The Beeches, c1930
Carnatic Hall, 1937
My post on Booker Avenue stimulated some interesting responses. I overlooked Liverpool-born JG Farrell, who won the Booker Prize for The Siege of Krishnapur. Farrell in his acceptance speech made a cutting reference to Booker’s history of exploitation, which did not go down well with the sponsor. Another connection I overlooked was that one of Liverpool’s most famous comedians in the first half of the century. Billy Matchett – the Mirthquake, lived at 165 Booker Avenue from the 1930s until his death in 1974. A forgotten performer today, Matchett was mentioned by Ken Dodd as one of the two men who had most influenced him (the other was Arthur Askey). The Mirthquake (what a great name) claimed to have performed on every music hall stage in Britain.
Leading on from the mention of the Booker family, I have selected three photographs of now-demolished mansions that once dominated the local landscape. Allerton is probably known to golfers because the colonnaded facade is still standing after a fire gutted what was the club house (of Allerton Golf Club) in 1944. Designed by Thomas Harrison of Chester in 1815 (whose two remaining buildings in Liverpool are the lantern tower of St Luke’s Church at Pierhead and the Lyceum at the foot of Bold Street), it was the property of Jacob Fletcher, son of a privateer and slave-trader.
The Beeches was a later building by that great architect Norman Shaw (designer of the White Star building, James Street). Built for Sir Henry Tate, the sugar magnate in 1883/4, it was demolished in 1939. The road, The Beeches, is off Allerton Road, facing Calderstones Park.
Finally, in Mossley Hill rather than Allerton was Carnatic Hall, built by Peter Baker in the late eighteenth century following his successful capture of an unarmed French ship, the Carnatic in 1778, which was carrying a valuable cargo including a box of diamonds. The Hall was demolished to make way for the University halls of residence in Elmswood Road.
It is hard to quantify the loss of such buildings to Liverpool’s heritage. In many cases, they were built on the proceeds of either slavery or privateering, two trades which stain the history of the city.
They were also part of a millionaires’ belt of exclusive properties that covered much of the outskirts of Liverpool. The 1881 Ordnance Survey gives some indication of their privileged living conditions compared to the hundreds of thousands squeezed into the inner city.
Liverpool in 1881 had more millionaires than any city outside of London and, like today, the disparity between rich and poor was an increasing source of concern. The removal of their large estates was inevitable in the face of suburban expansion, although a good chunk of public green space fortunately survives.