Manchester Ship Canal Cruise

We took a trip aboard the Mersey Ferry boat the ‘Snowdrop’ which is currently painted as a dazzle ship (see my earlier blog post) on a cruise up the River Mersey and along the Manchester Ship Canal to its terminus at Salford Quays.

The Manchester Ship Canal is 36-miles long (58 km) linking Manchester to the Irish Sea.  In large part it follows alongside the routes of the rivers Mersey and Irwell.

There are many landmarks along the way.  There are many different types of bridges which have to be lifted or swung aside to allow ships to pass up or down the canal.  As well as bridges there are many sets of locks to be negotiated.  In order to travel from the tidal River Mersey the ship canal has to negotiate four sets of locks (including the entrance lock at Eastham) which lift vessels around 60 feet (18 m) up to Manchester.  And on the banks of the canal there are many historic buildings and a changing industrial landscape.

The rivers Mersey and Irwell were first made navigable in the early 18th century. Goods were also transported on the Runcorn extension of the Bridgewater Canal (from 1776) and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (from 1830), but by the late 19th century the Mersey and Irwell Navigation had fallen into disrepair and were often unusable.  Manchester’s business community viewed the charges imposed by Liverpool’s docks and the railway companies as excessive and a ship canal was proposed as a way of giving ocean-going vessels direct access to Manchester.  A public campaign was set up to enlist support for the scheme and was presented to Parliament as a bill in 1882. However, faced with stiff opposition from Liverpool, the canal’s supporters were unable to gain the necessary Act of Parliament to allow the scheme to go ahead until 1885.

Construction of the ship canal began in 1887 taking six years to complete at a cost of £15 million which is estimated to be equivalent to about £1.65 billion in today’s money!  When the ship canal opened in January 1894 it was the largest river navigation canal in the world, and enabled the newly created Port of Manchester to become Britain’s third busiest port despite the city being about 40 miles (64 km) inland.

Changes to shipping methods and the growth of containerisation during the 1970s and 1980s meant that many ships were now too big to use the canal and traffic declined, resulting in the closure of the terminal docks at Salford in 1984. The canal is able to accommodate a range of vessels from coastal ships to inter-continental cargo liners but it is not large enough for most modern vessels. By 2011 traffic had decreased from its peak in 1958 of 18 million long tons (20 million short tons) of freight each year to about 7 million long tons (7.8million short tons).

The canal was bought by the private company Peel Ports in 1993.  Peel are re-developing sites along the ship canal and are looking to increase shipping from 8,000 containers a year to 100,000 by 2030 as part of their Atlantic Gateway project.

I took a number of photographs along the route.

We took the ferry from Seacombe with a short hop to the Pierhead at Liverpool and down along the Mersey.

Woodside Ferry terminal in Birkenhead is the second Mersey Ferry terminal on the Wirral side.  The New Brighton and Tranmere ferry terminals having long since closed down.

Cammel Lairds shipbuilders yard with the twelve century Birkenhead Priory building as a backdrop.  I’ve posted in the past about both of these sites.

The former grand merchants houses at Rock Park on Wirral look much more elegant from the river even looking through the Tranmere Oil Terminal.  Rock Park comprises a varied selection of Grade 2 listed villas built between 1836 and 1850 along with landscaped drives and a Victorian Esplanade overlooking the River Mersey.  The Tranmere Oil Terminal was opened on 8 June 1960 to handle vessels of up to 65,000 tons, and is connected to the Stanlow Oil Refinery by a 15mile (24 km) pipeline. Part of the terminal occupies the site of a former ferry service to Liverpool, with the old pier considerably modified.

At Eastham locks on the River Mersey forms the entrance to the Manchester Ship Canal just after the Eastham Ferry Hotel.  We passed the Sten Idun chemical tanker being navigated down the canal by the MSC tugs Victory and Viking.

At Ellesmere Port the canal is joined by the Shropshire Union Canal, at a site now occupied by the National Waterways Museum. The area was a 7-acre (2.8 ha) canal port linking the Shropshire Union Canal to the River Mersey. It was designed by Thomas Telford and it remained operational until the 1950s.  I’ve posted about the boat museum in an earlier blog.

