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.
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.
Monday, May 29th 2017
On the way out of the hotel this morning, we reported to reception that our wash basin emptied only very slowly and suggested that they might like to unblock it for us. This simple request was later to have unforeseen consequences.
Yesterday, I said that we had had trouble finding breakfast because all of the local coffee shops and cafes opened late. We were hoping that that was because it was Sunday and that today they would open at a more reasonable time. In that we were disappointed and once more trailed through the streets looking in vain for sustenance. In the end, we found a branch of Caffè Nero open near the station where we ordered coffee and ransacked their stock of croissants!
We had come to the station because we were planning an out-of-town trip. The map above shows where we went: as the crow flies, directly north to Blackpool and Fleetwood. We had already spent time in Blackpool in May 2009 (see Blackpool 2009) and taken a look at Fleetwood then, so this would be a return visit.
Our post-croissant train journey took us to our destination in two stages, first to Preston, where we changed trains, and thence to the small local station Blackpool South.
The weather was not running in our favour today. As soon as I disembarked from the train, I felt cold. I tried to brave it but Tigger soon indicated that she too was uncomfortable. Therefore, our first mission was to explore the side streets and find a cheap clothing store where we bought jackets. As the sky was grey, it seemed wise to make sure that our new garments were also rain-proof, though in the event, that turned out to be unnecessary.
Apart from cheap clothes, there seemed little to detain us at Blackpool South so we hopped on a bus and headed north to Fleetwood.
Fleetwood sits in a corner of land, looking west into the Irish Sea and north into Morecambe Bay. On its western side, running roughly south to north is the River Wyre. This circumstance has led some to conjecture that the name of Fleetwood derives from its topological setting and they propose an origin in two Anglo-Saxon words, fleot (‘river mouth’ or ‘estuary’) and wudu (‘wood’ or ‘forest’), giving the meaning of ‘forest by the mouth of the river’. Attractive as this may be, things are unfortunately not so simple, as a moment’s thought will show.
There have been settlements in the area since at least the Iron Age and the Romans built a harbour here, which they called Portus Setantiorum after the name of the local Celtic tribe, the Setantii. The modern town, however, dates only from the 1830s when the local landowner decided to create a new town which would be both a resort and a steam boat station for travellers from London to venture north into Scotland. The developer’s first shot at naming his new town was Wyreton but in the end, he decided to name it after himself.
The landowner in question was Sir Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood (1801-66), 1st Baronet. This gentleman was born Sir Peter Hesketh but petitioned successfully to have added to his name that of his ancestor, Sir Thomas Fleetwood (1517/8-1570), Master of the Royal Mint under Henry VIII and owner of the local manor. In other words, the name of the town derives from the name of the Fleetwood family rather than from the local geography.1
We spent a little while watching the gulls flying about overhead and, more by luck than judgement, I managed to catch this snapshot of a lesser black-backed gull.
This rather striking Victorian drinking fountain stands in Fleetwood’s Euston Park. The cast-iron structure was erected in the last decade of the 19th century (date otherwise uncertain) and is a Grade II listed building. Funding a public drinking fountain was a popular way for a wealthy citizen to show philanthropy and create a memorial to his (or sometimes, her) name. Some fountains, however, were erected by the public as a memorial to an event or to persons who had served the community in some important way. The Cherub Fountain is an example of the latter kind. It stands in lasting memory to three Fleetwood fishermen, George Wilkinson, James Abram and George Greenall, who went out in a small boat in stormy weather to rescue the crew of a schooner in distress. Though their rescue mission was successful, their boat was swamped and sank. Two of the three-man crew, James Abram and George Greenall, were drowned.
This bronze group by Anita Lafford stands on the Esplanade at the north edge of the park. Fishing has long been an important industry in Fleetwood, sending men to sea and away from their families for long periods. The sculpture captures the joyful emotions of family members welcoming the men home after a time away. It was funded by the makers of Fisherman’s Friend lozenges, resident in Fleetwood, with the assistance of the Council.
