Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Historic Streets of Liverpool by David Paul

William Brown Street

General view of William Brown Street. (Historic Streets of Liverpool, Amberley Publishing)

The street that is now known as William Brown Street was originally called Shaw’s Brow and was very different in character and aspect from the present one. Predominantly heathland, the area boasted a number of windmills – perhaps because of its high elevation.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century new industries were coming to Liverpool, together with a corresponding increase in the town’s population. Shipbuilding and its concomitant industries were developing along the Mersey’s shores, and other industries and trades were also finding a place in the flourishing town. A number of sugar refineries were located in Liverpool and the town was gaining a reputation for the beauty and accuracy of the timepieces that were now being manufactured. The area around Shaw’s Brow, Islington and Dale Street was also developing a reputation as being the home of fine pottery manufacture.

James Shaw and his brothers were residents of Newton-in-the-Willows before coming to Liverpool. They came to the town as contractors for the building of St George’s Church. In addition, they also made bricks from the excavations of the Old Dock and built in and around King Street. But the Shaw’s are principally noted for another industry that they introduced to the town in the early eighteenth century: the manufacture of earthenware.

Looking down William Brown Street. (Historic Streets of Liverpool, Amberley Publishing)

Their pot works was first established on the brow of the hill by Samuel Shaw. The pottery ovens were built on both sides of the road but most of the activity took place on the north side. Much of the production was subsequently moved to Dale Street, where Samuel’s son, Thomas, owned a large mansion on the corner of Fontenoy Street. Other pot works soon became established on the Brow, and the industry grew to such an extent that the Brow had several different pot works and numerous workmen’s cottages. Many of the proprietors of the works also chose to live on the Brow.

A famous potter who lived in Dale Street was Mr Chaffers. His pottery was on the north side of the Brow and he had moulding houses in Islington. His colourful and elegant pottery was manufactured from clay that was shipped directly from a mine in Cornwall. The Penningtons were another leading family in the area. Mr Pennington owned a pottery works on the Brow itself, while his eldest son, James, had a factory not far away at Copperas Hill. His second son, John, had his business near to Saint Anne Street, while Seth (Mr Pennington’s youngest son) had his works on the Brow like his father. The businesses owned by the family became famous for manufacturing punch bowls and ornamental ware. There were other leading potters in the vicinity, including Mr Phillip Christian, whose works were located on the Brow, and Mr Zachariah Barnes, who had a pottery in the Old Hay Market. Indeed, when the census of 1790 took place it was recorded that there were seventy-four potters’ houses inhabited by 374 people, all of whom were associated with the manufacture of pottery in some manner. Workers at the potteries were not known for their high wages and many who lived at the bottom of the Brow in the area known as St John’s Tillage, were not averse to exhuming recently interred bodies in the hope that they could be sold to medical students working at the nearby infirmary, thus supplementing their meagre wages.

Former College of Technology. (Historic Streets of Liverpool, Amberley Publishing)

Shaw’s Brow acquired its name as it was on the main coaching route out of Liverpool. This was an easterly direction via Dale Street and Townsend, but it was very steep, causing problems for coaches leaving the town. The route passed near to Mr Alderman Shaw’s pottery on the Brow. Because of the abundance of the passing coach trade, the Brow was littered with a good many almshouses and the like.

In 1821, when Manchester Street was opened from Dale Street to St John’s Lane, a different route out of town was established, even though the crest of the Brow had been lowered on several occasions. Shaw’s Brow was widened in 1852.

Towards the end of the century, the potteries in Liverpool were facing increasing competition from potteries in the Midlands and, with the demise of Shaw’s pot works and many of the other potteries, different industries soon sprung up in their wake. There was a coach factory, wheelwrights, grinding mills, a soap works and a number of builders’ yards.

William Brown Street from Old Haymarket. (Historic Streets of Liverpool, Amberley Publishing)

Before moving to the more recent history of William Brown Street, it’s worth recounting a curious incident took place in the area early in 1830. A widow living with her daughter and son in Islington – a little further up from the Brow – required the services of a maidservant. As a result of the recommendation of a woman who owned a shop nearby in London Road, a young woman was interviewed and given the job. Although her appearance and dress left much to be desired, she was conscientious and diligent in her duties. In fact, on a number of occasions she displayed skills and expertise that would normally not be associated with someone from her class. She was a talented pianist and artist, and had extensive knowledge of medicine and the treatment of the sick. She also proved to be fluent in a number of foreign languages – not a common accomplishment for a person from the lower classes. Hannah Brade – her given name – also displayed exemplary fortitude during her period of employment. One day, when she was alone in the house, burglars entered and attempted to steal some valuables. Hannah soon saw them off! But, curiously, whenever guests arrived at the house, Hannah was always reticent to meet them for some reason.

