Design Culture in Liverpool, 1880-1914: The Origins of the Liverpool School of Architecture

By Christopher Crouch | Go to book overview

Introduction

There is a Lumière Brothers' film of 1896 – among the first made for the Lumière Cinematographe – of the Liverpool Overhead Railway that ran the length of the city's docks. In addition to its main subject, the film, which is of several reels' duration, shows a city of machines and people in a frenzy of activity. Liverpool at the turn of the nineteenth century was a busy cosmopolitan port where the new was both welcome and necessary. It was a city that relied on technological innovation for its continued financial success, and its success meant the influx of objects and ideas from other cultures. The Mersey was a link with the rest of the world, and at the turn of the century Liverpool was one of the most prosperous ports in the world. As a consequence of this, the city saw itself as looking out from, rather than into, the island culture in which it was situated. The city was part of the early modernist dialogue of internationalism, the city's cultural institutions expressing their cosmopolitanism largely through the adoption of American rather than European ideas.

The particular conditions that formed Liverpool as a city and cultural centre encouraged the intellectual transgression that characterised Modernism, and stimulated investigation into the the arts and sciences. The port and its town was physically and intellectually new, as isolated from the cultural history of England as it had been physically isolated from the centre of power. In 1907 Walter Dixon Scott wrote that Liverpool was

quite frankly, an almost pure product of the nineteenth century, a place empty of memorials, a mere jungle of modern civic apparatus. Its people are people who have been precipitately gathered together from north, from south, from overseas, by a sudden impetuous call. Its houses are houses, not merely of recent birth, but pioneer houses, planted instantly upon what, so brief a while ago, was unflawed meadow-land and marsh. Both socially and architecturally it becomes, in large measure, a city without ancestors. 1

-1-

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