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Dec 31

The City That Never Was

As we press on forward into the New Year it is in our nostalgic nature to look back on times passed. This act of reflection was also done back in January 1911 when a local newspaper reprinted a marvellous artists’ impression of long-lost engineering works that had once been set to totally transform the city.

With the completion of the magnificent St George’s Hall in the autumn of 1854, Liverpool entered an era of confidence not unlike our own much later Capital of Culture optimism.  Our Liverpudlian predecessors wished to see a continuation of their town’s progression with the creation of more grand, more respectable surroundings for their brand new neo-classical masterpiece. The ambitious plans that followed were the brainchild of architect Henry Sumners.

He envisaged massive changes to the Haymarket, St Johns, William Brown Street, Queen’s Square and Williamson Square.  The most prominent feature of his urbanite dream was a huge salt-water bathhouse, complete with 150 foot dome and bell tower. This would have occupied the current site of the Gladstone Memorial and the entrance to the Mersey Tunnel.He also pictured a union between the Williamson and Queen Squares to create one large fruit, flower and vegetable market along with an adjoining hotel.

Sumner's unfulfilled vision of the city centre

Sumner was reported to have been very forward-thinking in regards to his view of Liverpool, far in advance of certain members of the Council. His Latin motto ‘Artibus Legibus Consiliis Locum Municipes Constituerunt Anno Domini MLCCCXLI’ (For Arts, Law and Counsel the townspeople built this place in 1841) is still clear to see on the south façade of the hall, but this was not by unanimous choice. One councillor wished to see something more representative of Liverpool’s trade endeavours, such as rum, sugar cotton and corn, whilst another put forward the rather direct slogan, “The land we live in and those who don’t like it may leave it.” What a charming message for visitors of Lime Street Station that would have been!

Hopes for William Brown Street to be filled with a library and museums did come to pass, but ideas towards relocating the Georgian church of St Johns to the corner of Hatton Garden were less successful. This was eventually torn down in 1898 and gardens now occupy the former sacred site. Nevertheless, the image above does give us a precious insight into the stately and imposing sights Sumner had in mind for us and in some sentimental way, we can now appreciate what could have been.

Who knows how Liverpool will fair in another century and a half, but as the light of 2013 dawns over the hopeful waters of the Mersey, we surely wish her the best of luck.

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