The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth and an early electric tram

I was very pleased to pick up this picture on an ever-popular internet auction site. It was sold as a Victorian photograph, but I thought it possibly wasn’t quite that old and might, in any case, be a print that was made much later. However, I think it is a genuine old photograph, probably dating from the earliest years of the twentieth century. It is only a very small print, about two and a half inches by three and a half inches, but it is curiously interesting too.

It wasn’t very costly and I half expected it to command a much higher price appealing, as it does, to a number of different constituencies – those with an interest in old chapels, enthusiasts for Liverpool history, and aficionados of trams and transport.

Clearly it is a view looking towards the end of Park Road. There on the left is the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, complete with ivy and a corporation road name plate. There are a few pedestrians wandering past: a lady in a long dress and another lady pushing a pram outside the chapel. On the right is tram car number 10A climbing the slight incline of Park Road, on its way to the Pier Head.

Ancient Chapel Tram 03

The size of the print would suggest a photograph taken after 1901 on a Box Brownie No.2, so probably not quite Victorian. The clothes worn by the ladies in the photograph would suggest a point at around that date. The driver of the tram is wearing a double-breasted overcoat with an oval badge on his chest and on his hat. The badge on his chest would be his licence and this particular style of wear apparently indicates the way the uniform of the driver (or motorman as he would have been called) was worn prior to 1904, or so I read on Ashley Birch’s very informative British Tramway Company Badges and Buttons site.

Ancient Chapel Tram crop 02

So we have a well composed photograph, probably dating to between 1901 and 1904, which I am sure is meant to contrast the old – in this case a place of worship dating back to 1618 – with the new, an electric tram, the most up to date and exciting form of public transport available.

Electric trams were introduced to Liverpool in 1898, so they would still be a relatively new phenomenon by 1904. A large dent on the front right-hand side of the tramcar points to this not being a brand new tram when this photo was taken but still it is a picture taken fairly close to the inauguration of the tram system in Liverpool. Another site (Ron’s Liverpool Tram Site) tells me that according to the number this was a Brill ‘Philadephia’ Car, built in America, and the picture does correspond with this type of vehicle.

Ancient Chapel Tram crop 01

The original tram depot was just around the corner from the chapel so this vehicle had only just begun its journey. The depot was built in 1898 and was a building that survived long after the tram system closed, I knew it well, or at least was aware of it but never gave its original purpose a second’s thought. The same would be true of the Smithdown Road depot opened in 1899 but still there until relatively recently. It’s curious how these buildings survived for such a long time before seeming to just melt away.

Another curious thing is how this corner of Toxteth became such a hub for transport. Once the most remote part of an ancient royal hunting park it became the site of an early seventeenth-century chapel for the convenience of the local farmers and was far away from the prying eyes of government or ecclesiastical hierarchy. The Chapel was situated really on the road to nowhere when it was built. Centuries later the Chapel found itself in between the first electric tram depot built on one side of it and the last station of the Liverpool Overhead Railway situated immediately opposite it on Park Road. The Dingle station of the Overhead Railway would have been just to the right of the tram in this picture. Impressively the Dingle Overhead Railway Station was built underground and is one of the few surviving features of that railway which closed the year before the trams were stopped in 1957. It is a significant junction which I have blogged about before:

Two views of a junction in Toxteth

ACT Ext 05

The view across the Chapel graveyard. The garage visible on the left was the site of the Dingle station of the Overhead Railway. The Dingle tram terminus was to the right of the picture.

It is curious too how trams were marked out as old-fashioned and unsustainable in the 1950s but came back into fashion in the twenty-first century. Today cities like Manchester, Edinburgh, Dublin and many more appreciate their value. Of course, most major European cities never took them away and have always had the benefit of these types of transit systems.

But it is easy to have a romanticised or sentimental view of this informative and attractive little photograph. It seems a long time ago as well. But when I was assistant minister of Cross Street Chapel in Manchester in the 1980s one of the oldest members was in his 90s. He had worked as a tram driver in Manchester before the First World War. He told me there was no covering above his head when he was driving and the rain would pour down his back in bad weather. In the end he was forced to give up due to ill-health and had a lifetime of difficulty with his back as a result. But maybe things were better in Liverpool, this driver certainly looks well enough protected at the front of his car.

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Buildings of South County Down

I was very pleased to be among those invited to the launch of the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society’s  new book Buildings of South County Down at Ballydugan Mill on 1st May 2019. It is a splendid book written by Philip Smith and beautifully illustrated throughout in colour by Alan Turkington. It describes itself as not claiming ‘to be an exhaustive record of its particular area, but rather a selection giving a broad overview of the built heritage of the southern half of Down’ and it is a very comprehensive collection of significant buildings both large and small, public and private.

Ballydugan Mill on the day of the book launch

The churches section numbers 25 buildings and contains no less than three Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches which is a very significant representation and indicates the historical importance of what is, nevertheless, quite a small denomination. Both Downpatrick and Clough feature in the book, the Clough meeting house being photographed just before its recent repainting which means it doesn’t look its best but that can’t be helped. Leafing through the book it is interesting to see the number of other buildings that have a link with Downpatrick and Clough churches – the Murland Mausoleum has a photograph and a number of houses appear which were once the homes of prominent members including the homes of the Murlands themselves and the nearby houses of Nutgrove and Mount Panther, once the dwelling places of leading members of the church. Both Nutgrove and Mount Panther are painted on the First World War memorial in Clough.


Dr Edward McParland, Vice-President of Ulster Architectural Heritage introduces the book

The book contains much information that is new to me. I didn’t know that the now ruined but still impressive edifice of Mount Panther was named after the ‘local legend of the “Great Cat of Clough” a monstrous feline said to have once terrorized the area’. I also did not know anything about Marlborough House which seems to have originally been built by Rev Thomas Nevin sometime before 1728. The entry on the Downpatrick Church states that ‘the church is said to have been built in 1711 at the beginning of the ministry of the Rev Thomas Nevin’ but it seems clear from the presbytery minutes that the new building and the new ministry did coincide quite closely. However, one interesting thing about Marlborough House is that it was built quite near to the site of the original seventeenth-century meeting house, although Buildings of South County Down says that Nevin acquired the land from Brice Magee, a local apothecary, so it can’t have been the site of the original manse.

The other Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in the book is Rademon which has a number of very attractive photographs included with its account. The photograph of the interior of Downpatrick taken by Alan Turkington did not make the final cut but it is interesting to look at the interiors of Downpatrick and Rademon. Although the buildings are separated by over 75 years and it is not at all difficult to differentiate one from the other it is instructive to compare the two interiors which are very similar in layout and design and probably also dimensions:

Interior of Downpatrick (Photo: Alan Turkington)
Interior of Rademon (Photo: Alan Turkington) page 30

But the book contains much more than churches. As well as houses (grand, middling-sized and small) there are antiquities and fortification, public buildings, commercial buildings, follies, monuments and memorials. Anyone who enjoys looking at the built environment around them will enjoy this book and find plenty to enlighten them about buildings in the locality of south Down.