The Hartley huts are three squat buildings at the entrance to Canning Dock. They were built in 1844 for the ‘gatemen’, those charged with operating the gates to allow ships to enter and leave the docks, some of which would be on their way to the graving docks nearby.
The working life of a gateman was not glamorous, with the gates having to be operated whenever the tide was right – even if this was in the middle of the night. On the plus side, these substantial buildings were heated, and had gas lighting. They might even have been cosy! The position of these huts gave the team a panoramic view of boats approaching.
Standing on the quay of the dock
The architectural style used for the buildings was ‘cyclopean’, which was similar to that used in the construction of other parts of the dock quays. The most obvious place to look is in the wall of the very dock in which the huts stand. The technique uses large blocks interspersed with smaller ones, expertly cut so that they make an impressively smooth surface, each block keying tightly into the next. This is a key characteristic of Jesse Hartley’s architectural style.
Dock huts after their heyday
Along with much of Liverpool’s dock estate, the huts became surplus to requirements. They were empty for many years, though they were adopted as part of Liverpool Museum’s security team. In recent years they are again empty, but Liz Stewart, Lead Curator of Archaeology & Historic Environment at the Museum of Liverpool and currently Head of Liverpool Museum (interim, though congrats to Liz!) wants to see them put to better use.
Liz told Radio Merseyside’s Paul Salt that she hoped they could be used, for instance, as refreshment stalls. Not only would this add new services to visitors, it would also go some way towards making these inegral parts of the dock estate more accessible to the general public. This will be just part of a wider project to improve the whole area around the Museum of Liverpool.
Halewood was rather rural in character, before the landscape transformed it in the 20th century. Being on the edge of Liverpool contributed to the preservation of some interesting features. Two of these, once standing close to each other, were the Old Hutt and Wright’s Moat.
Wright’s Moat was a mysterious thing. It’s name comes from Thomas Wright who lived in New Hutt Farm in the 19th century (Royden, 1992). Mike Royden notes that it existed before this, though it’s name is not recorded.
The shape of Wright’s Moat
Wright’s Moat consisted of a rounded square moat surrounding an ‘island’. The old maps that show it don’t give much clue as to why it was here, except that the 1937-61 OS map (1:25000) shows that a stream ran into or out of the south east corner. The stream clinked it to the moat around Old Hutt (which was a manor house). It could have been ornamental, or something like the Duck Decoy that is still standing today a few miles away in Hale (though see below).
The excavation of Wright’s Moat in 1960 found an empty site; only one trench was excavated, aligned NE/SW (Wrathmell). The archaeologists found coal and burnt stone, and concluded that the ‘platform’ of the Moat consisted of material dug from the ditch surrounding it.
They also concluded that the evidence pointed to ‘occupation’ (i.e. some human activity taking place here); the only material remains were pieces of medieval pottery. The pottery was very poorly preserved, and they therefore suggested that the medieval period represented the main period of activity.
Finally, the archaeologists put forward the idea that this could once have been a small farmstead. The inhabitants would have abandoned it when the Ireland family took over the land, moving into the Old Hutt.
Both Wright’s Moat and the nearby Old Hutt were destroyed when the Ford car factory (now Jaguar Land Rover) was built.
In early 2020 a Twitter user by the name of PhoenixME (@Phoenix1270) got in touch to ask about the ‘Forgotten Street’ (as they put it).
This led to a very interesting little journey to discover a road that is blocked off at one end by a gate, and at the other by buildings. But Fisher Street, to call it by its official name, once ran all the way from Grafton Street (the gated end) to Caryl Street (the building-blocked end).
It’s particular history has led to it preserving both the cobbled street (in impressive quality) and a couple of cottages. PhoenixME, who works at the site, has seen a fireplace with original hearth tiles, while another Twitter user, OldLiverpoolRailways (@ORailways) showed, through aerial photos, the two cottages themselves.
Old maps of the area also show that Fisher Street itself was once lined with court houses, notoriously small and unsanitary dwellings that thousands of Liverpudlians lived in during Victoria’s reign.
I can see the problem, because there’s little on the street that falls within the usual legal protection. There is no listing law for cobbled streets! And the cottages, while interesting survivors, won’t likely meet the architectural demands of the listing system.
It’s in a part of town which has long had industries around it like the Higson’s brewery building over the road, and the steel manufacturers which front onto Grafton Street on the corner with Fisher Street. As such it might not be there for much longer, and PhoenixME themselves worry that there’s little to protect it. Taller buildings are encroaching on all sides already.
Hopefully it will survive as a small business premises for some time to come!
A good friend of mine recently sent me a handful of postcards he’d found, showing photos of Liverpool in the first quarter of the 20th century.
He’d house-sat for me and noticed my existing collection, in a folder on a bookshelf, and I don’t know whether he checked, but he managed to get some that I hadn’t already got!
They show some of the big landmarks of the city, and the postmarks on the cards are from 19th September 1922 (if I’ve read them right!). So yes, they were all sent on the same day, and also by the same person. Unfortunately, I can’t make out the name (maybe ‘Sorrel’?), so do let me know if you can read the signature, posted below.
Apart from the landmarks, the messages on them are brilliant! As you’ll see, it looks like Sorrel lives in Liverpool, and is actually sending postcards to a family they’ve recently visited in the capital
Landmarks of Georgian Liverpool
What I like about this little sub-collection is that they were all sent together, and each part makes up a whole – the trip to London. King George V was on the throne, and Liverpool could arguably be said to be at the peak of its powers. Maybe there was a hint of the Georgian Liverpolitan wanting to remind their London friends that Merseyside could match the south east for grandeur and love of Queen Victoria!
The dominant road vehicles are the trams. Most people are on foot, but there are some horse-drawn carriages and even some very early cars. The scenes look quiet to modern eyes, and this makes the spaces look large and open.
Here are the cards, in no particular order:
Lime Street, Liverpool
“Dear Frank, you’d better practice up on the speedometer in the Science Museum and I will challenge you, the next time I come, to a race. Sorrel”
St George’s Crescent
St George’s Crescent & Lord Street, Liverpool
“Dear Donald, When I see you next time, I’ll race you two length’s even. Dont’ let anyone take your pencil when you’re not looking – Sorrel”
St George’s Hall
St. George’s Hall, Liverpool
“Dear George, How many yards of cloth have you and Sally made on the loom? You’d better watch out or the weavers’ union will get after you! Good-bye, George. Sorrel”
Queen Victoria Memorial
Queen Victoria Memorial, Liverpool
“Dear Florence, Now that we have left, I hope you have been able to retire at six-thirty as you should! With best wishes from the three of us – Sorrel”
William Brown Street
William Brown Street, Liverpool
“Dear Sally, The next time you sew labels on your brothers’ clothes, look them over carefully (the brothers I mean) and assure yourself that they aren’t deformed and wear shirts instead of trousers – Sorrel”
From Liverpool to London
Well, what do you make of these messages?
We get hints of what Sorrel got up to while in London – a visit to the Science Museum and a couple of lengths at the local baths.
There’s also the very cryptic last message about labels in clothes. Perhaps we’ll never know what that was all about.
Sorrel seems like quite a wry humourist – though maybe a handful to have as a guest? Keeping people up past their bedtime by the sounds of thing!
It seems like three people – Sorrel and two others – stayed with the Kings in London. So perhaps Sorrel and family are back in Liverpool, having arrived on the train from Euston at the very station just out of shot in the first postcard.
I’d love to know more about Sorrel and their correspondents. Are there, I wonder, more postcards out there that the Kings sent in return?
Toxteth. Liverpool 8. Sometimes just running those two phrases together can get people hot under the collar. One thing we learn from Almost Liverpool 8, a new documentary from Dartmouth Films is that the name ‘Toxteth’ was hardly heard before 1981, that watershed in the area’s history. I didn’t know this, having got so used to seeing the word on old maps of Liverpool all the time. It wasn’t the only enlightening part of the film.
It’s easy to see Almost Liverpool 8 as an attempt to reclaim the postcode and the Toxteth name from the news media. Luckily its creators have found a unique angle to do this. This isn’t trying to be a polished tourist information brochure; it’s more real than that. Truth is at the heart of it, and the question of who owns that truth.
The Toxteth Landscape
There are countless talking heads on screen, but the Toxteth’s landscape is the star of the show from the get-go. The opening scenes flick like photographic slides (albeit tiny slices of film) from terraces: Victorian worker and grand Georgian – to the Florrie, to 80s and 90s houses to the rejuvenating Granby. This photo/film montage leads into an introduction to Don McCullin, a photographer and our eyes and ears on 1970s Liverpool.
Don was an ‘outsider’ initially, perhaps a decade or two before the time we’ll come to. He worked on the trains as a young lad in his native London, but his first job took him via Euston to Lime Street and, more significantly, Edge Hill, four times a week.
Young McCullin began to explore Edge Hill alone, on foot, and fell in love with the place, and the wider city. In his later years he became a professional photographer, and was on Merseyside in the 1970s to document the then rapidly changing landscape.
If the earlier snapshots showed just how varied Liverpool 8 is physically, Almost Liverpool 8 now introduces us to the people of Toxteth. A few are shop owners (newsagents, restaurants), one a photographer, another (Barry Chang) a beekeeper. Plus there’s Joe Farrag (source of the above name-related fact), Ronnie Hughes of A Sense of Place and Roger McGough of… well, Roger McGough (and, of course, The Mersey Sound). There’s the next generation too. A woman who set up two salons, and P3Lz, rapping her Fixed Sights, as well as the afore-mentioned restaurant owner with his young family.
These people give their sense of Toxteth and the way life is there. Farrag reminds us that the great attraction of Toxteth, historically, was that it was close to the south docks. Businesses built up to serve sailors on shore leave (yes, including those types of businesses…), of which the Granby Market might be the inheritor. Today’s market’s affordability, to sellers as well as buyers, is its key feature. You don’t need to make money to have a stall. You can come and chat – it’s part of the glue that holds the community together. Hard-nosed commerce would just get in the way of being here.
What is Toxteth?
The variety of landscapes and voices quickly demonstrate that Toxteth/Liverpool 8 isn’t a thing. It’s many things, a collection of things, a recipe with places and people as its ingredients. It’s certainly tight-knit, and loved. Pride is everywhere. These labels – ancient name and modern postcode – can be used to foster a sense of solidarity as much as they were used to blacklist this part of Liverpool once upon a time.
Liverpool 8 (and by extension Almost Liverpool 8) is also a source of wisdom. Chang the beekeeper compares bees and humans. He acknowledges the crucial role bees play in pollination – without them there is no food. But he also highlights that they (at least those bees in his own hives) would get nowhere if they adopted humanity’s tendency to play every-one-for-themselves. They work for the hive, which is for each other. They’re role models. Perhaps this is how Liverpool 8 functions: a hive of activity.
Back to McCullin: Don’s photography is the thread that runs through the film. He holds forth on how he saw Liverpool in the 70s. Never coming across like a shocked anthropologist, nor patronising the survivability of the natives, he admires the place. He was soon part of it.
The time he was photographing – the 1970s – was a period of ‘slum’ clearance, and you can hear those quotation marks in McCullin’s voice. Mistakes were made, he says, and we’re still suffering the consequences. Future homes were demolished, though he knows the Council believed what they were doing was the right thing. Again, we’re learning lessons and making comparisons. What Would The Bees Have DoneTM?
Perhaps unusually, we don’t hear of the places people ended up when they were moved out of their terraces; this film is laser focussed on L8, and gives us room to let our gaze rest on these streets, both from then and in the now.
