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21 June 2009

NEWSLETTER no 60  :  21 June 2009

Statement from Graham Boxer on behalf of Culture Liverpool

-   Recently the Liverpool Heritage Forum Newsletter has been critical of Liverpool City Council in terms of how it manages our heritage.  Whilst I would be the first to accept criticism where it is due, many of the comments are misleading.  I am grateful therefore to the Liverpool Heritage Forum for the opportunity to reply.

-   Over the last nine years the City Council has invested substantially to improve our heritage.  With English Heritage we have worked closely to provide a ‘Buildings at Risk’ Officer, a World Heritage Site Officer, a Community Heritage manager and co-partnered the Historic Environment of Liverpool Project (HELP).  With Heritage Lottery (HLF) support, the City Council secured the restoration of St George's Hall as a flagship cultural venue and we are now working on a phased program to restore our historically most important parks.  For the lead up to 2008 a Heritage Development Team was formed in the Culture Company to help develop heritage projects and to lead on the 800th anniversary year celebrations in 2007, and in 2008, with the HLF we developed ‘Portrait of a Nation’, engaging young people  from cities across the UK in exploring their heritage for a major performance in Liverpool.

-   The above does not mean that there is not scope to improve, but the City Council does listen.  This was demonstrated in the development of Liverpool’s Cultural Strategy, where from consultation (including with the Heritage Forum) the lack of emphasis on heritage in the first draft was acknowledged and addressed.  As a result the Strategy has a section on “Image, identity & Sense of Place”, and a number of recommendations (see ) which the Cultural Task Group, chaired by Cllr Gary Millar, is now developing strategies to take forward.
-   Although the City Council has a leadership role, it cannot solve all the problems alone and there needs to be a partnership approach with stakeholders such as the Heritage Forum – to be successful.  We welcome the Forum as a ‘critical friend’ pointing out where we could improve, but it would be good too, if the forum could acknowledge the tremendous improvements that have been made over the last decade.  The City Council looks forward to working successfully and productively with you and the Heritage Forum in the future.

The Forum’s response
We welcome the above statement, are pleased about progress made and will be happy continuing to work with the City Council. We are preparing to give the Forum a formal status. A draft constitution has been prepared. It is proposed that societies and individuals will be able to join the Forum for a modest subscription, enabling them to share in how the Forum is run. There will be a meeting of the Forum’s steering group on Wednesday 8 July at 11 a.m. This will firm up proposals to be put to a General Meeting, probably in October. Anyone interested in attending the steering group meeting in addition to its existing members is invited to let us know by email.  There will also be an open meeting later in the year at which societies wishing to describe their activities to the audience will be able to do so. Interested societies are invited to let us know.

Culture, heritage and regeneration
□□□  At its last meeting, the Regeneration Select Committee of Liverpool City Council had a short discussion of how to best project Liverpool’s interests in the competition with other cities such as Manchester for government funds and jobs. Whatever arguments there may be for leaving many matters in the hands of Merseyside’s individual boroughs, it is surely not deniable that certain activities must be treated on a wider geographical basis than just Liverpool (or Wirral or Sefton….). Culture is one such activity.

□□□  Culture bosses from Northern Ireland were in Liverpool recently to learn lessons about the success of 2008. The Cultural Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly spent two days in the city looking at how it used culture to drive regeneration. Their remit was to look at examples of best practice from elsewhere and the rationale that other places have used to increase their spending on the arts.
□□□ While Wirral Council is trying to close several of its libraries, the London Borough of Southwark’s new library has been chosen for this year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. It resembles an inverted pyramid overhanging the Canada Water Basin and is covered in bronze-coated aluminium sheets. This is part of the regeneration of Canada Water town centre and said to be a further sign of a national renaissance in the construction of grand civic libraries. Are libraries in Merseyside able to share in this largesse of public funds?

