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.
I started off the Streets of Liverpool blog back in January 2010 with this picture of three boys and asked the question: Whatever happened to the Likely Lads? Now, after nearly three years, I have got the answer and a surprising one at that. A message on my answerphone at work revealed all. Bob Doyle, approaching his 65th birthday, had been browsing in The Book Clearance Centre in St John’s Market (the best bookshop for local history in Liverpool), when he stumbled across The Streets of Liverpool book. There, on the front cover was Bob – the tall boy on the right hand side – with two mates. The boy on the far left he identified as Johnny Flood – who later joined the Merchant Navy and died some twenty years ago. He was less sure about the small boy in the centre and will get back to me with more information.
Bob lived in a one-bedroomed house in Hutton Street, off Athol Street. He shared a bed with his parents and sister, with an army great-coat as a blanket. His father worked as a docker when he could get work and times were tough. Bob did the rounds of local primary schools, including St Anthony’s, St Silvester’s and Ashfield Street, but was clever enough to pass the Eleven Plus and earn a place at St Edward’s College. From St Edward’s, he won a place to study Geography (and English) at Sheffield University and returned to Liverpool to complete 30 years teaching at St Edward’s as a geography teacher known to generations of pupils as ‘Docker’ Doyle. (Bob says his moniker came about early in his career when pupils reacted with surprise to his strong Liverpool accent. “I’m from Liverpool and my father was a docker – and I’m proud of that” Bob told them – and so he became ‘Docker Doyle’).
Bob has promised to tell me more – but he did add that he thinks the photograph was taken on the corner of Hankin Street and Cranmer Street.
The timely mention of The Streets of Liverpool book brings me neatly around to my promotional plug. Volume Two arrived from the printers today and is another collection of photographs and blogs from the last year and a half (with additional previously unpublished items). Obviously the ideal present for Christmas – it is available from The Book Clearance Centre, Waterstones etc and directly from Amazon (http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-listing/1908457120/ref=dp_olp_new?ie=UTF8&condition=new).
Wellington Column 1875
Wellington Column c1900
Wellington Column 1928
Liverpool has many fine monuments which would take pride of place in any city. Some are badly neglected, like the statue of George 111 in Monument Place, outside TJ Hughes. I use the word neglected in the sense that it is no longer the best site for such a noble statue (there are very few equestrian statues in Britain yet Liverpool has four of them, more than any other city outside of London). I would like to see it in a more prominent place – perhaps at the intersection of Church Street and Lord Street – where is can become a focal point.
The Wellington Column is another fine focal point but, again, is rather ignored. It is no less impressive than Nelson’s Column and every bit as striking as Grey’s Monument in Newcastle upon Tyne (and Grade 1 listed). Possibly the setting for Wellington is too overbearing, with some of the best municipal buildings in the country surrounding it. More probably, it is the location away from the centre of the city. Grey’s Monument is in the heart of the shopping area and is an obvious landmark for people to meet, and Nelson’s Column has a fantastic location in front of the National Gallery and at a major traffic junction. Our Wellington is just a bit cut off now that traffic through Lime Street has largely been diverted. Sad too that the fine range of Victorian buildings on Commutation Road were so unnecessarily pulled down for the bland housing association building. (Incidentally, the church to the left of the column in the 1928 photo is Holy Trinity on St Anne Street, late eighteenth century and demolished in 1970. The church with a spire, on the right, is St Francis Xavier on Salisbury Street).
A Francis Frith photograph of Albert Dock and the Custom House. The date is approximate but it is certainly pre-1878 because Lyster’s Albert Hydraulic Power Centre (or The Pumphouse as it is now known) has not been built.
Frith is the great pioneer of Liverpool photography – and he was active from the early 1850s. Annoyingly, although there are hundreds of his early photographs of other English towns and landmarks (in particular cathedrals, abbeys and churches), I have come across no photographs by him pre-1870. I still hold out hope that there are photographs in some collection – there are still many unexplored sources. If there are 1850 photographs, they would coincide with the completion of St George’s Hall, so I would expect it to be the most likely candidate (Frith and Company photographed it many times in later years). I would hope that the waterfront would feature but, in many ways, the view shown above would have looked quite similar to a photograph taken in the 1850s. I would not expect to find heavily peopled photographs, photographic plates were far too slow to capture movement and photographers generally settled for unpeopled landscapes and building shots.