Two years after joining the household, Hannah left her employment for no apparent reason, much to the dismay of the widow and her children. All contact and knowledge of her whereabouts was lost until a few months later, when a package was delivered to the home of her former employer. The parcel contained a number of lavish and expensive presents for members of the household, thanking them for the kindness that they had shown her during her period of employment. There was no forwarding address and there was no further contact with Hannah, so the mystery as to just who Hannah Brade was still remains.

 

County Sessions House

William Brown Street, often referred to as the cultural quarter of the city, has so much to offer that it’s worth taking some time to stroll down the street and maybe call into one or two of the many listed buildings in the area. Looking across from Wellington’s Column – a good place to start walking along this short but historic street – we can see the County Sessions House, which stands just to the east of the Walker Art Gallery. Up until 1877 magistrates in Liverpool tried non-capital offences at the court in Basnett Street and at Kirkdale Sessions House, but changes in the legal system at this time meant that the courts had to find another venue. The new County Session House was designed in the late Victorian style by Liverpool architects Francis and George Holme, who had also designed the omeopathic Hospital in Hope Street. Building work was started in 1882 and the first sitting in Islington took place on 4 August 1884.

The courthouse was one of the first in the country to be air-conditioned, but because of other economic considerations, the court had been designed with the main emphasis on visual appearance from the front. The rear of the building – similar to others along William Brown Street – is far more utilitarian in aspect, being built of brick.

Following the Courts Act of 1971, which curtailed all quarter sessions, the building was effectively redundant. It is now managed by the National Museums of Liverpool and houses a number of departments, including the Fine Art Curatorial and Learning Departments.

 

Walker Art Gallery

Walker Art Gallery. (Historic Streets of Liverpool, Amberley Publishing)

A little further down, on the same side as the County Courthouse, we come to the Walker Art Gallery. The gallery itself was not established on its current site until 1877, but before that, following the Public Libraries Act of 1852, a library and museum opened in 1860. The new public library was the venue for the first Liverpool Autumn Exhibition, held in 1871. The success of this exhibition enabled the town’s Library, Museum and Arts Committee to purchase in excess of 150 works of art over the next fifty years, perhaps one of the most famous being And When Did You Last See Your Father? by William Frederick Yeames. In addition to enabling a public library and museum to be built, the Act of 1852 also made provision for an art gallery to be established in the town. In order to commemorate his term as mayor, local brewer Andrew Barclay Walker donated £20,000 towards thebuilding of an art gallery in the town. The following year – 1874 – Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, laid the foundation stone. The gallery, named in honour of its founding benefactor, was designed by local architects Cornelius Sherlock and H. H. Vale, and opened on 6 September 1877 by Edward Henry Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby.

In 1893, the gallery was given long-term loan of the Liverpool Royal Institution’s collection, and in 1948 the Institution gave the gallery the thirty-seven paintings from the William Roscoe collection it had acquired in 1819.

The Walker Art Gallery was the first public art gallery in the country and has been extended on two occasions – first in 1884, then again in 1933. The gallery’s collection includes works by Degas, Rembrandt and Poussin, along with a major collection of Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Works by twentieth-century artists such as David Hockney, Lucian Freud and Gilbert and George can also be seen in the gallery. Cardinal Sin, a statue by Banksy, was added to the gallery’s collection in 2011. The Walker Art Gallery is part of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside.

 

Steble Fountain

Steble Fountain in earlier times. (Historic Streets of Liverpool, Amberley Publishing)

Walking down the street we come to Steble Fountain. It was in 1877 that a former mayor of the town, Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Fell Steble, offered £1,000 to the Improvement Committee of the town council so that a fountain could be erected on a plot of land at the top of William Brown Street – just to the west of Wellington’s Column, between St George’s Hall and the buildings on the far side of the street.