Girl and Puddle
A single photo of Don’s does the rounds among the interviewees: that of a girl jumping over a puddle, the grey rain-soaked and cleared streets of Toxteth behind her. I won’t spoil the details of how this pans out; suffice to say that it conjurs all sorts of reminiscences and reflections. Ronnie Hughes brings out the old maps to see if he can locate the spot. It’s taken for granted that the landscape is different now.
Ronnie also notes that ‘middle class areas are never shown in the rain’. This is working class Liverpool. And this observation lies at the heart of Almost Liverpool 8: what gets communicated about a place like this, and how does this rub off? What unconscious biases do photographs, and the choices made when taking them, add to the conversation? Especially in light of later events and media coverage. Who gets to say what Toxteth is? Who gets to form its reputation? Don? P3Lz? The news media? Dartmouth Films? This review(er)?
Ronnie tells us he doesn’t like history (it can devolve into ‘trainspotting’). I get the feeling he’s thinking specifically of how the study of the past risks fossilising it, getting lost in the detail; missing the story, the people. History can prevent a place changing, moving on, just as much as it can give it positive identity and an anchoring history. The trainspotting type of history (“it wasn’t there; it was over here”) can weigh a place down.
As McCullin says, Liverpool (and Toxteth) people have always said “we won’t be judged”. Buster Nugent says Toxteth “always rises from the ashes”. This kind of optimism, that justice can be reclaimed, depends on being able to leave those ashes behind. And what is justice if not truth?
Toxteth is almost Liverpool 8
Eugene Lange, of Urban Griot, perhaps identifies some of the most important facets of living, which the community of Toxteth embodies well. “You’re never just you”, he says, echoing the sentiments of the beekeeper, you’re part of the world, in a relationship with it. Remember, he says, we’re genetically part Neanderthal, the rest of the world is in our very genes.
One thing that struck me is that every person featured in this film has, to some or other extent, a Scouse twang in their accent. That goes for the Barry Chang with his largely West Indian voice, the newsagent from Aden-via-Cardiff and the restauranteur from Norway. You can bring yourself into Liverpool, but Liverpool will insinuate itself into you too!
If anyone needs evidence that Liverpool 8, or Toxteth, is not the place of the 1970s, but is also the place that grew out of the 1970s, and all the history piled up before then, Almost Liverpool 8 is that evidence. Toxteth is‘almost’ the place we think it is, but so much else, and maybe ultimately indefinable.
Most importantly, if this film holds anything like the truth, it’s a great place to live and work.
The film is a loving portrait, locally made with pride, that’ll make you smile, laugh out loud, maybe even well up. It’s a letter to the wider world about the truth, the present, of the place. It’s a message from the people in it, like the actor Brodie Arthur, saying: “We’re here; we exist; and we’re fuckin’ shit hot.”
Almost Liverpool 8 will be showing at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic on Wednesday September 1st 2021 at 7:30pm.
Of course, there’s no shortage of opinions on whether this was unfair, ‘incomprehensible’, or whether Liverpool needed it at all. For me, it’s raised some interesting points that should make us take stock of what heritage means to us in an ever-changing urban environment.
The Mayor of Liverpool, Joanne Anderson, called the decision ‘incompresensible’, pointing out that millions of pounds have been poured into conserving historic buildings. The number of buildings on English Heritage’s At Risk Register fell from 17% to 2.5%. So how could the Site have possibly ‘deteriorated’?
There has been more than one suggestion that UNESCO would rather see derelict docks than a new Everton stadium. No doubt this is all hot-blooded reaction on the day, but it points to some misunderstandings about what constitutes a World Heritage Site (especially this one).
Liverpool was designated a World Heritage Site in 2004 because of its role in the development of trade, transport and industry during the Industrial Revolution. This role, as I hope this very website gets across, is imprinted in the very landscape of the Victorian city. In addition to this, much of the physical fabric of these pioneering days – canals, railways, warehouses, docks – were and are still in existence, albeit some in much need of conservation work.
There were six areas that made up the WHS, from the Pier Head, to St George’s Plateau, to Stanley Dock. It was the integrity of this collection that formed the physical city, and the WHS City.
Buildings vs landscape preservation
I believe the very nature of this designation doomed Liverpool’s WHS status from the start. Few other WHSs will have the geographical spread of Liverpool’s, or the variety. The Pyramids, the Taj Mahal and the Great Barrier Reef don’t have a living conurbation in the middle of them – intertwined with them – requiring such a balancing act for those in power. Add to that the location of the north docks close to an area of economic disadvantage, and you have a recipe for disaster.
In fact, the economic decline of Kirkdale and Bootle can in part be attributed to their close relationship with the declining importance of those very docks. The deprivation is part of the historic chronology of the World Heritage Site. But no one’s proposing we preserve that too.
Joanne Anderson’s (and others’) appeals to UNESCO that Liverpool has made great strides in preserving individual buildings all over the WHS is addressing only part of the problem. Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City is a landscape, not just a collection of nice old buildings. The docklands are a system, not a disconnected series of piers, quays and warehouses. You can’t fill in a dock and say ‘well, we have dozens more’, any more than you can remove the Liver Birds from their perches and say ‘well, 98% of the building is still there, what’s the problem?’.
If you think this is a prelude to saying that Liverpool deserved to lose its World Heritage Status, then you’re right, and you’re wrong.
Liverpool’s importance to global history is in many ways abstract: trade, movement, philanthropy, economics. These things are embodied in the historic buildings, and the buildings are essential to that history too, and Liverpool as a place will always be ‘historic’. But it is also very hard to capture that in boundaries drawn on a map. That goes doubly for the city’s impact on the world of music and sport. Are the Beatles any less influential today because the Cavern was demolished back in the 1970s?
We will, hopefully, always be able to enjoy Liverpool’s built legacy: the Stanley Dock warehouse, the dock wall, the Leeds Liverpool Canal, the Three Graces, St George’s Hall. The Old Dock was never so accessible a heritage site until Liverpool ONE was completed. And local campaigners continue their sterling work to promote re-use instead of redevelopment of old buildings. That’s the success that Mayor Anderson is talking about, and rightly so. But it misses so much.
UNESCO and heritage
Liverpool’s World Heritage Site was put right in the middle of not only a modern and ever-changing city but a geography that needed and needs development and change. See the aforementioned deprivation of north Liverpool.
UNESCO doesn’t need, and can’t be expected, to take into account the economic needs of the places it designates. It just decides whether a place is ‘significant’. It’s a similar case on the national level for English Heritage. Many condemned EH’s statement that Everton’s new stadium would destroy heritage, in the form of Bramley Moore dock. But what else could EH do? It wasn’t their job to weigh up the pros and cons of the development – that’s for the planning system. EH are purely advisors. Don’t shoot the messenger.
Regional Mayor Steve Rotherham said, about the World Heritage Site: “Places like Liverpool should not be faced with the binary choice between maintaining heritage status or regenerating left-behind communities and the wealth of jobs and opportunities that come with it”. I think he misunderstands the situation. When the existing heritage-status building stock can be re-used to benefit the left-behind communities, then there is no binary choice. But if the existing landscape and its buildings cannot do this job, then there has to be this binary choice, and you have to make the difficult decision. In Liverpool, these two situations were too knottily bound together, given the hige area covered.
And so the problem that UNESCO unwittingly created was that the Liverpool WHS was in an impossible bind. Compare it to something like Edinburgh city centre, also a WHS. It’s a coherent landscape of the New and Old Towns, much more coherent than Liverpool’s, and one in which it is much easier to say no to development: it’s unlikely that you’d want to erect a new skyscraper or stadium in the middle of the Georgian landscape.
Likewise in Bath, in the Stonehenge landscape, or the town of Ironbridge. ‘Preservation in aspic’ is a frequently used derisive comment on heritage preservation, but these other WHSs can afford such an approach much more readily than Liverpool.
Liverpool and preservation
So where does that leave us today, with this decision?
I think it should remind us all – UNESCO included – that a World Heritage Site designation brings with it a certain set of responsibilities. If a landscape is ‘historically important’ then great changes to it will naturally reduce that importance, especially given that modern developments are unlikely to be part and parcel of that historic story.
In a tight-knit and consistent landscape like Edinburgh, or a deeply rural one like Stonehenge, development, and the demands of the people there, are of a vastly different nature to that in a city like Liverpool. These are places that we are very likely to decide that we want to keep much as they are.
But Liverpool is another kettle of fish: there are gaps (or very narrow bridges) in the WHS, and kinks in its boundaries. It stretches for miles and miles, across derelict docks and unused and crumbling buildings. This can’t be approached in the same way as would, say, Blenheim Palace. As the mayor’s World Heritage Taskforce put it: “Liverpool is not a monument or a museum but a rapidly changing city”. Exactly.
As with many things on this site, landscape is crucial, and a landscape is much more than a collection of places or buildings or streets.
I feel that Liverpool’s economic needs were, from the start, fated to lock horns with the demands of heritage preservation. I’m glad the designation was given, and that 17 years were enjoyed under its umbrella. But I’m starting to think that the Maritime Mercantile City should act as a note of caution to UNESCO – and those bidding for a place on the list – about the consequences of designating a landscape like Merseyside.
For bidders: would a designation fit well with the landscape as it is? Will it inferfere with other processes? Have you chosen the most suitable boundaries for the bid? Could you improve them?
There’s no doubt that Liverpool’s north docks were instrumental in the Industrial Revolution, but they are never going to be in-use docks again – was there ever a way that heritage status of any kind was going to sit well with them and their future?
Should Liverpool be a World Heritage Site?
The loss of World Heritage Status felt a little inevitable, and was the end of a long string of conflicts between UNESCO and the city. Gaining the status brought attention, investment and business to the area. It also highlighted the responsibilities that must come with it, and brought to light the opportunities that must be given up, or curtailed.
Losing the status offers the opportunity to do those things we want and need, but felt we couldn’t. Let’s hope that those who propose the next steps of the development in Liverpool City Centre do the right thing, and create a city of the 21st century we can all be proud of, WHS or not.
I thought it would be worth posting at least a short review of this pair of books which came out in late 2020 from the British Library. I was sent review copies of both books by the Library, for which I’m very grateful, but this review remains unbiased, and contains all my own opinions!
There are two books from this new series of reprints:
A General History of the Lives, Murders and Adventures of the Most Notorious Pirates
A General History of the Lives, Murders and Adventures of the Most Notorious Highwaymen
They were originally published in 1724 and 1734 respectively, and these new editions (hardbacks) present them in gorgeous new packaging. The design is modern, but with a heavy nod towards designs of the times. The front covers both make use of one of the c.25 engravings within, and the books look great standing next to each other on the shelf.
Inside, the text has been re-set, so although they preserve the (sometimes tricky) language and spelling of the originals, they don’t suffer the readibility problems of similar books that reproduce the text, almost photographically, as it originally appeared. These are enjoyable books to read.
However, that’s just appearances really, and I can be a book snob! When the publisher approached me, they must have had an inkling that my dear readers would have some interest in the topics. But does that stack up in reality?
Most notorious lives
These two volumes are not just interesting for their content, but also their context. They are early examples of journalistic writing in a longer form. They don’t shy away from highlighting the less respectable aspects to the lives in question, and you could certainly imagine these entries appearing as obits in the modern tabloids! These books were designed to sell by the cartload, and the tone is designed to draw the reader in. Indeed, most of the lives do end with the death of the subject, more often than not on the gallows. The apparent author, Captain Charles Johnson, is probably a pseudonym, and has been believed to be Daniel Defoe (of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders fame)
The books were originally published at the height of interest in their subjects, and it feels like the right time to re-release them.