Essar Oil UK Stanlow Oil refinery is situated on the south bank of the Manchester Ship Canal, which is used to transport seaborne oil for refining and chemicals for Essar and Shell.  Stanlow has a refining capacity of 12 million tonnes per year, it is the second largest in the United Kingdom and produces a sixth of the UK’s petrol needs.  Stanlow is also a large producer for commodities such as jet fuel and diesel.  The refinery serves much of England through the UK oil pipeline network.  Oil is delivered to the Tranmere Oil Terminal via ship and pumped to Stanlow, where it is then refined and stored for delivery.

At Weston, near Runcorn, the ship canal also connects with the Weaver Navigation.  Stobart Ports now own the docks at Weston Point.  They are developing the site as an ‘inter-modal’ port facility to enable freight, currently carried by road, to be transported by rail and water. This will see increased warehousing, new container handling facilities, an extension to the existing West Coast main line rail siding, a new link road, and improved navigable access between the dock and the Manchester Ship Canal.

At Runcorn Ineos manufactures chemicals including chlorine, chlorine-containing compounds including vinyl chloride, heavy chemicals including alkalis, and fluorine-containing compounds. A separate business within the same company manufactures salt from brine transported by pipeline from the saltfields of central Cheshire.

The Runcorn railway bridge is on a branch of the West Coast Main Line and provides frequent services to the Liverpool Lime Street and London Euston stations.  Locally it has been called the Queen Ethelfleda Viaduct but more widely as the Britannia Bridge. The bridge is named after Ethelfleda because the southern abutments and pier were built on the site of the Saxon walled settlement built by her in 915.  Parts of the bridge are castellated to reflect this. There are three shields above the footway – the Coat of Arms of the City of London, Britannia (from the crest of the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) company and the Liver Bird of Liverpool.  Because of the crest the bridge is also known as the Britannia Railway Bridge.

The A533 road crosses the Runcorn Gap over the Silver Jubilee Bridge, the lowest bridge crossing of the River Mersey.  It is a through arch bridge with a main arch span of 330 m. It was opened in 1961 as a replacement for the Widnes-Runcorn Transporter Bridge, and was initially known simply as the Runcorn Bridge or Runcorn–Widnes Bridge.  In 1975–77 it was widened, after which it was given its official name in honour of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.  The bridge is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade II listed building.

The Silver Jubilee Bridge is a bottleneck and becomes congested at peak travel times, and in the event of a breakdown or accident on the bridge, traffic in the area comes to a standstill. To resolve this problem, a second crossing of the Mersey the Mersey Gateway is now being built.  Construction began in May 2014 and is due to be completed by the autumn of 2017. It is located approximately just less than a mile (1.5km) to the east of the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge that connects the towns of Widnes and Runcorn.  It is will be a toll bridge, with three lanes in each direction.  The design is a cable-stayed bridge with three towers across the river and a second bridge across the ship canal.  It will be 2.3km long with a river span of 1km. The main bridge deck is made from reinforced concrete and the spans are supported by steel cable stays attached to pylons rising up to between 80 and 125m above the river bed.

As we move on down the ship canal we travel past a number of bridges.  The construction of the Manchester Ship Canal included the construction of several swing bridges and high level bridges which would not obstruct tall vessels travelling on the Canal.

Old Quay swing bridge

Moore Lane swing bridge

Acton Grange Railway viaduct

Chester Road swing bridge

Northwich Road swing bridge

Latchford High Level Bridge, Knutsford Road swing bridge and Latchford viaduct

Latchford Locks.  Latchford was chosen as the location of intermediate locks on the Manchester Ship Canal. These comprise a larger lock for ocean-going vessels and a smaller lock to its south for coasters, tugs and barges. A ship mooring area was provided on the canal’s south bank and enabled two large vessels to pass each other at this point.

Thelwall Viaduct or officially called Thelwall High Level Bridge.  The viaduct is a steel composite girder viaduct close to the village of Lymm  It carries the M6 motorway across the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey.  It actually comprises two entirely separate bridges, one of 4,414 feet long carrying the northbound carriageway, which was the longest motorway bridge in England when it was opened in July 1963, and one 4,500 feet long carrying the southbound carriageway which was opened in 1995.  The longest single span is the one of 336 feet crossing the ship canal.

Warburton High Level Bridge.  Warburton Bridge is a privately owned high-level cantilever bridge which incorporates a public highway the B5159 road, connecting the A57 with the A6144.  It has a statutory toll charge of 12p.  It was commissioned under the Rixton & Warburton Bridge Act 1863. It is unadopted and privately maintained.  It is one of the few remaining pre-motorway toll bridges in the United Kingdom.

