Thomas Steers and the Blue Coat School

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Front view of the original school building of 1717

I was interested to discover through the tercentenary history exhibition in the Bluecoat Arts Centre in Liverpool that Thomas Steers is now credited as one of those responsible for the construction of this very fine building. There can be little of importance in the city in the early eighteenth century that Thomas Steers didn’t have a hand in. The school (correctly termed the Blue Coat School) was founded in 1708 but the building not completed on School Lane until 1717. For nearly two hundred years the building was the home of the school until it moved to new premises in Wavertree. In the decades after 1906 the Bluecoat became the location for an innovative arts centre in the oldest building in the city. Thomas Steers’s involvement in the building appears to have only recently come to light. The exhibition in the Bluecoat states that:

Recent research confirms that Liverpool’s dock engineer Thomas Steers, together with mason Thomas Litherland, were responsible for the construction of the building. Both received considerable payments, recorded in the school’s meticulous accounts books by Bryan Blundell, the master mariner who founded the Blue Coat School and was its first treasurer.

[A page of the accounts] from 1719, records fees to Steers and Litherland, who had previously worked together on Old Dock nearby (completed 1715), the world’s first commercial wet dock which was instrumental in Liverpool’s rapid growth as a global trading port.

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Liver Bird above main entrance

The Old Dock has now been excavated and is open to visitors. It’s fascinating to see the brickwork exposed to view after years lying hidden beneath the surface, but here was laid the maritime prosperity of Liverpool, thanks to the engineering skills and technical vision of Thomas Steers.

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Inside the Old Dock, picture taken in 2016

Thomas Steers was a notable public servant of the city, serving as water bailiff, town councillor and mayor, and designed other docks as well as private and public buildings and local canals. His reputation also brought him to Ireland where he worked as a consultant on the Newry Canal, spending a number of years working on the project. It wasn’t his first visit to Ireland since he is said to have been commissioned in the 4th regiment of foot and served at the battle of the Boyne in 1690.

The Bluecoat building was badly damaged during the blitz of 1941 but was saved and has been restored a number of times over the last century. The Latin inscription across the front of the façade has been removed and restored at different times. It reads:

CHRISTIANAE CHARITATI PROMOVENDAE INOPIQUE PUERITIAE ECCLESIAE ANGLICANAE PRINCIPIIS IMBUENDAE SACRUM. ANNO SALUTIS MDCCXVII

which is translated on the Bluecoat website as: ‘Dedicated to the promotion of Christian charity and the training of poor boys in the principles of the Anglican church. Founded in the year of salvation 1717.’

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Part of the inscription can be seen below the clock

This is an interesting text because based on little more than this assertion, almost three hundred years after the school was founded, the Church of England attempted to gain control of the school. Since it was always open to anyone and was completely free of any sectarian basis most people thought the twenty-first century C of E was going a bit far and the Bishops seem quietly to have withdrawn from the fray. At the time this controversy was underway I wrote to the Liverpool Echo pointing out that a local dissenting minister, the Rev John Brekell, preached a charity sermon in 1769 and told his hearers that no less a person than Bryan Blundell himself had told him that this inscription had been had been forced on him against his will by “some zealous Churchmen”. There is no doubt that the school enjoyed financial support from the wealthy Presbyterian community and in turn did not restrict its benefits to members of the established church. Neither as a charity school in its first centuries nor as a state school in the twentieth century had it displayed the characteristics of a ‘church school’. William Roscoe, poet, historian, abolitionist and dissenter refers to the school in his poem ‘Mount Pleasant’, first published in 1777. ‘The Blue-Coat Hospital’ is:

Yon calm retreat, where screen’d from every ill,

The helpless orphan’s throbbing heart lies still;

And finds delighted, in the peaceful dome,

A better parent, and a happier home.

