In Liverpool recently I was pleased to get these pictures of the heron in Sefton Park. The heron seemed quite unperturbed by my presence and that of many other people quite nearby as he watched the lake for signs of a potential meal.
In Liverpool recently I was pleased to get these pictures of the heron in Sefton Park. The heron seemed quite unperturbed by my presence and that of many other people quite nearby as he watched the lake for signs of a potential meal.
I first met the Singh Twins many years ago when I was studying at the University of Manchester and took a course entitled ‘Religion and the Arts’. Amongst the participants were the Singh Twins and it was clear then that they were destined for higher things. It was an excellent inter-disciplinary course that engaged very directly with art in religious contexts and covered such areas as Christian and Islamic architecture, Greek Art, Buddhist Gandhara sculpture, Russian Orthodox icons and much more. It was wide ranging and took the students out of the lecture room and into religious buildings and other places. It had a great influence on me and I suspect it must have had an influence on the Singh Twins who are now such established artists.
Ancient Roots: The Wonder that was India
Details from Ancient Roots
I was glad, by chance, to get the chance to see this exhibition which is both beautiful and challenging at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. It is a very impressive exhibition. The painterly skills of the twins are well displayed in these new works and the display of eleven of the major pieces on digital lightboxes enhances the effect tremendously. Even these photographs snapped on my camera phone help to show something of the power of their art. Each of these works depicts an historical figure (ten of them women) who wear a different textile. Around the central figure are depicted aspects of the process of production and trade of that fabric.
Chintz: The Price of Luxury. Depicting Queen Catherine of Braganza who married Charles II in 1662 bringing Bombay (Mumbai) as part of her dowry
The exhibition explores the history of Indian textiles in the context of empire, enslavement and exploitation and the way high fashion has always been intimately bound up with unequal terms of trade between western society and the lands where most of these textiles are produced.
Indiennes: The Extended Triangle. Depicting the slave trade
They have such an eye for detail and incorporate in each of the eleven major works vignettes from the history of the interaction between luxury consumption, trade, and imperialism. It asks so many questions about ethical trade and the history of consumerism and Liverpool is such an appropriate place for this appear. The image at the top of this page is a detail taken from their work ‘Cotton: Threads of Change’, a raw material produced originally in India and central to the economic development of Liverpool as a port as part of the ‘Atlantic Trade’.
Cotton: Threads of Change
The bottom of ‘Cotton’ shows an imagined historical skyline of Liverpool which begins symbolically in China and Egypt and ends in New York. Some of the buildings of Liverpool fly the Confederate flag, a pointed but accurate assertion for a city that was so tied to slavery for so long and which in many cases supported the South in the American Civil War. A grand ball was held by the citizenry in St George’s Hall to support the Confederacy.
Calico: Merchant Thieves (detail)
Some of the new paintings feature Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel and Donald Trump and in one room is a large collection of objects from around the world from the Museum’s collection which shed further light on the history and issues bound up in this interaction between fashion, empire and trade. There are also preparatory works in the show and time-lapse films of the works being created.
Silks and Quilts: Exploration and Exploitation. Queen Isabella of Castile
It is an incredibly impressive and thought provoking exhibition which I am glad I got to see. It is in Liverpool until 20th May 2018 after which it will move to Wolverhampton Art Gallery from 21st July to 16th September.
Details from Silks and Quilts
Two views of the same place taken in Liverpool about 113 years apart. The postcard at the top is dated 1905 and was sent from Birkenhead to Miss D. Caulson at Grange over Sands. The view is of the Turner Memorial Home, a large hospital and nursing home built in 1884 on land originally owned by the Yates family. The Yates family were Unitarians and had links with the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, the corner of which outside wall can be seen in both pictures on the left hand side. They were ministers, radicals, campaigners and major benefactors to the city, Richard Vaughan Yates donating Princes Park to the city in 1842.
It’s a curving corner junction in both images although once, long ago, before Toxteth was developed, it was a country track. In 1905 tramlines curl around the corner. In 2018 traffic lights and traffic islands keep pedestrians and traffic apart.