□□□ There will be many down south who are amazed at Liverpool’s emergence as a place of youthful high fashion. There was Liverpool Fashion week in March. Fashions at the Grand National have begun to rival those at Ascot, possibly with more emphasis on youthfulness.  Then in May came the fashion show in the Anglican Cathedral by the House of Suga, Liverpool’s newest label.  This is the creation of Hannah, Maryan and Naimo Gamadid and their cousin Fatima Ali, all of Toxteth and Wavertree. Having studied, worked and lived in Liverpool all their lives, the four wanted to use the city as their inspiration. This may not be heritage in the sense of most pieces in this Newsletter but it is such a surprising and welcome addition to the city’s overall cultural image that it deserves mention. The use of the Cathedral for a fashion show may raise a few eyebrows but why not? In medieval times, the chancels of cathedrals were usually regarded as the main part of the buildings, in which priests and monks focused their worship on the high altar. Naves were often built later (as in Liverpool centuries later), and for processions and therefore, by extension, for use by ordinary lay people. Whether by conscious decision or not, the builders of Liverpool Cathedral, in not installing heavy fixed pews, made possible wider uses of the nave such as for fashion shows, thereby attracting into the Cathedral sections of the community who seldom have any other reason to visit it.

□□□ It’s always nice to be one up on that place at the other end of the East Lancs Road, fine city though it undoubtedly is. A leaflet published by England’s North West (the official tourist authority) lists nine art galleries (for viewing and purchasing art) in Manchester but twenty three in Liverpool. What was it they used to say about Manchester Men but Liverpool Gentlemen? Info:  The leaflet points out “Art” weeks in cities abroad, several with the website address “artcologne” or “artchicago” and so on. The Cologne one refers to 180 galleries for the presentation of new art “on parade” in April next year. The Chicago event boasts of partnerships with 85 organisations in the city. Art Brussels claims to receive 30,000 art lovers and buyers at each event. Seventy Five art galleries from ten countries present their work at Art Rotterdam, which attracts 12,500 art lovers.  For art to flourish it has always been necessary to have funding, in the past usually from the Church, the King or, later, from rich businessmen. Art tourists now fulfill part of this need.

□□□ The Essex town of Southend is using culture as a stimulus to economic regeneration. Peter Thornton, a director of the Arts Council, was reported in The Times on 6 June as saying:” Art and culture is good for the feelgood  factor - people want to live somewhere with a good quality of life and the creative industries are a really strong hook. They are a focal point for innovation and entrepreneurship”. Jude Kelly, chair of the arts, education and culture committee for the 2012 Olympic Games and Director of the Southbank centre in London, is the founder of Metal, an international arts organisation that will operate in a Grade II listed building to be renovated. This follows its work in Clarence Terrace in Kensington (part of a regeneration project) to bring together and train artists in many aspects of the arts “exploring, extending and re-examining working practices”.  Work for 2009 includes occupation of buildings at Edge Hill station for an extension of Metal’s activities. 

Ideas please
□□□  Ideas are being sought on the best way to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of William Ewart Gladstone, Liverpool’s most famous son. He was born at 62 Rodney Street on 29 December 1809. An event in the newly restored Gladstone conservatory in Stanley Park is one idea. Other suggestions to

It is interesting to think of how many really old buildings survive in Liverpool. We will compile a list in this Newsletter and invite your suggestions. To define “old” we thought of taking 1648 as the border line (the year the old town of Liverpool was bombarded by Royalist canons located on Everton Height). Just for starters:

The Grammar School at Walton 1613.    The hunting lodge in old Lodge Lane.
St Nicholas Church.            Speke Hall.
The Blue Coat School.            The sanctuary stone in Castle Street.
The lock up at Wavertree.         The foundations of the Castle.

Please send suggestions with dates to us by email (see top of the Newsletter).

