Category Archives: Liverpool’s Heritage

Park Palace Ponies

Park Palace Ponies (the former Park Palace Cinema), Dingle, Liverpool

The Park Palace Theatre in Toxteth was built for James Kiernan, a Liverpool theatre proprietor and designed by J H Havelock-Sutton, a Liverpool architect.

The auditorium is a simple rectangle, with the balcony (now removed) around three sides.  There were two boxes (also now gone), decorated with tall oval bevelled mirrors and lit with brass gas brackets.  Corinthian pilasters with acanthus-leaf bases flank the proscenium and support a broken pediment.  The proscenium is thirty feet wide.  Backstage there were four dressing rooms but no fly-tower.

Some accounts mention a gallery, and the Royal Arms mounted above the proscenium following a visit by King Edward VII in 1903, but there is no present-day evidence of either.

The original audience capacity was 1,100 (600 in the pit and stalls, 500 in the balcony) and it opened on December 4th 1893 as a variety theatre.

Though it retained its music-hall licence, the building was used as a cinema from 1905.  For a time the Sheffield cinema impresario Jasper Redfern ran it, and the Weisker Brothers took it over and renamed it the Kinematodrome in 1910.  

In 1911, Peter Dunn acquired it and ran it as cine-variety for nearly twenty years.  During the 1920s there was a seven-piece orchestra.  The variety acts and the orchestra ceased abruptly with the introduction of sound movies on January 8th 1930.  By then the capacity had reduced to 961. 

After Peter Dunn’s death in 1934, the proprietor was Miss Sheila Dunn, presumably his daughter.

The final film show – Russ Tamblyn in The Young Guns and John Payne in Hold Back the Night – took place on March 11th 1959. 

After its demise as a cinema the Park Palace was successively used as a factory, a chemist’s shop and a store for motor-vehicle spares.  For a period from 1984 it became the Mill Street Chapel. 

Subsequently the building was largely left to deteriorate. 

It was briefly revived as a performance space in 2008, and was once used as a location for the Channel 4 soap-opera Hollyoaks, but from 2010 onwards it was advertised to let. 

It remained unused until 2017, when Keith Hackett and his daughter, Bridget Griffin, set up Park Palace Ponies, to provide a riding school aimed at local children under ten, bringing them the benefits of spending time with horses and the perception that horse-riding isn’t only for the affluent.  Hundreds of children from south-central Liverpool (defined as postcodes L8, L17 and L18) have since taken part in riding lessons at the Palace:  http://www.parkpalaceponies.com

The community benefits of this scheme are palpable, and not confined to the children and their families.  The horses graze at the local allotments, where their manure is much appreciated.

Park Palace Ponies is included in the itinerary of the ‘Unexpected Liverpool’ tour, June 1st-5th 2020.  For further details of the tour, please click here.

The Florrie

The Florence Institute for Boys, Dingle, Liverpool

When Sir Bernard Hall, a Liverpool businessman and alderman, suffered the loss of his 22-year-old daughter Florence in 1887, he commemorated her by building the Florence Institute for Boys in the inner-city riverside suburb of Dingle, “in the hope that it might prove an acceptable place of recreation and instruction for the poor and working boys of this district of the city”. 

It quickly came to be known, almost universally, as “The Florrie”.

Bernard Hall’s work as a city magistrate made him aware that a lack of recreational amusements led working-class adolescents to mischief and petty crime, and he commissioned one of the earliest purpose-built boys’ clubs in Britain, providing facilities for football, boxing, baseball, gymnastics and billiards.

The Florrie was not the first boys’ club in Liverpool.  The Gordon Working Lads’ Institute in Kirkdale preceded it.  Designed by Birkenhead-born David Walker (1840-1892), it was built in 1886 at a cost of £50,000 by another Liverpool merchant, William Cliff, as a memorial to his deceased eleven-year-old son. 

In the same period, Manchester businessmen funded the Hulme Lads’ Club (1887), the Adelphi Ragged School Lads’ Evening Club (1888), the Openshaw Lads’ Club (1888), the Sharp Street Lads Club and Ragged School (c1890) and the still surviving Salford Lads’ Club (1904).

The Florrie, designed by C Sherwood and H W Keef, is a magnificent essay in Jacobethan-style terracotta, with a concert hall, a library as well as a gymnasium.  It was completed in 1889 and the club opened the following year.  

