Roscoe Gardens, Mount Pleasant, Liverpool

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Memorial, Roscoe Gardens

Roscoe Gardens, as it is now named by the Council, situated at the foot of Mount Pleasant is an easily overlooked green space in Liverpool city centre. It often has a slightly forlorn look which is not surprising as it is surrounded by some very high buildings and is probably difficult to maintain. But this was the site of the graveyard of Renshaw Street Chapel, a chapel which stood on the other side of the space facing into Renshaw Street where Grand Central now stands, a massive red-brick structure that was originally built as the Methodist Central Hall.

It is only right that someone as important in the history of Liverpool should have the space named after him. The author, campaigner against the slave trade, MP (who voted for the end of the trade despite the opposition of so many people in Liverpool), botanist, art collector and much more was hailed as Liverpool’s greatest citizen and was ultimately buried in this graveyard.

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Renshaw Street Chapel, 1811-1899

William Roscoe was born not far away, at the top of Mount Pleasant, in the Bowling Green Inn where his father was the publican. Not long after his birth his family moved a short distance to a newly built tavern which had attached to it an extensive market garden.

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William Roscoe’s childhood home

The history of the chapel that stood nearby is commemorated on the memorial built there after the chapel was sold and the congregation relocated on Ullet Road. Two of the chapel members buried there are commemorated: Joseph Blanco White and William Roscoe.

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Joseph Blanco White

Joseph Blanco White was another hugely significant figure who is increasingly remembered in both Liverpool and his home country of Spain.

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Plaques for Joseph Blanco White on the memorial in Roscoe Gardens

 

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Joseph Blanco White (Ullet Road Church)

William Roscoe was a member of this congregation all his life but although he lived near to the site of this graveyard he would have attended the previous chapel on Benn’s Gardens. Indeed he was baptised there on 28th March 1753 and was a regular attender throughout his life until the new chapel was built on Renshaw Street. No doubt Roscoe was present at the official opening in 1811 when the Rev Robert Lewin preached (making no reference to the new building in his address!). But his membership of this congregation was one of the constant threads that ran throughout his life and in Renshaw Street a large memorial was built to him, later moved to Ullet Road.

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Memorial to William Roscoe originally in Renshaw Street, now in Ullet Road

Two of the panels on the Roscoe Gardens memorial commemorate the congregation that once met nearby and one names three of the ministers:

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The only contemporary memorial in Roscoe Gardens is one to the Mount Pleasant school which was run by the congregation and stood on an adjacent site:

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The memorial is fixed to a neighbouring wall. The inscription reads:

On this site stood the Mount Pleasant British Schools erected 1821 closed 1901 after eighty years of useful work. The stone here preserved was above the doorway. 

Above that, on the original stone, is written Hear instruction and be wise and refuse it not from Proverbs 8:33.

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)

Seven Churches in Liverpool in 1859 viewed from the air

Glen Huntley has posted another fascinating and informative piece on his blog, this time about three houses which once stood close to the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth. These are Elm House, Chapelville and Cooper’s Folly. All three houses long disappeared to make way for the Victorian Tram Sheds and the later twentieth-century extension. The Tram Sheds themselves were demolished in 1993. But you can read Glen Huntley’s excellent post here:

https://theprioryandthecastironshore.wordpress.com/2018/10/04/robert-griffiths-toxteth-park-elm-house-chapelville-and-coopers-folly/

William Roscoe, the famous Unitarian and abolitionist is believed to have lived at Elm House, although his connection with this particular house doesn’t seem to have been proved conclusively. The ‘Dingle’ was the inspiration for one of his poems and he certainly did live locally at one point. He was definitely a member of the Ancient Chapel as well, I have the original ‘call’ issued to the Rev John Porter in 1827 and it includes William Roscoe’s signature.

But another thing Glen incorporates into this post is some detail from an aerial view of Liverpool by John R. Isaac in 1859 and published in New York. This is a view from a hot air balloon and can be viewed on the Library of Congress site at https://www.loc.gov/resource/g5754l.ct007678/?r=0.035,0.095,1.051,0.668,0

The image is fully zoomable and gives some remarkable detail of the city in the middle of the nineteenth century. The city without the cathedrals, the Liver Buildings and some other landmarks has a different look to it and it is not always easy to find your way about. However, Glen has found the Ancient Chapel and Elm House, Chapelville and Cooper’s Folly and includes an annotated close up of that part of the picture similar to this one:

Ancient Chapel from air

The tall church on the right is St Paul’s Church which is another place I intend to return to on this blog at some point. (The Ancient Chapel can be seen in the bottom left hand corner behind the stage coach).

But looking at the map I discovered another group of churches in Liverpool which must be a unique image of some long-lost buildings.