Students’ vision of Liverpool’s future
The University of Liverpool held a public presentation of the work of eight groups of Civic Design students about their visions for the Liverpool City Region up to 2020 and 2030.  Many innovative ideas were put forward and the students’ proposals received much praise for their quality. Focal ideas were that culture including heritage should be a central objective in that the quality of life of the City Region would attract bright young people to want to live here and that jobs would follow and be created by them.

There were several proposals for improved connectivity in the urban area. It should be easier to get from one part of it to another through streets which were interesting and attractive, rather than having to negotiate a way through traffic or along streets and alleys which had no retail facilities and were either boring or unpleasant. New means of crossing the Mersey were proposed including conversion of the Birkenhead tunnel to light rail or tram. (It will be recalled that when it was built, it was intended to run trams in the lower half of the tunnel under the roadway. Part of it was actually constructed with this in mind but the commercial threat to the ferries).

Grander ideas were to attract the Natural History Museum to set up a branch in the Sugar Silo on the North Docks, to establish a Guggenheim museum on the Mersey’s left ban i.e. in Birkenhead’s docklands and to build a Hi-Speed rail terminal in Liverpool’s central docks (equivalent to what was done in Barcelona, which the students had visited).  There was an insistence that more people should move about the city region by public transport, which of course means making public transport respond effectively to people’s needs.

The students worked within the supposition that, in one way or another, planning the area’s future would be on the basis of the City Region, not just borough by borough.  They saw an axis starting from Chester (“historic capital of the city region”) through Wirral and Liverpool to Southport.  They envisaged co-operation and partnership as well as competition with Manchester City Region.

There was some discussion about how to get the ideas presented by the students to the notice of Councillors and officials within the various local authorities and agencies concerned.
□□□  A puzzle: we have often been told that Liverpool was in the diocese of Lichfield prior to Chester being made a diocese in 1541.  However, St John’s Church in Chester was a cathedral from 1075  to 1102, when the seat of the bishop was transferred to Coventry and then later to Lichfield.  Liverpool was in this diocese  --  basically the kingdom of Mercia  -  until a diocese was again set up in Chester in 1541 when the monasteries were finally dissolved by Henry VIII and St Werburgh’s Abbey became Chester Cathedral.  The diocese extended at one time up to the borders of Carlisle and across to Richmond in Yorkshire. Liverpool’s own diocese was created in 1880.

□□□  Superlambananas returned to the city last week, and this time they are green. To mark Liverpool's Year of the Environment (YOE), a flock of 500 limited edition green superlambananas was created to help celebrate this special year. The first batch of 140 were sold within three hours and there are less than 100 left. This special limited edition can be bought from the 08 Place, Whitechapel, Liverpool.
□□□  Researchers at the University of Liverpool have launched a new online resource that catalogues more than 1,500 films made in and about Liverpool over the past 100 years. The database is part of the City in Film project which explores the relationship between Liverpool’s architecture and the moving image. The resource includes information on films from the late 19th century to the present day and allows film makers and researchers to search for footage taken of various Liverpool scenes and events.

Ian Tracy gave a concert at the Anglican Cathedral in aid of the organ repair fund. £900,000 is needed but fortunately not all at once. He joked that his elevated position at the console high above the choir stalls was “the flight deck”. They have many ideas for raising funds. Volunteers and givers should apply to the Cathedral.

 There will be an exhibition by the American artist Whistler at the Lady Lever Gallery from 3 July to 20 September. Whistler came to Liverpool several times and visited Speke Hall.

Following last month’s piece about Josephine Butler, we are reminded that a new short book was launched at the Anglican Cathedral last month entitled “Josephine Butler: a guide to her life, faith and social action” by Canon Dr Rod Garnet, Vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Southport, and published by Darton, Longman & Tod at  £6.99. Josephine Butler is one of the Noble Women  commemorated in a window in the Cathedral’s Lady Chapel.

We asked in the last Newsletter where in the city there is a memorial to the Liverpool people who died in the blitz in World War II. We are now told that such a memorial is located on the Strand side of St Nicholas Church. There is a time capsule beneath it with a disk of the names of all the people killed.

