Wednesday, 25 May 2011


Remember 2008 when everything was Fab.
We had Rongo playing drums in a........container, on top of St Georges Hall with the Geordie Dave Stewart, oh and Phil Redmond declaring "Its Cracker da'is"
Here is what some of the more intellectual writers were saying in the arts glossy Apollo magazine, I recall I could not find one in Liverpool when the article was written.

Gavin wrote Britains Lost Cities and did a Channel 5 series about Liverpool He wrote Britains Lost Cities and lamented the Customs House now Park Gone Worst


Liverpool is the new European capital of culture – a title it merits only because of the people who fought against its destructive redevelopment after the war.

Saturday, 1st March 2008

Behind the great 16-column Corinthian portico of St George’s Hall in Liverpool, which Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described as ‘the freest neo-Grecian building in England

and one of the finest in the world’, are four empty plinths (Figs 3 and 4). It has long been my fear that someone will propose that they should be occupied by statues of John, Paul, George and Ringo. It could happen: the Beatles now seem to be central to Liverpool’s image of itself, and it is all too easy to imagine the dire vulgarity of the result: more of the bronze-waxwork type of sculpture (by Paul Day?) that now constitutes public art all over Britain. And it would accord with the fatuous desire to be forward looking, demotic, and not to be too reverential about the past, that is characteristic of those who govern Liverpool and many other cities.

Needless to say, Ringo Starr was prominent in the noisy public ceremony in January that inaugurated Liverpool’s long-heralded year as European Capital of Culture. Now it would be wrong to be too cynical about this, for the city deserves credit for having pulled itself up from being Britain’s principal urban basketcase a quarter of a century ago, when it was known mostly for economic collapse, race riots and self-destructive militant socialism. But there is something so very exasperating about Liverpool’s smug self-satisfaction, its impregnable belief in its own superiority and peculiar proletarian charm, for the simple fact is that most of what is genuinely cultured about the city – at least visually – dates from the 19th and the early decades of the 20th century. Without that legacy, the Capital of Culture would be vacuous hype.

It was the city’s mercantile economy, primed by the slave trade (not for nothing did Liverpool support and supply ships to the Confederacy during the American Civil War) that paid for the stupendous and imaginative buildings that expressed its overweening civic pride: St George’s Hall, the two huge cathedrals (alas, Lutyens’s for the Roman Catholics was hardly begun, but the Anglicans finished theirs), the three grand Edwardian piles by Pierhead now known as the Three Graces. And it was the wealth and discrimination of the merchants and shipowners that filled Liverpool’s museums and galleries with the art treasures the city now boasts. Compared with this, the recent record is not impressive. The European cultural accolade has been used as an excuse to encourage crass commercial developments at the expense of yet more of the city’s historic buildings, and the one prestigious cultural project, the gratuitous new Museum of Liverpool that will disfigure Pierhead (Fig. 2), has been marred by delays and disputes – its Danish architects have been dismissed and there are rows about its stone cladding.

Liverpool has often been its own worst enemy and there would be rather less to boast about today if it were not for outside interference in recent decades. Of course, the moral effect of its inexorable economic decline as a great port – the end of the transatlantic liners in particular – should not be underestimated, but there is little excuse for the destructive policies pursued by its authorities. Things began badly immediately after World War ii, when the gutted but substantial ruin of the magnificent neo-classical Custom House (Fig. 1), by a talented local architect, John Foster, was demolished in order to ‘lessen unemployment’. Further relentless destruction of Liverpool’s Georgian and Victorian fabric continued for the next few decades – not even the original Cavern Club, where the Beatles first performed, was spared, thus denying the city a major tourist attraction.

Strange but true, it was the hated Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher that saved Liverpool from itself. After the 1981 Toxteth riots, Michael Heseltine, as Secretary of State for the Environment, set up a ‘Task Force’ to deal with urban deprivation and created the Merseyside Development Corporation. He also prevented the demolition of the former Lyceum Club, designed by Thomas Harrison, the architect of Chester Castle. Sited at the bottom of Bold Street, once the city’s smartest commercial street, this most handsome neo-classical building was to have been demolished to make way for a new shopping centre. And it was the Conservatives who rescued Liverpool’s museums and galleries from municipal control and mismanagement by establishing the independent National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside (now National Museums Liverpool).

Heseltine was also involved with the saving and restoration of two monumental structures that are today two of Liverpool’s principal cultural assets. One is St George’s Hall, the vast classical building of the 1840s designed by the young Harvey Lonsdale Elmes (who won the competition at the age of 25 and was dead at 34), which stands in the heart of the city and makes the area between the Walker Art Gallery and Lime Street Station seem like a Roman forum (‘spql’ those proud Liverpudlian oligarchs had cast on its great metal doors: The Senate and People of Liverpool). However magnificent, the building had long been neglected; after World War ii the sculpture in the great south pediment was taken down and apparently ended up as hardcore for road building.

Inside, in addition to Elmes’s vast, vaulted Great Hall and C.R. Cockerell’s exquisite concert hall, there were two handsome courts that remained in use. In 1984, however, following the completion of the Queen Elizabeth ii Law Courts – a peculiarly nasty brown concrete structure that blocks the vista from the Town Hall that once ended with the dome of the Custom House – these became redundant. The vast building was then unceremoniously handed back to the City Council, which had no use for it and could not afford to run it. Fortunately, public interest in the building grew and the Prince of Wales appealed for something to be done. And something was done. Thanks to the intervention of the World Monuments Fund and English Heritage, a £23m restoration (mostly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the European Regional Development Fund) was completed last year. Largely carried out by Purcell Miller Tritton architects, this has opened up the previously unused south portico entrance and allowed the public to have access to the whole building.

The real catalyst for the regeneration of Liverpool was the conversion of the Albert Dock. This magnificent 1840s structure, designed by Jesse Hartley, an engineer with a taste for the sublime, was perhaps the finest surviving example of what

J.M. Richards called the ‘Functional Tradition’ in Britain. Yet in 1966 it was threatened with demolition, although a report demonstrated that it was eminently suitable for conversion to other uses. ‘To pull down Albert Dock would be a black disgrace’, wrote Pevsner in the Buildings of England at about this time. He was then chairman of the Victorian Society, which for two decades fought hard against demolition and other crass proposals supported by the City Council, such as such as filling in the dock to create a car park. To assist these, in 1979, out of sheer malice, the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board opened the sluices to fill the dock with river mud.

Soon afterwards, Heseltine came to the rescue. The buildings were restored, bomb-damaged parts rebuilt, and today the Albert Dock is one of Liverpool’s glories, the home of the Tate Gallery and the Merseyside Maritime Museum. If anyone deserves a statue in Liverpool, it is the former Secretary of State for the Environment. As for the Victorian Society – which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year – its memorial is the fact that the Albert Dock, and many other fine buildings, are there to be enjoyed during the city’s reign as European Capital of Culture.

Oh and remember this one called Capital of Vandalism by Tristram Hunt.

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