61 Lime Street, c1912
Church Street, 1928
In a much earlier post, I wrote that a history of shops in Liverpool was overdue. There is plenty to write about from the first purpose-built department store in Europe (in Compton House where M & S is now), the great Welsh retailers David Lewis, Owen Owens and TJ Hughes, the Vestey’s and their Dewhurst butchers chain, the once-exclusive Bold Street and so on.
Liverpool with its extremes of wealth and poverty supported a wide range of shops catering for those at either end and the ones in the middle. The first Woolworth’s store was in Church Street and Harrods were close to opening their only store outside of London on the site then occupied by St Peter’s church. They pulled out and Woolworth moved across the road and built the fine shop now occupied by Top Shop.
Marks and Spencer were another company attracted to the city and they opened a shop in Lime Street in 1903. The top photograph is of a slightly later date because The Picture House (later renamed The Futurist) built in 1912 is clearly visible next door. The facade above the shop front is showing signs of age – and it is no better today.
M & S had opened their first store in Manchester in 1894 and quickly built up a reputation for their high principles, buying only British produced goods and offering a no-quibbles returns policy that was unique at that time. In 1928, the company moved into a substantial part of Compton House and have remained there ever since. The store was extended in the 1970s and a further extension to front Williamson Square has been planned but not, as yet, carried out. Hopefully, the development will take place before too long and help revamp what is now a rather poor quality city square.
One of the greatest losses to Liverpool’s architectural heritage was to its city centre churches. In 1899, both St George’s Church (in Derby Square) and St John’s Church in Old Haymarket were demolished (the latter being fairly universally disliked for its rather crude Gothic design). The elegant church of St Thomas in Park Lane was pulled down in 1905 (with the tomb of Joseph Williamson, the “Mole of Edge Hill’ left in the cleared churchyard). St Peter’s was next in line, lasting until 1922. It’s demise was planned for some time. In 1880, Liverpool gained its first bishop, Rt Rev Ryle, and St Peter’s was made the Pro-Cathedral as an interim measure while decisions about a purpose-built cathedral could be made. In the photograph, the poster on the post states ‘Full Cathedral Service’.
Once the decision to build on St James’s Mount had been made, the diocese realised it could only fund the ambitious project by selling off its very valuable real estate in the city’s main retail street. St Peter’s had to go and there was no shortage of takers, including Harrods, who planned to build there only store outside of London on the site. In the end, it was the ambitious American chain, Woolworths, who won through and they maintained a high street presence for over half a century before Burtons/Topshop moved in.
I do find the removal of churches such as St Peter’s sad. Not from a religious standpoint but because city centres need spaces that are not dominated by commerce and retailing. We have too few and need to seriously think about what kind of city we want to live in. Is all our space up for the highest bidder, as always seems to be the case, or can we exert some control over its use for a greater communal benefit? After the disgraceful ‘Fourth Grace’ public involvement, I have my grave doubts although concerted action did help save the Lyceum.
When Liverpool’s most important buildings are discussed, it is surprising how often retailing is left out. In Quentin Hughes’s City of Architecture, not a single shop features in his selection – a surprising omission. Cripp’s on Bold Street (now Waterstones), GH Lee on Basnett Street, Lewis’s (one of the better post-war buildings) and Premier Buildings (on the corner of Church Street and Hanover Street) were all worthy of inclusion. However, the shop that should have been in for both architectural and historical significance is Compton House – now home to Marks and Spencer, Joseph Sharples describes it as majestic and of international significance because it was one of the earliest (if not the first) purpose-built department store, finished five years before Bon Marché in Paris.
The store replaced an earlier building destroyed by fire in 1865. Two brothers, William and JR Jeffrey financed a new building, which opened in 1867. In Picton’s words, tragedy struck: “Mr William Jeffrey, the brother and right hand of the principal, was cut off suddenly by apoplexy and JR Jeffrey was left to fight his battle alone. The battle was a losing one.” The receipts of the new shop never met the outgoings and in March 1871, the shutters were closed.
The photograph shows its later reincarnation as Compton Hotel, with William Russell as proprietor. On the ground floor, the shops are Lilly Addinsell (hatter and hosier), JR Cramer & Co., William Hay & Co. and, on the right hand side, Watts & Co., drapers.
In the revised City of Architecture (due next year), Compton House will find its place as one of Liverpool’s great pioneering achievements.
My apologies for the short break – and also for the quality of today’s photograph, an 1890s lantern slide which has deteriorated over the years. Nevertheless, it is a great image of street life taken with a hand-held camera. In my book on Charles Frederick Inston, I outlined the way in which camera technology became more portable and film became faster and easier to use once roll-film came into use. Naturally this changed the way photographers worked and candid street photography became a fashion that was reflected in the competition categories amongst amateur photographic societies. Within a short period of time, photography shifted from being a rich man’s pursuit to a popular medium within the pockets of working men and women.
The photograph is captioned Squeaking Jimmy, Church Street. The building in the background is Russell’s Building, which was bombed during the War and later replaced by Littlewoods (now Primark). As for Squeaking Jimmy – I can only guess that he was selling those little toy whistles that imitate bird noises or something similar – unless there is a more sinister interpretation to his name.
I am guessing at the year 1880. It certainly is not much later, the Bon Marche building (with a flag on top) was built in 1878 and still looks quite new. On the right is St Peter’s Church, which was dismissed by architectural critics as being a poor copy of the school of Christopher Wren. Consecrated in 1704, it was sold by the diocese (to Woolworths) to fund the building of the Anglican Cathedral. The church was demolished in 1922 and the site is now occupied by the Top Shop store.
The main focus of interest is the building on the left, what is now Marks & Spencers. When I was working with Quentin Hughes on Liverpool City of Architecture, we had numerous discussions about which significant buildings to include (for either architectural or historical reasons). For some reason, this building was left out although it was possibly the first purpose-built department store in the world (pre-dating Bon Marche in Paris by five years). Completed in 1867 for JR Jeffrey, the store faced a losing battle to pay off the cost of building it and, in 1871, it closed its shutters. Sadly, the strain was too much for Jeffrey, who died a few months after the faiure. The store reopened as the Compton Hotel with retailing on the ground floor. In the world of retailing, this is a hugely significant building and, when I complete my revision of City of Architecture it will get the recognition it deserves.