Category: Street Scenes

Commutation Row c1975

Hare and Hounds c1975

It is hard to believe that Commutation Row was removed little more than a decade ago for an office block that has struggled to find a tenant since its previous occupant, a housing association, moved out.

What a shocking piece of vandalism. No doubt the lack of uniformity of the Victorian facades insulted those who prefer uniformity and blandness but I loved the fact that each building had a different face – unified only by keeping to the same height line (more or less). Look at any photograph from the 1880s onwards and there they are – a historic part of the city’s fabric. Just like the Lime Street facades further down – something important is lost each time the developers move in.

Amongst the losses on Commutation Row were three interesting pubs. The County on the corner of Islington, the Hare and Hounds (in the middle) and the Court House, a few doors to the right. Three traditional pubs with interesting interiors – all part of the social history that the public house represented.

Interior of The County

Fortunately, Bob Thurlow, founder of Merseyside CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), decided to write about the rapidly disappearing city centre pubs back in the mid-1970s. Even more fortunately, he commissioned David Wrightson (the photographer of much of Quentin Hughes’ Seaport) to photographs the pubs and their interiors. Even more fortunately, Bluecoat Press is publishing their work in a new book Inn Liverpool due out in early December. More to follow in the next post.

Crosbie Heights

Haigh Heights

Two more images from Paul Trevor’s upcoming book about childhood in Liverpool in the 1970s. This is a new hardback version (in landscape format). It is running as a crowdfunding project this month to raise the funds to publish it. We are well on the way but if you are interested in supporting the book,click through to Kickstarter: goo.gl/e3Rj4a

Crosbie Heights

After a long break, I am back in action. I decided to take time off after seven years running the blog. Not actually a holiday – I have been finishing six books in the meantime and they needed my focus. Now they are out of the way, I can concentrate on getting back on track.
Today’s title is very appropriate – it is the title of my new version of Paul Trevor’s fantastic photography of childhood in 1970s Liverpool. The work was shown at the Walker Art Gallery in 2011 and I published a soft cover book to accompany the exhibition. It rapidly sold out and has been in high demand ever since. It is now being republished in a new landscape format.
Paul’s work is in a word poignant. It captures the essence of growing up in inner city Liverpool. The hard surroundings do little to dampen the energy and enthusiasm of the children he photographed – although in today’s eyes, it is shocking how we allowed children (and still do) to grow up in such grim conditions. For one of the richest nations in the world, it begs many questions as to why so little is done to create a more fitting environment in our inner cities.

Haigh Street

Look at the school and its excuse for a playground in Haigh Street. How could any child flourish? Or the disaster of high rise living summed up in the top photograph of a young girl in her corridor playground.

I have launched a crowdfunding project on Kickstarter to get the book published. It is a fantastic collection of images – please take a look:goo.gl/e3Rj4a

University-1965-copy

Liverpool University from Paddington, 1964

South-Docks-1964-copy

Queens Dock, 1964

Two photographs with very identifiable buildings yet so much has changed in 50 years. The photograph of the university and still to be completed Metropolitan Cathedral is taken from wasteland that was soon to be the new Royal Hospital. Today, the growth of the University and the construction of the new hospital have totally changed the area. I googled ‘Liverpool’s student population today’ and was surprised to read that it is 70,000. Back in 1964, I doubt it was a tenth of that figure (there was only one university and a polytechnic). No wonder there has been such a growth in buildings – 70,000 is approximately the population of Bootle.

The second image is of the last days of the South Docks. Once again, the change over half a century is profound. The docks ceased to operate soon after the photograph was taken and lay dormant for over 30 years before Liverpool began to reinvent itself as a tourist destination. The Arena and Conference Centre coupled with the new Exhibition Centre have pushed out the line of attractions along the waterfront. Over the Dock Road, where the building displays African Oil Mills (on Norfolk Street), the Baltic Creative Quarter continues on its upwards trajectory. I have had warehousing there for 25 years and have seen the remarkable changes over the last six or so years. For the first time in decades, there is a demand for land to build apartment blocks, studios and creative workshops. I have always felt that an area so close to the centre of Liverpool (it only takes five minutes to walk to John Lewis) was prime development territory. Now it is fulfilling that potential.

Looking at the two images, what will Liverpool look like in 2064, a hundred years on from when Pat Weekes took them? The Cathedrals and Victoria Tower will no doubt be there, but what else will remain?

Pavement-Artist-1894

Pavement artist outside the Custom House, 1894

Newspaper-sellers,-James-Street-1894

Newspaper sellers, James Street, 1894

I am fascinated by old photographs of Liverpool, particularly the candid street photography of the 1890s and early 1900s. This was a time when technology took a great leap forward: motor cars, airplanes, moving pictures to name but three. Photography was revolutionised by the impact of portable cameras using the newly introduced roll film which, coupled by the clever marketing of Kodak, allowed people without darkrooms to send their film to be processed at a relatively low cost. This democratisation of photography, comparable to the introduction of digital photography in recent years, meant that it was possible for those on modest incomes to indulge in a creative activity that had been previously restricted to the well-heeled.

