musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: Birkenhead

Loving Liverpool (11) The Final Say?

The final say?

This is the final post in my “Loving Liverpool” series that covers my recent trip. And what a ride it has been. I returned from the city with over 2000 images and even when I look at them now I realise how many images I neglected to take, especially in St John’s Garden and at the Anglican and Catholic Cathedrals.

The highlight of the trip was probably Museum of the Moon and St James Garden, they were breathtaking and photographs do not do them justice.

Museum of the Moon

Liverpool as a maritime city is a mere shade of its former self, no longer do mighty transatlantic liners berth in the Mersey nor cargo ships ply their trade backwards and forwards. Mighty steam engines no longer wait at Lime Street Station to take their trains to London or north to Scotland. The end result has been much cleaner air! But a loss of the heritage that made this place what it is. 

Liverpool was built around the slave trade, and it made many people very rich and inflicted misery on countless others. There is no way to really reverse that situation, and I am afraid that it is yet another blot on our “civilisation”. However, it is crucial that it does not get swept under the carpet and relegated to the pages of dusty old tomes. The Maritime Museum had an exhibition on Slavery, but I did not see too much of it because of the crowds. The museum also has the obligatory Titanic exhibition which was surprisingly interesting, especially since the builders model was present, or was it the builders model of the Olympic disguised as the Titanic?

Cunard’s Campania

For me though Liverpool will stand out for its many beautiful buildings, and there are a lot of them! The one strange gem was Roscoe Gardens and the Grand Central Hotel with its quirky décor, steelwork and pipe organ. It was truly a wonderful space, and I could easily do a post all about that building alone. 

There were two churches outside of the cathedrals that I saw, in particular the Liverpool Parish Church is a real beauty, and it had a welcoming atmosphere too. The nautical feel of the church does it credit, and of course finding woodwork from the Aquitania was an added bonus.  

But, like the other “bombed out church” it does tell a story about the Liverpool Blitz.

The presence of Western Approaches Command Museum really just highlighted the importance of the city to the conduct of the Battle of the Atlantic,  and I am sure that if I visited the city cemeteries at Anfield and Toxteth Park I would possibly find some of the many innocents killed in the bombing buried within them.

Talking of cemeteries, contrary to my usual plans I did not visit the city cemeteries, although St James Garden was really a bonus. It was a really wonderful place to visit. The Cathedrals were equally amazing, and a revisit to them both is really on the cards for a return visit.

One of the more surprising finds was the Hall of Remembrance inside the City Hall. The building itself was stunning, and the staff were incredibly helpful too. The Hall was outstanding, a really beautiful room but I am sure not too many people are even aware of its existence.

The pier head was enjoyable, but it really was sad that there were all these acres of dock space and nothing in them, it is the reality in many of the former ports in the UK. The faithful ferry does help alleviate the shortage of shipping, but I fear that even at some point she may become redundant unless a way can be found to revitalise the service. Birkenhead across the water is also worthy of exploration, as is Bootle and possibly further afield to a point when I can see the expanse of water known as the Irish Sea.

The Irish Sea in the distance (1500 x 422)

On my way to Liverpool I was lucky enough to get some pics of the large bridge at Runcorn spanning the Mersey. It really deserves better photographs than those I managed from the moving train.

Crewe Railway Heritage Centre was also worth a visit but was not open during my time in Liverpool. It was a pity though as there appeared to be quite a lot to see.

Some of those wonderful old buildings.

Municipal Offices

Exchange Station

Former Royal Infirmary

County Sessions House

Hargreaves Building

Wellington Rooms

Playhouse

Liverpool, London & Globe Bldg

There were a number of other weird and wonderful things that I saw, and these are some of them.

Paifang, Nelson Street

Like many cities Liverpool has a large ethnic Chinese community centred around Chinatown. Many of the inhabitants are descendants of Chinese seaman who served in the merchant ships that called in the city.  The paifang on Nelson Street is the largest, multiple-span arch of its kind outside China.

The Liverpool Sailor’s Home Gateway was originally outside the main entrance to the Sailor’s Home  which stood where the current John Lewis is. It was removed from the home in 1951 and presented to the successors of the Henry Pooley and Son’s Albion Foundy in Liverpool; the original makes of the gate.

Liverpool sailor’s home gateway

It was returned to this space in 2011 and is dedicated as a memorial to all the sailors who have passed through Liverpool during its long history as an international seaport.

This wonderful footbridge I spotted in Princes Dock. It reminded me of a whale carcass.

The Queensway Tunnel was opened in July 1934 and it connects Liverpool with Birkenhead. 

Queensway tunnel

There are a number of ventilation shafts visible from the river, with one shaft being part of  George’s Dock Ventilation and Control Station building. This magnificent art-deco building should really be the 4 grace. In the image below it is the square building in the foreground. 

