Over the years I have been writing my blog, the posts that create the highest response rates are hospitals and school. The former is mainly ex-nurses who trained and worked at the now demolished Northern Hospital (a very positive experience for most). The schools posts – there have been a number – have created their own Friends Reunited mini-sites. I wrote a long time ago that a photo book on Liverpool schools was well overdue. Perhaps I should have published one but the opportunity seems to have slipped by.
It is surprising how relatively short-lived most schools are. The raft of buildings built in the wake of the 1870 Elementary Education Act have largely disappeared. A small number have been replaced by more modern buildings and their names kept but most have simply vanished. Chatsworth Street School, pictured above is a rare survivor (although now called Smithdown Primary School). I pass it most days on my journeys up and down Upper Parliament Street and marvel at how it has managed to survive intact. Its neighbourhood has changed considerably in recent decades but the school is a constant presence. The Gothic-influenced building was built in 1874 for the School Board and is a rather unusual building for Liverpool with its pale sandstone facing. Having survived for nearly 150 years, hopefully it will continue to light up what has been a rather drab and desolate corner of the city.
Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of taking my good friend Professor Charlie Duff around Liverpool. Charlie is a leading figure in Baltimore’s revival and sees many comparisons between Liverpool and his hometown. Both are of a similar size and have suffered comparable post-War declines. Anyone familiar with The Wire will have a certain knowledge of the level of urban decline parts of Baltimore have suffered.
Of course, like Liverpool, there are plenty of very pleasant areas but the media are always more interested in the dysfunctional. Charlie was particularly keen to look at how our city’s urban fabric knitted together (especially after he had spent a couple of days in Leeds and Manchester), so we set out on a journey in glorious sunshine to explore as much as we could in a day. I loved it – nothing is better than showing someone round your city when the light is perfect. An amble through Liverpool One to examine how it had brought the Albert Dock seamlessly into the pedestrian flow, followed by an examination of Castle Street/Water Street and Victoria Street to marvel at the great commercial architecture and ponder on why Manchester and Leeds had taken away Liverpool’s role as a banking and insurance centre. Charlie had an endless stream of questions about how I saw Liverpool’s future – which I am still pondering. Rental yields in Manchester and Leeds are substantially higher than Liverpool – which equates to developers looking there rather than here (and both cities are regarded as being more business friendly).
With heavy questions on my mind, we headed towards the University and Georgian Quarter, stopping at 19 Abercromby Square (now part of Liverpool University) to admire the remaining symbols of what was the unofficial consulate of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, before heading off towards Falkner Square. The light was perfect and I stopped to photograph the fine terrace in Back Falkner Street South. We could have been in Knightsbridge or other exclusive London areas. Whatever Liverpool’s future is, it has the physical assets that few other British cities have. I felt a great sense of pride walking along Canning Street and Huskisson Street before heading down to the Baltic Triangle to examine how creative businesses were transforming a previously semi-derelict area.
We continued with a tour of Port Sunlight – one of the most astonishing housing experiments in Europe – and that forerunner of all public parks, Birkenhead Park, before crossing back to look at the vast empty acres of Liverpool Waters by Stanley Dock. If this is the future of Liverpool, it would be good to see some activity, the place is eerily deserted and raises so many questions about Peel’s intentions.
Fortunately, we finished on another high as I drove round Sefton Park. There was a wedding in the Palm House and everything looked magical. A great day to be a tourist in my own city.
Following up with the last post, here is another fascinating interior. This time, I know the exact location and year it was taken. The year is 1890 and the location is 65 Renshaw Street. Had you asked me what the interior was, I would have suggested a rather upmarket fashion shop (although they were mainly on Bold Street at that time). Checking my Gore’s Directory for 1893, all becomes clear. The premises were occupied by John Wannop & Sons, decorators. Obviously more than mere house decorators – more like interior designers. They were still there in 1910 but my next Directory for 1932 has BNB Radios occupying the shop.
Renshaw Street is somewhat off the main stream of footfall for it to be thriving. The loss of Rapid Hardware (on the opposite side of the street) diminished its appeal. I am somewhat surprised, it could be an exciting area for a good mix of independent retailers. At the moment, 65 is a rather sad looking Noodle Bar, with empty properties all around. Once the redevelopment of Lime Street is underway (hopefully saving a certain cinema facade), attention needs focusing further along to the east.
It is time to move on from the last post – the chocolate must be long past its sell-by date.
