In 1973, I spent the summer working in a warehouse in Manesty’s Lane, off Hanover Street. I was fortunate to grab a last view of the interior of the Sailors’ Home (see earlier post). It was a sad sight; abandoned and neglected, waiting for demolition. The building had been deemed a serious risk under the strict fire regulations, which insisted on a thirty minute fire safety limit between floors of a building. This was understandable after the horrendous fire at Henderson’s store in 1960 in nearby Church Street, in which eleven people lost their lives. Fire regulations were tightened up but the Sailors’ Home was an open void and any attempt to fire-proof it would have posed an intolerable financial burden for a building that no longer served its original function. At the same time, the plot was sold in anticipation of a government department relocating to Liverpool. That did not materialise but demolition had already been completed and the end result was a hole in the ground for the next thirty years. Here, for the record, are two interior photographs of what was lost.
Over the years,I have planned to write a photographic history of Liverpool. The problem is that although there are numerous text references to the earliest period (from 1840 to 1870), there is a distinct lack of images to substantiate the city’s undoubted photographic activity. The earliest image of the city I have discovered is a lantern slide copy of the building of St George’s Hall in 1850. The exterior is virtually complete and looks like many other later photographs of the building.
I still hope that a hidden cache of photographs will emerge – either in a public archive or private collection – so the hunt goes on. The idea of this blog was to pose questions and widen the research into the way Liverpool has been represented in photographs and, hopefully, others might have knowledge of early images.
In the meantime, I am posting one of my earliest images – a photograph of the Sailors’ Home in 1860 just after a catastrophic fire had destroyed its interior (apparently caused by a disgruntled lodger).
John Cunningham, the architect, had a bit of a disaster with his two important Liverpool buildings. The Sailors’ Home was opened in 1846 and was rebuilt after the fire to serve generations of seamen. With its cast-iron galleries housing ‘cabins’ for its inhabitants, it was scandalously demolished in 1974 to make way for a speculative development that never happened. A major loss to the city’s architectural heritage, its site is now occupied by John Lewis’s store in Liverpool One. Cunningham’s other major building, the original Philharmonic Hall on Hope Street, opened in 1849. Greatly admired for its acoustics, it too suffered a major fire in 1933. Fortunately, its replacement, by arguably Liverpool’s greatest twentieth century architect, Herbert Rowse, is a magnificent addition to the city’s heritage.