Street photography was a vogue that had spread throughout the burgeoning amateur photographic society movement. Competitions were held annually with awards for the best candid photograph. In Charles Frederick Inston, Liverpool has one of the great exponents and his work was recognised nationally. Today’s two images, however, belong to a different tradition – travel photography. They were taken by a Charles A Swift in 1894. I know nothing more about him except that these images were part of a much larger album of images taken in Liverpool and Chester, Dresden, Prague and other central European locations. I am guessing that Charles Swift was an American tourist on his own Grand Tour. Disembarking in Liverpool, he spent a few days travelling around the city and Chester before moving on to Germany. Like most tourists, his interest was centred around what he saw on the street: the pavement artist outside the Custom House and the newspaper girls in James Street (many of the European photographs are of a similar nature).

Helpfully, he has captioned his photographs although both are easy to locate. The sign on the warehouse on the right reads Dodd and McNeilly, who were merchants at 4 Hanover Street. The newspaper girls look relatively well-dressed and are selling the Liverpool Mercury, which was later absorbed into the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo. Behind them is St George’s Crescent.

I am still managing to acquire photographs of interest – thanks to that other great innovation, the internet. It is exciting to think that there are still undiscovered images out there that will add to our growing picture of Liverpool in the last 150+ years.

South-Castle-Street-1973

South Castle Street 1973

Mount-Pleasant-1972

Mount Pleasant 1972

Queen-Square-1970

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.

13482-pembroke-place-liverpool

Pembroke Place is a rather forgotten area. I imagine most readers will have visited TJ Hughes at least once in their lives (it is to the left of the photograph)but the rather shabby area offers little for the urban explorer. This is sad because there is so much potential to make more of its situation. It is close to the city centre, it has interesting Victorian buildings, relatively low rent retail outlets available (especially around Stafford Street behind TJ Hughes, and it has a large, if transient, population of students and hospital workers.

Pembroke Place is the road that heads up towards Crown Street. Monument Place is the area in front of Myers & Co. (general outfitters), the impressive building shown in the photograph.The monument (out of picture) is the equestrian statue of George 111, by the famous sculptor Richard Westmacott. It was originally intended for Great Georges Square, at that time the most desirable residential area in Liverpool, but was relocated to London Road in 1822. Liverpool is well represented with equestrian statues having 4 (if one excludes Christ on an Ass at St Nicholas Church), London has 17 and there are 18 in the rest of England.

In my 1884 Directory, the area was a centre for the furniture trade but also had the usual array of small tradesmen from oyster dealers and cigar importers to cycle makers and chandlers. Even today, there is a sense of the past pervading the area. Sadly, it has had its losses, including the elaborate interior of The Monument public house, photographed by David Wrightson in the early 1970s.

Monument

In the early days of my blog, I railed against the neglect of Lime Street. Now something is being done to rectify that problem (I take no credit especially since the solution is not one I can endorse). Maybe someone will listen to my plea for Monument Place. With imagination, it could become an exciting alternative retail/small business area. After all, it is only a stone’s throw from Lime Street, St George’s Hall and William Brown Street. The Baltic Triangle has been a huge success and is running out of space, so why not London Road?

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

13478-Clayton-square-Liverpool

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

Georges-Dock-1860

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!

Rlief-of-Mafeking

My last post has generated a very interesting and divergent theory: the photograph is in celebration of the Boer War. I have an open mind – but it is a convincing argument. If it is the Boer War, I am inclined to believe it would be in celebration of its end (in 1902) rather than marking the lifting of the Siege of Mafeking (in May 1900).

The photograph above leaves no room for error; the location is Exchange Flags and the single banner proclaims Relief of (not legible) Good Old Baden Powell – We’re Here to Stay. The wearing of straw boaters indicates it is springtime. Colonel Baden-Powell was the man tasked with the defence of the town, which was not of any great strategic importance to the course of the War. Baden-Powell, whose previous record in combat had been far from noteworthy, managed to save Mafeking from being overrun and became a national hero as a result, with the British newspapers desperate for good news. (Subsequently Baden-Powell was removed from any further combat command).

The celebration of Mafeking was of significance almost entirely for its morale-boosting. Visitors to the Philharmonic pub might have noticed the two stained glass windows by the fireside facing the main entrance. One is to Baden-Powell and the other to Commander-in-Chief Lord Roberts. Lord Roberts, the far more competent soldier, is now largely forgotten but Baden-Powell resurrected his career in founding the Boy Scout movement in 1908.

Getting back to the Scotland Place photograph; the Boer War ended in May 1902, but boaters have clearly gone out of fashion. I could speculate about the two men wearing bowler hats, for the bowler hat was the traditional wear of Loyalist orders. However, they could just be city workers on their way to Castle Street, the business quarter and the tram’s destination. Suffice to say there is more work to be done on deciphering the photo. Why don’t people label their photograph?