A Walk Around Liverpool’s Albert Dock

I took a walk around the Albert Dock area of Liverpool a couple of weeks ago, with my trusty Zorki 4 camera. The Albert Dock was rescued from the wrecking ball in the 1980s, but there has been a lot of development there recently too, especially around the Pier Head, from where the ferry sails. I’m hoping to make use of these images in a more concrete way in the future, but I’m enjoying the colours these old Jupiter 8 lenses seem to produce, and having fun getting to grips with a fully manual camera.

How old is Liverpool’s Cain’s Brewery?

There seem to be three main, and sometimes overlapping, trends in the self-image of British brewers: the traditional, the modern, and the ill-advised. Of these, the older brewers usually go for the first. They like to be seen as brewers of traditional ales, and it helps to let everyone know just how long they have been doing it. Some examples are brewers such as Young’s (1831), Fuller’s (1845), and Daniel Thwaites (1807), but there are many others keen to make the point that they have been around for a very long time. Shepherd Neame proudly declares itself Britain’s oldest brewer, trumping them all with the date “1698”, but hinting that brewing has been going on in their home town of Faversham much longer than that. Who would have thought it?

Cain’s, Liverpool’s biggest, and of late most controversial, brewer has the phrase “Established 1850” positioned prominently on its branding. That was the year that founder Robert Cain bought his first brewery, in Limekiln Lane; he bought the current brewery, on the other side of the city, as a going concern in 1858. When I was writing my book about Robert Cain and his brewery the question of how old the brewery is came up a lot, and I was unable to find a definitive answer. So I was only mildly surprised to hear yesterday from Sudarghara Dusanj from Cain’s, asking if I could tell him definitively how long there had been a brewery on the current site. Here’s what I wrote in my book:

“Cain bought the Stanhope Street brewery from George Hindley, the vicar of St. George’s Church, Everton. George and Robert Hindley had inherited the brewery from their father. After his father’s death Robert Hindley had tried and failed to make the brewery a success and was followed by Messrs. Hyde and Rust, brewers, who rented the premises but lasted only a few months before they were forced out of business. Soon after acquiring the brewery Cain set about modernizing and improving his investment:

“During the first two years of Mr. Cain’s occupancy all the old brewing utensils and machinery were taken out and replaced with the most modern appliances. The place was thus carried on for some years when further increase of business necessitated an extension. This was effected by purchasing some of the adjoining property called ‘Cotter’s Terrace’ and throwing it into the brewery. An old building, containing offices and a warehouse, which originally stood in the yard was removed, and a new building, fronting Stanhope-street, was erected in its place. From the earliest time in Stanhope-street till the present moment Mr. Cain has been adding to and improving his brewing plant and machinery, and everything new which comes out and which is better than older machinery he buys without hesitation.”(Liverpool Review, September 17, 1887)

Cain’s willingness to keep up with developments and his commitment to relentless expansion and ‘improvement’ made the brewery a success where others floundered.  The brewery itself had been bought by ‘old Mr. Hindley’ as a going concern 72 years earlier in 1786 so its long-term viability was not in doubt. But knowing its recent history of failure, Cain must have been very confident in his own ability to make it work. He was certainly helped by Liverpool’s own growing success story.”

That was the best I could do at the time, concluding that there had been a brewery on the Stanhope Street site since at least 1786, which is actually quite impressive. But after my conversation yesterday, the following snippet jumped out at me from something I was reading for my book on William Scoresby. This is from James Picton’s Memorials of Liverpool, published in 1873:

Returning to St. James’s Church, I will now ask the courteous reader to accompany me in a walk along the Old Park Road. This road, with Smithdown Lane, Lodge Lane, and the eastern part of Ullet Lane, down to 1775 were the only roads in the township. The house and outbuildings at the corner of Stanhope Street — now greatly metamorphosed — were built in 1775, about the time when Harrington was planned out. They were long the residence of Lord Sefton’s land-agent. In 1803 three houses had been built on the west side, near the corner of Mill Street, With this exception, and one or two shortly to be mentioned, no houses existed in the entire length of the road.

Swire’s Map of Liverpool, based on a survey made in 1823 and 1824, shows the area looking like this (click for a large version in another tab):

I’ve outlined in yellow the area referred to above as “Harrington” which, before the street layout was settled in 1775, was open fields and parkland, belonging to Lord Sefton. Until 1775 it was even beyond the limits of the town of Liverpool, which at that time reached only as far as Parliament Street, the borough boundary (marked by my vertical yellow line). I have also indicated on the map the site of Cain’s brewery, on Stanhope Street, and from this we can conclude that brewing on the site began some time between 1775 and 1786, but certainly no earlier than that. It makes it one of the oldest brewing sites in (more or less) continuous use in Britain, but the marketing department at Shepherd Neame can relax.

