Life on Hope Street

The award of the 2014 Stirling Architectural Prize for the renovation of the Everyman Theatre again turned the spotlight on Hope Street, one of the best-known streets in Liverpool. Famously linking the two cathedrals, it contains many cultural, social and public buildings. In addition to the Everyman, there’s the Philharmonic Hall, the Philharmonic Pub, a Masonic Lodge and a Woman’s Centre. However, in its 200-year history, Hope Street’s 600-yard length has also seen a hospital and homeopathic dispensary, a number of churches, an art school and a high school for girls.

But, besides its public life, Hope Street has always been a place to live, the focus of an area of elegant squares and streets whichoHH were originally the homes of the prosperous middle classes. In the course of time, such households moved to the outer suburbs or to the Wirral and the substantial houses were converted to flats and bed-sits. In the mid-twentieth century, the proximity of this area to the College of Art and to the University gave it a reputation as the focus of Liverpool’s artistic and bohemian community. Indeed, in 1967, the Liverpool Daily Post declared that “no other city in Britain (including London) has an area with such a high density of artistic and intellectual talent”.

In the twenty-first century, Hope Street’s strong physical character and high quality architecture have led to a renewed recognition as a significant place within Liverpool. Indeed, in recent years, there has been an annual festival celebrating the Street.

This article by Niall McChesney is about people who lived in the residential properties of Hope Street during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

By the end of the eighteenth century, Liverpool was already the second city of England and the second most important port. Shipping, docks, warehousing and commerce drove further growth during the next century, with the population increasing from 77 000 in 1801 to 704 000 in 1901. It was a city of migrants – not only those moving from nearby rural and urban areas, but also those who came from the rest of the British Isles and from abroad.

By 1800, the built-up area of Liverpool covered what is now the core of the City Centre, the area west of Lime Street Station. Parts of Rodney Street, to east, had been developed, whilst Hope Street had been laid out, but contained no buildings. A few years later, surveyor John Foster made plans for housing development in this outer area and construction soon followed. The early part of the nineteenth century saw the prosperous middle-classes moving away from the densely-populated areas near the River Mersey and into elegant town-houses and mansions on the edge of the built-up area.

Hope Street takes its name from a Liverpool merchant, William Hope, whose house was where the Philharmonic Pub now stands.

William Hope and his wife Jane are recorded at this house in the 1841 Census. He was born in Liverpool in 1781 and she in Wigan in 1786. By 1851, they had moved further out of the City to Church Lane, Wavertree, with their groom, butler, cook and housemaid, where he was described as a retired merchant. In the 1861 Census, living at the same address, he is described as a landed proprietor. He died in 1865.

Most of the Street had been built by the middle of the nineteenth century. Although there were one or two vacant spaces, urban development had washed over and beyond Hope Street. At that time, the site of the Anglican Cathedral, at the southern end, was occupied by St. James Cemetery (originally a stone quarry, but consecrated as a cemetery in 1829) and the site of the Roman Catholic Cathedral, at the northern end, was occupied by the Liverpool Workhouse (built around 1770 and in operation until about 1920).

Hope Street housed the middle classes: the main beneficiaries of the nation’s economic expansion in Victorian times. Census records list a wide range of service and professional occupations amongst its residents: ship-owners and merchants; surgeons and master mariners; solicitors and attorneys; the clergy and teachers (often of music); and a significant number “living on own means”.

Here are some typical households:

The Overend family lived at number 45 in 1851 and at number 55 in 1861 and 1871. James Overend was born in Lancaster in 1796 was variously described as book-keeper, merchant and agent. He and his wife had five daughters, one son and two servants.

Wilson Gass was born in Kilmarnock in 1840 and (appropriately) was a Surgeon Dentist. He is recorded in each census from 1871 to 1911 at number 19, with only his wife Jessie and a servant.

John Molineux was recorded living at number 60 in the 1861 and 1871 censuses. He is described as a “professor of music and music seller” and was living with his wife Letitia, his sister Anne (also a music teacher), 8 children and 2 servants.

