Sunday 14 December 2014

Blue Suburban Skies - Penny Lane from Above

“Penny Lane is not only a street but it's a district... a suburban district where, until age four, I lived with my mother and father. So I was the only Beatle that lived in Penny Lane." (John Lennon, 1980)

September is a month of Heritage Open Days across the UK providing the opportunity to explore some of the cultural and architectural treasures that this country has to offer.

There are over a hundred sites to explore across Merseyside and each year I try and visit as many as I can, especially those to which the public do not normally have access. One of the highlights for me during the 2013 heritage month was a trip to up to the top of the St Barnabas Church tower.  St Barnabas was built between 1900 and 1914, and designed by the Liverpool architect James Francis Doyle. The church is designated by English Heritage as a Grade II listed building and photographs of the interior can be found here.

Situated in Smithdown Place, Liverpool, the church stands at the junction of Allerton Road, Smithdown Road, and Penny Lane and therefore gave me a superb vantage point over a number of Beatles related sites in the Penny Lane district  and the city as a whole.

Looking South, on the horizon the chimneys and pipes of the refineries and production plants in Ellesmere Port can be viewed on the far bank of the River Mersey. Closer to home, the coliseum- like structure of Garston Gas works on Banks Road is clearly visible in the centre of the photo. At the time the works opened in 1892 it was unique for producing only carburetted water gas, though coal gas was produced from 1921. The works later had an oil pipeline to the nearby docks.

The larger gas holder (above right) is one of the largest in the country with a capacity of four million cubic feet. Although no longer producing gas the plant is now the major distributor of North Sea gas for South Liverpool.

Elm Hall Drive runs south-east from St. Barnabas towards Mather Avenue and Allerton.  On the horizon you can just make out the tower of All Hallows Anglican Church on Allerton Road.  It is designated by English Heritage as a Grade I listed building. The church was built at the expense of John Bibby of the Bibby Line (a shipping line founded in 1807) in memory of his first wife at a cost of £20,000 (as this is the equivalent of £1,640,000 in 2014 we can assume he had a few bob).

It was designed by G. E. Grayson. The foundation stone was laid on 31 October 1872, and the church was consecrated on 10 August 1876 by the Bishop of Chester.

To my shame I have yet to visit the church despite it being a regular attraction on Heritage Weekends and me living only ten minutes away. The finest feature of the church is said to be its Victorian stained glass windows. Of the 15 windows, 14 were designed by Edward Burne-Jones, with some input from William Morris, and were made by Morris and Co. They were considered to be such marvellous and valuable examples that during the Second World War the stained glass was removed to the isolated Lancashire village of Slaidburn for safety and replaced by plain glass. Whoever made this decision had great foresight as the replacement windows were destroyed during an air raid.  The stained glass was returned in 1946 and will no doubt continue to be admired by generations to come.

Looking East down Allerton Road in the direction of Childwall and Calderstones Park. Barnados (bottom left) was formerly the studio/shop of photographer Albert Marrion who photographed the early Beatles. Next door is the TSB bank, potentially the bank referred to in the song "Penny Lane".  The Tesco metro store on the corner of Plattsville Road between the two turretted buildings was formerly a branch of Woolworths where John's wife Cynthia worked.

Three photos showing the same stretch of Allerton Road. The black and white photo from 1964 shows Cynthia's Woolworths and a lot less traffic than we have to cope with today.

In addition, here are two close ups of the sadly missed 'Woolies' before and after the administrators closed all 807 stores between 27 December 2008 and 6 January 2009. The store is now a Tesco Express and Costa coffee.

My vantage point casts a shadow over the shelter in the middle of the roundabout. What are they building on its roof? Church Road runs towards the top left of the photograph. One of the two banks facing the shelter inspired the song "Penny Lane" - but which one?  Newcastle Road, where John Lennon lived until the age of 5 runs left to right behind the trees and the white building, top centre. The landscaped area to the right of the shelter was the former site of the Welsh Church on the corner of Heathfield Road (see below).

