K-218 Liverpool registered car c.1903

A car is parked at the roadside on a sunny day.  The driver is dressed for some serious motoring whilst his passenger is a clergyman without an overcoat. He looks slightly uncomfortable perched on the seat of the open car. Who is he? Could he be the owner, or a friend or relative of the driver? It’s hard to say but here we have a glimpse into a pioneering moment in motoring history.

K218 cropped full

I picked this glass lantern slide up on eBay for a couple of pounds. It interested me because it is an early example of an automobile, probably dating from about 1903. I haven’t been able to identify the make of the car (indeed I would be grateful for any suggestions) but what is clear is that it was registered in Liverpool and was probably photographed on Princes Avenue. I don’t know who the clergyman was or the driver but the letter K was used for cars in Liverpool from 1903 to 1914. The records for these early registrations no longer exist but presumably this car was the 218th car to be registered in Liverpool. Whether that means the photograph was taken in 1903 I don’t know (would at least 218 cars be registered in the first year of the registration system?), but judging from the style of the car, which doesn’t have a steering wheel, I would guess that it was manufactured closer to 1903 than 1914. I had thought it might have been a Liver Phaeton, manufactured in Birkenhead by William Lea, of which only one example survives in the Museum of Liverpool. However, the car in the Museum has a number of differences and this clearly isn’t a Liver Phaeton. Having said that William Lea was a highly successful entrepreneur who made his own cars using imported Benz engines including a larger version of the Phaeton. His showrooms in Birkenhead had an indoor track that could be used for test drives with room, apparently, for fifty cars. By 1909 he was also the agent for “Benz, Progress, Darracq and English Benz Cars”, all available from his depot on Berry Street in Liverpool. He also advertised a very large stock of vehicles for sale. But he was far from being the only car dealer in Liverpool at the time. The city had its own Self-propelled Traffic Association from 1896 (President, the Earl of Derby) and The Liverpool Show of 1903 at St George’s Hall claimed to possess the largest (and best) exhibition of motors outside of London. It is possible to search back issues of The Autocar online courtesy of Grace’s Guide (http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Main_Page) but that just confirms the massive variety of vehicles available to early enthusiasts of motoring. If this clergyman was one of them he must have caused quite a stir being able to shoot around his parish in his own motor car, but I rather suspect that he was induced to climb aboard by a car-owning parishioner and have his photograph taken for posterity.

K218 detail

Paused at the roadside for a photograph

K218 numberplate

Numberplate

K218 Passenger and Driver

Driver and Passenger

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New Brighton arcade

1930s seaside arcade and fun fair. Neon amusements. A longstanding attraction on the New Brighton sea front.

Entrance

Entrance

General View

Inside the arcade

Justice League 01

Justice League

Dinosaur 02

Dinosaur

Eyecatcher

Eyecatcher

Coins

Coins

Prizes 01

Prizes

Prizes 03

More Prizes

Change 02

Change

Rides

Rides

Exterior 05

Outside

St Helens – Lucem House Cinema

I wasn’t looking for the former Unitarian Church in St Helens but stumbled across it by accident. I was glad I did because whilst it is always a shame when any church closes (and this congregation came to an end in 1998) old church buildings can sometimes be utilised in ways that are imaginative, in keeping with the original purpose and bring some social advantage to the community. All this is certainly the case with St Helens, a solid and utilitarian building that is now a cinema.

 

As I walked past my eye caught the inscription above the door proclaiming it to be the Unitarian and Free Christian Church, although it is many years since this was actually the case. In fact there are more reminders of the original function of the building despite it being well converted to other purposes. On the front wall the foundation stone is very prominent, recording the role of Anne Holt my distinguished predecessor as editor of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society – a highly regarded historian and member of the famous Liverpool ship owning family – who had inaugurated the building in 1949. Inside there is another tablet which commemorates the opening of the church in 1950 under the presidency of Elizabeth Ann Fryer.

 

The sanctuary was not large but the group of buildings were varied and clearly adapted to a number of uses. Nowadays the building is a cinema, named Lucem House, a volunteer-led social enterprise. It takes its name from the motto of the borough of St Helens, Ex Terra Lucem – ‘Out of Earth – Light’ (so I was told by Paul Jones the operations manager of the cinema) and the church itself has been nicely turned into a small cinema auditorium. In the foyer they have created an attractive box office and the whole place has a pleasant ambience.

 

Paul told me that the cinema has been in operation for over three years, the building also being let out for functions and used by a local photography club. They have a screening every week and the day I was there were looking forward to A Night to Remember starring Kenneth More. Paul Jones is an expert on the Titanic (another item of history with notable Unitarian connections) and this film certainly reflects his interests. The film was to be followed by a poetry reading by Len Saunders, the head steward and a poet and actor who has been known – so I was told – to dress up on suitable Titanic related occasions as Captain Smith or Lord Pirrie. He wasn’t in character that day but shared with me some of his poems.

 

The Unitarian Heritage (published in 1986) says the congregation was founded in 1901 and the original chapel built in 1904. I can’t locate any images of the original building but it was destroyed during the blitz of 1941 and apparently rebuilt on the same site after the war. Now, after a period of neglect, the buildings have been well restored and well adapted to another imaginative use.

Front elevation angle

St Helens Unitarian Church – now Lucem House

Foundation Stone 01

Foundation Stone

Front Entrance

Front entrance

Box Office 03

Paul Jones in the box office

Tablet location

Commemorative plaque

Auditorium 01

Auditorium

Ron Saunders 01

Len Saunders

Update 1st August 2017.

I was very shocked and saddened to read that Len Saunders was the victim of a violent unprovoked assault in July which tragically resulted in his death at the end of the month. There are details and tributes to him in the local paper:

http://www.sthelensstar.co.uk/news/15445606.Family_of_Len_Saunders_pays_tribute_to__a_beautiful_soul_/

http://www.sthelensstar.co.uk/news/15444860._An_unsung_hero_of_St_Helens___Touching_tribute_paid_to_Len_Saunders/?ref=mrb&lp=3

http://www.sthelensstar.co.uk/news/15444390.Tributes_paid_to_friendly_performer_and_poet___39_Len_Banana__39_/?ref=mrb&lp=6

http://www.sthelensstar.co.uk/news/15443460.UPDATED__Two_youths_arrested_on_suspicion_of_murdering_St_Helens_poet_Len_Saunders/?ref=mrb&lp=2

 

There is a crowdfunding page set up to raise money to provide step free access to Lucem House Cinema in Len Saunders’ memory. The page can be accessed here:

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/len-saunders?utm_id=107&utm_term=gARZbR5qD