This morning, in Liverpool’s most characterful second-hand bookshop, Reid of Liverpool, I noticed this photograph on display. Puzzled by it – Who are these people? Why the stiff poses? What’s the significance of the handwritten book titles? – I fell into conversation with Gerry Fitzpatrick, owner of the bookshop. He explained that it was part of ‘Shops’, an international project uncovering communities formed around independent, local traders, that came to Liverpool during the 2006 Biennial. Created by British artists FrenchMottershead (Rebecca French and Andrew Mottershead), the project looked at society through the lens of local shops and explored the connections between local traders and residents.
The group of people in each photograph in the series were brought together over a few days by instructing shop staff to invite everyone making a purchase, to return at a specified time and date for a group photo shoot outside their shop. The resulting photographs are permanently on display at each corresponding shop. French Mottershead preferred to work with small independent shops in each location, which, they felt, reflected the potential of a diverse, localised culture rather than the mainstream stores that tends towards homogenised identities. The two Liverpool photos, above, and the photo captured in Kuopio, Finland outside an independent record store (below), all illustrate this approach.
Reid of Liverpool is a good example of that independent ethos: first opened 28 years ago, and still thriving, despite the devastation wreaked on independent bookshops by, first, the Waterstones and Borders monoliths and then the Internet and Amazon. Why, I asked, is the shop called Reid of Liverpool, when the owners are two Fitzpatrick brothers? Well, casting around for a name when they started the business, the brothers lit on their mother’s maiden name – and liked the play on words too. She herself cut the ribbon at the shop’s opening in 1982.
Interestingly, the shop is the only surviving example of Georgian, purpose built retail premises incorporating living accommodation in Liverpool. Gerry tells me that the shop appears on a map of the area in 1785, standing alone on Mount Pleasant with only a bowling and archery court as neighbour. It’s listed in the first Gore’s Directory of 1795, when Sarah Beard is there, dealing in tea and coffee. At the time, it was more usual for retailers to sell from residential premises, knocking out their front window and selling from there. What’s special about the Reid building is that it was a purpose-built retail unit, with living quarters above the shop.
The building still retains many of its original features, and out the back are are one-time stables that were still intact with feeding stalls when the Fitzpatrick brothers took over the shop. Before it became Reid of Liverpool there had been a specialist tool shop on the premises since 1938.
From about 1750 a number of mansions were built on the south side of this street and the name Mount Pleasant was adopted. Many of the buildings shown on the 1848 Ordance Survey map (above) still survive, including the whole row of which the Reid shop (marked red) is part. The stables are marked green. The close-up from the same map (below) shows the buildings more clearly.
On the opposite side of the road to the Reid building stand buildings that now form part of the LiverpooI John Moores University. These can be seen on the map at bottom right. Several houses and their grounds had been amalgamated to form the Catholic convent of Notre Dame, which also included a school and a training college for female teachers on the site.
The north (Reid shop) side of Mount Pleasant was developed later than the south side. At the junction of Hope Street and Mount Pleasant stood a gabled tavern with a bowling green and here William Roscoe was born in 1753. From humble origins, and largely self-educated he became a scholar of Renaissance Italy, a writer on penal reform, a poet. philanthropist and Member of Parliament. He was also one of the first to denounce the slave trade. The Liverpool Medical Institution now stands close to the site of Roscoe’s birthplace.
Built in 1837, at a cost of £4,000, to house the medical library established in 1770 by doctors at the Liverpool Infirmary, the building also provided a meeting place for members of the medical profession. Opposite the Medical Institution stood the Liverpool Parish Workhouse, established in 1771 when the site was well away from the built-up central area of town. One of the largest workhouses in England with space for 4,000 inhabitants, it closed in 1930 and the site was sold by auction. There were twenty six buildings on the site at this time, including dormitories for inmates, a laundry, stables, dining hall (with seating for 1,000), a bakery, butcher’s shop, a shoemaker’s shop and two tailors’ shops, a surgical block and nurses’ home, a mortuary and a private chapel. In contrast to the inmates’ accommodation the governor’s house had five bedrooms, both a butler’s and a housemaid’s pantry and a wine store under the stairs. At the time of its closure the Workhouse mainly cared for the sick poor. The site was purchased by the Archdiocese of Liverpool, as the site for the new Roman Catholic Cathedral for the city.
The Wellington Rooms, just up the hill from Reid of Liverpool were opened in 1816, with a ballroom measuring 80 feet by 37 feet as the focal point. (See earlier post for more details on this building).
At the foot of Mount Pleasant stands the Adelphi Hotel. The present building, constructed 1911-14, is the third on the site, replacing those built in 1826 and 1876. Prior to the building of the hotel it had been the site of Ranelagh Gardens, established in the early 18th century, in imitation of the London pleasure gardens of the same name. with ‘dancing, fireworks, strawberry beds and fish ponds, and rustic constructions admirably adapted for the consumption of tea’. The ‘Adelphi Hotel guide to Liverpool’ of 1886 gives a detailed description of the hotel and its facilities at that time. There were 300 bedrooms and facilities included a telegraph office, electric light, an ice house, a billiard room with six tables and a separate banqueting suite. In the basement 150 to 250 live edible turtles from the West Indies and the Gulf of Mexico were kept in specially constructed tanks. They were killed on the premises (the hotel had its own turtle slaughterhouse) and made into turtle soup, which in Victorian times was often prescribed as suitable food for invalids.