Category: Uncategorized

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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.

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St Nicholas’s Parade, 1895

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Tower Building and Liverpool Overhead Railway, 1895

John Massey corrected me on my last blog. I mentioned in my text that the occasion (on St George’s Plateau) worried me. The two key concerns were that if it was the visit by Queen Victoria, there was an absence of banners and that the Sessions House had been completed in 1884 (the photograph shows an unfinished facade). John rightly pointed out that the visit was illustrated in the Illustrated London News with a large engraving which clearly showed lavish decoration and a completed Sessions House. What is more, the visit was in pouring rain – not the sunshine shown in my picture. So that raises two points: the photograph must be from 1883/84 and there is no immediate explanation for what was a considerable gathering. Any suggestions?
Today’s pictures are far easier to date. The Overhead Railway opened in 1893 and St George’s Church (the spire on the right) was demolished in 1899, having closed two years earlier. That gives a six year window but as the photograph has 1895 pencilled in, I will settle for that date.
Most commercial photographs of Liverpool of that time cover the same subject matter: St George’s Hall, the Pier Head area, Church Street/Lord Street. Perhaps this is not surprising, after all they were in business to make money. In the 1980s and 90s, I produced dozens of different postcards of the city. I started off trying to be adventurous, with less well-known locations but the sales figures quickly taught me that visitors would only buy a small number of cards and what they wanted was the obvious: the waterfront, two Cathedrals, Albert Dock. Nothing really changes – the Victorians realised it and just aimed to take a better view than their competitors. My interest in such images is partly on the buildings but very much on the level of street animation. Without the horses and carts and other activity, the photographs would have far less appeal.

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Visit of Queen Victoria 1886

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Detail of main photograph

St George’s Plateau has been a meeting place since its early days. Over the years, trade unions, suffragettes, May Horse parades, Orange Lodge marches amongst many groups have made it their meeting place. In the 1960s, there was that famous photograph of dozens of Merseybeat groups on its step. More recently, it has witnessed football triumphs, French giants and the opening ceremony for 2008 Capital of Culture with Ringo Starr drumming on the roof of St George’s Hall.
Back in the nineteenth century such big events were somewhat scarcer. At first this photograph bothered me. In the background, the Sessions House is clearly in the process of being completed – its facade is bare and the winch above the building suggests work is in progress (the church behind is Christ Church in Hunter Street – demolished in the 1920s).
According to my references, the Session House was completed in 1884 but I am guessing the final additions to the facade must have over-run the official opening on August 4 because the great gathering on the Plateau can only have been for the visit of Queen Victoria in May 1886. The two day Royal Visit culminated in a drive from the riverfront along Lord Street, Church Street, along Lime Street and up London Road to Newsham House. I doubt any other event would have drawn such a crowd. The detail shows every vantage point being taken as the crowd tried to get a rare sight of the Queen at a time when the British Empire was the dominant force in the world.

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Back in the early 1920s, the mood throughout the country was grim. The Homes for Heroes illusion had well and truly been shattered as unemployment kept rising against the background of worldwide depression. In Jarrow, on Tyneside, where the famous walk on London began (just one of a number from the North, including Liverpool), unemployment had reached 80%. This was compounded by a welfare system which was basic in the extreme.
The government was in a panic. After all, the Russian Revolution was too close for comfort and the ruling class (“Our country is in a jam: YOU must tighten your belts”) was hell-bent on crushing dissent. In Liverpool, the 1919 police strike had been put down with disastrous consequences for its participants. The press barons knew where their interests lay and reported a growing number of unemployed ‘disturbances’ throughout the country. In Liverpool, a cartoonist portrayed the unemployed as pot-bellied idlers receiving their meagre benefit cheques from an official while a distracted ratepayer looked on with the caption “Why work.”
If the press was unsympathetic, at least the unemployed had a small voice: one George Garrett, a genuinely working-class socialist. His writings are largely forgotten now but he impressed many at the time, including George Orwell, with his eloquent plays and short stories on the class struggle. Garrett’s account of the events of September 1921 is well worth reading.
A mass meeting of the unemployed had assembled at St George’s Plateau to continue a series of demonstrations through Liverpool to draw attention to their plight. It was the largest meeting yet held but also the least organised. As the focus seemed to be drifting, one of the key demonstrators, a police sergeant who had been sacked in 1919 when only weeks from the end of his career (without pension as a punishment), suggested: “I think we’ll go for a walk. It’s too late for anything else. We’ll all be art critics this afternoon. We’ll go across and look at the pictures in the Art Gallery. Those places are as much for us as anybody else. They belong to the people.”
A crowd followed him into the Walker but, as they entered, hundreds of police ran out of the Sessions House next door with their batons raised. Mayhem ensued; heads were split, limbs broken and demonstrators arrested.
In the subsequent trial, the police were pilloried. Even the Walker Art Gallery officials gave evidence against the. Nevertheless, the jury found the demonstrators guilty. The Recorder, however, had heard enough and sentenced them all to one day’s imprisonment, meaning an immediate release since they had already been held in custody for that time.
Another bit of Liverpool’s ‘secret’ history fortunately captured on camera for posterity and gives that leisurely stroll around the Walker a bit of a darker context.

