Monthly Archives: November 2019

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.

Stolpersteine

Stolpersteine [stumbling stones], Luisenstraße, Wuppertal, Germany

I was walking along a back street, Luisenstraße, in the little German town of Wuppertal on a bright spring morning when I first stumbled, as the artist intended, upon an example of a Stolperstein, which literally translates as “stumbling stone”.

The expression metaphorically refers to a “stumbling block” – one of Gunter Demnig’s many brass pavement setts installed across Europe to commemorate victims of the Holocaust, memorialised at their last freely chosen place of residence. 

Here are four together, stating simply “Hier wohnte…” [Here lived…] Emil and Henriette Hirschberg, ermordet [murdered] in Minsk, and Samuel and Sophie Zuckermann, ermordet respectively in Chelmno and Auschwitz.  There are now over seventy thousand of these poignant reminders, deliberately designed to trip up the unthinking passer-by, from Spain to Greece and from Poland to Sicily. 

There were two outside my 1950s Berlin hotel in the heavily bombed area of Friedrichshain, and I found another on a pavement in the modern development that replaces the bombed wastes of Potsdamer Platz, where the course of the Berlin Wall created a dead zone that lasted a generation after the war ended.

I spotted another, in Budapest, embedded in the pavement of what had been the Jewish Quarter but which became, at the end of 1944, the ghetto.  Here the last fragment of the ghetto wall was dismantled in 2006 but a reproduction, using some original stone, was erected as a memorial two years later.

Gunter Demnig’s work is much less likely to be obliterated, even if a few setts are discarded, and there can never be too many reminders of the mass murders of 1933-45.

It’s idle to believe that such a crime could never happen again.

I carry with me the last line of Bertholt Brecht’s 1941 play, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui:  “The bitch that bore him is in heat again.”

Slaughterhouse Gothic 2

Former Refuge Assurance Headquarters, Manchester (now Principal Hotel): porte-cochère

The magnificent former Manchester headquarters of the Refuge Assurance Company is a fitting symbol of the city’s nineteenth-century prestige and prosperity, an extravagant temple to the virtues of thrift and frugality.

The Refuge Friend in Deed Life Assurance & Sick Fund Friendly Society was founded in 1858 by James Proctor and George Robins of Dukinfield, near Stalybridge, east of Manchester. By the late nineteenth century their society based on saving for the future had expanded to the extent that it needed a prominent headquarters in Manchester city centre.

For commercial buildings the architect, Alfred Waterhouse (1830-1905), favoured the use of moulded glazed or unglazed brick to create rich decorative effects at less expense than ashlar and carved stonework.  Some of his best public buildings in Manchester were built in stone – the Assize Courts (1859-64, demolished) and the Town Hall (1868-77) – though Strangeways Prison (1868) is brick with stone dressings.

Elsewhere, his attachment to terracotta, and its tin-glazed derivative, faience, gained prominence after he designed the Natural History Museum, South Kensington (1873-80) and became widely recognised by his work for the Prudential Assurance Company at their London headquarters at Holborn Bars (1895-1901) and at instantly recognisable branch offices across the nation.

These terracotta buildings were satirised as “slaughterhouse Gothic”, which is unfair, partly because most of them are in other styles than Gothic, but furthermore because, though the outside elevations were deep red, the interiors were invariably varied and colourful, and could be kept bright because they were practically washable.

Alfred Waterhouse’s original building for the Refuge Assurance Company in central Manchester, on the corner of Oxford Street and Whitworth Street, was started in 1891 and completed in 1895. 

The architect’s son, Paul Waterhouse, continued the Oxford Street elevation, including the 217-foot clock tower, in 1910-12.  Both designs are an eclectic mix of French Renaissance style with baroque features, liberally embellished with emblems such as the bee, symbolising Manchester’s industry, and the initial ‘R’ for ‘Refuge’. 

The company owned the land further along Whitworth Street, where India House (1906), Lancaster House (1905-10) and Asia House, Princess Street (1906-9) were built, leaving room on Whitworth Street for a further extension of the Refuge headquarters, designed in harmony with the existing building by Stanley Birkett (1884-1959) in 1932.

The Refuge Assurance Company left Manchester in 1987 for a purpose-built site at Fulshaw Hall, Cheshire.  The Manchester building was considered as a replacement home for the Hallé Orchestra but instead the orchestra moved directly from the Free Trade Hall to the Bridgewater Hall in 1996.

Instead, the Refuge building was converted into a 271-room hotel which also opened in 1996.  It was named the Palace after the theatre on the opposite corner of Whitworth Street.  The hotel was reconfigured, with conference facilities separated in the 1932 Excalibur Building, and rebranded the Principal in 2016.

The main features of the Waterhouse buildings of 1891-95 and 1910-12 are the porte-cochère, originally open until the dome was inserted in 1996, the open-plan office space and the clock tower, its faces embellished with the Manchester bee.

The tower, for obvious reasons inaccessible to the general public, has a dizzy succession of staircases to the top of the cupola:  https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/threads/refuge-assurance-building-manchester-2011.60357.  Ascending to the top is fraught with risks:  https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/man-plunged-his-death-manchester-canal-after-photo-escapade-hotels-roof-1659284.

Within, the private directors’ staircase, decorated with Cararra marble and a bronze balustrade and embellished with stained-glass coats of arms of the cities and boroughs where the company did business, leads to the director’s boardroom.

The Stanley Birkett building respects its older neighbour, but the interior colour-palette is toned down to white, and the decorative features tend towards moderne in style.

The Refuge building featured in the climax of the 1960 Hammer film, Hell is a City, written and directed by Val Guest.  An analysis of the locations used is at https://www.reelstreets.com/films/hell-is-a-city.

Tours of the Principal Hotel are provided by Jonathan Schofield, a professional tour-guide and author who knows Manchester like the back of his hand, tells good stories well, and has a voice that cuts through the city’s traffic noise like a bandsaw:  https://www.jonathanschofieldtours.com/exclusive-the-principal-hotel.html.