Read more about Cains: The Story of Liverpool in a Pint, listen to me reading from Chapter 1, or buy the book here.

Where Scoresby’s Ship, the Baffin, Was Built

A note on where Scoresby’s ship, the Baffin, was built, by Mottershead and Hayes, shipwrights, in 1819-1820. It seems she was constructed in a yard on the site of what became, in 1846, the Albert Dock. More at my Scoresby blog, Letters to Elizabeth.

Futurist Cinema in Liverpool (Again)

A few years ago I posted briefly about the Futurist cinema in Liverpool. The Futurist was the first purpose-built cinema in the city, and opened in 1912, when Hollywood was still little more than a ranch, and a collection of houses; it closed in 1989. Since then, despite being a Liverpool landmark, it has been left to rot on Lime Street. There are trees growing out of what is left of the roof, and the interior is ruined.

People remember this building as the Futurist, the name it carried from 1920. It is a forward-looking name, full of optimism, but tempered with an exciting hint of dystopian fear. The word “futurist” could come straight out of Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis. The Futurist went on to be one of the most advanced cinemas in Liverpool. It was the first in the city to offer sound, in 1926, and the first to offer cinemascope, in 1954. Later still, in 1975, it had “sensurround”, for the showing of Earthquake. Now, however, in what looks like terminal decline, it has returned to its earlier, more innocent name: Picture House. A name from a time when moving pictures seemed like magic, and when cinemas like this one brought not just entertainment, but vivid news of the outside world. It is hard to imagine how people felt about this place when it was new.

The picture below, taken a few years ago, shows the cinema with its 1950s neon sign in place. This was recently replaced with a modern, printed sign, since removed. The Futurist‘s imminent collapse is a scandal.


Lunchtime Literature Lectures in Liverpool 2010-2011

If you live or work in Liverpool and feel like spending your lunchtime doing something interesting, you could do worse than attend these lunchtime lectures at the University of Liverpool. They are organised (by me) through the Centre for Lifelong Learning, and cover a great range of topics, from Shakespeare, to crime fiction, and contemporary poetry. All the lectures are delivered at 126 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool, opposite the Catholic Cathedral. They all start at 12.30 and are around 50 minutes long.

18 October, 2010: Nature and Rural Life in Contemporary Poetry. By Andy Jurgis.

Nature and rural life are again important themes in poetry following on from earlier poetic traditions. This lecture will include reference to major figures Seamus Heaney (Ireland) and Gillian Clarke (Wales) alongside key Scottish poets John Burnside and Kathleen Jamie. 15884 engl 942

19 January, 2011: Patrick O’Brian. By Mary Weston.

What can you do with Patrick O’Brian’s books but celebrate them? In this lunchtime lecture we’ll pull out some of the best passages from the series: Naval battles, natural history, espionage, love, and most of all friendship. 15885 engl 942

24 February, 2011: Environmental Writing Today:  Including Mark Cocker, Kathleen Jamie and Robert McFarlane. By Andy Jurgis.

There is a growing interest in developing the genre of environmental non-fiction. The lecture will include reference to the prose writings of poets Gillian Clarke and Kathleen Jamie, alongside the highly regarded nature writers Mark Cocker and Robert MacFarlane. 15886 engl 942

16 March, 2011: J.D. Salinger and the Catcher in the Rye. By Mary Weston.

Why do so many of us identify with Holden Caulfield? Are we all outsiders? Why do The Catcher in the Rye and the Glass family stories still speak to us, after half a century and more? 15887 engl 942

13 April, 2011: Shakespeare. By Esme Miskimmin. 15888 engl 942

4 May, 2011: Golden Age Crime Fiction. By Esme Miskimmin. 15889 engl 942

All lectures cost £8.

