The Building of Abercromby Square
By Adrian R Allan : Unit of Liverpool 1986 Hq 942.753 ALL
Original area of MOSS LAKE fields. Good Peat area in (16th) and (17th).
By late (18th), the Mount Pleasant and Brownlow Hill areas were gradually being developed in response to population growth and the desire of wealthier merchants to move home out of the centre of Liverpool because buildings were replacing gardens and open spaces.
The Corporation decided it would be profitable to develop their own estate in Moss Lake Fields. The plan drawn up by John FOSTER was agreed to in 1801. Agreement was to make the land lots as regular and square as possible. The development would have a square for its central focus.....ABERCROMBY SQUARE.
It was intended that the housing should be in the form of terraces, of high-class residential housing and strong architectural styles to attract the wealthier classes. The north, south and west sides of the Square would each have a Greek Doric Porch in the middle.
Building progress was slow because the land needed careful preparation. The fields needed to be drained of water via a tunnel. Footpaths with railings and posts were designed to prevent cattle and horses from straying onto the land.
Abercromby Square was named in commemoration of General Sir Ralph Abercromby, commander of the British Army in Egypt, who was killed at the Battle of Alexandria in 1801. There is a memorial to Abercromby in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.
1861, the Council granted a lease of the land around Abercromby Square to LAWSON
(A Liverpool merchant) and to PRITT (a Liverpool gentleman). Lease running until 1884. Lawson and Pritt undertook to facilitate the general development and to abide by conditions controlling the external appearance and use of the buildings to be erected:-
· They were to make the streets and sewers.
· The footwalks in front of the houses in Abercromby Square were to be paved with strong flags.
· The footwalks in the streets were to be paved with small pebble stones.
· Areas of six feet wide were to be in closed with iron palisades in front of the houses.
· No premises were to be used for carrying on any offensive trades.
· No buildings were to be erected fronting the square except dwelling houses of a frontage of 21 feet and of a uniform elevation.
· Cellars not to be used for merchandise nor for separate habitation.
· No courts, no back houses to be built there.
ABERCROMBY SQUARE GARDENS
JOHN SHEPHERD, curator of the Botanic Garden, was consulted on planting up the centre of the Square. A small, central domed Garden House was erected. In 1819, the garden was surrounded with cast-iron railings and gates to restrict the enjoyment of the gardens to the residents of the surrounding houses. In return for an annual rent of one guinea, the residents were allowed to walk in the Square’s garden, locally called THE SHRUBBERY. A key was made available so they could enter through the main gate.
HOUSES AND INHABITANTS
The first house to be erected appears to have been what is now No. 9 on the south side. Gore’s Directory of Liverpool for 1821, lists one inhabitant in the Square, William RUSHTON, a wealthy gentleman and merchant who died in 1844. Evidence points to him occupying No. 9.
Gore’s Directory of 1823, lists four inhabitants.
No. 9 : William Rushton
No. 5 : Nicholas MEGRAN, a partner in a Bold Street firm of Tailors and Drapers.
No. 11 : Robert GLADSTONE, merchant and shipowner (a relative of W E GLADSTONE future Prime Minister)
No. 8 : George PRITT, an attorney with an office in Water Street. His business partner, LAWSON, lived in Trinity Place.
Between 1824 to 1828, the houses 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26 were built.
By 1829, the whole of the north side was erected except for No. 19. That was erected in 1863 and later became the official residence of the first two Anglican Bishops of Liverpool.
Michael Gage’s Plan of Liverpool, 1835, shows evidence that the whole of the west side of the Square was built and that the south side was complete except for No. 13. That was leased land to Elias Arnaud, in 1836. He was collector of H M Customs. He erected the house in which he and his family lived until his death in 1860.
THE CHURCH AND THE EAST SIDE
By 1835, only St Catherine’s Church was on the east side. Nos. 15 and 16 were erected there, 1847 – 48. The east side of the Square was in marked contrast to the other sides. Its houses were stucco-fronted, with an irregular roofline. The remaining three houses built there, 1862 – 65, had large projecting bay windows.
