Outside London, Liverpool has more listed buildings than any other city. There are 2,500 in fact, 27 of which are Grade I and 85 Grade II*. Hope Street has one of the former and 13 of the latter so we want to show off a little (the city also has the highest number of public sculptures outside the capital, so we’ll throw a couple of those in too).
In 1790, Blackburne House (from the hotel entrance look right) was a country mansion perched high on a hill away from the hoi polloi below. It was home to John Blackburne, a former mayor of Liverpool. Past his gardens were the city’s workhouse and a quarry, the stones of which were used to build the city’s burgeoning docks. By 1890 his house had become a girls’ grammar school, and the gardens a street of chapels, a synagogue, a library, concert halls, Masonic headquarters, convents, clubs, art studios, and a coach builder – The London Carriage Works. Some 200 years later, the workhouse and the quarry had been replaced by two of the most iconic buildings in the country, Liverpool’s two Cathedrals. Many of these buildings or institutions remain, including the London Carriage Works, all sharing new guises on this distinguished streetscape.
Here is a potted history of the life and times of some of our neighbours.
Let’s start if not strictly on Hope Street at least on its lay line; behind the crown of the Metropolitan cathedral you will see the red brick clock tower, the University of Liverpool’s original site. Its Victorian splendour now houses the Victoria Gallery & Museum which has a wonderful eclectic art and objects collection spanning five centuries.
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King is built on the site of the city’s workhouse and fever infirmary, home to the sick and destitute from 1771 to 1928. In 1930 the land was bought by the Church and apparently over a cocktail with the Bishop the eminent architect Edward Lutyens (known for his war memorials, palatial country houses and the Viceroy’s palace in New Delhi) was chosen to build a cathedral. His plans were of epic proportions – larger than St. Peter’s – but when war erupted in 1939, he had only completed the crypt. The post-war economy meant that costs spiralled to an impossible £27 million, stopping all work. In the event, Sir Frederick Gibberd (London’s Central Mosque and Didcot Power Station) won an open competition and built on the land adjacent to the Lutyens crypt. Both the Cathedral and Lutyens crypt were consecrated in 1967. Today it is affectionately known as Paddy’s Wigwam and the four bells nicknamed John, Paul, George and Ringo.
The Liverpool Medical Institution was purpose built in 1837 to house one of the country’s oldest medical societies and its library (established in 1779). The city’s rapid population growth encouraged a number of medical firsts, including the appointment of the country’s first Medical Officer in 1847. This was Dr Duncan who famously recommended that the poor drink ale rather than water to avoid typhus infection. There was also the first children’s hospital, public baths and public washhouse. The country’s first Borough Engineer took concerted and innovative action over sanitation, creating public spaces and sewage solutions. And there was the country’s first District Nursing Service with Florence Nightingale-trained nurses. The building is still a place for study and medical instruction and is listed Grade II* listed.
The Everyman Theatre was originally built as Hope Chapel in 1834, becoming a concert hall in 1853 and then the city’s first picture house from 1912 until the early sixties. It re-opened as the Everyman Theatre in 1964. A brand new building – using 22,000 of the original chapel bricks to line the auditorium – opened in 2014. Sister to the Playhouse Theatre, the city’s theatrical Grand Dame, the Everyman is our National Treasure. In 2014, following a complete rebuild, it won the RIBA Stirling Prize for Best New Building of the Year.
The Philharmonic Dining Rooms were built as a gentlemen’s club by Robert Cain & Son, the brewers, and opened in 1898. The faculty of design at Liverpool University College was commissioned to decorate and design the interior. Frances Macdonald and Herbert McNair – ex creative partners of Charles Rennie Mackintosh – used it as a project for their students, hence the art nouveau finish, the high fashion of the day. It is Grade II*.
The original Philharmonic Hall was built in 1849 to house the country’s second oldest music society. It burnt down in 1933 and such was the determination of local music lovers that it was rebuilt on the same spot and re-opened in 1939. The building is Grade II*. Designed by local architect Herbert J Rowse with an art deco interior and dutch and cinema sensiblities externally.
The French chateau style of the Hahnemann Homeopathic Hospital was designed as an ornate advert for the fashionable medical practice of the day. It was purpose built in 1887 and generously equipped and donated to the city by Henry Tate, head of the sugar refining firm and founder of the Tate Gallery. Although an advocate, Tate decreed that the hospital should not be restricted to homeopathy, but should also include facilities for surgery, gynaecology etc… ‘the great medical truths of today’. It closed as a hospital in 1975. Samuel Hahnemann was a German Physician, known as the creator of homeopathy
Blackburne’s House John Blackburne’s house was eventually donated to the city, becoming the women’s branch of the Mechanics’ Institute and then Liverpool Institute for Girls in 1874 – it was one of the first established exclusively for the education of girls. It finally closed as a school in 1984, reopening as the Women’s Technology and Education Centre soon after.
Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) was built in 1835 as the Liverpool Mechanics’ Institute. Its primary purpose was to provide educational opportunities, often as evening classes, for working men. It is acknowledged as the forerunner of the University of Liverpool. It became the Liverpool Institute for Boys – Paul McCartney and George Harrison were old boys. Paul went on to provide funding for the foundation of LIPA, which continues the institute’s original themes of practical and artistic achievement.
Liverpool College of Art was built in 1883 and its original frontage on Mount Street, is now listed Grade II. The extension onto Hope Street was added in 1910. LIPA have expanded upwards. John and Cynthia Lennon were ex students.
As you approach the art school there is a sculpture by John King, ‘A Case History.’ Installed in 1999, it is composed of coloured concrete suitcases, piled and waiting to go, or just arrived! The bronze luggage tags carry the names of the notable individuals and institutions associated with the area: social reformers, musicians, writers, and conductors.
The Oratory, built in 1827 and Grade I listed, was originally the chapel for St James’ Cemetery which in turn was a former quarry. It is now a public park lined with gravestones cataloguing the deaths of orphans, sailors, passengers and others whose final resting place was Hope Street. In its centre stands the memorial to William Huskisson, a popular politician ignobly famous for being the first person to be killed by a train, at the inaugural run of the Rocket in 1830. In front of the Oratoryis ‘Roman Standard’ by Tracy Emin, a counterpoint to the city’s large masculine neo classical sculpture. The life sized bird perched on a pole is a symbol of Liverpool and represents strength with femininity.
Liverpool Cathedral was consecrated in 1924 but not completely finished until 1978. It is the fifth largest Cathedral in the world (after Milan, Seville, New York’s St John the Divine and of course St Peter’s). It was designed by youthful competition winner Giles Gilbert Scott. His other great iconic designs are the classic red telephone box, as well as the power stations of Battersea and Bankside (now the Tate Modern). The Cathedral houses the largest organ in the world and the tower holds the highest and heaviest ringing peal in the world – 13 bells at 31 tons. The building was a particular favourite of Sir John Betjeman. He famously remarked that the cathedral demonstrated “the supreme art of enclosing space”. Those lucky guests with us on Sunday morning may be woken with the call to worship from both ends of Hope Street.