The main objective of my blog is to reveal the way photography has documented the history of Liverpool in the last 150+ years. Photographs are taken for all kinds of reasons – to document progress, mark celebrations, to reveal social deprivation etc. My interest is in examining photographs to find out what they can tell us about both the photographer’s intent and, of course, the subject matter.
The photograph I have chosen is not a difficult one to determine the purpose of the photographer. It was taken by the firm of James Valentine, a Dundee-based company that rivalled Francis Frith in the selling of photographs commercially. Before the advent of postcards, real photographs were very popular as keepsakes and companies like Frith and Valentine sought out views that they could sell to the general public. Frith was the market leader (Francis Frith, as I have written about before, started his photographic career in Liverpool in the early 1850s before selling up his business and embarking on a career as a full-time photographer) but Valentine’s competed keenly in the same territories.
So why take a photograph of Myrtle Street. The clue is in the building next to the Gymnasium: the Liverpool Eye Hospital, which had just opened (1880). It is still there, with its fine terracotta exterior, although it has been converted to flats. Liverpool led the world in its provision for the blind and the specialist hospital was an extension of the other innovatory services it had developed during the nineteenth century. No doubt Valentines saw a potentially lucrative market from grateful patients.
The Liverpool Gymnasium was featured in my blog of 14 February 2010: How the Olympic Movement Started in Liverpool. The brainchild of Charles Melly and John Hussey, it was opened in 1865 as host to the first meeting of the National Olympics Association. Now, 150 years later, the whole world can enjoy a sporting spectacle that had its roots in our city.
Two other buildings are worth commenting on. The building just visible below the Eye Hospital is Myrtle Street Baptist Church. The preacher Hugh Stowell Brown was an electrifying preacher who attracted thousands to his sermons. It is reassuring that his statue, paid for by public subscription on his death, has now returned to its former home as part of the new student accommodation (having been recently found in the stables of Croxteth Country Park).
Finally, a rare sight of the roof of another church – St Philips, Hardman Street, which stood on the site of what was Kirklands (Fly in the Loaf). By 1880, it was already in a dilapidated state and was auctioned off and soon after demolished.
The photograph was taken from the site of what is now the Philharmonic Hall. Here is a section of an 1881 map of the city. The section of street we are looking at is just below the green plot of land.