Saturday, 18 June 2016

More Bricktorian Liverpool.

Back in Warsaw after an intensive week in England. Two days' training in London, then a visit to Liverpool with overnight stay, then two more days back in London.

I arrive in Liverpool and walk to my hotel - a converted prison. I'm spending the night in what used to be a prison cell in Bridewell Prison, now converted into a two-star hotel. It offers a level of experience that your average Holiday Inn or Ibis just cannot.

Welcome to Brictorian Britain. These four walls that surround me would have once enclosed various felons, villains and ne'er-do-wells from the city.

"Norman Stanley Fletcher, you have pleaded guilty to the charges brought by this court and it is my duty to pass sentence... You will go to prison for five years" [SFX prison door slamming]. The echoing corridors, the heavy doors, the brickwork, add an undeniable frisson to what would otherwise have been an unremarkable overnight business stay.

This used to be the Main Bridewell, built in 1857-59 to replace ten lock-ups (all called 'bridewells') located in police stations across Liverpool's city centre. A Grade II listed building, it was sold for redevelopment in May 2013 and re-opened to the (honest) public in May 2015. It's a great place to stay for the atmosphere, in walking distance of the Mersey waterfront.

As I got ready to sleep, the door locked from the inside, I pondered on the generations of ne'er-do-wells who did their porridge in this very cell, arrested by the 'busies' as Scousers call their police force. Incidentally, the Liverpudlians (or Scousers - named after the local dish of scouse - a lamb and vegetable stew) have an amazing sense of humour and natural warmth about them - probably a result of the city's geographic and genetic proximity to Ireland.

So - Liverpool, mid-June, what's the weather going to be like? Setting back from the exhibition centre towards Lime Street Station, I observed the most monstrous bank of storm cloud tipping a deluge down onto Birkenhead across the Mersey. The wind was gusting in, the downdraft from the deluge across the river. Would it catch me before I made it to the station?

 As I wrote (here and here) there's so much great architecture to see in Liverpool. Bricktorian Britain plus some stunning Art Deco.

This is, I would argue, Britain's third-best city after London and Edinburgh in terms of Things To See And Do and in terms of making a strong impression. Beating Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester and Leeds.

The strong maritime history, the location and the culture, and the way the city turned itself round after years of decline and neglect and the cheerful humour of the locals make it a must-see for visitors to Britain.

Below: a slightly larger-than-life set of statues depicting the Beatles (from left: Paul, George, Ringo and John) as they would have been in the mid-1960s. The Fab Four put Liverpool on the global map, but other monuments around the waterfront remind visitors that the music scene was vibrant and varied - from Billy Fury* to Echo and the Bunnymen and A Flock Of Seagulls. The one thing I'm waiting for from Liverpool is a monument to the city's greatest comedian - Alexei Sayle.

Below: another icon of Liverpool, the Royal Liver Building, Britain's first proper skyscraper. That threatening cloud has made it across the Mersey and I'm still waiting for the deluge to come...

Below: Albert Docks, an excellent post-industrial redevelopment - shops, restaurants and apartments within a refurbished Victorian port complex.

Left: crammed into the ever-narrowing space where Whitechapel St (to the left)  runs into Victoria St (to the right) are Imperial Buildings, erected in 1879. Visible below the dome are two female figures representing Industry and Commerce. Liverpool reminds you at every turn that this is a city based on global trade.

Below: corner of Vernon St and Dale St, looking up at the ornately decorated Victorian windows and roofs.

I managed to get within a few hundred yards of it when the heavens opened. I took refuge in the Excelsior pub, and two pints of India Pale Ale later, it's dry enough to get to Lime Street to catch my train back to London. Below: looking down Dale St, the tower of Liverpool City Council's municipal offices in the skyline.

A propos of trains: the fare offered by Virgin Trains, three weeks in advance, for a single, one-way ticket for a morning train from London to Liverpool changing at Crewe, was £85. To put this into perspective, my return flight from Warsaw to London and back was £75. A cheaper alternative proved to be an evening train up from London and a two-star hotel in Liverpool. Always worth checking before booking!

* Not, of course, his real name. He was born William Furious.

This time last year:
Łódź - city of tenements

This time two years ago:
Liverpool reborn

This time three years ago:
What goes round comes around: retro is cool - again.

This time four years ago:
Warsaw's southern bypass by this time next year?
[No, it was September 2013]

This time five years ago:
Stand Easy! - a short story

This time eight years ago:
God Save The Queen - I mean it, Ma'am

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