I was hoping that the Library (situated in St George’s Quarter), would be a magnificent space, but sadly it wasn’t. However. if you look upwards…

Quite a few “modern” buildings are worthy of consideration too, and the city has a surprisingly modern skyline.

(1500 x 479)

Liverpool Museum

Mann Island Buildings

The Gym. Strand Street

Echo Wheel & Echo Arena

There is a lot of excellent public art and statues in the city and it is impossible to see it all and catalogue it. 

‘A Case History’ was created by John King. Installed in 1998 on Hope Street

Heaven and Earth by Andy Plant

The Great Escape. Herbert Cronshaw

These 10 pages are not the only one spawned as a result of my visit, a number of pages were created at allatsea too, and so far these are:

Overall though I really enjoyed Liverpool, it was one of those experiences that I was very fortunate to have. I tend to view cities as a newcomer and can see them with a different light to what the average person who lives in the city has. Would I live in Liverpool? I cannot answer that because I really only saw the touristy bits and not the nitty gritty of life in its tougher neighbourhoods.

I only dabbled briefly in the underground railway and only experienced 3 stations and my 4 days of weather were all different, and of course I was not there to experience winter in all its discontent. Yet I found the people incredibly friendly and I must single out the commissionaire at one of the “3 Graces”, the guide at the Musical Britain display and the lady manning the front desk of Grand Central Hotel,  as well as the staff at The Lord Nelson Hotel. What a pleasure to deal with you all.

Lord Nelson Hotel

Its time to lapse back into my torpor of inactivity, although I still have quite a lot more odds and ends that I will use in other blogposts, for starters my forthcoming “Crime and punishment” post has been put on hold and now needs a rethink.

And that was Liverpool…

DRW © 2018. Created 15/06/2018

Updated: 27/06/2018 — 19:10

Loving Liverpool (5) Birkenhead

Continuing where we left off… 

It was now day two of my Liverpool trip and outside all was grey and gloomy and I was at a momentary loss as to what to do with myself. While researching my navigation I discovered that Liverpool was also home to “U-534“,  a Type IXC/40 U-boat from World War II. She had been raised on 23 August 1993 by the Dutch salvage company Smit Tak  after being undiscovered for nearly 41 years. She now formed the nucleus of the U-Boat Story museum at the Woodside Ferry Terminal in Birkenhead, which, was a short train journey underneath the Mersey. You can see the dismembered U-Boat in the image below.

Woodside ferry terminal

I actually did not use my brains when I decided to hop the train across the river, for starters I was at least 2 hours too early, and secondly I could visit the museum free if I bought a ticket for the river cruise on the ferry.  With the clouds hanging over my head I picked up the underground at Lime Street and headed to Hamilton Square Station in Birkenhead.

Hamilton Square Station

It was chilly too, and I regretted not bringing my jacket with.  I also regretted missing the lift and hoofing up an infinite number of stairs to get out of the station. 

The promenade, U-Boat Story and Waterside Ferry Terminal were about a block away. A quick walk and I was there, but everything was closed and not a soul was in sight. It was only 8.15, why was everything closed? It was very depressing indeed. The only item that looked reasonably interesting was a replica of the Victorian submarine “Resurgam

The original ill fated vessel met its end in Liverpool Bay off Rhyl on 25 February 1880 while en route for Portsmouth. How successful it may have been as a functioning submarine is not noted. However, the information plaque records that she did sail and submerge successfully. 

At the waters edge I discovered that not only was the tide out, but there was actually a ship alongside at the ferry landing on my side of the river! Huzzah! let’s go have a look!

She was busy loading and there was no way of knowing when she would sail and of course I was on the wrong side of the river to get a proper look at her (for the record she was the Stena Mersey).  And, to my amazement a movement on my right revealed a tanker running light outbound.

I idled along checking my watch. The first ferry to Woodside was destined to arrive at 10H30 and  the museum only opened at 10H30 and it was only 8.20! I had a decision to make because nothing was happening here. Looming next to the terminal were the segments of U-534 and I peered at them through the fence with interest. 

I really wanted to see this exhibition so I either had to hang around till opening time, or head back to the other river bank and come across with the ferry after 10H30. 

There were a few other surprises on this short stretch of river bank. 

The Birkenhead Monument.

The HMS Birkenhead is one of those definitive shipwrecks that litter the pages of history, and especially early South African History, as she foundered after colliding with an uncharted rock near Danger Point (today near Gansbaai, Western Cape) on  26 February 1852. The sinking of the Birkenhead is the earliest maritime disaster evacuation during which the concept of “women and children first” is known to have been applied. There were of the approximately 643 people on board the ill fated vessel of which only 193 were saved. 