The road has been widened since 1905 and the post box taken away. Thirty-two years after the first picture was taken the Gaumont Cinema was opened on the right. A striking art deco cinema it is a sorry sight today having been abandoned for twenty years. Seating 1,500 people it once was a key venue for the people of the Dingle. Sold at auction in the early part of 2018 it was listed on the market at £75,000. It looks like a private house occupies that site in 1905. Just seven years after the card was posted the first cinema was built on that corner, the Dingle Picturedrome, the predecessor of the Gaumont.
The postcard and the photograph tell the viewer very little about the Turner Memorial Home, an endowed gift from Anne Turner in memory of her husband and son to provide residential care for the sick, an institution which has remained in continuous operation ever since.
It is really a postcard view of a road junction, and a junction in time.
A building that always catches your eye on Mount Pleasant is the Wellington Rooms. For years it was the Irish Centre but it was originally built by public subscription in 1815-1816 as a ballroom and a centre for the fashionable of Liverpool society to gather in. It kept this function until 1923 when it was converted into a private club called the Embassy Rooms. One can’t help imagining (or at least I can’t and I admit there is no evidence to support this notion) that this must have been a rather louche period in the building’s history. Later years saw it used as a youth club and in 1965 it became the Irish Centre which it remained until 1997. Since then the building has been abandoned and the impressive neo-classical structure designed by Edmund Aikin has become a derelict home for buddleia. I stopped as I walked by because the open letterbox gave me the chance to take a picture of the interior. There you can still see a faded and torn notice directing members to what I guess were the J.F. Kennedy Bar, the Ballroom and the Claddagh Room. Others also took the opportunity to scrutinise the view through the letterbox and it seems such a shame that a building of such style should be so neglected. According to the Liverpool Echo (9 July 2017) the Duchy of Lancaster now has a lease on the building and many online sources suggest there are plans to bring the building back into use as a Science and Technology Hub.
Edmund Aikin was a Unitarian and a member of the famous Aikin family of Warrington. His grandfather, John Aikin, was tutor and principal of the Warrington Academy. His father, also John, was a doctor and an important literary figure, as was his aunt Anna Laetitia Barbauld. I wrote about the Aikins and Warrington in an earlier post:
Edmund’s life was not a long one (1780-1820) although he was influential in popularising neo-classical architecture. He did other work in Liverpool, where he eventually made his home, including the design for the building of the Royal Liverpool Institution in 1814, a centre for ‘the promotion of literature, science and the arts’ founded by William Roscoe and others. He designed a number of dissenting chapels in London, including the Gravel Pit Chapel in Hackney. This building was substantially rebuilt in the Gothic style in 1857 and eventually demolished in 1967. There is no doubt that the Wellington Rooms is his most important surviving building, it’s good to know that there currently seems to be a will to rescue the building and turn it to some positive use.
Looking down Mount Pleasant
Interior view taken through the letterbox
Winged angels bearing garlands
Believed to be a device for spinning thread of some sort. One of two positioned above the side entrance.
Built 1815-1816. Wellington Rooms. Designed by Edmund Aikin. Former Assembly Rooms.
Capitals and roof decoration
A few weeks ago I posted the above picture of a glass lantern slide featuring a driver and a clergyman on an unidentified early motor car bearing a very early Liverpool registration number. I have not been able to identify the driver or his passenger but thanks to Linda King and also Bozi Mohacek of the Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society the car can definitely be identified.
Linda suggested Rootschat would be able to help and from there received a suggestion that the Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society could help. They have over 2,750 enquiries on their website so I asked them and very quickly received word back that the car is a 1904 Oldsmobile Curved Dash 5HP Two-seater. The date is approximate but since Liverpool registrations only began in December 1903 some time in 1904 seems reasonable.
Oldsmobile Runabout (Source: Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History)
It was a very popular car and images of it can be found all over the internet. The first mass-produced motor car it was manufactured in Detroit, Michigan and between 1901 and 1907 some 19,000 were made and sold around the world. In the UK it sold for £185 in 1902.
Advert from The Autocar, November 1st 1902 (Source: Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History)
Advertisement from The Automobile Review, December 15th 1903 (Source: Wikipedia)
In 1904 Maurice Fournier, an engineer and the 1903 ‘World Motorcycling Champion’, travelled 4,600 kilometres around Europe in an Oldsmobile. It must have been an uncomfortable journey.
