Fog on the Mersey

I took a few pictures of the River Mersey from Birkenhead just before the Christmas break. An early morning fog was burned off by the sun on both the Liverpool and Wirral riverbanks, but it refused to fade away over the river itself and by lunchtime it made for an eerie sight. The blanket of fog made the famous skyline of the city appear to be built on a low-level cloud.

The City’s two cathedrals, St John’s Tower and the both the old and new old Royal Liverpool hospital buildings can be seen clearly. However, the Albert Dock and Pierhead are under the mist, with only the top of the Echo Arena and BT Convention Centre to be seen. The rest of the City is in bright sunshine.

Just another day on the river and with apologies to the Geordie band Lindisfarne who sang about the Fog on the Tyne… the fog on the Mersey is all mine, all mine, the fog on the Mersey is all mine.

Liverpool Waterfront by night

As the clocks go back and the nights draw in I went down to the Woodside Ferry terminal in Birkenhead on the Wirral side of the River Mersey to take some images of the World renowned Liverpool water front in the fading light of the day.  If anything the darkness and the artificial lighting of night enhances the views of the Pierhead and waterfront buildings.

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In December last year Liverpool’s waterfront was named as England’s “greatest place”.  Liverpool came top in a nationwide competition organised by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).  Over 11,000 people voted from a shortlist of ten places aimed at highlighting areas which town planners have created, protected and enhanced for communities.   Liverpool was the overall winner in ‘England’s Great Places’ competition.  The High Street in Thame, Oxfordshire and Saltaire, the World Heritage Site-designated historic village near Bradford were second and third respectively.

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The RTPI organised the competition to show what planning and planners can do to make the most out of England’s stunning heritage to create vibrant, beautiful places for people to live and work.

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Liverpool’s waterfront is arguably the jewel in the city’s crown and is a source of immense civic pride. The iconic Liver Birds, the Three Graces (the Liver Building, the Port of Liverpool building and the Cunard Building) along with the Anglican and Catholic cathedrals and other landmarks such as St John’s beacon provide a stunning backdrop to the River Mersey.  UNESCO World Heritage Site status was bestowed on the city’s waterfront in July 2004.

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There is now so much to see and do on the waterfront with the Tate Liverpool art gallery; the Merseyside Maritime Museum; the International Slavery Museum and the Museum of Liverpool; the Echo concert arena and the BT Convention Centre, the 60 metre high Liverpool Big Wheel and the recently opened Exhibition Centre Liverpool – are all within a stone’s throw of one another.

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There have been other developments over the years including the re-instatement of the cruise liner terminal at Prince’s Dock and the building of a number of tower blocks such as Beetham Tower and Its close neighbour and the tallest building in Liverpool, the West Tower.

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As well as the big cruise liners, the river is regularly used with the Belfast ferry from Birkenhead and the Isle of Man Steam Packet company ferry from Liverpool.  Both were moored in the river tonight.

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The waterfront has been transformed over the last few years and makes a great subject for photographers.

On Bidston Hill

It was a bright Saturday morning and I had a walk onto Bidston Hill.  I walked up the Thermopylae pass in Noctorum, crossed Upton Road and walked through the birch and scots pine wood and through the gorse and heather escarpment onto Bidston Hill.

Thermopylae pass

The Thermopylae pass is a triangular tract of land that is linked to Bidston Hill, it’s known locally as the ‘mops’.

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It appears to be named the Thermopylae pass after the narrow pass of the same name on the east coast of central Greece.  The Thermopylae pass in Greece was a narrow path between land and sea and was used as a strategic defensive site.  In 480 BCE, during the second Persian invasion of Greece, a small Greek force under the Spartan king Leonidas defended Attica and Boeotia against the southward advance of the Persian army while Greek fleets at nearby Cape Artemesium fought off the attacking Persian navy.  This battle became celebrated in history and literature as an example of heroic resistance against great odds.  I have not found out why this small piece of land to the west of Bidston Hill has been named after such an historic site from ancient history.

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There are several paths amongst the trees.  The main path goes straight through the trees and is enclosed by large houses which back onto the site.

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You walk through a small tunnel which goes under Vyner Road South and after a short while the path emerges out onto Upton Road.  Crossing the road we pick up one of the many paths which head for the top of Bidston Hill.

