Why Manchester should be called: ‘City of Libraries’

They incorrectly call Manchester the city of rain, but I think it should be called City of Libraries, as there four major historic libraries in the city centre. They are open to visitors and I went to all four libraries in one day in order to research this feature and take the photos.

John Rylands Library Manchester

At first sight, the John Rylands Library looks like an ancient cathedral but it is a relatively modern building.

in the first year of the twentieth century and was one of the first buildings in Manchester to be fitted with electric lights. After John Rylands died in 1888, Enriqueta Rylands founded the library in memory of her husband.

A modern extension was added to the rear and as you walk from the entrance up the stairs and into the original building, there is an interesting transition from bright modern to dark neo-Gothic. Many exhibitions are held at the John Rylands Library and anyone can go in and work there, I sometimes do.

It’s part of the University of Manchester Library. One of the locations in my Anglo-Chinese novel Stargirl of the Edge is a library inspired by the John Rylands.

There is unfortunately one negative aspect: The modern low energy light bulbs are less photogenic and atmospheric than the clear light bulbs that were used from the early years of the library until around 2013.

www.library.manchester.ac.uk/rylands/

John Rylands Library facade

Interior of Chethams Library, Manchester

Chethams Library is the oldest public library in the English speaking world and is housed in a 15th century building that’s part of Chethams School.

The library is a perfectly preserved time capsule from centuries ago, and is full of the atmosphere of the past, with its dark wooden walls and corridors. It’s not difficult to imagine Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels sitting in one of the alcoves by the window.

The Chethams website showcases many of the hidden treasures of Chethams Library. It is a remarkable place. Anyone can visit during opening hours. You just need to go to the main entrance to Chethams school. It’s best to check the opening times on the website and to phone up to make sure there are no events happening.

Go to www.chethams.org.uk

Chethams Library 2004

Interior of the Portico Library Manchester

The Portico Library is located on Mosley Street in a building with a Greek style portico which gives the library its name.

I’m impressed with its mission statement ‘The Portico Library is open to all and aims to enhance and develop life-long learning by providing and promoting access to knowledge and education in Art, History, Literature and Science.’

The Portico Library is located on the corner of Mosley Street and Charlotte Street. To enter, just ring the bell on Charlotte Street. You go up the stairs and when you get to the top, you will be amazed at the beauty of the interior. It’s virtually unchanged since the early 19th century.

The Portico Library has a friendly, homely atmosphere. The staff are welcoming and very helpful. It’s possible to become a member, and support the work of this institution, that has been a part of Manchester for over 200 years.

www.theportico.org.uk

The Portico Library on the corner of Mosley Street, Manchester

Restored reading room in Manchester Central Library

The Central Library is my favourite building in Manchester and like many, I used it during my schooldays.

It was opened in 1934 and apart from the cleaning of the exterior, remained mostly unchanged until the renovation of 2011-2014, which transformed the interior. The magnificent main reading room was restored but the book stacks below it were taken out to make way for a circular reception area with a cafe which is now a regular haunt of mine.

The Archives+ area is a high tech facility combining the local history collection with the North West Film Archive and other resources. The reading room has been restored and looks almost exactly as it did before the renovation.

The new Central Library has lost some of its 1930s character and eccentricity, its distinctive smell and the tiny lift. Now there are fast lifts housed in a glazed lift shaft. The building meets present day standards and is a striking mixture of old and new. The floorspace is much bigger than it was, extending under Library Walk into the neighbouring town hall extension. There are meeting rooms and spaces for events.

The only negative aspect of the renovation is the controversial modernist-style glass link building, which in spring 2015 is not yet open.

Apart from that, the Central Library is in my opinion the best public library in the UK and remains my favourite building in Manchester.

www.manchester.gov.uk/centrallibrary

Manchester Central Library exterior

So there we are, four major, historic libraries in one city centre, all open to the public and free for everyone to use. Definitely a reason to visit Manchester.
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Photo-impressions: River Liffey, Dublin

Here are some photographic impressions of a new symbol of Dublin, the Samuel Beckett Bridge.

The bridge exists to provide a link between the newly redeveloped Dockland areas to north and south of the river Liffey.