Cadishead Railway Viaduct now disused

Irlam container terminal

Irlam Locks.

Barton Locks

Barton High Level Bridge carries the M60 over the ship canal.  It was opened in October 1960 as part of the then M63 and was known as the Stretford – Eccles by-pass.  Prior to its opening all the traffic in the area was forced to cross the Manchester Ship Canal via the Barton Road Swing Bridge or further upstream via the Trafford Road Swing Bridge.  The bridge was designed of such a height to give a clearance from the water level somewhere in the region of 100 feet to allow waterborne traffic to pass freely under it.  It was originally built with two lane carriageways in either direction but road traffic soon increased to the point where it became essential to widen the bridge to three lanes either side with each extra lane being supported by additional reinforced concrete piers built alongside the originals.  The work on this widening process was completed in 1990 – 30 years after its original opening.

Just a little further on a 60ft lifting road bridge which was being built collapsed next to the M60 Barton High Level Bridge in May 2016.  Construction was part way through the bridge which would carry a new dual carriageway over the Manchester Ship Canal to relieve congestion.  The lifting platform crashed onto the canal and has subsequently been taken way leaving the four bridge towers some of which suffered damage in the collapse.  The bridge’s completion has been put back indefinitely.

Barton Road swing bridge and Barton Swing Aqueduct, the only swing aqueduct in the world.  The Barton Swing Aqueduct is a moveable navigable aqueduct carrying the Bridgewater Canal across the Manchester Ship Canal. The swinging action allows large vessels using the ship canal to pass underneath and smaller narrowboats to cross over the top. The aqueduct, is a Grade II listed building and is considered a major feat of Victorian civil engineering.  It was designed by Sir Edward Leader Williams and built by Andrew Handyside and Company of Derby, the swing bridge opened in 1894 and remains in regular use.

Centenary Lift Bridge is the last bridge that we sail below as we then enter into the Salford Quays complex.

We then pulled into a side dock just before the ITV studios.  Media City is well named given the number of broadcasting satellite dishes next to our disembarkation point.

 

The trip had taken us over six hours passing through a varied landscape and a history of our industrial past and present.

Liverpool2 Container Terminal

The relatively new Liverpool2 container port has become quite a landmark on the Liverpool bank of the River Mersey.  I took some photos from the west coast of the Wirral peninsula of the giant cranes at the Liverpool2 container terminal as part of my blog about Thurstaston back in January 2017:  https://briansimpsons.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/around-thurstaston-common/

However if you visit New Brighton you are right opposite the container terminal and you can get a real close up of the giant red cranes which dominate the skyline.

The cranes were built in China and were transported up the River Mersey in November 2015 having set off from Shanghai on the Chinese ship the Zhen Hua23 in August 2015. They arrived after a long 18,000 mile journey travelling through South East Asia, past India and the Arabian Peninsula before rounding the Cape of Good Hope and South Africa.  They lay in port in the Canaries for a few weeks awaiting the final works to be completed at the Port of Liverpool ready for their installation.

The super-structures were produced by Chinese company, Zhenhua Heavy Industries, who are reputably the largest heavy duty equipment manufacturer in the world.  The contract with Peel Ports; who have developed the new deep water container terminal; is said to be worth more than £100m. A total of eight ship-to-shore megamax cranes and 22 cantilever rail-mounted gantry cranes are being supplied to Peel Ports as part of the company’s £300m investment programme to expand and develop the Port of Liverpool.

Each crane measures 92 metres high to the top of the frame, approximately the same as the Royal Liver Building, and 132 metres high when the boom is raised. Each crane weighs around 1,600 tonnes.

The construction of the terminal started in 2013.  Following its opening in November 2016 Liverpool2 became the UK’s largest transatlantic deep-sea port and container terminal and the investment in facilities allow it to accommodate the majority of the world’s current container fleet, including the very largest of modern container vessels which are just too large to navigate the existing Liverpool container terminal.  The new facility employs around 500 people.

The cranes will have the ability to operate at speeds in excess of 30 moves per hour and they will be capable of picking up 24 containers up to 10 high on deck.   The fleet of cranes is supported by a multi-million pound investment in quayside facilities and support technology.