To book a place for any of these, or to see the range of courses on offer, visit http://www.liv.ac.uk/conted/

Continuing Education in the Centre for Lifelong Learning
University of Liverpool
126 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool L69 3GR
0151-794 6900
Office open 9.00 am-5.00 pm (you may leave a message at other times)
Enquiryline: 0151-794 6952 (24 hr answerphone)
Fax: 0151 794 2544

Prevailing Winds, History, and Forgetting

One of the things I find most fascinating about the process of trying to understand the past is the extent to which we forget collectively about things that no longer seem to matter. How things that were once an acceptable or at least tolerable part of life become almost inconceivable. What we call progress is not simply a matter of overcoming problems and sidestepping obstacles, but of denying they exist. The Icelandic volcano that has disrupted air travel across Europe in the past month has been a reminder of just how dependent we are on a stable and predictable environment. We want our transport to be reliable and nothing less than a volcanic eruption can stand in our way. But even so the idea of being delayed in our travels round the globe because of a volcano seems faintly ridiculous. Volcanos are so prehistoric and passenger jets are so, well, shiny and modern. But what if transport, industry, and commerce could be disrupted by something as mundane as the wind blowing in the wrong direction?

In March 1822 William Scoresby and his crew of fifty men were preparing to sail from Liverpool to the whale fishery off Greenland in the ship, Baffin. Unfortunately the voyage was delayed for about a week because a westerly wind prevented them from leaving the dock. This would no doubt have caused problems for Captain Scoresby, since not only would the men have to be retained on the ship (as it happens two of the crew deserted during the delay) but the loss of a week from the short Arctic hunting season was expensive. Scoresby finally managed to begin his voyage north on March 27th when the wind shifted a little southward, but his ship was almost alone when it left the Mersey. Here’s how he describes it:

[We] were prevented from sailing by strong westerly winds, which prevailed for several days … At this time, nearly 500 ships were lying in the different docks wind-bound; but scarcely any of them attempted to put to sea on this occasion as the wind was not suitable for the South Channel, the outlet most suitable for the voyages to which the principal part of the fleet was destined.

Scoresby’s troubles should be seen in a wider context: around forty percent of world trade was conducted through Liverpool in the early nineteenth century.  Delays had a significant effect not only on individual ships but on the economy of Britain as a whole. Far more significant, no doubt, than the restrictions on European flights are today. It is also worth noting that the prevailing wind in Liverpool is from the West.

Scoresby’s Map of Greenland, 1822

In 1822 William Scoresby Jr., commander of the ship Baffin of Liverpool, spent the summer months in the Arctic, catching whales and mapping the coast of Greenland. It is sometimes difficult, looking back from the twenty-first century, to remember where to leave gaps when making sense of history, to remember what wasn’t known. This map, which you can click to see in more detail, is a good example. Scoresby’s voyage of 1822 came in the wake of two significant voyages of discovery funded by the Admiralty under John Barrow. As a mere whaler Scoresby had been passed over in the search for the North West Passage in favour of Captain John Ross, whose failed expedition of 1818 met with widespread public ridicule, and William Parry, who was more successful in his expedition of 1820.

Scoresby was not a man to harbour grudges, but he must have felt wounded by the rejection, given that he was widely acknowledged at the time to be the foremost expert on the Arctic region. His voyage in 1822, commanding the ship he had designed and had built for the purpose in Liverpool three seasons earlier, was primarily to catch whales. Without government assistance, Scoresby had to make his voyage pay. And pay it did: despite sailing outside the usual fishing grounds around Spitzbergen, and despite narrowly avoiding shipwreck, Scoresby brought back a full ship.

More importantly, Scoresby’s map of the Eastern coast of Greenland, as well as his examinations of the ‘mineralogy’ and botany of the region, were a significant advance on what had existed before. In the section of the map shown here the gaps are obvous. Huge areas of the land back from the coast are uncharted; the assumption was that rather than being a single large landmass, Greenland was in fact a series of small islands joined together by ice. At the end of his 1822 journal, published in 1823 as A Voyage to the Northern Whale Fishery in 1822, Scoresby quotes a letter from Sir Charles Giseiké on ‘the Structure of Greenland’:

It is past doubt, that the whole coast of Greenland formerly consisted of Large islands, which are now, as it were, glued together by immense masses of ice.

Such inlets, or rather firths (fiords), which once formed sounds or passages, terminate always, according to my observations, with glaciers filling up the valleys at each end. Such is (to confine myself to the more northern latitudes), the ice-firth, or ice-bay, of Disco Bay, in 68° 40′. Such, also, is Cornelius Bay (North-east Bay, or Omenak’s Fiord), 71½°, the north-eastern arm of which is blocked up at both ends with ice running through a valley, and bending rather towards the ENE.

