Nothing is more annoying than to have an unlabelled image that you know will take hours to locate. I thought this image might have been relatively easy to caption – a church in a square with a large warehouse with the prominent sign Wool Warehouse, a photographic engravers, a bakers on one corner and a pub on the other. Okay, a pub on the corner was not exactly a rarity in Liverpool but I reckoned the other features would be easy to place using my Gore’s 1910 Directory.
Not so easy, unfortunately, although I did have an idea of where it could be. The square is the clue. Liverpool had a few but it clearly did not fit most of those I knew. I took a stab at Pownall Square, off Tithebarn Street, and everything fell into place. The church is St Mary’s – a building by Augustus Welby Pugin, originally built in Edmund Street in 1845. In 1885, the Edmund Street site was needed for the expansion of Exchange Station, and the church was dismantled and reassembled in nearby Highfield Street. (The Catholic Almanac described is as ‘a grand monument of architectural skill’) (Thanks to David Lewis’s The Churches of Liverpool for this information). The church was destroyed in the Blitz and replaced by a fine modern building by Weightman and Bullen in 1953 that has, in turn, been pulled down for an office development.
The feature of the photograph that caught my eye is the playground in the square. Offering a very limited choice of seesaws and swings, it is the earliest image of such a provision I have found. Inner city Liverpool was home to tens of thousands of children who probably spent their leisure time roaming the streets, so to discover a purpose-built play area shows that there was an official awareness of the need for better facilities.
One of the great successes of Liverpool’s renaissance has been Otterspool Promenade. For much of the time I have been in Liverpool (since 1970), it has been neglected and uninspiring. Most cities would give a fortune for such a dramatic riverside site: I doubt Manchester would have allowed such an asset to be starved of investment. So it is great to see the recent changes – the adventure site with its impressive café, the new railings, the revived Garden Festival Gardens and the cycle hire. Much more needs to be done – I would love to see a linear sculpture park and the dreadful Britannia Inn replaced (it was only meant to last for duration of the Garden Festival in 1984 and is well beyond it lifespan) – but the crowds are coming back and that can only be good.
Originally, the shoreline was used by fishermen and the hand-coloured photograph shows the last relic of that cottage industry. Local historian, Mike Royden has compiled a fascinating history of Otterspool: http://www.roydenhistory.co.uk/mrlhp/local/otterspool/otters.htm in which he writes:
The cottage had been home to generations of fishermen who maintained their occupation despite many attempts to dislodge them. In the second half of the 19th century several such attempts were made by the Cheshire Lines Committee who had purchased the adjoining land, and in 1898 the Corporation tried to levy rates on the occupant, Mr.Samuel Kennerley. Fortunately for Mr. Kennerley, a judicial decision was made in his favour, which ruled that in the eyes of the law he ranked as a squatter. At the turn of the century, however, the day’s of the fisherman were over. Kennerley complained; “Twenty years ago, there was plenty of fish to be got on the Mersey waters. At this spot, salmon, codlings, whiting, fluke sole and shrimps (none better) – but now…”, he added with a sigh, “…the dirty water has driven them away. Garston Docks spoiled the fishery, and the Manchester Canal has given them the finishing touch”.
After his death in 1927, the cottage was occupied by his son- in-law, who no longer protected by squatter’s rights, was evicted in 1933. The Corporation, desperate to proceed with a new waterfront development, offered him employment and accommodation to encourage his departure. The cottage was swiftly demolished and the last tangible reminder of the Mersey fisheries was swept away.
Sefton Park c1900
Café, Sefton Park, c1900
First of all, my apologies for not having updated my blog before Christmas. I am in time to wish all those who have taken time to read it the very best for 2015. It has been very heartening to generate such a good response to my posts and I can assure everyone that there is plenty more to come – starting with these two photos of Sefton Park from over a century ago. The café must be the earliest version – I presume it was on the same site as the current one.
