Dingle Station, Park Road c.1910
The terminus for Liverpool Overhead Railway at Dingle
Two recent events prompted me to post this blog. On July 25th, the BBC reported a tunnel had collapsed in the Dingle and people in nearby streets had been evacuated. At the same time, I received a copy of The Times for February 6th 1893 from www.historic-newspapers.co.uk with a full account of the opening of Liverpool Overhead Railway by the Marquis of Salisbury – a coincidence I could hardly fail to avoid blogging about.
It is ironic that the Overhead Railway started (or finished) its route underground at Dingle station on Park Road and doubly ironic that the only surviving section is down below street level. In 1901, Dingle station was the scene of the Overhead’s worst disaster when an electrical fire on board an incoming train got out of control and, fanned by the tunnel draught, quickly engulfed the terminus. Six people died and such was the devastation that the station was closed for more than a year. Sometime after the Overhead closed in 1956, the disused tunnel was taken over by a car repair company and used to store dozens of cars. There are quite a few interesting photographs of the tunnel on the internet such as http://www.forgottenrelics.co.uk/tunnels/gallery/dingle.html. The extent of the collapse of the tunnel has not been reported but it would be a great shame if this last relic of an important part of the city’s history is not repaired and made safe for future generations.
I also acquired another newspaper from www.historic-newspapers.co.uk – an account in The Times again in February 1830 reporting the ‘Dreadful Accident to Mr Huskisson’ the first victim of the railway age: ‘Mr Huskisson, who was in a weak state of body, and was a little lame of one leg, either fell down in the agitation of the moment, or, which seems more probable, was, by the sweep of the door, knocked down on the road. He fell on his face, in the vacant space between the two lines. His left leg, which was extended, touched the rail on which the Rocket moved and one of the wheels catching it ran obliquely up the limb as high as the thigh, mangling, or rather smashing it in a shocking manner.’ They don’t report like that today in The Times!
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.
First of all, my apology for the delay in adding a new post. I have been working on an exciting new Liverpool photography project which I will reveal before the end of the month.
The decision last week to save a total of 374 homes around Liverpool FC ground was received with widespread approval amongst residents. The saved homes, of which 168 are vacant, will all be refurbished. A further 224 houses, 116 of which are vacant, will be demolished. Hopefully, this will end years of uncertainty for the local community, which has seen the area rapidly deteriorate over the last decade.
I hope the plan works and gives Anfield a new face. Certainly the shabbiness of the approaches to Anfield do the city few favours. I had given little thought to the humble terraced house until last year when I spent a day taking Charles Duff, one of the leading lights in reviving inner city Baltimore, around Liverpool. He was particularly interested in terraced housing which, to my great surprise, is an almost uniquely British form of housing (apparently, there are some examples in Belgium and the Netherlands). I suppose terraced housing is so much a part of the landscape, particularly in the Northern industrial belt, that you just take it as an almost universal style. Not so, and we spent an afternoon looking at the Georgian terraces around Rodney Street before heading out to Anfield. I though I would shock Charles with the degradation of the streets but his reaction was one of astonishment. He loved the small houses and could not understand why they were boarded up. These were the kind of houses he felt could help regenerate Baltimore which had, like Liverpool, hit the bottom as industry had been sucked out of it in recent decades. (Anyone familiar with The Wire will have an idea of what parts of Baltimore look like).
The idea of the Anfield regeneration is to knock down streets to create garden space, to join up two houses into one to make bigger family houses and to improve the paving and streets. This has worked well in Salford and elsewhere and is an intelligent way of preserving the unique character of Liverpool’s built heritage for the benefit of the community.
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.
From Low Hill, 1976
Gregson’s Well public houses
The Raven, corner of Low Hill and Phythian Street
Today, Low Hill is no more than a connecting street at the junction of Kensington and the new road works that sweep across Hall Lane towards Edge Lane. The emptiness of the landscape is the price we pay for getting across the city a few seconds faster.
It was not always so but these 1976 photographs capture the slow decline of a once busy area. The view from Low Hill shows the Royal Hospital in the final stages of construction and the wholesale clearance of the area between Brunswick Road and Erskine Street to create the Erskine Street Trading Estate. (A few prefabs can be seen below Belgrave Street).