The construction of the new terminal necessitated laying 30,000 cubic metres of concrete, the installation of 15,000m of steel piles and 6,100m of new crane rails. Dredging the river involved removal of approximately five million cubic metres of material from the river bed.  More than 500,000 cubic metres of material was deposited around Taylor’s Bank and other licensed offshore sites.

The new container terminal is just one of the projects that the land owner Peel Group wish to undertake with their Liverpool Waters and Wirral Waters projects which they hope will transform the River Mersey waterfront over the next twenty years.

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.

The Mersey Ferry ‘dazzle ship’

On a bright early autumn day I went to see the ‘Dazzle Ferry’ at Seacombe ferry terminal.

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The Seacombe Ferry Terminal building was made a Grade 2 listed building in 1991.  It is actually a ferry and bus terminus built between 1930 and 1933, designed by L St G Wilkinson, the Borough Surveyor of the then Wallasey County Borough Council.

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It has much architectural merit being built of brick with Portland stone dressings.  An imposing feature is the monumental central clock tower.

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There used to be a railway station outside the ferry terminal.  The station saw regular passenger trips to Birkenhead, New Brighton and Chester with occasional specials to Wrexham and West Kirby. However, the line was more focused on goods rather than passengers, so when the majority of the Wirral Railway was electrified in 1938 the Seacombe branch was not and passenger services ended on 4 January 1960.  Goods services continued for three further years until the station closed completely on 16 June 1963.  There is no real evidence of the line left in the area but the cutting in which the line was situated is now the approach road to the Kingsway (Wallasey) Tunnel.

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On an historic note the first commercial shore-based Radar station in the world for the navigation of ships was installed at the Seacombe Terminal buildings in 1947.

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St. Paul’s Church was designed by John Hay of Liverpool looks down to the Ferry terminal.  It was consecrated on the 12th October 1847 and when it was completed it had a spire of 120 feet but it was deemed as too dangerous so 20 feet was removed from the top.

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I had come to see the Mersey Ferry boat which had been given a colourful design, created by Sir Peter Blake as part of the recent First World War commemorations.  I made reference to it in an earlier post about the ‘dazzle ship’ that was commissioned for the 2014 centenary of WW1, the “1418 NOW” (WW1 Centenary Art Commission) which used an historic pilot ship conserved by Merseyside Maritime Museum.  As I stated then when this ship was returned to its original colours it was planned to commission a similar design on one of the working Mersey Ferries boats.  https://briansimpsons.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/the-dazzle-ship/

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The Snowdrop was the ferry boat that was chosen.  The eye-catching dazzle design is in honour of the patterns that were first used on vessels in World War One. Unlike other forms of camouflage, dazzle works not by concealing but the specially painted ships ‘baffle the eye’ making it difficult to estimate a target’s range, speed and direction.

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The ‘Dazzle Ferry’ made quite a contrast to the Liverpool waterfront and the Fred Olson cruise ship Boudicca which was moored at Liverpool’s Cruise Liner terminal across the river.

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The artist Norman Wilkinson was credited with inventing the technique and he explained that dazzle was intended primarily to mislead the enemy.  The ships were painted in black and white and in colour; each ship’s dazzle pattern was unique in order to avoid making classes of ships instantly recognisable to enemy U-boats and aircraft.  Edward Wadsworth, an Intelligence Officer for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during the First World War, supervised the painting of more than two thousand British ships in ‘dazzle camouflage’ in Bristol and Liverpool. This experience inspired him to produce a series of woodcut prints that are now part of the Walker Art Gallery’s collections in Liverpool.

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This commission has been entitled ‘Everybody Razzle Dazzle’ and the Snowdrop in its new livery came into service in April 2015.  This is the third in the series of Dazzle Ship commissions and the first to be a working vessel; it is the only operating dazzle ship in the UK.  The design has been commissioned by Liverpool Biennial, 14–18 NOW the First World War Centenary Art Commission and Tate Liverpool in partnership with Merseytravel and National Museums Liverpool. The project is supported by Arts Council England, National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and Department for Culture Media and Sport.

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Visitors who board the Snowdrop can learn more about the history of dazzle and the role that the Mersey Ferries took in the First World War in an on-board display which is curated by Merseyside Maritime Museum and Tate Liverpool.

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Sir Peter Blake is a world famous artist and is a leading figure in the development of British pop art and his work is synonymous with the use of imagery from modern culture, including comic books, consumer goods and advertisements. He has a strong relationship with Liverpool and probably most famously he designed the The Beatles’s album cover, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967. However he actually first visited the city during his National Service with the RAF (1951 – 53) when his training required that he travel to Belfast, so he sailed by ferry from Liverpool’s iconic waterfront.  He is also patron of the John Moores Painting Prize.