The introductions to the books, by Sam Willis (him off t’telly) explain all this, and help to place the books in their time. For that, we’re warned to take the bios as entertainment rather than encyclopedic, but as every good historian knows, examining how a source writes about its topic is as instructive as any authorititative take!
Pirates and Highwaymen
Having warned you about the source of the stories, it’s got to be said that the author pulls no punches. Blackbeard (Edward Teach) comes to life as an extremely unpleasant and cruel man. We get details of rivalries and a variety of backgrounds (Stede was supposedly a bored nobleman). And we hear everything up to and including the almost inevitably trial and execution. This, if nothing else, reminds us that Pirates and Highwaymen were, with a few exceptions, criminals.
One unexpected aspect is that the lives of two female pirates are recounted. The original author is upfront about including these women because they were unusual, and their lives are as colourful as their male counterparts.
Liverpool, high seas and highways
I might not have picked up these books if they hadn’t been flagged up to me. As I’ve said, they’re beautiful objects and I am enjoying working my way through them. They’re like small encyclopedias: each chapter is a separate life story. This isn’t to everyone’s taste, and doesn’t offer a rounded view of ‘piracy in the 18th century’ or anything like that. However, judging it as a book which has come down to us from 300 years ago it’s a definite thing of interest.
There are no direct links to Liverpool history as such, but of course …Pirates gives a glimpse of maritime life at a time when Liverpool was just beginning to come into its own as a trading port. If you want a fun pair of volumes that will while away many a dark evening, or if you’re a fan of swashbucking adventure tales told in an engaging fashion, then these are books you’ll enjoy. For those who need a Liverpool history angle on their reading, Pirates might be a good place to get the wider picture.
Buy the books
Both these books are published by the British Library (£20), and so are available to buy directly from them.
Alternatively, to help your local bookshop, you can buy them both from Hive (£14.95 at time of writing). (Buying from Hive also sends a few pennies to help keep Historic Liverpool online.)
A General History of the Lives, Murders and Adventures of the Most Notorious Pirates British Library | Hive
A General History of the Lives, Murders and Adventures of the Most Notorious Highwaymen British Library | Hive
Image: Liverpool’s institutional landscape in 1892. Note everything from the Philharmonic Hall to the Liverpool Institute and the School of Art (Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland)
The area coming to be known as Liverpool’s Knowledge Quarter (how many quarters can one city have?) has distinct landscape characteristics. The university is just one resident in a neighbourhood of academic and other institutions.
The excellent Building a Better Society (2008, hard copy from Hive; download free PDF) by Colum Giles highlighted these. The book formed part of English Heritage’s (now Historic England) Informed Conservation series in the mid 2000s.
Around the same time, Urbed, a design and research consultancy, published Liverpool Knowledge Quarter Urban Design Framework & Public Realm Implementation Plan by Urbed (2008, free PDF) which I’d recently rediscovered buried on my hard drive. This is also a good source on the university landscape.
The topography of this part of town has played a huge part in its development. This little exploration will show how the area grew from a rural out-of-town backwater to the institutional landscape it is today.
The University, the two cathedrals and their neighbours sit on high ground. In fact they’re on a ridge overlooking a steep drop towards the River Mersey.
Before the 19th century there was very little up this hill but fields. Two place names give the game away: Edge Hill and Boundary Place locate this spot as being outside of Liverpool. Even Lime Street was part-rural until 1807 (though Rodney Street and Hope Street had already been laid out by then).
The area was originally known as Mosslake Fields. As you might expect, streams and ponds characterised the place. The developers drained the land before building began. Many of the streams ran down into the Pool before the Old Dock replaced it.
When the area was first developed, the land was used to build houses for the mercantile class looking to escape the growing town. Liverpool was becoming industrialised by the 18th century, and noxious manufacturing processes stood cheek-by-jowl with residential areas.
John Foster Senior and his son, John Foster Junior, were the two men most responsible for the new suburb. By putting houses out here in the fresh air the developers were taking advantage of Liverpool’s ambitions and the expansion of the town as a microcosm of the Empire.
The area benefited in its position in relation to the routes into town. Smithdown Lane, West Derby Road, Edge Lane and Wavertree Road are all major routes into the city to this day. They converge on the east side of Mosslake Fields. The Adelphi Hotel, like Ranelegh Gardens before it, is on the west side of the area, where the streets converge on the city centre.
When the Fosters, began their development, they built squares to act as lynchpins. Falkner Square was the first. Formerly known as Crabtree Lane, Falkner Street was a sort of continuation of Smithdown Lane coming in from the south east.
Great George Square was at the south west end, and Abercromby Square on the east, built from 1803 to 1816. Foster Sr. built Seymour Terrace, an attractive set of houses surviving behind Lime Street Station, in 1810.
You could consider another square, Islington Square near the Collegiate, as the northern extent of the scheme. However, today it doesn’t feel like it!
The first institutions
Churches, then medical and educational institutions, soon followed the houses. St James Terrace (where the Anglican Cathedral now stands) was one of Liverpool’s first parks, cementing the area as a comfortable place with the essential amenities.
The workhouse was the first large institution in the area (built in 1769, now the site of the Catholic Cathedral). This had needed much more space than the built-up town could provide, and the Corporation considered the fresh country air the best choice for its underprivileged and often sick inmates.
Liverpool’s original infirmary had moved out of the town in 1824. It moved to Brownlow Hill from its previous site on Lime Street, where St George’s Hall is today.
Once these institutions had established themselves on the hill above Liverpool, others followed. Philanthropists, wanting to promote temperance and education, set up many. Others, like the School of Tropical Medicine, were direct reflections of Liverpool’s colonial reach and the needs of its well-travelled citizens.
A great swathe of Liverpool’s best historic buildings find their home in Mosslake Fields. The neighbourhood is a showcase of attractive residential and repurposed houses, which Urbed attributed to its single phase of development. Its ‘fine-grained’ layout is pleasant to walk through, with frontages right on the pavement.
Urbed also noted this one-plan expansion represented “[Liverpool] Corporation as agent of expressive urban design”. Something which is probably unthinkable today.
In the wars
In the twenthieth century the area suffered something of a decline. The large number of institutions here meant that, after the First World War, this part of town built a reputation as unsuitable for residence. Much of this was down to the presence of industry, and especially the busy rail lines.
After the Second World War the council needed to prevent the institutions from escaping once more, to greenfield sites outside the city. They offered them freehold of their land, which helped push out the remaining private homes from the area.
It was around this time that the post-war planners were doing their greatest damage to Liverpool’s landscape. The area around the University was redeveloped as a group of ‘singular’ buildings in the middle of open spaces.
This contrasted with the original plan (still seen on Abercromby Square and around Hope Street) of uniform streets with buildings fronting directly on to them. It punched holes in the street grid and left the area with an uneasy mixure of the old grid and the new campus.
The Holford Plan (PDF) led to a ‘broken’ campus landscape, with the new large hospital standing away and aloof from the street. Bomb sites became car parks, Islington Square vanished beneath lanes of traffic exiting the centre, and much of the space from here to Upper Parliament Street became formless. Urbed singled out particularly the way in which the old fine-grained grid produced a much better public space than the lonely concrete concourses.
The climb up Brownlow Hill or Mount Pleasant discouraged cyclists and wanderers from town. This kept the atmosphere quiet, and the academic air and vast panoramas lent the campus a detached feel. The city missed a chance to deal with inequalities of need and opportunity. This was especially damaging and distancing in the 1970s and 1980s.
The University in the 21st century
Of course, much has changed in this area since Urbed’s study in 2008. The Tall Ships, the Capital of Culture and Liverpool’s 800th birthday (not to mention Liverpool ONE) have injected new energy into the city, for better and for worse.
But new developments in the University district (OK, the ‘Knowledge Quarter‘…) have undoubtedly brought Mosslake Fields into the 21st century. It’s another stage in its life, and takes into its future a varied building stock. There are small housing schemes from the late 20th century, university buildings and still many institutions.
Only time will tell if the institutional landscape takes advantage of its unique topographical setting, or falls victim to it. Current developments will have to take this into account if they’re to constribute positively.
This is very interesting: a virtual reconstruction of Liverpool Castle using the detailed plans by Cox (see image further down). Ignore the missing…. river, and er… town… and you get an evocative suggestion of what it might have looked like.
In June 1559 the castle’s condition was subject to an inspection. A report delivered in October of the same year. Francis Samwell, Ralph Assheton and John Bradill were the commissioners, acting on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I.
Their report gives us a few interesting details about the town of ‘Litherpole’, such as that ‘honeste’ reports from the merchants claim the harbour can hold 300 sails’-worth ships at a time.
Their report did not start well, with reports that the towers and gatehouse were “in utter rwyne [ruin] and decay”. Nearly all the timber and lead had gone (presumably for use elsewhere). In fact, the lead had been missing for longer than living memory.
Rain fell freely through the slateless roof of the biggest tower, which was “a great pytie”. This caused damage to the remaining wood of the floors below. The report hoped that, with repairs, the Queen could once again stay in the castle when she came to inspect the wapentake court at West Derby. Though, considering the independent spirit of Liverpool’s burgeoning council, this might not have been incentive to carry out said repairs.
They also recommended the repair of the curtain wall. This would at least save the blushes of the town, “otherwyse it were a greate defacement”. On a more militant level, the castle was failing to supply its obvious defensive strength to the valuable harbour. This is the very reason it was placed on this promontory, overlooking the Pool.
Defence of the Mersey
However, they acknowledged that no ‘navye’ would be so foolish as to try invasion via the Mersey. The river is dangerous, and Wirral and Wales are nearby, ready to lend a hand in defence!
The commissioners also considered that the castle was good enough (perhaps following their repair suggestions) for the locals to hole up in until reinforcements arrived from the “verie populus” surrounding county.
The commissioners concluded by recommending to the Queen that she offer financial assistance for the repair of the castle. They suggested that £100 should do the trick, allowing for an 11 shilling upkeep each year from then on.
These references all relate to what we know of the original castle. (See also Lerpoole 1572 – Historic Liverpool)
Court houses were a feature of the very dense residential areas of Victorian cities. They consisted of a set of houses facing onto a courtyard (hence the name), which was accessed at one end through a narrow alley or archway.
They remain notorious for the number of people who were housed in them – sometimes multiple families to a room – and the poor quality of their construction. For many people today, court houses typify the class divisions of Victorian society, but they were also a hot topic for contemporary commentators. Hugh Shimmin, of the satirical Porcupine magazine, was perhaps the most prominent but, as this book shows, plenty of people had much to say on the problems for the people living in them.
History of court houses
Courts and Alleys charts the whole history, from the earliest appearance to the remnants on Pembroke Place. It’s fully referenced, but the tone is very readable and not too academic.
The number of references makes this a useful reference book for research, and I’ve bought at least one book on the back of reading about it here. The long bibliography is a great jumping off point if you want to, for example, research your family history locations more closely.
It’s great strength is the level of illustration. It’s a colourful book in any case, but there are dozens of photographs and maps that let you get to the heart of the issue. There are some classics which you might have seen before, but plenty you won’t have, both inside and outside shots, some of which are truly shocking, especially when you take into account their recency. Many are from the Liverpool Record Office, accompanied by quotes from their oral history collection.
There are also potted biographies of the people who played important roles in the history of court housing, such as George Buchanan who went some way to dispelling the myths about Irish laziness and immoral living as root causes of the problems in courts.