Michel Joseph Napoléon Liénard designed the fountain, which was unveiled in 1879 by the town’s mayor. However, because the water pressure was very low, the resulting ‘fountain’ was little more than a trickle! The steam pump, which was located in the basement of Saint George’s Hall, was replaced by a more efficient electric pump.

 

 

Steble Fountain. (Historic Streets of Liverpool, Amberley Publishing)

Steble Fountain stands 23 feet high and is constructed from cast iron, with the circular base being 30 feet in diameter. An octagonal stem rises from the centre of the basin and a marine god stands at each corner of the cruciform base, representing Acis, Galatea, Neptune and Amphitrite. Above this there is a shallow octagonal bowl 8 feet in diameter, and at the top of the fountain there is a mermaid holding a cornucopia. Steble Fountain is a designated Grade II-listed building and was refurbished in 1992.

 

 

 

 

Liverpool Central Library

Picton Reading Room. (Historic Streets of Liverpool, Amberley Publishing)

On the far side of the road we come to what is often called the Picton Library, but is more correctly known as the Liverpool Central Library.

When St George’s Hall was completed in 1854 it became necessary to demolish all of the properties along the Brow, which required an Act of Parliament. The alignment was also changed: the modified street now skirted the perimeter of St John’s Churchyard. In its turn, this development freed a further area of land.

Prior to this, Mr J. A. Picton (later Sir James) brought a scheme before the town council that would establish a free public library in the town. His scheme was adopted. The first library was opened on 18 October 1852 and located in Dale Street; however, the library proved to be such a success that new and larger premises were soon being sought. William Brown (a local MP) donated land in order to build a public library and museum. Born at Ballymena, Brown was the eldest son of a Belfast linen merchant. After spending some time learning the trade at his father’s business in America, Brown returned home in 1808. He then sailed to Liverpool, realising that the expanding port was the entry point for American exports. Then, after a number of years, he transferred his expertise in trading to merchant banking. Brown also became involved in politics and was elected to Parliament in 1846. He was re-elected on a further three occasions. When Brown had been made aware of the dire need for a public library in the town he financed the entire building costs, which amounted to £40,000.

Looking towards St George's Hall. (Historic Streets of Liverpool, Amberley Publishing)

Thomas Allom and the council’s architect and surveyor Mr John Weightman designed the building, with William Brown himself laying the foundation stone on 15 April 1856. Brown’s generosity not only provided funds for the new library, but also enabled a museum to be built on Shaw’s Brow. The library, known as the William Brown Library and Museum, was opened on 18 October 1860. Somewhat modestly, Brown described it as a ‘gift to the nhabitants of Liverpool’. Shortly after the opening of the library, the council voted to change the name of Shaw’s Brow to William Brown Street.

Over the years, in order to accommodate the increasing collections, a number of extensions have been made to the library, the first being the opening of the Picton Reading Room in 1879, followed by the Hornby Library.

Central Library. (Historic Streets of Liverpool, Amberley Publishing)

The foundation stone for the new circular reading room was laid in 1875 by the chairman of the William Brown Library and Museum, Sir James Allanson Picton, and it was later named the Picton Reading Room in his honour. The reading room was designed by Cornelius Sherlock and was the first electrical-lit library in the country. The Picton Reading Room was modelled after the British Museum Reading Room.

Standing directly behind the Picton Reading Room is the Hornby Reading Room, named in honour of Hugh Frederick Hornby, who bequeathed money for its construction to house his collection. The architect Thomas Shelmerdine designed the building and it opened in 1906. The Picton and Hornby Reading Rooms are two Grade II-listed buildings.

More recently it was recognised that, with changing technology, a radical new approach was needed in Liverpool’s libraries. Following lengthy consultations and negotiations, it was decided to close the main library while extensive refurbishments were carried out to modernise it. The library closed its doors to the public on 23 July 2010 and reopened on Friday 17 May 2013.

 

World Museum, Liverpool

World Museum, Liverpool. (Historic Streets of Liverpool, Amberley Publishing)

Directly below the library complex is Liverpool’s World Museum, but the first museum in the town was known as the Derby Museum. Towards the end of the nineteenth century there was no longer enough space for all of the artefacts housed in the William Brown Library and Museum, so a competition was held to design a suitable extension. The College of Technology and Museum extension opened in 1901. The number of exhibits continued to increase during the latter half of the twentieth century and early in the twenty-first century, the museum acquired more exhibition space in the former College of Technology. Because of the increasing diversity of the exhibits, the museum took the name of World Museum, Liverpool.

