Still in Liverpool…
The area where the Liverpool Cenotaph is situated is called St George’s Plateau. This is the flat space between St George’s Hall and Lime Street station and it contains statues of four lions and monuments, including bronzes of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria by Thomas Thornycroft, and a monument to Major-General William Earle.
St George’s Hall really dominates the space though and right from the start I was curious about what was inside of it. Somebody told me that there were tours of the building available so I decided to try my luck, assuming I could find the door!
The foundation stone was laid in 1838 to commemorate the coronation of Queen Victoria, and the hall was designed by Harvey Lonsdale Elmes, a London architect. The building would house not only a grand concert hall but assize courts too. Construction started in 1841 and the hall opened in 1854. The building and plateau was restored in the 2000’s and it was officially reopened on 23 April 2007 by Prince Charles.
Until 1984 the Liverpool Assizes (later the Crown Court) were held in the courtroom at the southern end of St George’s Hall. Lower down in the basement are cells for awaiting trial prisoners with a staircase leading upwards into the court. It is quite ironic that a grand concert could be on the go in the hall while down below prisoners were awaiting their fate.
I was too late for the formal tours of the building but there was a self led tour that took in parts of it and was able to do that one. It was a very interesting place to see.
The Basement Cells.
A short corridor has cells leading off to the left in the picture, while a whipping chair and flogging frame are against the right hand wall. The cells are all empty apart from displays, but I doubt very much if they looked as good when they were in use. They were mostly used to house prisoners brought from the prisons who were due to appear in court and not used for long term incarceration and have no facilities like sanitation.
The objects stuck against the walls in the upper left hand image are mugshots as below. These were supplied by the Nottingham Galleries of Justice and are of unidentified prisoners from that era.The unpainted areas in the top right hand image still have graffiti written by the original inhabitants (and a few modern idiots have added their monikers too). The cell on the bottom left was a really a waiting room for those involved in minor cases. The poor soul on the right has probably heard her fate and has been left to await transportation to Kirkdale or Walton Prison.
Above the wretches of humanity was the assizes court, and it was reach by a short staircase that opened up in the dock.
The bewigged judge would be peering down from his high backed chair and of course various court functionaries and lawyers would be present and probably a few members of the public too.
The courts were probably more biased towards the law and the luckless individual in the dock was in for a rough ride. Unfortunately a number of innocent people were caught up in this “system” and a vast amount of guilty ones were too. The judge may have even recognised a few of them from previous court appearances. However, justice must be seen to be done and the results are to be seen in the mugshots in the cells down the staircase. Prison was not a fun place, and from what I can read Kirkdale and Walton Prisons were very hard places to serve time in. There were no human rights lawyers waiting to shout the odds, although there were prison reformers who did their best for the prisoners.
The Judge, having banged his gavel could retire to his chambers behind his bench, while the prisoner would be led downwards back to the cell and onwards transportation to serve their sentence.
However, parts of this large building are a different world altogether. One of the purposes of the building was the provision of a hall large enough for civic functions, musical concerts, balls and “society events”, and this was not a part of the self guided tour although you could look down into it from the gallery. It was being set up for a function and I could see quite a lot of what it looked like, unfortunately the huge chandeliers played havoc with the images so they did not come out the way I would have liked. What I was able to see what very impressive and there are places that can show the hall much better than my lousy images https://www.stgeorgeshallliverpool.co.uk
The image below is is an hdr photograph by Michael D Beckwith taken from St George’s Hall during the annual minton floor reveal. Located in Liverpool, Merseyside, England, UK 5 August 2014, 09:57:34
(Image By Michael D Beckwith [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons)
There was also a Crown Court in the building and a smaller hall which was being used for a wedding on the day I visited.
The difference between the basement and main area of the building is astounding and I wonder how often the attendees of functions here ever gave a consideration to the misery down below; or how often prisoners would hear the magnificent organ in full blow up the stairs. It is an interesting contrast between the haves and have nots. The organ itself is a magnificent specimen, and is actually the 3rd pipe organ that I saw in Liverpool.
Finally, the lower areas of the building are interesting because the building had a very primitive air conditioning plant in the basement. It was devised by Dr Boswell Reid, and was the first attempt at providing air conditioning in a public building in the United Kingdom, Air was warmed by five hot water pipes which were heated by two coke-fired boilers and two steam boilers. The air was circulated by four fans 3m wide. It was controlled by a large number of workers opening and closing a series of canvas flaps. The operating levers are still to be seen in the cell block.
And of course those areas far below make for interesting photography if your flash can penetrate the gloom.
It was a fascinating building, and make no mistake it is huge. It dwarfs the cenotaph and makes most buildings around it look small. Although those on the one side of it are equally old and beautiful in their own right.
It must have been spectacular when it opened over a century ago, especially when viewed as a member of society. “Underclasses” probably had a different view of it altogether.
St John’s Gardens.
Behind St George’s Hall (1 on the map) is St John’s Gardens (2)
It is a very pretty place and quite a popular place to rest your feet surrounded by greenery and history.
The statue that interested me was that of the Kings Liverpool Regiment as it commemorates the Boer War, although it would probably make the Boers upset.
And that really sums up St George’s Hall. A mighty space it is indeed, although I do feel it is somewhat too large and heavy, it really needs some colour and windows. I hope to see inside it again one day, who knows, I may be adding an update in the future.
You can continue to the next page or have a squizz at my random images.
DRW © 2018. Created 13/06/2018. Image of interior of St George’s Hall by Michael D Beckwith [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons)