The Museum of Liverpool

We went to have a look around the museum where you can explore how the port, its people and their creative and sporting history have shaped the city.

The museum opened on 19 July 2011 in a purpose-built landmark building on Liverpool’s famous waterfront. The design concept for the building was developed by Danish architect 3XN and Manchester-based architect AEW were later commissioned to deliver the detailed design. It has won many awards, including the Council of Europe Museum Prize for 2013.

The Museum of Liverpool replaced the older Museum of Liverpool Life which closed in 2006. The original museum was housed in the old Pilotage and Salvage Association buildings on Liverpool’s waterfront, in between the Albert Dock and Pier Head. The new modern designed building now houses most of the original museum’s exhibits on a site close by.

National Museums Liverpool (who run seven facilities across Merseyside including the Museum of Liverpool) say that is the largest newly-built national museum in the UK for more than 100 years. The Museum quote a range of interesting facts about the building.

It occupies an area 110 metres long by 60 metres wide and at its tallest point it is 26 metres high and that makes it longer than the pitches at either Anfield or Goodison Park, more than twice as wide as the Titanic, and as tall as five Liver Building Liver birds placed end to end.

The museum’s frame is constructed with 2,100 tonnes of steel – equivalent to 270 double decker buses. The 1,500 square metres of glazing offer striking views of the city, especially from the 8 metres high by 28 metres wide picture windows at each end of the building. The museum is clad in 5,700 square metres of natural Jura stone, which if laid out flat would cover a football pitch. 7,500 cubic metres of concrete and 20 tonnes of bolts have been used in the construction. And 20,000 cubic metres of soil – equivalent to eight Olympic swimming pools – have been excavated from the site.

It is certainly a strikingly modern building.

The Museum displays are divided into four main themes:

  • The Great Port,
  • Global City,
  • People’s Republic, and
  • Wondrous Place

These are located in four large gallery spaces over three floors. On the ground floor, displays look at the city’s urban and technological evolution which includes the Industrial Revolution and the changes in the British Empire, and how these changes have impacted the city’s economic development.

The second floor looks at Liverpool’s strong identity through examining the social history of the city, from settlement in the area from Neolithic times to the present day, migration, and the various communities and cultures which contribute to the city’s diversity.

There are many highlights. I’ve noted some of these below.

Ben Johnson was commissioned to create The Liverpool Cityscape for the Capital of Culture year in 2008. He started the painting in 2005 and completed it during a public residency at the Walker Art Gallery in early 2008. It was originally displayed at the Walker as part of the exhibition ‘Ben Johnson’s Liverpool Cityscape 2008’ before moving to its permanent home in the Museum of Liverpool’s Skylight gallery.

The Liverpool Overhead Railway gallery tells the remarkable story of the first electric elevated railway in the world. The Overhead Railway was built in 1893 to ease congestion along seven miles of Liverpool’s docks. It was known as the ‘dockers’ umbrella’ as it also provided shelter from the rain. In the gallery you can climb into a carriage, which is fixed at the exact height of the original railway at 4.8m (16 feet) above the ground. The railway was eventually pulled down in the late 1950s.

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway ‘Lion’ is an early steam locomotive which is on display in the Great Port exhibition on the ground floor of the Museum. In 2007 Lion, was moved by road from Manchester to Liverpool after being on loan to Manchester while the new museum was under construction. Some conservation work took place prior to it taking pride of place in the new museum. It starred three films the most notable being the 1953 film ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’.

There is an enormous model of Sir Edwin Lutyens’ 1930’s design for Liverpool’s Catholic Cathedral in the museum. It is one of the most elaborate architectural models ever built in Britain. It represents the ambitious plan to build the world’s second largest cathedral, and it would have had the world’s largest dome, with a diameter of 168 feet (51 m). It was however far too costly and was abandoned with only the crypt complete. Eventually the present more modern Cathedral was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd with construction starting in 1962 with completion in less than five years in1967.

There are a range of exhibits displaying Liverpool Life over the ages. The social and community history collections include objects of local, national and international importance reflecting the changing history of the city and the diverse stories and experiences of Liverpool people. They include popular culture and entertainment, working life, labour history, politics and public health. The museum also has a large collection of oral history interviews and filmed video histories from local people with stories to tell.

