Corn Exchange 1907
Adelphi Hotel 1892
Lord Street Arcade 1902
I was going to blog about Rapid Hardware going into administration (and probably out of existence) but I was surprised to discover I had no photograph of their once near monopoly of Renshaw Street. A poor state of affairs, really, not to capture what was one of the longest shop facades in Britain. The buildings still remain, of course, and other shops have taken their place since they moved to the George Henry Lee building.
It made me think how many other businesses and buildings have similarly passed into history without any physical record (although there will be plenty of photographs of Rapid, I expect).
The three photographs selected today show the value of the photographic record. Each building featured suffered different fates, with only the Lord Street Arcade surviving as the original building,
The Corn Exchange was a fine James Picton building constructed in Brunswick Street in 1851 (replacing a smaller exchange). Following the Repeal of the Corn Law in 1849, Liverpool grew ever more important in the world market and the new Exchange represented the aspirations of Liverpool’s merchants. Sadly, the building was destroyed buring the Blitz. The Corn Exchange that now stands there (completed in 1959) is one of Liverpool’s best post-War office blocks, although without a trading floor (or any corn trade).
The Adelphi Hotel illustrated is the first one (built in 1826 but modified later). One of the finest hotels in Britain, it was replaced by the present hotel in 1911. A more modest hotel in size (see my post of January 4th for an exterior view), it was famed for its lavish interior.
The exterior of the Lord Street Arcade survives but the interior has been converted into a single retail outlet. Back in the 1980s, I had an office on the second floor when the building operated as serviced offices. A suspended ceiling had replaced the fine cast-iron barrel-vaulted roof and the galleries had been floored over at each level. It made for a soulless interior and I only stayed for a few months. The architect, interestingly, was Walter Aubrey Thomas, whose most famous work, the Liver Building was built a decade later.
These are rare photographs – too much of our urban landscape has gone unrecorded. There really should be a more organised structure for methodically documenting our city for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.
The announcement that we are going to have a referendum on EU membership if the Conservatives win the next General Election might seem to have little connection with today’s photograph. The group of local councillors and arts administrators selecting the Autumn Exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery in 1938 is not exactly an image that has the serious implications of a plebiscite on Europe but there are similarities. Back then, the question of what was considered fit for our eyes and minds was heavily vetted not just in the case of the art on public gallery walls but also in the cinema, theatre and literature. Not only the Lord Chamberlain’s Office was involved but also the Board of Film Censors and, along the line, the local authority Watch Committee. If they objected to anything on the grounds of public taste, be it violence, nudity or whatever, they could put a banning order preventing public exhibition or sale (in the case of books). In other words, they did not trust the public to make up their own minds about what to see or read. Even as late as the 1980s, the BBC was banning the playing of records such as Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Relax amongst other records (with the inevitable result that it went to Number One).
The cries of anguish over the Referendum are of the same ilk – a refusal to believe that the British public can think for themselves. The committee of suited, mainly old and overwhelmingly male, Councillors might have made bold choices for all I know but it exudes the complacency of a paternalistic clique determining taste as they thought fit. Well, that is one way of looking at the photograph.
I chose this photograph for two reasons: first of all, I have neglected Old Swan in my many previous posts (as well as quite a few other areas I hope to get round to) but, more importantly, because it is an image taken in the early days of three revolutionary changes to society – the motor car, telephone and the cinema.
Steggles and Mitchell’s gaarage has long gone. It stood close to the corner with Green Lane (heading out from Liverpool). The year is 1913 and the garage did not exist in my 1910 directory (the premises were used as dry salters).
I am not sure when the first taxi with an internal combustion engine appeared on the streets of Liverpool but in London, it was 1903. (In September, 1899, the first American died in an car accident. Sixty-eight year-old Henry Bliss was helping a friend from a street car when a taxi driver lost control and fatally hit him).