Improving living conditions
One of the many fascinating extra snippets of information that the book provides is that some of the courts were built by converting old large houses. Their entrance halls became the archway through which many courts (not just the converted ones) were entered.
The history of courts melds into the introduction to better public services like sewerage, gas lighting and running water. Courts, of course, often provided only one or two standpipes to two dozen people, and were dimly lit.
The night soil men (those who collected and cleared the latrines) were only contracted to wash courts and passages if their was a water hydrant within 30 yards.
But the earliest attempt to keep the town clean came as early as 1748, attesting to the tardiness of attempts to provide decent accommodation to court residents. The list of 19th century Acts which tried to improve housing is 65 years long!
Opposition came from landlords, who benefitted from cheap building costs, the House of Lords had no remit to raise taxes to pay for improvements, and fretting over the perception of government interference resulted in watered-down measures.
Even the sainted Dr. Duncan comes across as critical of the people in courts, edging on xenophobia (against the Irish again) or snobbishness towards the working class.
Here, there and (nearly) everywhere
The book goes on to put Liverpool in the national context. Courts were mainly a feature of the north of England and the Midlands. Cellar dwelling, often seen as the lowest of the low, was a Liverpool ‘speciality’, though not much less common in London and Birmingham.
But the book ranges further, comparing not only the courts of different cities in Britain, but looking across the pond to Manhattan and other US examples.
Liverpool’s landscape seems to be part of the issue: the river created a western barrier to development, while at he same time the docks attracted thousands of workers who needed to be housed within walking distance.
I’ve mentioned the Victorian discussions which surrounded the scourge of court houses, and the fates of the people who lived in them. Stewart discusses this too, concluding that the residents were constrained to live in these awful conditions because they simply had no other options.
They couldn’t afford anything better, and there were few other house types – as Marx noted for Manchester – close enough to the mills were they worked.
Not all court houses were created equal. Build quality, standards of maintenance and the living conditions experienced by people living in them all varied. But even at the time the press tarred them all with the same brush: uniformly bad, and generally the fault of the residents.
There was a heavy anti-Irish slant to commentary back then too. Our modern ideas of court houses suffer the same generalising principles; more nuance is needed, and this book attempts to introduce that to us.
After the courts
Of course, things did eventually improve. The first council houses, St. Martin’s Cottages, were built in 1869. Other ‘enlightened’ settlements were built at Port Sunlight and Bournville.
The two Liverpool examples embodied the controversy over whether housing was a public or private concern, a local or a central one. The housing by-laws can be seen as a compromise, where government set the standards that private developers had to adhere to. Hence when we refer to ‘by-law houses’ we mean those which were built in accordance with these pieces of legislation.
What impresses about this book is that it covers the period right through to the post-war clearances of ‘slum’ houses, linking the issues of the courts with more recent worries about approaches to housing thousands of people in suitable places.
Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not just the Pembroke Place courts which survive from this class of small dwelling. There are still back-to-backs in Liverpool, as illustrated by a modern photo of Duke’s Terrace, off Duke Street. These houses have, as you might expect, been converted into modern dwellings, by knocking them through so the building has two ‘fronts’. If nothing else, this proves that not all these small houses were poorly constructed.
As this book demonstrates, it was the factors surrounding living conditions – the number of people in each house, the lack of amenities, and social attitudes to the working class – that shaped these places.
Buy the book
The book is available now for £7.99. There are two good places to get it from:
When William Brettagh (of Holt) died, he left a cottage that would later become Woolton Hall. It was bought by the Broughton family, who began to extend it, and bring it up to date. By 1700 it was a three-storey building.
Traces of an older building still survive in the south west corner. Samuel Derrick visited in 1760 and mentioned in his diary an “iron coloured stone” element “in appearance about 200 years old”. This could be a survival of the original cottage, usually thought lost (Lally & Gnosspelius, 1975: 28)
The north block of Woolton Hall was designed by the same (but unknown) architect as the south west front of Croxteth Hall. It was commissioned by Woolton Hall’s owner, Richard Molyneux, who was heir to the Croxteth estate. Similarities can be seen in the decoration. Gadroons (decorative details usually only seen on ecclesiastical monuments) are one unusual feature shared by the two buildings.
Robert Adam was commissioned to remodel the Hall in 1772 by its new owner, Nicholas Ashton. Ashton owned a saltworks at Dungeon in Speke, and the house was given a view over the River Weaver and towards the saltworks.
It’s of interest that Ashon was building himself a house in the style of generations of aristocracy. And yet he had built his fortune in industry – a very unaristocratic activity. He was the turning point between old forms of wealth and new ones, one foot in the former and another in the latter.
Later industrialists would make their fortune from the landscapes natural resources of Woolton: James Gore owned quarries and a building company; John Rushton supplied timber to the building trade; James Rose was a Garston miller who also owned Woolton windmill, quarries, a steam mill, and the house at Beechwood.
Woolton Hall was later used as a ‘hydropathic’ hotel, a school, and latterly had plans to be converted into flats. A catastrophic fire in 2019 may have damaged much of the still in place historic features and objects.
Image: Image extracted from page 242 of volume 2 of “Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. L.P”, by John Preston Neale. Original held and digitised by the British Library. (No known copyright, via https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11004130453/)
Woolton Old School has a date stone showing 1610. There has been a suggestion that the last figure is the result of later restoration, but this can’t change the supposed date of building by much. A gift of £60 was given by Edward Norris in 1606 to pay for a master, so the institution was at least in the planning stage shortly before the date on the building.
The day-to-day expenses of the school were to be paid from the interest on this gift. Twenty years later it was worth £80, though the school Reeves had to be ordered by the Bishop of Chester to hand over the stock to the parish. The interest on the stock was supplemented by school fees.
The building is similar in age to the Old School at Walton. But the two buildings differ architecturally: Walton School has a double wall with ‘through’ stones to bind the two skins together, while Woolton School has a single layer of 11” thick stones. These stones are also very long, and would have taken at least two people to lift them into place. Walton’s stones could have been handled by an individual.
The gothic end-windows at Woolton are unusual for the date.
Edward the Confessor chose West Derby for his hunting lodge, and after the conquest West Derby was given to Roger of Poitou. The castle was probably built around 1100 by Roger, and was sited near St. Mary’s church in Meadow Lane.
The site may have been chosen because of its nearness to water (the Alt, and perhaps the stream which once flowed parallel with Meadow Lane). Coal was nearby (with outcrops at Croxteth) and there was plenty of woodland. The existing hunting lodge would also have been a factor. West Derby also stood on the crossroads of routes from Hale to Aughton and Liverpool to Warrington and Prescot.
Excavations at West Derby Castle
West Derby Castle was repaired in 1197 and 1202. Archaeological excavation in 1927 and 1956 revealed oak beams (probable cross-moat bridge supports), pottery, metal, leather, horn/bone. The later excavation also discovered the remains of a palisade.
In 2022 the Channel 4 programme The Great British Dig excavated a trial trench on the field in Meadow Lane that covers part of the site of the castle. They also excavated some smaller trenches in local residents’ back gardens. The archaeologists found pottery from the 12th to the 18th centuries (as well as more modern items like toy soldiers and a Second World War bullet case).
Eventually they excavated down to the moat itself, finding a sloping surface probably churned by later animals. They also found a loosely-built dry stone wall which may have been linked to post-castle farming. By measuring from one edge of the moat to the centre, and doubling the distance, they estimated it to have been around 9m (27 feet) wide. The excavation suggested it was no more than a metre (3 feet) or so deep. So while its defensive capability would have been less than imagined, the width would have been a fine reflective setting for a landmark castle like this.
The archaeologists also found the likely remains of the aforementioned stream, and the possible location for a water-powered mill that was known to have stood on the stream.
West Derby loses its prominence to Liverpool
In 1213 a garrison of 140 foot soldiers, ten knights and crossbowmen were posted at the castle. But by 1235 all garrisons had been moved to Liverpool castle. A 1326 document mentions the “site of a ruined castle in West Derby” (Cooper & Power, 1982: 41), and the castle had probably gone out of use entirely by 1297. It had lost its importance at the same time that Liverpool, with its own castle, had risen to prominence. The site was finally levelled in 1817.
Cooper, J.G., & Power, A.D., 1982, A History of West Derby, Causeway Press, Ormskirk
Droop, J P, Larkin, F C, ‘AAA’ in Excavations At West Derby Castle, Liverpool, , Vol. 15, (1928)
Eames, J.V.H., A Short report on the excavations at West Derby Castle, 1957, L’pool Univ School of Arch. (Pag 1-6)
Mill Lane (Mylngate in documents of 1444 and 1492) is aptly named as the site of the king’s windmill, first mentioned in 1461, along with a horse mill. This stood on the site of the recently built Marks and Spencer building.
The windmill was built on the end of one of the NW-SE ridges that strike across the landscape – a perfect place to catch the breeze! In the early medieval period a survey by Edward IV noted it was in good condition. At the same time, the house associated with the horse mill was ordered to be repaired.
Perry’s map of 1768 shows the mill, and it would have made a useful landmark for any land surveyors of the time. The map of Lord Molyneux’s estate (1769) also shows it. On very early (horse-drawn) cab routes the mill is quoted as a landmark stop on the route. This use continued until at least around 1825, according to directories of the time, though the mill itself had probably already been demolished by 1805.
A tithe barn, 45ft x 30ft, sat on the opposite corner to the windmill, and is now the site of the aptly named Jolly Miller pub. A large house, Barn Field, occupied the site before the pub was built in the 1920s. Another tithe barn stood where Aspes Road meets Finch Lane. This barn served Acker’s Mill.
There would have been other mills in the area, and a field near Meadow Lane was labelled as Milldam Hey on the tithe map.
The court house was, amongst other things, the place where local copyholders deposited a copy of their freehold lease in a secure chest, and had to renew it once a year. They were bound by the contract to keep their dwelling in good condition. Copyholders were generally “men of substance and employers of labour”.
The stocks which now sit next to the Yeoman’s House once stood at the north end of the court house, before the tram inspector’s hut was built (see below). The pound, the piece of land in which the stocks sit, was planted and arranged for Edward VII’s coronation in 1901.
The courthouse was scheduled for demolition in 1921, but interested locals leased the building from the then lord of the manor, the Marquis of Salisbury, for a nominal sum (2s 6d per annum). In 1933 the Marquis gave his freehold to the City of Liverpool. This early conservation campaign helped keep the historic environment of West Derby in the state that we find it today.
West Derby Chapel was situated in the centre of the village, a space now occupied by a monument. It was first mentioned in the mid-14th Century, and mentioned again in Edward IV’s reign in relation to a repair, deemed important as the chapel was useful for holding the king’s court (and this was before a separate court house was built).
Already by 1650 the chapel was described as ‘ancient’, and documents refer to repairs and additions in 1680, 1719 (for aisles) and 1745-6 (stone pillars to support the steeple, and the repair of the steeple itself). The sundial, which now adorns the wall of St Mary’s Church, was added in 1793 after a complete rebuilding of the chapel the year before.
The chapels was made a parish church in 1844, but St James’ church was built in 1847 and took over the role. Dissatisfaction with St James’ set in early, and £500 was raised for a new church. The Earl of Sefton donated the site off Meadow Lane, and St. Mary’s was built.
The chapel was demolished in 1856, leading to the discovery of building stones which were shaped in a way which would have supported a thatched roof originally. The bell from the chapel was moved to the school in Meadow Lane; some of the wooden doors became part of the new church’s vestry; others were moved to Ivy Cottage in Almonds Green. The font was given to the Church of the Good Shepherd in Toxteth and the sundial spent some time at Moss House before being moved to the wall of St Mary’s, where it remains to this day.
