My apologies for the lack of activity in recent weeks but I have been on holiday to India, where I spotted this marvellous sign. India is an experience like no other. Temples and palaces are falling down and, in the case of the palaces where I found the sign, over-run by monkeys. Yet the magnificence of the buildings is overwhelming. I was reminded of a newspaper article shortly after the Albert Dock re-opened in 1984, where the journalist derided the restoration as bourgeosification. He complained that by cleaning the soot-blackened bricks and stonework, the patina of decades had been lost and that the building was all the poorer for it. I was angered by the article at the time – like most people in Liverpool, the Albert Dock restoration marked a milestone in the city’s revival and a London-based writer’s observations seemed insensitive and gratuitous.
My travels in India, though, did chime with his sentiments to some extent. There is something romantic about buildings that are bashed around the corners. I remember the roads off Duke Street (Lydia Anne Street/Henry Street/York Street) which until relatively recently had the feels of the old seaport – you could almost imagine Charles Dickens on one of his Liverpool night trips with the police. They still exude an atmosphere but without the smell of rot and damp that once permeated the area.
Much has been done to improve Liverpool in the last decade but the idea of sustaining our heritage took a rather inglorious bash this week when the Victorian Society voted Langton Dock Pumping Station as one of its ten most important Victorian buildings at risk. Unfortunately, I haven’t got a photograph – something to rectify in the next few weeks. Isolated on the edge of a container park, it is a fine red brick building of 1879 by Lyster (although, surprisingly, Joseph Sharples omits it from his fine book on Liverpool’s architecture). Hopefully, Peel Holdings will put some effort into safeguarding the site (if it is their responsibility).
There are quite a number of buildings that are seriously at risk. Two I pass regularly are the Wellington Rooms on Mount Pleasant and the Welsh Presbyterian Church on Princes Road. Both are in a desperate state but not beyond salvation. The Wellington Rooms, in particular, could quite easily be restored as an arts venue. Better known in recent years as the Irish Centre, the building was erected in 1815 by public subscription following the Battle of Waterloo. Initially assembly rooms for dancing and concerts, the building has changed ownership on a number of occasions. After the last War, it became the Rodney Youth Centre, before being taken over by Liverpool’s Irish community.
Liverpool has precious few Georgian buildings of this quality. It really is time for action.
The Welsh Presbyterian Church is a more daunting prospect, since it has been stripped of its internal fittings and a large section of its roof. Its steeple is a magnificent sight but, unless action is taken, it won’t be there for future generations to enjoy.