Saturday, May 27th 2017
Today we are setting out to spend four nights, and the five days enclosing them, in the renowned city of Liverpool. The map below shows its location relative to London.
The area now known as Liverpool was inhabited no later than the Iron Age and probably long before. In more recent times, the favourable position of the city at the mouth of the Mersey, caused it to grow and become one of the principal British sea ports. This in turn, caused the population to increase, bringing in many immigrants from abroad, mainly from Ireland which contributed something like a quarter of the populace, helping to create Liverpool’s unique character and accent. (For more details of its history, see Wikipedia’s History of Liverpool.)
The origin of the name Liverpool is disputed. ‘Pool’ presents no problem, referring as it does to that branch of the Mersey that was to become the city’s harbour and docks. It is the first part – Liver – that has caused arguments. Many strange and unlikely derivations have been proposed for this, though I find none particularly compelling. The one I like best (though that is no proof of its correctness) is that found in John Corry’s The History of Liverpool (see here). His suggestion is that the first part of the name derives from a local word, lither, meaning ‘lower’. In evidence, he cites another local name, Litherland, meaning ‘lower land’ and, more tellingly, quotes from the 1173 charter of Henry II wherein the town is said to be that ‘which the Lyrpul men call Litherpul’. (‘Lyrpul’ is one of the many variant spellings of the town’s name found in documents of the period.) Personal preferences aside, though, I think we must describe the name’s origin as ‘uncertain’.
It takes around two and a half hours to make the journey from Euston to Liverpool Lime Street Station. The train was full and we had to occupy our reserved seats which, for people like us with long legs, were rather cramped. At journey’s end it was pleasant to unfold ourselves and resort to the station’s branch of Costa Coffee, while we planned our next move. This was to find our pre-booked hotel and dump our bags.
Our hotel is the Nadler Liverpool in Seel Street. I was intrigued by the style of the brickwork of the hotel and surrounding buildings as they seemed quite unique to me. It turns out that in times past, this quarter was where ropes and cables for ships were made. The streets are straight and – we were told – the same length as the finished ropes that were put out in them to dry.
The Nadler is unusual among hotels in that it has no dining room. On the other hand, each bedroom has a kitchenette including a sink, kettle and microwave. (Cooking in the room is discouraged in most hotels but in this one, on the contrary, they provide the means!)
We had booked one of the smaller rooms, thinking this adequate as we were not going to do more than sleep there but when the receptionist saw two rather tall people coming to check in she thought it right to warn us that the room we had reserved was really small and that we might perhaps prefer to larger one. We inspected the room and saw she was right: it was tiny. So, despite having to pay more than we had planned, we swapped it for a bigger one. That, however, was not the end of our room-swapping adventures, as I shall recount in tomorrow’s episode.
Our luggage stowed, we made tea and had a little rest, then went out to explore. Now that ropes are no longer manufactured in this area, it has released some rather large buildings for other purposes. There are offices, restaurants and entertainment venues. The latter made me a little nervous because I thought the noise of night clubs might keep us awake at night – something we had experienced on a trip to Blackpool (see Blackpool 2009). In the event, there was no problem at all and we were no disturbed by music or any other noise.
This building in Hanover Street currently accommodates the restaurant Bem Brasil but was obviously built originally for other purposes, perhaps as a factory or warehouse. Utilitarian it might be but it was also carefully styled and finished. People cared what their commercial premises looked like in those (presumably Victorian) decades. It’s a pity that some of their aesthetic sensibility has not rubbed off on modern architects whose main preoccupation seems to be to foist on customers the ugliest structure they can persuade them to accept.
In Wolstenhome Square we spied this rather striking piece of public art. It consists of coloured sphere on twisting stalks. It was made as part of the Liverpool Biennial 2002 and is by Jorge Pardo, the title being Penelope. The square was fenced off for building or repair work, and we could not come any closer to the installation than this.
