One of the frustrations of interpreting historic photographs is correctly dating them. Perhaps the most popular subject for the Victorian photographer was St George’s Hall – and no wonder. When it opened in 1854, it must have been an astonishing sight. Towering above the city, like the Parthenon on the Acropolis, this great statement of civic endeavour and intent must have had an immense psychological impact on the fast growing town.
I remember my first trip to Liverpool from Sheffield in 1966. As I left Lime Street, I was confronted by this immense building which was anything but provincial (as most of Sheffield’s architecture was). Even though it was soot-black, it had a startling presence with its impressive plateau and statuary, including the much under-valued Wellington’s Column.
Getting back to my starting point: dating Victorian photographs can be quite imprecise. Clothing can give a clue but fashions lingered on for years and is anything but foolproof. Similarly, shop names can give an indication. A new shop would have a new sign but many businesses had long lives. The clue in today’s photograph is the original staircase on the Southern facade (below the eight columns on the left hand side). This had been replaced by the current arrangement by 1855: according to Picton ‘Originally access was obtained from the street by two narrow flights of steps descending right and left from the centre: but the taste of the local dilettanti being offended, an appeal was made to the council, by whose authority they were removed, and the terrace finished as it now remains.’
So the photograph can be dated to around 1854 to 1855. Not as old as the photograph I published in October 2010 (which shows signs of construction still in progress) but close enough. What makes the photograph special is that it is signed Forrest – a founder member of Liverpool Amateur Photographic Association (established in 1853 as one of the world’s first photographic societies – it is now part of South Liverpool Photographic Society). John Alexander Forrest was a glass manufacturer in Lime Street and his image is the earliest one of Liverpool by a named photographer I have come across.
St George’s Hall seems to be on the fringe of the city centre rather than a central feature. The shabby state of Lime Street is apparently to be addressed but the soulless dual carriageway and the dreadful lump that is St John’s Market with its crude advertising hoarding also need sorting. Do we really need a dual carriageway? If ever a site need creative thought and design, this would be my priority. By clever design, Liverpool One has brought the Albert Dock and Pier Head back into life. Now we need an equally smart solution for the Lime Street area.