Wednesday, May 31st 2017
Today we must return to London but as our train does not leave until lunchtime, we can spend the morning rambling around Liverpool. Having packed our bags, we took the lift down to the ground floor for the last time and left our door key at reception. Despite the incident of the Puddle in the Bathroom, our sojourn at the Nadler had been good and I would not hesitate to stay there again.
The first job was to take our bags to the station and deposit them at the Left Luggage office. It was a matter for reflection that these days your bags have to be put through an X-ray machine similar to those at the airport before they can be accepted. It doesn’t need words from me to point out what that says about the sort of world that we humans have created for ourselves and our fellow species.
No longer encumbered, we set out for a last look around Liverpool. Below are a few photographs taken during our ramble.
We visited the Hillsborough Disaster Monument commemorating the terrible event on April 5th 1989 when 96 football supporters lost their lives. They were among others contained behind barriers in a standing-only area of the stadium. This was already dangerously overcrowded and when still more people, unaware of the situation, were admitted, there was no escape and the crush proved fatal to the 96. At the outset, the supporters themselves were blamed. A long campaign by relatives and friends led, eventually to a second coroner’s inquest that in April 2016 found that the fans were not to blame and had been unlawfully killed. A fuller history of the event can be found in this newspaper account and in this Wikipedia article.
The monument was commissioned by the Hillsborough Justice campaign and created by Tom Murphy. It was unveiled on April 14th 2013.
As you can see from this map, the Mersey forms a formidable barrier between Liverpool and its neighbours such as Birkenhead. The name, incidentally, is thought to derive from the Anglo-Saxon words mǣres and ea, meaning ‘boundary river’. To pass beyond it there are three tunnels running under the water. The first was the Railway Tunnel, opened in 1886; the second, whose Liverpool entrance is shown above, was the Queensway Tunnel (1934) for road traffic; and the third was the Kingsway Tunnel (1971), also for road traffic. It was through the Queensway Tunnel that we travelled to Birkenhead yesterday (see Liverpool 2017 – Day 4).
The tunnel was officially opened by King George V accompanied by Queen Mary. Statues of the couple stand on either side of the entrance ramp. As the tunnel is called the Queensway, I really ought to have included a picture of Queen Mary’s statue but it was too far away on the either side and we did not go there on this ramble.
The styling of the tunnel and associated buildings is Art Deco and this is reflected in this decorative relief above the tunnel entrance, featuring two mythical beasts which I take to be unicorns, though they could also be twin representations of Pegasus, as suggested by the background of wings. Either way, it is a stylish piece of work, expressing the optimism of the time.
We stopped for a coffee break at 38 Castle Street whose ground floor provides elegant accommodations for the local Branch of Caffè Nero. This beautiful building combines red and yellow sandstone and red marble to create a grand effect. Designed by William Douglas Caröe (1857-1938), it was built in 1892, originally for the Adelphi Bank and is now Grade II* listed.
We continued to the edge of the Mersey at what is called the Liverpool Waterfront, an area that has been developed to attract visitors and provide a cultural centre. For example, here you will find the Tate Liverpool and no fewer than three museums. You will also have splendid views up and down the Mersey. (The picture shows an upriver view.)
Here too you will find that other symbol of the city, the Royal Liver Building. Designed by Walter Aubrey Thomas (1864-1934) and built in 1911 for Royal Liver Assurance, it is one of a group known as The Three Graces, the others being the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building. On the roof are what I am tempted to call the Liver Birds, the most famous representations of this fabulous beast. One of the pair looks out over the water and the other over the city. When first erected, the Royal Liver was the tallest building in Europe and still maintains a commanding presence. (Grade I listed.)
If you don’t have a car, a more leisurely way of crossing the Mersey is to take the ferry. At present, the ferry is dressed out in ‘Dazzle’ costume. The design and painting of the the Dazzle Ferry was done by Sir Peter Blake as part of the First World War commemorations. I have written about Dazzle ships and their raison d’être before (see, for example, Blackfriars Dozen and Visiting the Tate Liverpool) or you can find more information here.
One of the three above-mentioned museums is the Museum of Liverpool. Admission is free and photography is allowed. As you would expect it is packed with a bewilderingly diverse and fascinating array of exhibits. To absorb it all, you need to spend hours here or, better still, come back again and again. We, of course, had limited time to spend as we were keeping an eye on the clock as the time of our train approached. We could only scratch the surface. Here, then, are just a few random samples of what is on show.
This veteran from a by-gone age of railway history is a Lion locomotive, built in Leeds in 1838 by Todd, Kitson and Laird for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. It was taken out of service in 1857 but has managed to survive to find a permanent home in the museum.
You will obviously expect to see Liver Birds in a museum dedicated to Liverpool history and culture. This is a particularly fine example and it comes from the Sailors’ Home which existed from 1850 to 1969 to provide cheap but good accommodation for sailors from all over the world while they were in port. This sandstone plaque, showing a Liver Bird with laver seaweed in its beak, was originally over the door of the home but was discovered by archaeologists during preparations to build the Liverpool One shopping centre.
The Museum of Liverpool commissioned artist Ben Johnson to produce a Liverpool Cityscape. This impressive work of art now attracts the wonder and admiration of visitors to the museum. The painting took three years to complete, 11 assistants also playing a part in its creation. There are some more details here and the artist’s own page (and a better photo!) here.
This painting commemorates the arrival in Liverpool of vast numbers of Irish people fleeing the Great Hunger in the 1840s. While many moved on, and found refuge in America, those who stayed swelled the city’s population to the point where, by 1850, one quarter of the inhabitants had been born in Ireland. This Irish influence has contributed to the unique character of the city and its people.
Gerard Gardens was a housing complex built in the 1930s to replace existing slums. The flats had modern facilities such as bathrooms, electricity and gas, and verandas, together with a communal play area for children. George Herbert Tyson Smith carved sculptures of the Builder and the Architect for the complex. By the 1980s, however, the flats had become rundown and they were demolished in 1987. The sculptures, reflecting the Art Deco styling of the complex, were saved and now form part of the permanent exhibition.
Interesting as the museum is, our time here, and in Liverpool as a whole, was coming to an end. I took a photo of what to the inexpert eye looks like a wonderful ordered chaos,…
…took a last look out of one of the museum’s windows and prepared to leave. In the photo you can see the Royal Liver Building on the right and the Mersey rolling down to the sea on the left. What may look like a lake in the middle is a section of the Liverpool Canal Link that leads, via tunnels where necessary, to Canning Dock.
This morning’s ramble completed a happy stay in Liverpool, a city with a seemingly endless supply of fun and interest for visitors, no matter what their specific interests may be. The Liver Bird, with its unique and inimitable character is a fitting symbol for this city that is like no other.