South Castle Street 1973
Queen Square 1970
I had a very interesting meeting with Catherine Morris, the Writer in Residence at Liverpool Central Library. Catherine is putting together an oral history archive that will tell the history of Liverpool. Not before time; this is something that should be an ongoing activity in every village, town and city in the country. Apart from fragments, we have already lost the voices of the generations born before 1920, who could tell us about life in the nineteenth-century, WW1, the 1920s and 30s Depression. We have lost their insight into the hardships, relationships, sacrifices and pleasures. Even their way of talking and use of dialect has been largely lost. This is important work and I hope Catherine’s work becomes a permanent feature of the Library’s work.
In our discussion, I talked about the Liverpool I first experienced when I arrived in 1970. It was a very different place when the population was over 600,000. Now it is down to 470,000 (but slowly increasing). The years of Merseybeat were long gone, not that they had halted the rapid post-War economic decline. My memories were of empty boarded streets, soot-blackened public buildings and a general down-at-the-heel feeling of neglect. True that was also the same with Manchester and Sheffield but Liverpool was the only city I had experienced where a 100 yard walk from Church Street would take you to streets of abandoned warehouses and commercial buildings. I worked in a project for a time in Manesty’s Lane (now absorbed into Liverpool One), where every warehouse was empty and available for virtually no rent to anyone foolhardy enough to make it watertight and usable.
I captured the last days of the Sailors’ Home in 1973, just around the corner. This was Liverpool’s most significant individual loss of the decade. I have commented before on its scandalous loss, made worse by the proposed redevelopment being called off, leaving a hole in the ground and scattered masonry for the next three decades. However, it is the scale of destruction of smaller buildings that had integrity through their unity that is particularly shocking. The streets around St John’s Market had been flattened before I arrived but Queen Square had survived almost intact. That was until a misjudged scheme for a massive civic centre was activated. These were the days of grandiose local authority ambitions and the huge building was planned to expand their activities to megalomaniac levels. Having demolished most of Queen Square, the Government called in the scheme as being inappropriate and out-dated, leaving behind a flattened landscape that served as a car park for the next 25 years. To add insult to injury, the new Queen Square development was heralded as being an exciting new mixed development with a feature square at its heart. Rather like the original although without its history and impressive architecture.
The Georgian houses that lined Mount Pleasant were similarly pulled down to make way for one of the ugliest multi-storey car parks it is possibly to build. The photograph shows the famous Mardi Gras, one of the city’s most popular night clubs that had made its home in an old chapel. Now the car park is doomed. At least its replacement cannot be any worse (can it?).
The impressive facades that lined South Castle Street could and should have been saved. The new Law Courts took out the small eighteenth-century Benn Gardens but why was this important row of commercial building lost?
It is this loss of unity that has damaged Liverpool most. Losing an individual building of significant architectural merit like the Sailors’ Home is unacceptable but it is the way whole swathes of buildings that told the story of Liverpool were removed, usually for very little or no gain, that is the real tragedy. have we learned any lessons? The destruction of Lime Street suggests otherwise.