The first related to a threatened withdrawal of the city’s UNESCO world heritage status. The international organisation usually describes sites as at risk when they are in civil war zones, or in countries run by regimes that might actively destroy its heritage. In Liverpool’s case, it is a proposed development that is feared will completely unbalance the cityscape, dwarfing the “Three Graces” beneath soaring towers inspired by the Shanghai waterfront. Responding to criticisms, the development director responsible was quoted as saying
“Unesco status is a badge on the wall, but we cannot afford to fossilise our city.”
The second report was reviewing the impact of the decade since it became illegal to smoke in enclosed workspaces. One of the charts described the decline in the number of British pubs in that period. Thousands have closed, and I regularly see evidence of this on my travels. I’m sure some photographer will soon produce an art book of monochrome prints detailing this decline, but for now here’s my contribution. Five former hostelries whose day has certainly passed and all within the same route from the city centre out towards Bootle.
What interested me about these buildings is that despite their obvious decay, there was attention to detail in their original designs. These were never great cathedrals, but to the working man they were important. In fact their very existence strung out along the same route tells a story. A story of dock workers thirsty from the hard physical labour of loading and unloading shipping needing a place to quench that thirst and share stories that belied the dangerous work they undertook. With the move to container shipping many of those dangers have gone, but so have the jobs, which is why this stretch of road lies derelict along the canal and railside. Social and economic factors rather than the smoking ban. Some of the land has already been reclaimed for housing, but there is a huge opportunity for more.
My first pub is the Athol Vaults, which looks to this Sunderland native like a former Vaux Breweries pub. Though the least ornate, even here there are mouldings on the woodwork.
There’s the Melrose Abbey, probably the most recent closure of the group. Grimy now, but in its day that coloured brickwork would have been a nice touch.
Not to be confused with the Melrose Abbey, is the Melrose, whose imposing tower has a real touch of the Scottish Baronial style of architecture. Decorated with intricate terracotta tiles that even the residents no longer notice, this has been converted into apartments. One tenant spotted me taking pictures and invited me in, but if there was ever an equally grand interior all trace has been lost now.
My fourth casualty is The Knowsley, well-sited on a busy corner and with lots of decorative detail. Referred to as “The Round House” for obvious reasons, it’s now a low-budget B&B.
Which brings me to my final victim. The Royal. Even its proximity to Bank Hall railway station hasn’t brought it customers and now it’s roof is crumbling away. Another structure whose tower makes something of a statement.
It seems to me that this is an area ripe for the influx of the development money that is planned to destroy the character of the waterfront. If only the developers took as much care as the designers of these humble watering holes.