Visit: 24th – 25th January 2015
I visited Liverpool with Natalie as part of a group of her friends, celebrating Jas’s birthday. The group had some commonality with last March’s trip to Berlin, but the two of us were the only ones interested in the World Heritage Site aspect of the city. We spent the evening drinking and clubbing, which was not as bad as I had feared – I would venture so far as to say I might have enjoyed it! But I will deal here with our daytime sightseeing, both on the Saturday after we arrived and the Sunday before we left.
We travelled up on the train from London Euston, getting into Liverpool Lime Street station at about 12:30. The WHS inscription shows a very precise border that resembles a gerrymandered political district. I had traced it out onto a map so I could be sure we were going to the correct areas.
But first we went to see some sites that are not part of the WHS, yet are worth visiting in their own right. The two cathedrals of Liverpool, both in the Hope area of the city, are both 20th century creations and both cavernous, but the similarities end there.
The neo-Gothic Protestant cathedral is, by volume, the world’s fifth largest cathedral. On the day we visited it was playing host to the Epiphany celebrations of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo church. This was certainly not what we had been expecting, but it was nice to see the church so full of people and joie de vivre. A clergywoman confirmed it was unusual, saying that the building is never normally this busy, what with the gradual decline of religiosity in the Western world. We paid £5 each to go to the top of the cathedral’s belltower, where you can take in an expansive view of Liverpool, though only through narrow embrasures. Below is the view looking toward the city centre and the docks.
The Catholic cathedral is quite a contrast, breaking with tradition to discard the cruciform layout and instead opt for a circular floorplan. The cathedral roof is what I would describe as a giant upside-down funnel shape, with a cupola on the top that lets in the light. The most striking thing about the building is probably the amount and variety of colour that fills the interior, with the light dyed red and blue by the stained glass windows.
The Catholic cathedral, known as Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, was built in the 1960s, enabling it to utilitse modern building techniques to achieve a shape that would have been unimaginable a few generations earlier. Nicknamed “Paddy’s Wigwam” because of its shape and Liverpool’s sizeable Irish Catholic population, it was voted by CNN as one of the world’s ugliest buildings. I like it.
The one improvement we did think of would be for them to decorate the top of the cupola (just about visible above the stained glass in the picture above). For some reason its ceiling has been left in grey concrete, which would look better if they painted it or stuck in some more glass to enliven the building’s centrepiece.
After the cathedrals we walked to the redeveloped Albert Dock area, where you will find various museums and coffee shops and the famous Liver Building, pictured at the top of this post. The Liver bird – two of which are perched on top of the Liver Building – is a mythical creature endemic to the city.
The reason the city of Liverpool is inscribed as a World Heritage Site is to bear witness to the major world trading centres of the 18th and 19th centuries. Along with the likes of Bristol and Lisbon, Liverpool grew rich on the Triangular Trade, shipping manufactured goods, slaves and tobacco between Europe, Africa and America.
On Sunday we headed to a part of the WHS that has not yet been thoroughly redeveloped. Here you can see empty warehouses much as they were a hundred years ago. This bonded tea warehouse would have been used to store large consignments of tea without having to pay import duty. The owner of the tea was then permitted to clean/sort/mix the tea etc. and then ship it on to foreign markets without incurring a tax liability.
Also included within the WHS boundary is the start of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal – a freight superhighway of the 19th century. Although she was impeccably accommodating to my enthusiasm, I detected that Natalie was not too thrilled with being dragged round an industrial estate with no food and a hangover!
We next headed back into town and said goodbye to everybody else before heading back to Albert Dock, where the Tate Liverpool sits. We went there to see the Andy Warhol exhibition, which featured some of his most famous works: Campbell’s Soup cans, Marilyn Monroe and Chairman Mao prints. There were also some of his videos showing on black and white TVs in the way they always seem to be in modern art exhibitions. I didn’t stick around long enough to watch them but they may well have included some of his eyewateringly tedious videos such as the 100 minute production of a man smoking a cigar, the six hour video of the exterior of the Empire State Building or the eight hour one of a man sleeping. Natalie was distinctly unimpressed with Warhol, and I have to say I was fairly underwhelmed too. I had tried – I read a Taschen book on Warhol to prepare for the exhibition, but he just didn’t make the same impression on me as the Old Masters do. Oh well, I may ‘grow into it’ one day.
One of the main areas in the city centre is a modern shopping development called Liverpool One. In amongst the glass and steel, these gates are the last vestiges of the Liverpool Sailors’ Home – an inexpensive lodging for sailors come ashore. The proprietors put on educational and recreational activities to try to keep the sailors occupied and divert them from more insalubrious activities on offer by the docks.
The last place we went before heading home was the Walker Art Gallery. Presenting a contrast to the modern art of the Tate, the Walker is a classic Victorian-era gallery. Its collection really impressed me, featuring works by Titian, Cranach, Lowry and Monet. With free entry, it is well worth a visit if you are in the city. It also contains a plaster cast of the Elgin Marbles frieze, the original of which is on display in the British Museum in London. If the likes of Stephen Fry get their way that is all we will remain with, which I think would be a real shame.
In conclusion, I enjoyed Liverpool much more than I expected to. I had visited once before, with my grandparents about fifteen years ago, but we didn’t travel the city on foot at the time. Since then Liverpool has been the European Capital of Culture (2008), and it seems to me that it was a good choice.