From the first time I saw it, I was very impressed with it. Its graceful, sweeping shape looks very pleasing. The supporting cables are eye-catching and I thought reminded me of something. Later I realised what it was: the harp, prime symbol of Ireland that can be seen on coins, government buildings and Ryanair planes.

Here are some notes and technical information on the photographs

Samuel Beckett Bridge at night

Samuel Beckett Bridge at night

This is a composite of two overlapping photographs. I rested the camera on a concrete post on the riverside and aimed the camera towards the left side of the bridge then the right. I merged the two in Photoshop. The shutter speed was half a second, that’s five stops below the standard shutter speed of 1/60th of a second. The aperture is f/8, one stop above the standard of f/5.6 and the ISO was 800, two stops faster than 200. So the overall light level in this photo is minus six. That’s exactly what we would expect for a night scene

Samuel Beckett Bridge looking from south to north

Samuel Beckett Bridge looking from south to north

This is a composite panoramic photo consisting of three overlapping images. I merged them in Photoshop Photomerge. The camera settings were 1/320s f/10.0 and ISO100. Going from the standard settings, these settings are plus two and two thirds, plus one and two thirds and minus one, respectively. The light level is therefore plus three, which is typical for a scene lit by bright sunshine. The angle emphasises the width and unique triangular form of the bridge, seen from this angle.

The Samuel Beckett Bridge seen from the west

The Samuel Beckett Bridge seen from the west

Looking east along the river Liffey through the Samuel Beckett Bridge towards the twin chimneys of Ringsend power station. Camera settings 1/250s f/9.0 ISO100. Plus two, plus one and a third and minus one respectively, the overall light level is plus two and one third, typical of a daytime scene in bright sunshine.

The Samual Beckett Bridge in 2009 shortly after delivery from Rotterdam

The Samual Beckett Bridge on 5 June 2009 shortly after delivery from Rotterdam


Camera settings are: 1/250s f/8.0 ISO100 plus two, plus one and minus one respectively. Overall light level is plus one. This photo was taken six and a half years before the photos above from a similar viewpoint. The bridge is about to be placed in its permanent position. There is smoke coming out of the chimneys of the power station. Since then the chimneys are no longer in use but have been allowed to stand as they are a such a familiar symbol of Dublin.

View of the Port of Dublin in 2006 prior to the appearance of the Samuel Beckett Bridge

View of the Port of Dublin in 2006 prior to the appearance of the Samuel Beckett Bridge


Camera settings 1/30s f/7.1 ISO800(estimatd) The camera was the Nikon D100, capture date 1 November 2006. The ISO wasn’t recorded but I would estimate it to be around 800, so the overall light level is minus three and two thirds. This moody and atmospheric view was taken from the ferry from Holyhead as it was about to dock in Dublin.

If you’re interested in finding out more about my very useful approach to camera exposure, why not come on one of my photo walks or book a one to one session.

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The Dublin suburb of Rathmines photos and impressions

Eyewitness - Finné súl Photos & editorial by Aidan O'Rourke

Houses on Palmerston Road Dublin with ornate street lamp

Houses on Palmerston Road Dublin with ornate street lamp


 
I’ve always been fascinated by the Dublin suburb of Rathmines. To English ears it’s a strange-sounding name. There are no coal mines in Rathmines, the name just means ‘Ring fort of Maonas’. To anyone who knows Dublin, the name in the past might have conjured up various images: ‘bedsit’, ‘dormitory’, ‘sleepy’, ‘students’ and ‘old-fashioned’. But today the words we might think of are ‘property’, ‘upmarket’, gentrified, ‘cosmopolitan’, ‘residential’.

I lived at Trinity Hall just to the south of Rathmines for two years as an undergraduate. I regularly took the 14 (now 140) bus along Rathmines Road and Palmerston Road. The area left a deep impression on me.

Rathmines is located in south Dublin, around two miles (3km) from the city centre. To get there it takes around 15 minutes on the bus from O’Connell Street or you can take the Luas tram to Ranelagh. Like many parts of Dublin it has a strong feeling of the past. Everywhere there are houses from the 18th and 19th century. There are relatively few modern buildings. It seems like a vast conservation area. There are some listed buildings.

