Sunday, May 28th 2017
As I mentioned yesterday, the Liverpool Nadler Hotel does not have a dining room and we therefore went out for breakfast. Not that this was any hardship as we generally do this even if the hotel offers breakfast. Hotel breakfasts are often poor value for vegetarians and, in our experience, over-priced. We set out cheerfully in search of a friendly cafe. To our disappointment, every cafe we found was closed. Often, there were staff inside but they were cleaning and doing other tasks and told us they would open later, around 10pm. Maybe, we told ourselves, this is because today is Sunday and, all being well, things will be better tomorrow. Were they? Wait and see…
As we were walking along Duke Street, our eye was caught by a row of buildings whose windows had been covered with colourful posters.
Duke Street is part of Liverpool’s Chinatown where many of the city’s Chinese population have settled. The Chinese first began arriving here with trading ships in the mid-19th century, giving birth to the thriving Chinese quarter that exists today. These buildings in Duke Street are home to the Wah Sing Chinese Community Centre and, according to the signage, the New Star Chinese Restaurant which may or may not still be operating. (Its Facebook entry says it has closed but I have seen recent reviews of it!)
Continuing east along Duke Street and turning right along Great George Street to where it meets Nelson Street, you discover the great Chinese Arch, the grand entry to Chinatown. Liverpool’s Chinese community is the oldest in Europe and, fittingly, this is the largest Chinese Imperial Arch outside China. It was a gift of the city of Shanghai, which twins with Liverpool, and was erected in the year 2000 for the Chinese New Year celebrations. 2000 was a year of the Dragon, 200 of which decorate the arch. (In case you are wondering, SilverTiger was born in a year of the Tiger, though which one is left for the reader to speculate on )
Our next port of call was Liverpool Cathedral, more officially known as either the Cathedral Church of the Risen Christ or, more simply, the Cathedral Church of Christ. It was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott in Gothic Revival style and built from 1904 to 1978. It is Grade 1 listed.
Over the west door stands a bronze figure entitled The Welcoming Christ. It was the last work by sculptor Elizabeth Frink, completed in 1993, the year in which she died. I am not the first to say that the figure does not look particularly welcoming or that its face wears a somewhat bemused and slightly sour expression, much as you might expect of someone who has to stand out in all weathers being stared at. That’s just my impression, course, and others have described it as ‘impressive’, ‘spiritual’, ‘majestic’ and so on. To each his own.
Here are some views of the Cathedral interior:
There is plenty of art to be viewed inside the Cathedral, a feast, you might say, if religious art is your thing. It isn’t mine, though I can admire a fine piece in which the art has not been smothered by religious sentimentality. Here, the controversial rubs shoulders with the conventional.
This is an example of the first category. I think this is the most unusual depiction of the crucifixion that I have seen, at least in a church where the figure’s religious significance is paramount. Entitled The Outraged Christ, it is by Charles Lutyens. Though completed in 2011, it has been 35 or 40 (depending on sources) years in the making. It was first displayed in St Paul’s Church, Bow Common, and is currently on loan to the Cathedral. The accompanying board explains the title thus:
Being who He was and having been outraged in the temple, how could He not be outraged at the appalling treatment of human to human, as He was experiencing it.
The image of this Crucifixion has come about in its present form through the process of working. And at the end emerged as ‘Outraged Christ’.
As examples, of the more conventional church artworks, here are a couple of stained glass windows.
Liverpool, of course, has not one but two cathedrals, the Anglican cathedral by Scott and a modern style one for the Catholics. After several attempts by several architects to design the new cathedral had ended in failure, Sir Frederick Gibberd (1908-84) produced what was to be the successful bid. Work began in 1962 and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King opened for business in May 1967. The unusual but practical design (made to allow the whole congregation a good view of the altar during services) has gained approval, not to say enthusiasm, from many quarters and the building has become a landmark of the city. It has also become the recipient of a number of good-humoured epithets, the best known of which is probably ‘Paddy’s Wigwam’.
Never having seen inside but noting that numbers of people were approaching the door, we too entered, hoping to get some photos. In the event, the place was crowded and the service about to begin and so, realizing that our walking about taking photos would not be appreciated, we left hurriedly before the doors were closed, barring our exit.
The University of Liverpool is an old and prestigious Institution. We walked through the part of the campus that is bounded on two sides by Brownlow Street and Dover Street. My student days are well behind me (the year I entered university was a year of the Rooster as is 2017 ) but it seemed to me that this would be a pleasant environment in which to study. It is replete with beautiful and historic buildings, such as the Whelan Building above, the work of Alfred Waterhouse and son, completed in 1904.
From the same quadrangle, we have a tantalizing view of the Victoria Building with its elegant clock tower decorated with a Latin motto: Victoriae Reginae Dei Gratia L Annos Feliciter Regnanti Cives Posuerunt (‘For Victoria, Queen by the grace of God, in commemoration of 50 years of fortunate reign; erected by the citizens’). Also designed by Alfred Waterhouse in his trademark Gothic style, it was completed in 1892 and was then the University’s main building. Today it is home to the Victoria Gallery and Museum. (Grade II listed.)