If you zoom in to the centre of the picture (and it is amazing how much detail can be uncovered there) you get this view:

Hope Street from air

It’s interesting because it shows a collection of now almost all vanished churches still clean and complete: unstained by the smoke and pollution that would gradually turn their stone work black and still with their towers and steeples.

At the centre of this scene is Hope Street Unitarian Church. Once the church of James Martineau and demolished in the 1960s. I blogged about Hope Street on a number of occasions but primarily here:

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/the-church-on-hope-street/

and according to the statistics one of the most frequently read pages on this blog.

Behind Hope Street you can see Myrtle Street Baptist Church, the church of Hugh Stowell Brown (soon to be the subject of a new biography). I have written about that church here:

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/hugh-stowell-brown-and-myrtle-street-chapel/

and again it is interesting to see a church looking clean and bright when every photograph of it shows it as black and grimy. The same is true of Canning Street Presbyterian Church in the bottom right hand corner of the image, also demolished in the 1960s and now the site of a modern German Church. To the left of this church is the Catholic Apostolic Church, still with its tower in place, a remarkable building, burnt down in the 1980s.

The long building without a tower in the bottom left corner is St Bride’s Church of England, still there today. St Bride’s can be seen in a rare film of 1901 on the BFI Player. Although the church is not identified it clearly is St Bride’s:

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-liverpool-church-parade-and-inspection-1901-1901-online

In the top left hand corner you can see Rodney Street Church of Scotland, a building saved from destruction but now flats, and just in front is St Philip’s Church Hardman Street, a ‘cast iron’ church like St Michael’s in the Hamlet which disappeared inside another building in 1882 only to be partly uncovered again when that building was knocked down in 2017! You can read about that remarkable discovery on this very interesting blog:

https://liverpool1207blog.wordpress.com/2018/01/02/st-philips-church-hardman-st-liverpool-1816-2017/

But seven accurate looking representations of different churches, only two of which still exist, taken from a hot air balloon in 1859.

 

The Wellington Rooms Liverpool

A building that always catches your eye on Mount Pleasant is the Wellington Rooms. For years it was the Irish Centre but it was originally built by public subscription in 1815-1816 as a ballroom and a centre for the fashionable of Liverpool society to gather in. It kept this function until 1923 when it was converted into a private club called the Embassy Rooms. One can’t help imagining (or at least I can’t and I admit there is no evidence to support this notion) that this must have been a rather louche period in the building’s history. Later years saw it used as a youth club and in 1965 it became the Irish Centre which it remained until 1997. Since then the building has been abandoned and the impressive neo-classical structure designed by Edmund Aikin has become a derelict home for buddleia. I stopped as I walked by because the open letterbox gave me the chance to take a picture of the interior. There you can still see a faded and torn notice directing members to what I guess were the J.F. Kennedy Bar, the Ballroom and the Claddagh Room. Others also took the opportunity to scrutinise the view through the letterbox and it seems such a shame that a building of such style should be so neglected. According to the Liverpool Echo (9 July 2017) the Duchy of Lancaster now has a lease on the building and many online sources suggest there are plans to bring the building back into use as a Science and Technology Hub.

Edmund Aikin was a Unitarian and a member of the famous Aikin family of Warrington. His grandfather, John Aikin, was tutor and principal of the Warrington Academy. His father, also John, was a doctor and an important literary figure, as was his aunt Anna Laetitia Barbauld. I wrote about the Aikins and Warrington in an earlier post:

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/the-warrington-academy/

Edmund’s life was not a long one (1780-1820) although he was influential in popularising neo-classical architecture. He did other work in Liverpool, where he eventually made his home, including the design for the building of the Royal Liverpool Institution in 1814, a centre for ‘the promotion of literature, science and the arts’ founded by William Roscoe and others. He designed a number of dissenting chapels in London, including the Gravel Pit Chapel in Hackney. This building was substantially rebuilt in the Gothic style in 1857 and eventually demolished in 1967. There is no doubt that the Wellington Rooms is his most important surviving building, it’s good to know that there currently seems to be a will to rescue the building and turn it to some positive use.

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Looking down Mount Pleasant

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Main facade

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Interior view taken through the letterbox

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Front door

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Winged angels bearing garlands

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Believed to be a device for spinning thread of some sort. One of two positioned above the side entrance.

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Built 1815-1816. Wellington Rooms. Designed by Edmund Aikin. Former Assembly Rooms.