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Bidston Hill

Bidston Hill is one of the highest points on the Wirral at 231 feet, it is the starting point for one of the two approximately parallel Triassic sandstone ridges that run down the length of the Wirral peninsula.  The western ridge is made up of Grange Hill in West Kirby, Caldy Hill, Thurstaston Hill, Poll Hill and Burton Hill.  The less continuous eastern ridge starts with Bidston Hill and stretches out to Prenton and then Storeton Hill.  The shallow Fender Valley, between the two ridges was carved out by a large glacier in the last ice age.

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From the sandstone pavement on the top of the ridge you can get a good view across to Liverpool on one side and across Wirral to North Wales but it was too hazy today to see Wales today, but a good view of the demolition floor by floor of the ‘Thornridge’ high rise block in Moreton to the west.  In Liverpool the Anglican cathedral stands prominent as always.

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Bidston Hill and the land around Bidston Windmill and the adjacent land known as the Thermopylae pass was purchased from Lord RG de Grey Vyner between 1894 and 1908 for £30,310 by the then Birkenhead Corporation for the benefit of the public and to protect the site from further house building.  The Corporation found £14,625 toward the purchase and the remainder was raised by public subscription.  As the plaque on the windmill says the 90 acres of land belongs to and is maintained by Birkenhead Corporation (now Wirral Borough Council).  The deeds require the land to be always used as an open space for public recreation and that the windmill is preserved and the land kept in its wild state with trees, heather and gorse.  The Friends of Bidston Hill were formed in 1994 to protect and promote the flora and fauna in the area.  The ‘Friends’ work in partnership with Wirral Council Parks and Countryside Service to protect the area and work on projects for the benefit of the Hill and its users.

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Many people have carved their names into the soft red sandstone.  A vane mooring ring is still anchored in the sandstone next to the windmill.

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To gain access to the Windmill and Observatory beyond you cross an iron footbridge which takes you over the deep rocky cutting above the road below Vyner Road North.

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Bidston Windmill

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The brick windmill was built in 1800 as a flour mill.  Mr Youds was the last miller to work it before it closed as a working mill in 1875.  It has been repaired several times: in 1927 through public subscription and most recently in 2006 the roof of the windmill was replaced as part of a refurbishment program to maintain the structure by Wirral; Borough Council.

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It is believed that there has been a windmill on this site since 1596 but the previous structure, a wooden peg mill, was destroyed by fire in around 1791.

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The top or ‘cap’ of the mill can be rotated through 360° so the sails could be moved to follow the direction of the wind. On the back of the mill a large wooden chain-wheel, was used to slowly turn the roof around using a rack and gear system. The windmill has an extra door preventing millers walking out of the mill into the rapidly turning sails.  However one of Mr Youds’ predecessors came out the wrong door and was hit by one of the four heavy sails and was killed.

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The Friends of Bidston Hill open the Windmill to the public on the second Saturday of every month between April and September.  During the winter months, when hibernating bats are in residence, the windmill is closed.  The ‘Friends’ have a useful website at http://www.bidstonhill.org.uk/

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Bidston Observatory

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Bidston Observatory was built originally in 1866 using local sandstone excavated from the site.  The Observatory was used to determine the exact time from the stars which was then sounded by the One O’clock Gun which was situated at Morpeth Dock between Woodside and Seacombe Ferry on the River Mersey.

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At exactly 1:00 p.m. each day, the ‘One O’Clock Gun’ would be fired electrically from the Observatory providing a time signal to shipping on the Mersey.  It was fired for the first time on 21 September 1867 by the original cannon which was a relic of the Crimean War.

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Due to the advent of radio and increasing maintenance costs it was proposed to discontinue the practice in 1932.  Whilst this didn’t happen firing was suspended during the Second World War but the tradition ceased altogether on 18 July 1969.

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The Observatory is long associated with weather and tidal research; it was relocated from Liverpool’s Waterloo Dock in 1866.  In 1929 the work of the Observatory was merged with the University of Liverpool Tidal Institute.  It was the Tidal Institute, under the directorship of Professor Joseph Proudman, that was responsible for the most internationally-significant part of the observatory’s history.  The first tide-predicting machines in the world were created at Bidston.  As well as being used for commercial purposes, the machines were also used to help with the war effort and D-Day Landings.

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The Observatory and University Tidal Institute were taken over in 1969 by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).  In 1974, Birkenhead Corporation leased the lighthouse gardens to the NERC on a 99 year lease and a new four storey Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory was constructed here in the modern style of the day in concrete and glass.  The new facility opened in April 1979 being named after Professor Proudman CBE, FRS who was born in 1888 but had died on 26 June 1975.