Heritage weekends are not only about historic buildings. In 2012 a number of vintage buses were on hand to transport visitors around, with Merseyside Transport Trust buses from the 1950s to the 1980s running from Liverpool South Parkway Station to Mann Island in the city centre. These two examples are pictured picking up transport enthusiasts behind the former bus shelter. John Lennon would have caught that no. 4 Bus from here back to his home in Woolton.

Not much has changed in the 55 years since this photograph was taken in 1957!

Perhaps the most surprising view from the top of St. Barnabas is this one. On the horizon to the right of the photograph is Winter Hill which is on Rivington Moor in Chorley, some 40 odd miles away from Smithdown Place!  Its prominent position made it the ideal site for the Winter Hill TV mast, which transmitted to a large part of North West England. Trace your finger upwards from the letter "B" on Barnabas and you'll find the mast on top of the hill.

Looking north towards Wavertree from Smithdown Place we can see the tower of the Blue Coat School in Church Road on the horizon. The building with the white frontage to the right of the Footlights dancing shop has recently opened as the Beatles themed (what else?) Penny Lane hotel. The car park behind this serves a small retail park built on the site of the former tram sheds on Prince Alfred Road.

This is a similar view to the one above but the start of Smithdown Road can be seen running northwest towards the city centre which can be seen top left on the horizon. Just above the shops on the extreme left you can see the side of the last remaining tram shed on Smithdown Road which is now a shop selling antiques and fireplaces. The end of Penny Lane can just be seen in the bottom left hand corner of the photo. The policeman mounted upon his white horse rides of here and turns right towards Smithdown Place in the Beatles' video for 'Penny Lane'.  

Above the roof of the retail park is the wide open green space of Wavertree Playground, known locally as "The Mystery" because the land was gifted to the City Council by an anonymous donor who suggested that it was to be used as a venue for organised sports, and a place for children from the city's public schools to run about in, not a park for 'promenading' in the Victorian tradition.

Adjoining the Mystery today is Wavertree Sports Park, a large sporting, exercise and leisure complex which is home to the Liverpool Aquatics Centre, Liverpool Tennis Centre and Wavertree Athletics Centre alongside numerous other health and fitness related facilities.

The large white art-deco building in the distance is the former Littlewoods building on Edge Lane. The roof of Liverpool Football Club's Stadium in Anfield is visible top right.

Looking along Smithdown Road towards the city centre. Both cathedrals, the Royal Liver Building and St. John's Beacon are visible on the skyline. The impressive building on the left just past the wasteground is Holyoake Hall, a former Co-operative Building where the The Quarry Men performed at several unadvertised skiffle evenings during 1958. As The Beatles, the group performed here twice in July 1961. The hall was built on the site of the first St. Barnabas Church, opposite the Smithdown Road tram sheds, only one of which remains.

Smithdown Road heading towards the city centre. Holyoake Hall (left) and the tram shed hidden behind bill boards (extreme right).

The tram sheds on Smithdown Road looking towards Smithdown Place

The Church in the left foreground is Saint Bridget's in Bagot Street, Wavertree. It is designated by English Heritage as a Grade II* listed building. The foundation stone was laid on 21 September 1868 and the church was consecrated in 1872. It was originally a chapel of ease to Holy Trinity on Church Road, Wavertree and became a parish in its own right in 1901. My maternal grandparents were married there on 30 November 1940, two days after a heavy German bombing run on the city hit an air-raid shelter in nearby Durning Road and caused 166 fatalities. It was described by WInston Churchill as the "single worst incident of the war".  One of the single worst cases of ill-conceived 1960s architecture in Liverpool, the Royal Hospital, ruins the skyline behind Saint Bridget's. Thankfully this tired eyesore is due for redevelopment.