One of my hopes for 2015 is that the Mayor sees sense and abandons his plans to build on Sefton Meadows. It is a dreadfully short-sighted proposal which will destroy the integrity of the park. There is no shortage of brownfield land throughout the city and using up green belt is not the answer.
I appreciate the City Council has to make tough decisions but not all work to the long-term benefit of Liverpool. One classic example was the decision to rebuild the St John’s Market area – for a new St John’s Market and a ridiculously over-ambitious civic centre. The destruction of a largely Georgian and early Victorian network of narrow streets and interesting squares removed in one blow the heart of the city. Below are two reminders of what was lost.
Great Charlotte Street c1960
Looking down Great Charlotte Street, the sandstone building on the right is the Fish Market, designed by John Foster as an adjunct to the main St John’s Market of 1822. Beyond, to the left of the Royal Court, is the Stork Hotel in Queen Square. In the foreground, I was unaware that Liverpool had a branch of Kendall’s – I had assumed that it was a Manchester shop only.
Roe Street c1960
This is a view of the back of St John’s Market. Picton made an interesting observation in his fascinating account of Liverpool’s history and architecture (published in 1873): To architectural merit it can hardly lay claim. The heavy carpentry of the roof and its division into numerous spans, give an air of lowness, almost of gloom. Allowance must be made for the period of its erection. As yet railway stations with vast iron roofs and enormous spans were things undreamt of. The comparison between the roofs of St John’s Market and Lime Street Station will show what a vast stride has been taken in five and forty years.
Fast foward the best part of a century and it would be hard to agree that vast strides were made in removing the whole area.
Liverpool Co-operative Society
Smithdown Road/Dacre Street
Smithdown Road is one of the most travelled roads in Liverpool. For generations of students, it was their familiar landscape on the way to and from the halls of residence in Mossley Hill. For most of us who live in the south end, it is a journey with its irregular points of interest: the Brookhouse pub, Toxteth Park Cemetery, and the long-disused Martins Bank at the junction with Tunnel Road and Lodge Lane. In 1966, it was still a functioning bank but by 1976, it was locked-up and up for sale. Just below it was a Liverpool Co-operative Society shop (also functioning in 1966) and, further down, Dacre Street and an already decaying row of shops.
Fortunately, the bank has survived but the rest of the road has been almost totally cleared to make way for what will be a new school for Archbishop Blanche. I had got quite used to the cleared site with the impressive St Dunstan’s Church highlighted against the cleared terraced streets. Another part of Liverpool has changed forever. I doubt too many people will mourn the loss of a few decayed terraces – they looked beyond salvation – and the school will no doubt become another familiar landmark (although to far fewer students once they have decamped to the city centre).
Lock-ups, Tunnel Road
St Catherine’s Church
Former Tunnel Cinema
Fruit and Vegetable Depot
Driving along Tunnel Road last week, I was shocked to see the row of brick lock-ups which lined the east side of the road had been demolished, revealing a large area of railway land (presumably ready for a housing development). I do not know their history but have always assumed they must have been part of the original Edge Hill Station – the oldest working railway station in the world. They had been boarded up for as long as I can remember but they did represent a link to an older Liverpool and I could not allow their passing to go unnoticed.
Tunnel Road has undergone a transformation since the four photographs above were taken in 1973. Each photograph shows a piece of social and economic history of a once vibrant area. St Catherine’s church was a plain church, very much a working class place of worship. It was decommissioned in 1973 and survived for well over a decade before demolition. The cinema too has gone, although it had a final throw of the dice as a bingo hall. The elaborate gates of the Fruit and Vegetable Depot survived long after the Depot had ceased to operate. Again, I am do not know its history but presumably it was the servicing point for Queen Square and the central Liverpool markets in their heyday.
None of the buildings were of any architectural importance and their demise was almost inevitable, remnants of a Liverpool that has largely vanished. The 1970s was an immense period of change as the city contracted and was being re-shaped to accommodate a future (largely unsuccessful) vision of the future.