Weekend camps at Heswall on the Wirral, a short ferry-trip across the Mersey, and summer camps in the Lake District were regularly run to give Toxteth and Dingle kids a healthy break away from the streets.

The Florrie served generations of boys and young men, some of whom achieved fame.  The Florrie is where Gerry Marsden (b 1942) learnt to play guitar and performed his first skiffle gig at the age of ten, and the club can claim to have nurtured the careers of a legion of boxers, including Dick Tiger (1929-1971), Tommy Bache (b 1938), Alan Rudkin MBE (1941-2010) and Larry Paul (1952-2017).

The 1980s were sad, bad times for the communities that make up the district of Liverpool 8, and the Florrie was a casualty of those grim days.  The funding that had kept the Florrie going ceased, so the building was sold in 1987 and its management company, The Florence Institute Incorporated Company, was dissolved the following year.

By the legal device of bona vacantia [“ownerless goods”] the premises passed to the Duchy of Lancaster, the private estate of the monarch, but neglect and vandalism eventually reduced the building to a wreck which was rendered roofless and burnt-out after a fire in 1999.

A succession of saviours took on the challenge of bringing the Florrie back – pressure groups such as the Friends of the Florrie and the Dingle Community Regeneration Trust, supported by the Liverpool Echo’s ‘Stop the Rot’ campaign.  A popular, vociferous campaign prompted the formation in 2004 of the Florence Institute Trust Ltd, chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones.

The trust ensured the upgrading of the ruined building from Grade II to Grade II*, and in 2010 secured a package of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (£3.7 million), the Northwest European Regional Development Fund (£1.5 million) and the Northwest Regional Development Agency (£536,000).

Meanwhile HRH the Prince of Wales had visited the site in 2007, and was surprised to discover that it belonged to his mother as Duke of Lancaster.  He promised the support of his Prince’s Regeneration Trust and persuaded the Duchy to give the building to the Florence Institute Trust.  He duly returned to open the refurbished building in January 2013.

The rebuilding was problematic, for lack of original plans:  the detailed restoration was planned around existing photographs, archaeological evidence and oral testimony.  This meant that, against the wishes of the local community, much of the specialist contracting had to go outside the city.

Since its reopening the Florrie has developed as “a multi-purpose community hub”: https://www.theflorrie.org.

In human terms, this means that it serves and supports the local community, girls as well as boys, adults as well as children, earning its keep through events and conferences and providing employment, training opportunities and learning and leisure experiences.

Once again it strives to be “an acceptable place of recreation and instruction”, as Bernard Hall intended.

The Florrie is a lunch-stop in the itinerary of the ‘Unexpected Liverpool’ tour, June 1st-5th 2020.  For further details of the tour please click here.

Tyson Smith

21107-Liverpool-city-centre

21109-Liverpool-city-centre

Cenotaph, St George's Plateau, Liverpool

Cenotaph, St George’s Plateau, Liverpool

I first came across the work of the sculptor Herbert Tyson Smith (1883-1972) in a roundabout way.

I was struck by the majestic war memorial on Hamilton Square in Birkenhead, because alongside the set-piece Portland stone cenotaph by Lionel Bailey Budden (1887-1956), embellished with Tyson Smith’s sculptures, lies a phalanx of simple black marble slabs placed by local community groups to remember their own heroes – those who were killed at Dunkirk, in the Blitz, in Normandy, in the Burma campaign, Korea, numerous regiments including the Welsh Guards and the Irish Guards, “all shipmates who crossed the bar in the service of their country”, Merchant Navy seafarers and Merseyside aircrew.

Somehow, these recognisable cohorts are more immediately moving than the huge list of 1,293 names of the individuals killed in the First World War.  The names of those who died in the Second World War are recorded in a Book of Remembrance in the Town Hall.

The original plan was to locate the Great War memorial on the north side of the square, but by popular demand the statue of William Lever, the founder of Birkenhead, was moved to the west so that the war memorial could stand foursquare in front of the Town Hall portico.

Tyson Smith did the sculpture for other civic war memorials for Widnes (1921), Accrington (1922), Southport (1923) and Fleetwood (1927), but his reliefs on the Liverpool cenotaph outside St George’s Hall, unveiled in 1930, are the most powerful.

The cenotaph is a simple, shaped block of Stancliffe stone, designed like the Birkenhead memorial by Lionel Budden, carrying two 31-foot bronze relief panels of haunting poignancy.

