Tagged: Custom House

Two photographs from the same collection taken in the 1870s. Frustratingly, I cannot identify the photographer although there is a barely visible blind stamp on one photograph. The presence of the blind stamp suggests a professional photographer – and there were a number in Liverpoolat that time making a living selling local views. There are 36 photographs in total – showing familiar and unfamiliar Liverpool landmarks but all taken from slightly unusual vantage points. The two of the Custom House are cases in point – for the focus seems to be the pump house to the Albert Dock (which of course survives). The bottom photograph gives a clear idea of the height line of the buildings along the dock road – with the prominent spire of St George’s Church standing high above surrounding warehouses. The rows of barrels along the quayside have markings – but nothing clear enough to identify their contents.
Are there any other collections out there from this period? I have a rare copy of Francis Frith’s album of a similar period but surely there are other collections of photographs pre-1875. I have stereo views and the odd individual image going back to the 1860s but I still think that there are images out there which will bridge the gap from c1850 to 1875 which will add significantly to our knowledge of how Liverpool looked at the height of its economic power. If anyone has knowledge of these rare images, I would be grateful for the information.

I have often tried to picture what Liverpool would be like if it had kept some of its finest buildings. Does it matter if buildings are lost? To quote William Morris:
‘It has been most truly said that these old buildings do not belong to us only: that they belonged to our forefathers and they will belong to our descendants unless we play them false. They are not in any sense our property, to do as we like with them. We are only trustees for those who come after us …’ . Clearly not a message that had any sway with several generations of politicians and planners in Liverpool.
I have by started listing my ‘worst losses’ in some sort of league table. They are:

1) The Custom House (1828-39) by John Foster the Elder. Photographed above in 1875. To me, the greatest architectural loss the city has suffered. What a magnificent compliment it would have made to the Albert Dock. Firebombed in the Blitz, it was left a shell that could have been renovated had the will been there.
2) The Sailors’ Home (1846-52) by John Cunningham. An eccentric building modelled on an Elizabethan mansion. The less said about its unnecessary demolition the better.
3) Liverpool Overhead Railway (1893). Not so much a building but a unique and exhilirating experience. Today, cities spent millions on so-called ‘landmark’ buildings that rarely deliver because they usually fail to deliver any useful benefit. Here we had an iconic ‘building’ that would have thrilled generations of tourists (and natives). Demolished 1957/58 for economic reasons.
4) St John’s Market (1820-22) by John Foster Junior. Not just the market but the whole area of tightly packed streets which fed into the main market (including the Theatre Royal and Williamson Square/the Stork Hotel and Queen Square). The kind of ubiquitous concrete malls are dead in the water. Planners now argue for keeping street patterns and a human scale. A bit too late!
5) Goree Piazzas (1787- rebuilt 1802 after fire).The first moden warehouses to be built (at the same time as George’s Dock. With its magnificent arcaded pavements it unfortunately occupied a key site in the post-War Shankland Plan mentality and made way for a road that lets us get to our destination 10 seconds faster.
6) St Michael’s Church, Pitt Street. I could add St George’s Church, St Paul’s Church and a dozen others – but this is my favourite. In an area now bereft of good architecture, it would have been an uplifting sight. Bomb damaged beyond repair.
7) Kent Square (and surrounding area). Charles Reilly wrote of the area ‘it contains some very fine houses and the finest square in town, Great George Square. It also contains that jewel in an ancient setting, Kent Square. Fragments exist but the character of this early Georgian area was destroyed in the 1930s for municipal housing. Imagine a fine cluster of Georgian housing with St Michael’s Church at the centre – a sad loss.

The next seven to follow – but please add your own ‘worst losses’, it should make interesting reading.