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.
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.
Over the years I have been writing my blog, the posts that create the highest response rates are hospitals and school. The former is mainly ex-nurses who trained and worked at the now demolished Northern Hospital (a very positive experience for most). The schools posts – there have been a number – have created their own Friends Reunited mini-sites. I wrote a long time ago that a photo book on Liverpool schools was well overdue. Perhaps I should have published one but the opportunity seems to have slipped by.
It is surprising how relatively short-lived most schools are. The raft of buildings built in the wake of the 1870 Elementary Education Act have largely disappeared. A small number have been replaced by more modern buildings and their names kept but most have simply vanished. Chatsworth Street School, pictured above is a rare survivor (although now called Smithdown Primary School). I pass it most days on my journeys up and down Upper Parliament Street and marvel at how it has managed to survive intact. Its neighbourhood has changed considerably in recent decades but the school is a constant presence. The Gothic-influenced building was built in 1874 for the School Board and is a rather unusual building for Liverpool with its pale sandstone facing. Having survived for nearly 150 years, hopefully it will continue to light up what has been a rather drab and desolate corner of the city.
Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of taking my good friend Professor Charlie Duff around Liverpool. Charlie is a leading figure in Baltimore’s revival and sees many comparisons between Liverpool and his hometown. Both are of a similar size and have suffered comparable post-War declines. Anyone familiar with The Wire will have a certain knowledge of the level of urban decline parts of Baltimore have suffered.
Of course, like Liverpool, there are plenty of very pleasant areas but the media are always more interested in the dysfunctional. Charlie was particularly keen to look at how our city’s urban fabric knitted together (especially after he had spent a couple of days in Leeds and Manchester), so we set out on a journey in glorious sunshine to explore as much as we could in a day. I loved it – nothing is better than showing someone round your city when the light is perfect. An amble through Liverpool One to examine how it had brought the Albert Dock seamlessly into the pedestrian flow, followed by an examination of Castle Street/Water Street and Victoria Street to marvel at the great commercial architecture and ponder on why Manchester and Leeds had taken away Liverpool’s role as a banking and insurance centre. Charlie had an endless stream of questions about how I saw Liverpool’s future – which I am still pondering. Rental yields in Manchester and Leeds are substantially higher than Liverpool – which equates to developers looking there rather than here (and both cities are regarded as being more business friendly).
With heavy questions on my mind, we headed towards the University and Georgian Quarter, stopping at 19 Abercromby Square (now part of Liverpool University) to admire the remaining symbols of what was the unofficial consulate of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, before heading off towards Falkner Square. The light was perfect and I stopped to photograph the fine terrace in Back Falkner Street South. We could have been in Knightsbridge or other exclusive London areas. Whatever Liverpool’s future is, it has the physical assets that few other British cities have. I felt a great sense of pride walking along Canning Street and Huskisson Street before heading down to the Baltic Triangle to examine how creative businesses were transforming a previously semi-derelict area.
We continued with a tour of Port Sunlight – one of the most astonishing housing experiments in Europe – and that forerunner of all public parks, Birkenhead Park, before crossing back to look at the vast empty acres of Liverpool Waters by Stanley Dock. If this is the future of Liverpool, it would be good to see some activity, the place is eerily deserted and raises so many questions about Peel’s intentions.
Fortunately, we finished on another high as I drove round Sefton Park. There was a wedding in the Palm House and everything looked magical. A great day to be a tourist in my own city.
Following up with the last post, here is another fascinating interior. This time, I know the exact location and year it was taken. The year is 1890 and the location is 65 Renshaw Street. Had you asked me what the interior was, I would have suggested a rather upmarket fashion shop (although they were mainly on Bold Street at that time). Checking my Gore’s Directory for 1893, all becomes clear. The premises were occupied by John Wannop & Sons, decorators. Obviously more than mere house decorators – more like interior designers. They were still there in 1910 but my next Directory for 1932 has BNB Radios occupying the shop.
Renshaw Street is somewhat off the main stream of footfall for it to be thriving. The loss of Rapid Hardware (on the opposite side of the street) diminished its appeal. I am somewhat surprised, it could be an exciting area for a good mix of independent retailers. At the moment, 65 is a rather sad looking Noodle Bar, with empty properties all around. Once the redevelopment of Lime Street is underway (hopefully saving a certain cinema facade), attention needs focusing further along to the east.
Marie with her mother and lodger (who Marie was clearly unhappy with)
Patsy with his pet duck, Oswald, and hen
Bobbie at home with her baby
I often get annoyed by the tiresome ‘enmity’ between Manchester and Liverpool. Football is tribal and the rivalry is understandable but I frequently talk to people who have an almost pathological hatred for the other city. Competition can fuel ambition but it can also hold back development. A united North is, in my eyes, far more powerful than a divided one. As someone who has spent all his life in three great Northern cities – Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool – I tend to see similarities rather than differences, positives rather than negatives.
In this light, I hope readers will forgive me for travelling 40 miles eastwards. Beeton Grove is in Levenshulme, near to the centre of Manchester. In the 1970s, Chris Hunt photographed the inhabitants of this wholly working-class terraced street in Manchester. However, the book is far more than a collection of great photographs because Chris also interviewed his subjects about their lives and hopes, giving a unique insight into life in a hard industrial city in the 1970s.
