Catholic Evidence Guild, 1955
Chinese hostel, Chinatown, 1942
My latest book is about that brilliant photojournalist, Bert Hardy. Bert was born into a poor working-class family in Blackfriars in South London in 1913. Leaving school at fourteen, his first job was as a delivery boy with a photographic printing company. Fascinated by the photographic process, Bert bought himself a secondhand camera and started taking photographs of pub outings and other local events, selling copies to make a few extra shillings.
From there, he soon progressed to freelancing his work, combining his love of cycling to take photos of races for The Bicycle magazine. Using the newly introduced 35mm ‘miniature’ cameras, he was able to catch action with a flexibility that was not possible with the standard plate film press cameras used by most professional photographers.
Bert’s photographs were eventually noticed by the editor of Picture Post magazine, Tom Hopkinson, who took him on as a staff photographer on the trailblazing magazine that was redefining the use of photographs in Britain. Apart from spending three years in the Army’s Film and Photographic Unit, Bert became a mainstay of Picture Post until its demise in 1957. His outstanding work includes such iconic photographs as the two Gorbals boys and the two girls on the railings at Blackpool with their skirts billowing in the breeze. He visited Liverpool regularly and I have reproduced two of the images from the book courtesy of Getty Images. The first is of a lady espousing the virtues of Catholicism (I am guessing – the photograph is captioned the Catholic Evidence Guild). The other is a very atmospheric image of four Chinese sailors sitting round a table in a Chinese hostel in Chinatown. In a much earlier post, I have mentioned the dreadful way Chinese merchant sailors were treated (they were expected to take all the risks on the convoys at a fraction of the pay of British seamen with no compensation for death in service).
The book Bert Hardy’s Britain is now available and is, if I may be so bold, the best book I have ever done, with over 200 of Bert’s photographs taken between 1940 and 1956.
Following my last post about Sefton Park Meadows, the City council has taken another step towards approving the sell off of this important green space. Mayor Anderson claims that the impending ‘bankruptcy’ of the Council leaves him no other option and that the people of Liverpool understand and are behind him. I doubt his assumption and can only ask why this particular piece of land? There are acres of brownfield land that needs regenerating, so why choose perhaps the most sensitive plot for luxury, speculative housing.
Today’s photograph is of one such brownfield site that has been successfully redeveloped. The architecture of the new Princes Dock is bland and unexciting but, at least, it contributes to the regeneration of the city. Its redevelopment came at the early stages of Liverpool’s renaissance – perhaps too early in the sense that later development might have meant better buildings. However, as Quentin Hughes once pointed out to me, most buildings are only temporary and will be replaced in the course of time – unlike green space which once built on will nearly always remain built on.
The 1880s view of Princes Dock has only one familiar landmark – the spire of the Church of St Nicholas. The scene is devoid of people and, judging by the lack of shadows, must have been taken close to midday. My guess is on a Sunday. At any other time, the dock would have been a hive of activity. The long exposure meant that movement would be blurred, so the photographer has timed his exposure to eliminate such a risk.
First of all, my apologies for the long silence. I have been finishing off four books and moving offices at the same time. I needed to clear my head, so have given the blog a break. Now I can do some serious catching up, starting with three great images taken by Tom Owens in 1972. A student at the time, Tom recorded the area around the new Royal Hospital on Prescot Street. His two images of a School Health Clinic made me smile. I have tried to locate it but without luck. The third photograph is definitely Prescot Street and shows the hospital near to completion. That was forty years ago and, before long, the hospital will be replaced. Perhaps medical changes over four decades demand a new building. Rather, I feel, the 1970s building was ill-conceived from the start; a near-obsolete model that has never been much more than an eyesore – like many of the 1960s tower blocks which have also been mercifully demolished.
You can’t win! My last blog showing a very early photograph of an Orange parade by the Museum triggered a number of unpleasant posts – the gist of which were that I was a bigot for having the temerity to post anything to do with such an important part of Liverpool’s history. No apologies from me – but all abusive posts are removed as a matter of course. This site is for those genuinely interested in the way Liverpool is represented by photography – not as somewhere to vent unreasoned and bigoted opinions.