Rathmines Road at dusk 22 Jan 2016

Rathmines Road at dusk 22 Jan 2016

Rathmines Road in afternoon sun 27 Nov 2004

Rathmines Road in afternoon sun 27 Nov 2004

The former Rathmines Town Hall was completed in 1898. In 1930, the township was incorporated into Dublin City. The town hall dominates Rathmines Road with its clock tower that seems too large in proportion to the rest of the building. Today it’s occupied by Rathmines College and on my January 2016 visit the clock was not working! Other landmarks include the imposing Church of Mary Immaculate, Refuge of Sinners with its large and distinctive dome. Like many Catholic churches it was in the past symbolic of the dominance of the Roman Catholic church. Now it seems to symbolise the opposite.

Church of Mary Immaculate, Refuge of Sinners, Rathmines 27 Nov 2004

Church of Mary Immaculate, Refuge of Sinners, Rathmines 27 Nov 2004


 

Rathmines Road is a busy street, long and quite narrow, with a variety of shops and supermarkets including Aldi and Lidl. The well-loved ‘Stella’ cinema is still there but it’s empty and has a ‘to let’ sign. In the centre of Rathmines, Rathgar Road leads off to the right and Rathmines Road Upper continues to the left. The post office is still there, and there’s a Tesco supermarket opposite. Tesco wasn’t in Ireland when I was at Trinity. There seemed to be few ‘foreign’ influences then. Nowadays you’ll find many people from other countries – women with headscarves, men with Middle Eastern accents. I stopped at the Carnegie Library, opposite the town hall, to check my e-mail. In the past it might have been full of people from other parts of Ireland. Today it was full of people from other parts of the world.

Rathmines is first and foremost a residential suburb. It has every variety of house from tiny terraced cottages to grand Georgian residences. There are impressive squares, wide roads, residential streets, narrow alleyways and tiny footpaths. Here and there there are modern apartment blocks but they generally seem to blend in with the 19th century edifices.

In the past many of the houses in Rathmines might have seemed fairly average and affordable for anyone with a good salary. Today, parked outside the houses, you’ll find expensive cars and SUVs with the current year on the number plate. Rathmines has become a place of great affluence. Properties are now priced beyond the reach of most people, even those on the best salaries.

Rathmines town hall visible over rooftops

Rathmines town hall visible over rooftops


 

In my opinion the most impressive part of the suburb is Palmerston Road. It’s a wide nineteenth century tree-lined avenue lined on both sides with beautiful Georgian terraced houses set back behind gardens. The ornate street lamps date from the late 19th century. This area looks virtually unchanged for well over a hundred years and this is definitely a selling point.

Although Rathmines grew and developed into its present form during the 19th century ‘British’ period of Irish history, and had a Unionist (pro-British) majority until 1922, to me it seems to have an unmistakable sense of Irishness. I can’t quite explain it. It’s said that Eamon De Valera wanted to have the Georgian terraces around Merrion Square demolished as he regarded them as ‘foreign’. But he was wrong. This uniquely Irish style of architecture and town planning would have emerged no matter what the arrangements for Ireland’s government had been. Ireland became independent but the ‘British’ influence has remained and is part of the country’s unique character.

During the Second World War, Ireland was neutral, and so unlike British cities, Dublin was wasn’t bombed, apart from a few mistaken raids where the Nazi pilots thought they were flying over Belfast. Metal railings were never removed. In Britain most railings were needlessly cut out for the war effort and to this day have never replaced. The result is that Dublin has preserved its past much better than most British cities, and Rathmines is a prime example of this. You’ll see many wonderful, original iron railings in Rathmines!

My favourite place is Palmerston Park, situated next to my former place of residence, Trinity Hall. I often used to go for walks there.

Palmerston Park Dublin, 1981-2016

Palmerston Park Dubin, 1981 and 2016


 

It’s a beautiful Victorian park with lawns, a waterfall and tree-lined footpaths. Looking through the trees, at the houses, if you ignore the modern cars, you could almost imagine yourself back in the era of James Joyce or Oscar Wilde. That’s the great thing about a place with a strong historic character. The past doesn’t go out of date, quite the opposite: a place that has preserved its heritage is future-proof.

