Garston Library (opened 1909)
Toxteth Library (opened 1902)
Kensington Library (opened 1890)
Liverpool has a proud place in the public library movement. It was a Liverpool-born (and Liverpool MP), William Ewart, who promoted the first Public Libraries Act in 1850, which led to the first public library opening in Duke Street (the building is still there although now used for commercial offices). In order to get the Bill through Parliament, William Ewart was forced to make an important compromise: only boroughs with populations of more than 10,000 would be allowed to open libraries.
Sir William Brown MP realised the Duke Street building was inadequate and personally funded the entire cost of the Brown Library, which he opened in 1860 on Shaw’s Brow (now William Brown Street). The new library attracted magnificent donations, including the famous art library of Hugh Frederick Hornby.
Liverpool did not rest on its laurels and its pioneering library work continued. Books were loaned to prisons in 1853 – anticipating the prison library service and this was followed by book loans to hospitals (1856), books to the blind (1857) and music being issued (1859). Branch libraries were opened in Everton (1853) and Toxteth (1853).
The rate that boroughs could charge for libraries was increased to one penny in 1855 but it was not enough for councils to fund new libraries, and the growth of libraries was heavily dependent on the donations of philanthropists. In Liverpool’s case, Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-born steel magnate, personally funded six branch libraries – Sefton Park, Walton, West Derby, Garston, Kirkdale and Old Swan. Without his help, libraries in Liverpool would have made no progress until after 1919, when the penny rate was lifted.
The three libraries illustrated above were all designed by the talented Corporation Surveyor, Thomas Shelmerdine, whose motto was ‘modernise everything’. His work includes the Bridewell at Kirkdale, the Fire Station at Hatton Garden, Lister Road public baths, parts of Fazakerley hospital and the Hornby Library (within the William Brown Library). The opening of the rebuilt William Brown Library next year will show once again how much the city still values its libraries as a crucial part of its cultural and educational life.
I am very fond of the Bluecoat Chambers. I did, after all spend over 17 years there, running my different businesses. One thing that divided opinion was the Saturday art market held on the railings. How long it had been there, I don’t know but it was free pitch for any artist willing to brave the elements.
You didn’t have to like the art. Much of it was too garish to my eye but it brought a welcome dash of colour to the rather drab School Lane.
There were more than a few in the Bluecoat who wanted the artfest to disappear. It brought no money to the building and it probably upset artistic sensibilities. Whatever the reason, possibly the refurbishment which closed the building down for three years, or maybe the economic climate which made standing in the cold and wet rather unattractive if takings were low, the artists have gone.
I would love to see a determined effort to encourage them back. Liverpool city centre has changed almost beyond recognition; as a tourist destination in particular. Walking around, you are constantly aware of the different languages – French, Spanish, Italian, Polish etc. – and it feels that, at last, Liverpool has broken through into the consciousness of mass tourism. There is a constant need to add to the visitor experience and this is one (free) way of promoting the city and giving artists a chance to earn a living.
Dream at Suttton Manor
I have just returned from a week’s holiday in Yorkshire and took advantage to visit both the new Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield and the nearby Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The Hepworth Gallery, designed by architect David Chipperfield, is magnificent both externally and internally. Rising out of the River Calder, it houses a superb collection of works by Wakefield-born Barbara Hepworth and her close circle of friends, including Sir Henry Moore.
The place was packed – probably, like me, people from outside the area who would never have visited Wakefield but for the gallery. Like the Guggenheim in Bilbao, it offers further proof (if proof is needed), that people will travel many miles in the cause of good art and architecture. A gallery alone will not regenerate Wakefield, but it certainly will have a major impact on how the town is viewed in future.
Seven miles along the road and another stunning experience – the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Set in 500 acres of rolling countryside, the Park houses superb works by Henry Moore, Hepworth, Elizabeth Frink and many others of international renown. Many are dramatically sited in the landscape in a far more dynamic relationship than they would have in an art gallery.
I had specifically visited the Sculpture Park to see a comprehensive exhibition of the work of Jaume Plensa, the Barcelona-born sculptor. However, to get a taste of his stunning work, you only need to travel the short distance to Sutton Manor, close to the M62. His head of a young girl dreaming is set amongst trees on the top of what was once a slag heap. The 20 metre head, covered with white Spanish dolomite, is in symbolic contrast to the coal once dug out from below.
One of the best things about all three places is that they are free to enter (except for car parking charges at Wakefield and the Sculpture Park). This really got me thinking about how much Liverpool has to offer that is without an entry charge: Another Place at Crosby, the two Cathedrals (York Minster charges ?9 per head), the Tate, the Walker, Lady Lever, Museum – the list goes on. With so many negatives about the current economic situation, here is one great positive. All these places can change the way you see life – and at no financial cost. I can think of no other European country that is so generous with free access to its great institutions, its museums, galleries and cathedrals, as is Britain. I hope it will always remain so.
When its first hall was destroyed by fire in 1933, the Liverpool Philharmonic decided to replace it with a modernist building choosing HJ Rowse as architect. It was inspired choice for Rowse had already enriched the city with its best inter-war buildings. The somewhat plain exterior was inspired by the Dutch architect Dudok – whose influence can be seen in the work of City Architect, Lancelot Keay (Gerrard Gardens/St Andrew’s Gardens). The interior is a very different matter and was one of the first concert halls to be modelled on acoustical science. In contrast to the exterior, the auditorium has sensuous curves and flamboyant art deco detailing.
The panels of musical instruments shown above are by Edmund Thompson and reflect Rowse’s understanding of the use of detail to break-up the wall spaces. Perhaps the greatest tribute to Rowse is that, 80 years on, the Hall is still one of the finest concert venues in Britain.