That’s got that off my chest – so on to today’s blog: an unusual street view of Old Hall Street and the newly built Cotton Exchange. I add unusual because it is an amateur’s photograph and I haven’t seen any others of the street. The woman with her bucket gives a dramatic feel to the early morning scene. I am guessing the photograph was taken shortly after the Exchange was opened in 1906. A fine Edwardian Baroque building, it had a short life, or at least the facade did. The side elevations still survive but the fine colonnaded facade was unceremoniously replaced by a dreary moden frontage in 1967. A sad loss for the building symbolised Liverpool’s first ranking in the cotton trade.
I promise to post no more July 12th photographs for the foreseeable future but today’s image is somewhat special. I am guessing it was taken in about 1890 (possibly slightly earlier or later) and, as such, represents the earliest visual record of this annual event. The building on the right is the Museum (its current steps were introduced when the street was lowered in 1902). Lloyd’s Outfitters in the background, were at 1-3 Byrom Street – and were there throughout the late 1870s into the 1890s. My only other clues to the date are the clothing – never a precise way of dating – and the nature of the photograph (a carte de visite which had fallen out of popularity by the early 1890s).
The actual date aside, the photograph shows a large crowd stretching to the foot of Dale Street. I know very little about the history of the Orange parades but here is a bit of visual evidence that can be added to our understanding of Liverpool’s history, however unsavoury it has been at times.
Below is a close up of the large banner – ‘Lily of the North’ with a large central image of King Billy on his stallion.
It is fast coming round to July 12th and the annual Orange Lodge marches. I have posted photographs in the early days of this blog of a procession along London Road in the 1970s. Recently, I acquired a set of rather scratched glass plate negatives taken in the 1950s of a procession marching along Netherfield Road South at its junction with Upper Beau Street. Netherfield Road was at the heart of Orange Lodge territory, looking down towards Great Homer Street and the homes of the Catholic community.
The history of sectarianism in Liverpool is not an attractive one. Bloodshed was a regular feature of the marches, creating tensions that have taken generations to reduce. Today the marches are much smaller, although there are many who feel they have no part in a modern society. The photographs are a valuable piece of history, though – a record of life that cannot be erased. In my next blog, I will post the earliest photograph I have seen of this annual celebration of a battle now over 300 years ago.
My apologies for the gap since my last post but I have just returned from holiday. After two weeks in the sun, it was inevitable that I would return to rain! Today’s photograph taken in Lord Street looking towards Church Street is clearly one of those rainy days. I am guessing it is in the mid-1890s. Bunney’s had not been built (on the corner of Whitechapel) but the other clues such as the clothes, omnibus, shop names only give an approximate date. The group on the left all look prosperous – especially the man with the top hat and his female partner. There is a wealth of detail there: look at the dog following the omnibus (below) and what a shame the magnificent lampposts weren’t saved.
I have had a lot of requests for photographs, which I am busy sorting out. My next few posts will be a catch-up on as many places I can find.
I have tended to concentrate on how the physical shape of Liverpool has changed over the years. Social changes are often a bit more subtle to capture on film. In today’s case, however, there is no room for any ambiguity. The carte de visite (probably 1880s) proclaims ‘the most wonderful child ever exhibited’. On the reverse: The INFANT JUMBO is only six years of Age, Weighs 206lbs!! Height 4ft5in! Circumference of bare Chest 50 inches!! and the rest of his body in proportion. Exhibited for the first time at Reynold’s Exhibition, facing St George’s Hall, Lime Street, Liverpool.
