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William Brown Street, A closer look !

In terms of its architecture William Brown Street is one of the most magnificent streets in Liverpool and one that most Liverpool residents have walked up and down many times. In this article I seek to explain the wonderful and interesting history of this city centre street.

William Brown Street 1860 'Illustrated London News'

The Walker Art Gallery

The gallery, the gift to the city its founding benefactor being, Sir Andrew Barclay Walker (1824–1893), a former mayor of Liverpool and wealthy brewer born in Ayrshire who expanded the family business to England and moved to live in Gateacre. It was designed by Cornelius Sherlock and H.H Vale, was opened in 1877 and enlarged by the addition of nine rooms in 1882. A further large extension was made in 1933. The Gallery is in Corinthian style, the portico consisting of a broad flight of steps. On either side are large marble statues of Raphael and Michaelangelo. Thee portico is crowned by a figure representing the Arts. The most important part of the the collection consists of the Roscoe Collection of Italian and other early masters and art unrivalled collection of works by English painters. Among the latter are examples by eighteenth and early nineteenth century masters, such as Reynolds, Gainsborough (“Viscountess Folkestone”), Romney (“Mrs Sargent”), Raeburn (“Ann Stirling” and “A Girl sketching”) Turner (“Rosenau” and the “Wreck Buoy”), Richard Wilson (“Snowdon”) and Thomas Girtin: a good selection of the Liverpool school of painting, including Richard Wright (1733-1775), Richard Caddick (about 1750-1823), and William Huggins (1820-1884), a representation of the Pre-Raphaelite group Rossetti (“Dante’s Dream”), Millais (“Lorenzo and Isabella”) and Holman Hunt (“The Triumph of the Innocents”), and among modern British artists, examples by Orpen, Augustus John, Wilson Steer, W.R Sickert, Harold Gilman and Paul Nash. In 1893, the Liverpool Royal Institution placed its collection on long-term loan to the gallery and in 1948 presented William Roscoe's collection and other works. This occurred during post-war reconstruction when the gallery was closed, re-opening in 1951. During the Second World War the gallery was taken over by the Ministry of Food and the collection was dispersed for safety. Extensions to the gallery were opened in 1884 and 1933 (following a two-year closure) when the gallery re-opened with an exhibition including Picasso and Gauguin. In 2002 the gallery re-opened following a major refurbishment. In 1933 Lord Wavertree bequeathed to the gallery £20,000 and a collection of sporting pictures and more recently these have been enhanced by the acquisition of the Walter Stone collection of British sporting pictures with which it is intended to make the basis of a gallery devoted to this subject. Another recent bequest was that of Miss E G Holt, who left the city her important collection, containing valuable examples of early English artists, and also her house at Mossley Hill which has been converted into a branch Art Gallery, Museum and Library.

The County Sessions House

The County Sessions House is on the east side of the Art Gallery, The courthouse was built between 1882 and 1884, and was designed by the Liverpool architects F & G Holme. It functioned as a local county courthouse, and contained three courtrooms, chambers for barristers and judges, cells, and facilities for administration. but is no longer used for these purposes

The Picton Reference Libray was built as a reference library of the British Museum type and was opened in 1879. It was designed by Cornelius Sherlock and named after Sir J A Picton, who was chairman of the Library. Museums and Arts Committee for nearly forty years.

The reference library is a large domed circular building 100 feet in diameter and 60 feet high. In the centre of the roof is a skylight 24 feet in diameter. In front of the building are fourteen fluted Corinthian columns, 35 feet high up, supporting a frieze and cornice.

Picton Library

Bust of James Picton
The reference library could seat over 200 readers at any one time and carries a stock of over a million items, covering every subject. A feature of the library is the large number of encylopaedias, dictionaries and quick reference books in many languages and over 900 periodicals of all kinds. Deeds and other material relating to the city may be consulted in the local history department. The rock beneath the Room has been excavated and the space formed into a large lecture room, known as Picton Hall. In this hall which can accommodate over 1,000 persons, lectures, film shows and recitals were held here.

Hornby Library of Fine Art
The library, one of the finest pieces of architecture in Liverpool, was the gift of Hugh Frederick Hornby (d. 1890) one of the city’s merchant magnates. It was designed by T Shelmerdine and is in the Classical style. Eight Ionic columns of Bath stone, 26 feet high, support an entablature which in turn carries  a barrel- vaulted ceiling.

