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View from St George’s, Everton, 1949

View from St George’s 2014

I have just received an email from my good friend Professor Charlie Duff, a leading figure in Baltimore’s renaissance:

I just read your (frankly terrifying) piece about selling parkland to developers. I will never forget visiting Liverpool parks with you less than a Brexit-and-Trump year ago. What magical places you showed me. Please tell your readers that an impartial American thinks that your parks are an astonishing treasure. So much of every city is just this-and-and-that, but the parks of South Liverpool are a triumph of the people and their city. I was amazed, not only by the quality of the landscapes (and waterscapes).

May I introduce you to my friend, Alex Garvin? Alex, a polymathic New Yorker who has done a million impossible things, has just published a book called “What Makes A Great City”, in which he argues that the answer is the Public Realm — streets, squares, and parks. His “culture hero” is Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York and created Americas’s tradition of the relation between Man and Nature, – and whose first park influence was the park you showed me in Birkenhead.

In a follow-up email, Charlie adds:

As luck would have it, my reading this morning was right on point with your post about selling municipal parkland. The article in the London Review is called “The Strange Death of Municipal England”. It’s in the 15 December 2016 issue. The author is, I think, Tom Crewe. He paints a very bleak picture of municipal governments financially dependent on a Whitehall that wants to increase inequality. Mayors and Councillors wind up doing less and less and getting blamed for it, and they often sell municipal assets to fund services. Crewe specifically mentions sales of parkland, though not specifically in Liverpool. He also argues that the Tories want to convert councils from “mini welfare states” to “economic development authorities,” which sounds plausible. And grim.

Charlie, as always writes eloquently and incisively about the danger we face in Liverpool in having a Council fixated on treating its land as a commercial asset rather than a resource that is there for the benefit of all the community rather than a small number of developers. Planning decisions are taken in which we, the rate payers and citizens, are dismissed as cranks or nimbys. In reality, there are many, like me, who have imaginative and realistic ideas of how Liverpool can make more of its many assets. It is time we made our voices heard.

The photographs I have chosen illustrate what can be done to redress the balance in a once overcrowded area. The packed terraces of Everton have been replaced by a stunning parkland. How sad that we are now taking parkland and green space back to provide unnecessary executive housing for a very small number of people. .

Necropolis, West Derby Road, 1913

Grant Gardens, West Derby Road, 1916

Following my last post about the future of Calderstones Park, I was surprised to learn at the Planning Meeting that Liverpool ranks tenth in the amount of parkland per city. Instead of looking at how to redress this situation, the City Council seem hell-bent of removing even more of this priceless resource.

It got me thinking about how to remedy this situation. I regularly drive into the city centre along Smithdown Road. On the left is the sprawling Toxteth Park Cemetery. A typical Victorian urban cemetery, it was opened in 1856 but is now a little visited and somewhat intimidating place. I understand the sensibilities surrounding burial places but there is a well-established precedent for decommissioning cemeteries in Liverpool and turning them into parkland. St John’s Gardens, below St George’s Hall, was once a cemetery that was created at the turn of the twentieth century following the demolition of St John’s church. St James’s cemetery, beside Liverpool Cathedral was tidied up (although many felt adversely) to make it safer and more attractive to visitors. Similarly, Necropolis on West Derby Road, pictured above, was converted into Grant Gardens, again in the early years of the twentieth century. In the latter case, the buried were left undisturbed.

In the case of Toxteth Park Cemetery, there are important monuments that need to be maintained, including war graves, but I do question why cemeteries must be seen as sacrosanct. With careful thought, this could be an attractive and welcoming park in an area undergoing considerable transformation.

All Hallows Church and the Harthill Estate c1935

In my time in Liverpool, I have seen numerous attacks on the city’s fine architectural heritage. A few (Lyceum Club and Albert Dock are two of the most prominent) have failed but most have been pushed through to the benefit of developers, who just move on after picking up their profits. I am not one who is against development per se. After all, Liverpool once supported almost double the population and has had to readjust as economic decline has changed its fortunes.

