photograph, the early tram to Toxteth Park indicates a date of between 1899 and 1906. Liverpool introduced electric trams in 1898 (the first tram was to the Dingle) and rolled out a complete system within six years. Those were the decisive times when Liverpool Corporation had an open hand in planning the city with key personnel, such as City Engineer John Brodie, who had vision and drive and were backed by its elected officers.
Many thanks to the Keasbury-Gordon Archive. Copies of their book Liverpool in 1886 are available
I have had this photo in my files for some time. With no information to go by, I thought it would be just a few minutes work to locate the place in my Gore’s Directory. Some 30 minutes later, it began to make sense. There was no category for pet suppliers or anything else that came to mind, so I concentrated on the faint shop sign on the right, which I decided was H. Middlehu (there is no more on the photo.
Using my 1887 Directory was enough to pin the name down to Henry Middlehurst, seedsman of 11 Manchester Street (near to the corner where Manchester Street meets Dale Street). There, next door were William Johnson (naturalist) at number 7 and Seward Holmes at number 9. Two competing businesses, it appears, rather than one. The shop on the right (Seward Holmes’s) looks the more run-down but it was the only one mentioned in the 1911 Directory.
The photo makes you realise what an intensive trade there was in exotic birds. In the mid-nineteenth century, the trade in caged birds was for finches and other English native species almost to the point at which certain birds were almost driven to extinction here. The same fate befell parrots and other colourful birds in the twentieth century. After all, this is a snapshot of just two shops in one city in Europe. The trade must have been huge.
Sadly, the exploitation of animals continues in any number of ways. The decimation of elephant and rhino populations for nothing more than superstitious belief in the power of their tusks and horns, the decimation of the gorilla populations for bush meat and the drag-netting of our seas and oceans are just some of the depressing realities of today.
To finish on an entirely tangential note, the building next to Middlehurst’s is not shown in the photograph but it housed the solicitor William Henry Quilliam, now better-known as Abdullah Quilliam, founder of the first mosque in England on Brougham Terrace. But that is another story.
Fortunately, some things don’t change too much. Bold Street is one of Liverpool’s best loved streets and it is not difficult to understand why. It is a lively mix of mainly independent shops and restaurants and has an eclectic mix of buildings, ranging from the classical Lyceum (1800-02) at its foot, facing the early twentieth century HSBC bank (by James Doyle). Then we have the ex-Cripps shop (better known in recent years as Waterstones bookshop)and, further up, is the Music Hall (also a Waterstones in more recent years before becoming a bar). Elsewhere, there are good examples of modernist architecture (Radiant House), Arts and Crafts, even Graeco-Egyptian (number 92) and solid Greek Revival. It is a street that demands looking above the shop facades to appreciate how different styles can happily coexist and strengthen the urban landscape. And looking down on all of this is the Gothic Revival tower of St Luke’s church.
What a shame lessons are not learned. Bold Street succeeds because it is of a scale. No high buildings breaking its building line. Quentin Hughes used the expression ‘keeping in keeping’ and this is a perfect example. The destruction of the St John’s Market area was a disastrous misjudgment, replacing a warren of small streets with a lump of concrete that could be anywhere in the world. More recent examples, such as the demolition of Commutation Road and now Lime Street, show yet again that most developers are only interested in uniform developments that can be built from scratch. The recent plan for Renshaw Street, to include a large scale residential block, is another indication of this worrying trend to remove scale and variety from the city centre.
To get back to Bold Street. Until the last War, this was the fashionable shopping street where well-heeled ladies and gentlemen would shop (although, in contrast, there is a barefoot boy selling newspapers on the immediate left of the photograph). Van Gruisen, the first shop on the left, were pianoforte manufacturers. Next door was Arthur Medrington (photographer and artist) with another well known photographer (Barnes and Bell) next to him. (Bold Street was a centre for photography with several more having studios including Vandyke – whose sign can be seen on the opposite side of the street).
Fortunately Bold Street survives and it is this kind of street that gives Liverpool its character. So much has been lost since the 1970s on the grounds that the building fabric is beyond salvation (not only Lime Street but Seel Street, Duke Street and now Renshaw Street). How different Liverpool would have looked with greater consideration for the past.
In the early nineteenth century, Liverpool adopted a number of place names from London. Soho Street and Islington being two obvious ones. I assume naming a church St Martin-in-the Fields is another nod to the capital city and, at the time of its consecration in 1829, it would have drawn respectful comparisons with its counterpart. Erected by the Government at an expense of ?20,000, it was designed by John Foster Jnr. who, along with his father John Foster Snr., was responsible for much of Liverpool’s Classical Revival. Between them, their list of buildings is astonishing, although some of their finest examples no longer survive, amongst them the Custom House, St John’s Market and St Catherine (Abercromby Square), St Martin’s Church is another lost building – like St Michael’s (Pitt Street) and St Luke’s (Berry Street) a victim of the 1941 May Blitz.
It is a forgotten church and images of it are quite rare. My lantern slide is inscribed The Black Church, by which it was locally known Surrounded by Silvester Street (the church on the left is St Silvester), Vauxhall Road, Blenheim Street and Limekiln Lane, it occupied a large tract of land. My 1835 map of Liverpool shows it surrounded by newly laid out streets, with industry and housing rapidly encroaching. It was built of red sandstone but had turned black thanks to its proximity to local industry (although most Liverpool churches had similarly turned black – it was clearly a local landmark). It would appear that its congregation had largely deserted it by the early twentieth century. This is not too surprising, by the mid-1840s it was in the heart of Catholic Liverpool following the mass Irish immigration resulting from the Irish Famines.
The church remained a shell until the early 1950s and was eventually cleared to make way for a children’s playground. St Martin’s Cottages (the first purpose-built council housing in Europe) were obviously named after then (and they suffered a similar ignominious fate, although at the hands of the Council, in 1977).
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.