Probe

Probe, Mathew Street, c1980

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Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun, c1980

It is frightening how quickly time goes by. I remember both Probe and the School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun so well. I was running Open Eye in Whitechapel at the time and we had a close involvement in Ken Campbell’s Illuminatus, that radical theatrical event that lit up Liverpool in 1976. Science fiction writer Brian Aldiss, amongst many others, hailed it a work of genius. Its setting, in Peter O’Halligan’s shrine to Carl Jung, only added to the atmosphere and mystique. How Liverpool could do with more people of such artistic vision. The photograph has an incidental interest – the white Rolls Royce parked on the side is the one famously burnt out in the Toxteth Riots in 1981. Its owner, Michael Showers, can be seen just getting out of the car. Showers, the self-avowed community spokesman, has since spent most of his life behind bars.
Probe also has a connection. The doors advertise a record by The Cherry Boys, released on the Open Eye record label. The short-lived label and sound studio had a memorable history, recording the first tracks of Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark, Echo and the Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes amongst many other local bands that made waves in the 1980s.
I was offered the whole Probe building for ?9,000 in the mid-1970s. I was looking for a base and a number of buildings were looked at. I rejected Probe because it had been used for cold storage and the whole place would have cost a fortune to convert. Besides, ?9,000 was a lot of money in those days.
The reason for this blog is to give publicity to a crowdfunding venture which is trying to raise money to publish a book of photographs by Francesco Mellina, who was Dead and Alive’s manager as well as being a talented photographer. If you would like to see more of his photographs, click on the link http://kck.st/1otKScv

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St John’s Market/Parker Street/Elliot Street 1964

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St George’s Place 1960s

Standing in the throngs outside St George’s Hall last Saturday, I tried in vain to photograph the giants’ progress through the city. Too many people and I was in the wrong place. Standing opposite that awful advertising hoarding that shrouds the Lime Street side of St John’s Market, however, reminded me of a newspaper cutting I had saved for a future blog. New Giant in City shouts the Echo headline. But this is for 22 September 1962 and the giant was a dual proposal for the Ravenseft development to demolish the old St John’s Market area and another scheme to replace Central Station (and the adjoining Lyceum Club) with a 30 storey tower block (the Ranelagh Centre).
These were the swashbuckling days of out with the old and in with the new. Liverpool was to be modernised and history was bunk.

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Fortunately the Ranelagh Centre scheme did not progress as planned, although Central Station was demolished and an awful low level development replaced it (the Lyceum was saved thanks to Michael Heseltine). What I find interesting reading the Echo is the unconditional support the newspaper always gives for such schemes. There is no hint of any sense that anything is being lost – simply that all such developments are good for a modern city. Ironically, the Chairman of the Development and Planning Committee was reported as saying: “We have been late in getting ahead, but the architects have possibly learned from some of the mistakes already brought about in other parts of the country and we have not only learned from them but have used it to advantage.” Lessons learned? That developers will promise the earth and fail to deliver, that shiny and new is not the same as good, that historic fabric can never be replaced?
In that context, yesterday’s decision to grant Heap Mill listed status is an interesting development. My fear is that the site will now be blighted because developers will walk away from the huge cost of any conservation project. It might appear my stance contradicts what I have written above but I do not think Heap Mill is a significant building and I would rather see the site redeveloped sympathetically. Oh dear! I am beginning to sound a bit like that Chairman of the Development Committee.