However, the City Council has now turned its attentions to selling off a part of our heritage that any right thinking citizen would regard as sacrosanct – its parks and green spaces. After pushing through its appalling decision to sell-off Sefton Park Meadows to its buddies, Redrow, it is following up that act of betrayal by carving up Calderstones Park for another grossly invasive housing development.

How does it get away with it? Thousands (this is not an alternative fact) of local residents have signed petitions against the development yet the Council plough on, oblivious to the destruction of the integrity of the park. They claim it is a brownfield – how convenient after their Militant predecessors tore down the much-loved Orchid Houses to leave a concrete standing that became the park’s depot.

This is a park that has belonged to the people of Liverpool for over a century. It is our space – not a plot of commercial land to be sold to the highest bidder (or not, in the case of Redrow, who have paid for preferred bidder status – a cosy relationship for a company sharing the same floor of the Cunard Building as the Mayor’s Office). The photograph shows the area in about 1935. I could digress and write about Mather Avenue with no traffic, or the 16 tennis courts, but my focus is on the land beyond All Hallows Church, to the right of what was Quarry Bank Grammar School (now Calderstones School). The road just beyond the church is Harthill Road and most of the land in photograph is earmarked for 51 executive properties.

There are so many arguments that make this development inappropriate but I have chosen the words of Professor Quentin Hughes. In 1999, I published his seminal book Liverpool: City of Architecture, which was a celebration of the city’s very fine architectural heritage. He wrote:

“Liverpool is famous for its parks. Few cities in the western world can compare with the green swathes of South Liverpool where parks have been laid out almost touching each other …. South Liverpool must be one of the loveliest places in any European city. Everywhere there are mature trees and open spaces on a scale unseen elsewhere, but slowly suburban growth is eating at their edges, destroying irreplaceable settings.”

I could add more but I know others have covered the key issues. Professor Hughes’s few words succinctly express what is at stake. For a measly sum of money, we are in danger of throwing away what makes Liverpool so special and treasured.

Unfortunately, planning permission has just been given to Redrow to go ahead with their scheme to destroy the integrity of the area. Sadly, they have the enthusiastic backing of a Labour council who should know better than to get into bed with developers.

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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

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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

Myrtle-Street

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.

Map

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Victoria Street from North John Street

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Victoria Street at Temple Court

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Victoria Street by Crosshall Street

It was heartening to read that the long-disused Produce Exchange on Victoria Street is about to be renovated and converted into luxury apartments. It is a few years since I last poked my head around the, by chance, open door to the auction room – only to withdraw sharply as a couple of rats darted across the floor in front of me. There was talk at the time of other uses but they came to nothing. Hopefully, this new scheme will bring back to life one of the city’s lesser known gems.
Victoria Street is one of Liverpool’s finest streets, yet rarely gets mentioned. It is also one of the city’s newest (if you can call mid-nineteenth century recent) main thoroughfares. It was cut through a densely populated area in 1867/8 to improve the flow of traffic from Castle Street. The map below shows the area in 1850 (the line of Victoria Street continued that of Temple Court before the latter turned at a right angle into Temple Place).

Map-Victoria

Living in that neighbourhood must have been unpleasant to put it mildly. There is a large iron foundry off Cumberland Street next to a soapery. Elsewhere are breweries, a tobacco factory and an incredibly high density of courts. Picton claimed that some of the last remnants of Crosse Hall could be found amongst the chaos of housing and industry before Victoria Street was cut through.

The final photograph show a section of street that is miraculously unchanged. In fact, I spend four years in Carlisle Building, seen on the left with the gargoyles. The terracotta faced building has an impressive frontage yet is basically a warehouse block. How long before it too becomes luxury apartments?

