MERCHANT PALACES AND PERSONALITIES
Our February 2017 talk - reviewed by Mike Chitty
The main title of Stephen Guy's talk was 'Forgotten Liverpool'. He took us on a whistle-stop tour of almost thirty houses, some of them surviving but others long-since demolished. Stephen is Chair of the West Derby Society, so not surprisingly many of the pictures he showed had a West Derby connection. However, other areas featured were Allerton, Aigburth, Speke, Walton and Sefton Park.
The Earls of Sefton, who lived at Croxteth Hall, were members of the Molyneux family. The last Earl, who died in 1972, used to pronounce the name 'Molinex'. He was 6ft 5in tall, with no children but several dogs and racehorses. Stephen mentioned a wide range of other personalities, mainly business or professional men whose houses reflected their interests and status. Thomas Haigh, an architect, built himself a 'miniature stately home' called Lowlands (now a community centre) in West Derby. The Hutchinson family of millers lived at Holly Lodge House (later a school) which had a fine interior but sadly was demolished in 2016. We watched a video of the demolition, and heard about the campaign, led by members of the Hutchinson family, which failed to save it.
Broughton Hall (another school) had been the home of a German financier, Gustav Schwabe, who provided money to the White Star Line on condition that the ships were built by his nephew Gustav Wolff (of Harland & Wolff). Norris Green House was the home of the Heywood banking family. Like many others in the Liverpool area, its sumptuous interior was recorded by the photographer Henry Bedford Lemere. Another West Derby character was 'Bully Bates', the owner of rust-bucket 'coffin ships' - regularly claiming insurance payouts for cargoes lost and crew members drowned! A large tree has grown where the main gates of his mansion should have been, because he refused to pay the annual fee demanded by the Sandfield Park Company. Then there was James Meade-King, defender of public footpaths and temperance campaigner. West Derby village had 11 alehouses and pubs in Victorian times, but Meade-King donated a drinking fountain complete with the inscription 'Water is Best'.
Other well-known names mentioned in Stephen's talk were Waring (of Waring & Gillow) who lived at Palmyra in Aigburth Vale, Mrs Blackler (of the Liverpool store) whose bathroom at Park Lea in Fulwood Park featured 'a real throne' of a lavatory, and Holt (of the shipping line) whose home Sudley is 'a unique survival', the only art collection of a Victorian merchant still in its original location.
Stephen's descriptions of the favoured architectural styles ranged from the 'Jacobethan Tudor' houses of Alexandra Drive to the 'Gothic horror' of Gunavah in Sefton Park. Some of the surviving houses are genuinely old - like Speke Hall and Tue Brook House. Stephen told us that the current owner of Tue Brook House (built 1615) is thinking of opening it to the public. St Ambrose Barlow, Catholic martyr, is said to have hidden in it, and the owner would like to find the hiding place! By way of contrast, some of the buildings shown were demolished within 50 years of their construction - like Allerton Beeches (demolished 1939) which had been designed by Norman Shaw for Henry Tate Jr.
Stephen's talk attracted a large audience. It made us realise how much of Liverpool's heritage has been lost - but also how much documentary evidence survives, and how much we can learn about the city's history by studying the families who used to live in these large houses in the surrounding countryside.