Entering into Fleetwood harbour is made difficult by sandbanks. To help ships make their way safely, three lights were installed, one offshore, called the Wyre Light, and two land-based lighthouses. Safe passage is ensured by keeping the lighthouses visually aligned during approach. The lighthouse above is the shorter of the two at 34 ft (10 m) and is called the Lower Lighthouse (also the Beach Lighthouse). Further inland is the Upper Lighthouse (also know as the Pharos Lighthouse) which is 93 ft (28 m) tall and stands in Pharos Street. Both were designed by Decimus Bruton and Capt. H.M. Denham and first put into use in December 1840. Both are Grade II listed buildings.
A key element in the design of Sir Peter’s Fleetwood is the grand hotel. Designed by Decimus Bruton and opened in 1841, it was called the North Euston because it was here that travellers arrived by train from Euston in London. No doubt wearied by their long journey, they would gratefully find luxury accommodation and food for an overnight stay before boarding a steamer or crossing by ferry to Ardrossan where they could take the Glasgow train.
In 1859, the hotel was sold to the government as a school of musketry for the military but at the end of the century became a hotel once more, a role that it still performs.
This is a close as we managed to go to the Upper Lighthouse on this trip. This view is taken along Upper Lune Street.
We returned to Blackpool and thought about riding the trams. Blackpool’s is one of the oldest tramways in the world and was inaugurated in 1885. Five years ago, modern trams were brought into service but a number of older ‘Heritage Trams’ still run on certain days. If you want to ride on one, however, you have to choose your tram stop carefully as the heritage trams call only at certain places which have been designated ‘heritage stops’. In the end, we took a ride on a modern tram. (Did I mention that we love trams and ride on them whenever possible? )
We spent the remainder of our time here rambling as fancy took us. Above is a view of Blackpool’s answer to Paris’s Eiffel Tower. Completed in 1894, it is 518 ft (158 m) tall (rather less than half the height of its French rival) but has earned itself an enduring place in the hearts of generations of holidaymakers. (No, I have never visited it. Maybe one day…)
The name of Blackpool, incidentally, unlike that of Fleetwood, does have topological origins. In medieval times, a stream known as ‘Le Pull’ ran through what was then mainly farmland and drained into the sea. It carried with it dark silt picked up during its passage through peaty terrain and this formed a dark stain in the water where the stream ran into the sea. The developing town was itself known as Pull until the early years of the 17th century when documents begin to show the name as ‘Blackpoole’.
Other landmark sights are the Winter Gardens, opened in 1878 (Grade II* listed) and…
…the Grand Theatre, designed by that great architect of theatres, Frank Matcham, and opened in 1894. In 1973, it nearly succumbed to demolition but was saved by a public enquiry. Re-opening first as a bingo hall and then once again as a theatre, it now benefits from the relative protection of its Grade II* listing.
These two mounted police officers passed us and as I like horses I photographed them. The woman officer seemed amused but the man gave me a Paddingtonian hard stare. The horses, on the other hand, seemed quite unconcerned.
Blackpool’s war memorial is slightly unusual in that it takes the form of an obelisk rather than the usual plinth topped by an allegorical female figure representing Peace or Victory. Designed by Ernest Prestwich and unveiled in 1923 it was intended, of course, as a memorial of the First World War but, sadly, has needed to be adapted to include later conflicts. (Now Grade II listed.)
Blackpool’s Central Public Library and Grundy Art Gallery was built by architects Cullen, Lockhead and Brown in what Historic England calls ‘free Baroque style’. It opened in 1911 and was treated to a £3m refit in time for its centenary in 2011. Let’s hope that this is a good omen for the future of this beautiful Grade II listed building. Long may it continue to serve the citizens of Blackpool in its appointed role.
Blackpool is the happy owner of three piers, the North Pier (see above), the South Pier (opened 1893 as the Victoria Pier, renamed in 1930) and, in between them, the Central Pier (opened 1864). Opened in the 1863, the North Pier is the oldest of the three and, at 550 yards (550 m), the longest. It is the oldest surviving pier by Eugenius Birch and is Grade II listed. This was as close as we came to it on this visit. Perhaps we can go closer or even on it another time.