Reynold’s Exhibition was an early example of the American ‘dime museums’, where everything and anything was exhibited under the banner of education and entertainment including, displays of the body beautiful or grotesque, painted panoramic scenes, fasting men and fat women and magic and illusion tricks. Reynold’s was one of the most long-standing and prominent venues in the North of England. The original waxworks exhibition opened in 1858 and initially the attractions were based on the model presented by Tussauds in London. However, over the decades the main focus of the entertainments on offer became very different, comprising of live entertainment shows and their particular specialisation, freaks of nature. Despite the popularity of the waxworks, Reynolds continued to change and refresh the type of attractions on display perhaps in order to compete with the range and variety of attractions presented by rival concerns in Lime Street. The inclusion of live entertainment alongside anatomical models, waxworks and the chamber of horrors was bringing to the British spectating public the type of entertainments first promoted by Barnum in the ten in one dime show or museum. Opening hours in Reynolds followed this pattern of all day entertainments with patrons being admitted at 10am until 10pm. Cost of admission started at threepence with the price increasing to sixpence if one wanted to enjoy the entertainments that were shown twice a day (3pm and 8pm). Acts comprised of the performing fleas, the Norwegian Giant and Tiny Tim, and a vocal and instrumental recital by Miss Beatrice Vaughan, as well as a mystic magical entertainment by Major Devono. Children who were employed for entertainment purposes at this time included the Infant Jumbo, the ‘most wonderful child ever exhibited’, who at the age of six weighed over 205 lbs. By the late 1880s and early 1890s it appears that the show side of the exhibition was the means by which the exhibitors could constantly refresh the attractions on view. The use of novelties and freaks to entertain and educate the public was a continuation of a side-show tradition taken directly from the fairgrounds and shop-shows and marketed by Barnum to a higher level than previous attained, freak shows as presented by Barnum were not on the edges of society or part of illegitimate theatre practices but firmly within the mainstream and appealed to a family audience.
By 1894 live entertainment appears to be a mainstay of the attractions on offer. Princess Paulina, the Living Doll makes her first appearance at the exhibition, later modelled into a waxwork effigy in the historical waxworks hall. Ethnographic attractions also became a feature of the exhibition with both the Aztecs and the Circassisan Brothers thrilling audiences in October 1894. Reynold’s Waxworks Exhibition opened its doors from 1858 to 1922 and provided the people of Liverpool with a range of shows and attractions all within one fixed venue. Catering for a largely working class audience, it maintained its position as an arena for spectacular and entertainment for over seven decades all for the price of a sixpence. Incorporating waxworks, live performances, freak show exhibits and the latest technological wonders of the age, it contents may have been largely British in character but the exhibition was both inspired and presented through American showmanship and exhibition practices. (Taken from the National Fairground Archive).
Today, the idea of exhibiting an obese six year old to a paying audience is almost beyond comprehension. We may not like how the physical fabric of the city has sometimes changed but in the case of the exhibiting of so-called ‘freaks’, I doubt there is anyone who would call it entertainment.
Regular readers of my blog will be used to my posts about the unnecessary damage to Liverpool’s architectural heritage over the decades. Today’s image presents a different take on what has happened over the last 30 years. The key date was 1984 with the International Garden Festival, the Tall Ships’ Race and the most enduring legacy, the reopening of the Albert Dock. If anyone is in any doubt as to the significance of the latter event, the photograph above is a reminder of how far the neglect had gone, with the dock filled with millions of tons of silt following a Dock Board decision to keep the dock gates open. The photograph must have been taken only a couple of years before the re-opening (the police headquarters are complete and operational). On the left, the Canning Place complex can be seen (it was finally demolished c2000) and in front of the Cathedral, the land has been cleared prior to new housing being built (a shame, I feel, I would have preferred to have kept the site as a landscape park).
Without a doubt, Liverpool has improved beyond measure in the last three decades. The re-opening of the Central Library is further proof that the city is going in the right direction. I went to the opening night and was blown away by the refurbishment and rebuild. If you haven’t had the chance yet – go and be amazed.
The name of the pub could not be clearer – but where is it. The name Sefton appears on many pubs – usually the Sefton Arms (there were 8 in 1964). Only three were named Sefton Hotel – one on North Hill Street, one on Smithdown Lane and the other on the corner of Robson Street and Vienna Street. Checking through my photos, I have discounted both North Hill Street and Smithdown Lane – so that points to Robson Street. I have my doubts though. I am pretty certain the pub has been demolished – so it would be useful to know exactly where it was.
The photograph above, of Commutation Row, sums up the way Liverpool’s heritage has been treated in recent years. An interesting row of nineteenth century buildings, none of great architectural merit perhaps, could have been restored to enhance the magnificence of St George’s Plateau and William Brown Street. Instead they are pulled down to make way for an undistinguished block of offices for a housing association, which soon after vacated them. Why is it so difficult for decision-makers to understand what is worth keeping? Does developers’ money always get the last word? Let us hope the plans for Lime Street are not for wholesale clearance and replacement by nondescript architecture.