St Catherine’s Church was designed by John FOSTER. An Anglican Church, in classical Greek style. It was gutted in 1941 by the Blitz and not rebuilt. In 1953, the landsite of
St Catherine’s went to Liverpool University. Dry rot from the ruins of the Church had infected the adjoining houses and the whole of the east side of the Square was demolished in 1966.
NORTH SIDE : NO. 19
This was the last house to be built on the north side. It was designed for Charles Kuhn Prioleau, born in South Carolina 1827; settled in Liverpool as a merchant in 1854; naturalised in 1863.
Memories of South Carolina are evident. In the pediment over the central first floor window is the STAR symbol. At the lead of each of the columns of the front portico are eight starts. Inside, the ceiling of the vestibule is decorated with the state-tree of South Carolina, the cabbage palmetto tree, with a protective serpent curled around its base.
Ground Floor Rooms : Vestibule, galleried staircase hall, library, dining room and drawing room.
First Floor Rooms : Three large bedrooms (two with dressing rooms), a boudoir, bathroom, water closet and housemaid’s closet.
Second Floor Rooms : Night and day nurseries, four bedrooms, sewing room, linen closet, and water closet.
Attic : Sleeping rooms for servants (five small bedrooms, lumber and box room and a closet).
Basement : Day time accommodation for the servants, a servant’s hall, housekeeper’s room, kitchen, pantry, scullery, larder, wine and beer cellars, billiard room, a toilet, a small lift connecting the kitchen to the dining room above, coal vaults (deliveries of coal were made via a manhole in the pavement in the Square). Servants entered the house by the separate exterior flight of stone steps down from the pavement.
At the Rear : No. 19 had a two-storey stable block. Below was the coach house and harness room. Above was accommodation for the coachman and his family, including bedrooms, kitchen, scullery, pantry.
The other houses in the Square also had stables, with access at the back, thought none as grand as No. 19.
The 1871 Census informs us that the household of No. 19 had gone to Major Norman Walker, a 40 year old merchant from Virginia, U.S.A. Residents included his wife and six children, his widowed mother, two female nurses, a coachman and his wife, four female servants (waitress, housemaid, kitchen maid, cook) and one visitor.
During the 1890’s, plans were made to convert No. 19 into the BISHOP’S PALACE. Alfred Culshaw was employed as architect for the alterations. A chapel was to be provided in the library. The library, along with Bishop Ryle’s huge collection of books, were to be housed in the drawing room. In 1900, Ryle’s successor, Bishop Francis J Chavasse (1900 – 23) acquired the house next door, No. 20, and established it as the Bishop’s Hostel for ordinands.
BISHOP PALACE, No. 19 : Recollection of housemaid Miss Jean Mitchell.
In the case of the household of Bishop and Mrs Chavasse, we are most fortunate in having the recollections of Miss Jean Mitchell, who joined the staff as Third Housemaid at the age of fourteen years, and had risen to become First Housemaid by the time she left in 1913. Including the chauffeur (who lived in the mews, and also sometimes served as butler), there were fifteen indoor staff at the Bishop’s Palace (No. 19). Miss Mitchell’s day began at 6.00 a.m. when she rose, cleaning the Bishop’s book lined study, Mrs Chavasse’s bedroom and boudoir, etc., before having breakfast at 8.00 a.m. in the Servants’ Hall in the basement. At 8.30 a.m. and also in the evening, members of the household were expected to attend prayers and Bible reading in the chapel, Mrs Chavasse playing the organ. As in the case of maids in other households, normally after lunch Miss Mitchell would change from the print dress, white cap, and plain white apron which she wore in the mornings into a black dress with small lace apron for the afternoon. Wages were paid every three months, and for Miss Mitchell rose from about £6 to about £9, food and accommodation, of course (though not dress), being provided free of charge. She was allowed a half-day off a week, either from 2.00 – 7.00 p.m. or from 4.00 – 9.00 p.m., and on these occasions sometimes joined a nanny from a neighbouring house in going to the State Restaurant, Dale Street, for a dance and tea. Mrs Chavasse took charge of the organisation of the household, being directly assisted by a Lady Housekeeper, who had her own room in the basement, where the kitchen (with its very large coal-fired range, and a gas cooker), larder, coal cellars, etc., were also situated. Apart from the bells, which range in the basement, communications was assisted by some speaking tubes, for instance between the kitchen and the dining room above.