On the corner of Low Hill and West Derby Road was Gregson’s Well public house – not to be confused with the Gregson’s Well pub facing it on Brunswick Road. Both have now fallen to the bulldozer – another piece of Liverpool history lost forever. (The Spinners ran a popular folk club in one of the pubs although I am not sure which one). They were both named after a public spring which survived until the early nineteenth century. The Raven public house, another substantial building, has also disappeared along with the surrounding buildings. It stood on the corner of one of Liverpool’s more unpronounceable streets – Phythian Street, which apparently derives from the Latin vivianus (meaning alive or living). Its later corruption to the surname Phythian suggests the street was named after a person (there were a number of Phythians in Liverpool in the early nineteenth century).
Liverpool has lost many buildings since the 1950s. Many are quite ordinary but they were an important link to the city’s past. Many had to go but the totality of loss has meant layers of history have been erased forever.
It is difficult to date the photograph precisely but it is another of Francis Frith & Company’s commercial views which proliferated during the 1870s and 80s.
Rodney Street is one of the few nineteenth century streets that would still be familiar to its 1880s inhabitants.
On the face of it, not a great deal has changed except for the level of traffic. The road is named after Admiral Rodney, victor over the Comte de Grasse at the Battle of St Vincent in 1780. The battle, also named the Moonlight Battle because it took place at night, propelled Rodney into a public figurehead celebrated in the names of streets and pubs throughout England. At that time, the future Rodney Street was open fields but, by the turn of the century, there was a sprinkling of houses. Most of the building took place over the next 20 to 30 years. Picton writing in 1872 comments that: “The houses generally are of respectable size and character, many of them mansions of some pretension … It has had for some time a hard struggle to maintain its respectability, but there are signs of its following the usual course. After a reign longer or shorter of quiet dignity, the physicians and surgeons begin to colonise. The dentist follows; then a modest-looking display of wares in the parlour window indicates the modiste, or the brilliant red and blue jars give token of the druggist and apothecary. By-and-by a shop window is boldly put forth radiant with plate glass and gold, and so gradually a change comes over the spirit of the locality; the tradesman pushes out the gentleman and trade reigns supreme. Rodney Street is at present in the transition state, when there is a tripartite division between the private house, the doctor and the shopkeeper, but in the end the triumph of the trader is inevitable.”
Picton, as it turned out was over-pessimistic. Rodney Street is still that tripartite balance between private residencies, medical consultants and traders but it retains its elegance and has escaped relatively unscathed for its two hundred years of existence.
Liverpool’s cemeteries are fascinating places, where the famous lie next to the forgotton, and the infamous next to the virtuous. Anfield Cemetery is no exception. It will be 150 years old next year and its imposing gate piers on Priory Road are (in Quentin Hughes’s words) ‘a fitting announcement for the final journey.’ Wander around and you will find the graves of Liverpool’s legendary managers Bill Shankly and Joe Fagan; one of England’s greatest barefist boxers, Jem Mace; James Maybrick, husband of Florence Maybrick, who was found guilty of his murder and served 15 years in gaol before release (he was more recently named as Jack the Ripper in suspect diaries found in Liverpool); and Bessie Braddock, the larger than life Labour firebrand. Look more closely at other gravestones and the names of those who never made the headlines predominate – which brings me to a fascinating email from Alex Robertson in response to the last blog about the Liverpool’s Seamen’s Orphanage. Alex wrote:
Having seen the photo on your blog of the Seamen’s Orphanage I thought you may be interested in the story of one of the inmates. The information was obtained during family history research.
Elizabeth Mitchell Ure (1882 – 1898)
Elizabeth was the seventh child born to Thomas Ure and Mary Ure (nee Robertson) on 28 July 1882. The family were living at 27 Woodbine Street, Liverpool when her father Thomas, a seaman was drowned off the Australian coast in May 1891. Her mother died a few months later in November, leaving Elizabeth an orphan at the age of 9. Her eldest brother, the only sibling that was married, Thomas and his wife Margaret took her in. She was attending Daisy Street School. After two years with her brother and his wife, the situation must have changed because, in June 1893, Thomas applied to the Liverpool Seamen’s Orphan Institution for Elizabeth to be admitted.
Thomas had to produce Elizabeth’s birth certificate, their parents’ marriage certificate, list her brothers and sisters and their ages and give reasons for her admission. He also had to give the name and owners of the ship from which their father drowned and he stated that his father, Thomas Ure senior, had sailed from the port of Liverpool for 35 years prior to his drowning. Elizabeth was examined by the orphanage medical officer and Thomas had to sign that she had been vaccinated against smallpox, had never had fits and was “free from troublesome habits during the night.” The application was supported by Allen Bros and Co., who were shipowners and trustees of the orphanage.