The panel facing St George’s Hall shows ranks of grim-faced soldiers, each face distinct and individual, marching relentlessly from left to right, above a quotation from Ezekiel 38:15 – “OUT OF THE NORTH PARTS A GREAT COMPANY AND A MIGHTY ARMY”.

On the other panel, facing Lime Street Station, Tyson Smith depicts those left behind, the mourners, of all ages, men, women and children, in contemporary dress, some bringing wreaths and flowers.  Underneath is a verse from the second book of Samuel 19:2 – “AND THE VICTORY THAT DAY WAS TURNED INTO MOURNING UNTO ALL THE PEOPLE”.

It’s impossible to walk past this monument and not remember what it stands for.

The Bombed Out Church

St Luke’s Church, Liverpool (1979)

St Luke’s Church, Liverpool (1979)

When I first knew Liverpool in the late 1960s, St Luke’s Church was a blackened, bombed-out ruin with trees growing inside the roofless nave and the clock dials stopped at 3.36am, showing the time on the morning of May 7th 1941 when the flames up the tower brought down the floors, the roof and most of the bells.

I didn’t realise at the time that this poignant memento of the Liverpool blitz was under threat, because Graeme Shankland’s Liverpool City Plan of 1965 proposed an inner ring-road aligned directly on the nave, and would have left the tower as a forlorn waymark.

Shankland’s scheme didn’t happen:  the existing bleak dual carriageways behind the Three Graces and eastwards towards the M62 give an idea of how the city would have been carved up if it had gone ahead.

In the time that St Luke’s stood abandoned people became attached to it as a reminder of what the city suffered in the Second World War.

However, if you leave a ruin as a ruin, sooner or later it falls down.

In fact, St Luke’s is a significant building.  Built by Liverpool Corporation as a parish church that would also serve for civic services, it was designed by the Senior Surveyors, John Foster Snr and his son and successor, John Foster Jnr, perhaps with the help of a shadowy assistant, “Mr Edwards”, in an elaborate version of what modern architectural historians call the “Commissioners’ Gothic” style.

Built on a sloping site which accentuates the height of the 133-foot tower, it has rich architectural detail, with octagonal buttresses rising to elaborate turrets and ogee mouldings over the belfry windows.  It opened for services in 1832, and the scale of the nave and aisles made it a useful space for concerts until the completion of the Philharmonic Hall (1849) and St George’s Hall (1854).

St Luke’s became known as the “Doctors’ Church” because of the large number of medical practitioners and their families from Rodney Street who worshipped there.

The stonework has been cleaned to show the fine carving, but nothing of the interior survives.  In the roofless tower, the cast-iron bell-frame – believed to be the earliest to be built (1828) – remains in situ, and a clock similar to the lost original was found and installed.

The churchyard, which has never been used for burials, was developed as a garden, and now contains Aemonn O’Docherty’s Irish Famine Memorial (1998).

The ruins and the grounds of St Luke’s were opened up by the Liverpool arts and events organisation Urban Strawberry Lunch, and are now cared for by the group Bombed Out Church, which runs events, exhibitions and open-air film shows and concerts to keep alive the city’s blitz memorial.

No expense spared 4: Gustav Adolfs Kyrka, Liverpool

Gustav Adolfs Kyrka, Park Lane, Liverpool

Gustav Adolfs Kyrka, Park Lane, Liverpool

One of the most original churches in Liverpool is the Gustav Adolfs Kyrka, now known as the Scandinavian Seamen’s Church, a rendering in brick of the Nordic stave church [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stave_church].

It was built to minister to the pastoral needs of the transitory population of around fifty thousand Scandinavian seamen and emigrants in Liverpool in the early 1880s. It was completed at a cost of 50,000 Swedish crowns in 1884.

Designed by William Douglas Caröe (1857-1938), who was the son of the Danish Consul in Liverpool and a pupil of the architect John Loughborough Pearson, its octagonal form and pyramidal roof with stepped gables and a spectacular concave lead and timber spire highlight its Scandinavian associations.

The minister’s house adjoins the church.

The original worship space was up a half-flight of stairs and consisted of a galleried octagonal space with an open timber vault.

This was floored at gallery level in 1956-61 to create social and recreational space, and as the numbers of seamen visiting Liverpool declined the congregation adapted to serve the needs and welfare of the Scandinavian community in the city and its surrounding region.

