Tagged: Lost Liverpool

Last Sunday I took a couple of visitors around Liverpool, stopping at Pier Head for a short walk around.
The place was packed, a fair was in full swing and there was a great atmosphere – perhaps lacking the ferries so evident in the photograph but reminiscent of its Victorian heyday when it was the place to go for a promenade and to observe the shipping. (Until the 1980s, most of the docks were out of bounds and Pier Head was the only public point of access to the river).

Pier Head was also a favourite place for the Victorian commercial photographer. Crowds and boats were guaranteed particularly on a fine sunny day (the photograph was taken close to midday judging by the shadows). The detail is fascinating; it might be summer but most of the women are dressed in heavy black full length dresses apart from the two standing out in white. The ferries are full and, in the foreground, two boys are playing.

I am guessing the photograph was taken in the early 1890s. It is surprising to see so many sail ships
lined up on the right – these were their last years. The river is Liverpool’s greatest asset – no other city has such a magnificent stage. So much more can be done to enhance it – the modern buildings are uninspiring, particularly when set against the Royal Liver, Cunard and Port of Liverpool buildings. Somewhere along the years, that confidence has been lost – epitomised by the fiasco of the Fourth Grace and the subsequent Mann Island development. The city deserves better.

Commutation Row c1975

Hare and Hounds c1975

It is hard to believe that Commutation Row was removed little more than a decade ago for an office block that has struggled to find a tenant since its previous occupant, a housing association, moved out.

What a shocking piece of vandalism. No doubt the lack of uniformity of the Victorian facades insulted those who prefer uniformity and blandness but I loved the fact that each building had a different face – unified only by keeping to the same height line (more or less). Look at any photograph from the 1880s onwards and there they are – a historic part of the city’s fabric. Just like the Lime Street facades further down – something important is lost each time the developers move in.

Amongst the losses on Commutation Row were three interesting pubs. The County on the corner of Islington, the Hare and Hounds (in the middle) and the Court House, a few doors to the right. Three traditional pubs with interesting interiors – all part of the social history that the public house represented.

Interior of The County

Fortunately, Bob Thurlow, founder of Merseyside CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), decided to write about the rapidly disappearing city centre pubs back in the mid-1970s. Even more fortunately, he commissioned David Wrightson (the photographer of much of Quentin Hughes’ Seaport) to photographs the pubs and their interiors. Even more fortunately, Bluecoat Press is publishing their work in a new book Inn Liverpool due out in early December. More to follow in the next post.

View from St George’s, Everton, 1949

View from St George’s 2014

I have just received an email from my good friend Professor Charlie Duff, a leading figure in Baltimore’s renaissance:

I just read your (frankly terrifying) piece about selling parkland to developers. I will never forget visiting Liverpool parks with you less than a Brexit-and-Trump year ago. What magical places you showed me. Please tell your readers that an impartial American thinks that your parks are an astonishing treasure. So much of every city is just this-and-and-that, but the parks of South Liverpool are a triumph of the people and their city. I was amazed, not only by the quality of the landscapes (and waterscapes).

May I introduce you to my friend, Alex Garvin? Alex, a polymathic New Yorker who has done a million impossible things, has just published a book called “What Makes A Great City”, in which he argues that the answer is the Public Realm — streets, squares, and parks. His “culture hero” is Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York and created Americas’s tradition of the relation between Man and Nature, – and whose first park influence was the park you showed me in Birkenhead.

In a follow-up email, Charlie adds:

As luck would have it, my reading this morning was right on point with your post about selling municipal parkland. The article in the London Review is called “The Strange Death of Municipal England”. It’s in the 15 December 2016 issue. The author is, I think, Tom Crewe. He paints a very bleak picture of municipal governments financially dependent on a Whitehall that wants to increase inequality. Mayors and Councillors wind up doing less and less and getting blamed for it, and they often sell municipal assets to fund services. Crewe specifically mentions sales of parkland, though not specifically in Liverpool. He also argues that the Tories want to convert councils from “mini welfare states” to “economic development authorities,” which sounds plausible. And grim.