Saint Bridget's in Bagot Street, Wavertree

Turning further west in the direction of the city centre and waterfront the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King (usually known as Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral) is the seat of the Archbishop of Liverpool and the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Liverpool. The cathedral's architect, Frederick Gibberd, was the winner of a worldwide design competition.

Built quickly and economically, construction began in October 1962 and less than five years later, on 14 May 1967, the completed cathedral was consecrated. Due to the unusual design it is sometimes known locally as "Paddy's Wigwam"(mainly by the Protestant half of the city) or the "Mersey Funnel".

A shot of the interior showing centrally placed altar so designed to be easily visible to a congregation of 2000 allowing them to become more involved in the mass.

St. John's Beacon, known today as the Radio City Tower was built in 1969 as a ventilation shaft for St John's Market but was never used as such. Near the top of the tower was a revolving restaurant, the facade and floor of the restaurant revolving as one unit, while the roof of the restaurant was used as an observation platform for visitors. 

Closed in 1977 due to safety concerns it reopened as Radio City 96.7 in August 2000.
The outdoor observation deck which had been located on the roof of the restaurant was transformed into a second floor; the studios are on the lower floor that used to be the restaurant. The original revolving structure and machinery were left intact during the refurbishment but no longer revolve due to the installation of brackets locking the moving structure in place. At 457 ft tall it is the second tallest free-standing building in Liverpool after the Beetham West Tower (459 feet) which is visible directly behind the beacon on the skyline in my previous aerial photograph.

One of, if not the most recognisable landmark in the city of Liverpool is the Royal Liver Building (opened 1911). It is sited at the Pier Head and along with the neighbouring Cunard and Port of Liverpool Buildings, is one of Liverpool's Three Graces, which line the waterfront.

"If you want a Cathedral we've got one to spare".

Liverpool Cathedral is the Church of England Cathedral of the Diocese of Liverpool and the seat of the Bishop of Liverpool. Based on a design by Giles Gilbert Scott the Cathedral was built on St. James' Mount, approximately half a mile from the Metropolitan Cathedral at the other end of Hope Street.  Construction began in 1904, was disrupted by two world wars and finally finished in October 1978. That month the completion of the building was marked by a service of thanksgiving and dedication attended by Queen Elizabeth II, the fourth monarch to take the throne since building began.

The cathedral was built mainly of local sandstone from Woolton quarry. The last sections completed in the 1960s and 1970s used the closest matching sandstone that could be found from other quarries once the supply from Woolton had been exhausted.

The row of shops at the end of Penny Lane featured in the "Free As A Bird" music video in 1995. The large white building in the photograph was originally Grove House and used by trustees as the "Home for Incurable Children". When the present St. Barnabas was built, Grove House was purchased for use as a new Parochial Hall and Sunday School. In the late 1950s the hall held regular Saturday night skiffle sessions and the Quarrymen are known to have performed on several occasions.  The hall was sold in 1965 and is now called Dovedale Towers (see below).

Dovedale Road showing Dovedale Primary School (left) and Dovedale Baptist Church  (right) which is seen in more detail below.  Opened in 1906 the church is faced with flint, an unusual building material in Liverpool, with dressings in red brick and terracotta.  Still active, the church is designated by English Heritage as a Grade II listed building.

The tower on the skyline is the Church of St Matthew and St James, Mossley Hill, which stands on the top of a hill in Rose Lane.  The church was built between 1870 and 1875 and has the dubious honour of being the first church in England to be damaged by enemy bombing, which took place on the night of 28–29 August 1940. All the stained glass windows were destroyed. The church was restored in 1950–52 by Alfred Shennan. Turning south east (to the left of this photo) brings you back to the view over Garston at the top of this post.

Finally, just as I was about to descend the tower look what arrived!

The map above gives a good view of the Penny Lane area around St. Barnabas (click to enlarge)


Google Maps:,-2.9149638,152m/data=!3m1!1e3

The architect James Francis Doyle.

All Hallows Church - the stained glass windows can be viewed here:

Winter Hill:

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