The monument built on the site of the chapel’s altar was designed by Eden Nesfield, who was also the architect behind the cottages (1861-7) in front of St Mary’s church.
Perhaps that’s why the fountain has a recess in the base for a dog bowl – neither person nor beast will be left out of consideration of its need!
I’ve also noticed, just from my own photos over the years, that the lamp head itself has been replaced, having been absent in 2004.
There’s also an inscription on the fountain at its widest part which, apart from the details of its origins, reads “Water is best”.
I’ve seen it suggested that this was a deliberate dig at one of the two buildings across the road – the Sefton Arms or the Hare and Hounds. Although the latter is a little further away, it must be this one (if it’s either), as the Sefton Arms wasn’t yet constructed in 1894.
Perhaps the message was for the benefit of those parishioners emerging from St Mary’s Church on a Sunday and wondering whether to head right…
This book is a memoir, and many of those have been published over the years (and a couple reviewed on this very site). Like some of those other memoirs, it is a series of reminiscences on family and place. But it’s a slightly different beast to the other memoirs. It’s main selling point is that it comes from the pen of Jeff Young, a writer with TV and theatre credits to his name, such as the play Bright Phoenix.
The book has a dream-like quality, with reality, dream and (science) fiction becoming intertwined and difficult to separate. The young Jeff walks unharmed through gangs of older boys you’re sure are going to pounce. His solitariness, the muse for his writing, may be a shield.
Strangeness and time
The book isn’t chronological, as such, and neither are the wonderful photographs that separate each chapter. We see Jeff and a friend wandering Everton in recent years, a suburb which has largely disappeared since their boyhoods. Here they experience something of a timeslip. A revenant from a previous era floats through the scene and heads towards town. We’re following (maybe literally) De Quincy’s travels through the city, but through the eyes of a Scouser. These are geographic travels around town that summon old things, memories and people. This isn’t the last time slip; neither is it the last time Jeff will look up from his reverie and find the city emptier – cleared, demolished – than he remembers it.
Dreams invade the narrative, and shape it. Russian tanks are rolling into Prague. Or are they only doing this in dream? Remembrances of coinciding events prove false – the moments occured years apart, but are forever significantly linked somehow in Young’s mind. He distinctly remembers seeing Daleks: Invasion Earth (1966) at the Grosvenor cinema… which closed in 1963. A dramatic incident on matchday years before, involving a police horse, is burned indelibly on his mind… except he wasn’t there; he’s absorbed a tale his mother must have told to a neighbour. The important thing to state is that he knows all this, and it’s part of the story.
Science Fiction writer China Mieville gets two mentions, with one for his City and the City. Young doesn’t mention the fact that the TV version was filmed in Liverpool, but at least for me this is a story through which reality and fiction become blurred.
Landscape and memory
At some point in Young’s life the family move (are moved?) from the inner city to Maghull, and there’s a whole new landscape to explore. The boy takes to it naturally, and the terraces of yore are replaced with fields, jiggers with ditches and the canal.
If his TV work (including EastEnders and Doctors) brings creativity to coverage of the ‘everyday’, then this talent is brought to bear when recalling memories of the 1950s and 60s in Liverpool and then Maghull. I was reminded by the tone of the thing of Ronnie Hughes of A Sense of Place, especially of Ronnie’s own ‘checking up’ on his home town. The tone conjours feelings of nostalgia and warmth towards its subject, without the cloying ‘we-wuz-happy’ of many memoirs.
As he grows up, he haunts new landscapes, like Mathew Street and its various popular and mythical inhabitants. Liverpool in the 1970s experienced a creative boom, giving life to Eric’s and Ken Campbell’s Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun. The landscape is often of dreams and whimsy – important whimsy – populated by Ken Campbell, Bill Drummond and more. It’s a timely reminder that Liverpool’s culture didn’t die with Merseybeat.
The thing that surprised me is just how closely Jeff Young’s life and work has intertwined with the historic Liverpool landscape. In Bright Phoenix kids break into the old abandoned Futurist cinema, breathing new, if temporary life into something that meant a lot to them and their parents. Young has an ‘architectural hero’ in the form of Peter Ellis. His mum sneaks into Oriel Chambers with him (or rather he sneaks in with her), and he has moments trying to understand its strange (and, at it’s opening, unappreciated) beauty.
There’s an example of his insight into architecture and change when it comes to Rowse’s tunnel ventilation building. He notes it looks more futuristic, with its streamlined statue of ‘Speed, the Modern Mercury’ than anything that came after, like the car parks, the (late) flyovers and the footpaths in the sky. And he’s got a good point. He rues the possibility that the Tipping Buckets fountain in Beetham Plaza might be relocated, replaced with a hotel for visitors at the very moment a reason to visit the plaza is removed.
It turns out that Alfred Shennan, architect of many Liverpool cinemas (including the Grosvenor) was once his mum’s boss. As Young himself says, the map of Liverpool is in his blood – “This place is myself” (p133). It’s as much an admission as a realisation. So when a little of that landscape is destroyed, it saddens him. Referring to the replacement of the Futurist with a Lidl, he points out:
“No one will ever again say that last night they went down Lime Street, unless in a story about buying a bumper pack of toilet rolls.”
And this just about sums up how a playwright can articulate something about changing Liverpool better than most of us. (And maybe such stories will be all too common in 2020!)
This is a book which recalls a childhood and adolescence that may not have happened quite this way. But that just means that it evokes the nature of memories so much the better. There’s an admission all the way through that any of the recollections could be subject to change.
True, there are people in desperate circumstances, like the market scenes where the items for sale are as in deepened straits as the customers. But this balance lends further realism, a way of witnessing dark times through the eyess of a young person who knows – expects – nothing more. A boy who wants nothing more than “whatever we have” to never end. Ignorance is bliss, even with 20:20 hindsight.
The book unexpectedly provides great insight into what it’s like to witness the changing of a city. Sometimes it’s gradual, changing with the viewer, and sometimes it’s sudden, as when he returns after an absence to an unrecognisable landscape. He’s expanding outside what we might expect of him, and he proves himelf up to the task, as we all are.
The book itself is a beautiful object, a perfect size for long reading sessions – and I nearly absorbed the whole lot in a couple of hours! It’s beautifully produced, let down only by the low resolution maps (I know!) on the inside covers. In some ways it’s similar in feel to Our Liverpool by J.P. Dudgeon, but more positive, perhaps more honest, but capturing more truth of life because of it. It balances the hindsight of adulthood with the genuine memories of a child.
The former Dominion pub (Or Dominion Hotel) at the junction of Regent Road and Bankfield Street in Kirkdale is now the Bankfield Enterprise Hub. This, its latest role, represents the early years of a new direction for this part of the docks. With the decline in shipping, much of the area became a lot quieter. But now, with the advent of Peel Waters and a potential influx of new residents and businesses, the building that was once the Dominion no doubt hopes to get a new lease of life.
The building has a curious figure stood atop its roof. Often mistaken for a child or a shepherd, this chap is in fact a lumberjack. He gazes across the Dock Road to Canada Dock, and it’s this location that explains his presence.
The Canadian timber trade
Canada Dock opened in 1869, and was Jesse Hartley’s biggest dock project. It dealt in timber, its name a reflection of the predominant source of that material at the time.
Canada Dock was originally relatively isolated from other docks, and was far from the town centre. The northwards expansion of the dock estate was forced by the shape of the river, but its location was also handy in reducing the risk of fire – always a danger with large quantities of wood. Hartley’s Albert Dock was built entirely wood-free for this very reason.
Other timber docks, such as London’s own Canada Dock, handled timber by offloading it into the water, and making rafts of the trunks to move it further inland. Today, Canada Water in Rotherhithe is the remains of Canada Dock, and the nearby Canada Pond and Quebec Pond were for the temporary rafts.
He’s a lumberjack and he’s OK
Liverpool’s Canada Dock was therefore a little unusual in its design, offloading wood directly onto the quay. But next time you’re passing down the Dock Road, look out for the lumberjack, complete with impressive facial hair, trusty hound and plaid shirt. Just don’t call him a hipster. He’s also got an axe.
A photo of this grid popped up on Facebook in early 2019. I had no idea what it really was, but was intrigued. It looked like something& from the William Morris school, which I like for both design and political reasons, so I did a little snooping (i.e Googling about a bit).
The metal grid is embedded in the pavement outside Tate Liverpool at the Albert Dock. It is decorated with intertwining vine-like branches, and in the centre is the phrase “My future will reflect a new world”. There’s a spider’s web and a few other things floating round (perhaps berries or pollen grains).
Art at the Dock
The proximity to Tate Liverpool isn’t coincidental. This installation is part of a wider collaboration between artists Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho, under the banner ‘News from Nowhere’ (not to be confused with one of Liverpool’s finest bookshops).
News From Nowhere is the name of a novel by the very same William Morris I mentioned in the first paragraph. In the novel, the Victorian protagonist is mysteriously catapulted into the 21st century, and his conversations with the futuristic inhabitants act as a satire and comment on the inequalities and rampant industrialisation of Morris’s own time (and there lies the connection with the bookshop).
Moon and Jeon’s collaboration arose from conversations between the two artists over art’s role in the world. They were “fed up [with] wasteful art installations and art production”. Part of their News From Nowhere collaboration is a piece of video called El Fin del Mondo (End of the World) which reminds us that the future is no yet written, though we in the present are writing it all the time. Therefore, art can have a very important place in deciding the direction of the world as a whole.
The quote itself is from the female protagonist of the film, and embodies the realisation that her actions have real meaning, and must be chosen wisely.
One of these covers was installed over an existing drain at the entrance to Tate Modern in 2019, while another could be found inside the gallery itself. They stood for the thin cover that we place over the dirty and chaotic parts of our world that must exist to allow civilisation to function. The exhibition also demonstrated links between Liverpool and Jeon’s home city of Busan in South Korea. Both were powerful ports 100 years ago, but suffered decline in the 20th century, followed by a culture and heritage-fronted resurgence at the 21st century got under way.
News From Nowhere ran from 23 November 2018 to 17 March 2019, and I must admit that I’m not sure whether the grid is still out there. However, its place outside the Tate, one of the first elements in the Albert Dock’s regeneration, is highly symbolic, and deserves some attention on this blog.
Recently, I was contacted by Monica Lewis who had found a collection of postcards belonging to her grandfather. He was in the Navy in the First World War, and Monica thinks these postcards (amongst many from other parts of the world) were accumulated over the course of his career.
She’d like me to share these postcards with you, so I’m putting them here along with a few words about each. Some views might be familar, having been popular postcard views at the time, while others are less typical. I’m not sure how many postcards sent these days include views of working docks! It goes to show how industry was of interest to the general (proud) public in those days, and it’s a treasure trove for us!
Note: all the images have been uploaded in their original high resolution versions, so you can click on them for larger versions, and save them in the usual way.
Bold Street, Liverpool
This is an oft-repeated view of Liverpool’s most fashionable shopping street at the time (and it’s still one of the best today). There’s a horse and cart pulled up next to the Lyceum, and three or four very early motor cars are parked or travelling up and down the road.
As well as the smart neoclassical Lyceum, there is a wonderful set of shop frontages on the right, starting with Faraday’s at the bottom, and including a clock projecting from an upper storey further on. And of course at the top of the street is St. Luke’s not-yet-bombed-out church.
I’m no expect but it looks like this is a very early scene, perhaps 1905-1915.