However the Research Council relocated the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory to the main University of Liverpool campus in 2004 which is now part of the National Oceanography Centre.

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From 2005 until 2012 the NERC tried to sell the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory but was unable to do so as there was little interest.  NERC says it is still seeking a new owner for the twin domed Victorian observatory which is a listed building with plans to convert it into luxury flats but the plans for the Proudman building were to demolish it due to the ongoing cost of maintenance.  In 2011 the Bidston Preservation Trust had asked the council to halt the demolition and allow community use for the centre and they were exploring whether the building could be listed as an historic building.  The Trust were unsuccessful and the demolition of the 1970’s building started at the turn of 2013 and by 25 February the striking white four storey building which could be clearly seen from the M53 motorway was a pile of rubble.  The old Observatory building is currently occupied by ‘guardians’ who live there and provide a presence to deter vandals and the like.

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Bidston Light House

Just along the ridge from the Observatory is the Lighthouse and cottages which are connected to the tower building.  There has been a lighthouse on the hill since 1771.  The present lighthouse was built in 1873 and was operational until 1913.

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The Bidston Lighthouse is the furthest from the shore than any other lighthouse in Britain.  Together with the Leasowe Lighthouse, it enabled the ships to avoid the sandbanks in the channel as they came into Liverpool.

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The original tower was octagonal, and the lamp room featured a parabolic reflector, 13’6″ in diameter, developed at the Bidston Signals Station by William Hutchinson, Liverpool Harbour Master and one-time privateer. Hutchinson’s reflector enabled the light to be seen at a distance of 21 miles.

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The present Bidston Lighthouse and the cottages for the lighthouse keepers were built by Mersey Docks and Harbour Board in 1873, after the original lighthouse was damaged by fire and demolished.  In 1935, ownership passed to the Birkenhead Corporation, who used the cottages for accommodation but now the lighthouse and cottages are privately owned having been sold to a sitting tenant in 2004 and the others to private individuals in 2011.  There is a blogsite about the lighthouse at http://www.bidstonlighthouse.org.uk/

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The Lighthouse, the Cottages, the Observatory, and wall around the perimeter of the site all became Grade-II listed buildings in December 1989.

I wonder how they will fare over the next hundred years.

Liverpool Anglican Cathedral

The making of the cathedral

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Liverpool was originally part of the diocese of Chester. In 1880 the Liverpool diocese was founded and John Charles Ryle was appointed the first Bishop of Liverpool and he was installed in St Peter’s Church in Church Street in the town centre which was designated a pro-cathedral (a parish church that is temporarily serving as a cathedral). It was described as an ugly church, squat and with an ill-proportioned octagonal tower and it was decided in 1901 to build a new cathedral ‘worthy for the prosperous City of Liverpool’.

St Peters Pro-cathedral photo from http://liverpoolwalks.co.uk

St Peters Pro-cathedral photo from http://liverpoolwalks.co.uk

In 1902 Giles Gilbert Scott (later Sir) then aged only 22 won the competition for architects to design the new cathedral. In July 1904 the Foundation Stone was laid by King Edward VII at a great open-air service at the culmination of which the choir of a thousand voices sang the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

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On Saint Peter’s Day, 29th June 1910, the Lady Chapel, was the first part of the Cathedral to be completed and consecrated allowing services to be held on the site. St Peters Church closed in 1910 and was demolished between 1919 and 1923, it is now remembered by the Maltese cross symbol set into the paving in Church Street outside the arcade opposite Marks and Spencer’s which leads through to School Lane and into the new Liverpool One shopping centre.

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Despite serious delays because of the First World War in 1924 the High Altar, Chancel and Eastern Transcepts were completed and consecrated in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary. Further parts of the cathedral were completed and in 1942 the tower was ‘topped out’ with Sir Giles Scott placing the final piece of the final finial at the top of the tower. The cathedral bells were rung for the first time in 1951 and in 1955 the Lady Chapel reopened after war damage from World War II was repaired. Between 1961 and 1968 the naves and the bridge over the sunken nave were completed.

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The cathedral was built mainly of local sandstone quarried from the South Liverpool suburb of Woolton. In 1978 the whole cathedral was completed and on 25th October 1978, in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, there was a great service of thanksgiving to mark the completion of the Cathedral, “a triumphant proclamation of hope”. Sadly, with his death in 1960, the architect had not lived long enough to enjoy the completion of his Cathedral.

