Liverpool Tram, Brompton Avenue c.1900

Having written about the tram travelling up Park Road and past the Ancient Chapel recently (click here to view that post) I recently acquired this modern print of a photograph dating from about the same period of a tram taken on Croxteth Road.

For me it is very easy to identify this as being taken on Croxteth Road just at the junction with Brompton Avenue. Just out of shot on the right was Sefton Park Presbyterian Church, then still the church of John Watson, otherwise known as best selling author Ian Maclaren. This tram stop was, according to a number of accounts, identified by the conductor to passengers as “Dr Watson’s Church”. I have written about this Church before here.

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It must have been an important junction, the trams seem to have made relatively long stops there, they certainly appear on postcards of Sefton Park Church, the crew happily posing for the photographer, so they must have had reason to hang around.

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Detail of a postcard view of Sefton Park Church, showing a tram waiting in the same spot

There are also clearly extra crew members included here in the photograph, with an inspector stepping on to the tram. Was this, perhaps, a place where crews changed over? On the top deck you can see the seats that could be pushed to face the other way when the tram got to the end of the line.

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And to the right of the tram stand an elegant Edwardian couple.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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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Water Street, Liverpool c.1902

I recently purchased three photographs on eBay. They weren’t very expensive and aren’t particularly outstanding examples of the photographers’ art but they are very interesting and quite intriguing. They are quite small (about 4 inches by 3 inches) and at some point have been unceremoniously torn from an album or scrap book. This is a pity because not only has this caused a fair amount of damage it has also separated them from their provenance.

But there is no mistaking that one of them is definitely taken in Liverpool. This makes it likely that the other two are also taken in the same city. Of the other two one has a location that is virtually impossible to identify and the other one might be possible to identify but would take a lot of work.

The print that is easily identified is a view of Water Street in Liverpool. It is instantly recognisable and the vague outline of the entrance to the Town Hall at the top of the hill confirms the location. But in fact most of the buildings that can be seen have been replaced although the character of the street has hardly changed. Apart from the Town Hall possibly the only other building in the view that still survives is Oriel Chambers. Built in 1864 with extensive use of plate glass in its façade it was then and remains today a startlingly modern building. But it can hardly be made out in this print, situated at the end of the second block of buildings on the left.

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What is clear from the image is that the street is decorated with bunting, suggestive of a high profile occasion being celebrated. In this era this would often mean a royal event which could be a royal visit or (judging by the costume, transport etc) the coronation of Edward VII which took place on 9th August 1902 after an earlier postponement. I would guess this to be the most likely occasion.

What’s interesting about this photograph is that it is so casually composed, it is clearly not professionally taken and is a typical snap probably captured on a box Brownie. These were introduced at the start of the century and made photography both instant and available to all.

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Detail from the photo

So this photographer stood upstairs on the back of a tram and, holding the camera at waist height, looked down into the viewfinder and took a picture looking up the hill as the tram trundled down towards the Strand. It is a moment in time and a moment of time.

The view reminded me of the recent BBC television series The City and The City starring David Morrissey. Water Street was one of the locations used to illustrate the two cities of ‘Beszel’ and ‘Ul Qoma’ which exist in the same overlapping space but enjoy quite separate existences. It was possible to pass from one city to the other but fraught with difficulties. Water Street provided the set for one of the places where it was possible to see across the border. Other parts of Liverpool provided many of the locations for one city or the other. It was an entertaining series based on a book by China Miéville which was certainly new to me. David Morrissey explains the story like this:

The concept is strange, it is a detective story told in this city, which is actually two cities that share the same footprint, but there are very strict regulations about the fact that one city cannot see the other city’s populace, they can’t look there, they can’t acknowledge them or interact with them and that creates all sorts of strange rules. Inside there is a secret police force called Breach and they are there to make sure that nobody breaks those laws of interacting between the cities.

Here is a screen grab from the programme showing Water Street:

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Oriel Chambers is on the left

A stylish and imaginatively created set. But our unknown photographer, standing on the upper deck of a briefly stopped tram, succeeded in creating an atmospheric picture of his own at some point in the early years of the twentieth century.

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I will return to the other two photographs in another post.

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