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5 March 2007

NEWSLETTER NO 25                                            5 March 2007


Peel Holdings have held a series of presentations and media releases about their gigantic plans to build tall buildings on the north docks and in Birkenhead  - “Manhattan-on-the-Mersey”, if you like.   People are quick to come forward and condemn the whole scheme because they don’t like some of the details.   While heritage fans obviously do not want our fine old buildings needlessly destroyed, we can hardly be proud of the acres of wasteland -  redundant quays covered with junk and rubbish  -  that currently spread down river from just north of the Pier Head and the Crown Plaza Hotel. Peel’s scheme can be the best thing that happens to Liverpool in a century.    Heritage should be safeguarded and cherished when developments are proposed but safeguarding heritage should not be confused with protecting waste, ugliness, dereliction and filth.   So how do heritage and new development fit together?

Some argue that heritage is of no financial value in the modern age, that it is just a fad of eccentrics and the moneyed classes in the leafy lanes of Aigburth, Hoylake and Formby.  It is therefore interesting that in “Move”, the local property magazine,  the Anglican cathedral features twice on one page in the long distance view from swish apartments to let, presumably to boost their attractiveness to potential customers. (Does the Cathedral get a royalty for this?) “Space”, the Liverpool “style” magazine, pictures the Three Graces from the Albert Dock in an attractive photo.  This includes the Pilot Boat  -  shortly to be moved to Salford before our very eyes as Capital of Culture Year approaches. Interestingly, the Peel Holdings presentation referred to above shows what appears to be the U-boat (part of the former Birkenhead Historic Warships) in one of the revivified north docks!

“Move” trumpets the charms of the former grain warehouse at Waterloo dock as a place to live, referring to its development in 1834 by Jesse Hartley.  This was on a site previously occupied by an observatory for monitoring activities on the river.  It was converted into a specialist grain warehouse by G.F. Lyster in 1868 to meet the growing trade in cereals brought about by the abolition of the Corn Laws in 1848.

 “Space” has pictures of three of Liverpool’s most wonderful buildings that are no more.  Adolf Hitler destroyed the Customs House (where the police headquarters now stands) by incendiary bombing resulting in a perhaps unnecessary decision to tear down the remains.  The magnificent classical Cotton Exchange in Old Hall Street and the mock-Jacobean Sailors Home in Canning Place were also torn down at the behest or with the acquiescence of vandals in the Town Hall. Having lost these two iconic structures  -  and having avoided the replacement of St George’s Hall by a multi-storey car park, which was once proposed at one of Liverpool’s lowest points,  we should not need reminding of the need to preserve the many fine buildings we still have  -  and not just the icons like the cathedrals. 

All this reminds one of the sorry saga of Wirral’s failure to save the Historic Warships, which would have looked nice outside the nearby grain warehouse turned into flats. .

Heritage, where it is suitably preserved, is good for the real estate business and for the commercial image of the city.


National Museums Liverpool have opened an exhibition of photographs of Liverpool people taken by Bernard Fallon between 1966 and  1975.  Among many charming, humorously-titled, pictures is one of the construction of the massive Liverpool portal of the Birkenhead tunnel (“All that just to get to Birkenhead?”) and one of some children looking at the photographer (“Hey mister, darra a camera?”). The exhibition was opened by Mike McCartney (brother of ….) who is Wirral’s cultural Ambassador.  Yes, Wirrals’! This is what Liverpool needs and lacks  -  an identifiable human face for the Culture Company’s work.  Jason Harborow and his team at the Culture Company are doing more than they get credit for but the exercise needs up-front leadership in public from members of the Culture Company’s board.  This has 14 members, down from the absurd figure of 23 about which this newsletter complained some time ago.  It would be interesting to hear of the public pronouncements and appearances of these people in their capacities as Board members of the Culture Company.  Kissing babies may now be viewed as unhygienic, but top people turning up at events organised by ordinary townspeople -  in their own time and often at their own expense  -   does a great deal for morale.  Public appearances by Culture Company Board members would be valuable support for Jason Harborow and his team.  These are the Board members:

Prof. Drummond Bone (Chairman), Cllr. Warren Bradley, Loyd Grossman, Susan Woodward, Tony Wilson, Cllr. Joe Anderson, Tom Bloxham, Cllr. Mike Storey, Louise Ellman MP, Ruth Gould, Bryan Gray, Roy Morris, Phil Redmond and Roger Phillips.

