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The Royal Liver Building

The Royal Liver Building officially opened on the 19th July 1911.

Probably the most photographed and well known building in Liverpool. It is located at Pier Head and stands proud and majestic against the skyline of Liverpool and the waterfront. The building is made of reinforced concrete and was the first large scale building of its type. It was built in 1911 for the Royal Liver Friendly Society. This impressive architectural masterpiece features a pair of clock towers from which shipping could tell the time as they passed en route along the river. The clock faces are actually larger than the clock face of Big Ben in London. In fact, they are the largest clock dials in Britain. In 1953 electronic chimes were installed to serve as a memorial to the members of the Royal Liver Friendly Society who died during the two World Wars. At night time the clock dials are illuminated. They were originally named George clocks, because they were started at the precise time that King George V was crowned on 22 June 1911.

A statue of a Liver Bird spreading its wings from the top of each clock tower enhances the glory of the building and its impressive features. The Liver Bird, the official mascot of Liverpool is a cormorant (seaweed bird) which in bygone times could often be seen flying alongside the Mersey River with seaweed in their beaks.
The Royal Liver Building is still the Head Office for the Royal Liver Friendly Society.

In 1907 the Royal Liver Group had over 6000 employees and given the need for larger premises the company gave the go-ahead for the construction of a new head office. Designed by Walter Aubrey Thomas, the foundation stone for the building was laid on 11 May 1908 and just 3 years later on 19 July 1911, the building was officially opened by Lord Sheffield. The building became the first major structure in Britain, and one of the first buildings in the world, to be constructed using reinforced concrete, and given the building's radical design was considered by some to be impossible to build.

John Chapman Canadian Pacific Liner Melita at Liverpool circa 1930

Since its completion in 1911, it has overlooked the River Mersey from its waterfront location on the Pier Head and forms one of the 'Three Graces' along with the Port of Liverpool Building and the Cunard Building. This is reflected in the building's Grade I listed building status. It stands at 90 m (300 ft) tall and has 13 floors.

InsideThe Clock Tower

On the top of the building, sat on each of the two towers are the mythical Liver Birds, the symbol of Liverpool. They are 18 feet tall, have a total wing span of 24 feet and are made of copper. Local legend has it that if they fly away, Liverpool will cease to exist. The Liver Birds are a cross between an eagle and a cormorant (the bird of good luck to sailors). A German sculptor called Carl Bernard Bartels, who was living in England, designed them. When the Great War broke out, Carl Bernard Bartels was arrested as a German citizen and imprisoned on the Isle of Man. The City of Liverpool removed all reference to his achievements and at the end of the war, despite having a wife in London, he was sent back to Germany.

Listed Grade I

The Liver Building framework being fitted with it's facia
The Liver Building was built as the head office of the Royal Liver Friendly Society, which had its origins as a mid-19th century burial club. It is notable as one of Britain's first multi-storey reinforced concrete framed buildings. Stylistically unique in England, it is more akin to the early tall buildings of America such as the Allegheny Court House (1884) by H. H. Richardson and the Garrick (formerly Schiller) Theatre by Adler and Sullivan. It has nine bays on each front and thirteen bays on the sides. The top floor steps back behind a Doric colonnade, taking advantage of the technical possibilities offered by its reinforced concrete structure. The roof has turrets and domes in receding stages and the clock towers have copper Liver Birds designed by Carl Bernard Bartels and constructed by Bromsgrove Guild. The Bromsgrove Guild were awarded this important commission by The Royal Liver Assurance Company who wanted two mythical Liver Birds to be mounted on the twin towers of its new head office at the Pier Head when it opened 19 July, 1911. Their construction presented many problems, firstly their size and the fact that they were to be mounted 300 feet from the ground. This meant that they would have to be constructed to withstand high winds but not be too heavy.  The birds were constructed in Bromsgrove, dismantled and then transported to Liverpool. The statues were then re-assembled from the collection of small pieces of copper sheeting. Standing 18 feet tall they have a total wing span of 24 feet and are made of copper. It was decided that once installed they would be gilded and scaffolding and screening was erected to protect the men working at this great height. One worker later said that twice as much gold-leaf blew away as was actually applied to the birds! The two birds face away from each other, one towards the river and the other towards the city. The poses are traditional; the birds stand with half-upraised wings, each carrying a sprig of seaweed in its beak. The birds are 18 ft high, their heads are 31/2 ft long, the spread of the wings is 12 ft, their length is 10 ft and the legs are 2ft in circumference. Their bodies and wings are of moulded and hammered copper fixed on a steel armature. Although there are Liver Birds on many buildings in Liverpool, it is the two which roost on top of this building that are the biggest in the city and which to many people are the very identity of Liverpool. The chimes on the Liver clock fell silent for more than four years due to technical problems, but in 2016 a solution was found by specialists from the Cumbrian Clock Company, who made a digital recording of the original sound. The chimes are now relayed through speakers on the west tower of the Liver Building, using an amplifier and have begun chiming again.

Local legend has it that they are a male and female pair, the female looking out to sea, watching for the seamen to return safely home, while the male looks towards the city, to see if the pubs are open.

Later stages of the construction showing the frame work for the Clock Tower

Royal Liver Building From Princes Dock

Early in 2017 Everton’s major shareholder Farhad Moshiri joined forces with Corestate Capital to purchase the world-famous waterfront landmark. CBRE intend to refurbish some of the building’s central areas to make the building more attractive to potential tenants. 

For the first time in its 100+ year history, Royal Liver Building is unlocking its doors to the public and inviting you to explore its iconic history with a fully immersive experience.

As one of the stunning ‘Three Graces’ on Liverpool’s waterfront, Royal Liver Building 360 is a must-see attraction. Start your journey at the lower ground floor visitor centre and learn about the building’s history as well as its place in Liverpool’s heritage. After you’ve viewed the exhibitions join your guided tour to the tenth and fifteenth floors to enjoy spectacular 360° views of the Liverpool skyline and experience a world-class digital projection show inside the historic clock tower.

(1 January 2019 - 31 December 2019)


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