After two months the application for admission was approved and in August 1893 Elizabeth left her brother’s family in Walton Breck Road and her old school for a new life at the orphanage. Elizabeth would have been given domestic training at the orphanage prior to being placed in domestic service on leaving. Tragically she suffered two attacks of typhoid fever and died at the orphanage aged 15 on 15 May 1898. She was buried along with other children who died at the orphanage at Anfield cemetery in a double plot. There is a headstone with the names of all the children laid to rest there.
Elizabeth Ure’s name is half way down
The sad, short lives of more orphans
Peter Ackroyd, the noted biographer, likened walking on London’s pavements to walking on skin. I thought that was a clever way of capturing the human history of a city beneath the stone artefacts left behind. Walking the streets of Liverpool, I can understand the pull of the past – even if Liverpool’s history cannot match that of our capital city. My fascination with photographs is not simply with the changing shape of the urban landscape but with the people who made it come to life.
The photographs I have posted today are a good example of forgotten times and lives. The building is still there on Orphan Drive alongside Newsham Park, although derelict and waiting for a new use. Designed by that great Liverpool architect, Alfred Waterhouse, it was opened in 1874 to house some of the hundreds of orphaned boys and girls. By 1899 there were 321 children in the orphanage, while 508 were receiving outdoor relief in the form of monetary grants and clothing. Children of all religious denominations were assisted, with preference given to orphans of British seamen connected with the Port of Liverpool.
I think the photographs of the three classes pre-date the Newsham Park building. In 1869, the Liverpool Seamen’s Orphan Institution opened in temporary rented accommodation in Duke Street, and by the end of that year there were 46 boys and 14 girls in residence. The success of the orphanage persuaded the Council to give land in Newsham Park for a purpose-built institution but the building in the background of the three photographs suggests the earlier temporary accommodation. The photographs were taken by Simon Kruger, who had a studio at 171 Park Road in 1871.
I bought the three photographs together, which suggests they belonged to one person. Perhaps in each photograph is a member of the same family: three siblings facing an uncertain future as orphans. I imagine they were treasured before being passed on to the next generation and then the next until their family name was finally lost.
Aerial view 1930s
Great George Street 1976: showing The Clock public house and Henry Willis’s organ works
Great George Street 1976: showing Rushworth & Dreaper’s organ works and the David Lewis Centre
Looking at the aerial photograph, it is hard to believe that so little of the area has survived (with the obvious exception of the Cathedral). Most of the architecture is not particularly distinguished, apart from the Jacobean-style David Lewis Hotel (as it was known then). I have touched on this street before but have revisited some of my colour transparencies from the 1970s and they struck a chord: almost literally because the photographs show two great Liverpool companies in their death throes. One of the city’s less well-known industries was organ building and the organ works of both Henry Willis and Rushworth & Dreapers have been captured before demolition. For those with long memories, the pub on the left in the second photograph is The Clock.
It is easy to point the finger at planners and politicians, but the removal of this mix of Georgian and Victorian houses, shops and institutions happened at the nadir of Liverpool’s fortunes. The ring road, later to be aborted, blighted whole chunks of the city and the clearances went ahead anyway. The result is a soulless stretch of road from the Park Road/Parliament Street junction to Duke Street. The recent renovation of The Florence Institute in Mill Street only emphasises what was lost when the architecturally superior David Lewis building was demolished (along with Doctor Duncan’s original South Dispensary at the foot of Upper Parliament Street.
Manchester Street is hardly the grand street the region’s second city deserves. Tucked alongside the Tunnel entrance, it is passed by thousands of motorists daily who probably give it only the most cursory glance. Before the tunnel was built, it had a more significant role, linking Victoria Street with Dale Street, but now, thanks to the Churchill Way flyover it is just a dog-leg of a road cutting back on itself to Victoria Street.
The photograph, taken in about 1964, shows its short stretch full of shops, all long departed. The names will be well-known to many: Abraham Silver (tailors) next door to Eric’s the Tailors, Yates Wine Lodge rubs shoulders with Hessey’s large shop selling televisions in one part and musical instruments in the other.
Further down are, amongst others, the Catholic Truth Society Library, the Royal Tiger Club, Joseph Welsh (fish merchant) and D Samuels, another musical instrument dealer. The traffic policeman and the two traditional telephone boxes add a distinctly period feel to the scene, along with the pubs advertising Walker’s and Higson’s ales.