Recreation and Amenities
Town planning in Liverpool also covered the provision of public education and recreation facilities.
Liverpool was amongst the pioneers in the provision of public libraries from the 1850s. The William Brown Library opened in 1860 becoming one of the first municipal libraries in the country. It took its name from the wealthy Liverpool based American merchant who donated the funds for the building.
Many people would assume that branch libraries are a more recent development, but the first of these were built in Liverpool, in Everton and Toxteth, in 1853. Not long after this Andrew Carnegie, a wealthy American industiralist, provided the funds for further branch libraries at Sefton Park, Walton, West Derby, Garston, Kirkdale and Old Swan.
In the 1930s branch libraries opened in shop premises or in other existing buildings, giving people from all parts of Liverpool free access to library facilities.
During the Second World War the William Brown Library was almost totally destroyed in a bombing raid on the city. This was seen as one of the greatest cultural losses of the war not only for Liverpool, but for the country as a whole. Despite national sympathy, rebuilding of the library was not seen as a priority. Vacant warehouses in the city provided temporary library stores and tea chests were used as makeshift homes for the salvaged books and manuscripts. Work started on rebuilding and extending the library in 1957 and was finally completed in 1960.
With the development of the large municipal estates in Liverpool after the war, library services were extended to meet the needs of the new communities. Speke Central Library was the first purpose-built library to be built after the war at a cost of ?33,000. The library opened in October 1965.
In the 19thcentury many children in Liverpool did not go to school. Unlike today, schooling was not provided automatically by the City Council. If you came from a poor family you were lucky if you got any education at all. Many of the schools that did exist were established by religious
denominations, such as the Catholic Church. The Blue Coat School in Liverpool, established in 1718, was a charity school set up to educate children from poor families. The original school was off School Lane and is now the Bluecoat Arts Centre.
The 1870 Education Act made elementary education accessible to all children in Liverpool. The Liverpool School Board was established at the same time and tried to enforce school attendance. Few children went on to secondary education at the end of the 19th century.
The 1944 Education Act influenced the provision of new schools and other educational establishments in Liverpool. Education became a high priority alongside new housing developments after the war. A large number of new primary and secondary schools were built. There was considerable investment in building new primary schools on the new estates. Millwood and Alderwood County Primary Schools were built on the Speke Estate and opened in the early 1950s. New secondary modern schools and comprehensive schools were built in Liverpool in the 1940s, ?50s and ?60s.
Many of the theatres that you see in Liverpool today have long and eventful histories.
There has been a theatre on the site of the Empire Theatre on Lime Street since 1866. The old theatre was demolished in 1924 to make way for a brand new theatre which opened the following year. The theatre?s architect, Mr. Milburn, had travelled to America to find inspiration. The style of the theatre was considered unique, bringing together the best features of theatres on both sides of the Atlantic. The City Engineer, John Brodie, was one of the first people to get a sneak preview of the theatre before its opening and was said to be very impressed.
The Playhouse Theatre in Williamson Square is home to the Liverpool Repertory Company. This is the oldest surviving repertory company in the country today. The term ?repertory? refers to a series of plays produced and acted by the same company of actors and actresses. The Liverpool Repertory Company was created in 1910 and a number of temporary venues were used for performances until a permanent home was found for the company in the old Star Music Hall. This was renamed the Playhouse and, after some modernisation, opened its doors to the public on the 11th November 1911.
The site of the Royal Court Theatre off Great Charlotte Street has long been a focus for entertainment ventures. The first of these was the Royal Amphitheatre and Cooke?s New Circus which opened in 1826. The building could accommodate between 3,000 to 4,000 people in tiered boxes and galleries overlooking the huge circus ring. The first Royal Court Theatre was built on the site of the Royal Amphitheatre and completed in 1881. This original Royal Court Theatre was destroyed in a fire in 1933 and the present day theatre was rebuilt and opened in 1938.
As well as these large theatres in the city centre, there were smaller theatres in the suburbs such as the Lyric Theatre in Everton Valley.
Cinema has come a long way since its early days when it was one of the most popular forms of entertainment. From the theatrical grandeur of the picture palaces of the 1930s to the modern day multiplex cinemas, cinema has adapted to the needs of each new generation.
Films were originally shown in virtually any building that could be converted for the purpose. Music halls and public meeting halls were often used for special screenings. The new, purpose-built cinemas sprang up before the First World War. By 1914 there were 81 cinemas in Merseyside.
The cinema was at one time a powerful tool in influencing public opinion. During the First and Second World Wars cinemas became the focus for wartime propaganda and news coverage. Today we can easily switch the television on to find out what is going on in the world. Before the days of television people would go to the cinema to watch newsreels.
The 1930s and 1940s saw the cinema become a grand showcase for Hollywood movies. The names of the cinemas reflected the glamour of the time. For example, Liverpool had the Ritz Super Cinema on Utting Avenue and the Palais De Luxe Cinema on Lime Street. By 1944 there were 191 cinemas in Merseyside.
Television provided entertainment for people in the comfort of their own homes, becoming hugely popular in the 1950s. The televising of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 encouraged more people to buy television sets. By 1966 there were only 60 cinemas left in Merseyside. The old cinemas were either converted into bingo halls or became derelict.
These days cinemas are often built on the outskirts of towns and cities and it is rare to be able to walk to your local cinema. A trip to the cinema is still pretty exciting today, but for most people it is seen as a treat. Although the cinema has made a comeback in recent years, it is unlikely that people will start going to the cinema twice a week as they once did!
Dancing was another popular pastime in Liverpool and became all the rage in the 1930s. Saturday night was traditionally ?dance night?. There were a number of dance venues in Liverpool in every area of the city. Dance halls, like the cinemas, were popular places for courtship and for many young people this was the only way to meet members of the opposite sex in a parent-free environment.
The Grafton Rooms opened in 1924, becoming the largest dance hall in Merseyside. The manager, Malcolm Munro, made it into a hugely successful business through his varied programme of musical entertainment and competitions.
Children living in the centre of Liverpool at the beginning of the last century would play in the street or courtyard outside their house. They did not have much choice, as playgrounds were few in those days. There was little traffic on the streets to pose a danger to young children at play. By the 1950s and 1960s there were more vehicles on the streets, so designated ?play streets? were created. Special signs warned motorists that the street was closed to motor vehicles.
Wavertree Playground was one of the first purpose-built public playgrounds. It was presented to Liverpool Corporation in 1895. At the time it was believed to be the largest playground in the world and was certainly built at great expense, the total cost was ?100,000. It was the wish of the donor that it should be used as a playground for children educated in the city?s public schools.
There were smaller playgrounds in the city centre, such as St. Domingo Pit Recreation Ground on Breckfield Road, and St. Mary?s Recreation Ground on Mulberry Street. However, it was not really until the new estates were built in the 1930s that playgrounds and recreation grounds were provided alongside the new housing.