Photos courtesy of Getty Images
It was only a month ago, I posted a set of photos by the master of photojournalism Thurston Hopkins. Sadly, within days, he passed away at the grand age of 101. I was privileged to have had a correspondence with him arising out of my book Picture Post on Liverpool, in which I included his magnificent series on the Liverpool slums. The assignment was never published; Picture Post proprietor, Edward Hulton, gave way to pressure from Liverpool City Council who were worried that the planned feature would paint them in a bad light. Ironically, the sequence won the following year’s coveted Encyclopaedia Britannica prize. The review in the British Journal of Photography (an august publication that has its roots in the original journal of Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association in the mid-nineteenth century). The reviewer wrote:
‘Here we have a set of 22 pictures of commonplace scenes; scenes which might possibly – in fact almost surely – be duplicated in a number of our great cities. They are pictures of everyday life; of men, women and children fighting for existence, struggling to maintain the comforts of home life and striving to retain some of the dignity of humankind under conditions which are appalling and which cannot be realised by many million whose lot has been cast in happier surroundings.
Thurston Hopkins has lifted a stone in our vaunted Welfare State and shown with unemotional clarity some of the things which many people would prefer not to see or know about. Here is superb photography, stark in its realism; an example of photographic journalism at its best. The pictures tell their own story, carrying their own message, and while being a damning indictment of the City Fathers of Liverpool are perfect examples of how it is possible to weld the trained eye of the cameraman to modern photographic technique in order that a civic conscience might be aroused. This sequence is the high spot of the 1957 Encyclopaedia Britannica exhibition, and should be seen and carefully studied by all photographers, whether amateur of professional.’
Over half a century later, how shall we judge the Welfare State? We need a Thurston Hopkins of today to stir the conscience of the nation. There is a willing publisher here.
Thurston Hopkins 1913-2014 RIP
This is my last visit to the 1890s for a time. It was an important decade architecturally, starting with the completion of the University’s Victoria Building and the Royal Hospital (both by that master of red brick, Alfred Waterhouse) and ending with work commencing on the Royal Insurance Building and the Philharmonic Hotel. In between, Liverpool Overhead Railway, the White Star Building, the Palm House and Ullet Road Unitarian Church were completed – along with Kensington and Everton Libraries.
Impressively, only Liverpool Overhead Railway is no longer with us – a sad loss and preventable, as was the case of the Custom House. Along with the Sailors’ Home, these are Liverpool’s greatest post-War architectural losses. The Custom House was firebombed but its structure remained intact. There was a public campaign to save it – perhaps lacking the intensity of that to save the Overhead Railway, which was raised in Parliament – but after years of war, the Council’s intent to restructure the city won its way. Very sad looking at the photograph. Imagine had they all survived what an amazing collection of buildings Liverpool would have had with a bit of foresight.
Church Street c1895
Bottom of Water Street c1895
The dates are approximate but reasonably accurate. Within a few years, there would be changes to both these views. The photograph of Water Street shows Picton’s Tower Building (with the original street name Prison Weint on its wall as a reminder of its predecessor’s original function). By the turn of the century, the classical pile had been replaced by the current Tower Building with its white glazed facade (to cope with the soot-laden air). On the other corner, the rather plain block with the street name Back Goree, survived a little longer (until the 1920s) before being replaced by the Bank Of British West Africa, a rather fine Greek Revival building by Arnold Thornely, architect of the even more impressive Cunard Building.
Church Street was similarly ‘tweaked’ over the next decade. The semi-circular building on the corner of Whitechapel was pulled down and replaced by the Edwardian baroque of Bunney’s Corner (which lasted a mere fifty years before being replaced by Greenwoods, which in turn lasted fifty years before suffering a similar fate – a theme seems to be developing here). The building in the far distance caught my eye. The tower by the side of Central Station is part of the first Lewis’s store on Ranelagh Street. That was replaced by a second store in 1910 – which was bombed and largely destroyed in 1941 and replaced by the current building which is being renovated as a multi-functional building.