Charlie, as always writes eloquently and incisively about the danger we face in Liverpool in having a Council fixated on treating its land as a commercial asset rather than a resource that is there for the benefit of all the community rather than a small number of developers. Planning decisions are taken in which we, the rate payers and citizens, are dismissed as cranks or nimbys. In reality, there are many, like me, who have imaginative and realistic ideas of how Liverpool can make more of its many assets. It is time we made our voices heard.

The photographs I have chosen illustrate what can be done to redress the balance in a once overcrowded area. The packed terraces of Everton have been replaced by a stunning parkland. How sad that we are now taking parkland and green space back to provide unnecessary executive housing for a very small number of people. .

Necropolis, West Derby Road, 1913

Grant Gardens, West Derby Road, 1916

Following my last post about the future of Calderstones Park, I was surprised to learn at the Planning Meeting that Liverpool ranks tenth in the amount of parkland per city. Instead of looking at how to redress this situation, the City Council seem hell-bent of removing even more of this priceless resource.

It got me thinking about how to remedy this situation. I regularly drive into the city centre along Smithdown Road. On the left is the sprawling Toxteth Park Cemetery. A typical Victorian urban cemetery, it was opened in 1856 but is now a little visited and somewhat intimidating place. I understand the sensibilities surrounding burial places but there is a well-established precedent for decommissioning cemeteries in Liverpool and turning them into parkland. St John’s Gardens, below St George’s Hall, was once a cemetery that was created at the turn of the twentieth century following the demolition of St John’s church. St James’s cemetery, beside Liverpool Cathedral was tidied up (although many felt adversely) to make it safer and more attractive to visitors. Similarly, Necropolis on West Derby Road, pictured above, was converted into Grant Gardens, again in the early years of the twentieth century. In the latter case, the buried were left undisturbed.

In the case of Toxteth Park Cemetery, there are important monuments that need to be maintained, including war graves, but I do question why cemeteries must be seen as sacrosanct. With careful thought, this could be an attractive and welcoming park in an area undergoing considerable transformation.

All Hallows Church and the Harthill Estate c1935

In my time in Liverpool, I have seen numerous attacks on the city’s fine architectural heritage. A few (Lyceum Club and Albert Dock are two of the most prominent) have failed but most have been pushed through to the benefit of developers, who just move on after picking up their profits. I am not one who is against development per se. After all, Liverpool once supported almost double the population and has had to readjust as economic decline has changed its fortunes.

However, the City Council has now turned its attentions to selling off a part of our heritage that any right thinking citizen would regard as sacrosanct – its parks and green spaces. After pushing through its appalling decision to sell-off Sefton Park Meadows to its buddies, Redrow, it is following up that act of betrayal by carving up Calderstones Park for another grossly invasive housing development.

How does it get away with it? Thousands (this is not an alternative fact) of local residents have signed petitions against the development yet the Council plough on, oblivious to the destruction of the integrity of the park. They claim it is a brownfield – how convenient after their Militant predecessors tore down the much-loved Orchid Houses to leave a concrete standing that became the park’s depot.

This is a park that has belonged to the people of Liverpool for over a century. It is our space – not a plot of commercial land to be sold to the highest bidder (or not, in the case of Redrow, who have paid for preferred bidder status – a cosy relationship for a company sharing the same floor of the Cunard Building as the Mayor’s Office). The photograph shows the area in about 1935. I could digress and write about Mather Avenue with no traffic, or the 16 tennis courts, but my focus is on the land beyond All Hallows Church, to the right of what was Quarry Bank Grammar School (now Calderstones School). The road just beyond the church is Harthill Road and most of the land in photograph is earmarked for 51 executive properties.

There are so many arguments that make this development inappropriate but I have chosen the words of Professor Quentin Hughes. In 1999, I published his seminal book Liverpool: City of Architecture, which was a celebration of the city’s very fine architectural heritage. He wrote:

“Liverpool is famous for its parks. Few cities in the western world can compare with the green swathes of South Liverpool where parks have been laid out almost touching each other …. South Liverpool must be one of the loveliest places in any European city. Everywhere there are mature trees and open spaces on a scale unseen elsewhere, but slowly suburban growth is eating at their edges, destroying irreplaceable settings.”

