Liverpool is home to some remarkable and beautiful buildings. From the iconic Three Graces, to the grandeur of its Municipal Buildings, the city is littered with architectural triumphs still standing proud. But throughout Merseyside, there are gaps that once housed lost landmarks of times gone by.
These buildings were destroyed, damaged or simply demolished over the years, leaving the city bereft of historic properties that once were the pride of the city. We decided to take a look back at some of Liverpool’s lost landmarks, and the history behind them…
1. The Overhead Railway
Many people may remember the Overhead Railway, which was the world’s first elevated electric railway that ran above the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board’s goods railway. The railway was located along the Liverpool docks, going inland at Seaforth.
The railway opened on 4th February 1893; but during the May Blitz of 1941, it suffered significant damage.
This lost liverpool landmark was restored after the devestation of the second world war, but the owners were resistant to incorporate the British railway system until it was nationalised in 1948.
Sadly, the Overhead Railway was not to last, as the company failed to source the £2 million cost of essential repairs to ensure its survival. With the line vulnerable to corrosion, and the company facing financial uncertainty, the line closed on 30th December 1956 and was demolished in September 1957.
2. Custom House
One of the greatest architectural disasters of world war two in Liverpool was the destruction of Custom House.
Located near the Albert Dock, and often referred to as the Fourth Grace, the function of Custom House was to collect tolls and excise duties – a vital service for Liverpool ports’ operations. Designed by leading architect John Foster Junior, the building took eleven years to build on the Old Dock site.
But the magnificant property was all but destroyed in just one night as the building suffered extensive damage during the May Blitz 1941 by the German Luftwaffe. The interior building was gutted and the dome completely destroyed. As a result, the building was demolished after the war, despite public uproar.
3. St George’s Place
It’s probably hard to imagine Liverpool without St John’s Shopping Centre – especially as it is one of the first things locals and tourists now see when they step out of Lime Street Station.
But before the erection of the shopping centre and market, Lime Street offered a burst of colour known as St George’s Palace, facing the station. Despite looking like something straight out of Las Vegas in these photos, beneath the neon signs were elegant Georgian buildings and beautiful facades. The buildings were demolished in the 1960s, however, to make way for the shopping complex.
4. The Brownlow Hill Workhouse
Built in 1771, The Brownlow Hill Workhouse was one of the largest in the UK. Situated on Brownlow Hill and Mount Pleasant, it was demolished in the 1930s to make way for the Metropolitian Cathedral.
The Brownlow Hill Workhouse provided accommodation and employment for those who were homeless, poor, unemployed or ill. As the NHS did not exist during this period, many people would also turn to the workhouse for medical care. In addition to The Browlow Hill institute, there were workhouses in Walton, Toxteth Park, Prescot and Tranmere.
5. The Mardi Gras Club
The Mardi Gras Club was the home of entertainment during the 1960s, with some of the finest bands and artists playing sets at the club located on Mount Pleasant. Some of the most well known acts to play there include The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Big Three and Cilla Black.
Despite being 225 years old, the building was demolished between 1974 to 1975 and a concrete car park was built in its place. In the photo above, the Mardi Gras is the building with two distinct spires.
6. David Lewis Garrison Theatre
David Lewis, the owner of Lewis’s stores, built the David Lewis Theatre & Hostel in 1906.
Many amateur dramatic societies performed at the theatre, which welcomed audiences of up to 1,000 people. Films were also shown in the theatre from 1914, and the building was later renamed to the David Lewis Garrison Theatre during World War II. The theatre closed its doors on 30th November 1977 and the stunning building was demolished in October 1980.
7. St John’s Church
Before there was St John’s Gardens there was St John’s Church, which was constructed in 1784. The Gothic church was designed by architect Thomas Litoller and was built before the opening of St George’s Hall in 1854.
The development of the hall was was triggered the demolition of St John’s, when developers planned to build the Anglican Cathedral in the area where the church stood. In the end, however, the Anglican Cathedral, was located at St John’s Mount to avoid it clashing with St George’s Hall. In 1897, under the Liverpool Churches Act, St John’s Church was closed before demolition in 1899.
8. The New Shakespeare Theatre
The new Shakespeare Theatre opened on Fraser Street (Williamson Square) back in 1888, and could accommodate 3,500 people. The theatre produced a number of theatrical performances and shows by talented entertainers and musicians.
