Peter Ackroyd, the noted biographer, likened walking on London’s pavements to walking on skin. I thought that was a clever way of capturing the human history of a city beneath the stone artefacts left behind. Walking the streets of Liverpool, I can understand the pull of the past – even if Liverpool’s history cannot match that of our capital city. My fascination with photographs is not simply with the changing shape of the urban landscape but with the people who made it come to life.
The photographs I have posted today are a good example of forgotten times and lives. The building is still there on Orphan Drive alongside Newsham Park, although derelict and waiting for a new use. Designed by that great Liverpool architect, Alfred Waterhouse, it was opened in 1874 to house some of the hundreds of orphaned boys and girls. By 1899 there were 321 children in the orphanage, while 508 were receiving outdoor relief in the form of monetary grants and clothing. Children of all religious denominations were assisted, with preference given to orphans of British seamen connected with the Port of Liverpool.
I think the photographs of the three classes pre-date the Newsham Park building. In 1869, the Liverpool Seamen’s Orphan Institution opened in temporary rented accommodation in Duke Street, and by the end of that year there were 46 boys and 14 girls in residence. The success of the orphanage persuaded the Council to give land in Newsham Park for a purpose-built institution but the building in the background suggests the earlier temporary accommodation. The photographs were taken by Simon Kruger, who had a studio at 171 Park Road in 1871.
I bought the three photographs together, which suggests they belonged to one person. Perhaps in each photograph is a member of the same family: three siblings facing an uncertain future as orphans. I imagine they were treasured before being passed on to the next generation and then the next until their family name was finally lost.