Four plaster reliefs, originally part of the reredos and now relocated to the staircase, are by Robert Anning Bell.

Two sculptures, the Madonna and Christ, are by the Liverpool sculptor Arthur Dooley.

The bell from the former Norwegian Seamen’s Church at St Michael-in-the-Hamlet hangs beside the altar.

The Gustaf Adolf Nordic Congregation in Liverpool operates as the Nordic Church and Cultural Centre, providing a base for Danes, Finns, Icelanders, Norwegians and Swedes in the district and maintaining their unique building for future generations.

Visitors are made welcome, particularly at events: http://nordicliverpool.co.uk. The buffets are memorable.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool’s Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

No expense spared 3: Old Hebrew Congregation Synagogue, Liverpool

Old Hebrew Congregation Synagogue, Princes Road, Liverpool

Old Hebrew Congregation Synagogue, Princes Road, Liverpool

Among the many fine Victorian buildings in and around Liverpool 8, the Old Hebrew Congregation Syngogue is a particular jewel.

Built 1871-4 to the designs of the brothers William James and George Ashdown Audsley, it is constructed, like St Margaret’s Church on the same side of Princes Road, of red brick dressed with red sandstone.

Its façade combines elements of Gothic and Moorish styles, the pointed west door and the rose window contrasting with the oriental arches of the doorframes and the minarets that once surmounted the turrets.

The spectacular galleried interior has a tall arcade, supported by cast-iron columns with acanthus capitals. The horseshoe arches of the arcade lead the eye to the much more elaborate arch at the east end, which frames another rose window above the marble Ark with painted domes and gold stars.

The initial total cost was £14,975 8s 11d.

The marble pulpit, given in 1874 by the widow of James Braham, faces the bimah, the platform from which the Torah and haftarah are read. This was the gift of David Lewis, founder of the Liverpool department store, “in gratitude to Almighty God for His great goodness”.

The Ark is a replacement of the original which with its holy scrolls was destroyed by arson in May 1979: it was reconstructed and the synagogue restored and reopened in December 1980.

This spectacular place is open to group tours, which feature an exhibition about the history of the congregation: http://www.princesroad.org/#!tours/cfvg.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool’s Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Liverpool’s life story

Museum of Liverpool:  Liverpool Overhead Railway 3

Museum of Liverpool: Liverpool Overhead Railway 3

Liverpool’s trio of Edwardian buildings fronting Pier Head – the Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the former Mersey Docks & Harbour Board Building – are collectively known as the “Three Graces”.

The design of Liverpool’s “Fourth Grace” – to occupy Mann Island, the space next to the Pier Head group – brought lengthy controversy.

The initial scheme, for Will Alsop’s design “The Cloud”, described by one journalist as a “diamond knuckleduster”, was eventually dismissed as expensive and impractical:  http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2003/nov/21/regeneration.europeancapitalofculture2008, http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2004/jul/20/europeancityofculture2008.arts and http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2004/jul/24/architecture.communities.

The eventual outcome was the Museum of Liverpool by the architects 3XN and engineers Buro Happold, an altogether quieter building that provides a surprising amount of space for exhibits and offers superb views along the river front.

Here at last are opportunities to savour some of the most significant major exhibits that could rarely if ever be displayed in the limited amount of museum space that was previously available.

The Liverpool & Manchester Railway locomotive Lion, built in 1837, latterly the star of the 1953 film The Titfield Thunderbolt and last steamed in 1989, rests alongside a reproduction stretch of the former Liverpool Overhead Railway viaduct, on which stands the one remaining vehicle from that much-mourned fleet.

Upstairs, the great model of the unbuilt Roman Catholic Cathedral designed between the wars by Sir Edwin Lutyens stands before a panorama showing exactly how this vast structure would have dominated the Liverpool skyline and streetscape.

Perhaps most fascinating of all, in the amount of time it demands, is Ben Johnson’s huge, minutely-detailed painting ‘Liverpool Cityscape’ (2005-8) commissioned for the Liverpool Capital of Culture Year and now permanently displayed at the Museum.

These are the star attractions of a rich, constantly evolving museum that celebrates one of the vibrant cities in the UK:  http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/mol/things-to-see.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool’s Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Glen’s finest

Forum Cinema, Lime Street, Liverpool

Forum Cinema, Lime Street, Liverpool

At the north end of Lime Street, on the opposite side to the Futurist Cinema, is the much more imposing former Forum Cinema, designed for the ABC circuit by William R Glen and Ernest A Shennan and opened in 1931, “one of W R Glen’s finest”, according to the Theatres Trust website:  http://www.theatrestrust.org.uk/resources/theatres/show/2102-forum-liverpool.

