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Saturday, 13 April 2013

LIVERPOOL - The Friendly City

Albert Dock, Liverpool

Whilst I was a research scientist in the early 1970s,  we wmployed a young girl from Liverpool to work as a laboratory technician. She was ideal for the job, but after two weeks she announced that she had to go back to her home town. When asked why, she explained that she liked the work and her new colleagues, but did not like London. She explained that in Liverpool everyone talked to each other on the bus, but in London nobody did; she could not live in sauch an unfriendly city. So when our daughter said that she wanted to see the 'Glam' exhibition at the Tate Liverpool, we decided to go there for 3 days to see that and also the city that everyone describes as being so friendly.

We arrived at Lime Street Station (see above). It was built in 1849, and is a masterpiece of early industrial architecture. We made our way to the highly restored Albert Docks. I left my wife and daughter to explore the Tate (see below) and wandered along the Mersey waterfront.

The spectacular new Museum of Liverpool faces the Albert Docks. Its exterior
 is oddly shaped, but visually interesting:

So is its interior (see below), which brings to mind the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan.

Further along, the waterfront is dominated by a series of buildings that look as if they had been transported from the USA, the destination for many people who passed through Liverpool during its heyday as a port.

The Liver Building (above) is one of these, and is one of  of the most famous landmarks in Liverpool. A couple of other buildings that would not look out of place across the Atlantic neighbour this building surmounted by its iconic 'Liver Birds'. For example, this one, which is illustrated below:

After looking at some of the numerous monuments that punctuate the waterfront (see below for example), I returned to join the family at the Tate.

The Tate Liverpool was disappointing. It is not a good reason for visiting Liverpool. Apart from the temporary 'Glam' exhibition, which I did not see, the rest of its exhibits are meagre in quantity. 

Inside Tate Liverpool

A lady on the train reccomended that we saw the Museum of Slavery, which is housed next to the Tate in the Albert dock. It was a poor reccommendation unless you are keen on 'dumbing down' and excessive 'political correctness'.  The Museum of Liverpool deals with the subject of slavery much more intelligently.

After a brief rest, we headed for Chinatown, where we planned to eat. It lies beneath the South side of St Georges Cathedral (see above), which also overlooks a sunken park (see below) reached by a path that runs through a tunnel:

Liverpool's Chinatown is a complete contrast to London's Gerard Street, or even Queensway. It looked almost lifeless, and, apparently, is so apart from at Chinese New Year. The small heart of Chinatown is graced by a spectacular gateway:

We ate dinner in the only crowded restaurant that we saw. All of the others were practically empty of diners. The food was satisfactory, but not as good as we are used to eating in London's Chinese restaurants. We shared a table with a couple of shy Chinese students, who were studying in the University of Durham. They were not too impressed bywhat they had ordered.

Before retiring for the night, I walked around taking a few photographs of the waterside area:

Bridge across  Canning Place

The Liver Building

The Maritime & Slavery Museums

Next morning we boarded the Liverpool to Birkenhead ferry -  'ferry across the Mersey' made famous in a song first sung  by Gerry and the Pacemakers in 1964 . Our boat's departure was delayed because we had to wait for 6 foreign warships, which had been visiting Liverpool, to 'clear' the river before we could set sail. The picture below shows the departure of a Polish warship being supervised by a tug:

After a 30 minute cruise towards the estuary and then back upstream to Woodside, a port close to the entre of Birkenhead, we disembarked, completely windswept and numbed with cold.

The Mersey ferry at Woodside with the silouhette of St Georges Cathedral on the horizon

It is a short walk from the ferry station to the elegant Hamilton Square in the town of Birkenhead that lies across the Mersey from Liverpool. The square, built in the late 18th/early 19th century is a gem:

One side of this beautiful urban space is occupied by Birkenhead Town Hall:

After eating a quick but delicious lunch at Dempsters café near to Hamilton square we boarded a Merseyrail train:

We disembarked at Port Sunlight Village. This is a housing estate that Lord Leverhulme built in the late 19th/early 20th century for the workers at Lever Bros. soap factory, which was located nearby. It is a wonderful collection of buildings in the Arts and Crafts Movement style.

There is a war memorial in the centre of the village:

It is a somewhat sentimental work of art:

Port Sunlight is the home of the superb Lady Lever Art Gallery, which contains a superb collection of paintings and sculptures. The collection is particularly rich in pre-Raphaelite works. One of these, painted by Holman Hunt, contains the portrait of Mr Cama, a Parsi. He can be seen wearing a red cap on the right in  the detail below:

The toilets at the museum seem to have retained a number of original features:

After exploring the Gallery thoroughly, we took the Mersey rail train under the Mersey and into the centre of Liverpool. We poked our heads into the Adelphi Hotel. Now looking a little faded, this hotel included FD Rooseveldt and Frank Sinatra amongst its guests:

We made our way from the hotel to the Roman Catholic Cathedral, which was designed by Gibberd and consecrated in 1967:

Entering this building is a truly uplifting experience. Light filters throug the stained glass in the crown surmounting  the building and floods the interior with coloured light:

The walls of the circular cathedral are punctuated by alcoves containing fine works of art such as the sculpture of the Burning Bush shown below:

Hope Street connects the Roman Catholic Cathedral with the Anglican Cathedral of St George. Half way along this street we came across some curious street art:

Whereas the Roman Catholic Church feels uplifting and light, St George's Cathedral, designed by  Sir Gilbert Scott, is overawing and grandiose:

When we arrived, its nave was being prepared to serve as a dining room for a congress of physicists:

For me, the highlight of St Georges was the Lady Chapel:

We ate a more than satisfactory dinner at Bistrot Franc near to the waterfront, and then retired to bed, exhausted. 

