A review of our February talk by Mary Champion

On February 3rd, Joseph Sharples spoke to the Gateacre Society about his forthcoming Pevsner Architectural Guide to Liverpool. For the past three years Joseph has been working on the guide, which will be published in May 2004.

Nikolaus Pevsner grew up in Leipzig but settled in England in the 1930s. He was one of the founders of the study of the history of art and architecture in Britain.  Ultimately he became Professor of the History of Art at Birkbeck College London, and held other prestigious appointments. He started his great series of architectural county studies in 1951, finishing in 1974 - all the fieldwork being done during college vacations. The South Lancashire book, which included Liverpool, was published in 1969.

Joseph explained why Pevsner's guides need revising: they were relatively small books, more knowledge is now available, tastes have changed, old buildings have come down and new ones have gone up. South West and South East Lancashire are being revised as separate volumes and, in addition, 'City Guides' are being published for Manchester and Liverpool.

Our talk was illustrated by excellent slides. We saw the former Midland Goods Warehouse in Crosshall Street, now the Conservation Centre. Pevsner mentioned it but could give no detail - Joseph found the date 1874 on the building and discovered that the architects were Culshaw & Sumner who designed other buildings in Liverpool. Church Street was very much neglected by Pevsner, but Joseph showed us Compton House - now Marks & Spencer - which was built in 1867 as one of the first departmental stores, complete with living accommodation for staff on the top floor.

Joseph has found a lot of information about Liverpool's Victorian buildings in an old architectural periodical: 'The Builder'. For example Ashcroft's Building in Victoria Street was a billiard table factory, with a showroom on the ground floor and a flat roof for seasoning the timber. He has also identified and included many 'new' buildings by Liverpool architects such as James Francis Doyle and Walter Aubrey Thomas. Thomas is best known for the Royal Liver Building, but we were shown slides of his Lord Street Arcade and the Crane Building in Hanover Street, influenced by American skyscrapers. We also saw examples of 'forgotten' Liverpool buildings by nationally-famous architects. The former Evans Pharmaceuticals building in Wood Street was by Aston Webb, who designed the Victoria & Albert Museum. The office/shop building on the corner of Church Street and Paradise Street was designed by E.W.Pugin, better known for his Catholic churches.

Pevsner admired nineteenth-century buildings in Liverpool which 'anticipated' twentieth century design - like a shop in Bold Street with lovely windows, and Oriel Chambers in Water Street. But he didn't like the Adelphi, and failed to mention other early twentieth-century buildings like the Athenaeum by Harold Dod or the former Boots on the corner of Church Street/Hanover Street by Gerald de Courcy Fraser.

Among the buildings mentioned by Pevsner in 1969, but since demolished, are the Sailors Home in Canning Place and many churches, especially in Everton. Under threat at that time were the Albert Dock and the Lyceum, but they were both saved as a result of vigorous campaigns.

Of the Liverpool buildings completed since 1969, Joseph could find very few to commend. But the Aldham Robarts Learning Resource Centre in Maryland Street and the FACT Centre in Wood Street were, he thought, both wonderful new buildings. We also saw slides of some excellent conversions by Urban Splash and others - including the former Wilberforce House which has become Beetham Plaza.

One thing is certain. When the new Pevsner Guide to Liverpool is published in May 2004 - at just £9.99 - it will be a wonderful illustrated read!

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