About LiverpoolLiverpool is the most remarkable, most surprising and most interesting city in Britain apart from the capital. Indeed, capital cities apart, few if any cities in Europe match Liverpool in architecture and art and none in terms of the achievements of the last two centuries. In the nineteenth century, Britain's Empire contained a quarter of the world's population. Liverpool was the second city of that empire.
Its astonishing buildings are testimony to that position. The Anglican cathedral has been for a century the largest Anglican cathedral in the world. Indeed, only four or five Roman Catholic cathedrals in the world are larger than it. (The Anglican cathedral's organ is the biggest in Britain). The Metropolitan Cathedral is the largest Christian building built in the second half of the twentieth century in Britain and arguably one of the most striking. St George's Hall, described as the finest neo-classical building in Europe, and the range of porticoed buildings comprising the World Museum Liverpool, the Central Library and the Walker Art Gallery constitute one of the finest vistas of classical architecture to be found anywhere in Britain.
The Pier Head with its three contrasting "graces" including the Liver Building (topped by the largest clock faces in Britain), is the most spectacular riverside panorama in the country and is of world-wide renown. The eighteenth century Town Hall is one of the few in Britain that was built to house Council meetings and for ceremonial purposes and not for use as offices.
The original seven streets of the medieval city are lined with as fine a collection of Victorian commercial architecture as can be found anywhere. The houses of the "merchant princes" who made Liverpool a centre of shipping, the export of the manufactures of Manchester, Stoke and Birmingham, the import of cotton and the conduct of insurance and banking are reflected not only in their offices but in some of their homes which grace areas such as the Grogian quarter behind the Anglican cathedral and Sefton Park, designed by XXXX, who laid out the Tuileries Gardens in Paris.
As well building offices and homes for themselves and great cultural and religious buildings for the general good, some of the city's rich men merchants funded the collections inside the city's museums and galleries. The Walker has the most representative collection of high quality paintings in Britain outside London (to which the pre-Raphaelite works in the Lady Lever Gallery across the Mersey in Port Sunlight are a splendid complement). Collections of Roman artefacts (the biggest in the provinces), nineteenth century statuary, porcelain made in Liverpool when it was a major centre of this trade and XXXX are also outstanding.
Classical music in the city saw Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir Adrian Boult and Sir Malcolm Sargent at the Philharmonic, still home to one of Britain's finest orchestras, increasingly known on the international stage.
The city has splendid municipal records which go back to the granting of a charter to it by King John in 1207 and lead through its slow growth as a fishing port containing a royal castle (and a fortified building owned by Lord Derby), and through the siege of it during the civil war to its meteoric expansion as a port from the construction of the world's first enclosed dock in 1715 and the opening of the world's first passenger railway (to Manchester) in 1830.
Liverpool's wealth was amazing, even outstripping, on a per head basis, that of London at certain times. But not everyone shared in this and for many, not least the 300,000 Irish who came here during the potato famine, living conditions were dreadful. Yet Liverpool people were pioneers of social reform. Dr Duncan was the country's first Medical Officer of Health. Kitty Wilkinson pioneered public wash houses for the poor, Guide Dogs for the Blind were first organised in Wallasey, just across the Mersey. Agnes Jones pioneered district nursing??
Far worse, of course, than the plight of Liverpool's own poor was the lot of the slaves taken in Liverpool's ships from Africa to the Caribbean and the United States. Prior to Britain's abolition of the slave trade in 1807, three quarters of the slaves on these dreadful journeys were carried in Liverpool ships, bringing great wealth to the slave ship owners and dreadful suffering to the Africans so transported. One of the slave ship captains was John Newton who wrote "Amazing grace" having left slavery and become a vicar in the Midlands. The slave trade changed the ethnic geography of the world, transplanting thousands from one continent to another.
What brought about the energy that created all these deeds, good and bad? Probably it was the mixture of people that made up the city's population. At the turn of the century there were 80,000 Welsh speakers in the city, as well as number of Scots, Scandinavians, Jews, Germans and of course Irish. Some people still view Liverpool as the second city of Wales. Others recall that it had some years ago more Somalis than any other city except Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. Before the terrible blitzkrieg of 1941, the city's Chinese quarter held 22,000 Chinese, many of whose descendants are still in the city but more spread out in the suburbs.
This cocktail of people gave rise to the city's wealth and to its poverty and suffering. It sustains its humour and accounts for the astonishing number of showbiz greats who come from it not only the Beatles, but Gerry and the Pacemakers (whose "You'll never walk alone" is sung at every Liverpool football match), but Frankie Vaughan, Tommy Handley, Arthur Askey, Cilla Black, Jimmy Tarbuck, Derek Guyler, Derek Nimmo, Rex Harrison xxxxx were show business tops and in some cases remain so.
Liverpool is anything but provincial. It compares itself with best in the world. Sometimes it achieves this level, sometimes it doesn't. But when it doesn't, it is not satisfied with second or third best. While Everton football club has a fine record in what is now the Premiership, Liverpool football club's record in national an European football is truly magnificent. It has won more silverware than any other European club. When in 2005 the club became Champions of Europe - the stuff of dreams of football lovers across the continent, Liverpool was naturally over the moon but one could still hear complaints that the club had "only" won one trophy that year and hoped that next year would bring at least two cups!
Such is this fascinating, wealthy-in-parts, poor-in-parts, architecturally and artistically splendid city where every local will give you an exaggerated run-down of the city's glories and quite likely a free comedy show as a bonus.