Today’s image intrigues me. It was taken by J. Mayle, photographer of 28 Bold Street. The date is probably mid-1870s. Mayle lived in West Derby from 1864 to 1872, working as a photographic artist, before moving to Derby (Derbyshire). The firm continued in Liverpool under the name J.Mayle and Sons until at least 1908 – so the dating of the image might well be out by a few years.
It is, however, the subject matter that is interesting. Of course, there is always a strong possibility that the interior is not in Liverpool at all. It has a grandeur that could only match it to a very limited number of buildings. The Town Hall and St George’s Hall are both ruled out (I know what they look like). The Custom House is a possibility but it was built in a strict Classical style to the design of John Foster, the Town Surveyor. James Picton, in his Memorials of Liverpool (a must read reference book – even if published in 1873), was unimpressed by the building, which he considered dark and dingy. The dome was supported internally on Ionic columns – which rules the Custom House out of consideration. This leaves only one secular building with a dome – the now demolished Exchange Newsroom. The Exchange Building (on Exchange Flags) was originally a fine Georgian building, which opened in 1808. After fifty years, it was decided to replace it with a more commodious building and in 1862 work started on its replacement, a Gothic building designed by TM Wyatt in a style described as Flemish Renaissance by Picton – who added that the Newsroom “is a noble apartment, free from all obstructions and well-suited for its purpose.” The new building opened in 1867 yet, like its predecessor, was to survive for little more than half a century with work starting on its replacement (the current Exchange Buildings) in the 1930s. The War stopped work temporarily and demolition and replacement was completed by the early 1950s.
I have searched in vain for an interior photograph of the Newsroom. The date of its opening is close to the date of the photograph – so it would have been of interest as a symbol of the new Liverpool. Can anyone throw any light on this?
First of all, apologies for a long absence which has been due to family circumstances. These are now behind me, so I am back with renewed energy. I will start going through the many requests I have received in the next couple of weeks.
The image above might surprise anyone born post-1953. On February 5th of that year, sweet rationing was abolished to the delight of children. According to newspapers, piggy-banks were emptied and shops were cleared out of stock in hours. Apparently, toffee apples, sticks of nougat and liquorice strips were the best sellers. Adults joined in, with 2lb boxes of chocolates and boiled sweets the favourites.
The photograph pre-dates this sugar rush. The sign states that this is their entire stock and no pre-orders can be taken in advance of the Saturday sale. How cruel for the three tots standing outside. From another perspective, with sugar such an issue today and with sweets available by almost every till in every shop, perhaps the idea of rationing might not be the worst idea for the sake of public health.
Marie with her mother and lodger (who Marie was clearly unhappy with)
Patsy with his pet duck, Oswald, and hen
Bobbie at home with her baby
I often get annoyed by the tiresome ‘enmity’ between Manchester and Liverpool. Football is tribal and the rivalry is understandable but I frequently talk to people who have an almost pathological hatred for the other city. Competition can fuel ambition but it can also hold back development. A united North is, in my eyes, far more powerful than a divided one. As someone who has spent all his life in three great Northern cities – Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool – I tend to see similarities rather than differences, positives rather than negatives.
In this light, I hope readers will forgive me for travelling 40 miles eastwards. Beeton Grove is in Levenshulme, near to the centre of Manchester. In the 1970s, Chris Hunt photographed the inhabitants of this wholly working-class terraced street in Manchester. However, the book is far more than a collection of great photographs because Chris also interviewed his subjects about their lives and hopes, giving a unique insight into life in a hard industrial city in the 1970s.
I only wish someone had done the same in Liverpool – although I am sure there would be many common factors in their lives. Beeton Grove is a very powerful statement and I have decided to turn the 100+ photographs and interviews into a book. Follow the link and find out more (and any support would be very gratefully received).
Looking NW from Tunnel Road, 1970
First of all, my apologies for the long delay in posting a new blog. Unfortunately I had computer problems which have necessitated upgrading my system. All is well now and normal service is resumed.
I was interested to see that the Liverpool Echo has revived its Stop the Rot campaign. It is important that the city’s heritage is put under the spotlight. Too much has been lost unnecessarily and highlighting why buildings are important is essential to avoid past mistakes being repeated. As you might guess from previous posts, I am somewhat cynical about how far developers and public authorities are prepared to go once money is involved (the developers want to make it and the public authorities don’t want to spend it). That said, there are some ground for optimism. I have been helping with a publication about the Produce Exchange in Victoria Street – a building with a fine interior which is about to be converted into luxury apartments which will emphasise the original Edwardian details.