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Liverpool is the largest Cathedral in the UK (in sq metres), and the 5th largest in the world it is also one of the world’s tallest non-spired church buildings and the third-tallest structure in the city of Liverpool. Its under-tower vault is the highest in the world, its bells are the highest and heaviest peal in the world and the Grand Organ is the largest in the UK and is considered to be one of the largest operational church organs in the world with 10,267 pipes.

Inside the Cathedral

As you enter the building by the great West Doors you see the lowered floor of the Nave which is known as the Well and as you move further into the Cathedral you walk into the awesome space which is the main floor of the Cathedral which leads up to the Chancel and High Altar.

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The Cathedral’s Nave is a lowered area of the Cathedral with on one side the great West Doors. The central space which is entered through the arch of the Dulverton Bridge stretches east from the bridge towards the choir and the high altar. The enormity of the central space dominates your view of the Cathedral. In the centre of the floor stands a memorial to the architect, Giles Gilbert Scott.

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The central space of the Cathedral has held a variety of services, occasions and events over the years with audiences and congregations up to over 2,000.

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Liverpool Cathedral has approx 1700 square metres (over 18,000 square feet) of stained glass, all from the 20th century. The subjects cover both biblical and scenes of worship but also elements of social and ecclesiastical history.

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Churches and cathedrals have always commissioned works of art over the ages and this tradition continues today. Liverpool Cathedral is a cathedral of the modern age and during the course of its construction it incorporated works of art by contemporary sculptors and stained glass artists into the fabric of the building. But it has in more recent years built up a worthy collection of works of art, including paintings and sculpture by eminent twentieth and twenty first century artists. These include works by five Royal Academicians: Craigie Aitchison, Tracey Emin, Christopher Le Brun, Adrian Wisniewski, and Elisabeth Frink. There are also works by a number of other contemporary artists.

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The memorial to the sixteenth Earl of Derby was designed by the architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.

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Tracy Emin who is one of the group who have been dubbed ‘Young British Artists’, has an installation made in 2008 which is mounted over the West Doors and beneath the Benedicite window. It is called ‘For you’ and was commissioned by the Cathedral Chapter as the Cathedral’s contribution to Liverpool’s Year as European Capital of Culture 2008. It is a pink neon, written in the artist’s handwriting, with the words: ‘I felt you and I knew you loved me.’ In 2009 Emin was the winner of the Art and Christianity Enquiry (ACE) Award for Art in a Religious Context for this work. Emin said that the Church has always been a place for contemplation and that she wanted to make something for Liverpool Cathedral about love and the sharing of love. As she has said “Love is a feeling which we internalise; a feeling very hard to explain. I thought it would be nice for people to sit in the Cathedral and have a moment to contemplate the feelings of love, it’s something we just don’t have enough time to think about and I hope this work creates this space in time.”

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Outside above the west doors is a sculpture by Elisabeth Frink called “The Welcoming Christ”. It was her last work and she watched it being installed in 1993 a few days before her death.

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The Tower

The single, massive Vestey Tower was named after its benefactors, the Vestey family, it replaced the original twin-tower concept for the cathedral after several design proposals. It has a floor to top height of 101m (331ft). The Cathedral allows special tours up to the top of the tower via 2 consecutive lifts followed by 108 stairs.  Visitors climb the tower to take in the views of the city and beyond.

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The huge chains used to lower the great central chandeliers 965kg each to the cathedral floor over 52m (170ft) can be seen just before you enter the second lift It takes a team of at least 5 people and a whole day to carry out this skilful operation.

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The journey from the 2nd stage lift brings you to the bell tower itself from where you begin ascending 108 steps. This chamber houses the highest 67m (219ft) and heaviest 31.5 tonnes (31 tons) ringing peal of church bells in the world.

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The main roof section 101m (300 ft) above ground floor level and over 150m (500ft) above sea level offers panoramic views across the city as buildings, roads, parks and other landmarks spread out to the horizon.

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To the West you can see the Wirral and behind this the Welsh Hills. To the East are the Pennines. To the South you can follow the River Mersey along to the Runcorn Bridge and Cheshire beyond. To the North on a good day we are told you can see Blackpool Tower and the Big Dipper approx 80km (50 miles) away but closer to hand, only half a mile away you have a very clear view of the circular Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool’s Catholic Cathedral. The cathedrals are linked by Hope Street, which takes its name from William Hope, a local merchant whose house stood on the site now occupied by the Philharmonic Hall, and was named long before either cathedral was built.