Victoria Street 1930s

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Lock-ups, Tunnel Road

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St Catherine’s Church

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Former Tunnel Cinema

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Fruit and Vegetable Depot

Driving along Tunnel Road last week, I was shocked to see the row of brick lock-ups which lined the east side of the road had been demolished, revealing a large area of railway land (presumably ready for a housing development). I do not know their history but have always assumed they must have been part of the original Edge Hill Station – the oldest working railway station in the world. They had been boarded up for as long as I can remember but they did represent a link to an older Liverpool and I could not allow their passing to go unnoticed.
Tunnel Road has undergone a transformation since the four photographs above were taken in 1973. Each photograph shows a piece of social and economic history of a once vibrant area. St Catherine’s church was a plain church, very much a working class place of worship. It was decommissioned in 1973 and survived for well over a decade before demolition. The cinema too has gone, although it had a final throw of the dice as a bingo hall. The elaborate gates of the Fruit and Vegetable Depot survived long after the Depot had ceased to operate. Again, I am do not know its history but presumably it was the servicing point for Queen Square and the central Liverpool markets in their heyday.
None of the buildings were of any architectural importance and their demise was almost inevitable, remnants of a Liverpool that has largely vanished. The 1970s was an immense period of change as the city contracted and was being re-shaped to accommodate a future (largely unsuccessful) vision of the future.

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Photos courtesy of Getty Images

It was only a month ago, I posted a set of photos by the master of photojournalism Thurston Hopkins. Sadly, within days, he passed away at the grand age of 101. I was privileged to have had a correspondence with him arising out of my book Picture Post on Liverpool, in which I included his magnificent series on the Liverpool slums. The assignment was never published; Picture Post proprietor, Edward Hulton, gave way to pressure from Liverpool City Council who were worried that the planned feature would paint them in a bad light. Ironically, the sequence won the following year’s coveted Encyclopaedia Britannica prize. The review in the British Journal of Photography (an august publication that has its roots in the original journal of Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association in the mid-nineteenth century). The reviewer wrote:

‘Here we have a set of 22 pictures of commonplace scenes; scenes which might possibly – in fact almost surely – be duplicated in a number of our great cities. They are pictures of everyday life; of men, women and children fighting for existence, struggling to maintain the comforts of home life and striving to retain some of the dignity of humankind under conditions which are appalling and which cannot be realised by many million whose lot has been cast in happier surroundings.
Thurston Hopkins has lifted a stone in our vaunted Welfare State and shown with unemotional clarity some of the things which many people would prefer not to see or know about. Here is superb photography, stark in its realism; an example of photographic journalism at its best. The pictures tell their own story, carrying their own message, and while being a damning indictment of the City Fathers of Liverpool are perfect examples of how it is possible to weld the trained eye of the cameraman to modern photographic technique in order that a civic conscience might be aroused. This sequence is the high spot of the 1957 Encyclopaedia Britannica exhibition, and should be seen and carefully studied by all photographers, whether amateur of professional.’

Over half a century later, how shall we judge the Welfare State? We need a Thurston Hopkins of today to stir the conscience of the nation. There is a willing publisher here.

Thurston Hopkins 1913-2014 RIP

Custom-House-1895

This is my last visit to the 1890s for a time. It was an important decade architecturally, starting with the completion of the University’s Victoria Building and the Royal Hospital (both by that master of red brick, Alfred Waterhouse) and ending with work commencing on the Royal Insurance Building and the Philharmonic Hotel. In between, Liverpool Overhead Railway, the White Star Building, the Palm House and Ullet Road Unitarian Church were completed – along with Kensington and Everton Libraries.
Impressively, only Liverpool Overhead Railway is no longer with us – a sad loss and preventable, as was the case of the Custom House. Along with the Sailors’ Home, these are Liverpool’s greatest post-War architectural losses. The Custom House was firebombed but its structure remained intact. There was a public campaign to save it – perhaps lacking the intensity of that to save the Overhead Railway, which was raised in Parliament – but after years of war, the Council’s intent to restructure the city won its way. Very sad looking at the photograph. Imagine had they all survived what an amazing collection of buildings Liverpool would have had with a bit of foresight.