The telephone has a slightly older history, the first service started in London with just 10 subscribers and the early years were dominated by private companies on licences. However, in 1912, just before the photograph was taken, the Post Office was granted a monopoly once these licences had expired. The only exceptions were telephone systems run by local authorities at Hull and Portsmouth. Until 2007 only Hull’s service remains independent, Portsmouth’s was sold to the Post Office in 1913. (In 2007, Hull sold its remaining stake in its company for over £107 million).The photograph indicates that the taxi firm was one of the earliest subscribers with its number 185 Old Swan.
Liverpool had gained its first purpose built cinema only a year earlier – The Futurist, Liverpool’s first purpose-built cinema opened in 1912 (see my post for December 28th). The posters on the wall advertise Dynamited Love (an 1912 film) and Pimble’s Ivanhoe (1913). There is another poster advertising The Black 13 but I cannot trace this (there was a much later film of the same name where Black 13 was the number on a roulette wheel).
A year later, World War was to irrevocably change society. Did the three proud drivers survive the horrors of war? It is fascinating to examine photographs and search for clues. This one is a splendid example.
George’s Dock and Goree Piazza, 1891
Following on from my last post, here are three more stereographs. The card shown above can hardly be classified as one of Liverpool’s oldest photographs but it does show a scene almost unchanged from the 1860s. Sailing boats line the docks into the distance and horse drawn wagons trundle down the dock road with their heavy loads. The Goree warehouses with their arcades are on the right hand side (sadly demolished after the War).
An older photograph is that of the old George’s Dock (below) showing the Church of St Nicholas, the Sailors’ Church. The date is probably late 1860s, well before Mersey Chambers was built in the Old Churchyard in 1878. Tower Building is to the right (replaced by the present building in 1906). The image is not sharp but it is an interesting record of the Pierhead before the Floating Roadway and the Landing Stage were built (mid-1870s).
The third stereograph is easy to date (it is printed on the card). Lord Street is bedecked with bunting to celebrate the coronation of Edward V11. A nice, busy street scene with a new electric tram in the foreground.
Brunswick Dock c1865
Brunswick Dock detail
When I started this blog, I raised the question of whether any substantial archive of early Liverpool photographs existed. I posted an early photograph of St George’s Hall (1850) but have had no success in finding other images from that period. This is, perhaps, surprising because Liverpool supported one of the first photographic societies and there were some important photographers amongst its members, including Francis Frith.
The first relatively significant number of images in my possession are stereographs. These are two dimensional photographs of the same subject, slightly offset to separate the left eye from the right eye, which when viewed through a simple viewer give a 3D effect. Cards became available from the early 1850s and were still being produced well into the twentieth century. Stereo cards became very popular and were bought in their millions – which accounts for their survival. Local photographers, such as H. Sampson of Southport, could make a living from churning out local views and the image of Brunswick Dock is typical of his work. I am guessing the date is around 1865, although it could be slightly later. The windmill on Mill Street was still standing and the dock full of sailing ships.
The image below is of the old Adelphi Hotel, again by Sampson. The building on the right is a bedding manufactory owned by Catharine Sanderson. (The couple on the corner are wearing typical clothing of the 1860s). To the left of the Adelphi Hotel, on the corner of Copperas Hill (where the Vines public house now stands) is William Mardock’s pharmacy according to Gore’s 1865 Directory.
I have commented before on the state of Lime Street. What should be a showpiece street for the city (as the first place many visitors see when leaving Lime Street Station) is an eyesore. The poor quality 1950s buildings on the west side are beyond redemption – they need pulling down (although the 1930s Art Deco Forum Cinema must be kept). On the other side of the street, it is a different story – for the buildings here have real character. Most date from the nineteenth century but among the neglected gems is the old Futurist Cinema.