We left our hotel next morning, and passed a building whose brickwork and design reminded me of the old New Scotland Yard:

Indeed, Albion House, the former headquarters of the White Star shipping line, was built by the same architects, Shaw and Boyd, who built the building in London a few years ealier in 1887. 

Our next port of call was the Museum of Liverpool, a superbly displayed collection of exhibits relating to the history of the city and its people. There was a particularly horrific exhibition about the Chinese men who were forcibly repatriated after WW2, leaving many wives and children to face destitution (see illustration of their memorial above). The museum also makes it clear about the role that city played in the trade triangle that involved sending slaves from Africa to America; sugar and cotton to Liverpool; and manufactured goods, including ships built in the city, left Liverpool for use in Africa and America. Later, the city became an important departure point for Europeans seeking a better life in the USA. Today, the city seems like a pale shadow of its former self.                                                                                                                                                                
A man with whom we spoke when we were on the train to Port Sunlight told me that a visit to Dingle in the southern part of Liverpool would allow me to see an area that evoked the era before WW2 . I took a bus towards Toxteth, the site of much rioting in 1981. At the suggestion of an elderly man in the Museum of Liverpool, I disembarked. at the beginning of Dingle Lane On one side of the road, there stands a derelict cinema:

Opposite the cinema, there stands the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth that dates back to about 1615.  A dissenter's chapel, one of its preachers Richard Mather , who was twice suspended from the ministry, emigrated from there to the USA in 1635. Sadly, the chapel is only opened by prior arrangement, and I had insufficient time to arrange this...but, next time I will make sure that get inside!

I walked for a few minutes through some unexceptional post-WW2 housing estates until I reached Cockburn Street in Dingle. A number of small but steep streets meet this at right angles and descend to a parallel road that runs along a cliff overlooking the docks along the Mersey. These streets reminded me of those that can be seen in abundance in South Wales mining towns.

Looking downhill

Abandoned pub, Cockburn Street

Looking uphill

Before reaching the series of streets just described, I had noticed some curious domes on the horizon. These were part of the beautifully restored Florence Boys Institute, which was built in 1889 and is affectionately known as the 'Florrie'. It was named after Florence, the daughter of Sir  Bernard Hall who was an East India merchant. Formerly, a boy's social club, it is now an urban regeneration centre:

There is a monument to Florence on the staircase that leads up to a large first floor hall with a hammer-beam roof:

I rejoined the rest of the family to eat lunch in a spectacularly decorated art-nouveau pub on Hope Street, The Philharmonic:

We enjoyed well-prepared, good food in its spacious dining room:

My wife and daughter went by bus to the Walker Art Gallery. I walked. In Mount Pleasant Street, I spotted a second hand bookshop:

After spending a few minutes browsing, but not buying, I continued walking downhill until I reached Lime Street. On the way I passed two interesting old buildings, a former Methodist hall:

and an old cinema, the Picture House:

Next, I entered St George's Hall, an impressive neo-classical building almost opposite Lime Street Station. A series of arrows guides the visitor around the interior of this vast building. The highlight of this interesting place is St George's Hall:

The hall is a testament to the city's former power and wealth. It overlooks a small park which is filled, as is much of central Liverpool, with memorials and monuments:

If one was be short of time and wanted to visit an art gallery in Liverpool, the Lady Lever Gallery in Port Sunlight  rather than the Walker (illustrated below) would be my choice.

Despite what I have just written, the Walker is certainly worth a visit. Apart from a rich collection of paintings including at least one Rembrandt, there are some quirky pieces such as the 'Loophonium' (also known as the 'Harpic-chord'), which plays a familiar tune when a button is activated:

No visit to Liverpool is complete without a visit to the Cavern Club where the Beatles played in their early years:

Near the Cavern Club, there is a peculiar monument to Carl Jung, one of the founders of Psychoanalysis, who said in 1927, "Liverpool is the pool of life":

Jung never actually visited Liverpool. His words came to him in a dream.

We visited Liverpool, and spent 3 days there. Did we find it to be a friendly city? Although we were not there long enough to answer this properly, my answer must be that it was certainly not unfriendly, but on the other hand it was no friendlier than many places that I have  visited. Nevertheless, I cannot wait to visit it again! 

I leave you with a picture of a curious creature that pervades the city, a 'lambanana':

For  information about Adam Yamey's published writing,


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