Here too, we found our second Frink sculpture of the day. Describing the installation of this sculpture in their quadrangle, the University’s Web page says that ‘Her images of generalised male heads and figures can have an aggressive warrior-like quality, representing inhumanity in the world, or like Front Runner, they reflect the vulnerability of humankind, as victims running away from something.’ This sculpture, incidentally, is not unique. It exists as an edition of 4. The work was originally commissioned for W.H. Smith’s company headquarters in Swindon.
For lunch we repaired to the Philharmonic Dining Rooms. Historic England rather prosaically describes this splendid Grade II* listed institution as a ‘public house’. Though that is what it is, the name does not do it justice. How to describe the exquisitely decorated interior with rooms bearing the names of great composers? I will not try: you need to see it.
The place was not very busy and we had one of the fine rooms all to ourselves. We noticed that beside each table there was a bell push, not doubt dating from an earlier age when waiters could be summoned to serve you at your table.
The Dining Rooms date from the end of the 19th century and were built by Walter W.Thomas (1849-1912) for brewer Robert Cain.
I took this photo of the exterior of the Philharmonic Dining Rooms (which took its name from the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall opposite) during a previous visit to Liverpool but you will find a better one here.
The original plans for St Luke’s Church, also known as ‘The Bombed Out Church’, were drawn up by John Foster in 1802 but building did not begin for another decade. Progress was somewhat slow with changes being made to the design, and the church was finally completed by John Foster Junior (who had succeeded his father as corporation surveyor) in 1832. St Luke’s continued operating without incident until May 6th 1941, during the Liverpool blitz, when it received a direct hit with incendiary bombs and was burned out. After the war, the church and grounds were bought by the City Council and stabilized to act as a memorial and a place of tranquillity. Despite its semi-ruinous condition, it has received a Grade II* listing. Plans are in train to partially restore the church.
My attention was easily captured by this flamboyant pub with its tall corner turret. There had been a pub here from at least the Victorian era but in 1907, it was taken over by Walker’s Brewery and rebuilt in what has been fittingly described as ‘exuberant Baroque style’. We did not go in, which is perhaps a pity as I hear that the interior is as splendid as the outside, the whole being awarded a Grade II* listing. Though the name – The Vines – might seem to allude to vineyard grape vines, it also recalls the name of the owner of the previous pub on the site, one Albert B. Vines.
To round off our tour of Liverpool, we paid an all-too-short visit to the Grade II* listed Walker Art Gallery. This magnificent Neoclassical style gallery was built in 1874-7 to a design by Liverpool architects Cornelius Sherlock (d.1888) and Henry Hill Vale (1831-75). Its name comes from the fact that it received financial backing from brewer Andrew Barclay Walker.
For this visit we concentrated on sculpture. The above is a general view of the sculpture gallery. Much as I like and admire some paintings, I find that sculpture has a more immediate impact on me, giving a more definite feeling of ‘presence’. I will give just a few samples of what we saw there.
This work by Giovanni Fontana (1821-93) is entitled Jepthah and His Daughter and illustrates that dreadful story in the Old Testament (Judges 11-12) of how Jephthah made a vow to God that, in return for victory over the Ammonites, ‘whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering’ only to be horrified when it was his own daughter who came out to greet him.
This enigmatic piece by Albert Toft (1862-1949) is entitled Fate-Led and at its first showing was accompanied by the lines
Fate leading, she must needs go on and on
Blindly, yet fearing not, till the goal be won.
I was attracted to the next piece because I misunderstood what it represents. This is a good example of ‘seeing what we think is there rather than what is really there.’
The carving represents St Jerome who spent a period as a hermit in the desert, as did many of his contemporaries, those whom the scholar Robin Lane Fox, in Pagans and Christians, aptly describes as ‘overachievers’. Here, the saintly scholar, who translated the Bible into Latin, is shown poring over a text in his cave. There are also animals present: an eagle fighting a snake and a lion coming to attack a dragon – symbols of the saint’s struggles against evil and paganism. When I first saw the sculpture, I thought that Jerome was looking at – and welcoming – the lion, like a domestic moggy coming in through the cat flap. Of course, our overachiever saint is unaware of the eagle, snake, lion and dragon because they are not really there, except possibly as figments of Jerome’s fevered dreams of saintly triumph.
Right next to the Walker Gallery is the old County Sessions House now used as offices for the gallery. Designed in similar Neoclassical style by F. & G. Holme, it too rejoices in an Grade II* listing.
Walking down Lime Street, we found ourselves once more in front of St George’s Hall. Today I noticed something I had not spotted yesterday: equestrian statues of a royal couple who have long fascinated me, partly because of their romantic liaison that ended so sadly and partly because I often find myself wondering what they might have achieved but for this intervention of untimely death.