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Sir Peter designed the Pop Art-style patterns with the aid of a computer, then visited Liverpool to see how the two-dimensional artwork would translate on to the three-dimensional ferry and in the second stage he adapted the design to the shape of the boat.  The Snowdrop then went into dry dock at Birkenhead’s Cammel Laird’s shipyard where the painters made the design a reality.

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It certainly brightens the river view around the Seacombe Ferry terminal where it is a big attraction although the Spaceport visitor attraction which was installed in 2005 in some of the Mersey Ferry buildings attracts a number of people particularly with younger children who want to learn about space as they walk through different themed galleries, which all have a variety of interactive and audio-visual exhibits.

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I understand that the Dazzle Ferry will continue in service up to 31 December 2016.

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Littlewoods Building, Edge Lane, Liverpool

A giant mural has been painted on the iconic art deco style Littlewoods Building on Edge Lane.  The Littlewoods Pools building is a local landmark in Liverpool. It was built in 1938 by Scottish Architect Gerald de Courcey Fraser, who also designed a number of department stores for Lewis’s and others.  It is a listed building.

Littlewoods ‘football pools’ was founded in 1923 by John Moores and based in this building on Edge Lane.  The building has had various uses throughout its life. During World War II, it was used for the manufacture of barrage balloons and woollen material.  At the outbreak of the war the building’s mighty printing presses were used to print 17 million National Registration forms in just three days. The floors of Halifax Bombers were assembled at the building, and it was also the nerve centre of MC5, the government agency that intercepted mail to break enemy codes.  Bomb shelters in the basement areas still contain artwork and graffiti on the walls dating from the 1941 Wartime Blitz and ‘Battle of the Atlantic’, when parts of Liverpool, its rail yards and docklands suffered more bombs per square mile than even London’s East End.  The building also continued to be used by Unity Pools during the war (formed from the three Liverpool ‘football pools’ companies of Littlewoods, Zetters and Vernons).

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The ‘football pools’ or ‘pools’ for short, allowed people to bet on the results of football matches which were popular until the introduction of the National Lottery.  The building housed the giant printing presses that sent millions of pools coupons across the country every week to players dreaming of winning a large prize for predicting the correct final results to matches.

In March 2013, a regeneration scheme for the site at Edge Lane was approved by Liverpool City Council. North West developers, Capital & Centric had put forward proposals for a new development which compromised a hotel, high tech offices and shops. This didn’t go ahead but in September 2015 a revised plan from Capital & Centric was approved which will see the conversion of the art deco building into a £25m new film studio.

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Littlewoods Film Studios Liverpool, as they would be named, could lead to the creation of around 900 full time jobs.  The Council say that the studios will mean that Liverpool will be able to meet the growing demand for film and production facilities in the city. It has been estimated that in 2014-15 the city missed out on a potential £20m in revenue due to lack of capacity.

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In recent years some major films have been filmed in the city, including Sherlock Holmes, Captain America, Jack Ryan, Fast and Furious 6, Nowhere Boy and the TV dramas Peeky Blinders and Foyle’s War.  Recently Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant filmed Florence Foster Jenkins in Liverpool while during the summer large crowds gathered in front of the Town Hall where the forthcoming new TV series “Houdini and Doyle” was being shot.  The proposed new film studio site is also to become the new home for the Liverpool Theatre School, currently based in Aigburth.

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The former Littlewoods Pools Building has been vacant since 2003, and recently Capital and Centric completed a £4m conversion of the “Bunker Building” elsewhere on the site creating 20,000 sq ft of modern office space.

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In the meanwhile attention grabbing artwork has been produced for the facade of the buildings.  The art work covers the two huge 20m x 20m walls which face the dual carriageway, creating a colourful backdrop to this gateway into the city from the M62 motorway.  The mural has been designed and painted by globally renowned graffiti artist, Replete, together with Liverpool’s Betarok75.  The mural celebrates the thriving creative and digital industries in the city.

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The huge pictures feature local artists.  Lapsley a musician and producer who recently played at Coachella festival; Katherine Rose Morley an actor who recently starred in BBC drama Thirteen as well as Last Tango in Halifax; Louis Berry a rock and roll singer from Kirkby and Leon Rossiter a digital entrepreneur who founded Instinctive C. and who represents the young digital face of Liverpool.

