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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