880 words

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Architectural towers on the skyline of Manchester

Eyewitness blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Lancaster House and Shena Simon College, the Manchester Colleg on the right

Lancaster House and Shena Simon College, the Manchester Colleg on the right


 
This article appeared in the Manchester Evening News dated Thursday 14th of January, 2016. I have always loved rooftop views whether in Paris, Berlin or Manchester. I still have a vivid memory of the stamp that I discovered on a letter to my mother from her Polish friend, Janina Ciesielska. Though it was tiny, it seemed densely packed with architectural details. It depicted a mysterious idealised eastern European city but in my mind, I transformed it into Manchester. Prague, Kraków, Dresden and other central European cities have many architectural towers. Manchester has only a few but they are a striking and often overlooked feature of the city skyline.<
As a child I was captivated by a stamp on a letter to my mother. It displayed a tiny line drawing, packed with buildings and towers. I thought it was Manchester but then I found out it was a city in Poland. Manchester has architectural features on its skyline comparable with a grand city in central Europe, though there are not as many as in Budapest or Kraków. Overshadowed by newer, taller buildings, these ornate and beautiful structures are often overlooked. The towers of Manchester town hall, HMP Manchester (Strangeways) and Manchester University John Owen Building on Oxford Rd – all the work of Alfred Waterhouse – need no introduction, but what about the lesser known ones, at least in the eyes of visitors? The east tower of Manchester town hall is as impressive as many civic buildings in smaller cities and towns. Manchester’s classic architecture is a connection with Europe. It’s featured in the work of emigré painters such as Adolphe Valette and Georg Eisler. If you’re lucky enough to live or work at roof level you may be familiar with them. If not, look high above the rooftops! My next photo walk is on Saturday 13 February. www.aidan.co.uk
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The fate of 1930s buildings in Manchester

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Kendals / House of Fraser

Kendals, now House of Fraser store on Deansgate Manchester completed 1939


 
This article appeared in the Manchester Evening News that appeared on New Year’s Eve, Thursday 31 Dec 2015. In the first line I made a reference to the famous character Shrek and what he said to Donkey. Unfortunately the editors had to remove it! Presumably for brand usage and copyright reasons. Other than that the article that appeared in print is the same as here. The article has a sting in the tail, as I remember Library Walk, once a unique and atmospheric spot that was ruined in 2014 with the insertion of a clumsy and unnecessary glass cylinder.

As Shrek said to Donkey: ‘Ogres have layers!’ and so do cities. Their fascination lies in the many facets left over past decades and eras. The 1930s is an interesting period in Manchester but much of its legacy is disappearing. This year Century House on St Peters Square was demolished and the impressive 1930s facade of Bootle St police station may go the same way. The striking art deco Northcliffe House (1931) was taken down over a decade ago. Other 1930s buildings stand proud : Ship Canal House, the former Midland Bank, Sunlight House, Arkwright House on St Mary’s Parsonage. The former Kendals, now House of Fraser, was completed at the end of the 1930s, as was the Daily Express building. A year later, 75 years go, a firestorm rained down on Manchester that would change its character forever. But the inter-war period is still alive. If you look up, it’s as if time has stood still. One of the most precious things is when a corner is left untouched. This was true of Library Walk between the Central Library (1934) and the town hall extension (1937) , until a modernist style glass structure was placed within it, the controversial link building which opened in 2015. Let’s hope Manchester’s ‘layers’ remain in 2016 and beyond.

Century House St Peters Square 1 Oct 2012

The 1930s office building Century House overlooks Peters Square and helps to give St Peters Square a strongly inter-war character. It was built for Friends Provident, set up by the Quakers. Demolished 2015.


 
Former MIdland Bank Building, Key St Manchester

Former MIdland Bank Building, King St Manchester


 
Arkwright House, off Deansgate, Manchester

Arkwright House, off Deansgate, Manchester


 
Northcliffe House just before demolition and Sunlight House (left) 26 March 2002

Northcliffe House just before demolition and Sunlight House (left) 26 March 2002

Ship Canal House, King St Manchester

Ship Canal House, King St Manchester built in the early 1930s

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The magnificence of Lime Street Station past, present and future

Liverpool Lime St Station, August 2005 with office block, now demolished

Liverpool Lime St Station, August 2005 with office block, now demolished


 
Lime St Station is probably the best known and most used building in Liverpool. People from the suburbs and beyond take the train to Lime Street and so do those travelling from further away, such as Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham and London.

There are two parts to Lime Street Station, the main line terminal at ground level and the underground station on the city centre loop line.

It’s not widely acknowledged that Liverpool Lime Street is one of the oldest stations in continous use anywhere in the world. When the Liverpool and Manchester railway opened in 1830, the terminus was at Crown Street to the east of the city centre. The site is now a green area. Lime Street Station opened for passengers in 1836. The present train sheds date from 1867 and 1879.

The view from the main entrance at the front of Lime Street is one of the most magnificent in any UK city, with St Georges Hall on the right.

This is the place where I meet the people who come on my photo walks, at the top of the steps outside the main entrance.

Liverpool Lime Street front entrance and new steps

Liverpool Lime Street front entrance and new steps, meeting point for my photo walks.


 
Inside the station near the front entrance there are two statues by Tom Murphy representing Liverpool personalities, the comedian Ken Dodd and the former councillor Bessie Braddock. They were unveiled in 2009.

The north train shed is fronted by an ornate former hotel. This was the North Western Hotel, designed by Alfred Waterhouse, architect of Manchester town hall. Now this building serves as as a residence for students at John Moores University.
 
Next to the former hotel is the impressive main facade of the station. For many years, this frontage was spoilt by a row of shops that stood in front of it. In the 1960s an office block – Concourse House – was built on the corner. It was typical of the 1960s that a modern office tower could be constructed within a few feet of a precious heritage building from the 19th century. It also cast a shadow on the front of the station for much of the day.

Liverpool Lime Street Station at night

Liverpool Lime Street Station at night with floodlighting.


 

In the 2000s, the building was demolished, along with the row of shops and a new area at the front was created with steps and ramps. It is magnificent and allows us to admire the magnificence of the architecture. It looks particularly good at night, when floodlighting is switched on.

Whilst the exterior has been beautifully renovated, the interior has remained less attractive, but in 2016 a new renovation is set to go ahead. The station will be closed for a period during the works.

I look forward to seeing the newly renovated Lime Street Station and to continuing to arrive and depart from one of the oldest and most magnificent railway termini in the world.

Virgin Train to London at Liverpool Lime St 30 Oct 2003

Virgin Train to London at Liverpool Lime St Station Platform 8, 30 Oct 2003


 

Virgin Train to London at Liverpool Lime St 27 Apr 2009

Virgin Train to London at Liverpool Lime St Station, Platform 8, 27 Apr 2009

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Best view in the UK – Liverpool waterfront seen across Mersey

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Liverpool Waterfront seen from across the river Mersey at dusk

Liverpool Waterfront seen from across the river Mersey at dusk


 
For years, the Liverpool waterfront has been one of my favourite subjects. I’ve photographed it quite a few times, especially at dusk. For me it’s the best view in the UK. Better than London, because the skyline is not so crowded and the river is wider. Better than Newcastle, although Newcastle’s great, with its series of bridges, and better than Glasgow which has quite a wide river but lacks the cluster of tall buildings that we have in Liverpool.

It’s been spectacular for decades. In the late nineteenth century, they decided to fill in St Georges Dock and create the reclaimed area of land known as the Pier Head. Three buildings were erected directly on the foundations of the three former docks, which explains why we have three architectural gems standing side by side.

Silhouette of the Liverpool skyline April 2005

Silhouette of the Liverpool skyline April 2005


 
Almost as soon as the Liver Building was finished 1911, it became a major landmark and symbol of the city. The Cunard and Port of Liverpool building were completed a few years after. Over the course of the twentieth century, more buildings appeared on the Liverpool skyline: The Anglican Cathedral, The Metropolitan Cathedral, St John’s Beacon, now known as Radio City Tower. A few were lost, including the Customs House, which was damaged in the war and could easily have been restored. The Liverpool Overhead Railway was another integral element of the waterfront which sadly closed in 1956.

In the 70s the ‘Three Graces’ were cleaned and for the first time, the pristine-looking white stone could literally shine in the afternoon sunlight. As a child on visit to Liverpool, I was visually captivated by the buildings – for me they seeme to sing. Out on the Mersey on one of the famous Mersey ferries, the waterfront even more magnificent than before.