Canning Dock, Liverpool
Canning Dock is one of the oldest central docks in Liverpool, built in 1797. This image shows masted ships on the three visible sides, and warehouses all around.
This image is another classic Liverpool photo scene, with perhaps one minor difference. The view points towards the Three Graces, but on closer inspection it seems that Cunard Building is missing! This makes the photo easy to date, as the Cunard Building was constructed between 1914 and 1917. As the Liver Building was completed in 1911, this image must come from the period 1911 – 1917 (as it’s possible the Cunard Building is half-built in this photo).
Docks and River, Liverpool
This is a much more unusual view. Here we see a view looking northwards over Prince’ Dock. What struck me is just how neat it all is! There are pies of wood, a ship in dry dock on the right, and a neat house next door – the Marine Surveyor’s office. On the left is Liverpool’s Riverside Station, linking ship passengers with the city centre and the rest of the country. A motor car and working horses complete the picture at the bottom. Quite a transport hub in action here!
It looks like this photograph was taken from an upper floor of the Liver Building, and the raised view shows a couple of interesting details further afield. We can see chimneys and warehouses to the north east, and over to the west is the outline of New Brighton Tower, reminding us of the aspirations of Wirral as a destination of leisure!
Landing Stage and Docks, Liverpool
This is a similar view to the others, looking north west towards Wirral across the roof of the Riverside Station. The New Brighton Tower is visible in this view too, though in less detail. It’s much easier to see the ships on the Mersey (though there aren’t many), including one docked at the landing stage. We can see the clock tower and the adjacent Dock Master’s Office at Prince’s Half Tide Dock.
Prince’s Parade and Royal Liver Buildings, Liverpool
I’m not sure whether it’s a typo, or if this building was once known in the plural, but this photograph gives a great view of the new Liver Building context. The Tower Buildings (1906-10) peer out from behind, with the Liverpool Overhead Railway running between down the Strand. The much older St Nicholas’ Church is also visible.
What’s striking here is the neat green plantings around the approach to the landing stage. Bushes and lawn line the road at which a cart is parked. We can also see the offices surrounding the churchyard.
St George’s Hall, Liverpool
It’s the little details in this picture that I like the most. Of course, front and centre is St George’s Hall itself, dark from the air pollution of Victorian Liverpool, but none the less grand for all that. But look around the scene, and a lot more shows itself worth looking at.
Lime Street Station and the shops fronting it can be seen to the right, while on the left we can see the Wellington Column at the top of William Brown Street. St John’s Gardens look newly laid out (they opened in 1904), and the large trees which surround it and look stunning lit up at night have not grown up yet. In the foreground are the steps and translucent tiles indicating the toilets on Old Haymarket, along with the kiosk (tram (driver) shelter?).
William Brown Street, Liverpool
This is another early view of a tidy St John’s Gardens, looking out over William Brown Street and its wonderfully elaborate street lamps, which also hold the overhead tram cables. The ‘Free Museum and Library’ and the ‘Technical School’ (as they are marked on contemporary maps) are easy to see, nearly cheek-by-jowl with the industrial chimneys behind Old Haymarket and further into town.
Update: RMS Lusitania at Landing Stage
Since sending me the original set of postcards, Monica has discovered this great picture of the RMS Lusitania at the landing stage. The Lusitania was famously sunk by a German U-boat off the south coast of Ireland in May 1915, bringing the US into the First World War. So that backs up the idea that these postcards are from around 1910 – the Lusitania’s maiden voyage was in 1907.
Pictures of Edwardian Liverpool
I’d like to thank Monica again for sending me these postcards. It looks like she was correct in thinking they’re early 20th century. Judging by the buildings and fashions it looks to me like they’re from around 1910. That makes them a fascinating insight into a point in time in the city. Having all the photos taken at a single time helps give us an overall feel for the landscape across the city.
The Allerton Oak is a 1000 year old sessile oak that stands in Calderstones Park. It’s surrounded by a double fence to protect its ancient structure, and metal crutches installed in 1907 hold up its branches.
Calderstones Park is in Allerton, which was mentioned in the Domesday Book and has a long history of its own. A long standing legend about the Allerton Oak is that its spreading branches sheltered the medieval hundred court. It would have been similar to the court held in West Derby (whose courthouse is a remnant of this tradition), and was often held at a significant (not to mention recognisable) landmark. The Allerton Oak fits the bill, although Mike Royden has suggested that the meetings are more likely to have happened nearer to the Calder Stones. Given that a boundary dispute map from 1568 uses the Calder Stones as a boundary marker between Little Woolton, Allerton and Wavertree, the mound wouldn’t be the first prehistoric monument to act as a medieval court location in a place like this.
Allerton Oak legends
The tree’s history continues to inspire legends. When the Lottie Sleigh exploded in the Mersey on 15th Febuary 1864 (11 tonnes of gunpowder were on board) the blast shattered windows and put out gas lamps across Liverpool. Authorities in Chester rang up to ask what all the noise was about. It’s said that all the windows in Calderstones Manor were shattered, and that a massive split appeared in the tree.
The Oak is indeed split down the middle, and largely hollow, but no one can really say that this was caused by the Lottie Sleigh exploding. Nevertheless, this shows how local history stories interweave across centuries. No doubt the story also helped cement the Allerton Oak’s reputation as an indestructable plant.
During the Second World War, leaves, seedlings and acorns from the Oak were sent in cards to soldiers fighting on the front. Staff from the manor house sent the cards, reminding soliders that they were in the thoughts of people back home, and perhaps to let something of that tree’s long life rub off on the men in danger. The upshot of sending these seedlings abroad is that there are probably young descendents of the tree across Europe and maybe further afield.
A long past and a healthy future for the Allerton Oak
The Allerton Oak has stood tall for over 1000 years. The Liverpool Echo ran a story in the 1970s that suggested it would have rotted to death by 2020, but this report seems premature. The tree is 5.5 metres tall and produces 100,000 acorns every year, so it’s future seems assured.
Despite this, a tree this large puts a strain on itself. The 1907 crutches have kept it upright for over 1000 years but they are in need of replacement. There is an £80,000 project to replace these crutches with more modern support, and which can grow and adapt to the changing tree. There is also a sapling (‘Allerton Oak the Younger’) in the park itself, and Calderstones gardeners are busy protecting this next generation.
The Allerton Oak’s fame is spreading around the world, since it has twice won England’s Tree of the Year (2014, 2019) and is set to represent the country in the European Tree of the Year in 2020. Money raised through these competitions, plus other efforts, will go to helping maintain this ancient tree for many centuries to come.
The Calder Stones have a troubled history, even for a site that’s about 5000 years old. While it’s escaped complete destruction like many of its Irish Sea cousins, there are many of these Neolithic sites which aren’t doing too badly. Even those completely denuded of their turf, soil and/or cobble mound stand proud in fields across Wales, Ireland and Scotland, the chamber more or less intact.
The Calder Stones, on the other hand, have had the sand in their mound re-recycled for cement, and their stones (both the main stones and cobbles in the mound) crushed and used for road-building material. Then the remainder were torn from their original arrangement and turned into an aesthetically pleasing (to the owner at the time, Joseph Need Walker) ‘druidical’ circle.
Then in 1954 they were put on ‘display’ in a glass vestibule, the only remnants of the extensive glasshouses that once graced Calderstones Park. This protected them from the weather, but the enclosed glasshouse meant that their condition continued to deteriorate. Visitors could only look in through the scratched semi-opaque glass, and as a visitor attraction they were largely forgotten.
Letting silent stones speak again
One unexpected consolation prize after all this movement was that – so little being known about their original position and arrangement – there was very little further to lose in their conservation and re-presentation. All options could be put on the table.
The new home for the Calderstones opened in September 2019, and I visited in mid-October. How has the visitor experience changed? In a word, the new setting is unrecognisable compared to the old.
Whereas before the stones were locked away in a glass box, at least two metres from the viewer, you can now walk right up to them and between them.
The six surviving stones are arranged in two parallel rows. This is meant to be a nod to their original passage tomb shape, but as the relative positions of the stones are not known, the Reader Organisation and the rest of the team were free to choose the order. I’m not sure how it was decided, but if I hear about I’ll add it to this article.
It’s a great solution to the eternal archaeological reconstruction puzzle: do you pick a moment in history to reconstruct? And how do you represent the more recent history? When the Calder Stones were sat in a circle on Calderstones Road, that became part of their history, and is a point of interest to those who study the monument. To try to place the Stones in their ‘original’ configuration would not only be impossible as there are so few left, but it would be as arbitrary a choice as the circular layout.
The parallel rows acknowledge our lack of information, while reflecting the part of the history we do know. They also increase physical access to the Stones.
The new experience
The first thing that strikes you when you arrive at the Calder Stones is how close you can get. There are no barriers between you and the rock faces, just a narrow line of slate between the path and the stone.
It goes without saying: you shouldn’t be reaching out to touch them. But you can certainly examine the stones’ surfaces, and explore them from every angle. You could try shining a torch on them from a shallow angle to highlight the relief patterns. This required special event access before.
You can walk around both sides of nearly all of the stones (one is too close to the glass, so you’ll need to go outside), examine the sides and the tops. You can truly examine the rock art.
State of the rock art
And as it’s the rock art that raises this monument above many of its relatives, this proximity makes all the difference.
No longer is the monument a pile (or ring) of stones to be looked at, gazed upon. It’s a gallery of human actions – everything from the shapes of the stones themselves, through the prehistoric cup and spiral markings, and the feet (bare and shod) from anywhere between the Neolithic, Medieval or modern periods. And don’t forget the graffiti initials!
In some way this feels closer to how the builders could have experienced it: a journey from one stone to the next, glyphs passing the eye. You’re no longer looking at the monument, you’re reading it.
I’m not sure of the decision behind the stones’ order, but it seemed to me like the stones were placed with most of the art facing inwards. This again might reflect the chamber’s original arrangement, but in any case it makes it easy to take it in in one big sweep.
This freedom to explore the stones surface leads to a tantalising possibility: will I find some new art? It’s been done, and recently! Alas, it was not to be this time, but I’m sure it won’t stop me trying each time I visit.
Here are some of my favourite carvings on the stones (click for larger versions):
You can also more closely look at the sandstone itself, for its own sake. Sandstone is a sedimentary rock, laid down at the base of an ancient sea. In south west Lancashire it’s especially red, and the ruddy layers can be seen on the edges of the stones.
It creates a link, a chain, between nature, the builders of this ancient structure and many of our buildings. Just take a look at the Anglican Cathedral, or St Peter’s Church in Woolton, nearby, and every garden wall for miles around. This is the living rock of Merseyside.
As soon as I posted a couple of pictures on Twitter, the archaeologist Mike Pitts noticed the blackboard imploring people not to touch the stones.
Putting up a sandwich board asking people not to touch suggests perhaps this wasn’t thought through. Ancient carvings were noticed at Calderstones long before they were spotted at Stonehenge, which was fenced in 1978 partly to protect them. And the Stonehenge stones are harder https://t.co/n4kGLzJKwJ
It’s vital point to raise. All heritage projects need to decide on how much access to give to visitors. Perfect conservation can always be guaranteed by completely removing visitors, and if you’re Stonehenge, complete destruction can be ensured by allowing everyone to do what they want!
At the Calder Stones, the Reader organisation have put the stones in a lockable enclosure, with close-up access to them only when the house is open (though they can be seen through the glass at all times). As I replied to Mike, there’s a certain level of trust on display. Coupled with the low level of visitors and the museum-like feel of the place, I think this trust will be repaid. The Stones will no doubt be closely monitored, as will visitor activity, and time will tell us the effects.