Change in Liverpool is usually quite subtle, like this. A building goes and is replaced by another – hopefully a better building. Over a few decades, a new vista emerges. In the case of Water Street, the other two big gains were India Buildings and Martin’s Bank – two Art Deco masterpieces that have definitely enhanced the city’s architectural stock.
Church Street suffered serious war damage, the buildings on the right at the junction of Lord Street and Paradise Street were destroyed in the War along with Russell’s Building (the corner of which can be seen on the right). The building on the corner of Church Street is Seel’s Building of 1872, a rare foray into commercial architecture by Edward Welby Pugin, best known for his churches. It is rather an odd building for Liverpool – where such stonework stands in complete contrast to all its neighbours. I like its quirkiness but perhaps he should have stuck with religion.
Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to put names to photographs. When I started my blog, I aimed to bring unseen images to greater attention in the hope that readers would add their opinions and information. Photography has a unique place in our appreciation and understanding of the past but only too often, the people in the photographs remain anonymous and one can only guess at their lives.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from Mary Mclean, delighted to have found the picture of her (above) used on the cover of my book Picture Post on Liverpool. It was the first time she had seen the photograph, which was taken by Thurston Hopkins in 1956 as part of his unpublished assignment on the Liverpool slums. Mary is now 62 and a grandmother but that is all the information she gave. My attempts to contact her failed, as her emails bounced back as undelivered. So I know little more than her name and age and that she married and had children (and that the photographs were taken in the vicinity of Scotland Road).
Thurston Hopkins is still alive (now 101) and living in Susses with his wife, Grace Robertson, who was also a Picture Post photographer and daughter of the broadcaster Fyfe Robertson (who you will have to be in your 50s at least to remember). It was Fyfe Robertson who accompanied Thurston on their controversial story about slum living which Edward Hulton, proprietor of Picture Post, refused to publish after pressure from Liverpool Council (who thought the article would be a slur on the city).
Hopefully Mary Mclean will discover this blog (she has only seen the book) and reply with more information about where the photograph was taken and about her subsequent life. In the meantime, here are two more photographs from the same session that have remained unpublished until now.
St Nicholas’s Parade, 1895
Tower Building and Liverpool Overhead Railway, 1895
John Massey corrected me on my last blog. I mentioned in my text that the occasion (on St George’s Plateau) worried me. The two key concerns were that if it was the visit by Queen Victoria, there was an absence of banners and that the Sessions House had been completed in 1884 (the photograph shows an unfinished facade). John rightly pointed out that the visit was illustrated in the Illustrated London News with a large engraving which clearly showed lavish decoration and a completed Sessions House. What is more, the visit was in pouring rain – not the sunshine shown in my picture. So that raises two points: the photograph must be from 1883/84 and there is no immediate explanation for what was a considerable gathering. Any suggestions?
Today’s pictures are far easier to date. The Overhead Railway opened in 1893 and St George’s Church (the spire on the right) was demolished in 1899, having closed two years earlier. That gives a six year window but as the photograph has 1895 pencilled in, I will settle for that date.
Most commercial photographs of Liverpool of that time cover the same subject matter: St George’s Hall, the Pier Head area, Church Street/Lord Street. Perhaps this is not surprising, after all they were in business to make money. In the 1980s and 90s, I produced dozens of different postcards of the city. I started off trying to be adventurous, with less well-known locations but the sales figures quickly taught me that visitors would only buy a small number of cards and what they wanted was the obvious: the waterfront, two Cathedrals, Albert Dock. Nothing really changes – the Victorians realised it and just aimed to take a better view than their competitors. My interest in such images is partly on the buildings but very much on the level of street animation. Without the horses and carts and other activity, the photographs would have far less appeal.