Football is an important aspect of life in Liverpool. Liverpool Football Club Museum and The Everton Collection have both lent the museum an array of memorabilia. And there are exhibits from Merseyside’s other team Tranmere Rovers.

Whilst ‘The Beatles Story’ museum elsewhere in the Albert Dock has a large display to experience, the Beatles show at the Museum of Liverpool tells part of the story of the Fab Four in Liverpool which was the birthplace of a musical and cultural revolution that swept the globe.

At the time of our visit there was a special exhibition showing local music legends Gerry and the Pacemakers.

I took a number of images from the day, but there is much to see and experience and it will be worth re-visiting the museum to take it all in.

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The Beatles at the Pierhead

I walked down to the Pierhead on the Liverpool waterfront to finally take a few photos of the Beatles statue that was erected late last year.OK3A2356v3The new bronze sculpture of the Beatles was officially unveiled back on the 4 December 2015 by John Lennon ’s sister Julia Baird and Liverpool deputy mayor Councillor Ann O’Byrne.OK3A2342v2The statue has been donated to the city by the Cavern Club.  The unveiling coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ last concert in their home city when they played at the Liverpool Empire on 5 December 1965.  The depiction of the band walking along the Mersey waterfront reflects a real photo shoot from the 1960s.OK3A2351v2

The statue weighs 1.2 tonnes and stands around seven feet tall.  It was sculpted by Liverpool artist Andrew Edwards and was cast at the Castle Fine Art Foundry at Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant, near Oswestry in Powys.OK3A2349v2

Andrew Edwards also created the ‘All Together Now Christmas Truce WWI’ statue that was on show inside St George’s Hall in October through to December last year as part of the ‘Poppies: Weeping Window’ project which I wrote about on 29 November 2015.OK3A2344v2

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The Beatles remain a big draw for tourists across the world coming to Liverpool. Tourism has been a driving force in the economic and cultural renaissance of Liverpool. OK3A2339v3

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Apparently the idea for the new statute came from Castle Fine Art Foundry managing director Chris Butler who was inspired when walking through the Liverpool ONE shopping centre and saw the huge image of the band which is displayed outside the HMV music store.  Chris found pictures taken of the Beatles at the Pier Head in 1963 and adapted them to form the basis of the new sculpture which is a reflection from that famous Liverpool waterfront photo shoot.  Chris says that it is a monument to a moment and the moment started in Liverpool.OK3A2362v2An interesting fact is that whilst the statue is located in a classic location in Liverpool where Lennon was born; there is a subtle link to the city of New York where he died. Clasped in John’s right hand are two acorns. They were collected by Chris Butler from oak trees near the Dakota Building where Lennon lived with Yoko Ono in New York.  They are hidden to all but those who know of the story.  Their significance is that John Lennon in the 1960s sent acorns as a message of peace to world leaders. Chris Butler has said that the adding of the acorns to the statue at the last minute is as an everlasting symbol of peace.

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OK3A2378v2Another little touch is that ‘L8’, the area post code for Ringo Starr’s childhood home is carved on the base of Ringo’s shoe.  I wrote about Ringo’s house in Madryn Street in the Welsh Streets area of Liverpool back on 31 December 2014.OK3A2363v2

The sculpture is a big draw to for tourists coming to Liverpool.  When I’ve been there were many Spanish, far eastern and other nationalities all clamouring to have their pictures taken with the Fab Four.  If you want to get near the statue then you need to get there early otherwise you will wait your turn to get up close to it!!OK3A2361v2

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Ringo’s house in Madryn Street

I visited the ‘Welsh Streets’ district in Dingle on the outskirts of Liverpool city centre on yet another wet and rainy day.  A debate on what should become of the eleven ‘Welsh streets’ has raged for eight years following the declaration of a renewal area under the then Labour Government’s Housing Market Renewal initiative.  The debate has had the City Council, its partners and some residents on one side saying the houses should be demolished and the land developed, and some local residents and heritage campaigners on the other claiming the Victorian terraces should be restored to their former glory.

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The properties are called the Welsh Streets as they were built and lived in by Welsh workers in the late 19th Century and named after Welsh towns, villages and valleys and include Rhiwlas Street, Powis Street, Madryn Street, Kinmel Street and Gwydir Street which adjoin South Street close to Princes Park.