The museum’s planetarium opened in 1970, which covers space exploration and the solar system. The museum’s Egyptology collection (which includes objects from Egypt and Sudan) ranges from the Prehistoric to the Islamic period.

A number of new galleries have recently been opened in the museum, including World Cultures, the Bug House and the Weston Discovery Centre.

 

St John’s Gardens

Laying track in William Brown Street, 1905. (Historic Streets of Liverpool, Amberley Publishing)

On the opposite side to the World Museum is St John’s Gardens. In earlier times, because of the upwards slope of the land towards the east, the area of heath land known as the Great Heath was redolent with a large number of windmills and was an area much favoured for the public drying of washing. The area was first built upon when a general infirmary was opened in 1749. Later, the Seamen’s Hospital was built in 1752, followed by a dispensary in 1778 and an asylum in 1789 – all in close proximity to one another. The area also attracted industrial enterprises such as limekilns, potteries, a rope works and a marble yard.

In 1767, the town’s cemetery was located on the side of Shaw’s Brow. The Church of St John the Baptist was built in the centre of the graveyard and dedicated in 1784. Documents in the Liverpool Records Office show that burials ceased on 11 June 1865 after 2,491 people (including many French prisoners captured during the Napoleonic Wars) had been interred in the burial ground. Because of the building of St George’s Hall, all of the other buildings in the area had to be demolished and the work of local industries relocated. Because of its close proximity to the hall, the church was demolished in 1898.

In 1888, a facility had been granted for the creation of a public garden in the area formerly occupied by the graveyard. The bodies were removed and interred elsewhere. Saint John’s Gardens were designed by the city’s surveyor, Thomas Shelmerdine, and opened in 1904 with the rather grand appellation of ‘St John’s Ornamental and Memorial Gardens’. There are seven memorial statues in the gardens, commemorating some of Liverpool’s most notable citizens, including William Rathbone and William Ewart Gladstone.

 

Queensway Tunnel

Opening of Queensway Tunnel, 1934. (Historic Streets of Liverpool, Amberley Publishing)

As our walk along William Brown Street draws to a close, we can look over towards the entrance to the original Birkenhead Tunnel, more correctly known as the Queensway Tunnel. The entrance to the tunnel is at Old Haymarket. A road tunnel going under the river had been proposed as early as 1825, but safety concerns were raised so the proposals were rejected. As motorised road traffic increased at the beginning of the twentieth century, long queues at the Mersey ferry terminal became an everyday occurrence. The Mersey Tunnel Act of 1925 enabled construction of the tunnel to proceed.

Sir Basil Mott was the tunnel’s designer and during construction he worked in close partnership with John Brodie, the city engineer.

Much of the 1.2 million tons of clay that was excavated during construction was used as backfill for Otterspool Promenade – some way down the Mersey at Aigburth.

Queensway Tunnel entrance. (Historic Streets of Liverpool, Amberley Publishing)

The tunnel took nine years to complete and was opened on 18 July 1934 by George V, watched by a crowd estimated at 200,000 people. When the tunnel was opened it was the longest road tunnel in the world, which had been built at a cost of £8 million. But, as early as 1960, the volume of traffic flowing through the tunnel had reached such a level that it was obvious another tunnel was needed in order to relieve congestion. The Kingsway Tunnel was opened in 1971.

 

 

 

Hillsborough Monument Memorial

Hillsborough Disaster Memorial. (Historic Streets of Liverpool, Amberley Publishing)

The Hillsborough Monument Memorial is the final stop on our walk today; it stands at the bottom of William Brown Street in Old Haymarket. It commemorates the lives of the ninety-six Liverpool football supporters who lost their lives on 15 April 1989 while attending a football match between Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest. The work – by sculptor Tom Murphy – was commissioned by the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. The circular monument has a particular design concept, which is meant to guides one’s thoughts back to recall all that happened on that tragic day and the struggles that have been endured and overcome by the Hillsborough families since that time. The design depicts a number of figures representing Justice, Hope and Loss. The ninety-six people who lost their lives are represented as free-flying birds, all of whom are listed on the memorial.

David Paul's new book Historic Streets of Liverpool is available for purchase now.