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Capitals and roof decoration

Liverpool Unitarians: Faith and Action. Essays exploring the lives and contributions to society of notable figures in Liverpool Unitarian history. Edited by Daphne Roberts and David Steers

In September of 2014 we launched – in fine style, it must be said, in the impressive surroundings of the Liverpool Athenaeum, thanks to Philip Waldron – the book Liverpool Unitarians: Faith and Action. Essays exploring the lives and contributions to society of notable figures in Liverpool Unitarian history. Published by the Merseyside District Missionary Association it should also be added that the District took to the role of publisher with great aplomb – not necessarily the most usual role for any church administrative body.  The book is available in many book shops and museums in Liverpool as well as online from the District and via Amazon.

Liverpool Unitarians was a long time in preparation but I think is a better book for the extra time spent on its production. All the contributors have some connection with Merseyside Unitarianism and all write about different aspects of the contribution made by members of this household of faith to wider society over the centuries.

The full list of contributors and subjects is as follows:

Introduction, David Steers; Memorials of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth Park, Bernard Cliffe; Jeremiah Horrocks 1618 – 1641, Bernard Cliffe; William Roscoe 1753 – 1831, David Steers; A Short History of the Rathbone Family, Annette Butler; The Unitarian Family of George Holt, Bernard Cliffe; Noah Jones 1801 – 1861, Philip Waldron; James Martineau 1805 – 1900, Len W. Mooney; Joseph Blanco White 1775 – 1841, David Steers; Kitty Wilkinson 1786 – 1860, Daphne Roberts; John Johns 1801 – 1847, David Steers; William Henry Channing 1810 – 1884, Richard Merritt; Charles Pierre Melly 1829 – 1888, John Keggen; Sir Henry Tate 1819 – 1899, Richard Merritt; Sir John Brunner 1842 – 1919, Len W. Mooney; Lawrence Redfern 1888 – 1967, Elizabeth Alley; Sir Adrian Boult 1889 – 1983, Richard Merritt; The Visitors’ Book of the Ancient Chapel, Bernard Cliffe

It was particularly pleasing to see Len Mooney’s contributions published in the book in light of Len’s sad death just a few months later. Someone who had been a devoted member of Ullet Road Church for many decades Len was a thoughtful and wise person whose gifts shine through in his chapters published here.

The cover of the book
The cover of the book

The book has a full colour cover designed by Alison Steers which incorporates ‘The Triumph of Truth’, the central detail from the library ceiling of Ullet Road Church, painted by Gerald Moira; the Good Samaritan Window at Gateacre Chapel, which was erected in memory of Sir Henry Tate; a bronze representation of the James, (the ship on which Richard Mather and the local puritans sailed to Massachusetts in 1635) made in 1934 for the hall door at the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth; the front elevation of Ullet Road Church built in 1899; and detail of the Liverpool Town Plan of 1725 by J. Chadwick.

 

The book also contains more than fifty illustrations, many of them never before published, and all of them helping to tell the story of Liverpool Unitarianism. Some of the stories told in the book are well known, others are not so familiar to the general reader, yet others break entirely new ground – Bernard Cliffe’s analysis of the memorials and graves in the Ancient Chapel is a first, as is his examination of the chapel’s visitors’ book.

In the Introduction I say:

This book is not intended to be hagiography but it does try to outline how one group of people – members of a particular faith community with deep historical roots but with an aversion to fixed creeds – were inspired to serve their fellows in different ways. Their legacy can be seen all over the city – in its parks, in its monuments, in the university, in hospitals, in education, in art galleries and museums – and it exists in the long and continuing struggle to create a society that gives equality and opportunity to all its citizens. It is not meant to be an exhaustive account of all the eminent members of the churches and chapels in the region. Readers will notice that the names mentioned are part of wider connections of family and business which includes many others who could be included. There are other figures who could be the subject of such biographical accounts. But this is a selection of some of those who have followed the call of faith to be of service to wider society.

 

It is pleasing also to report positive reviews in various publications.

In Faith and Freedom Peter Godfrey says: a splendid book… chapters that are full of interest and fill the reader with admiration and often wonder at the scope of the achievements of these Liverpool Unitarians

and in The Inquirer Alan Ruston says:

readers of this book will come to the conclusion that Unitarianism has not been just a faith of the mind but one of action as well.

The title and full publication and order details are as follows:

Liverpool Unitarians Faith and Action Essays exploring the lives and contributions to society of notable figures in Liverpool Unitarian history

Edited by Daphne Roberts and David Steers

Published by the Merseyside and District Missionary Association 2014 ISBN 978-0-9929031-0-7 Price £12.99 plus £2.50 post and packing 128 pages, 52 illustrations, full colour cover

Available from: Philip Waldron, Ullet Road Church, 57 Ullet Road, Sefton Park, Liverpool L17 2AA or liverpoolunitarians@gmail.com also available for purchase on Amazon

Joseph Blanco White (Ullet Road Church)
Joseph Blanco White (Ullet Road Church)