The current humanitarian disaster in Iraq brought to mind one of my most poignant and interesting images – that of a group of emigrants waiting by the quayside in Liverpool. I am speculating that they are Russian or Polish Jews fleeing persecution in their homelands. (The photograph is probably late 1880s).
It is estimated that over nine million emigrants left Liverpool for the New World. Many left for economic reasons, leaving behind poverty in their European homeland to take their chances in America. Others, probably the ones in the photograph above, were fleeing for their lives. Anyone who visited the fascinating Chagall exhibition at the Tate last year will be familiar with the story of how Jews in Russia were confined to the Pale of Settlement – a geographical area covering an area that is now Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine. Frequent anti-semitic pogroms and purges left Jews in fear of their lives and more than two million Jews fled Russia between 1880 and 1920.
Sadly, I can add no more information about the photograph. There are no names – only desperate faces. The two details below give some idea of what it must be like to flee with little more than the clothes on your back.
St John’s Market/Parker Street/Elliot Street 1964
St George’s Place 1960s
Standing in the throngs outside St George’s Hall last Saturday, I tried in vain to photograph the giants’ progress through the city. Too many people and I was in the wrong place. Standing opposite that awful advertising hoarding that shrouds the Lime Street side of St John’s Market, however, reminded me of a newspaper cutting I had saved for a future blog. New Giant in City shouts the Echo headline. But this is for 22 September 1962 and the giant was a dual proposal for the Ravenseft development to demolish the old St John’s Market area and another scheme to replace Central Station (and the adjoining Lyceum Club) with a 30 storey tower block (the Ranelagh Centre).
These were the swashbuckling days of out with the old and in with the new. Liverpool was to be modernised and history was bunk.
Fortunately the Ranelagh Centre scheme did not progress as planned, although Central Station was demolished and an awful low level development replaced it (the Lyceum was saved thanks to Michael Heseltine). What I find interesting reading the Echo is the unconditional support the newspaper always gives for such schemes. There is no hint of any sense that anything is being lost – simply that all such developments are good for a modern city. Ironically, the Chairman of the Development and Planning Committee was reported as saying: “We have been late in getting ahead, but the architects have possibly learned from some of the mistakes already brought about in other parts of the country and we have not only learned from them but have used it to advantage.” Lessons learned? That developers will promise the earth and fail to deliver, that shiny and new is not the same as good, that historic fabric can never be replaced?
In that context, yesterday’s decision to grant Heap Mill listed status is an interesting development. My fear is that the site will now be blighted because developers will walk away from the huge cost of any conservation project. It might appear my stance contradicts what I have written above but I do not think Heap Mill is a significant building and I would rather see the site redeveloped sympathetically. Oh dear! I am beginning to sound a bit like that Chairman of the Development Committee.
Heap Mill, Beckwith Street, 1980
Bridgewater Street, 1980
Bridgewater Street, June 2014
I picked up a leaflet this week asking me to sign a petition to save Heap Mill. The ex-rice mill is in a prominent position facing Albert Dock and next to the Formule 1 hotel on Liver Street. Planning permission is being sought to demolish the dilapidated warehouse complex to build a block of apartments. Those in favour of the new development (according to online sources) seem to be fairly evenly split with those wishing to save the mill and see it converted to other uses. The conservation lobby argue that warehouses were a key element in Liverpool’s history and only a small number of the larger complexes remain. So on which side do I fall?
My heart is with those wishing to hold on to buildings which have such a key relationship with the city’s trading past but, in this case, I can see no future for what is a rather grim block which has long since served its purpose. I can see no developer coming forward to convert the building, which has bulk but little aesthetic charm – the cost would be astronomical.
What bemuses me is that two key warehouses on Bridgewater Street have just been demolished without, to my knowledge, any fuss being stirred up. Admittedly, again, the warehouses were little more than facades having been burnt out some years ago – but their prominence at the gateway to the Baltic Triagle was impressive.
I started by business life in a run-down warehouse om Manesty’s Lane. Apparently, the building was Tate and Lyle’s first warehouse but when I moved in (in 1973) it was almost a shell. The floor plan was literally a rectangle with a heavily beamed ceiling with a circular stone case in the corner as access. The roof leaked because of the parapet roof construction, it had no running water and in winter (or most of the year) was bitterly cold because of the metal loading doors on each level. My recollection of Liverpool at that time was of street after street lined with similar obsolete buildings, all decaying. I can think of no other city in England that had such dereliction within a few yards of its main streets.
So, sadly (for I am a great believer in keeping the best examples of our heritage), I will have to go with the modernisers on the Heap Mill question. There are more important battles to be fought.
In my last post, I brought up the problem of dating photographs. Probably only one in ten of my vintage images has a date that can be considered reliable. The other 90% I have to give an approximate date according to the photographic process used (only reliable to within ten years at the best), a specific event, people’s dress or buildings that existed at the time (again, often only good to within ten years).
