Exchange Flags, May 1886

Exchange Flags, 1829

I must apologise to John Sergeant. He did visit Liverpool and included a mention of Frith being a founder member of Liverpool Photographic Society (although not the founder as was stated) in 1853. By way of illustration, a photograph of cotton traders and other merchants was shown – all gathered for the camera in Exchange Flags.
As John Sergeant mentioned, this was a clever commercial ploy. Photographing so many together would have guaranteed healthy sales – as any school photographer worth his/her salt knows.
My particular interest is not in the realities of commercial photography – a difficult business at the best of times – but in the setting. Exchange Flags has been through three major transformations. The photograph of Wyatt’s Exchange Buildings, built in a ‘Flemish Renaissance’ style in 1867 reveal an ornate and impressive building in sharp contrast to the building it frames, the Town Hall. It replaced a smaller building in the more complementary Classical style which is illustrated above. By the 1930s, Wyatt’s building itself was felt to be too small and the current buildings were erected, although not finally completed until after the War. I have ambivalent thoughts about the ‘modern’ buildings. I used to dislike them but my views have softened now that they have been cleaned up.
My biggest problem is with Exchange Flags itself. It should be a magnificent city square but it is a soulless place. The statue to Nelson is a superb centre-piece but there is nothing else to break up the view. Tree planting is out of the question, I suppose, because of the underground car park, but surely a more dynamic setting could be designed that will actual encourage people to sit down (seats would be a good starting point) rather than rush though. Liverpool is not good on squares – Williamson Square and Clayton Square are dreadful and Derby Square is little better in spite of its recent upgrade. The best continental squares are where people want to be, with cafés, fountains and interesting sculptures. Somehow, we cannot create such places. Exchange Flags would be a good place to start.

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