I’m so glad they did things this way.
Visiting the Calder Stones
Next to the Calder Stones is a small exhibition placing them in the context of world history. A time-line shows them being built before the Pyramids in Egypt, and Stonehenge in Britain. As it’s the Reader, we’re also shown when various writing scripts began their use.
Another room has an exhibition on the house and estate itself, and the aforementioned Walker family. There are replica newspapers from the time, another time-line, and a slideshow of Victorian images of Calderstones. Finally there’s a café for refreshments, and a whole park to explore!
The mansion house is open every day from 8:30am to 7pm, so go along when you can and enjoy a slice of Scouse prehistory!
Image: the Calder Stones in their new location, taken by the author.
The Duck Decoy at Hale is an impressive, complex monument, now a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It lies in the lowest part of the landscape, amongst streams and wetlands and close the the River Mersey itself.
This part of the manor of Hale was drained in the medieval period, with the idea of increasing the amount of land suitable to plough. The trade-off was a reduction in land that wetland wildfowl could use. To counter this, the duck decoy was built.
Hale Decoy was designed to look like the many other coverts that dotted the landscape. The lack of shelter for water birds would make it an attractive spot. A pond was dug in the centre to complete the picture.
The distinctive star shape comes from the five pipes which allowed the game keeper to approach the pond from whichever direction he needed to to keep downwind of the fowl. The pipes were lined with wicker arches, joined together by nets. With the help of his dog, and strategically placed screens, the keeper would scare the birds down the pipes, the netting decreasing in width. At the pipes’ tip, the netting would be small enough to make catching the birds easy.
It’s not certain when Hale Duck Decoy was built, but one clue may lie in a brick near the pond’s boat house. Upon the brick are the moulded figures: X63:RC, which has been interpreted as 1633 (the initials apparently standing for ‘Reign of Charles’. Several decoys were built on the east coast of England in the 17th century, so this date is not unlikely. There are also records of the decoy being repaired in 1754 by Colonel J Blackburne of Hale Hall. The sophistication of this particular decoy do argue for it being a later example.
In 1976 the Cheshire Conservation Trust and the Lancashire Trust for Nature Conservation took over the running of the decoy. This responsibility passed, in 2000, to Halton Borough Council. They managed it as a nature reserve, and in 2001 a group of organisations and individuals met to form the Friends of Pickerings Pasture and Hale Duck Decoy.
Since 2004 the Friends have used a Heritage Lottery grant to improve the visitor experience of Hale Decoy, and make further use of the game keeper’s cottage to help inform visitors about the monument.
This is another of the guest posts on this blog, this time from John Owens. John got in touch hoping that I or you, dear readers, could help identify the source of some photos of a copper rolling works featuring an ancestor of his (see main article). I’ll pass it over to John now, who takes up the story.
If anyone reading this does know where these photos come from, please get in touch in the comments box below.
Photos of the John Bibby Sons and Co. copper rolling mills
The John Bibby Sons and Co. copper rolling mills located in Window Lane, Garston, was one of the first industries in what was then a small village, which was then separate from Liverpool. Previously, it had been located across the water, near Wallasey.
Bibby had founded the famous Liverpool shipping line, and in 1836 went into business with Richard Nevill, the manager of the famous Llanelly Copper Works in south Wales, to build and run new copper rolling mills at Poulton-cum-Seacombe on the bank of the Wallasey Pool. There, copper ingots smelted in St. Helens and Swansea were reheated and rolled into sheathing for the then wooden hulls of Bibby’s ships. Many of the 80 or so workers at Seacombe were recruited from copper workers in Swansea, including my great great grandfather David Owens, as well as the works’ manager.
With the extension of the Birkenhead Docks in the 1860s, the Bibbys transferred the mills (and many of the workers) to then green meadows in Window Lane, Garston, in 1865. Many were housed in the “back to front” houses, then called Bankfield Cottages in what is now Brunswick Street. By the 1880s, David’s son, John Owens had become foreman copper roller man and judging from the front page splash in the Garston and Woolton Weekly News when he died in June 1923 an important business figure in Garston. At its peak, Bibbys’ Garston works employed 250 workers, mostly from south and north Wales or their descendants. Apparently, the Bibby family owners had “a paternalistic streak” and provided financial support for Copper Works, FC, which in the 1890s was Garston’s leading amateur football club.
And so we come to a little mystery about which I am seeking the help of your readers in Garston or anywhere else.
Johnny Owens, my grandfather’s older brother, succeeded his father John Owens as foreman copper rollerman at Bibby’s round about 1916.
A recently discovered 82 year old cousin in Woolton has given me copies of four unique photos, which he says were given to him by a bloke in a pub in Garston many years ago. The bloke apparently knew his grandfather, Johnny Owens. My cousin says he thinks the pics were originally published in The Gentleman’s Magazine in about 1915 but I have not found the photos.
Photos of the Copper Works
So, has anyone seen these photos before? Maybe they have copies. Have they been published somewhere else – possibly in some other specialist magazine of the late 19th or early 20th century? Three of the pics are of Bibby’s Garston Copper Works (not to be confused with the Crown Copper Works built by Bibby’s former manager in 1880 on the other side of Window Lane). Two of the older photos include Johnny (b.1875), who is the big guy (22 stone) holding what looks like some kind of measurement instrument. Judging by Johnny’s age, I think the three older, grainy, pics were taken just after he became foreman, say, 1916-17. The fourth photo is a “team” photo of 11 copper workers, probably taken about 1925, and includes Bibby’s manager at the time, Fred Bawden (born in Cornwall, 1857). Johnny is to his left with thumbs in his waistcoat.
John E. Owens in an Emeritus professor at the University of Westminster
There isn’t a more iconic Merseyside building than the Royal Liver Building. It sits at the Pier Head, the point at which Liverpool’s wealth flowed into the Victorian and Edwardian town. Its sister buildings embody one of the great shipping companies of Liverpool’s heyday and the Port itself, respectively. And it’s crowned with the two most famous representations of Liverpool’s symbolic and legendary avians.
Even if it hadn’t been named the Liver Building when it was built, no doubt we’d be calling it that today anyway.
It has a long and fascinating history, from the beginnings of Royal Liver Assurance as the Liverpool Lyver Burial Society. A group of working class men set up the Society to ensure that none of them suffered the ignominy of a “pauper’s” (i.e. unmarked) grave.
From these humble beginnings, the society outgrew several headquarters before settling on the purpose-built Liver Building, which opened in 1911. As I mention in my book, the secret of the Liver Building was that it was much bigger than Royal Liver Assurance needed. The cost of the huge building was offset by letting out the other floors to other companies.
In the 100-plus years since then, no image to represent Liverpool in its entirety is complete without it. And something that I’ve only recently appreciated is how world famous the building is. It’s made it into at least two computer games: SimCity 3000 (1999) and Horizon Zero Dawn (2017) for a start.
Legend has it that if the liver birds fly from the turrets, then Liverpool will cease to exist. I don’t really know what the hell that means, but put it this way: the liver birds on the Liver Building will survive for as long as Liverpool does.
Royal Liver Building history
A new era began in 2011, a century after the building opened, when Royal Liver Assurance merged with the Royal London Group. The building was put up for sale, for the first time in its history, in 2016. Corestate Capital and Farhad Moshiri (Everton FC’s majority shareholder) bought it for £48 million. It’s now home to 16 tenant companies.
It’s this change of ownership which has led to the creation of a public tour, under the banner of RLB360. The tour opened its doors in April 2019. I was lucky enough to get tickets on one of the most beautiful weather days in May.
The Royal Liver Building was the tallest building in Britain from its opening in 1911 until the Shell Centre opened in 1961. It therefore seems fitting that the focus of RLB360 is the access it gives to the roof. But your ticket also gives you access to a small exhibition in the basement, displaying photos and short history snippets of the building, as well as a wealth of stats and facts.
You can also have your photo taken in front of a green screen, inserting yourself into a handful of historic and modern images. They’re a little pricey to buy prints (as you might expect), but there’s no obligation however much you play with it.
After a short health and safety briefing (no leaning over the edge!) you’re go via lift to the 11th floor, the topmost office storey, and out onto a lower roof level. Here you get your first impressive views of the Mersey, town and the docks. More importantly, as this level you’re closer to the giant clock faces (bigger than those housing Big Ben) than you’ll probably have been before. It really brings home how massive those hands are!
Most of the attraction of this tour is to get close to the clock faces, the architectural details, and those birds. You also get a 10 minute video, projected onto the walls inside the river-front clock tower.
The video starts with the clocks themselves, then transporting you back in time to the construction project of 1911. From here its off through the Blitz raids of 1941, pop psychedelia and Culture Capital fireworks.
It’s a nutshell summary of 100 years of history, but there’s nothing new for anyone who’s heard of World War II and the Beatles. Still, the animated liver birds were pretty cool!
It was a privilege to come so close to the workings of the Liver Building clocks; the mechanisms provided the incessant soundtrack to the film.
After this comes the final flight of spiral stairs onto the upper roof level. Now you’re half way up one of the two Royal Liver Building turrets, above the clocks. Here are the promised 360° views from Snowdonia to the Pennines. This is the first time I’ve seen both sides of the Wirral without being in an aircraft.
You can also see a great deal of the Mersey, from the windfarms in Liverpool Bay, past ferries big and small, and off to Tranmere and Runcorn. You get a new angle on the city centre into bargain too, and the two football stadia to the east.
A new view of Liverpool
This new attraction is going to be of most interest to locals wanting to see inside their most iconic building. You don’t see much of the Royal Liver Building’s innards, except for the lift, stairs and clock room. It’s all about the views (hence the name) and a smattering of history. For those who don’t mind how they get their aerial fix, the big wheel at the King’s Dock is probably just as good (though you can linger longer on the Liver Building roof). But it’s the experience of being in this precise building which is its big draw.
The display in the basement is good, with just enough to keep you entertained while you wait for your tour.
If I have to criticise something, it was the jagged feel of ‘newness’ that should smooth off with time. The tour guides, while very friendly and polite, lacked the easy-going attitude that made the tours of the Old Dock and the Queensway Tunnel so enjoyable. I’m sure they’ll relax into their roles before long, and feel more confident going off-script. There’s some return value in feeling that your tour guide put their own spin on things; that the other guides would give you a different experience. Whether this is something the building’s owners would accept is another matter, but I hope it’s the way things go.
I learned a couple of things. Firstly, the Royal Liver Building is built from reinforced concrete (one of the first buildings in the world). Secondly, there are three clocks on the river side, but only one on the Strand side. Yes, I know you can tell this from just looking, but if you’d asked me I’d probably have said three clocks on both towers! It pays to be more observant…
More information: you can find out more about the tour, and buy tickets, from http://rlb360.com/
Scenes from a tour: Liverpool from the Liver Building roof
The view east over Everton and St Nicholas’s church
Looking east towards St John’s Market and Lime Street
A clos-up of St Nick’s, across the Strand
North, towards Liverpool Bay and the site of Everton’s new stadium
Above us only birds and aeroplanes
Ferries on the Mersey
Getting close to the architecture
The size of the hands is clear at this distance
East up the Mersey, with the Museum of Liverpool in the foreground
Are the liver birds jealous of their cousins?
The view south over the Royal Albert Dock and the city
Manufacturer’s plaque on the clock mechanism
The spiral stairs up to the roof of the Liver Building
This is part of a series of posts based on the talks given at the Recent Developments in Merseyside Archaeology conference. It was held on the 13th October 2018, and took place at the Museum of Liverpool. Mark Adams of RSK Consulting spoke about his site at Mark Rake in Bromborough.