Servants are a constant feature of the census records for Hope Street. In the mid-nineteenth century, almost every household had at least one servant and over a half still employed a servant in 1911. About a third of these servants were born in Liverpool, with significant numbers also coming from North Wales, Cheshire and Ireland.

Gambier Terrace forms part of Hope Street. Named after Admiral James Gambier and now over-looking the Anglican Cathedral, numbers 1 -10 are Grade II listed buildings. A sense of social trends at the time can be read in “Memorials of Liverpool” by J A Picton (1875).

  “When this district was first laid out for building, between 1830 and 1835, a great demand existed for first-class houses, which met for a time with a corresponding supply. Gambier Terrace was then projected and the land along the east side of Hope Street was laid under restrictions to continue the elevation according to the original design. Then came the commercial crisis of 1837, after which years elapsed before a demand came again. In the mean time, a change had taken place. The style of 1832 did not suit the demand of 1839. The railways had begun to carry away far beyond the smoke the possible denizens of Gambier Terrace.

  “The land around Myrtle Street….was prevented from coming onto the market, and remained green fields long after the surrounding land was occupied. Owing to these circumstances, Hope Street long retained its suburban character; its houses withdrawn within pleasant gardens, with trees and verdure all around (before public building started to be developed).”

Number 3 Gambier Terrace provides a footnote in Beatles‘ history as John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe shared a flat there around 1960. Indeed, that year, their flat was featured in a Sunday People article on the “beatnik” lifestyle.

However, one hundred years earlier, the same building was home to another significant Liverpool personality.  The 1861 Census records that, living at number 3, were Michael James Whitty (whose occupation was “journalist employing 82 men”), his wife Mary, one son, four daughters, two grand-daughters and four servants.

Michael James Whitty was born in Wexford, Ireland in 1795. Shortly after his marriage in 1821, he and his wife moved to London, where he began a journalistic career, becoming Editor of the ‘London and Dublin Magazine’. In 1828, he moved to Liverpool, becoming Editor of the Liverpool Journal in 1830.

Three years later, he had a dramatic career change, when he was appointed to the post of Superintendent of the Night Watch. Whilst holding this post, he organised a group of untrained men to carry out police duties for the Corporation. In 1836, the Liverpool Watch Committee offered him the relatively new post of Head Constable. He was thus Liverpool’s first chief Constable, overseeing 370 police and fire-men, the first large body of municipal employees. When Whitty retired in 1847, the town council presented him with £1,000 in recognition of his services.

Returning to journalism the following year, he used that money to purchase his former paper, the “Liverpool Journal”. As editor, he campaigned for the abolition of the Stamp Act and other forms of duty on newspapers. He maintained that, if the taxes were abolished, he would publish a daily paper priced at one penny. True to his word, he founded the Liverpool Daily Post in 1855, following the repeal of the Act. This was the first penny daily paper published in the United Kingdom and Whitty is seen as a major figure in the growth of affordable newspapers for all sections of the population. The Daily Post was Liverpool’s regular morning newspaper until it became a weekly in 2012, closing the following year.

As well as changing careers, Whitty’s life also illustrates the mobility in accommodation that was typical of this period. In 1851, his large household was living at St. George’s Hill, Everton (then a desirable suburb) and, in 1871, it was living at Princes Park Terrace, where he died in 1873.

A longer-term resident of Gambier Terrace was James Richard White Vose, who is recorded there in the 1851, 1861 and 1871 Censuses. He was born in 1811 in Liverpool and was a physician. His family had previously lived at Number 41. The 1851 Census records that he was living at 5 Gambier Terrace with his mother, Eliza Sarah, described as a “gentlewoman” and born in Jamaica. Also present were a governess and five servants. In 1861, he was living there with his wife Elizabeth, his mother, a butler and four servants. The 1871 Census records similar domestic arrangements, with Vose now being a JP, although his mother had died in 1865.

Caleb Smith is recorded living at 23 Gambier Terrace in the 1891 and 1901 censuses, with his wife Elln, Caleb Junior and a servant. He was described as a retired ship-builder: his father’s firm, Caleb and James Smith, had been one of the fifty or more shipbuilders working along the Mersey in the nineteenth century.

