Liverpool’s St George’s Hall is prominent in a city rich in nineteenth- and twentieth-century architecture, and the remarkable story of its young architect, Harvey Lonsdale Elmes (1814-1847), winning two separate architectural competitions to design it, is well-known. In his short life he designed few buildings, none of which he saw completed.
The only other surviving design by Elmes is the façade of Liverpool Collegiate School on Shaw Street, Everton. Its Perpendicular Gothic style, in contrast with the neoclassical St George’s Hall, indicates that the school was an Anglican foundation.
The building behind is not Elmes’ because of an unseemly dispute with the managing committee who deprived him of the commission in order to employ a cheaper local contractor.
(He had similar trouble over St George’s Hall, when the Corporation commissioned Joseph Franklin, the City Surveyor, to start the project, but Franklin, to his great credit, stood aside in deference to Elmes.)
The foundation stone of the Collegiate School was laid by Lord Stanley (later the 14th Earl of Derby) in October 1840, and the building was opened by W E Gladstone and the Bishop of Chester in 1843.
One of the first Victorian public schools, its original collegiate organisation provided three separate curricula, an upper school offering a classical syllabus for boys aspiring to the “gentlemanly professions” at twenty guineas a term (who were allowed to use the grand Shaw Street entrance), and two further programmes, the middle school at ten guineas and the lower school at three, preparing pupils for business and commercial occupations (and who used the side entrances).
Its original facilities included an art gallery, museum, evening institute and a shooting range.
The octagonal lecture hall was at first the largest covered meeting-place in Liverpool, with a reported capacity of 3,000, and was used for concerts by Jenny Lind and the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra before the completion of the Philharmonic Hall in 1849.
The Upper School moved to new premises at Lodge Lane, Sefton Park, in 1884, and the Middle and Lower (or Commercial) schools amalgamated when they were taken over by Liverpool Corporation in 1907.
The Shaw Street school’s alumni included the comedian Ted Ray (1905-1977), the actor Leonard Rossiter (1926-1984) and Holly Johnson (b1960), the lead singer of Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
The school was reorganised as a comprehensive school for nine hundred boys in 1973, and after closure in 1983 became vandalised and was partly burnt down.
It was refurbished by the architectural practice Shed KM for the developer Urban Splash, and reopened as an apartment block in 2000.
The Shaw Street façade is a fortunate survivor, reminding us that Harvey Lonsdale Elmes was adept at a wide range of styles. His only other surviving work is his Italianate extension to Thingwall Hall, Knotty Ash, c1846-47.
Other buildings by Elmes have been lost – Druids Cross House, Woolton (1847; demolished 1978; Grade-II listed lodge survives), Allerton Tower, Allerton (1849; demolished 1937) and the West Derby County Asylum, Rainhill (1847-51; demolished 1992).
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.