I first visited the Futurist in 1973 to attend a press showing of the film Deliverance. It was a brilliant experience – just three of us in the Circle being plied with brandy by the manager as we watched what became one of my favourite films. I always had a soft spot for the place thereafter. A piece in today’s Liverpool Echo sparked off that memory – and, more importantly drew my attention to an important campaign being launched by Lesley Mullally and Sue Gilmore to save the building. The Futurist was Liverpool’s first purpose-built cinema and opened in 1912, the year of the photograph above. Its original name was The Picture House and a full history can be found on Lesley and Sue’s website:
What surprised me is that the building is not listed – which makes it vulnerable to redevelopment. There may not be an immediate threat but Lesley and Sue have started a petition to get something done. I take my hat off to them – many fine buildings lost in the last few decades might have been saved had more people taken the same active approach to our heritage.
When people talk about Liverpool’s world class attractions, one of the best is rarely mentioned. The waterfront, two cathedrals, St George’s Hall are in there, along with The Beatles and football. To me, the magnificent swathe of parks along the city’s south-eastern suburbs should be right up near the top. Few cities in Europe can boast such magnificent green spaces, from Princes Park, through Sefton Park, Otterspool Promenade, Calderstones Park, Allerton Towers, to Clarke Gardens and Camp Hill.
Of all the parks, Sefton Park is a magical place particularly when the annual Lantern Parade is held. I used to take my two children there in the 1980s and can remember the pirate ship slowly rotting into the water. I never thought to take a photograph – perhaps thinking it would be there forever. Sadly, it was removed in the 1990s (I think) along with the vandalised statue of Peter Pan, now relocated in a safe area by the Palm House. How unbelievable that someone could hacksaw pieces off such a well-loved sculpture. Almost as shocking was the state of the Palm House at the same time, allowed to deteriorate almost to the point of no return. Thankfully, a group of civic-minded enthusiasts fought hard to attract funding and the Palm House has been superbly restored. More recent work has improved all the waterways, repaired the statue of Eros and built a sympathetic and attractive café. Perhaps the time is right to build a new pirate ship.
I have been a bit lax recently on keeping my blog more regular (I have been working on a number of book projects). My apologies and I promise to get back to a weekly schedule from January. May I wish everyone a great Christmas and New Year. Thank you for all your support in 2012.
Tate and Lyle Sugar Silo, Regent Road, 1998
I was interested to read all the controversy over Preston Bus Station. To many, it is an eyesore – brutalist architecture at its worst (or best depending on your interpretation). To others, particularly in the architecture establishment, it is a modern masterpiece. Its future is about to be decided – demolish or keep and renovate.
Taste is a moveable feast. I remember back in the 1950s and 60s, Victorian Gothic was almost universally disliked, opening up the opportunity to tear city centres down and rebuild. One of the issues was the decades of soot that coated many of the buildings, obscuring the original colour and details. The North West Hotel on Lime Street came within a whisker of being demolished – being described as an eyesore and a shame on the city. Other buildings were less fortunate as the drive to modernise the city took root. Corbusian ideas of cities in the sky dominated planning decisions as a new vision of Liverpool was drawn up. I remember the large model of the future city that dominated the entrance to the Planning Department – all high rise blocks and motorways.
Now, we are re-evaluating the Post-War architecture and there is a growing appreciation of its merits and distinctiveness. I did a check on listed buildings post-1945 and was surprised to find only 424 buildings had been listed nationally out of over half a million listed buildings. Many, as expected, are in London. Plymouth, apparently has the most of any provincial city. Liverpool has only two – The Metropolitan Cathedral and the Sugar Silo on Regent Road (which is currently on the At Risk Register). Built between 1955 and 1957, it is a marvellous structural sculpture in concrete, which could serve any number of functions having an unobstructed interior (concert hall/sports arena?).
I am surprised other buildings have not made the list, particularly some of the buildings on Liverpool University’s campus. There are commercial buildings which make a bold statement – the Corn Exchange, Lewis’s, Littlewood’s and even the Midland Bank on the corner of Castle Street and Dale Street, which was a brave attempt to mimic Oriel Chambers down the road. As is always the case, it takes a new generation to appreciate the past and I would be interested to find out what other readers think are the best buildings of the last 50 years.