Scoresby named many of the headlands and islands he discovered after his friends and acquaintances back in Liverpool. If you look closely at the map you will see ‘Scoresbys Sound’ (named after his father) and ‘Jameson Land’ after his mentor Professor Jameson of Edinburgh University, but this section of coastline he names the ‘Liverpool Coast’: names such as Holloway Bay (after a Liverpool minister) and Rathbone Island (after the famous Liverpool shipping family who were close friends) betray Scoresby’s affection for the city. Many of these names did not make it onto the official Admiralty maps or were replaced by later navigators.

Freeing Up the Pub Trade: A View From 1872

In the mid-nineteenth century the brewing industry was in flux. Technology was changing the way beer could be produced and the larger or ‘common’ brewers were steadily growing, squeezing out smaller operators and buying up their properties. Public drunkenness was a real problem and the number of pubs and beerhouses, many of which were unpleasant places, was widely seen as contributing to the problem. To make matters worse, the way that licenses were handed out by magistrates favoured publicans tied to the bigger, wealthier brewers who were able consequently to control the market in whole areas of some cities.

In Liverpool in 1862 the magistrates tried an experiment. At the time Liverpool was widely seen as one of the worst cities in the country in terms of the amount of public drunkenness and the number of offences committed; it also had an unusually high number of beerhouses and pubs, many of them in a poor state. There was a desperate need to solve Liverpool’s problems with drunkenness and at the same time lessen the influence of brewers on the political and social life of the city. What these far-sighted magistrates did was free up licensing altogether, making it possible for anyone who could show they had suitable premises and were of ‘good character’ to set up a business selling beer.

Critics, including the common brewers and many tenant publicans who saw their local monopolies threatened, attacked the plan, arguing that more liberal licensing would lead to more public disorder and crime. The policy lasted only four years and was widely believed to have failed miserably; in 1872 the Spectator commented on the subject saying that “free licensing has been tried by the Liverpool magistrates and has produced results so ghastly that they have recoiled from the experiment.” As always the truth is more complicated. By 1866 the magistrates’ bench was once again dominated by individuals influenced by the larger brewers who had a vested interest in tighter controls–on their own terms–over licensing. This is not very far from the way large brewers in recent years have defended the ‘beer tie’.

In a letter to the Times dated May 21, 1872, a ‘Liverpool Man’ believed to be S.G. Rathbone, an opponent of the ‘free trade in licenses’ when he sat as a magistrate, suggests the experiment was much more successful than generally thought. Indeed Rathbone seems to have changed his mind about restriction:

… I know of no evidence which shows any ghastly results followed the introduction of free licensing; certainly the police statistics do not point to such a conclusion. The free licensing system was adopted at the licensing session held in the autumn of 1862 and abandoned in the autumn of 1866. The number of apprehensions for drunkenness during the official police year which closed in autumn, 1862, was 12, 362, and for the year 1866, 12,494; so that at the end of the free licensing period the apprehensions had not increased in proportion to the increase of population. The restrictive system of issuing licenses having been returned to at the licensing session of 1866, and Sir Selwyn-Ibbetson’s Beerhouse Act of 1869 having brought the issue of beerhouse licenses under magisterial control, there has been a steady decrease in the number of drinking houses; and the number of publichouses and beerhouses, which in 1865 amounted to 2,805, is now only 2,313. The steady decrease in the number of drinking houses has been accompanied by an equally steady increase in the number of apprehensions for drunkenness, which, for the last year of free licensing, 1866, was 12,494; while for the police year ending in autumn, 1871, after five years of restrictive policy, it was 22,947. These figures are, of course, in themselves not conclusive, many causes combining to influence the apprehensions of drunkenness; but, at all events, they show that the police statistics of this town, so much relied upon by the advocates of restriction, afford no evidence that free licensing injured the morals of the inhabitants.

The ‘Liverpool Man’ goes on to show that the number of licensees unable to pay their rates rose substantially during the unrestrictive period, indicating that the profit from selling beer had fallen substantially. Much of this was put down to licensees keeping open houses in ‘bad situations’ hoping for the return of the restriction; these licensees were no doubt assisted by the larger brewers who owned the houses in question. Our ‘Liverpool Man’ concludes wisely and I’ll leave him the last word:

No human ingenuity can devise a law which shall at the same time place liquor within the reach of the sober and keep it out of the reach of the drunken: yet this is really the impossible aim of all systems of partial restriction. The restrictive system, at least in our large towns, entails all the evils of monopoly without any corresponding advantages …

The real solution to the liquor question is, then, to throw the trade open on equal terms to all willing to enter it and to pay a good high Excise license duty [there was no excise duty on beer until 1880], and thus destroy the monopoly out of which many of the moral and all the political evils of the trade now arise.