On the whole, this is not a serious problem – more of a desire to be as accurate as possible. With many street photographs, it is easy to say 1890s but in quite a few cases, some of my images of bare-footed children were taken up to the early 1900s. (The fact that hand-held cameras only really started to make an impact in the early 1890s is one helpful clue).
Fortunately, the photograph of a busy Pier Head turned out to be relatively easy to date thanks to the internet. Reading up on the history of the ferries, it turns out that the Alexandra (the ferry in the foreground) was only in service for one year – in 1890. It was chartered for that year only (why and from whom is not stated). I imagine it must have been named after Princess Alexandra – consort of the Prince of Wales. I suppose I should dig deeper but, to be honest, transport history is not really my bag. Perhaps some informed reader can fill in the gaps.
One of the frustrations of interpreting historic photographs is correctly dating them. Perhaps the most popular subject for the Victorian photographer was St George’s Hall – and no wonder. When it opened in 1854, it must have been an astonishing sight. Towering above the city, like the Parthenon on the Acropolis, this great statement of civic endeavour and intent must have had an immense psychological impact on the fast growing town.
I remember my first trip to Liverpool from Sheffield in 1966. As I left Lime Street, I was confronted by this immense building which was anything but provincial (as most of Sheffield’s architecture was). Even though it was soot-black, it had a startling presence with its impressive plateau and statuary, including the much under-valued Wellington’s Column.
Getting back to my starting point: dating Victorian photographs can be quite imprecise. Clothing can give a clue but fashions lingered on for years and is anything but foolproof. Similarly, shop names can give an indication. A new shop would have a new sign but many businesses had long lives. The clue in today’s photograph is the original staircase on the Southern facade (below the eight columns on the left hand side). This had been replaced by the current arrangement by 1855: according to Picton ‘Originally access was obtained from the street by two narrow flights of steps descending right and left from the centre: but the taste of the local dilettanti being offended, an appeal was made to the council, by whose authority they were removed, and the terrace finished as it now remains.’
So the photograph can be dated to around 1854 to 1855. Not as old as the photograph I published in October 2010 (which shows signs of construction still in progress) but close enough. What makes the photograph special is that it is signed Forrest – a founder member of Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association (established in 1853 as one of the world’s first photographic societies – it is now part of South Liverpool Photographic Society). John Alexander Forrest was a glass manufacturer in Lime Street and his image is the earliest one of Liverpool by a named photographer I have come across.
St George’s Hall seems to be on the fringe of the city centre rather than a central feature. The shabby state of Lime Street is apparently to be addressed but the soulless dual carriageway and the dreadful lump that is St John’s Market with its crude advertising hoarding also need sorting. Do we really need a dual carriageway? If ever a site need creative thought and design, this would be my priority. By clever design, Liverpool One has brought the Albert Dock and Pier Head back into life. Now we need an equally smart solution for the Lime Street area.
Walton Breck Road, 2011
Walton Breck Road, 2011
First of all, my profuse apologies for the long period of absence. I went to New Zealand to visit my son and the time off threw me out of sync. Coupled with an enforced decision to stop publishing books about Liverpool, I needed time out for a rethink.
The collapse of the local book market is worrying. For the last seven years, the number of bookshops in the city centre (and throughout England) has been reducing at an alarming rate. When I started publishing in the mid-1980s, there were 14 or more bookshops I can reel off. One by one they have closed and now just Waterstones in Liverpool One and News from Nowhere in Bold Street survive as dedicated bookshops. It makes no financial sense to publish books with such a small number of outlets so, until times change, I have thrown in the towel and will concentrate on books about photo-journalism which I can sell nationally. Sad times for me, having published over 200 Liverpool titles over the years. I am proud of my back catalogue and hope that some of the books have helped educate and change attitudes about a great city. Maybe some new publisher will take up the challenge and keep alive Bluecoat Press’s legacy. I doubt it is possible but good luck to anyone who has a go.
Back to today’s images and the point of my blog. I have previously stated my hope that I can open it up to contributors who can add their images and commentary. Increasingly, I would like to post images and thoughts about Liverpool today – without ignoring historic images. Liverpool, arguably, is undergoing the greatest change in the last century. I am very positive about most things that are happening. There is a sense of confidence that I feel every time I walk around the centre. To take one example: I was cynical about the Baltic Triangle Creative Quarter when it was mooted. I was based there and thought it unlikely to attract new businesses in what was then a bleak place, albeit only a five minute walk from Liverpool One.How wrong could I be. There is a waiting list of businesses for space and cafés and performance venues have sprung up as well as an academy for 14-18s. Hats off to the people who had the vision to make it all happen – and this is just one project.
