Liverpool has some of the finest architecture of any city in Britain and has more listed buildings (those with some level of ‘protection’) than any other city other than London. The overwhelming majority of those are from the 19th and 20th centuries but that short and fine tradition has, unfortunately, not been carried on into the 21st as little of the architecture of recent years, since the start of Liverpool’s ‘renaissance’ displays much imagination – or, if it does, is in the wrong place. If there’s one time of year to appreciate the architectural heritage of the city it is during the Liverpool Heritage Open days that normally take place over the second weekend in September.
During these 4 days the general public are given an opportunity to see inside, or explore normally inaccessible areas of, some of the buildings that can only be appreciated from the outside during the rest of the year.
Although the number of buildings had increased steadily over recent years that growth seems to have stalled at the moment. There are a number of reasons for that. One is that buildings that were once offices which would be opened for the heritage days have either closed entirely or have been converted to other uses which preclude the hoi polloi from wandering around at any time. An example of this is what used to be the Martin’s Bank Building in Water Street.
Another reason is that buildings which used to be opened during the Heritage Days are now open at different times of the year. A couple of examples of this are the Town Hall, which seems to choose random days each year to open, and St George’s Hall which is open all year round. However, one of the highlights of St George’s Hall is the unveiling of the Minton Tiled Floor but this takes place earlier in the year and not on a fixed date each time. This might be a reaction to ‘putting all your eggs in one basket’ but it does mean that the event in September is somewhat diminished.
The other is that no-one seems to be trying to get build up this list so it comprises of something more than publicly owned buildings and churches. Even when other places have been added to the list they don’t necessarily stay there for very long. An example of this is the Masonic Lodge on Hope Street that’s been open to view for the last couple of years but not this (2014). One year I was down in London for their open days (which being London is a week later, Cockneys wanting their own special time away from the rest of us) and there you could even visit private houses which had some architectural merit, innovation or just being that little bit different.
As for religious buildings 2014 sees the opening, for the first time, of the St Margaret of Antioch Parish Church at the top of Princes Road. More than ten years ago this building had a huge amount of public money spent on it on a major, ‘life-saving’ renovation and my understanding is that in such a situation the building should have been made much more accessible to the general public. This was certainly the case with the Princes Road Synagogue next door which made the place welcoming to visitors at all times of the year and not only the few days in September, requesting people to sign the visitors book to prove to the State that they had been taking their obligations seriously.
Also missing from the list of places to explore is any real reference to Liverpool’s mercantile and industrial past. Four years ago the Bascule Bridge (a bridge which uses counterweights to open up to allow boats to pass through) at Stanley Dock in the north end docks was open, this year not. There might well be valid reasons but it seems a shame that so much of the historical heritage centred around the docks is still. in effect, out-of-bounds.
OK, I agree that much of that past has been destroyed by thoughtlessness, ignorance or sheer greed but surely the city should be able to make some of what’s left safe and interesting for the people of Liverpool to visit. In this way it might be possible to create a greater appreciation of these structures and, hopefully, prevent the disappearance of more unique structures.
And where are the new, 21st century, steel and glass structures that are supposed to turn Liverpool into the Shanghai along the Mersey? To the best of my knowledge not one of these buildings have ever been made accessible during these few days of late summer. If such structures are the future of the city, as some contend, then why don’t they invite us inside? Aren’t the people of Liverpool allowed to know what sheer bad taste and excess comes with those who benefit from the celebrity culture where some individuals earn in one week more than others do in a year?
On this page I don’t intend to provide a great deal of detailed information about the buildings – that is available from various sources elsewhere. What I do hope to provide is a brief photographic introduction of the structures and bring to your attention any little bits of information I’ve picked up over the years that might get missed in the grand scheme of things.
I’ll try, initially, to cover those places open in 2014 and then to expand the list by adding places that might have been open at some time in the past (and perhaps which will be again in the future).