Though at the time she did not consider it so, the work of Miss Mitchell and her fellow-servants was hard in the days before vacuum cleaners, etc., scrubbing brushes and sandstone being employed on the steps, beeswax polish applied by hand on the parquet flooring of the large entrance hall, and the carpets cleaned once a week with tea-leaves. The Chavasses were neither the first nor the last occupants of the Palace to complain that it was a very dusty house in which to live, situated as it was next door to a busy main road, and before the days of smokeless zones, etc. Coal had to be carried up by the page-boy for the fires in each room, hip and slipper baths put out in bedrooms, and jugs of hot water, together with towels, brought from the pantry each day (the bathroom not being used so often).
Miss Mitchell’s abiding memories are of the kindness of Bishop Chavasse and his wife towards her; the gift of the confirmation dress, working holidays with the family at Dolgelly and Alnwick, and an unaffected concern for her health and strength (including the occasion she fell off Miss May Chavasse’s bicycle, which the Chavasse children were teaching her to ride).
A glimpse into the interiors of the Square’s houses in the (19th) of the furnishings of No. 26. The occupier, John Enthoven, an iron merchant, was moving to Cheshire.
We do not know to what extent the furnishings of the houses were of the quality of those of John Enthoven.
Enthoven’s drawing room furniture was principally of walnut wood, upholstered in crimson and fawn-coloured, flowered satin damask; Parisian marquetry and ormuolu-embelished cabinets, numerous china ornaments, etc., filled the room. The dining room included eighteen mahogany chairs, covered in maroon morocco, and sliding frame dining tables. Brussels carpets covered the floors of the dining room, breakfast parlour, hall, and the principal bedrooms. The hall, lit by a gas lantern, included two cases of stuffed birds (and as such was not the only house in the Square to bear witness to the popular contemporary passion for natural history), a Louis XIV clock, and a pair of Italian marble busts. The principal bedrooms were fitted up with mahogany and birch-wood bedsteads, marble-topped basin stands, bookcases, etc., whilst the furniture in the ‘secondary chambers’ (no doubt mainly those of the servants) was simply of ‘painted wood’.
INHABITANTS (PART TWO)
During the first fifty years of Abercromby Square’s existence, the largest occupational group were rich merchant’s, their families and servants. The remainder were gentlemen, lecturers, collector of customs, five women of independent means, a treasurer. One of the partners of the original development of the area, George Pritt, an attorney, lived at No. 8 from 1822.
From the mid 1840’s there was an influx of professional classes and a decrease in the number of merchants. There were more bankers, attorneys, doctors, surgeons and solicitors.
No. 8 (1833 – 1842) Henry BOOTH A prominent townsman. Secretary and Treasurer of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. A partner with the Stephensons in the development of the Rocket.
No. 8 (1851 – 1878) Charles MACIVER. One of the founders of the Cunard Company. Helped to establish Liverpool as a principal Port.
No. 6 Sir Edward RUSSELL (Lord Russell of Liverpool and Editor of the Liverpool Daily Post)
The wealth and possessions of the Square’s ‘above-stairs’ residents is represented in their wills. Many owned property elsewhere in Liverpool and Lancashire, and further afield. E.G. Sir Thomas Brocklebank (d.1911) a shipowner, had residencies at No. 13 and also at Irton Hall in Cumberland.
In their wills, about one third of the Square’s (19th) residents made bequests to charities, especially to Liverpool’s voluntary hospitals.
Long before the colonisation of the Square by the University, several members of staff of University College and the University had their private homes in the Square.