Maurice Fournier travelling through Europe in 1904 Source: Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History)
It was a relatively cheap vehicle, although at £185 outside the pocket of most people, but still cheaper than a lot of other cars, if far more basic in its design. Despite the claims of the advert that “with only one lever to use….you hardly need to know how to operate an Oldsmobile” it must have been difficult to handle. Maurice Fournier certainly got all round Europe in one though, and it must have been good enough for our unnamed driver and his passenger to get round Liverpool in, during the first decade of the twentieth century.
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.
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.
Paused at the roadside for a photograph
Driver and Passenger
Writing in the mid-1960s in his examination of the place of art in Liverpool (Art in a City) John Willett observes:
“In 1967 the new Roman Catholic cathedral will be consecrated. With its novel circular plan, like a vast upturned funnel, its windows by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens and its sculptures by William Mitchell, Frederick Gibberd’s great building quite possibly will take the breath away, and seems likely to provide for some years a religious-artistic sensation to rival Coventry.”
It was a striking addition to the cityscape and was described by Liverpool architect Quentin Hughes as “undoubtedly the major modern architectural attraction of the city”. At the time it was being built this maybe wasn’t so clear. In the 1960s Liverpool was undergoing a period of renewal that promised and threatened much in terms of architecture. City councillors had long been obsessed with constructing a ‘worthy’ civic centre and had identified the back of St George’s Hall for the location of this. By the 1960s this vision had taken on a grandiose form and encompassed an enormous series of buildings that would have snaked around the centre of the city. With a huge cross-shaped building impinging on St John’s Gardens behind St George’s Hall, Colin St John Wilson, the architect responsible, promised:
“…this is not an abstract building in space it is part of a whole texture – buildings, roads, Mersey Tunnel, Lime Street Station, with energy passing through a web of paths and creating points of focus. That’s the essence of it, to see this thing not isolated but as part of a whole traverse across the city.”
In the end most of this did not get built except for a ridiculous walkway at the back of the museums. But in the context of all this potential upheaval the new, defiantly modern Catholic Cathedral began to take shape. These two pictures by amateur photographers capture the process of building in the early 1960s:
As the “vast upturned funnel” began to take shape it must have been a challenging sight for passers-by. Certainly quite unlike anything else in Liverpool and a considerable contrast to every other church building in the city:
The building was completed and consecrated on 14th May 1967. In the Architectural Review of June 1967 Nicholas Taylor spoke of the new building’s “challenging relationship with Sir Giles Scott’s Catalan Gothic splendour for the Protestant ship-owners further along the ridge”. He also went on to draw a parallel with the other great post-war English cathedral of Coventry:
“The loosely defined image of the ‘big top’ or ‘wigwam’ will probably prove as big a success with the people in general as Spence’s Coventry, and there are already signs that it may acquire the same identity with Liverpool’s own civic image that Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina City towers have with Chicago’s.
The reason is that it expresses with uncommon force one particular historical emotion: at Coventry it was the War Memorial with its symbolism of Sacrifice in the ruins and of Resurrection in the new church; at Liverpool it is the ecclesia triumphans of the Foleys and O’Reillys, a symbol of Catholic kingship riding high above the former Protestant ascendancy of merchants in the quaysides below.”
In some ways this analysis seems both patronising and sectarian although it is entirely understandable in the context of the times. But, in my view at least, the building expresses something more positive and is a hugely impressive spiritual space, a place worthy of pilgrimage. A rather more worthwhile legacy of the 1960s than what the city planners envisaged elsewhere.
At the time of its opening the council arranged for this floral decoration to adorn the roundabout in front of the Adelphi Hotel at the end of Lime Street. In the distance you can see St George’s Hall and plenty of evidence of ongoing construction work. And at the now demolished Futurist cinema they were showing Dr Zhivago:
I’ve written before about the Metropolitan Cathedral:
and also about Hope Street Unitarian Church which stood midway between where the two cathedrals have been built:
The three images above were all acquired on eBay for 99p. The photograph at the top of the page is one I took from the top of the Anglican Cathedral. Hope Street Church stood where the square-shaped white building stands at the bottom of the picture on the right hand side of the main road.
Sefton Park is a source of never-ending delight for anyone familiar with it. As the seasons change so its vistas change, the Victorian redesign of the ancient parkland created an urban space that must be unique in Britain. So much space, so much variety, all in the centre of a city.
The park looks well-cared for and well-maintained by the council when you walk through it now, something that has not always been the case.
