Everton Library 1998
Everton Library and Mere Bank public house, 1975
Liverpool has too many good building at risk and it is particularly sad when they belong to the City Council. The news last week that Everton Library is on track to receive a major renovation is very welcome news.
Libraries have had a very difficult time in recent years. Nationally, local authorities have been closing them down as spending cuts squeeze their budgets, citing declining use and the need to protect more essential services.
I am of a generation brought up to use and value libraries and their essential role in education. For many, they have been a source of inspiration, a treasure trove of learning that they could never afford themselves. Everton Library, in the heart of a deprived community, provided a priceless resource for adults and children alike. Designed by a very talented City Surveyor, Thomas Shelmerdine (who was also responsible for Kensington, Toxteth and Garston Libraries amongst other works)and opened in 1896, it is one of Liverpool’s finest art nouveau buildings.
More on Shelmerdine in the next blog but the hope is that, in 2016, a completely refurbished library and community meeting place will reopen to serve its community for generations to come.
A brief mention for Mere Bank public house, a splendid half-timbered pub standing next to the library and opposite St George’s church. Quentin Hughes was particularly fond of the proportions and craftsmanship displayed and included it in his Liverpool: City of Architecture as the building to kick-off the twentieth century (it opened c1900). The last time I passed it, it was closed and up for sale. Another sad reflection of our times.
From Low Hill, 1976
Gregson’s Well public houses
The Raven, corner of Low Hill and Phythian Street
Today, Low Hill is no more than a connecting street at the junction of Kensington and the new road works that sweep across Hall Lane towards Edge Lane. The emptiness of the landscape is the price we pay for getting across the city a few seconds faster.
It was not always so but these 1976 photographs capture the slow decline of a once busy area. The view from Low Hill shows the Royal Hospital in the final stages of construction and the wholesale clearance of the area between Brunswick Road and Erskine Street to create the Erskine Street Trading Estate. (A few prefabs can be seen below Belgrave Street).
On the corner of Low Hill and West Derby Road was Gregson’s Well public house – not to be confused with the Gregson’s Well pub facing it on Brunswick Road. Both have now fallen to the bulldozer – another piece of Liverpool history lost forever. (The Spinners ran a popular folk club in one of the pubs although I am not sure which one). They were both named after a public spring which survived until the early nineteenth century. The Raven public house, another substantial building, has also disappeared along with the surrounding buildings. It stood on the corner of one of Liverpool’s more unpronounceable streets – Phythian Street, which apparently derives from the Latin vivianus (meaning alive or living). Its later corruption to the surname Phythian suggests the street was named after a person (there were a number of Phythians in Liverpool in the early nineteenth century).
Liverpool has lost many buildings since the 1950s. Many are quite ordinary but they were an important link to the city’s past. Many had to go but the totality of loss has meant layers of history have been erased forever.
Scotland Road at Bostock Street, 1960
In October, last year, I posted a photograph of the interior of the Parrot Hotel on Scotland Road. I have had a number of requests for an exterior, including one from the daughter of a previous landlord. In fact, I have had so many requests for photos of different streets and buildings (particularly pubs) that I will do a bit of catch-up in the next few weeks.
The two photographs today show what were to be the final years of Scotland Road before the road widening and building of the Kingsway Tunnel took out is heart. The bottom image shows the view looking up from Scotland Place (soon to be the site of Liverpool Polytechnic (later JM University). Within little more than a decade, all the buildings in the photograph had been demolished and replaced by roads.
Scotland Road at Scotland Place, 1958
Peacock Inn by William Gawin Herdman
In earlier blogs, I have lamented the scarcity of pre-1880 photographs of Liverpool. I have the odd image but they hardly represent a substantial body of work. However, the occasional early gem surfaces from time to time and I am grateful to Coin Weekes for allowing me to post this fascinating photograph of the Peacock Inn, which once stood on Park Road, near to High Park Street. Once thought to have been the residence of the keeper of the Ancient Park of Toxteth when it was a royal hunting park, it was probably constructed in the early seventeenth century. Judging by the top hats and also the dress worn by the girl on the right, I reckon the photograph dates to about 1870. Why the group is gathered is not clear but it is the earliest photograph of a Liverpool pub I have come across. By way of contrast, I have also reproduced an earlier painting of The Peacock by WG Herdman.
The building was of a style once common in Liverpool. The artist Brierley painted many such cottages in the 1830s but all were demolished in the town centre with the last one surviving well into the first half of the twentieth century.
Two photographs of the same block on Brythen Street, with the Playhouse clearly visible in the first photograph to fix the location. A bit of a pub crawler’s dream – with The Old Royal next to Quinn’s Oyster Bar, Roberts (bird dealers), The Dart and The Old Dive on the opposite corner.
I have already posted a number of photographs around the Williamson Square/St John’s Market area. The destruction of the network of streets and squares to make way for the new market, road widening and (abandoned) civic centre scheme was one of Liverpool’s most significant architectural losses. My reason for resurrecting my opinion is the visit of Unesco officials to determine the threat posed to Liverpool’s World Heritage Status by Peel Holdings’ proposed Liverpool Waters development.
It is reassuring that the issue is being discussed at this stage. In the 1960s, the heritage lobby would have been brushed aside as an irrelevance. Today, the balance has shifted but is Liverpool Waters a threat or a necessary, even essential, scheme to create a future for the city? I am fairly clear where I stand. Unlike the 1960s redevelopment, which removed over a century of character and history, the Peel proposal is on derelict land which has been vacant for decades. The physical integrity of Pier Head is not threatened, the key issue is the visual impact (which has already been badly compromised by the Mann Island development). I cannot say I am a great fan of skyscrapers unless they are of a very high architectural quality – and most in this country are not. I prefer the human scale of smaller buildings in a more intimate setting where a restored Stanley Dock could take pride of place. Clearly Peel will have a strategy that will accommodate revisions to their plans and I hope that the public can have some input. Development at all cost is not the issue – even with 12,000 jobs at stake – but what future Liverpool has got without an ambitious plan.