The photos I have posted were taken six years ago (when the two American cowboys announced that Anfield was to be rebuilt in Stanley Park). I decided to start recording match day as a historical record and was particularly taken by the fast food outlets around the ground. These are the kind of images I am looking for – images that will give a picture of everyday life in the 21st century. Send in your images with an explanation of where, what, when and who and I will hopefully take this blog in a new direction along with my publishing.
Looking north from the Cathedral tower, 1962
Looking south from the Cathedral tower, 1962
The view from Liverpool Cathedral’s tower is one of the best vantage points to observe Liverpool. I have photographs dating back to the early 1950s and it is intriguing to see how much change has taken place. The two featured photographs, taken in 1962, are a case in point, although the view north needs close examination. Much of the foreground is relatively unchanged. The domed church on the right is St Philip Neri on Catharine Street. Behind it is the old Women’s Hospital. Beyond, the rows of Georgian terraces have since been thinned out, almost to nothing. The massive chimney, top right. is near Crown Street. I have a history of it somewhere but cannot put my hands on it. I am sure someone will be able to both name it and give its location (and year of demolition). On the far left is the Lybro jeans factory on Mount Pleasant – removed during the extensive roadworks to improve access to the M62. The church tower on the horizon is Christ’s Church on Kensington.
The view to the south is dramatic. The river view is dominated by the two huge granaries, which were demolished in the late 1980s. Cain’s Brewery, immediately in front, is dominated by their huge bulk. On the left are the twin domes of the David Lewis Hostel and Theatre, another unnecessary 1980s casualty (to the inner ring road that was eventually abandoned). The roofs of the old Georgian houses that ran down from the western side of the Cathedral to Great Georges Street were all to disappear within twenty years. In fact, the only noticeable survivors of this view are Cain’s Brewery and the Contemporary Urban Centre (the large warehouse to the far right, which is now an academy. The building that intrigues me is the tall, turreted building to the left of Cain’s (on the edge of the photograph). Any ideas?
Enough of Lost Streets and the past for a while and on to what could have been (and still could be) the future.
In 1956, when the survival of Liverpool Overhead was being fought for, and lost, a model of its potential replacement was shown in Liverpool by the International Monorail Company. The £2000 model was for a suspended railway to run between London and London Airport, carrying 60 passengers at up to 70 mph.
I am a great fan of monorails. Their installation appears to cause far less disruption than trams and are visually more stimulating. They also have a wow factor which Liverpool is ideally suited to benefit from. Imagine a monorail linking the city along the waterfront out to John Lennon Airport! Liverpool needs ambitious transport infrastructure projects. John Alexander Brodie, as City Engineer, was a man of great vision – planning the orbital Queens Drive, the first major modern inter-city road connection (the East Lancs Road) as well as the Mersey Tunnel. He saw the necessity of building a proper transport network to ensure economic growth and the argument is no different today, with the pressure building up to extend HS2 into Liverpool directly. What is important is not just to cut journey times to London and provide faster and more efficient freight transport (particularly with the new L2 Container project well underway) but also to make sure we have a more efficient and environmentally sound internal network. I think monorails are well worth another look.
St George’s Hill 1967
Terraces, Everton, 1969
Unknown street, Everton, 1969
Three more views photographed by Alan Swerdlow in the late 1960s. I hope I am right about the first view being of St George’s Hill – if not, I am sure I will be quickly corrected. The newly completed tower blocks only add to the bleakness of the view. They have since been demolished and Everton Park now fills the space. I have made my opinion known before about the disastrous effect of the way in which the post-War housing clearances were imposed upon Liverpool and I know most readers share my views. Perhaps the point of disagreement is over the extent of the demolition. Looking at the other two photographs, I have little doubt that they had reached (over-reached!) their lifespan and had to go. The middle photograph, in particular, illustrates the remarkable ability of property speculators to cram in as many houses into the smallest space. The rich landowners made their millions out of capitalising on the misery of the poor. Rings a bell somewhere!
Havelock Street 1967
Cicero Terrace 1969
Michael and Alan Swerdlow will be well known to many. Their pioneering company, Modern Kitchen Equipment was a familiar site next to the Philharmonic Hall (and before that on the corner of Duke Street and Colquitt Street). Sadly it fell victim to the recession that hit hard back in 1999. In their time, they were well ahead of the competition and, had they survived just a few years, Liverpool’s recent restaurant boom would have seen them prosper and expand. Apart from his work with MKE, Alan was also Chairman of the Bluecoat Society of Arts and a keen photographer. Today’s photographs were taken by Alan and kindly supplied to me by his brother Michael.
More about MKE in a future post. To continue with the Lost Streets theme, the photograph of Havelock Street will hopefully lead to a few gasps of recognition from the children in the photo – who will all be in their 50s now. If readers put Havelock Street in the search box, they will be able to compare today’s image with Karl Hughes’s photo of a few years earlier.
The second photograph is of Cicero Terrace, less than a hundred yards from Havelock Street (off Northumberland Terrace). A suitably winter’s scene but hardly in the Christmas card category.