Hornby Library

The library contains 7,860 fine art books, including some rare first editions, 8,000 engravings, dating from the early sixteenth to the late nineteenth centuries, and 3,000 autographs of famous people. In addition there are many excellent examples of the work of modern printing presses and a collection of 50,000 bookplates.

Bust of Hugh Frederick Hornby

The Brown Library

The William Brown Library and Museum building was conceived as a replacement for the Derby Museum (containing the Earl of Derby's natural history collection) which then shared two rooms on the city's Duke Street with a library. The land for the building on what was then called Shaw's Brow as well as much of the funding was provided by local MP and merchant Sir William Brown, 1st Baronet of Astrop, in whose honour the street was renamed. The library opened in 1860, was designed by Thomas Allom in the Corinthian style. It is 222 feet long and 164 deep, and has a fine portico.

The Brown Library
The library suffered extensive damage during an air raid in May 1941, when the entire stock of books was destroyed. The ground floor, however was restored in 1945 and now houses the Central Lending Library, containing some 50,000 volumes, both fiction and non-fiction, including many works in foreign languages. Incorporated into the same building is the Music Library, with a stock of about 12,000 volumes of music of all kinds, together with a considerable selection of sheet music
A feature of the library service is the provision of books, both English and foreign, in Braille type, for the use of blind readers. These are subscribed for by the Corporation to the National Library for the blind, and are posted without charge to those who apply for them. Adjoining the library is Liverpools Museum.

The Museums

This building, also the gift of William Brown, designed by John Weightman, and opened in 1860, was almost completely gutted by fire, subsequent to aerial bombardment in May 1941, and still awaits restoration. Among the principal exhibits were the Natural History Collection of the thirteenth Earl of Derby, the collection of archaeological and ethnological specimens presented by Joseph Mayer, silversmith and antiquary, a Liverpool man; the Brian-Faussett Anglo Saxon collection; the Austin Crinold collection; some examples of old pottery, made chiefly in Liverpool in works whose site is now occupied by the museum building.; a unique collection of bird skins , comprising over 70,000 specimens, and a gallery of shipping showing the evolution of merchant craft from the earliest times to the present day. Many of these had been evacuated at the beginning of the war and others were salvaged from the disastrous fire.

Sculpture Gallery

The Gallery

The last and westmost of the range of buildings in William Brown street comprises the Museum Extension Galleries and the Technical College, designed by W. Mountford and completed in 1906. It has a frontage of about 200 feet and the same depth as the museum. The lower floor houses the Technical College, the entrance to which is in Byrom street, while the two upper floors formed the extension to the Museum. These were damaged in May 1941. On the other side of William Brown street, and overlooked by St George’s Hall are St John Gardens.

The College of Technology and Museum Extension

St John’s Gardens, formerly the churchyard attached to St John’s Church, demolished by the corporation around 1888. A massive wall runs all around, and the 3 and a quarter acres of gardens, bright with flowers and plants, are decorated with statues of prominent citizens. Close to the north-east entrance is a bronze statue of William Rathbone (d. 1903) M.P. for Liverpool from 1869 to 1880 and a founder of the University, by George Frampton. In front is a Monument to Alexander Balfour (1824-1886), a merchant  and shipowner whose benefactions gained for him the distinction of being “one of Liverpool’s noblest citizens”.

St Johns Church

In a depression where the old church stood is a Monument of W. E. Gladstone (1809-1898) by Sir T Brock. In line with a statue of William Rathbone is a statue of Sir A. B. Forward (1836-1898), M.P., J.P.and Privy Councillor, by George Frampton. Another monument of note is is the statue of Monsignor Nugent, by F.W. Pomeroy. Monsignor Nugent’s work in founding and aiding homes for women and others made his name beloved in Liverpool and known all over the world. The same might be said of Canon Major Lester (1829-1903), the founder of several Liverpool charities, whose statue lso by George Frampton records the beneficent work of fifty years.

The most important piece of sculpture in the gardens however is the King’s Liverpool Regiment Memorial, commemorating officers and men who fell in the Afghan campaigns 1878-1880), ; in Burma 1885-1887, and in the Boer War 1899-1902. This was executed by W.Goscombe John, the prominent features being a figure of Britannia on a pedestal, on one arm of which is a soldier of the time of 1685, with the figure of a khaki-clad warrior of the Boer War on the other wing.

The Kings Regiment Memorial

The record of the regiment is given in it’s battle honours, from those of Marlborough’s armies to the siege of Ladysmith. The figure of a young drummer at the back of the memorial is also worthy of notice.

Robert F Edwards
Source information
Liverpool Central Library
information service

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