In complete contrast with the foregoing is this beautifully made gate, both a work of art in its own right and a reminder of Liverpool’s maritime history. The gate once belonged to the Liverpool Sailors’ Home, founded in 1850, that stood in the area known as Sailor Town (the site is now occupied by John Lewis). The decorative panel above the gate proper features a Liver Bird, the symbol of the city. Designed by John Cunningham and cast at Henry Poole & Sons’ Albion Foundry, it was finally removed in 1951 but has now been restored and re-erected as a memorial to the thousands of seamen who passed through Liverpool and lodged at the Home between voyages.
This strikingly handsome building is known simply as 12 Hanover Street. It is currently owned and inhabited by the Liverpool Housing Trust but was built in 1889-90 for Ellis & Co, ship-owners and merchants. The architect was Edmund Kirby (1835-1920) of Liverpool, who used red brick and terracotta to good effect. The ground floor contained offices and the upper floors served for warehousing. The unusual turret shape adds to the charm of the Grade II listed building.
Liverpool One is a large (42 acre) shopping, residential and leisure complex. Among other features it boasts this large stairway between John Lewis and Chavasse Park. Its central section has been imaginatively carpeted with Astro Turf, turning it into a meeting place, a hang-out spot and a venue for organized and impromptu events. The idea of climbing the steps was tempting but we were dissuaded by flagging energy levels!
Known more generally today as 81-89 Lord Street, this building with the beautiful red and orange variegated façade was built in 1901 by Liverpool architect Walter Aubrey (1864-1934) as an office block with retail units on the ground floor. Its original, and nicer, name was The Arcade. Unsurprisingly, it is Grade II listed.
This building, now looking a little sad and neglected, caught my attention because of the unusual name boldly displayed in bright metal letters: The Lyceum Post Office. Post offices are more commonly named after the area they serve or their position within the network. ‘Lyceum’ seemed to raise questions.
It turns out that this this Neo-Classical style edifice, designed by Chester architect Thomas Harrison 1744-1829) and built in 1801-2 was intended for a quite different purpose, that of subscription library and news room, though it later also became a gentlemen’s club. The Lyceum was designated a Grade II* building in 1952 but was sold to developers who in the 1970s applied for permission to demolish it. A campaign was mounted to save the Lyceum and its situation became more secure when the Post Office bought it in 1984.
The Post Office found it necessary for economic reasons to close the Lyceum in 2004 and sold it. The new owners became bankrupt and sold it in their turn. The Lyceum’s fate now seems now to hang in the balance though its listing must, we hope, provide some protection from predatory developers. The entrance is at present hosting an exhibition entitled Dolce et Decorum Est, about the Battle of the Somme with items donated by the public. (More details here.)
Continuing on, we passed under what is now a famous Liverpool landmark, the Radio City Tower also known as St John’s Beacon. Designed by James A. Roberts Associates and built in 1969, it is 138 metres (452 ft) tall and provides accommodation for the Radio City radio station and a restaurant and observation deck above it, though the restaurant is now closed.
If we needed proof that Classical style architecture never goes out of fashion we can cite in evidence Liverpool’s splendid St George’s Hall. The Hall was built in 1841-56 as a public hall for concerts and other events but also included law courts (no longer used as such). The design was by Harvey Lonsdale Elmes (1813-47), based on the concept of a Classical temple of the Corinthian order. Elmes died before the project was completed and was relayed, first by John Weightman and Robert Rawlinson and finally by Sir Charles Cockerell. It is Grade I listed.
Our walk had brought us back to where we had started our visit earlier in the day, Lime Street Railway Station. Liverpool’s first station was at Crown Street but Lime Street was commissioned when it was realized that a station was needed nearer the centre of town. The new station was opened for use in 1836 but several stages of expansion and rebuilding followed, including the installation in the 1840s and 1860s of the magnificent glass roofs.
Dehydrated railway passengers arriving at Liverpool will be cheered by the sight of the Crown Hotel a few steps away from the station entrance.
The Crown Hotel was built in 1905 on the site of a previous pub called the Midland. The name of the architect seems not to be known which is a pity as he deserves to be credited for the what is apiece of that is authentic Art Nouveauin both the exterior and in the interior fixtures and fittings. Among other features, the pub is known for its elaborately moulded ceiling. The Grade II listed building is an Art Nouveau treasure.