Liverpool Waterfront from Seacombe 2003

Liverpool Waterfront from Seacombe 2003


 
But in recent years, still more new buildings have appeared at the north end of the waterfront, around Princes Dock, including the Beetham Tower, Katherine Tower. The Unity Building appeared just behind St Nicholas Church, now the oldest building on the waterfront.

Since 2004, Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City has been a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site

After some controversy surrounding the addition of a ‘fourth grace’, the Museum of Liverpool appeared in the second half of the 2000s. It stands at a respectul distance from the older trio, and the views from inside are stunning.

It seems the waterfront has never looked better. But there has been a threat to the UNESCO world heritage status. Officials have expressed concern at the height of proposed buildings that are part of Peel Holding’s Liverpool Waters development to the north of the waterfront. In late 2015 the situation wasn’t clear though Liverpool City Council were said to be ‘taking the threat seriously’.

In December 2015, the Liverpool Waterfront was chosen as England’s greatest place in the Royal Town Planning Institute’s Great Places award.

I’ve taken the view of the waterfront many times from both Woodside and Seacombe, the two ferry terminals on the Wirral side of the river. But perhaps my favourite view is at dusk from Magazine Promenade. I often go for a walk there and like to look back at the waterfront as the light fades. There’s nothing more magnificent than the skyline, its light shimmering above the water.
 

Liverpool waterfront with rainbow and rainy skies

Liverpool waterfront with rainbow and rainy skies

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Manchester’s magnificent Old Fire Station – soon to be renovated

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

The Old Fire Station, London Rd Manchester in sunny weather

Over a period of many years, London Road Fire Station has been without doubt Manchester’s most magnificent disused building. Every day, thousands of people pass by it on the bus or going in and out of Piccadilly Station, but not everyone notices its faded grandeur.

To me it has been a potent symbol of Manchester’s failure to make the best of its architectural heritage. It was given Grade II* listed status in 1974.

At night I often visualise how it would look if its shiny, butterscotch-coloured exterior were illuminated by floodlights. There would be an upmarket restaurant behind the doors that were once used by fire engines. Inside the main entrance would be a hotel reception by the main entrance and there would be an art exhibition inside the inner courtyard.

The exterior of the Old Fire Station in afternoon sunlight

The best time to photograph it is on a sunny morning when the sun is shining from the south east along Fairfield Street, lighting both its main facades. It’s also possible to take it in the afternoon when the light reflects off the smooth, reflective surface of its tiles.

London Road Fire Station was built in 1906 around the same time as the Victoria Baths. The Victoria Baths is often called Manchester’s Water Palace. The fire station also looks like a palace but it’s devoted to another element – fire. On the exterior there above the door there is a frieze with women symbolising the elements fire and water.

Fire Maidens - sculptures on the exterior of the Old Fire Station

It served Manchester for most of the 20th century, including two world wars and the uncertain post war years.

It was vacated by the Fire Service in 1986 and most of the building has been empty since then.

Former owners Britannia Hotels had planned to redevelop the building but for various reasons they were unable to proceed. They were criticised for allowing the building to deteriorate, though I have heard that they carried out some work on parts of the building to prevent further damage.

In late 2015, the building was purchased by Allied London who have plans for restoration. Shortly after purchasing it, they announced a new name: ‘Manchester Fire House’.

The Friends of London Road Fire Station have been campaigning for long time to save and restore the building, and are said to be very happy that the building has been sold to Allied London. As I understand it, the Friends would like it to be restored as a combination of a hotel and perhaps an arts centre, with other possible community uses. Manchester City Council would like it to be re-opened as a hotel.

Manchester coat of arms Old Fire Station

Standing in the shadow of the Old Fire Station is the site of the building that from the early 70s to 2012 was the home of the legendary Twisted Wheel night club, famous for Northern Soul. Club nights took place in the basement with its arches, similar to the Cavern Club in Liverpool.

With their irregular facades, the buildings reminded me of Amsterdam. With the approval of Manchester City Council the buildings were demolished in 2012 to make way for a modern style hotel. In my opinion, they should have been retained.

