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Eyewitness in Manchester reporting from the other great city in north west England - The home page of Eyewitness in Manchester is at

GREETINGS FROM LIVERPOOL - as I write, I'm sitting here near the Albert Dock, looking out onto the wide sweep of the River Mersey. I came to Liverpool this week for the In The City pop convention - read my special feature with celebrity pictures.

Lime Street Station

Liverpool city centre lies just 35 miles (50km) west of Manchester city centre, half an hour on the M602 and M62, an hour or so by train (barring engineering work or cancellation) or on the A580 East Lancs Road or six hours down the Ship Canal. Manchester and Liverpool are so near to each other and yet, in other ways, they seem so far apart - in accent, outlook and atmosphere. Historically they were rivals - the Manchester Ship Canal was built to circumvent the high port fees that Liverpool was charging to Manchester traders.


There have been many other causes for bickering and mutual oneupmanship - football was one of them. But I'd prefer to think of the Manchester and Liverpool conurbations - and Warrington in between - as one huge megalopolis starting in the Pennine foothills and ending along the coast of the Irish sea from the Wirral to Southport.

Waterfront at dusk seen from Birkenhead

I first came to Liverpool as a child - and I thought it was fantastic - the Pier Head, the green and cream buses, the ferry across the Mersey, the docks, the ships, the big white buildings - so much bigger and whiter than those in Manchester, and of course the music - even though I was too young to go into a night club, I could hear the it blaring from the transistor radio. The Beatles and the Mersey sound still held their sway over the city, there was something magic about the place.

Waterfront by day

But the seventies and eighties brought economic decline and trauma to the once bustling and prosperous city. Changing patterns in transport closed down most of the docks and shipyards, causing unemployment, resentment and crime.

In the politically correct eighties and nineties, free, it's said, of negative stereotyping, Liverpudlians were portrayed as quarrelsome, curly-haired, buffoons in a way that was more negative and more stereotypical than anything I'd seen before. The Toxteth riots of 1981 attracted a lot of bad press - but also much-needed support from the then Conservative Government under the leadership of Mrs Thatcher. Michael Heseltine was given the task of bringing about the regeneration of Liverpool.

The city had lost jobs, population and industries - a militant left-wing Labour council under wide-boy Derek Hatton, who now does a show on Century Radio - helped to earn the city a bad reputation. In the eighties, Manchester made great progress in regeneration - Liverpool seemed left behind.

Maritime Museum

But recently, Liverpool has been catching up, due in part to better local government policies and thanks to outside funding, much of it from the EU. New industrial plants are being set up around the Airport - currently being extended - and in other locations. The city centre is getting a new, contemporary-style make-over - including an impressive new bus station. St John's Tower, closed for many years, is being renovated. Derelict buildings are being rebuilt and converted for new uses. Tom Bloxham's company Urban Splash is converting old warehouses in both Manchester and Liverpool into offices and apartments. Liverpool is sharing in the pre-Millennium building and redevelopment boom we can see in many parts of the UK. But large pockets of unemployment and deprivation still persist.

As a frequent visitor, I come here for the city's many attractions. Here are a few of my favourites:

The shopping centre and pedestrianised shopping streets, including Lord St - much nicer and more attractive than Manchester city centre, at least prior to, and possibly even after, the current redevelopment.


The magnificent buildings - The Liver Building (above), and the other breathtaking monuments to past economic glories which overlook the Pier Head - The waterfront itself, and the view across to Birkenhead, Wallasey and New Brighton, the ships and ferries, now sadly rather few and far between, and the sound of the seagulls - always makes me think of the theme tune of the BBC comedy "The Liver Birds", written by Carla Lane

The museums and galleries - particularly the assemblage of Victorian neo-classical buildings near Lime St Station. This includes St Georges Hall, finished 1854 - a Greek acropolis recreated in north west England - the Walker Art Gallery with its extensive exhibition rooms filled with art and sculpture from the middle ages to the present day - the Liverpool Museum - a temple to art and science, presented in a people-friendly, children-friendly way. An innovative multi-site pass gives you year long access to all eight National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside.

Albert Dock

The Albert Dock, was until quite recently a derelict, deserted wasteland, battered by the elements, the basins open to the tides and silted up. In 1964, 44 year old writer, academic and architecture professor Quentin Hughes suggested it could be turned into an arts, office and residential centre - people thought he was mad. There was a proposal to pull it down, fill it in and build a car park.


Mersey Ferries MV Mountwood



The Pier Head



Panorama of Pier Head
& Albert Dock



Looking from Eastham
(Wirral) to the Pier Head



Ship Canal at Warrington



St Georges Hall


Stereo view of St Georges Hall


Church of Our Lady & St Nicholas


Rodney Street



Anglican Cathedral


picture of Roman Catholic
Cathedral coming soon



Click here to see the QTVR panorama.

Now, the Albert Dock is Liverpool's number one crowd puller, home of the Customs and Excise museum, the Tate Gallery (north), the Beatles Museum and many shops and cafes. The Albert Dock is a great example of an old building converted into a new development that's popular, attractive and successful.

Sadly some of the finest examples of Liverpool's proud heritage have been lost and in some cases replaced by some of the worst examples of modern development I've seen anywhere. The dockside elevated railway, known as the "Docker's Umbrella", which played such a crucial role in the War, was dismantled in the early sixties.


Exchange Station was closed, but at least the facade was kept, though behind the exquisite craftmanship and design prowess of the Victorian age, you'll find a new development which exemplifies the tackiness, cost-cutting and lack of ideas of our own time.

Exchange Stn

Royal & Sun Alliance Building

Thistle Hotel

Just up from the Liver Building is a shapeless pile of prefabricated brown crispbread-coloured slabs now occupied by Royal and Sun Alliance. It reminds me of Hong Kong's Kowloon Walled City, a higgledy-piggledy rabbit-warren of jerry-built flats, which was torn down about 10 years or so. This should be too. The ship-shaped Thistle Hotel is an attempt to celebrate Liverpool's maritime past, but I'd prefer a few more real ships than pretend ones.

At the Pier Head, there's a proposal to extend the dock facilities - this is where the Super Sea Cat from Dublin comes in - the character would be changed, a monument would be moved and public access reduced. The local Civic Society have put in an objection. Not far from here, the final reinforced concrete pillars of a third-rate sixties office block are being razed to the ground - hurrah! - but a Council plan to build a futuristic visitor experience on the site was recently set back due to a delay in funds. A developer wants to build a shopping centre there instead, and a court has ruled they can go ahead. The Council is to fight back. To the south of Liverpool, I noticed the unique Bryant and May factory is being demolished - I took a couple of photos for posterity. It's just near the 1930's old airport building, which is being converted for use as offices.

Bryant & May factory

Liverpool has been through many traumas in the past twenty years, and if you expect to find the happy-go-lucky, carefree, musical merry-go-round I imagine Liverpool to have been in the nineteen-sixties, prepare to be disappointed. But what's there today still amounts to a great, though changed city. Many other cities around the world from New York to Shanghai have had to change - and Liverpool seems to be managing it too, so the near future looks to be better than the recent past.

I'll be exploring this end of the Liverpool-Manchester megalopolis again very soon, and focusing on some of its other attractions. If anyone would like to show me round, give me some insider tips or make any requests, please e-mail.

I'd just like to acknowledge the help and inspiration of Professor Quentin Hughes, who was our tour guide on a recent Manchester Civic Society trip to Liverpool.



Click here to see the QTVR panorama.

Join Aidan on his Manchester Photo Walk.
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