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The mural has been commissioned by @GetItRight, a nationwide campaign promoting the value of the UK’s creative industries.  It was officially unveiled on 25th May.  The artwork is the fourth and final piece in the UK’s largest ever nationwide street art project which has seen 788 hours of painting and over 850 cans of spray paint used to cover a combined wall space of almost 1,400 square meters.

As photographers say the best camera is the one you have with you at the time.  As I drove past today I didn’t have my usual kit with me so I thought I’d take some pictures on my iphone to accompany this article.

Speke Hall

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Over the Easter weekend I took a trip to Speke Hall a National Trust managed property.  It is a rare example of a Tudor timber-framed wattle-and-daub Tudor manor house and it is located in an unusual setting sandwiched between Liverpool John Lennon Airport and the banks of the River Mersey. It is said that it is one of the finest surviving examples of its kind.
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The Hall was built in the Tudor period by the devout Catholic Norris family who were keen to impress visitors with the grandeur of their home and in particular the magnificent Great Hall.  William Norris II began building the house with funds accumulated from the spoils of war.  He also started the long tradition of Norris’s becoming members of parliament for Liverpool.OK3A2415v2

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The building has seen more than four centuries of turbulent history. From the Tudor period when Catholic priests were hunted down and Catholic families who might aid them such as the Norris’s were punished; to years of neglect and decay in the 18th and 19th centuries when at one point it was used as a cow shed; through to being refurbished in Victorian times with the installation of the developing ‘technology’ of the era.  The Hall, following the restoration, spans many periods with a unique mix of Tudor design combined with Victorian Arts and Crafts’ interiors.  In the 20th century the National Trust acquired the building and its remaining lands on behalf of the nation.

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The oak frame, typical of the period, rests on a base of red sandstone surrounded by a now dry moat. The main beams of the house are stiffened with smaller timbers and filled with wattle and daub.OK3A2413v2

OK3A2423v2Construction of the current building began in 1530.  However it is thought that earlier buildings had been on the site and they have been incorporated into today’s structure. The Great Hall was the first part of the house to be built, in 1530. The Great (or Oak) Parlour wing was added in 1531 as was the North Bay.  Between 1540 and 1570 the south wing was altered and extended with the west wing being added between 1546 and 1547. The last significant change to the building was in 1598, when the north range was added by Edward Norris.  In 1612 a porch was added to the Great Parlour. And a laundry and dairy were founded in 1860.  Though the house itself is Tudor, the interiors have been decorated and redecorated through the years as fashions changed.  Much of the decor is Arts and Crafts inspired, and some of the interior rooms are furnished with original William Morris wallpaper.  These rooms illustrate the Victorian desire for privacy and comfort.  The laundry was altered in the 1950s.

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In some rooms there is fine Jacobean plasterwork and intricately carved furniture.  The National Trust has laid out a fully equipped Victorian kitchen and servants’ hall which enables visitors to see behind the scenes.OK3A2463v2

OK3A2469v2The gardens date from the 1850s and feature ornamental Yew hedging.  There is also a ‘Ha Ha’ (a recessed wall that creates a vertical barrier while preserving an uninterrupted view of the landscape beyond) at the front of the main house.  A short walk from the Hall is the Home Farm, a model Victorian farm.  There are woodland trails, a hedge maze, and walks along The Bund, an earthwork designed to cut noise from nearby Liverpool John Lennon Airport.OK3A2414v2

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OK3A2399v2In the courtyard of the main building are two ancient Yew trees, one male and one female, called ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’. In speaking to one of the Trust volunteers I learnt that it is hard to date Yew trees.  They are first recorded in correspondence dating to 1712; however they are generally estimated to be at least 500 years old with Adam possibly being around 600 years old.OK3A2443v2

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The house was built and owned by the Norris family for many generations until the female heiress married into the Beauclerk family in 1736.  Towards the end of the 18th century the house was abandoned by the family, who preferred to live in more fashionable London, and the dilapidated estate was finally sold in 1795.