This splendid Portland stone building occupies a corner site corresponding to Lewis’s department store at the other end of Lime Street.

Its fine interior, described by some writers as “semi-Atmospheric”, was a celebration of the possibilities of indirect lighting using Holophane reflectors with a sunburst light-feature in the ceiling.  On each side of the proscenium are curious relief panels, supposedly Venetian though both include recognisable representations of the Chrysler Building.

The architects contrived to squeeze a big auditorium, originally 1,835 seats, into a constricted space 150 feet × 75 feet, by creating a huge balcony seating 750 and placing the projection ports high above the rear circle with a throw of 146 feet.

Such a narrow auditorium was less than ideal for wide-screen films, and when the Forum was tripled in 1982 a false ceiling was inserted from the balcony front so that the proportions of the proscenium were lost.

It finally closed in January 1998 with a showing of Casablanca at 50p per seat and has remained unused.  Although (or perhaps because) it’s listed Grade II, the various proposals for the building have so far come to nothing.

A recent urban explorer report shows that the division between stalls and circle has been removed, recovering the original auditorium space:  http://www.derelictplaces.co.uk/main/leisure-sites/32830-abc-cinema-liverpool-march-2016-a.html#.V0O15Y-cGUk.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool’s Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

 

Questionable future for another Futurist

Futurist Cinema, Lime Street, Liverpool

Futurist Cinema, Lime Street, Liverpool

As Liverpool city-centre regenerates, the remaining patches of neglect stand out more clearly.

The east side of Lime Street has been neglected for years, and yet the stretch between the Crown and the Vines pubs includes a spectacular landmark building that still, somehow, remains in one piece.

The Futurist Cinema, originally the Lime Street Picture House, was the first purpose-built cinema in Liverpool, opened in 1912.  It was the first to show sound movies, in 1926, three years before The Jazz Singer at the Olympia, West Derby Road.  It converted to Cinemascope in 1954 without interrupting performances, and at the end of its long history it was the only place in Liverpool fitted with Sensurround for the film Earthquake (1975):  [http://www.in70mm.com/newsletter/2004/69/sensurround/about.htm].

It closed in July 1982 and has remained empty and untended ever since.  Kim Ryan’s film of the Merseyside film-maker Alex Cox revisiting the Futurist shows the interior in 2008:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2_JRTwP4J0.  An April 2013 news article raises the question of whether the building is beyond saving:  http://www.clickliverpool.com/business/business-news/1218614-back-to-the-future-futurist-building-set-for-revamp.html.

The campaign to save at least the façade of the Futurist is at http://thefuturistcinema.wordpress.com.

A more recent Victorian Society alert to threats to the Lime Street streetscape is at http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/news/damaging-lime-street-plans-could-further-endanger-liverpools-world-heritage.  This is supplemented by the SAVE Britain’s Heritage objection to demolition:  http://us8.campaign-archive2.com/?u=9ea03bb11e3ccc82634488e2b&id=63d3031744&e=68a86e2740.

Update:  After a protracted legal process, the campaign to save the Futurist failed, and demolition followed almost immediately:  http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/demolition-historic-futurist-cinema-begins-11697085.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool’s Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

 

Mr Vines’ hotel

Vines Hotel, Lime Street, Liverpool

Vines Hotel, Lime Street, Liverpool

The Vines Hotel, next door to the Adelphi, is a sister pub to the splendid Philharmonic Hotel on Hope Street, designed by the architect Walter Thomas.  It’s a little later than the Phil, opened in 1907, so its mahogany, copper, glass and plaster interior has a distinctly Art Nouveau feel.

Alcohol has been served here since 1823, and the present building takes its name from its late-Victorian licensee, Albert B Vines, who came to the site in 1867.

Because of its location at the end of Lime Street the Vines has traditionally been noisier than the Phil.  Indeed, one reviewer [http://www.yelp.co.uk/biz/the-vines-liverpool] comments,–

The Vines will usually give you a fairly rockin’ Friday, Saturday and indeed Sunday evening provided what rocks you are karaoke and somebody’s grandmother pinching your arse.

Architectural-history enthusiasts may choose to visit for breakfast.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool’s Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.