Crumbling Facades of the New World; Liverpool's Links with North America Infuse Its History. Key Buildings from This Era Now Lie Derelict. Peter Elson Pleads for Their Restoration

Article excerpt

Byline: Peter Elson

ONCE the streets flowed with a purposeful humanity, as thousands of people, with hopes of a better future glinting in their eyes, remorselessly converged on ships lying in the limpid waters of a small expanse of docks.

These huddled masses poured in from all over northern and eastern Europe. Their goal was the New World; but their gateway to that nirvana was Liverpool.

Little that played a part in those moment ous times survive today. To the city's shame, those few buildings still with us from that era lie derelict, their future uncertain.

Typical is Mrs Blodget's Guest House,at 153 Duke Street. Boarded up, half its roof is missing and its windows are wide open. The US consul and author Nathaniel Hawthorne spent several winters there in the mid-1850s. He wrote of his son sliding down the banisters. Do they still exist? What remains of the panelled smoking room,library and dining room that the Yankee clipper captains relaxedin?

What a fantastic attraction for American visitors if this property could be revived as a small hotel. Opposite Mrs Blodget's is 118 Duke Street. Birthplace and childhood home of Felicia Hemans, poetess and writer of Casabianca (``The Boy stood on the burning deck'').

Far better known in the US, Hemans wrote The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers, a poem traditionally recited at Thanksgiving dinners. Another vital component in attracting US tourists, this house is -guess what -boarded up. Depressingly, its large decorative plaque commemorating Hemans has been ripped off. In July 1836, a ship loaded with cotton docked from New Orleans. Onboard was a young man, destined to become the world's leading wildlife painter. This was John James Audubon, an illegitimate son of a French slave trader.

Liverpool historian Steve Binns says: ``His choice of Liverpool was influenced by John Bradbury, who, between the early 1800s until the early 1830s was sent on expeditions, by John Roscoe and others. Bradbury was collecting natural history specimens for Liverpool's newlyestablishedBotanical Gardens. ``Audubon, with his portfolio of 400-plus drawings, trudged the length of Duke Street,looking for wealthy patrons. His wanted to publish his illustrations of the birds of North America,'' says Ron Jones, author of The American Connection.

Audubon was be friended by the wealthy Rathbone banking family, who donateds everalof his works to Liverpool University, including the famous American Wild Turkey.

HE SUCCESSFULLY exhibited in the RoyalInstitute in Colquitt Street,just off Duke Street. This splendid building, one of Georgian Liverpool's jewels,has hadachequered career after being sold off by Liverpool University and was empty for a while. …