We took the train back to Liverpool and our temporary refuge, the Nadler Hotel. Our adventures, however, were not over for the day. Returning to our room, I went into the bathroom-toilet only to find a puddle covering most of the floor. I called Tigger and we studied the puddle, remarking that it was slowly expanding, its edge inching inexorably towards the bedroom carpet. As the room had been cleaned while we were out and we had not used the bathroom, the water on the floor could not be the result of anything we had done, such as running the shower.
We agreed that Tigger would go down to reception and report it. As we had only one electronic card for the door and removing this from its socket switched the lights off, I remained sitting on the bed in total darkness until she returned to say that someone would be coming to take a look at the puddle.
We waited for quite a while but someone eventually came. He examined the evidence and opined that there was a leak from the wash basin, presumably as a result of someone responding to our complaint this morning. Happily, he said, they had other rooms free and would move us to one. He departed, promising to return and guide us to our new abode.
Expecting his return from one minute to the next, we quickly packed our belongings and sat on the bed to wait. We waited and waited. Then we waited some more. Round about the time when we were beginning to give up hope, our man returned and led us, Moses-like, down two floors to our new room. Courtesies and electronic door cards were exchanged and we could relax at last.
1As someone is bound to ask whether the pop group Fleetwood Mac have any connection with the town of Fleetwood, the answer is no. Their name is a conflation of the names of two band members, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.
Tuesday, May 30th 2017
Today’s trip took us to a place that we have explored before but which easily provides interest for a return visit. Its name is Port Sunlight Village and its location is shown on the map below (click for Google Map):
We first took a bus that passed under the Mersey through the famous Queensway Tunnel and deposited us on the other side at Birkenhead. Here we changed buses but took a very brief look around before leaving. Here are a couple of things we saw:
This handsome red brick and terra cotta building was built in 1903 to plans by Thomas William Cubbon, described as a Scottish architect practising in Birkenhead with his brother John. As the lettering on the façade indicates, it was originally called the Birkenhead School Board Higher Elementary School, but in the interval between its foundation and now is has had various names and served various purposes under the local council. It is now a Grade II listed building.
Birkenhead Market was founded in 1835 but was expanded in 1845 to keep pace with the demands of an increasing population. Despite fires in 1969 and 1974, it still seems to be prospering.
Our first visit to Port Sunlight was 6 years ago – see Manchester 2011 – Day 2. As I recounted there, Port Sunlight was founded in 1888 by William Hesketh Lever, later 1st Viscount Leverhulme, as a site for the expansion of his soap manufacturing business and accommodation for his employees and their families. In what came to be commonly described as a model village, the housing was in advance of what was generally available to working families elsewhere in the country. A cottage hospital was provided and there was an emphasis on community with regular social events such a dances. Lord Leverhulme and his wife took part in the life of the village.
The village was laid out beautifully with rows of houses interspersed with gardens and green open spaces. Lever commissioned several architects and each range of houses was designed by a different architect though the principles of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement were largely followed.
What was it like to live there? It’s hard to tell, now that history has moved on. It was probably pleasant though I think the patriarchal and somewhat authoritarian regime would not find favour today.
As we proceeded to explore, we met one of the neighbours, a tortoiseshell cat. She1 was welcoming and enjoyed being stroked. How cats behave towards strangers is an indicator of how peaceful the neighbourhood is. If they are suspicious of you or, worse, run away as soon as they see you, it’s probably a rough area. If they come to you trustingly then the opposite is probably true. Allowance must be made, of course, for individual feline temperaments. Some cats just don’t like people and I, for one, do not blame them.
As mentioned, one of the appealing characteristics of Port Sunlight Village is the number of gardens and green spaces. This one, with an ornamental lake, is near the Lady Lever Gallery which was our main goal.
Beside the Lady Lever Gallery stands the impressive Leverhulme Monument. Lord Leverhulme died ion 1925 and five years later, the monument, designed by Sir William Reid Dick (1878-1961), was raised, funded by contributions from the workface and their families.