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The Watt family purchased the house and estate from the Beauclerks in 1795.  Richard Watt, had made his money in Jamaica from the sugar plantations and decided to invest his hard-earned wealth in property.  Leaving Speke Hall to his great nephew, who substantially refurbished the Hall; it was again vacated in 1813.  After a period of tenancies, the house became thoroughly neglected and was almost a ruin before Richard Watt V and his new bride began the arduous task of restoration in 1856.  Both dying before they were 30 years old, and leaving only a young daughter to inherit on her coming of age, Speke Hall was then leased to Frederick Leyland for 10 years.OK3A2461v2

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As manager of the Bibby Shipping Company, Leyland was a relatively wealthy man, and ploughed a lot of money into the redecoration the house. His understanding and appreciation of the Arts and Crafts movement featured prominently in the Victorian refurbishment of Speke Hall, from his use of contemporary wallpapers by William Morris to his collection of Old Masters.OK3A2457v2

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The last surviving heir of the Watt family was Miss Adelaide Watt, who returned to the house in 1878 at the age of 21 years.  She set about developing a huge new farm complex, and was determined that such an historic property should be preserved for all time, irrespective of the massive amount of industrial development that was fast spreading out from the city.OK3A2424v2

OK3A2445v2Miss Watt died in 1921, leaving the house and estate in trust for 21 years, during which time it was looked after by the staff under the supervision of Thomas Whatmore, who had been butler to Miss Watt.  During this time the farm complex was transformed into an aerodrome opening in 1932.  At the end of this period, in 1942, the house passed into the ownership of the National Trust.  The house was administered by Liverpool City Corporation from 1946 until 1986, when the National Trust took over full responsibility.OK3A2503v2

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Under the National Trust the building has been further refurbished.  The Home Farm building has been renovated and now houses the shop, restaurant and reception and the laundry has been converted into the education room.  Rooms such as the gun room have been changed over the years and then changed back by the National Trust in order to show more of the history of the Hall.OK3A2499v2

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There are a number of unique features in the Hall dating from the various periods of its history.  Some of the most interesting survive from its early days.  There is a ‘priest hole’ and a special observation hole built into a chimney in one of the bedrooms to allow someone from the household to see people approaching the house and to warn any Catholic priest visiting the family that he may need to hide.  There is also an ‘eavesdrop’ – a small open hole under the eaves of the house – which allowed a servant to listen in on the conversations of people awaiting admission at the original front door to see if they were friend or foe.

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Why was this the case?  Well under Queen Elizabeth I the Act of Uniformity was passed which restored the Church of England rather than the Catholic Church as the official religion of the country and all who did not conform were fined or imprisoned.  It was High Treason for a Catholic priest to even enter England and anyone found aiding and abetting a priest would be punished severely.  The Jesuit religious order was formed in 1540 to help the Catholic Church fight the Protestant Reformation and many Jesuit priests were sent across the Channel to England to support Catholic families. Jesuit priests would live with wealthy Catholic families in the guise of a cousin or a teacher.  To this end ‘priest hunters’ were tasked to collect information and locate any such priests.OK3A2473v2

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OK3A2470v2Sometimes Jesuits priests in an area would meet at a safe house; these safe houses were identified by secret symbols and the Catholic supporters and families would pass messages to each other through code.  Hiding places or ‘priest’s holes’ were built in these houses in case there was a raid. The Priest hole in Speke Hall has been built behind a false timber panel in one of the bedrooms.  Priest Holes were largely constructed between the 1550s and the Catholic-led Gunpowder Plot in 1605. Sometimes other building alterations would be made at the same time as the priest’s holes so as not to arouse suspicion.OK3A2409v2

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Speke Hall is said to be haunted.  It has appeared on the TV series Most Haunted in 2009. The resident ghost is said to be Mary Norris, who inherited Speke Hall in 1791. Mary Norris married Lord Sidney Beauclerk, who proceeded to gamble away the family fortune.  When Beauclerk told his wife they were ruined, she threw their newborn son out the window of the Tapestry Room, into the moat outside. She then ran to the Great Hall where she took her own life. Her ghost is said to haunt the Tapestry Room.OK3A2497v2

OK3A2491v2At the end of the day as I left the Hall I reflected that it is not only a miracle that the building has survived but even more surprising that it has remained virtually unaltered since it was first built for the Norris family some 450 years ago.  It is in the most unlikely setting, at the edge of a modern industrial estate and bordering on the runway of Liverpool Airport where the air is regularly punctuated by the roar of jet engines as planes taxi down the next door runway.  Truly a remarkable piece of history preserved for us all to appreciate.

 

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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