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Carl Bernard Bartels (1866 – 1955)

Carl Bartels was born in Stuttgart, the son of a wood carver (Carl Julius Bartels) from the Black Forest, Germany. In his early life Carl showed some interest in the 'family business' and on leaving school became a wood carver like his father. In 1887 Carl married Mathilde Zappe (1873-1945) and the two, having fallen in love with England during their honeymoon, decided to move to London permanently.

Carl soon gained wide acclaim as a sculptor and woodworker of some distinction, but his reputation was further enhanced when he won a competition to design two birds for the twin clock towers of the Royal Liver Building, Liverpool (designed by the acclaimed architect Walter Aubrey Thomas). Bartels’ designs were brought to life by the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts, and the 5½ metre copper sculptures were placed in their current location in 1912 after the completion of the building in 1911. The famous building, in many ways similar to those in New York. Three years later, the Great War broke out.

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Bartels, like all Germans resident in Liverpool, was ordered to report to the nearest police station, taken into custody and was eventually transferred to Knockaloe, Isle of Man. This was despite the fact that he was a naturalised British citizen. Following the sinking of the Cunard liner, RMS Lusitania (7 May 1915), this anti-German feeling was more keenly felt in Liverpool than other parts of the country. After all Liverpool was the city where the ship had been registered, where it embarked on its fateful voyage to New York, and where a good proportion of the crew and passengers had lived. Because of the height of Anti-German feeling, all reference to his association with the building was erased and Bartels's blueprints and sketches of the Liver Birds were lost or destroyed.

A Christmas card from Bartels to his daughter gives his ‘address’ within the camp as “C B Bartels 10743, Hut 5.6 Comp 5, Camp II. Following the war, Bartels was forcibly repatriated Germany despite the fact he had lived in Britain for over 20 years and had a wife and children residing in London. To come back to his family in England, he had to find an employer, who would vouch for him. This was done and Bartels continued carving, producing work for stately homes and Durham Cathedral. In the Second World War, he worked on artificial limbs for the maimed.

Descendants of Bartels always knew about the Liver Birds, hoping that one day he would be recognised. In 1998, his grand-daughter, Muriel Olden, with her son Tim and daughter, Pippa, visited Liverpool as guests of honour at a dinner in the Royal Liver Building. They met the Lord Mayor and appeared on radio and TV, suggesting that a permanent memorial should be erected in Liverpool to the memory of Carl Bernard Bartels. But Mrs Olden died few months later, aged 77, and it seemed that their pleas had been forgotten. But the Friends of Liverpool Monuments took up the case and the honour was eventually bestowed on the Royal Liver Buildings 100th anniversary, more than 50 years after the German sculptor died.

On 19th July 2011, Bartels great grandson Tim Olden received a Citizen of Honour Award on behalf of Carl Bernard Bartels he accepted the honour from the then Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Cllr Frank Prendergast, at the town hall. So 50 years after his death, the forgotten and shunned German was remembered for designing the two birds perched on the Royal Liver Building, at the Pier Head.

King John granted Liverpool its Royal Charter in 1207, it was decided the port should have a corporate seal with the heraldic eagle which the king had adopted from St John the Evangelist. Sadly, the local artist produced a bird which more closely resembled a cormorant. As the years went by, everyone assumed that it was a cormorant, then common waders in the Mersey. Also, it was believed that seaweed or laver was hanging from its beak, not the sprig of broom carried by the St John's eagle. From this uncertain beginning, the Liver Bird developed and was extensively used as a symbol of the town which became a city in 1880.

Carl Bernard Bartels died in 1955 and was buried in London.


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