Lever’s wife was Elizabeth Ellen Hulme (1850-1913). Their two names, Hulme and Lever, were combined in the name of their viscountship, Leverhulme. Lever had already been a collector and his collection formed the basis for the Lady Lever Art Gallery that he opened as a memorial to his wife in 1922. The gallery is a beautiful building in its own right (Grade II listed) and houses a collection comprising sculpture, paintings, furniture and other precious objects.
Like most galleries and museums, the Lady Lever runs visiting exhibitions alongside its permanent collection. Today it was showing an exhibition entitled Edo Pop, featuring wood-block art on popular themes, a genre popular in Edo (now Tokyo) in the 19th century. To be honest, this did not interest me greatly (a remark no doubt considered heretical by some) and I preferred to spend my time among the permanent exhibits, a selection of which appear below. (Yes, photography is permitted without flash.)
One of the gallery’s five ‘period rooms’, the panelling and contents belonging originally to a house in Chatham, Kent.
This depicts the goddess Venus in her aspect of ‘Venus Marina’, that is, Venue born from the sea.
I’m not alone in admitting to a soft spot for elephants (and to a concern for their threatened survival in the wild). This elephant apparently once decorated the altar in a Buddhist temple in China and would have carried vase on its back, the symbolic container of the Three Jewels, namely the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
Another the ‘period rooms, this one exhibits the style of the William and Mary period, 17th and 18th century.
This bronze sculpture by Jacob Epstein, Deidre, is a portrait of a member of the sculptor’s household between 1939 and 1942. Employed as a cook housekeeper, she frequently sat for Epstein as a model.
My favourites today, I think, are these two marble lions. Virtually mirror images of one another they were presumably meant to stand at either end of a mantelpiece or similar. Unfortunately, I neglected to take a copy of the label (if there even is one) and I therefore do not know their details. Lions are a popular subject for art, especially in those countries that, like Britain, take this animal as the national symbol. These lions are, to my mind rather unusual. While their mouths are open as though to roar, the expression on their faces seems one or worry or concern. Was this deliberate on the part of the artist?
This painting is unmistakeably a Rosetti and a pure example of the Pre-Raphaelite mood and style. The title means the ‘Sybyl carrying a palm frond’ and a further description of the painting will be found here. I will just say that on seeing the picture I assumed it was another ‘Jane’, that is a painting for which the model was Jane Morris, who is frequently depicted in Pre-Raphaelite works, but I was wrong. This time the model was Alexa Wilding, another of their favourites.
Port Sunlight Village has a museum that sets out the history and features of the village from its creation. More interesting, perhaps, depending on your tastes, is that one of the houses has been preserved or restored in its original condition and furnished plausibly, and can be visited. One notices that a few of the facilities, for example in the kitchen, are old fashioned, but on the whole it seems to have been spacious and comfortable.
The picture shows what would have been the parents’ bedroom in a family home. Though lacking some modern facilities, it is light, pleasant and comfortable. I particularly liked the stone hotwater bottle, having stubbed my toe more than once on one such as a child!
For our return to Liverpool, we decided to take the train and accordingly arrived at Liverpool Central Station. In the concourse we found a sculpture by Rick Myers entitled The Spirit of Liverpool. The creature depicted is of course a Liver Bird (‘Liver’ is pronounced to rhyme with ‘fiver’), the semi-mythical bird that represents Liverpool.
There are usually two Liver Birds together, as on the city’s coat of arms, where each carries a blade of laver (edible seaweed) in its beak. The bird has been a symbol of Liverpool, it is thought, ever since it first appeared on the city’s charter given by King John in 1207. It seems the the model for the Liver Bird was the common cormorant, a bird whose hardiness and connection with the sea is a fitting icon for this unique and energetic maritime city.
To end with, I post without apology another picture of one of the lions that I liked in the Lady Lever Art Gallery. Raaa!
1I have no hesitation in saying ‘she’ because tortoiseshell patterned cats are always (except for very rare exceptions) female.
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 m?res 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.