Site of the Twisted Wheel club - Before

Site of the Twisted Wheel club – Before

Site of the Twisted Wheel club - After

Site of the Twisted Wheel club – After

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Hidden facts about the Liver Building and the Liver birds

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Liverpool Liver Building and Pier Head with St Nicholas church

Liverpool Liver Building and Pier Head with St Nicholas church

In addition to my Eyewitness articles on Manchester, written for publication in the Manchester Evening News, I also write articles on Liverpool. That’s because I am interested in the history and heritage of Liverpool, and I run photo walks there. This article is written solely for the Eyewitness blog on the aidan.co.uk site.

The Liver Building is Liverpool’s most famous building. It’s a symbol of the city and home to the two Liver Birds that stand at the very top at both ends. It’s said that if they ever fly away, Liverpool will cease to exist.

It’s well-loved landmark in Liverpool but if you ask people “When was the Liver Building built?” “Who was the architect?” “Who designed the Liver Birds?” not everyone will be able to tell you, so here are a few facts:

It was built from 1908 to 1911 for the Royal Liver Assurance Company.

It was designed by architect Walter Aubrey Thomas.

The style is similar to buildings in Chicago and Shanghai.

It’s made out of reinforced concrete.

It was the tallest building in Europe from 1911 go 1932 and the tallest in Britain until 1960.

The Liver Birds were designed by German sculptor Carl Bernard Bartels

It is 322 feet tall. (98 metres)

The clock faces are 25 feet (7.6 metres) in diameter, bigger than Big Ben in London.

I have photographed the Liver Building many times from a number of different angles. From the distance, the clock towers are often seen above the skyline, silhouetted against the sky.

The Liver Building is one of the three magnificent buildings known as the ‘Three Graces’. Many people don’t know that the three buildings were built on three former docks, part of St Georges Dock, which was filled in to allow the waterfront to be extended out into the river. The ground plan of the building is the same shape as the dock.

In past times, the the Liver Building and its neighbours were blackened by smoke and pollution. In the late 1960s and early 70s they were cleaned. The Liver Building has a darker tone, which some people say makes it look rather drab. I disagree, its distinctive colour is part of its idenitity and makes it unique.

When I was taking the photographs for Liverpool Then and Now, I had the opportunity to go inside the Liver Building and unfortunately I was very disappointed at what I saw. Much of the original interior had been modernised. The walls on the inner courtyard have been covered with a modern glass facade.

I felt it was sad that such an important building has been compromised on the inside, even though it’s not visible from outside.

Despite that, the distinctive features of the building are much the the same as they were when it was first built and it continues to fascinate visitors and local people.

I would love to go up into the clock towers but I don’t think there is a tour of the interior of the building.

For me, the Liver Building is symbolic of Liverpool’s maritime heritage. Its very shape and location are influenced by the docks which were there before. It looks out towards the river and the sea, reminding us of Liverpool’s connections with other parts of the world, whether the Isle of Man, Ireland or across the Atlantic to North America and beyond.

Liver Building sketch by Aidan O'Rourke

Liver Building sketch by Aidan O’Rourke

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Manchester’s Oxford Road – chaotic but fascinating

Eyewitness 2015 photos and editorial published in the Manchester Evening News

Oxford Manchester 3 July 2015

Oxford Road begins at the River Medlock under the rail bridge and extends to Moss Lane East by the Curry Mile.

Oxford Road and the area on either side has a remarkable assortment of facilities: Four third level educational institutions, five hospitals, a strangely shaped theatre, two Catholic churches, one of which looks like a French cathedral, two parks, one of which is the site of an Anglican church after which surrounding area is named, several music venues, two former cinemas, a neo-Gothic Victorian building containing a natural history museum and opposite it, a thing that looks like a fuel storage tank.

There are two bridges over Oxford Rd and a 50m swimming pool. It’s said to be Europe’s busiest bus corridor and possibly its smokiest, as there are still many older diesel buses in operation. The BBC was here but now the site is a car park.

Oxford Road is chaotic but fascinating, a piece of pure Manchester and I love it just as it is. But soon general traffic will be diverted away to make more room for bikes and buses. Will it retain its character? We’ll see. In mid-2015 my Victoria Baths videos are still showing on the Corridor Manchester Digital Screen opposite Grosvenor Street.

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