It’s true that the Culture Company has appointed “ambassadors”  -  several thousand of them.  This is a useful exercise but not the same thing as having an identifiable “face” of the leadership on show around the city.


► It is 50 years since the Overhead Railway closed.  Its construction was proposed by Alfred Holt, of shipping fame, to alleviate congestion on the dock road.  The New York elevated railway opened in 1881. George Fosbery Lyster designed the Liverpool railway, to be operated by electric trains.  It was opened on 4 February 1893 by the Marquess of Salisbury.  Peel Holdings, in announcing their plans for Manhattan-on-the-Mersey have floated the idea of an elevated monorail in the north docks area.  Whether this would qualify for the title “Dockers’ umbrella”, as the original Overhead was known, is unclear.  The original Overhead was made waterproof to stop water and debris falling down from it  - hence the word “umbrella”.

► Liverpool John Moores University’s new School of Art and Design on Brownlow Hill is scheduled to open in 2008.  There was lot of talk, when JMU announced that it was vacating the present and iconic Art School in Hope Street, of the new academy being a design academy so it is pleasing to know that it will be for art as well as for design. This newsletter is not qualified to pronounce on the difference between art and design but it is tempting to suggest that Rembrandt, Monet and Augustus John (who apparently had a studio in Rodney Street when he was a teacher in the Art School) would not have welcomed being called designers whereas the creators of curtains, kettles and kitchen ware would presumably be happy with the appellation.

► It’s strange to think that Everton once had all the Georgian grandeur we associate with parts of Toxteth but it did. Gravestones at St George’s Church, one of Liverpool’s iron-framed churches, gives testimony to the prominent people who once lived there.   One of the remaining properties reminiscent of this area’s former grandeur in Shaw Street and is being converted into apartments.

► Liverpool is probably the best known city in Britain apart from London, a fact to guide marketing designed to bring tourists to the city and its hinterland  -  the “city region” as is sometimes known.  If proof were needed of the Liverpool brand, look at the European weather forecast map in Le Monde, the leading French newspaper.  It shows two cities in Britain, London and Liverpool.  Tell them that in Manchester, Birmingham and so on!!


Some of us are at pains to convince unknowing southerners and foreigners (and local people too) that Liverpool had a history before the Beatles and that there was a good side  -  a glorious side  - to it as well as the horrors of the slave trade and the terrible poverty of the “courts” where people lived in dreadful  conditions.   It had commercial power, wealth and much culture.

The Victorian Society is still selling copies of “Victorian Seaport, the report of a conference in 1967.  It casts light on a number of often-heard misunderstandings about the city.   Dr J.R.Harris told the conference that in the middle and late nineteenth century Liverpool was, with London and new York, one of the three great maritime commercial centres in the world and that its activities helped to change world trading patterns.  (This was long after the end of the slave trade).  

In 1858, Liverpool had more registered shipping tonnage than London.   In 1904 Liverpool had a fifth of all British steam tonnage and 45% of British vessels over 5,000 tons.

In the 1890s, the Chamber of Commerce complained that Liverpool’s trade, greater than London’s in 1858, was now only four fifths of it  -  but still clearly of great importance. .

There was much going on Liverpool before the Beatles and the Toxteth riots!

► Peter Elson in the Daily Post of 5 March encapsulates the grandeur of Victorian Liverpool with an article and photos of the great houses of the Liverpool merchants, based on the splendid exhibition of photos at the Lady Lever and Joseph Sharples’ fascinating new book on “Merchants’ Palaces”. Some of the Victorian houses of the leaders of Liverpool commerce were as fine as any in the land.  It was the money of businessmen, not of kings, government ministers or clergymen, who gave Liverpool its astonishing architecture and top grade performing arts.  In this it make Liverpool similar to Venice and Florence and unlike many capital cities whose wealth came from the church or what we would now call the public purse.

► One of Liverpool’s claims to fame is that its Corporation backed the establishment of Formby Lifeboat station some time before 1776, the first in the world  -  “to assist and save shipwrecked persons and goods on this coast”.  The Liverpool Institution for Recovering Drowned persons having been set up in 1775, rewards were set at one guinea for each successful case and half a guinea for each case even if not revived (providing that the body showed no sign of life when pulled from the water – but not actually decomposing.  It seems that the word” drowning” did not imply such finality as it does now!.

► On 15 February, Princes Road Synagogue received the North West Multi Faith Tourism Association’s Marque for Excellence.  Dr Cecil Moss on behalf of the Synagogue accepted the honour, which is awarded to sacred sites which offer a high degree of excellence in welcome and hospitality.


