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Bluecoat Chambers

Bluecoat Chambers

The Bluecoat in School Lane is the oldest building in Liverpool city centre, dating from the early 18th century. It is a Grade One listed building which was built in 1716-17 as a charity school, its architect remains unknown but is thought to have been Thomas Ripley.  A fine example of the Queen Anne style of architecture, it has distinctive features including the oldest known liver bird in Liverpool over the gate and entrances in the cobbled courtyard, and a cupola on the roof of the central building, and some beautiful cherubs’ heads.

Bluecoat Chambers was a school until 1906 before moving to Wavertree, these children are pictured at the former school on Founders Day in 1920

The school was founded in 1708 or 1709 by the Reverend Robert Styth, who died in 1713 and was rector of Liverpool, and Bryan Blundell, a sea captain and  twice Mayor of Liverpool in 1721–22 and 1728-29.

Constructed between 1716-17, the building wasn't extended until 1718 to function as a boarding school. By 1719 the it had 50 children, with room for 100 more, and construction work to extend the building was finally completed in 1725.

After the school moved to a new site in Wavertree in 1906, the building was threatened with demolition. It was rented out from 1907 to the Sandon Studios Society, an independent art school and art society, but the building's future was still insecure.  It was the intervention of the architect Charles Herbert Reilly, head of the Liverpool School of Architecture that eventually secured its future.  He convinced the industrialist William Lever to rent Bluecoat Chambers in 1909 and subsequently buy it, renaming it Liberty Buildings. Reilly moved in with his School of Architecture from 1909 until shortly after World War I. In 1913-14, William Lever entertained plans to transform Liberty Buildings into an art centre but, by 1918, had tired of the idea. After Lever's death in 1925 proposals were again put forward for demolition. A successful campaign to raise money for the purchase of Bluecoat Chambers resulted in the establishment of the Bluecoat Society of Arts in 1927 as a charitable trust to run the building.

Bluecoat Chambers bombed on 3rd May 1941

On 3 May 1941, during the Liverpool Blitz, the concert hall and adjoining rooms were severely damaged by an incendiary bomb and during the following night the rear wing was destroyed by a bomb blast. Restoration took place after the war, being completed by 1951.

Over the years the Bluecoat hosted a range of cultural and arts-associated events. These included art exhibitions, debates, discussions, public meetings and campaigns, poetry readings, musical concerts and recitals, and cultural lectures. It held book, record, and antiques fairs and became a centre for working artists and craftspeople.

Some of the events have continued to hold a place in history. The 1908 exhibition of works mostly by members of the Sandon Society also included the first showing in Liverpool of Claude Monet who received a special invite. In 1911, the Sandon Society took on parts of Roger Fry's London Post-Impressionist exhibition, showing works by Picasso, Matisse, C├ęzanne, and Van Gogh for the first time in the UK outside the capital. In 1967 Yoko Ono appeared at the Bluecoat, at a time before she met John Lennon. The Bluecoat was also visited by performing artists as Stravinsky, Michael Nyman, Doris Lessing and the Last Poets.

The Bluecoat has always been very much a place for the people of Liverpool, throughout the seventies local artists could be seen exhibiting their paintings on the railings at the front of the building on a Saturday. The building was also home to numerous small businesses supplying art materials books and other items, as well as being a meeting place for people to sit and have a tea or coffee and a chat.

It attained its English Heritage Grade I listed status on 28 June 1952. The building was closed for three years and reopened in March 2008 after a programme of conservation, restoration and new build, designed by Rotterdam architects, Biq Architecten.

For almost 300 years the Bluecoat has remained at the heart of the city and still provided opportunities for local artists and photographers to exhibit their work.


Liverpool Central Library
Bluecoat Chambers
Liverpool Records Office

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