Amongst the public buildings in Hope Street has been the Hahnermann Hospital, located at 42-56. It was opened in 1887 to provide treatment for the poor and was mostly funded by the sugar merchant, Henry Tate. It also incorporated the Liverpool Homeopathic Dispensary, which had been a medical charity since at least 1842. The 1891 Census records the matron-in-charge, Bessie Tait from London, as well as a surgeon, 8 nurses, 7 other staff and 30 patients.

Living at Number 43 Hope Street in both the 1891 and 1901 Censuses was Hugo Lang. He was born in Bavaria in 1854. Described as a ‘Fancy Goods Shop Keeper’, he lived with his Swiss-born wife, Marie, his mother-in-law, his brother-in-law and three children. His shop was in Castle Street and, besides his art-dealing activities, he also published postcards depicting ships and local views.

Around the turn of the century, Liverpool possessed the second largest German community in the UK outside London. Another German resident of Hope Street was Kuno Meyer who lived at Number 57.

The 1891 Census tells us that he was born in Hamburg in 1859, that he was a “language teacher”, and that he lived with his mother Henrietta, his sister Antoine and a servant. By the 1901 Census he had become “Professor of Teutonic Languages at University College, Liverpool”. Still single, he was living with his sister, a governess and a servant. He later founded the School of Irish Learning in Dublin, in 1903, and was Professor of Celtic Languages at the Royal Irish Academy and Professor of Celtic Philosophy in Berlin.

University College had been founded in 1881 and was to become the University of Liverpool. It was within walking distance of Hope Street and two further residents with connections to the University were Frederick George D’Aeth and Stanley Davenport Adshead.

D’Aeth was recorded in the 1911 Census, living at Number 65 with his wife Margaret and described as “Director of Reports for the Liverpool Council of Voluntary Aid”. He was born in Edmonton, Middlesex in 1875 and had been a clergyman. However, disillusioned by the attitude of the church to the problems of poverty, he became a lecturer at the new School of Social Work at Liverpool University. During his time there, he established the LCVA and was instrumental in achieving the recognition of sociology and social work as academic disciplines.

Adshead lived next door, at Number 67, with his wife, daughter and two servants. He was born in 1868 in Bowden, Cheshire. Following a career working in a number of architectural practices, he was offered thenewly created Chair of Civic Design at the University of Liverpool in 1909: the first planning school in the world. He later became the first Editor of the Town Planning Review and Chair in Civic Design at University College London, and was a major influence in the development of town planning.

So, in Victorian and Edwardian times, Hope Street can be seen as home to a number of “achievers” who contributed to Liverpool life and beyond. But, finally, there is also a touch of the macabre.

In October 1826, a nasty smell was noticed coming from three large casks, which had been loaded onto “The Latona”, bound for Leith in Scotland. When opened, eleven bodies were discovered, packed together in salt. The police soon traced the corpses back to Number 8 Hope Street. A search of the house led to the discovery of yet more corpses. Examination of the bodies showed that all the deaths were from natural causes and that they had been disinterred from a nearby graveyard in Mulberry Street.

Eventually, it became clear that the aim of the crime had been to sell the bodies to medical schools in Scotland. Most of those involved were given heavy fines and sentenced to 12 months in prison. However, the main organiser of the plan was never discovered. Number 8 Hope Street no longer exists.
Niall McChesney

September 2015


In addition to censuses from 1841 to 1911:

Para 2 – quotation from article by Simon Neilson, Liverpool Daily Post, 6 February 1967.

Paras 5 and 6 – population information from Colin G Pooley “Liverpool 800”

The website “Livingstone Online” has a copy of a letter (21 Jan 1858 – unaddressed) to William Hope, merchant, thanking him and Liverpool merchants for their support.

Michael James Whitty (Michael Kelly) and Dictionary of National Biography 1885-1900, Volume 61

James Vose MD and Toxteth Park Cemetery Inscriptions

Hahnemann Hospital –

Kuno Meyer – Wikipedia and

Hugo Lang – Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City –

Stanley Davenport Adshead – Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Alan Powers)

Frederic George D’Aeth – Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Margaret Simey)

Bodysnatchers – “Liverpool Colonnade” by Richard Whittington-Egan (1955) and