The exhibition in the Bluecoat includes a lithograph of the picture Recollections of the Blue-Coat Hospital, Liverpool, St George’s Day, 1843 by Henry Travis. The original used to hang in the school boardroom when I was there, and most probably still does. Most pupils would rarely have seen it but when I was at the school I had regularly to attend in the boardroom for clarinet lessons. Not being much of a musician I frequently found the painting with its crowds and banners and marching pupils rather more absorbing.

Travis, Henry; Recollections of Liverpool Blue Coat Hospital, St George's Day

‘Recollections of the Blue-Coat Hospital, Liverpool, St George’s Day, 1843’ by Henry Travis (Picture: Liverpool Blue Coat School)

400th Anniversary of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth

 

The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth was built in 1618 during the ministry of the Rev Richard Mather in the former royal deer park of Toxteth by Puritans who desired to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience. Originally situated in a remote rural community the Chapel is now in the midst of a heavily built-up suburb of Liverpool. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the Chapel which has been in continuous use since 1618. A special service to celebrate this 400th anniversary of this historic Chapel will be held on Sunday, 25th November at 2.30 pm.

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Please note – if you are thinking of attending this service – that the time has been changed from 3.00 pm to 2.30 pm – as shown above.

Public Parades, Liverpool c.1902

The other two photographs which I acquired with the picture of Water Street, Liverpool in 1902 shown in the previous post (and it definitely is a picture of the festivities surrounding the coronation in 1902) are posted on this page.

They obviously date from around the same time, and may actually depict elements of the celebrations surrounding the same event. Both unfortunately have suffered damage when they were torn from their album. But one has no features that could be used to accurately locate it. It is in fact a pretty grim picture by our standards. Like the Water Street photograph it is a quickly taken snap, probably of part of a parade. A man and a boy stare straight into the camera from the right. On the left a policeman has his back to the photographer. In the centre is a large caged trailer carrying two beasts, so far as I can tell they are bears. These unfortunate animals were being dragged through the city presumably as part of some publicity for a circus or similar event, probably not I would guess a coronation float. In many ways it is an image more redolent of the sixteenth rather than the twentieth century.

1900 animals Liverpool b

The other picture certainly looks like it was taken in Liverpool and could well be part of the parade for the coronation of Edward VII. I haven’t, so far, been able to find any details of exactly what took place in Liverpool at this time but there is extant film of a large parade in Bradford for instance which gives a good idea of the sort of thing that happened in large cities to mark the coronation of the new monarch. Bands were intermixed with floats representing aspects of civic history or different industries or companies. In this picture the photographer has caught a military style band resting, the road is festooned with flags and bunting, and a large crowd looks on.

!900 Band Liverpool

It could well be part of the Liverpool parade to mark the coronation and that seems likely since it came with another picture of that day. However, there are other alternatives. Patriotic and religious parades were a big deal in Liverpool at the time. This one does not look like it might have been ‘contentious’, as we would say today. So it could be linked to some church event. Unfortunately the details on the banner are not remotely legible but I would guess it is a church related banner rather than an Orange one (there are no signs of any sashes or collarettes in the parade so it is not an Orange parade).

1900 Band Liverpool 02

But I am reminded by Giles Fraser on Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’ today (29th May) that today is Oak Apple Day, once a public holiday to celebrate the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. There were groups in Liverpool who marked this day and if you look closely at the two well-dressed men on the left (both of African or Caribbean origin by the way) you can see that one of them is wearing some kind of flower or emblem that resembles oak leaves. The older man on the right with a beard also seems to be wearing the same emblem/oak leaves. The lapels of the other men in the parade are not visible unfortunately.

1900 Band Livrepool 01

So is this an Oak Apple Day parade? It could be. But then what is the large object that looks a bit like a railway signal in the centre of the cropped image above? I am not at all sure. But it could be something from the end of a float. If that was the case then this might be a picture of part of the 1902 Liverpool parade for the coronation of Edward VII.

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Sefton Park Heron

In Liverpool recently I was pleased to get these pictures of the heron in Sefton Park. The heron seemed quite unperturbed by my presence and that of many other people quite nearby as he watched the lake for signs of a potential meal.

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