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9 Madryn Street holds special significance for Beatles fans as it was the birthplace of Ringo Starr when he was known as plain old Richard Starkey.  The nearly abandoned streets are eerily quiet apart from the passing taxis taking Beatles fans to 9 Madryn Street.  As I was taking photos a yellow ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ bus drives by the end of the street and stops for tourists to have a peak down the road in the rain.  Ringo’s childhood home remains boarded up and covered in graffiti left by Beatles fans from across the world.  The long running row between local residents who want to save the streets and those who want the streets demolished to make way for new homes has an added twist in Madryn Street where there is a further  balance between the need for decent modern homes and protecting a piece of the Beatles’ heritage in their home town.

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In the summer of 2013 the City Council approved a £15m regeneration plan for the Welsh Streets with a plan to build more than 150 new homes, demolish up to 440 homes and refurbish 37 houses.  9 Madryn Street was set to be knocked down as part of the City Council’s plans.  But in September 2013 the plans for the area were put on hold after the Government’s Communities Secretary Eric Pickles called for a public inquiry to consider the planning application.

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In June 2014 it was announced that Ringo’s former home had been saved from demolition following the intervention of the Government’s Housing Minister.  The house is one of 16 on the street to be spared, although 400 other homes in the wider area will be pulled down.  About 32 properties including 9 Madryn Street will now be refurbished and put on the market. The Housing Minister was responding to calls from many Beatle fans across the world who wanted to see Ringo’s house saved for posterity.

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However the wider public enquiry is still to report back on the wider plans for the area and walking down the streets you can see rows of tinned-up houses in most of the Welsh Streets with some houses leaning precariously as the chimneys; roofs and brickwork bulge out with green shoots sprouting out of the walls and gutters.  There are still some residents living in the streets as they are still fighting for their homes to be saved and refurbished and others who are waiting to be re-housed in new homes.

OK3A1121v2 The Housing Market Renewal initiative was set up to demolish areas of declining and unpopular housing and build new modern homes in better neighbourhoods in many towns across the north of England including Liverpool and Wirral.  The Housing Market Renewal initiative was eventually wound up in 2010 by the incoming coalition Government.  The City Council wanted to press on with plans to demolish Madryn Street along with many more homes but following the Housing Minister’s intervention the Council has been allocated additional funds to refurbish the houses in the street.

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Ringo lived at Madryn Street with his father, also called Richard, and his mother Elsie Starkey.  They rented the house for 10 shillings (£0.50) a week.   His parents separated when Ringo was three years old, and Elsie and her son moved to the smaller, less expensive two up, two down house at nearby 10 Admiral Grove, which remained his home until 1963 when he became famous as the Beatles shot to fame.

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Across from Ringo’s house in Madryn Street I am told there was a man who sold Beatles memorabilia from his house window but he hadn’t been given permission from the City Council to have a sign. So he had “Beatles” written in the brickwork!!  The house is empty now but the wall still tells the story.

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Other notable landmarks in the immediate area include the Empress pub on South Road which is still going strong serving pints and displaying memorabilia linked to Ringo and the Beatles.

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It featured on the cover of Ringo’s first solo album ‘Sentimental Journey’.  ‘Sentimental Journey’ was released in 1970 as the Beatles were falling apart. George Harrison and John Lennon had released solo albums already and Paul McCartney’s debut, ‘McCartney’, would follow three weeks after Sentimental Journey’s release. The album was completed in early March 1970 and it was rushed out a few weeks later to avoid clashing in the shops with the Beatles’ final album ‘Let It Be’ which was released in May 1970.

The cover from Ringo Starr's solo album 'Sentimental Journey' released March 1970

The cover from Ringo Starr’s solo album ‘Sentimental Journey’ released in 1970

‘Sentimental Journey’ was an album of standards that reflected his mother’s favourite songs.  Ringo had asked his mother and step-father and other members of his family to choose the tracks to go on the album.  To reflect the links to his past Ringo chose a photograph of the Empress pub, a tall old pub that stands almost opposite Madryn Street where his mother Elsie worked for a time.  The people pictured at the windows of the pub were members of Ringo’s family.

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Hopefully the fate of the Welsh Streets will be known soon.  Could there be a solution of selective refurbishment and demolition alongside new homes?

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