I could add more but I know others have covered the key issues. Professor Hughes’s few words succinctly express what is at stake. For a measly sum of money, we are in danger of throwing away what makes Liverpool so special and treasured.

Unfortunately, planning permission has just been given to Redrow to go ahead with their scheme to destroy the integrity of the area. Sadly, they have the enthusiastic backing of a Labour council who should know better than to get into bed with developers.

Looking through my photographic collection, I am always reminded of what Liverpool has lost architecturally. Wartime bombing saw off a fair number of good (and occasionally great) buildings,but by far the greatest destruction was caused in the post-War decades, particularly the 1960s and 70s.

Waterloo Grain Warehouses can claim to be victims of both the Blitz and the 1960s readiness to dismantle the city’s heritage. Opened in 1867 to the design of George Fosberry Lyster, the City Engineer, there were originally three warehouses facing East Waterloo Dock. (The photograph is taken from Princes Half Tide Dock with its entrance into East Waterloo Dock). James Picton, architect and writer whom I so often quote, regarded the warehouses as ‘a great improvement on the massive ugliness of the Albert Dock’. Certainly there are similarities in construction, with the hauling machinery in this case being housed in the turrets that arise above the roof level.

The far block was destroyed by enemy bombing. The block on the left survived until 1969, when the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board demolished it at roughly the same time as Duke’s Warehouse, which was adjacent to Albert Dock. Two unnecessary acts that have greatly diminished our dockland heritage. Barratt Homes bought the remaining Waterloo Grain Warehouse and converted it to flats. The site of the other warehouses are now typical suburban houses – totally out of keeping with their once grand setting.

First of all, my apologies for the gap in posts. For years, the site has been with a server that was delivering an expensive and slow site. Moving to a new server has been a bit of a nightmare but will hopefully offer a much better service.

I have a large number of late nineteenth century images of Pier Head and the ferries. Perhaps this is to be expected. Pier Head was the only part of the river that was open to the public until the 1980s and the re-opening of the Albert Dock. As a result, it was not only packed with passengers for the ferries but was also a popular place to meet and promenade,

The photograph is unremarkable, although it has some great animation. I was particularly taken by the young man with a top hat. It must be a hot summer’s day judging by the open parasols, especially on the overcrowded ferry deck. It is a morning shot looking at the shadows and I am guessing that it might be a Sunday’s excursion to New Brighton.

Prince-William

Royal William, Crown Street, 1979

Alexandra-U-Hill-Street

Alexandra, Upper Hill Street, 1976

A happy New Year to all followers of my blog.

When I started the blog over six years ago, I had no expectation that it would have more than a couple of years life in it. Time really does catch one out. I was at the Open Eye exhibition launch last night which was a celebration of its 40th year. When I founded it back in 1977, I was just 29. It really makes me think where those forty years went. One thing is certain though, I won’t be posting when I am 102.

The blog started out of my interest in the photographic record of Liverpool and a determination to make public not only my collection of photographs but, also those in other collections, both public and private. In the latter respect, I have not been too successful – so this year I will be making greater efforts to infiltrate other archives. This is our history and there is so much material that would interest a wider public.

In this context, I have make another resolution, and that is to respond to the many requests I get for specific locations. Not all are possible but I will do my best; after all, one of the best features of the blog is the comments section, which makes me feel that what I am doing is striking a chord.

So, on to today’s requested images. The Royal William, on the corner of Crown Street, is one of those unfathomable losses that the city has suffered in recent years. A fine Regency period building, it was named after the transatlantic paddle steamer, built in 1837. In most other cities, it would have been listed and appreciated. Not so Liverpool where it was demolished in 1998 and left as a piece of wasteland.

