End of Year Statistics 2016

It’s that time of year again when I reflect on what I’ve published on this blog during 2016. I’ve uploaded eleven new blogs during the year.

This year saw another record of 9,849 views with 6,564 separate visitors from 86 different countries coming to the blog site.  The Top Ten countries viewing my blog were in order of views:

  • UK                             6,024
  • USA                          1,562
  • Germany                   473
  • France                       332
  • Australia                    213
  • Russia                      159
  • Canada                     142
  • Netherlands              101
  • Spain                         66
  • Brasil                         53

The top ten most visited articles were mostly from previous years with only the posting about the Littlewoods Building making it from this year’s postings.  The most visiting postings in order of popularity were:

  • On Four Bridges
  • Liverpool Anglican Cathedral
  • The Welsh Streets Part 2
  • On Bidston Hill
  • About Wirral
  • The Hillsborough Monument Memorial
  • Thingwall to Landican
  • Littlewoods Building on Edge Lane Liverpool
  • A trip to Jerusalem
  • A walk along Hoylake Promenade

I’ve uploaded 107 posts since I started the blog in March 2012 with 36,945 total views and 20,386 separate visitors during this time.

Let’s see what subjects I cover in 2017?

I will end by saying thank you to everyone who has taken the time to follow my blogs and photographs during the last twelve months and look forward to seeing you in the forthcoming year.

Best wishes to you all for 2017.

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Hamilton Square Christmas Lights switch on

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On Friday night I went down to Hamilton Square in Birkenhead to watch the Christmas lights being switched on along with a lot of other people keen to soak up the festive atmosphere.

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This was the first time for ten years that the Square has had Christmas lights.  This year’s event was organised by Birkenhead First and Wirral’s Chamber of Commerce.

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Birkenhead First is a Business Improvement District (BID) which enables businesses within a designated area to fund initiatives and improvements over and above those provided by the local council.

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The Business Improvement District is a partnership between local businesses and Wirral Council, led by a private sector steering group.  Birkenhead First aims to encourage more visitors to and greater investment in Birkenhead town centre. As part of its approach to brightening up Birkenhead they sponsored and funded the Christmas lights this year.

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There were a range of local stores selling everything from chocolate to locally made gin as well as a range of entertainment.  This included a number of attractions for children including Santa and his sleigh, characters from the film Frozen, Fusion Dance Academy and drumming displays from Wirral Samba.

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The team from Wirral Radio entertained the crowds and there was music and Christmas carols from local schools.  Liverpool FC and England footballing legend John Barnes switched on the Hamilton Square Christmas lights at 6pm.

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The couple walking on stilts around the crowd were popular as were the street merchants selling lights and lanterns.  As well as the lights and a Christmas tree outside the town hall there were lights in the trees and on the Square’s ornate street light columns.

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The area around the town hall was certainly jam packed so much so that I couldn’t get anywhere near the stage, but I did manage to get a few shots of the lights and activities around the Square.

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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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Birkenhead Tunnel Flyovers

Some may say an article and photo assignment about urban flyovers is a peculiar subject.  As a regular commuter to Birkenhead I have always viewed the town centre flyovers which feed traffic into the Queensway road tunnel taking people under the River Mersey to Liverpool as a particular ugly form of 1960’s concrete brutalism architecture.  They have cut up Birkenhead town centre and do not show the town’s best side even on a sunny day as I took the photos contained in this article.  Most commuters will probably be too pre-occupied with their journeys to take any real notice of the road network around them.  If you explore on foot you discover a number of forgotten streets deep below the speeding commuter traffic.  Whilst making a definitive physical statement and defining the town they have an important purpose in keeping Liverpool bound traffic moving as I have found out.

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The Birkenhead to Liverpool tunnel was opened in the 1930s.  Over the years the cross-river road usage was increasing to such a level that it was causing chronic traffic jams at each end.  The original 1930s Birkenhead terminus only had a small number of toll booths and there was congestion with the surrounding roads, and by the 1960s this was causing traffic problems across the town.

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Whilst a brand new tunnel was being built from Wallasey to the north of Wirral to relieve the Queensway tunnel, the planners drew up a scheme to demolish huge areas of Birkenhead and to build a series of large flyovers in the town centre to serve the tunnel.

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The original tunnel had bottlenecks along its route with two junctions inside which had their own traffic signals.  There were also toll booths at each entrance.  As part of the upgrading the junctions inside the tunnel were remodelled. The Liverpool spur became exit-only, allowing traffic from Birkenhead to opt for the Dock exit or the Haymarket exit. The Birkenhead spur to the docks which came out onto Rendel Street was closed.  Apparently its traffic signals were unreliable and caused long delays.

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Brian Colquhoun and Partners, one of the engineering companies involved in the construction of the original tunnel were appointed to review the arrangements and develop a plan to solve the traffic chaos.  They reported back in August 1966 with their proposals.  All tolls would be collected at the Birkenhead end of the tunnel rather than at both ends.  Traffic entering and exiting the tunnel would be segregated and the local road network in Birkenhead town centre would be re-engineered to allow free movement from the major radial routes to the tunnel mouth stopping only for the toll.  To alleviate rush hour congestion towards Liverpool, marshalling areas would be created where traffic queues would be managed and controlled and congestion would not spill onto the surrounding streets.

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The plan involved clearing a large area of central Birkenhead including more than 170 homes, 90 shops, 23 factories and 14 pubs.  They were replaced with vast open areas of tarmac and two kilometres of new elevated and tunnelled roads. The construction works lasted over two years including the complete renovation of several railway tunnels underneath, with the computer controlled queuing system with the scheme opening to traffic in July 1969.

