Here is another fascinating photograph of a Liverpool court which demands a storyline.The young man with his caged bird standing between two grim-faced women suggests impending eviction. Certainly, it was around the time that the street, which backed on to the Walker Art Gallery and the Museum, was demolished in the 1930s slum clearance programme – which saw Gerard Gardens spring up nearby. What tough lives are etched in all their faces! Everything about their demeanour suggests resignation and defeat – but perhaps there was a different storyline (although I don’t think they had just won the Pools).
Which Liverpool-born person had the greatest effect on the world? The Beatles must be candidates, having launched a cultural revolution that still resonates fifty years on. From the nineteenth century, we have William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), four times Prime Minister and champion of Home Rule for Ireland. From the generation before, we have William Roscoe (1753-1831), a self-made banker and anti-slavery campaigner, whose love of the Italian Renaissance and the Medici’s city state of Florence defined the concept of the modern civic role of encouraging the growth of a cultural community in which merchants’ wealth was not an end in itself but the means to enlightenment.
What is remarkable about all of these is that their homes are still part of the city’s fabric. However, one of the most influential of all Liverpudlians is not honoured at all and all traces of his birthplace have long been obliterated.
Robert Morris (1734-1806) was born into poverty in Chorley Court, which was at the foot of Dale Street by the Queensway Tunnel entrance. At the age of 13, he left for America, helping out on his father’s tobacco farm. By the age of 18, he was a banker/shipping merchant in Philadelphia. Rapidly acquiring wealth, he put his weight behind the fight for independence from Britain, effectively bankrolling George Washington’s army. Responsible for establishing the financial and banking systems of the newly independent country, Morris was one of only two people to sign the three significant founding documents of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the U.S. Constitution.
Perhaps because of our ambivalent relationship with the USA, Liverpool failed to recognise the significance of Chorley Court and it was pulled down in the early 1930s to make way for the Blackburn Assurance building (later Stanley Leisure).
In starting this thread about Lost Liverpool, I was concerned with those buildings that would have enhanced today’s city had they survived. The underlying criterion is that of architectural merit but that would probably not apply to Liverpool Overhead Railway, which was not a particularly beautiful structure. In the case of other inclusions, such as the Old Hutt, the historical context is of greater importance – offering clues as to pre-Industrial Revolution Liverpool. One of the other areas worth adding to the list is the building’s significance within the context of social/public health reform – and here Liverpool was the centre of many pioneering ideas.
15 Upper Frederick Street Wash-House
One hundred and fifty years after her death, Kitty Wilkinson is to be honoured with a statue in St George’s Hall. Born in Derry, in 1785, Kitty courageously took in the washing for over 85 families each week during the cholera epidemic of 1832 in an effort to stop the contagion spreading. Her persistent petitioning for better facilties led to the first public wash-house being opened in Upper Frederick Street in 1842 (and later rebuilt in 1853). The idea took hold and further wash-houses were built in Liverpool and elsewhere. The wash-house was still operating up to 1925 but was demolished shortly afterwards. Modern housing now stands on its site.
16 The last court
Probably my most controversial selection – but what a tragedy that no courts survive. The last one disappeared in late-1960s and with it a huge piece of Liverpool’s history. (The photograph is certainly one of the last to be inhabited). This was how hundreds of thousands lived for much of Liverpool’s post-1800 history. The politicians were in such haste to remove these ‘blots’ on the conscience of a modern city (albeit to create the disasters of new towns and high rise living) that they did not stop to think of the educational potential of keeping an example for future generations. Today we are building a multi-million pound Museum of Liverpool – but we could have had a museum like Ironbridge or Beamish that told a far more meaningful story (and at a fraction of the cost). I suppose hindsight is easy – but these humble buildings were as much a part of Liverpool’s history as any of the churches or commercial buildings I have posted.