Heap Mill, Beckwith Street, 1980

Heap Mill, Beckwith Street, 1980

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Bridgewater Street, 1980

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Bridgewater Street, June 2014

I picked up a leaflet this week asking me to sign a petition to save Heap Mill. The ex-rice mill is in a prominent position facing Albert Dock and next to the Formule 1 hotel on Liver Street. Planning permission is being sought to demolish the dilapidated warehouse complex to build a block of apartments. Those in favour of the new development (according to online sources) seem to be fairly evenly split with those wishing to save the mill and see it converted to other uses. The conservation lobby argue that warehouses were a key element in Liverpool’s history and only a small number of the larger complexes remain. So on which side do I fall?
My heart is with those wishing to hold on to buildings which have such a key relationship with the city’s trading past but, in this case, I can see no future for what is a rather grim block which has long since served its purpose. I can see no developer coming forward to convert the building, which has bulk but little aesthetic charm – the cost would be astronomical.
What bemuses me is that two key warehouses on Bridgewater Street have just been demolished without, to my knowledge, any fuss being stirred up. Admittedly, again, the warehouses were little more than facades having been burnt out some years ago – but their prominence at the gateway to the Baltic Triagle was impressive.
I started by business life in a run-down warehouse om Manesty’s Lane. Apparently, the building was Tate and Lyle’s first warehouse but when I moved in (in 1973) it was almost a shell. The floor plan was literally a rectangle with a heavily beamed ceiling with a circular stone case in the corner as access. The roof leaked because of the parapet roof construction, it had no running water and in winter (or most of the year) was bitterly cold because of the metal loading doors on each level. My recollection of Liverpool at that time was of street after street lined with similar obsolete buildings, all decaying. I can think of no other city in England that had such dereliction within a few yards of its main streets.
So, sadly (for I am a great believer in keeping the best examples of our heritage), I will have to go with the modernisers on the Heap Mill question. There are more important battles to be fought.

Alexandra

In my last post, I brought up the problem of dating photographs. Probably only one in ten of my vintage images has a date that can be considered reliable. The other 90% I have to give an approximate date according to the photographic process used (only reliable to within ten years at the best), a specific event, people’s dress or buildings that existed at the time (again, often only good to within ten years).
On the whole, this is not a serious problem – more of a desire to be as accurate as possible. With many street photographs, it is easy to say 1890s but in quite a few cases, some of my images of bare-footed children were taken up to the early 1900s. (The fact that hand-held cameras only really started to make an impact in the early 1890s is one helpful clue).
Fortunately, the photograph of a busy Pier Head turned out to be relatively easy to date thanks to the internet. Reading up on the history of the ferries, it turns out that the Alexandra (the ferry in the foreground) was only in service for one year – in 1890. It was chartered for that year only (why and from whom is not stated). I imagine it must have been named after Princess Alexandra – consort of the Prince of Wales. I suppose I should dig deeper but, to be honest, transport history is not really my bag. Perhaps some informed reader can fill in the gaps.

St-George's-Hall-1857

One of the frustrations of interpreting historic photographs is correctly dating them. Perhaps the most popular subject for the Victorian photographer was St George’s Hall – and no wonder. When it opened in 1854, it must have been an astonishing sight. Towering above the city, like the Parthenon on the Acropolis, this great statement of civic endeavour and intent must have had an immense psychological impact on the fast growing town.
I remember my first trip to Liverpool from Sheffield in 1966. As I left Lime Street, I was confronted by this immense building which was anything but provincial (as most of Sheffield’s architecture was). Even though it was soot-black, it had a startling presence with its impressive plateau and statuary, including the much under-valued Wellington’s Column.

Getting back to my starting point: dating Victorian photographs can be quite imprecise. Clothing can give a clue but fashions lingered on for years and is anything but foolproof. Similarly, shop names can give an indication. A new shop would have a new sign but many businesses had long lives. The clue in today’s photograph is the original staircase on the Southern facade (below the eight columns on the left hand side). This had been replaced by the current arrangement by 1855: according to Picton ‘Originally access was obtained from the street by two narrow flights of steps descending right and left from the centre: but the taste of the local dilettanti being offended, an appeal was made to the council, by whose authority they were removed, and the terrace finished as it now remains.’
So the photograph can be dated to around 1854 to 1855. Not as old as the photograph I published in October 2010 (which shows signs of construction still in progress) but close enough. What makes the photograph special is that it is signed Forrest – a founder member of Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association (established in 1853 as one of the world’s first photographic societies – it is now part of South Liverpool Photographic Society). John Alexander Forrest was a glass manufacturer in Lime Street and his image is the earliest one of Liverpool by a named photographer I have come across.

St George’s Hall seems to be on the fringe of the city centre rather than a central feature. The shabby state of Lime Street is apparently to be addressed but the soulless dual carriageway and the dreadful lump that is St John’s Market with its crude advertising hoarding also need sorting. Do we really need a dual carriageway? If ever a site need creative thought and design, this would be my priority. By clever design, Liverpool One has brought the Albert Dock and Pier Head back into life. Now we need an equally smart solution for the Lime Street area.