Inside Princes Road Synagogue: prepare to be dazzled

Inside Princes Road Synagogue: prepare to be dazzled

For several years, when the Heritage Open Days come round, I’ve wanted to see inside Princes Road Synagogue. But tickets for guided tours go so fast that I’ve always been disappointed – until this year. This time I got a place, and I was dazzled by what I saw.

The synagogue is a Grade II listed building which was completed in 1874. It was designed by two architect brothers, William and George Audsley, who created an unusual confection of Oriental, Moorish and Gothic features after they had travelled around Europe to gain inspiration for the design with its richly painted and gilded interior. The brothers went on to pioneer some of the first skyscrapers in New York.

The building cost £13,000 to build, a huge sum – over £100m in today’s money – entirely funded by members of the congregation, which, as our lively guide pointed out, was far removed from the image some might have of one composed of impoverished refugees from eastern Europe. The synagogue is a testament to the wealth and social position of Liverpool’s nineteenth century Jewish magnates, a group with wealth and taste that included David Lewis, founder of Liverpool’s once-famous Lewis’s department store. Continue reading “Inside Princes Road Synagogue: prepare to be dazzled”

Toxteth’s cathedral beneath the water

Toxteth’s cathedral beneath the water

Liverpool in 1847 was a grim place to be if you were poor, perhaps a recent immigrant fleeing the famine in Ireland. Being poor meant whole families living in single rooms in ramshackle tenements or in damp cellars, with no sanitation or fresh air. Drinking water – from a well with a pump if you were lucky – was often contaminated by raw sewage from a leaking cesspit. One historian, Gerry Kearns, has described Liverpool at this time as having been ‘created in haste by commerce – by men intent on immediate gain – reared without any tender regard for flesh and blood.’

But that year Liverpool Corporation did something remarkable, appointing the first Medical Officer of Health in the country, Dr. William Henry Duncan, who for the next fifteen years oversaw a programme of works that would see clean water supplied to the poorest areas of Liverpool for the first time, the installation of sewers, and a significant reduction in the number of families living in cellars and other unhealthy dwellings.

Alongside Dr. Duncan the Corporation appointed the first Borough Engineer, James Newland, who, together with the city’s first water engineer Thomas Duncan (another Duncan, but no relation) gave practical effect to Dr. Duncan’s vision by constructing a series of city reservoirs fed by gravity from a major new reservoir at Rivington Pike, twenty miles away in the Lancashire fells.

The Heritage Open Days this month gave me the opportunity of taking a look inside one of the city reservoirs designed by Thomas Duncan to hold water from the Rivington reservoir. The Toxteth Reservoir is still there at the top of High Park Street, a Grade II listed building completed in 1850. Inside the massive external walls of sandstone you enter a massive space, floored in brick with high vaulted brick ceilings supported on cast iron columns. This Victorian cathedral of brick columns and arches was submerged under water until it was finally decommissioned in 1997. Continue reading “Toxteth’s cathedral beneath the water”

Hillsborough: exposing the criminals

<em>Hillsborough</em>: exposing the criminals

Unless I forget my law, altering a person’s statement is a criminal offence, without their knowledge or consent. And I don’t like criminals.

That’s Martin McLoughlin, one of the policemen on duty at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989, speaking in last night’s documentary film Hillsborough about discovering that his statement about that day had been unknowingly altered.

Hillsborough, finally screened last night by the BBC two years after being seen on an American ports channel, was a truly outstanding documentary produced and directed by Daniel Gordon. It could not be shown in Britain for legal reasons until after the Hillsborough inquest was completed – ruling on April 26 that all 96 victims of the 1989 stadium disaster were unlawfully killed, and that no responsibility for the disaster was in any way due to the behaviour of the Liverpool fans. Continue reading Hillsborough: exposing the criminals”

Out of the Darkness: Remembering the Liverpool May Blitz at St Luke’s

Out of the Darkness: Remembering the Liverpool May Blitz at St Luke’s

There’s a ruined church in Liverpool city centre; only the husk of the building remains, lacking roof and windows, bombed and burnt out on the night of 6 May 1941 during the Luftwaffe’s May Blitz on Merseyside. Last night I joined crowds outside St Luke’s church to see a sound and light show – Out of the Darkness – transform the bombed-out church to mark the 75th anniversary of the May Blitz. Continue reading “Out of the Darkness: Remembering the Liverpool May Blitz at St Luke’s”

Justice at last for those ‘driven by the power of love and the bonds of family’

Justice at last for those ‘driven by the power of love and the bonds of family’

An emotional day here in Liverpool. ‘Truth and Justice’ reads the banner that extends the full length of St Georges Hall. It took 27 years. David Conn, who has written extensively on the subject for the Guardian, writes today of the Hillsborough disaster: deadly mistakes and lies that lasted decades, and how at the inquest a picture emerged of a callously negligent police force led by an inexperienced commander whose actions directly led to the deaths of 96 people. Continue reading “Justice at last for those ‘driven by the power of love and the bonds of family’”

The Beatles Tune In: Mark Lewisohn’s definitive account of the Liverpool years

<em>The Beatles Tune In</em>: Mark Lewisohn’s definitive account of the Liverpool years

For days after Christmas I didn’t leave the sofa, enthralled by The Beatles Tune In, the first of three volumes in which Mark Lewisohn intends to tell the definitive story of the Beatles. It’s a grand book in every sense of the word: this volume clocks in at close on a thousand pages, ending as the group travel to London to record their first single ‘Love Me Do’; it’s also meticulously-researched and written with passion, authority and elegance. This is not your average pop hagiography, but is also an informed and insightful social history of Liverpool and the emergent youth culture of the 1950s. After this, all future accounts of the lives of the Beatles will be redundant. Continue reading The Beatles Tune In: Mark Lewisohn’s definitive account of the Liverpool years”

‘Before the road was the river’: the streams beneath our streets

‘Before the road was the river’: the streams beneath our streets

Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?

Proverbs 5:16

Well, water has to go somewhere: a lesson brought home by the recent flooding in the north of England and the Scottish borders. But where does it go when a town grows and smothers fields and streams with concrete, brick and tarmac? It’s buried, pushed out of sight. Towns like Liverpool and London have grown around rivers which have later been covered in and forgotten. But beneath the city streets, waterways continue on their ancient courses in underground culverts. Continue reading “‘Before the road was the river’: the streams beneath our streets”