The memorial was unveiled on 5 March 2014

The HMS Thetis Memorial.

A bit further along the promenade I found a memorial to the men lost in the sinking of HMS Thetis on 1 June 1939. I recall reading the story of the disaster and unsuccessful attempts to rescue the men trapped inside her, and it was really one of those disasters that could have been prevented.

Ninety-nine lives were lost in the incident: 51 crew members, 26 Cammell Laird employees, 8 other naval officers, 7 Admiralty overseeing officers, 4 Vickers-Armstrong employees, 2 caterers and a Mersey pilot.

Thetis was successfully salvaged and repaired, being commissioned in 1940 as HMS Thunderbolt but was sunk by depth charges by the Italian corvette Cicogna on 14 March 1943 off Sicily.  All hands were lost and Thunderbolt settled to the bottom in 1,350 m of water.

She is listed on the Submarine Memorial at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport.

It was time for me to head back to the other bank of the river. The ferry was currently running 10 minutes trips across the Mersey between the terminal in Liverpool and Seacombe/Wallasy and if I arrived too early I would ride her up and down until I got tired. The round trip on the “River Explorer Cruise” runs from Pier Head Ferry Terminal to Seacombe Ferry Terminal, Wirral and then to Woodside Ferry Terminal, Wirral where the U-boat Story was and then back to the pier head. It was a 50 minute hop off and hop on trip and I intended to climb off at Woodside, check the exhibition and then reboard at 11H30 to return to the starting place.

However, I am going to skip the ferry trip in this post as I really want to do a post about the ferry separately so this one will deal with my visit to U-534. (the ferry is dealt with in Loving Liverpool (6) Having bought a River Explorer ticket I was entitled to free entry to the exhibition and I had allocated enough time to grab the ferry back at 11H30, although I was equally prepared to catch the next one at 12H30 too, although it would be much more crowded on that trip. There were not too many of us at the museum at that awful time, and I headed directly for the vessel instead of pausing at the exhibits in the hall. The submarine had been sawn into 4 parts, with the conning tower balanced between two of them. Each sawn end had been “sealed” with a transparent bulkhead that allowed you to see inside it.

I am however ambivalent about what was done because they really sliced up an intact (albeit rusty) U-Boat, but it did allow for a limited view of the interior of a U-Boat. The limitations of what they did were several: the biggest being that you could only really see a jumble of badly rusted machinery but nothing that lay beyond roughly 2 metres away. The state of the transparent bulkheads did leave much to be desired because they were badly smeared and I would have thought that they would been cleaned every morning before the exhibition opened. In some sections the machinery was also covered in pigeon crap! and if a pigeon can get in then so can the rain.     

But, those slices were fascinating to see, and while there were cross section explanations that marked certain components it was not always easy to understand what you were seeing. The vessel was full of water for over 40 years so the interiors are badly rusted, and the few wooden parts that I saw were rotten and there was a certain eeriness about that interior. I recall reading a book called “The Night Boat” by Robert R McCammon many years ago, and it was about a submarine full of zombies, and what I was seeing looked very much liked what I imagined that literary submarine looked like (although without the zombies and pigeons). I am not going to even try explain the images because it is beyond me.

It was fascinating to say the least. What really amazed me was how they squeezed so much machinery into such a small area and routed pipework and cables through the hull. The vertically orientated image shows the inside of the saddle tanks, with the curvature of the pressure hull on the right hand side. I never thought to check the underside of the saddle tanks because technically they were free flooding.

On 5 May 1945 she was underway heading north towards Norway, when she was attacked by a Liberator aircraft from RAF 547 Squadron which dropped depth charges. the submarine took heavy damage and began to sink by the stern. Forty nine of the fifty two crew members survived, including four who escaped via a torpedo hatch.

Inside the main building is an exhibition of items that were found inside the submarine, and these were very poignant, and obviously from long ago. 

For me it was a rare glimpse at the inside of a ship that could have ended the war if affective countermeasures were not found, and at times it was a close run thing. U-534 never sank a ship but did shoot down two British aircraft. Her end came right at the end of the war, and today we are able to catch a tiny glimpse into a vessel that descended from primitive hand powered machines that were considered an ungentlemanly weapon. We have come a long way since U-534 was built way back in 1942, and today the nuclear powered submarine is a true submarine and even deadlier than before.

It was time to catch the ferry on the next part of my journey, so I headed outwards, slightly miffed because the shop did not have prices on their ferry models.

My next post will deal with the ferry and my 2 trips on board the ferry Snowdrop.

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DRW © 2018. Created 03/05/2018

Updated: 19/06/2018 — 12:54
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