Category: Public buildings

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.

Everton Library 1998

Everton Library and Mere Bank public house, 1975

Liverpool has too many good building at risk and it is particularly sad when they belong to the City Council. The news last week that Everton Library is on track to receive a major renovation is very welcome news.
Libraries have had a very difficult time in recent years. Nationally, local authorities have been closing them down as spending cuts squeeze their budgets, citing declining use and the need to protect more essential services.
I am of a generation brought up to use and value libraries and their essential role in education. For many, they have been a source of inspiration, a treasure trove of learning that they could never afford themselves. Everton Library, in the heart of a deprived community, provided a priceless resource for adults and children alike. Designed by a very talented City Surveyor, Thomas Shelmerdine (who was also responsible for Kensington, Toxteth and Garston Libraries amongst other works)and opened in 1896, it is one of Liverpool’s finest art nouveau buildings.
More on Shelmerdine in the next blog but the hope is that, in 2016, a completely refurbished library and community meeting place will reopen to serve its community for generations to come.
A brief mention for Mere Bank public house, a splendid half-timbered pub standing next to the library and opposite St George’s church. Quentin Hughes was particularly fond of the proportions and craftsmanship displayed and included it in his Liverpool: City of Architecture as the building to kick-off the twentieth century (it opened c1900). The last time I passed it, it was closed and up for sale. Another sad reflection of our times.

Brunswick Square 1973

Southern General, Caryl Street 1975

Which post-War decade was the most damaging for Liverpool’s heritage. The 1950s and 60s are strong contenders but what about the 1970s? Looking through my photographs, I am struck by how much was demolished and how much the city changed over the decade. Perhaps only a small handful of key buildings were lost, the Sailors’ Home without doubt the single most important, but the general clearance of Georgian terraces, warehouses, churches and other features of the landscape was quite staggering. Here are two such examples taken by Stan Roberts. He took the panoramas in sections which, thanks to Photoshop, I have tidied up a bit.
The first is of Brunswick Square, which I was unaware of. It was directly off Westminster Road, close to the junction with Barlow Lane, and was an unadopted street as the sign indicates. A look at the 1927 Kelly’s Directory shows it to be a ‘respectable’ square with a doctor, police constable, farrier, engineer and mariner amongst the occupants. The 1970s photograph shows a more distressed street in its last throes.
The bottom photograph is the Southern General on the corner of Caryl Street and Hill Street. With opening of the new Royal Hospital both the Southern and Northern became superfluous and two key features disappeared from the skyline.
In my next blog, I will post two more 1970s panoramas.

St George’s Hall 1851

This is a special post – my 100th. When I started in January, I had a reasonably clear idea of what I wanted to do, which was to highlight the importance of photography in our understanding of the history of Liverpool. What has been a passion of mine has found focus in this blog, which gives me the flexibility to move from subject to subject and place to place within a fairly loose structure.
What I could not predict was how my blog would be received and whether it would have the legs to carry on for any length of time. In fact, I have been overwhelmed by the response which, thanks to the internet, has come from all over the world. Thank you to everyone who has logged in and emailed me with suggestions, requests and corrections for the factual errors I make from time to time. Such a following brings its own pressures – so I have to keep upping my game.

Today’s post is, possibly, the most exceptional one I have made. It is the earliest photograph of Liverpool I have discovered in 30 years of looking. It is a copy – from a lantern slide of the original print. I found the slide hidden away in a drawer in LRO and I suspect it has not been seen for many years. Why is the photograph so important? There are newspaper accounts of photographs taken in Liverpool but I have never discovered any physical evidence, There were a number of amateur photographers in Liverpool, including Francis Frith, and some set up the Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association in 1854. However, it is not until the 1860s that any images of the city begin to surface in any number (and not many at that). St George’s Hall is not surprisingly the subject matter. Most of us are familiar with Victorian photographs of the Hall but here it is still in construction with the original pillars being constructed along the plateau. What really strikes me is what the building must have meant to the people of the time. Its scale is so huge that it must have overwhelmed everyone that saw it. It was ambition on a fantastic scale. Today we may be more blase?about it – after all it has been around for 160 years – but the photograph gives us a window in time to its scale and original setting.
Now the pressure is on to find earlier images … I am certain they exist somewhere.