Book Review: Liverpool City Centre History Tour

Ian Collard is a well-known local historian and the ideal person to condense his wealth of knowledge about Liverpool into this entertaining and illuminating guided walk through the history of Liverpool.

The book begins with an introductory overview which charts the city’s growth. There are some striking statistics: Liverpool grew from a population of 6,000 at the beginning of the 17th century to 80,000 at the end of it, and then to over 600,000 a hundred years later. We learn that the city has over 2,500 listed buildings, more public sculptures than any city outside London and more Georgian houses than Bath.

The tour itself begins at Waterloo Dock, proceeding via the Pier Head and the Liver Buildings into the centre of the city, with the closing pages taking us uphill to Rodney Street, the Philharmonic Hall and the two cathedrals. Nowhere is too far afield, and if you’re in a purposeful mood you could certainly complete the tour in a morning or an afternoon. There are nearly 50 buildings and sites of interest, with two pages allocated to each. Most date from the 19th and early 20th centuries, but a few are older (such as the Bluecoat Chambers and St Nicholas Church) or later (the new Museum of Liverpool). One or two of the entries are for sites of former glories that are sadly no longer with us – such as the Overhead Railway and Blacklers department store – but most of them are for buildings still very much (and very impressively) intact. The locations of all of them are identified on a handy street map at the beginning of the book, and the text is accompanied by period photographs, some in colour.

The usual suspects – St George’s Hall, the Albert Dock and so on – are of course present, but there are also buildings you might be used to passing by without a second glance, such as the Bank of England building in Castle Street (which the legendary architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner considered ‘a masterpiece of Victorian architecture’). Nuggets of interesting information abound. Hidden beneath the gardens at the back of St George’s Hall are the graves of many French prisoners of the Napoleonic war, there because they died in captivity in Liverpool. And I didn’t know that 62 Rodney Street, where Gladstone was born, was originally a detached house.

As these examples illustrate, the text by Ian Collard is very informative, though it can be a little dry. There’s plenty of historical and architectural detail, but perhaps we could have been told about one or two of the many films that the buildings have featured in, or some of the people who’ve performed at the Philharmonic Hall over the years (from Buddy Holly and the Rolling Stones to Sir Malcolm Sargent and Charles Dickens).

However this is a minor gripe – the book is an attractive, useful and absorbing guide. Its pocket size makes it perfect for you (or anyone else) to take with you as you explore the buildings, streets and history of a magnificent city.

Liverpool City Centre History Tour by Ian Collard is published by Amberley Publishing, priced £6.99