Mark dug on the site of the former Rectory Gardens, looking for the remains of a lost Anglo-Saxon sculpture. They were first found when the church was last rebuilt, in the mid-19th century. The story goes that builders crushed the remains for sand, possibly on the order of the rectory’s incumbent!
The old rectory gardens, Mark Rake
The excavation at Mark Rake happened in 2016, supported by Big Heritage. Big Heritage had a season of local test pitting as part of ‘Discovering Bromborough‘ back in 2013. Archaeologists found Mesolithic and Neolithic stone flakes, Roman coins and pottery.
The evidence suggested that nothing had been built on the site of Church Croft since at least the 1650s. Perhaps this lack of development would have led to the survival of very old archaeology.
When a new, smaller rectory replaced the old building, builders found fragments of an Anglo-Saxon sculpture. The carvings have since disappeared, so the archaeologists wondered whether they could rediscover them. Their second aim was to look for settlement, from the Anglo-Saxon period or any other.
Looking for a sculpture
The archaeologists dismantled a wall dating from the time of the new rectory, but found no carvings. They then stripped an area for excavation, finding a series of perpendicular ditches. They found a Neolithic arrowhead and Neolithic carinated bowl fragments. These date from 4000 – 3000 BC, and were found in shallow scoops. Mark suspected a cremation, and so took the whole context as a sample. Human bone was indeed recovered from the sample.
Evidence of a settlement suggested a Bronze Age date. There was a ditch or a gully associated with a collared urn (typically Bronze Age).
More gullies dated from AD 650 – 850, encouraging the idea that an Anglo-Saxon sculpture could be on the cards. Environmental analysis discovered barley, rye, wheat and weed evidence.
Finally, on the very last day of the excavation, diggers found a piece of carved stone. Comparison with an old photo of the entire set of sculpture pieces showed that it was part of the collection found in the 19th century. Unfortunately none of the other pieces was found. Mark concluded that the rest had indeed, as the story tells, been ground up for building sand.
Excavating in Bromborough
Despite not finding the majority of the sculpture, Mark had found a few clues that would help future excavations. Although individual finds are interesting, it is the collection which is important. The assemblage of prehistoric finds in proximity to medieval ones is a pattern that Mark has seen elsewhere, and it’ll be interesting to see if, in future, finding medieval features can lead to prehistoric sites.
There are two other sites: All Saints Church, Childwall, and Overchurch in Sefton, which may yield such secrets in the future. They are ancient sites (All Saints has 14th century masonry in its walls) with very little development since their foundation. If the patterns that Mark sees on other Merseyside excavations are taken further, the prehistory of Merseyside is only just beginning to reveal itself.
This is part of a series of posts based on the talks given at the Recent Developments in Merseyside Archaeology conference. It was held on the 13th October 2018, and took place at the Museum of Liverpool. Liz Stewart spoke about Pembroke Place, and the different projects which have been going on there. Galkoff’s Place featured prominently, as did court housing and the area’s ‘darker’ history.
The Pembroke Place project
Liz began her talk with an overview of the project she ran at Pembroke Place. Liverpool’s famous School of Tropical Medicine are landowners in the area, and have been a partner in the project. The centre of the project has been Galkoff’s butcher’s shop and Watkinson Terrace – a court house next door.
In 1835 a map by Gage documented the high density of residents in the area. Before this time the area had been a place of ‘goodly mansions’, but the owners of those had started moving out to the more salubrious outskirts of Liverpool. Their large houses were disappearing, slowly replaced with much smaller dwellings. However, some of these larger villas still stood to the east of Daulby Place when the smaller buildings appeared on the map.
Liverpool’s population in the 19th century
In the early 19th century 40% of the people of Liverpool lived in cellar dwellings. Even at the time, these conditions were known to be too poor for living, and enquiries were run at the time. In the early 20th century slum clearances finally began.
Pembroke Place once consisted of eight houses on it, around two courtyards. Today, only two of those eight houses remain, as back rooms to the shops fronting the street.
Archaeology at Pembroke Place
The Museum of Liverpool wrote a report on these houses, and collected information about the social context of the street. Social context drew on newspaper articles, which often referenced ‘Little Hell’, the area’s nickname. Anson Street was the centre of Little Hell, which had a reputation for high numbers of murders and brothels. This reputation was no doubt fuelled by the newspaper’s need to sell copies. Liz mentioned that the articles were misleading with their exaggerations.
The archaeologists, including Mark Adams, found structures belonging to the court houses. There was a light well as street level, letting sunlight into the lowest dwellings. There is evidence of the buildings’ alteration and adjustment, including around the light well. The finds were of surprisingly high quality, with bowls, a domino and a ceramic egg dug up. These show that, despite the conditions, people felt it important to surround themselves with ‘non-essentials’.
Court housing may be a familiar topic for Liverpudlians. But the evidence from the newspapers, and even the excavations, brought to light disturbing details of life in the courts. Even the census records tell of the living conditions.
There were indeed murders, including those of children, as well as other social ills. Should a museum talk about these? Is there a danger of treating the information like those Victorian newspapers did? Does a museum run the risk of accusations of exploitation?
The Museum of Liverpool conducted a survey, and 100% of people thought that a museum was an appropriate place to talk openly about ‘dark’ and troubling history. However, 90% thought that child murder was something to leave out, even from museums. This is likely related to the family audience museums attract.
The census reports show that, although court houses, these buildings did not house the poorest people. Residents had steady jobs, for example. But Liz admitted that there’s more work to do to establish anything for certain.
In answer to a question from the audience, Liz told us that there were several Jewish businesses in the area, as well as Galkoff’s, until the 1950s. At that point many of them moved into south Liverpool, around Wavertree and Childwall.
This is part of a series of posts based on the talks given at the Recent Developments in Merseyside Archaeology conference. It was held on the 13th October 2018, and took place at the Museum of Liverpool. This session was slightly different, in that as well as a talk, Jeff Speakman showed attendees pottery excavated from Rainford. People were allowed to handle the pots, and questions were asked in a kind of interactive session.
Rainford, in north east Merseyside, was once a huge pottery and pipemaking centre, only declining in the early 20th century. ‘Faceted tygs‘ are one of the most distinctive types of pot, and the earliest drawing we have is from 1878.
Sam Rowe and a team of archaeologists have been excavating in Church Road, Rainford, to uncover details about the town’s pottery industry. Their ‘Site 10’ was the first pottery site excavated in north west England (with Melling coming second place).
The Golden Lion pub was itself a site of pipemaking.
In 1979 archaeologists excavated a site intended for a new clubhouse and changing rooms on the tennis courts. In 2011 test pitting produced a faceted cup, and in 2013 the Rainford Roots project began. Jeff noted that the test pits for Rainford Roots were incredibly densely packed with pottery sherds. Late 16th century wasters (misfired pots used for packing and protection in kilns) showed that this was definitely an industrial scale of pot making.
Infra red photographs showed field boundaries in the area, but the location of kilns was still uncertain. Three quarters of a tonne of pottery was excavated from the tennis court extension site, close to the earlier digs in the 1970s. Some pots were complete, and in the best condition Jeff has seen across the many sites he’s excavated over years.
Unique pottery from Rainford
Some unusual pieces came from Rainford. Sgraffito is a type of hand carved design where a design is scratched into the top one of two layers of glaze, giving a contrasting colour. A potentially controversial sgraffito item was found (see below). Tygs are three- (or more!) handled jugs made at a couple of sites in north west England (plus a single waster from Stoke). Rainford has a distinctive design which the archaeologists asked a modern potter to reproduce. The rather heavy version that came back was proof, as the potter admitted, that small hands (or a long tool) were needed to craft the fine bodied vessels found at Rainford. This could mean they were made by women or children.
Another unique feature are the handles. Even when the design of the pot itself is seen from other locations, the handles have a ‘twisted’ design, asymmetrical, which is unique to Rainford. This unusual type is found on pots of many different designs.
Other Rainford pottery types
As well as these highlights, the Rainford Roots team found other interesting pieces. There were one-off pieces found nowhere else, there were chafing dishes, salting pans, a possible alembic tray, hollow handles, decorated sherds, and some things that look like ‘melted’ pots. Some sherds have seed impressions on them, which probably came from seeds which were scattered on the floor of the space set aside for drying.
One interesting piece was one that Jeff saw as potentially idolatrous: it had a rough ‘face’ in the centre, which could be the face of Jesus (see second image in gallery on Liverpool Museum’s blog post). This would have been problematic in an era when the Protestant Reformation had blacklisted images of Jesus.
It’s hoped that makers marks will let archaeologists discover the identity of the potters. Clay pipes often have decoration on them, including makers marks but also other designs that still allow identification of their origin.
This is part of a series of posts based on the talks given at the Recent Developments in Merseyside Archaeology conference. It was held on the 13th October 2018, and took place at the Museum of Liverpool. This talk was given by Vanessa Oakden, now Curator of Regional & Community Archaeology at the Museum of Liverpool, and formerly the Finds Liaison Officer for Liverpool, for the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
This talk is centred on two community archaeology projects that Vanessa has been involved in: St Nicholas’ Church on the waterfront, and Lister Steps in Tue Brook. The projects aimed to teach volunteers some building recording skills, and preserve the buildings in question. The projects would put the buildings in their landscape context as well, and highlight some of the changes to the structures over time.
St Nicholas’s Church
There once was a small chapel on the banks of the Mersey, known as St Mary del Key (Quay), first mentioned in 1257. This was not a full parish church, but a chapel of ease within the parish of Walton-on-the-Hill. St Nicholas’s Church was built close by in 1355, taking over the role of St Mary’s. It was constructed over the course of a century, finally consecrated in 1361 when plague erupted in the city.
The church has been rebuilt several times, for example in 1952 after it had suffered heavy damage in the Blitz. Lots of older material is therefore still in situ, and the project rediscovered some of this. The fascinating thing about these remains is that they are not all aligned with the current building. They may be earlier, and unrelated to the building of the church itself.
Vanessa showed the Peters Painting which depicts the city in the 1680s. She said that the painting suggests these older walls may be part of warehouses just inland of the church (as it then stood). They could be Late Medieval, or even earlier.
Other parts of the section that the community archaeology group excavated showed the 19th century re-use of rubble from older versions of St Nick’s.
The old Lister Drive Library was one of the so-called ‘Carnegie libraries‘, the only one in Liverpool, and designed by Thomas Shelmerdine. It closed in 2006 because of the poor state of the building, thus putting it at even greater risk. It’s a Grade II listed building, and following a successful Heritage Lottery Fund bid a project started to bring it back into community use.
Vanessa’s community archaeology project chose a small patch of the building’s outside, and looked at the graffiti there. This was a chance to practice archaeological drawing: teasing apart the layers of paint is much like excavation!
The group chose Heritage Open Day to ask local people to volunteer. It was a great success, and there are hopes to repeat it. Also, in the future Vanessa hopes to run an excavation in the grounds of the library. This will be backed up by social research – talking to locals about their knowledge of the building and the area.
Vanessa also gave a preview of work being done behind the scenes by Luke Daly-Groves. Luke is in the middle of a PhD in American history, but needed something unrelated to gain wider experience. He chose Roman archaeology, which Luke admits is not all that common in this part of the UK! He’ll be putting together an exhibition using finds from the Ochre Brook excavation of 2000.
A Roman tilery was discovered, stamped by one Aulus Viducus. A patera (a shallow bowl) which had been uncovered in Cheshire had been donated to the museum too.