What I notice most about it these days though is the abundance of wildlife you see, quite different from how it used to be. Most of all you see the large quantities of waterfowl, more numerous than in days gone by, mallards, swans, Canada Geese, Aylesbury ducks, coots, moorhens and so on.
But other birdlife is even more striking – the impressive sight of a heron perched high above the lake is something astonishing to my mind. I was very impressed to see the heron in February although in a recent visit at the start of April it didn’t seem to be there. Nor did I find the parakeets which I also saw in February. I don’t know where they can have gone, I know they are not uncommon in many places in Britain these days but I was surprised to find a load of them in Liverpool.
The park has long been full of squirrels. Not everyone approves of grey squirrels but they always attract the eye. The ones in the park are virtually tame as well and not averse to posing for photographs, like this one.
Another thing I saw recently – new to me – was a fox. Foxes are clever enough to learn that urban humans generally won’t bother them which is why they colonise cities so much. There have long been foxes in Belfast but I’ve never seen them. I saw a fox in Glasgow once, a mangy, dangerous looking thing walking along the middle of the road. But this fox looked sleek and healthy, although it didn’t hang around.
Back in August I wrote about the short but significant life of Jeremiah Horrocks (1618-1641) and his connection with the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth. You can read the post here:
Jeremiah Horrocks is interesting for a variety of reasons but it is a curious fact that as a scientist he has collected memorials in at least four churches around the country, including the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth in Liverpool and Westminster Abbey.
As I also mentioned in my last posting on this topic there are a number of other memorials and commemorations of him in different places, all of them dating from long after he lived. One of the most recent and impressive is near the Pier Head in Liverpool. This is an exciting installation, well-sited in front of the Liver Buildings amongst the ever-growing collection of statuary and memorials that is accumulating there.
Entitled Heaven and Earth and created by Andy Plant the work was installed in 2011. The base is inscribed with the words:
Thy return posterity shall witness, years must roll away, but then at length the splendid sight again shall greet our distant children’s eyes
a quotation from Jeremiah Horrocks’ posthumously published book on the transit of Venus.
The work is both a sculpture and an orrery. Andy Plant (http://www.andyplant.co.uk/recent-work/) himself describes Heaven and Earth in these terms:
The sculpture has a working hand powered mechanical orrery, the position of Venus has been replaced by a copper angel version of Jeremiah and as his wings flap he orbits the other planets. Inside the large telescope there is a video animation of the life of Jeremiah by Tim Hunkin.
Unfortunately when I visited the sculpture on a crisp January afternoon this year none of these features were working. They may not have been intended to function beyond the time of the original exhibition of which the sculpture formed a part, I don’t know. But Tim Hunkin is something of a genius and it is great to think that some of his work is part of the installation. In fact you can read about how Tim Hunkin created A Short Life of Jeremiah Horrocks and see the animation on his own website here:
Heaven and Earth is another exciting addition to the Liverpool waterfront, and another fitting memorial to a remarkable person.
In 2014 the installation ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ was in place at the Tower of London. It seemed to capture the popular imagination in a powerful way. Created by artist Paul Cummins and designed by Tom Piper 888,246 ceramic poppies cascaded out of the Tower of London to progressively fill the moat. Each poppy represented a British military fatality in the First World War.
The story of the poppies at the Tower of London can be seen here:
It is interesting how art and remembrance could combine so effectively in people’s minds and the poppies from the installation have continued to be used in different ways around the country since, part of the installation moving to St George’s Hall in Liverpool in November.
I was fortunate to be able to see the ‘Weeping Windows’ installation in Liverpool shortly before it ended on 17th January 2016.
Several thousand poppies poured from a high vantage point in the Hall on to the ground below. As such a significant building St George’s Hall made a magnificent backdrop for the poppies and over 300,000 visitors are estimated to have travelled to see it in place.
As the notice at the installation made clear this was a particularly appropriate venue for such a display. The plateau outside St George’s Hall became the rallying point for the men who formed the Liverpool Pals under the direction of Lord Derby in the First World War. In March 1915 Lord Kitchener inspected nine battalions of Liverpool Pals formed up outside the Hall, local men who had volunteered to serve together. In the years after the First World War the memorial for the dead of the city was placed outside the Hall and near here the installation was placed.
Altogether a moving and impressive display.