At No. 27 (then later at No. 18) lived Dr James Campbell Brown. Lecturer at the Medical School from 1867 and played a major role in the foundation of University College, 1881. At No. 18A lived Dr Richard Caton from 1873 until about 1885. A part-time lecturer at the Medical School and researcher of electo-physiology. Dr Caton (Lord Mayor 1907 – 08) served Liverpool with great devotion.
No. 21, Professor A M Paterson who lectured in Anatomy.
No. 26, Professor Lehn-Haupt, lecturer of Greek.
No. 4, Vice-Chancellor Professor Alfred Dale.
Before the First World War, several of the children of the Square’s residents were studying at University College, later the University. Three of the children of George MELLY of 90 Chatham Street (south-east corner of the Square) took courses at the College in the 1880’s, including FLORENCE MELLY (d.1928). She was a member of Liverpool’s School Board and its Education Committee. In 1922 she was awarded an Honorary MA.
The most distinguished former student who lived in the Square was NOEL CHAVASSE (1884-1917). He was one of the sons of Bishop Chavasse (Bishop of Liverpool from 1900 until his retirement in 1923). Noel brought great distinction, as well as sadness, to his family and the University when he won the VC and bar, in the Great War. He had studied medicine at Liverpool, graduating in 1912 at Oxford. In the two years before the War, he held junior posts at the Royal Southern Hospital, Liverpool. He devoted much of his spare time running a club for the Grafton Street Industrial School for Boys.
THE 20TH CENTURY
On Merseyside, between 1901 and 1921, domestic servants declined by nearly a third of their total number. This decline was accentuated by the First World War. There was also a tendency, local as well as national, for the servant-keeping class. (The class which had been dominant in the Square for a century) to move out from the cities and towns to homes in the country. In the Square’s case, some of the houses which were vacated were turned into flats, were adopted for institutional use, or were occupied by ‘less important’ commercial and professional people.
Charles Reilly, Professor of Architecture, advocated the development of Abercromby Square for the University. Charles Sydney Jones had the means to translate the idea into reality. Sydney Jones, a shipowner, was also Treasurer of the University. He had a vision for the Square to become the centre for the University. It was through his great personal generosity that the University acquired the whole of the North side.
Nos. 20, 21 and 22 in 1921.
Nos. 19, 23, 24, 25, 26 and 27 between 1925 and 1930.
With the assistance of his architect brother, Ronald Jones, Sydney altered and furnished Nos. 20, 21 and 22 to provide a beautiful home for the Department of Education. He acquired the Bishop’s Palace, No. 19 in 1924 and made adaptations. In 1931 it was opened as the School of Social Services and Administration.
By June 1950, all the property surrounding the Square was in the University’s ownership except Nos. 2 and 8 (privately owned), No. 17 (St Catherine’s Vicarage) and No. 34 Oxford Street (The Heart Hospital).
Nowadays, the Square is entirely owned by the University.
During the last thirty years, the University has rejuvenated and transformed the Square into an area in which it is a great privilege and delight to work. After the neglect and damage which the Second World War brought in its train, the garden (which had lost its iron railings for use in the munitions industry) was transformed by the University in the 1950s and 1960s from a muddy patch into a beautifully-kept garden which the general public as well as staff and students may, and do, enjoy.
The garden was again surrounded with railings and gates – the gates at the west entrance, opposite Staff House, appropriately bearing the coats of arms of both the University and Sir Sydney Jones, and the remaining gates and the railings being erected a few years later, in 1955 and 1959 respectively, with the financial assistance of former students who have contributed to the University Gift Fund.
Although it was criticised by some at the time, the decision in 1973 to paint, in particular, the stonework of the Square’s houses – the string-courses, sills, lintels, and cornice line – cream (leaving the brickwork untouched) has certainly further enlivened the aspect of the Square. As Professor Myles Wright, then the University’s Planning Consultant, wrote ten years ago: ‘The repairs and alterations to the north, south and west sides of Abercromby Square have been costly, but the retention of the general form and appearance has preserved, largely as it was, the best of Liverpool’s former residential squares’.