Category Archives: Liverpool’s Heritage

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 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 and 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.

The finest gents in the North West

Philharmonic Hotel, Liverpool:  gentlemen's lavatory

Philharmonic Hotel, Liverpool: gentlemen’s lavatory

One of the great Liverpool experiences is having a drink – or perhaps more than one drink – in the Philharmonic Hotel (1898-1900) on the opposite corner of Hope Street to the Philharmonic Hall from which it takes its name.

This palace of a pub is the result of a partnership of the architect Walter W Thomas and Robert Cain’s Brewery during the great boom in public-house building at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Thomas was well-funded and fortunately placed to call on the formidable design-skills of the Liverpool University School of Architecture and Applied Art and of the Liverpool craftsmen who executed the decorative schemes of the interiors of the great ocean-liners.

The exterior is an odd combination of Scottish Baronial and Art Nouveau, with elaborate iron gates by the German-American artist H Blomfield Bare, who also designed the repoussé copper panels inside.

The interior scheme was co-ordinated by George Hall Neale and Arthur Stratten, who employed Charles J Allen to produce the distinctive plaster caryatids and atlantes in the billiard room (the former modelled by his friend Mrs Ryan), the Irish plasterer Pat Honan and the stone-carver Frank Norbury.

The gentlemen’s lavatories at the Philharmonic Hotel are not to be missed.  Indeed, the protocol is that any respectable lady customer can request any respectable gentleman customer to check the coast is clear so she can admire the marble, the mosaic and the brass-work of this palatial pissoir.

John Lennon declared that one of the disadvantages of fame was “not going to The Phil any more”.

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.

Devoted to music – and film

Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

I once booked a Cinema Theatre Association Liverpool tour primarily on the strength of seeing On Golden Pond on the big screen at the Philharmonic Hall.

The Philharmonic Hall is a 1937-9 rebuild, replacing a predecessor of 1846-9 which had been burnt down in 1933.

It’s a very fine Art Deco auditorium, designed by Herbert J Rowse whose other distinguished Liverpool designs include India Buildings, Martin’s Bank and the ventilation shafts [see https://www.flickr.com/photos/liverpoolpictorial/7710001254/in/photostream]  and other structures for the Mersey Tunnel.

The 1,700-seat auditorium has a continuous rake of stalls seats with horseshoe boxes and a balcony:  the suspended ceiling has troughs containing indirect lighting fittings.

It’s the home of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Choir and Youth Orchestra, which together have an outstanding history of performance dating back to the foundation of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society in 1840:  http://www.liverpoolphil.com.

The CTA was attracted to this temple of serious music was to hear the three-manual Rushworth & Dreaper concert organ, which is fitted with tremulants, a feature commonly found in theatre-organ specifications.

Though lacking the drums, chimes and whistles of a conventional cinema-organ it was clearly intended for use in film presentations as well as taking its place in the classical repertoire.  Its console is mounted on a revolving lift, and can be played from below stage or in full view of the audience.

Even more unusual, and unmissable if you’re a serious cinema buff, is the seven-ton rising proscenium, now apparently the only example in working order anywhere in the world:  http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Liverpool/PhilharmonicHallLivepool.htm#screen

This cinema screen, complete with footlights and curtains and fitted with integral sound speakers, rises from the stage-floor in three minutes, uniquely transforming the concert hall into a movie palace before the eyes of the audience.

That’s an experience you can only have at the Philharmonic.

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.

Oasis of peace

St James's Cemetery, Liverpool (1979) – Huskisson Monument in the foreground

St James’s Cemetery, Liverpool (1979) – Huskisson Monument in the foreground

A page of Liverpool City Council’s website [http://liverpool.gov.uk/leisure-parks-and-events/parks-and-greenspaces/st-james-gardens] presents the former quarry below the Anglican Cathedral as an “oasis of peace”, a bland description that matches the 1970s landscaping of one of the city’s most dramatic corners.

The stone for much of eighteenth-century Liverpool was quarried here.  As Mount Zion it was a place of resort, especially after the discovery in 1773 of a chalybeate spring which was thought good for “loss of appetite, nervous disorders, lowness of spirit, headache…proceeding from crudities of the stomach, rickets and weak eyes”.

Renamed St James’s Mount, after the newly-built adjacent parish church, around 1775, it became more genteel.  John Bridge opened “a coffee house of considerable repute…frequented principally by persons of a superior class”.  Visitors relished the contrast between the vast quarry face and the “subterraneous [entrance], supported by arches, [which] has a pleasing and romantic effect”.

When the quarry was practically exhausted in 1825 it became St James’s Cemetery, so immediately profitable that as soon as it opened in 1829 its first year of trading paid an 8% dividend.

The Liverpool architect John Foster Jnr designed a funerary chapel, the Oratory, and built a series of retaining walls, ramps and catacombs into the quarry face.  Mike Faulkner’s informative website [http://www.stjamescemetery.co.uk] provides details of the tunnels that gave access for mourners and hearses.

By the time St James’ Cemetery closed in July 1936, 57,774 burials had taken place.  From that time onwards maintenance became an increasingly severe problem.

The floor of the cemetery was almost entirely cleared by the City Council between 1969 and 1972, isolating John Foster Jnr’s magnificent 1833 mausoleum of the Liverpool MP and President of the Board of Trade, William Huskisson (1770-1830).  Huskisson’s statue by John Gibson has been removed for safety.

Other celebrated Liverpudlians buried here include the architect, John Foster Junior (1786-1846), Sir William Brown (1784-1864), donor of the William Brown Library, and the much-loved Catherine “Kitty” Wilkinson (1786-1860), an Irish-born washerwoman of Denison Street.  She is famous for making her water-boiler available to maintain cleanliness during the 1832 Cholera Epidemic, “indefatigable and self-denying, she was the widow’s friend, the support of the orphan, the fearless and unwearied nurse of the sick, the originator of baths and wash-houses for the poor”.

St James’s Gardens, as it’s now known, provides a green amenity in the midst of the city.

But I miss the Gothick atmosphere of the accumulated gravestones and monuments that filled the quarry floor until 1972.

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.