Sadly, two weeks before it was to receive a £60,000 renovation, a fire spread across the building causing extensive damage, resulting in the theatre’s demolition in 1976. Despite a local campaign to save the theatre, which was led by the co-founder of the Liverpool Everyman Theatre, Alan Durband, the theatre was lost.
9. Duke’s Dock Warehouse
Quentin Hughes described the demolition of the Duke’s Dock Warehouses as one of the city’s most grievous losses. The six storey warehouse was built in 1811, offering a double arch that accommodated Mersey flat barges which could fit under the ‘bridge’ to unload cargo onto dryland.
Sadly, the Duke’s Dock Warehouse was demolished in 1964 by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. A similar fate was bestowed onto the Albert Dock, but the complex of warehouses were fortunately saved by conservationists.
10. The Liverpool Sailors’ Home
As many dishonest housekeepers would often take advantage of sailors who had just been paid, local shipowners and merchants met to discuss the erection of the Liverpool Sailors’ Home in 1837.
It wasn’t until 1841, after receiving £1,800 from a collection, that they had the finances to create the building. The home was made a reality in 1846, with the shipowners and merchants providing their men with cheap, clean and safe accommodation.
Architect John Cunningham designed the building’s interior upon ship’s quarters with cabins. Despite its role in creating one of the world’s most successful commercial ports, the Liverpool Sailors’ Home closed its doors in 1969. Much to the dismay of the city, the home was demolished between 1974 and 1975, and Liverpool One’s John Lewis now sits atop the original site.
Interestingly, photographer Steve Howe discovered huge pieces of finely sculpted stonework from the building, when examining the remaining brickwork in 2004. He reported the discovery to the Merseyside Maritime Museum. Unfortunately, soon after the report, the stones mysteriously vanished from the site and their whereabouts are still unknown.
11. George’s Dock
The Pier Head would never have been made possible without the demolition of George’s Dock, which was once a major part of the city’s docking system, connected to Canning Dock and George’s Basin.
Opened in 1771, George’s Dock fell from use during the late 19th century as boats began to get bigger. In 1899, it was filled in and the Pier Head was created, providing Liverpool with a space to build the Liverpool Docks offices. Today, remnants of the dock can be found around the Pier Head area, including the street name ‘George Dock Gates’ attached to the exterior wall of St Nicholas’ church and some of the original dock wall in the Cunard Building’s basement.
The landmarks which stood the test of time…
Despite the loss of so many beautiful buildings, this city still has plenty of architectural gems to be proud of which have stood the test of time. And some of them are now more accessible to the general public than ever before, functioning as working offices, restaurants and bars and even hotels.
If you want to explore some of the city’s best buildings, make sure you check out the following historic properties:
30 James Street was once the headquarters of the notorious White Star Line cruise shipping company and can proudly claim to be the home of RMS Titanic, which was registered to the Albion House building. Designed by acclaimed architect Richard Norman Shaw, the striped facade of this waterfront property is an iconic site in the centre of Liverpool. Now a luxurious hotel, 30 James Street welcomes visitors who want to have a look around the historic reception, as well as offering fine dining in the rooftop restaurant and opulent stays in Titanic-themed suites.
The old church on Seel Street might look rather plain from the outside, but head into the cuban-inspired bar within to enjoy the historic interiors of the 18th century church. Built in 1788, when the area around it was largely rural, St Peter’s Church was a Catholic property until 1976, after which it switched to serving the local Polish community.
A Grade-II listed building, the property has seen Liverpool rich history pass its doors and in 2004 a number of bodies were discovered buried in a vault beneath the church. Today, Alma de Cuba inhabits the grand space, but the original alter and vaulted ceilings can be experienced while tucking into a Cuban-inspired meal or enjoying some delectable cocktails.
Would you love to learn more about Liverpool’s history? Take a look at 19 Albert Dock Photos Through the Years.
Fascinated by the weird and wonderful street names dotted around Liverpool? Read about the history behind some of the city’s more famous roads.
Whether you’re looking for fabulous cocktail bars, delectable pizza restaurants or the best coffee shops Liverpool has to offer, we’ve got guides for all the best things to do in the city right here on Signatures Liverpool.