 Church bell ringing is a particularly English custom, rarely known in continental Europe, though it has spread to the USA. The Chester Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers was founded in 1887. Its Wirral branch rings in twenty towers with bells suitable for change ringing. Info:  Across the river, Liverpool houses the heaviest peal of eight bells ever rung. A full peal of bells requires 5,000 changes or “rows” in a chosen sequence. Great George is the second biggest bell in the country.

In 1797 the epitaph “The most significant Liverpudlian of 1797” was given to William Hutchison who was appointed as Liverpool’s Head Dock Master and Principal Water Bailiff in 1759. The only surviving picture of him is a photo in Liverpool Central Library of a portrait which has been lost. He lived close to where the observation window in the pavement outside the new John Lewis store in Liverpool One is located. The window enables people to see down into a small part of the original wet dock, completed in 1716, which heralded the amazing expansion of Liverpool into Britain’s second port and second city.

The exhibition “Art in the Age of Steam” at the Walker last summer attracted 113,476 visitors. It was jointly curated by The Walker and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, USA. Displaying the most important collection of fine and decorative art in the North of England and one of the best in Europe, the Walker received 396,356 visitors in 2008.

The Radcliffe Library at the Anglican Cathedral is one of Liverpool’s treasures which many people do not know about. It is up the stairs by the red telephone box inside the Cathedral. Sir Frederic Ratcliffe gave to the Cathedral the “Wordsworth Collection” of liturgical books and some medieval manuscripts but these have had to be housed in the University of Liverpool, safe but out of sight, for lack of space at the Cathedral. It has now been decided to move the both the books currently in the Cathedral and those in the University of Liverpool into the Sheppard-Worlock Library at Hope University.  Church history books previously in Liverpool Central Library were also sent to Hope some time ago.

□□□The building on Everton’s badge is not, as we stated, the former Everton Beacon but the Everton lock-up on Netherfield Road.  Thanks for the correction. (But our piece wasn’t bad for a Liverpool supporter!)

 We referred to St Peter’s in Rome as being a cathedral. In fact the Cathedral of Rome is the Basilica of St John Lateran. This is outside the boundaries of Vatican City (which is an independent state and not politically part of Italy) but has a special status as the seat of the Bishop of Rome, who is the Pope. (Thanks for this correction also).

Oops?  No, I don’t think so!

 I am taken to task for criticising Wirral Council for closing Birkenhead Town Hall and the museum within it, on the grounds that plans are afoot to bring it to life again in another guise. I have checked the situation with people in authority and see no reason to withdraw either my criticism of Wirral Council’s failure to safeguard its heritage or my alarm about what may happen to the building. As I am informed, offers have been invited from people who could find a new use for the building, a use presumably conforming to the “listed” status of both the building itself and its surroundings. (Hamilton Square is arguably the finest square in England outside the capital). Let us hope that an acceptable bid is forthcoming. We wish the bidders well but let us be in no doubt about the difficulties of finding a suitable use for the building which would at least cover its costs and about raising the capital to adapt the building to the new use.  There is a habit among certain people in public life to say “Keep quiet about this. Leave it to me. The matter is in hand”. Sometimes such sentiments are justified by events, sometimes not. While clearly certain plans have to be kept confidential, the “leave it to me” sentiment can be more to do with folk who view information as power in their own hands and therefore have no interest in passing it on.  “It’s too early, you will have to wait” passes into “Sorry, it’s too late” in a flash. Considering the way Wirral Council has behaved over the closure of libraries and other buildings, who can have any confidence about how it will deal with finding a new use for the Town Hall. This Newsletter will continue to believe that in general the public has a right to know what is going on and that passing on information often stimulates authorities to face up to responsibilities which they would otherwise be tempted to dodge. (Who mentioned MPs’ expenses?)

Andrew Pearce, Editor