Thanks to all who have bought Streets of Liverpool 2. It is in all local bookshops and on Amazon
The 1970s was not the best decade in Liverpool’s relatively short history. The economy took a real bashing – although the real damage happened a decade later, when the city was almost abandoned by the Conservative government – and little happened in terms of new building (although the disastrous decision to progress with an inner ring road created a property blight across the city centre). I was looking for a new base for my arts organisation (Merseyside Viual Communications Unit – an ugly name, I must admit but it sounded vaguely official – I later shortened it to Open Eye). I was offered any number of buildings to buy or rent. One of them was a former bakery on Hardman Street. It was mine if I could stump up £11,0000, which of course I hadn’t got, or available to rent. I liked the building and had a vision of turning it into an art house cinema. Unfortunately, the upper floor had been reinforced with concrete to take the weight of ovens, and conversion was out of the question. In the end, I took over a disused pub on the corner of Hood Street and Whitechapel on a six-month let, which turned into nearly 10 years.
Fortunately, the bakery in Hardman Street soon attracted new owners and a chapter in Liverpool’s social life began with the opening of its first wine bar. The year was, I think, 1976 and I videoed the first night (the tape was recorded over a few years later). In a rather depressing decade, Kirklands was a bit of a revolution in drinking with its large windows opening onto the street, which had tables and chairs on the pavement during the day. Café society had arrived. Kirklands had created a game-changer in Liverpool’s drinking culture.
Across the road was an equally influential drinking establishment – Chaucers. Famous for its live gigs – with bands such as Deaf School appearing – it made Hardman Street, for a short time at least, the place to be seen. The history of the building is of greater interest, having been constructed as a synagogue in about 1835. It was abandoned in the 1850s when a new building was erected in nearby Hope Place. In its more recent history, it has become a fancy dress shop (Lili Bizarre). Kirklands still remains a fine drinking establishment although renamed The Fly in the Loaf, with possibly the best range of real ales in the area.
Park Hill Reservoir, 1975
One of Liverpool’s great problems is what to do with the many public, commercial and ecclesiastic buildings lying redundant throughout the city. As its population shrank, the nineteenth century legacy shrunk with it. After all, a city built for over 800,000 people has to change when its population drops below 500,000. Not just the change in population but also a social and technological revolution that has condemned churchgoing to a minority activity (and a small one at that), has removed the need for streets of warehouses and offices and so on (pubs, cinemas, dance-halls have likewise shut down as tastes change). Many of the major industrial employers of the 1970s and before have closed down, often leaving no trace (BAT, Tate & Lyle, Meccano, Dunlop and Plessey to name just a few).
So it was good news to read in the Liverpool Echo that an important legacy from the mid-nineteenth century is facing a new future. Park Hill Reservoir was built in 1853 to store water at a time when Liverpool was struggling to provide for its rapidly expanding population. The long term plans include ‘a glazed pyramid on top of the roof to house a bar and restaurant with spectacular views across the city and beyond.The immediate area could also be transformed, with a tree-lined boulevard and the creation of a new public space outside the reservoir and town hall. Small parcels of derelict and under-used land are incorporated into the masterplan to be used for new housing, green space and car parking.’ Of course, none of this might actually happen but it is encouraging to know that the reservoir is being given some priority.
I did not manage to visit the exhibition held there a couple of weeks ago so I have not had the fortune to walk round its interior. I imagine it looks similar to the one that was demolished in Breeze Hill a few years ago.
A spectacular interior – but I imagine a difficult (and expensive) space to convert (and into what). The emphasis appears to be to use its exterior space – which, with the right approach would take the attention off the dreadful Tesco building which dominates Park Road.
Once again, a plug for the second volume of The Streets of Liverpool.