► It seems that progress is being made towards improved indicating more effectively where Liverpool’s original seven streets ran, by new explanatory panels.” on the spot” .

► Discussion are ongoing about preparing a local list of buildings which do not qualify for protection under the English Heritage Listing system, but which are nevertheless worth preserving from demolition if practical future uses for them can be found.

► The Bluebell Recovery project is developing bluebell glades in Merseyside (Court Hey Park, the Old Rough, McGoldricks Park and Clinkham Wood). This is the first place in the UK to promote the recovery of the species in this way but there are now similar projects elsewhere. The National Wildflower Centre in Roby Road leads the project.

► The search is on for a  Blue Plaque for Frank Hornby, the inventor of 'Meccano' and Dinky Toys, that was situated at Lime Street Station near his home in Copperas Hill.  It was during moved during the refurbishment of Lime Street Station many years ago. It is thought that it may be sitting in some Network Rail office somewhere, but no information has been forthcoming so far.  Could one of our councillors perhaps raise it with NR? The plaque is thought to have been situated in the concourse on the wall of the former hotel where there are now shops and was removed during the station`s refurbishment.


► A website has been opened for comments on whether the government’s plans to demolish homes is causing unnecessary distress by leaving properties boarded up while awaiting their fate:   The Welsh streets are a case on point.

► The Anglican Cathedral will offer musical workshops to visiting schools.  They are looking for people who can donate instruments for this.

► Liverpool Chamber of Commerce runs Merseyside Innovation awards. The place chosen for making the awards was  the atrium of Word Museum, Liverpool, a recognition of the attraction of heritage and culture for the business world. 

► Liverpool Culture Company is reaching out to a London audience. One of its adverts on the London underground features the Alma de Cuba restaurant in Seel Street.

► The European Union Tourism Challenge Fund, managed by the Mersey Partnership,  helps small private firms to improve accommodation, attractions and tourist facilities for 2008.  Is there anything to show for it yet?

► The National Council for Voluntary Organisations provides funding advice, information and services to improve and support for the voluntary and community sector. Contact: 020 7713 6161.

► “” lists many local events.  It is not obvious who it is produced by or how you get hold of a copy.  The cloakrooms of expensive places of entertainment are a good place to start looking for copies of free magazines material.  How much of it actually reaches the intended public is a moot point. (This newsletter which you are reading is received directly by nearly 600 people and read by probably over twice that number.  The Forum’s website had 13,021 hits in February with 12074 hits in January. 


► Out on the Ale: your editor slipped into the White Star pub in Rainford Gardens the other night.  There is a large collection of photos of White Star ships there and also a sheet bearing line drawings of 46 Wallasey steam ferries over the years.  The Beatles are said to have drunk in there and there are seats for each of them marked by brass plates.  Your editor then went into the Poste House in Cumberland Street.  I had been told that both Hitler and The Emperor Louis Napoleon had drunk in there.  (Hitler allegedly lived in the Upper Stanhope Street area for a time after leaving Vienna and before arriving in Munich.  The French Emperor stayed in Southport, where, some say, he got the idea for the design of the Champs Elysées from Lord Street.  The locals were not sure about the Frenchman but were positive about Hitler.  “He used to sit up there in the corner”.  They added that Prince Phillip also drank there when serving in the navy in World War II.  I took my leave, full of the welcome of the place if not of sureness of the information given to me!. “If Hitler comes in, we’ll say you asked after him”, said one of the kindly spirits by the door as I left.

 “Mersey Ale” reports that writer Chris Routledge has been appointed by Liverpool University Press to write the official history of Cain’s brewery.  It would be good if other local firms put their histories on the public record”. Maybe some already do.

► In my files I find a picture of dinner-jacketed gentlemen at a gambling table, drinks to hand in Liverpool Town Hall, filmed some time ago.  Granada’s designers for the “Forsyte Saga” had transformed the Dining Room into a smoke-filed hall with women in Victorian dress playing cards and roulette.  Will film-makers be able to create smoke-filled scenarios in our Town Hall in future, given the new legislation coming into force this year.

►”Stunning” is the current “in” word to describe art and architecture that you like.  The word was used in the press to describe the new building for the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine being built in Pembroke Place.  (Stunning is presumably not a type of treatment to be offered in it!) .  The School was opened in 1898, and was the world’s first institution devoted primarily to tropical medicine and is one of the city’s great institutions.


Andrew Pearce