Another loss is the Alexandra public house on Upper Hill Street, which has been replaced by housing. A neat, typical Victorian pub, it served its neighbourhood for generations. I appreciate there were far too many pubs in Liverpool, particularly after the population collapse from the 1960s onwards, but too many good buildings were lost when they could have served another function. Which brings me back to Open Eye and its original location – the former Grapes Hotel on the corner of Hood Street and Whitechapel. The layout of the building proved perfect for an arts project with plenty of accessible public space and in a prominent location. The Royal William could have certainly had an alternative use had the will been there.

University-1965-copy

Liverpool University from Paddington, 1964

South-Docks-1964-copy

Queens Dock, 1964

Two photographs with very identifiable buildings yet so much has changed in 50 years. The photograph of the university and still to be completed Metropolitan Cathedral is taken from wasteland that was soon to be the new Royal Hospital. Today, the growth of the University and the construction of the new hospital have totally changed the area. I googled ‘Liverpool’s student population today’ and was surprised to read that it is 70,000. Back in 1964, I doubt it was a tenth of that figure (there was only one university and a polytechnic). No wonder there has been such a growth in buildings – 70,000 is approximately the population of Bootle.

The second image is of the last days of the South Docks. Once again, the change over half a century is profound. The docks ceased to operate soon after the photograph was taken and lay dormant for over 30 years before Liverpool began to reinvent itself as a tourist destination. The Arena and Conference Centre coupled with the new Exhibition Centre have pushed out the line of attractions along the waterfront. Over the Dock Road, where the building displays African Oil Mills (on Norfolk Street), the Baltic Creative Quarter continues on its upwards trajectory. I have had warehousing there for 25 years and have seen the remarkable changes over the last six or so years. For the first time in decades, there is a demand for land to build apartment blocks, studios and creative workshops. I have always felt that an area so close to the centre of Liverpool (it only takes five minutes to walk to John Lewis) was prime development territory. Now it is fulfilling that potential.

Looking at the two images, what will Liverpool look like in 2064, a hundred years on from when Pat Weekes took them? The Cathedrals and Victoria Tower will no doubt be there, but what else will remain?

Pavement-Artist-1894

Pavement artist outside the Custom House, 1894

Newspaper-sellers,-James-Street-1894

Newspaper sellers, James Street, 1894

I am fascinated by old photographs of Liverpool, particularly the candid street photography of the 1890s and early 1900s. This was a time when technology took a great leap forward: motor cars, airplanes, moving pictures to name but three. Photography was revolutionised by the impact of portable cameras using the newly introduced roll film which, coupled by the clever marketing of Kodak, allowed people without darkrooms to send their film to be processed at a relatively low cost. This democratisation of photography, comparable to the introduction of digital photography in recent years, meant that it was possible for those on modest incomes to indulge in a creative activity that had been previously restricted to the well-heeled.

Street photography was a vogue that had spread throughout the burgeoning amateur photographic society movement. Competitions were held annually with awards for the best candid photograph. In Charles Frederick Inston, Liverpool has one of the great exponents and his work was recognised nationally. Today’s two images, however, belong to a different tradition – travel photography. They were taken by a Charles A Swift in 1894. I know nothing more about him except that these images were part of a much larger album of images taken in Liverpool and Chester, Dresden, Prague and other central European locations. I am guessing that Charles Swift was an American tourist on his own Grand Tour. Disembarking in Liverpool, he spent a few days travelling around the city and Chester before moving on to Germany. Like most tourists, his interest was centred around what he saw on the street: the pavement artist outside the Custom House and the newspaper girls in James Street (many of the European photographs are of a similar nature).

Helpfully, he has captioned his photographs although both are easy to locate. The sign on the warehouse on the right reads Dodd and McNeilly, who were merchants at 4 Hanover Street. The newspaper girls look relatively well-dressed and are selling the Liverpool Mercury, which was later absorbed into the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo. Behind them is St George’s Crescent.

I am still managing to acquire photographs of interest – thanks to that other great innovation, the internet. It is exciting to think that there are still undiscovered images out there that will add to our growing picture of Liverpool in the last 150+ years.