Nevertheless, the 1870s photographs give a strong impression of an important seaport and underline the great loss to Liverpool’s architectural heritage when the Custom House was first firebombed and then unnecessarily demolished after the War.
My apologies for the lack of activity in recent weeks but I have been on holiday to India, where I spotted this marvellous sign. India is an experience like no other. Temples and palaces are falling down and, in the case of the palaces where I found the sign, over-run by monkeys. Yet the magnificence of the buildings is overwhelming. I was reminded of a newspaper article shortly after the Albert Dock re-opened in 1984, where the journalist derided the restoration as bourgeosification. He complained that by cleaning the soot-blackened bricks and stonework, the patina of decades had been lost and that the building was all the poorer for it. I was angered by the article at the time – like most people in Liverpool, the Albert Dock restoration marked a milestone in the city’s revival and a London-based writer’s observations seemed insensitive and gratuitous.
My travels in India, though, did chime with his sentiments to some extent. There is something romantic about buildings that are bashed around the corners. I remember the roads off Duke Street (Lydia Anne Street/Henry Street/York Street) which until relatively recently had the feels of the old seaport – you could almost imagine Charles Dickens on one of his Liverpool night trips with the police. They still exude an atmosphere but without the smell of rot and damp that once permeated the area.
Much has been done to improve Liverpool in the last decade but the idea of sustaining our heritage took a rather inglorious bash this week when the Victorian Society voted Langton Dock Pumping Station as one of its ten most important Victorian buildings at risk. Unfortunately, I haven’t got a photograph – something to rectify in the next few weeks. Isolated on the edge of a container park, it is a fine red brick building of 1879 by Lyster (although, surprisingly, Joseph Sharples omits it from his fine book on Liverpool’s architecture). Hopefully, Peel Holdings will put some effort into safeguarding the site (if it is their responsibility).
There are quite a number of buildings that are seriously at risk. Two I pass regularly are the Wellington Rooms on Mount Pleasant and the Welsh Presbyterian Church on Princes Road. Both are in a desperate state but not beyond salvation. The Wellington Rooms, in particular, could quite easily be restored as an arts venue. Better known in recent years as the Irish Centre, the building was erected in 1815 by public subscription following the Battle of Waterloo. Initially assembly rooms for dancing and concerts, the building has changed ownership on a number of occasions. After the last War, it became the Rodney Youth Centre, before being taken over by Liverpool’s Irish community.
Liverpool has precious few Georgian buildings of this quality. It really is time for action.
The Welsh Presbyterian Church is a more daunting prospect, since it has been stripped of its internal fittings and a large section of its roof. Its steeple is a magnificent sight but, unless action is taken, it won’t be there for future generations to enjoy.
First of all I must apologise for the dreadful error with my last post. As several readers have already pointed out, the photographs are of Richmond Fair NOT Cambridge Street Almhouses. Mea culpa! I have edited the post – so accurate information is now available. I can’t promise I won’t make mistakes in the future but please correct me when I do, there is nothing worse that putting out badly wrong information.
Today’s post was triggered by a walk past the now closed Lewis’s store in Ranelagh Street. Covered in scaffolding, it had a board up announcing a new Odeon cinema and a mix of fast food outlets to the Central Village. Having already dealt with the euphemistic term ‘Gardens’ when applied to tenements devoid of anything growing, I can’t help having a dig at whoever names these developments. No – it isn’t a Village – not in any context I understand. (Even less than Stockbridge Village). No cricket on the green or ducks in the (artificial) lake, I fear.
Nonetheless, I look forward to the development opening. At least Lewis’s has been saved and, hopefully, the statue by Jacob Epstein will look even better when set against the newly cleaned walls. Lewis’s original building was a victim of bombing in 1941. The replacement went up in 1947 – remarkably soon after the War ended. Materials were in short supply but the Portland stone cladding gives a quality of finish that must have been quite uplifting at that desperate time when the city was struggling to get back on its feet.
The statue by Epstein is another bold statement of a brighter future. Its official title is Liverpool Resurgent, although it is more commonly known as ‘Dickie Lewis’. I particularly fond of the three panels underneath, also by Epstein, of children at play.