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Like many cities in the 1960’s embracing the ‘white heat of technology’, to quote former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, they were too enthusiastic in demolishing old buildings and replacing them with modern concrete constructions.  As I set out in my earlier article on Birkenhead Priory, St Mary’s church the town’s first parish church lost its congregation in the clearances of housing required for the construction of the tunnel. (https://briansimpsons.wordpress.com/2015/10/31/birkenhead-priory/)

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The new road layout used huge lengths of elevated roadway to allow all traffic entering or exiting the tunnel to get to and from each of the three major approaches to the tunnel without causing congestion with other local traffic.

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The main elevated flyover now dwarfs a piece of more historic Birkenhead: King Edward VII Memorial Clock Tower situated in the roundabout on Clifton Crescent opposite the now empty Central Hotel which lends an even more care worn feel to this area of town.

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The clock tower is a Grade II listed building is a memorial to the reign of King Edward VII and was designed by Edmund Kirby and was erected by public subscriptions in 1911.  It was originally situated in Argyle Street, near Birkenhead Central Station but it was in the way when the area was redeveloped to improve road links to the Birkenhead Tunnel.  This meant that in about 1929 it was moved 50 metres to its present location in Clifton Crescent. The Central Hotel was built in 1938, and the flyover was added from 1966, so the Clock Tower has seen many changes to its surroundings since it was first built.  The clocks are maintained and in working order, so it has not been completely forgotten.

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The network of flyovers continues to move traffic around the town and into the tunnel as it was designed to back in the 1960s.  However some of the high level flyovers didn’t survive entirely unscathed.  Whilst the Borough Road flyover has been the main subject of my photos this month; the flyover which used to rise above Conway Street has been demolished.

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In the early 1990s, Wirral Council set up the ‘City Lands’ regeneration scheme under the then government’s City Challenge Fund.  The plan saw major regeneration work across Birkenhead’s town centre and a key project was to remove what was seen as a major barrier which cut the main town centre into two and was far too close to the main shopping precinct.  It was demolished and replaced with two roundabouts, and with it went the long, thin elevated road running diagonally north-westwards across the tunnel’s plaza complex. There’s now just a little stub to show where the flyover used to start. There is now no direct way from the tunnel to the main shopping area, and traffic wanting to do this now has to go around the road system instead.

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At the Liverpool end the toll booths were removed and plans were developed for a Liverpool Inner Motorway system with the tunnel connecting to this as an integrated transport system.  But it was never fully realised and the Churchill Way flyover in Liverpool was the only tangible development which rises close to the tunnel exit in the city centre.

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The flyovers were an expression of modern urban Britain in the 1960s and we still use them today.  Many of us take them for granted.  Walking around the town centre you get a different angle on them from speeding along them in our insulated vehicles.

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Thanks to Chris Marshall’s article ‘Flyovers and flashing lights’ about the Queensway tunnel on his website http://www.cbrd.co.uk  which is dedicated to the study of the entire road network of mainland Britain.

There’s no place like home revisited

Way back on the 5th of August 2012 I made a post entitled ‘There’s no place like home’ [see https://briansimpsons.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/theres-no-place-like-home/ for the full blog].

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In this article I went along to the last site being cleared under the Government’s then ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) in Birkenhead to take some photographs before the houses in the Carrington Street and Milner Street area of north Birkenhead were bulldozed to the ground.  The HMRI programme was designed to remove old obsolete houses and replace them with modern new purpose designed homes.

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Almost four years to the day I returned to the area to see what has happened on the site.  As I reported in my original post the area was in danger of becoming an urban wasteland.  The incoming coalition government had stopped the funding for the Housing Market Renewal programme launched by the former Labour Government in 2002 as part of its austerity measures.

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However during 2012 a coalition government allocation of £7m got a regeneration initiative back on track and some 60 new homes were built off Laird Street at St Josephs Place on another former clearance site.

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Further up Laird Street the redevelopment of Milner, Carrington, Thorneycroft ,Plumer and Rundle Streets was in the pipeline as the second phase to this development when I visited to take photographs of the old dilapidated houses awaiting demolition.

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A private sector developer Keepmoat has now built out the site and they have sold the homes despite the challenging financial climate over the last few years.

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The accent of the regeneration scheme has been on housing affordability.  The properties were made available to purchase through the government-backed ‘Help to Buy’ scheme.  Prospective buyers are offered part ownership of properties of between 25% and 75% to help them get a foot on the housing ladder.  As their financial circumstances improve they will be able to increase their share of ownership.

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Plumer Street, Thorneycroft Street, Carrington Street, Milner Street and Rundle Street have been turned into a new area called St James’ Gate.  This sees the cleared demolition site developed with 125 new build 2, 3 and 4 bedroom modern homes.

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The St James’ Gate development cost around £12.5 million to build.  The site was very popular.  The first seven completed properties were snapped up within two weeks of them being released for sale ‘off plan’.  The remainder of the site has been fully sold and families have all moved in to their brand new homes.  As I wandered around this sunny Sunday morning the residents were all going about their business in sharp contrast to the deserted streets back in 2012.

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The St James’ Gate scheme, together with the previously built St Josephs Place development, means that Keepmoat will have provided a total of 187 new homes in the north Birkenhead area on former clearance sites.

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Wirral Council and Keepmoat have further plans which could see around 400 new homes built in total, completely transforming this part of Birkenhead.

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The Council hopes with the new homes that this part of the town will become a popular and attractive neighbourhood again. The area is certainly much more attractive than the old dilapidated homes I photographed back in 2012.  It is right on the edge of the stunning Birkenhead Park and there has been other investment in the area with a new health centre, retail facilities and good schools nearby.

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I wonder what we may see if we come back in another four years time?

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.