Other ground for optimism are the conversions of the Royal Insurance Building on North John Street, the ex-Municipal Annexe on Dale Street and the White Star Building on James Street into luxury hotels (with considerable respect for original features). This is all very promising, as are the pending plans for the Wellington Rooms (Irish Centre) on Mount Pleasant and the Welsh Presbyterian church on Princes Avenue. Not all buildings are safe but it is encouraging that in many cases, developers can see commercial benefits in not knocking down buildings to build the usual bland blocks of flats and offices (although Lime Street proves that they will only go so far).
The photograph shows the kind of ruthless approach that was adopted in the 1960s and 70s as Liverpool struggled to adjust to a falling population and an inherited stock of poor housing. The wholesale clearance of areas is even more shocking as time goes on. St Catherine’s church (More recently demolished) on Tunnel Road stands almost alone in a flattened landscape sandwiched between the two railway cuttings. On the left is newly opened Paddington School and, in mid-distance, the tenement blocks of Myrtle Gardens.
Perhaps there was no other way forward at the time. The problem was that there were no real plans to revive the area (and others like it). A great opportunity was lost to rebuild the city with imaginative and community-orientated housing schemes that might have prevented many of the social issues that we now face. Money again, I suppose. Rather than spend on quality, as was the case in the 1930s when some of the best council housing in Europe was built, everything got done on the cheap – which everyone knows is never a long-term solution.
I love photographs like this one of Lewis’s Soda Fountain. Taken on 30 August 1933 at 9.12 (if the clock is right). Photographs like this tell us so much – the men in charge in their suits, in central position, with a large staff of seventeen young men and women looking, in the main, rather miserable for the photographer. Social photography like this is so often lost when family albums are thrown out. Lewis’s is an important part of Liverpool’s history and images like this, of just one department, show how big an undertaking it was at its height.
It is sad to think that everyone in the photograph has probably long since died. There is a poignant message on the back of the photograph: “To my Darling Mother with best love from your loving daughter”. No doubt she is one of the young girls – maybe the only one smiling on the front row.
90 Duke Street (site of the Royal Mersey Yacht Club) 1975
The Monro (on the opposite corner, 1975
Duke Street in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was one of Liverpool’s finest streets. There are still good examples of its past, although far harder to find than thirty years ago. The buildings on the corner of Suffolk Street are a good example. They had survived until early this year but were unceremoniously pulled down to make way for a new headquarters for ACL.
Some might say that is a positive sign of progress, that the old buildings were a blot on the cityscape with no apparent interest in their salvation. Others, myself included, see their removal as yet another attack on the city’s heritage. Alright, the buildings were no architectural gems, just survivors from the past with their own bit of maritime history. Number 90 was the headquarters of the Royal Mersey Yacht Club, once one of the finest in Britain. It welcomed many an important dignitary (not that that is a reason in itself to save a building). More importantly, it fitted into the historical fabric of the street.
Could it have been saved? Well – it should have been. You only have to cross the street to admire the renovated and successful Monro gastro pub. That could just of easily been lost but someone had the vision to restore it and guarantee its future.
Liverpool’s heritage is threatened by these small, almost imperceptible, losses. The old eighteenth century block on Dale Street, the facade of the Futurist, the stable block at Cain’s Brewery. This is like the bad, old days, when any development was preferable to no development. There is a car park opposite The Monro, where an ugly 1960s block once stood. Wouldn’t a better solution have been for ACL to have built their block there?
The Strand c1865
The Great Dry Dock, 1890
Liverpool 800, that fine book published to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Liverpool’s first charter, describes the area around the Custom House as Sailor Town. Maybe it is not a commonly used expression but it is entirely appropriate, for this small area was the centre of Liverpool’s shipping trade. Sadly, although remnants of The Strand survived into the mid-1970s, there is little left to excite the keen historian wishing to make sense of the Port’s history. Only the Baltic Fleet survives of the many public houses that would have been thronged with visiting sailors. Heap Mill is a rare warehouse survivor in an area in which the predominate building was the tall, filing cabinet structures that lined every street.
The top photograph is an early view, with the Custom House’s impressive classical facade dominating the street. The position of the dome indicates what a huge building it was (although it apparently had a rather dingy and depressing interior). Its position is approximately where the Hilton Hotel now stands, facing the Albert Dock.
The second view shows the facade of the Custom House from the Albert Dock. The repair of the old wooden ships must have been coming to an end. There are two ships in the dry dock, with a small gathering of bystanders unknowingly watching a dying trade in ship maintenance.