I only wish someone had done the same in Liverpool – although I am sure there would be many common factors in their lives. Beeton Grove is a very powerful statement and I have decided to turn the 100+ photographs and interviews into a book. Follow the link and find out more (and any support would be very gratefully received).
Looking NW from Tunnel Road, 1970
First of all, my apologies for the long delay in posting a new blog. Unfortunately I had computer problems which have necessitated upgrading my system. All is well now and normal service is resumed.
I was interested to see that the Liverpool Echo has revived its Stop the Rot campaign. It is important that the city’s heritage is put under the spotlight. Too much has been lost unnecessarily and highlighting why buildings are important is essential to avoid past mistakes being repeated. As you might guess from previous posts, I am somewhat cynical about how far developers and public authorities are prepared to go once money is involved (the developers want to make it and the public authorities don’t want to spend it). That said, there are some ground for optimism. I have been helping with a publication about the Produce Exchange in Victoria Street – a building with a fine interior which is about to be converted into luxury apartments which will emphasise the original Edwardian details.
Other ground for optimism are the conversions of the Royal Insurance Building on North John Street, the ex-Municipal Annexe on Dale Street and the White Star Building on James Street into luxury hotels (with considerable respect for original features). This is all very promising, as are the pending plans for the Wellington Rooms (Irish Centre) on Mount Pleasant and the Welsh Presbyterian church on Princes Avenue. Not all buildings are safe but it is encouraging that in many cases, developers can see commercial benefits in not knocking down buildings to build the usual bland blocks of flats and offices (although Lime Street proves that they will only go so far).
The photograph shows the kind of ruthless approach that was adopted in the 1960s and 70s as Liverpool struggled to adjust to a falling population and an inherited stock of poor housing. The wholesale clearance of areas is even more shocking as time goes on. St Catherine’s church (More recently demolished) on Tunnel Road stands almost alone in a flattened landscape sandwiched between the two railway cuttings. On the left is newly opened Paddington School and, in mid-distance, the tenement blocks of Myrtle Gardens.
Perhaps there was no other way forward at the time. The problem was that there were no real plans to revive the area (and others like it). A great opportunity was lost to rebuild the city with imaginative and community-orientated housing schemes that might have prevented many of the social issues that we now face. Money again, I suppose. Rather than spend on quality, as was the case in the 1930s when some of the best council housing in Europe was built, everything got done on the cheap – which everyone knows is never a long-term solution.
90 Duke Street (site of the Royal Mersey Yacht Club) 1975
The Monro (on the opposite corner, 1975
Duke Street in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was one of Liverpool’s finest streets. There are still good examples of its past, although far harder to find than thirty years ago. The buildings on the corner of Suffolk Street are a good example. They had survived until early this year but were unceremoniously pulled down to make way for a new headquarters for ACL.
Some might say that is a positive sign of progress, that the old buildings were a blot on the cityscape with no apparent interest in their salvation. Others, myself included, see their removal as yet another attack on the city’s heritage. Alright, the buildings were no architectural gems, just survivors from the past with their own bit of maritime history. Number 90 was the headquarters of the Royal Mersey Yacht Club, once one of the finest in Britain. It welcomed many an important dignitary (not that that is a reason in itself to save a building). More importantly, it fitted into the historical fabric of the street.
Could it have been saved? Well – it should have been. You only have to cross the street to admire the renovated and successful Monro gastro pub. That could just of easily been lost but someone had the vision to restore it and guarantee its future.
Liverpool’s heritage is threatened by these small, almost imperceptible, losses. The old eighteenth century block on Dale Street, the facade of the Futurist, the stable block at Cain’s Brewery. This is like the bad, old days, when any development was preferable to no development. There is a car park opposite The Monro, where an ugly 1960s block once stood. Wouldn’t a better solution have been for ACL to have built their block there?
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.
First of all, my apologies for the break in service. I am back refreshed and with a whole new batch of images to share.
Today’s photograph is of the original Adelphi Hotel, one of the great hotels of the Victorian era, My reason for posting it is that plans for the regeneration of Lime Street are moving a step nearer after the City Council approved the developer’s scheme this week. The news has hardly met with great rejoicing, in spite of the universal acceptance that something needs to be done to upgrade the street. As I have mentioned before, the new scheme removes most of the historic fabric, including early nineteenth century buildings as well as the important Futurist cinema facade (I accept that the actual body of the cinema is beyond salvation).
SAVEBritain’s heritage are now involved but whether the scheme is referred back in now up to the Communities and Local Government minister. I am not holding my breath.
Of course it is wrong to object to development purely for the sake of it. The Adelphi Hotel pictured above was unceremoniously demolished and replaced by the current hotel just before the First World War. But what a replacement! Under any criteria, the new hotel is an upgrade and a very welcome addition to the streetscape. I have mentioned Commutation Row before, where an ecletic row of buildings was replaced by a bland office block. The proposed Lime Street scheme seems little better – an unexceptional and unexciting block that could find its equal in any of a dozen cities. Liverpool deserves better.
On a final note, I am puzzled as to why the facade of the Futurist cannot be saved. Unless the brickwork is damaged beyond repair, why cannot it be dismantled and rebuilt as part of the new scheme. After all, this is the twenty-first century!