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St James’s Gardens

There are gardens far below the Cathedral building and from here you get a true appreciation of the scale of the Cathedral. The area is now known as St.James’ Gardens occupying around ten acres. It was originally a quarry in 16th century supplying quality sandstone to the builders of the day and it was then re-designated as a cemetery. St James cemetery and has over 58,000 souls buried here from a wide variety of backgrounds including an American sea captain who was stabbed to death, a midget artist who painted England’s nobility and many many children who died at a very young age.

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In 1825 a young architect John Foster designed and laid out the cemetery along the same lines of the Pere-la-Chaise cemetery in Paris. This new cemetery was built to relieve the pressure on the Low Hill Cemetery in nearby Everton. The East wall had a sequence walkways, lined with catacombs cut into the rock face leading down to the burial ground which laid out with winding paths and lined with trees.

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There are three tunnels leading into St’ James’s Cemetery. The main access is via a tunnel 10 feet wide and 12 feet high which follows a downward slope from just outside of the main Cathedral entrance. The last burial in the cemetery here was in the 1936.
The tunnel walls are decorated by gravestones which were moved during the work to turn it into a public garden.

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In the East wall of the cemetery is Liverpool’s only surviving running spring which was discovered by quarry workers in 1773. It was believed to have medicinal properties and the spring used to flow into a circular bowl, which was surrounded by an iron railing with a ladle attached so people could easily fill bottles and jars from the Spa. Today the spring still flows from the rock. The a small plaque above the spring bears an inscription by Cuthbert Bridgewater and is still readable:

Christian reader view in me,
An emblem of true charity,
Who freely what I have bestow,
Though neither heard nor seen to flow,
And I have full returns from Heaven,
For every cup of water given.

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Following the decision to build a new cathedral for the city the site of St James Mount was decided upon above the cemetery. However by 1936 the cemetery was considered to be full and the last burial took place in July that year and it was then officially closed.

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The area became run down and in the late 1960’s it was decided that action was needed. A plan to turn St James Cemetery into a public garden was proposed. This involved clearing the vast majority of the gravestones and creating an open space. This was completed by 1972 and it is now a conservation area, and a nature conservation site, Grade 1.

There is small temple-like monument in the centre of St James’ Gardens: this is the Huskisson Mausoleum.

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William Huskisson was a former cabinet minister and Member of Parliament for several constituencies, including Liverpool. He is best known today, however, as the world’s first railway fatality. He attended the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, on the 15th September 1830. Huskisson was on the same train as the Duke of Wellington and at Parkside railway station the locomotives made a scheduled stop to take on water at which point he got off the train. Huskisson had been a highly influential figure in the creation of the British Empire and an architect of the doctrine of free trade, but had fallen out with Wellington the then prime minister in 1828 over the issue of parliamentary reform and he had resigned from the cabinet. Hoping to be reconciled with Wellington, he walked up to the Duke’s railway carriage to speak with him and shook his hand. He did not notice the approaching locomotive on the adjacent track, George Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’. On realising it was approaching he panicked and tried to clamber into the Duke’s carriage, but the door of the carriage swung open leaving him hanging directly in the path of the oncoming Rocket. The gravely wounded Huskisson was taken by a train driven by George Stephenson himself to hospital in Eccles outside Manchester. But he died a few hours later. The Liverpool and Manchester railway opening is now considered the start of the age of mechanised transport with railways being constructed across Britain and the rest of the world.

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John Foster who had presided over the conversion of the former quarry into St James’ Cemetery, designed this small domed temple to stand above Huskisson’s grave. From 1882 to 1968 it contained a marble statue by John Gibson. The statue was removed due to continued vandalism in 1968. It was then transferred to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. His widow Emily also commissioned a second marble statue for the Custom House in Liverpool. This statue was moved and it now stands in Pimlico Gardens in London. A bronze casting of it was unveiled at the Custom House in Liverpool in 1847, and after several moves is now in Duke Street in Liverpool city centre.

The Anglican Cathedral has quite a story to tell but its commanding presence across the city makes it stand out from the crowd.  You can even see the Cathedral from far away in mid-Wirral.  This photo is from Thingwall Corner with houses in Prenton in the foreground on the western side of the Bidston/Prenton/Storeton ridge.

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And this one from Landican where you can also see the very top of the Catholic Cathedral poking through on the left of the picture.

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Probably the best view is from across the River Mersey in Birkenhead particularly when one of the ferries is plying its trade across the waters.

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