I have many photographs of Liverpool pubs, particularly from the early years of the twentieth century. Brewers, in particular Walkers, took photographs as part of the licensing process and there are substantial ledgers of their pubs in Liverpool Record Office.
Interestingly, the breweries were only interested in the exteriors – often with the manager and staff standing proudly in the doorway. Interiors are much rarer and this is the first I have seen from the turn of the century. It was taken in 1908 by well-known Liverpool photographers Brown, Barnes and Bell of 31 Bold Street and published as a real photographic postcard. Such postcards were a lucrative source of income for photographers and they would sell their services to shops, pubs and even householders. The cards were usually produced in small numbers and, as a result, are quite rare (and expensive to buy nowadays). Everything could be made into postcards, from important moments such as the 1911 Transport Strike (by local photographers Carbonora), to more local events such as garden parties, road accidents and the like.
What I particularly like about the interior of the Parrot is the dress code of the barmen, all very proper, to the sign advertising Jones’ Knotty Ash beer at 2p a pint. Judging by the till, a customer has just paid for two pints (at what is still only 2p in modern money).
Many thanks to Martin Lewis for allowing me to reproduce today’s photograph (which found its way over to Seattle).
I am guessing that the year is 1965. The John Moores Centre (top left) appears to have been finished, with a nearby crane working on Phase 2. The pub on the corner of Fontenoy Street and Great Crosshall Street (the road running up from Byrom Street the left), is the Australian Vaults with Holy Cross Church prominent just beyond.
The tenements, euphemistically named Fontenoy Gardens, without a blade of grass in sight, are split by the tunnels for Waterloo Goods station, across the road from Waterloo Dock. Further along the docks, the ‘Three Sisters’, the chimneys of Clarence Dock power station are another landmark. With the exception of the JM Centre, all these features have now disappeared in the reshaping of the city over the last thirty years – although the refuse lorry is little different from its modern counterpart (at least some things were designed to last).
The Whitehouse, Duke Street
Two more pubs from Kevin Casey’s new book Closing Time: The Lost Pubs of Liverpool.
The Whitehouse must be the best known closed pub in the city, thanks to the Banksy painting, and the Grade II building sold this week at auction for £114,000 (probably much less than expected when Banksy paintings are so highly valued). Depending on where you read up on the graffiti, the mural is of a rat holding either a machine gun or a marker pen. The big problem is that the future of the painting is in the hands of planners – who must approve of any changes to the front of the building. Possible The Whitehouse will become a pub again – but the cost of renovation will not come cheap.
The Oakfield is a typical nineteenth century pub in the suburbs which has lost its customer base and is no longer viable. Kevin’s book is full of similar cases of once-flourishing businesses left high and dry by recession, changing habits and depopulating neighbourhoods. There no longer is room for a pub on every corner but what becomes of the empty buildings is anyone’s guess.
Pub closures are nothing new. Hundreds shut in the 1950s and 60s as neighbourhoods were cleared in the massive slum clearance programmes. Now a whole range of problems has resulted in another wave that has led to many ‘locals’ putting up the towels for the last time. Faced with the smoking ban, cheap supermarket alcohol, changing social habits (more people staying in to enjoy home entertainment) and the migration of younger drinkers to the city centre – the pressures on pubs have never been greater (and that is not taking into account the effect of the recession).
Once familiar landmarks are being demolished or are standing empty with no expectation of reopening – and this inspired Kevin Casey to document their demise. Over 80 pubs are documented in his book Closing Time: The Lost Pubs of Liverpool and they represent just a fraction of locals that have closed in the last few years.
Should we care? That is a difficult question at a time when alcohol consumption is a national issue. But Closing Time puts forward the point that the neighbourhood pub had a controlling effect on those who drank there. Generally, people behaved themselves and drank sensibly because they were in their own community (and pub landlords were a tough breed). The pub was the centre of social and sporting activities and had a role to play in the community. Not all pubs are lost – but their survival (and fascinating architecture) is truly under threat. A book well worth buying (said the publisher).
119 Limekiln Lane c1900
Langsdale Street c1900
It is now over ten years since I published Freddy O’Connor’s Pubs on Every Corner series (four in all). What astonished me then was the incredible number of pubs – many of them faithfully documented by the brewery (in both cases here by Peter Walker’s). Liverpool was the first city to embrace brewery-managed pubs. In most places, the pubs were owned by landlords or run by tenants. Walker changed all that and introduced an efficient pub system with strict rules laid down by the brewery. The result was the Walker family grew very rich but, also, Liverpool inherited brewery-built pubs like the Philharmonic which had few equals.
Both the pubs shown here were more modest. The Langsdale Street pub was run by Catharine Kip, who stands proudly outside (whilst one of her customers is leaving with a jug of ale from the other door. Langsdale Street ran down off Shaw Street (see map below).
Both photographs come from the Walker archive, now in LRO. The brewery photographed all its pubs for licensing purposes and stuck the photographs in large ledgers with the address of each one. Other breweries, such as Higsons, did the same – but unfortunately their archives have not been kept intact, although there are a quite a few in private hands, as I discovered when I put together the books with Freddy. What we really do need is a collaborative effort to bring such photos into the public arena. They are part of Liverpool’s history and add to our understanding of how the city grew. The internet opens up a fantastic opportunity to share images which sacrificing ownership – and I hope this blog will encourage like-minded collectors to join in. I would be delighted to post other people’s photographs if they wish to contact me.