The Life of Lime Street
As Liverpool’s Lime Street embarks on a £39m transformational journey, we take a look back at the history of one of our city’s most famous and important streets.
Setting the scene for the city beyond, welcoming global travellers and partying the night away, Liverpool’s Lime Street has lived, and continues to lead, quite a life.
WELL OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
Lime Street was first constructed in 1790, the same year US President George Washington gave the first State of the Union address and Mozart premiered his Cosi fan tutte opera in Vienna.
By this time Liverpool had already witnessed rapid growth and considerable fortune, as trade from the West Indies surpassed that of Ireland and Europe.
The street was named after a local businessman’s lime kilns and was situated beyond the edge of the city’s then boundary. It’s location away from the centre of town is said to have given it a ‘very frontier’ atmosphere!
By 1804 those lime kilns were causing a few problems, producing a sluggish and stifling smell that had concerned doctors at the local infirmary up in arms. The kilns were eventually moved away, but the name Lime Street stuck.
New Centre of Town
The infirmary itself, was also moved on, eventually making way for one of the finest Neo-Grecian buildings in the world, St George’s Hall, completed in 1841. The grade l listed building, was built on a scale that surpassed most public buildings in the world, at the time and was credited with helping to shift perceptions of the city from a provincial North of England town to the ‘second city of Empire’.
Through St George’s Hall, Lime Street became known as a cultural centre for national festivals and concerts. But the hall wasn’t Lime Street’s only claim to fame. Lime Street Station closely followed it, originally opening in August 1836, replacing Crown Street station.
Lime Street’s original wooden train shed was also replaced with a revolutionary new, iron arched iron vault inspired train shed in 1849. The structure was the largest of its kind in any building in the world and the first time such a construction has been used to cover a railway station.
Lime Street station’s iron gates and palisade were built to impress and they did as they were widely copied throughout the country. Design achievements apart, Liverpool’s Lime Street Station is still the oldest mainline working station in the world. It formed one end of the world’s first true public railway, linking Liverpool to Manchester, kick-starting the greatest transport revolution in history.
Full Steam Ahead
In the very earliest days of the station, trains were actually hauled up and down from Edge Hill by ropes, rather than locomotives. But the arrival of the railway line in 1851 further accelerated Lime Street’s prominence as a fast moving, cultural destination.
St George’s Hall and Lime Street Station both sent a clear message to the world. Liverpool had arrived. But some people felt that they ‘stuck out like a sore thumb’ and needed to be connected to the old town. That connection was made through the construction of William Brown Street and its Central Library and World Museum during the 1860s.
La Grande Hôtel
Lime Street and its station was now attracting visitors from far and wide and they needed somewhere to stay, somewhere that matched the opulence and grandeur of St George’s Hall. In 1871 that place was The Great North Western Hotel.
Instead of Greece, architect Alfred Waterhouse looked to France for inspiration, building his hotel in the Renaissance Revival style, to resemble ‘the most imposing French château’. The hotel contained 330 rooms and directly served Lime Street Railway Station.
Sadly, due to a growing number of more modern competitors, the hotel closed in 1933. But the building itself is thankfully still with us and still welcoming new people to our city. Although empty for 60 years, Liverpool John Moores University bought the building in 1994, at a cost of £6m, converting into the hall of residence we see today.
Ladies of The Night
Prostitution was rife in the 1800s and Liverpool’s Lime Street gained quite a reputation. Horny sailors on shore leave frequented Lime Street’s many bars, while poverty stricken sex workers plied their trade.
One of the most famous ‘ladies of ill repute’ was Maggie Mae, immortalised in the Beatles song:
Oh dirty Maggie Mae they have taken her away
And she’ll never walk down Lime Street any more…
But despite all this illicit late night activity, Lime Street still remained a centre for art and culture.
Build it better
The New Prince of Wales Theatre and Opera House opened on the 15th October 1866. It was the largest theatre in the UK at the time, but still not big enough. After several ownership and name changes the theatre was eventually demolished in 1924, making way for the Empire Theatre we see today, 25 per cent bigger than the original building.
The Empire Theatre wasn’t the only Lime Street building to get bulldozed and built again. The first Adelphi Hotel, on the present site was opened in 1826 by owner James Radley. It soon became the most popular hotel in the city, gaining a widespread reputation throughout Britain and Europe.
In 1912, another hotelier, Arthur Towle, acquired and rebuilt the Adelphi. Today’s building still reflects his ambition to make The Adelphi ‘one of the most luxurious hotels in Europe’ with solid marble walls in many of the bedrooms, an indoor heated swimming pool, sauna and full central heating. All considered the height of luxury at the time.
The Golden Age
By the 1920s a glamorous rival for the public’s affection had taken over theatre and Lime Street became home to many cinemas, the most famous, then and now, was Liverpool’s first purpose built cinema – The Futurist.
From 1912 – 1981 (or Charlie Chaplin to Arnold Schwarzenegger) the cinema survived wartime bombings, saw of many competitors and moved with the times, replacing its live orchestra with a sound system by the 1930s. But It was video who eventually killed off this cinema star and many other cinemas of its kind, by the 1980s.
The End of Steam
The changing taste in entertainment was proceeded by the end of the steam age. At 7.58pm on 11th August, 1968 a black locomotive edged slowly under the arched glass roof of Liverpool Lime Street Station and ended Britain’s age of passenger steam travel, where it all started 138 years before.
The final journey of Stanier Five Black Locomotive 45110 from Carlisle to Liverpool marked the last trip by a mainline steam train in the UK. More than 450 rail enthusiasts had each paid 15 guineas for the chance to be a part of the historic journey, while along the stretch of the line tens of thousands of people watched on as the train thundered past.
Lime Street’s fortunes have always mirrored those of the city itself. When Liverpool led the world in transatlantic travel, The Adelphi’s Sefton Suite was built to be an exact replica of the First Class Smoking Lounge on the ill-fated Titanic.
In the late 1970s and early 80s the street, like the city itself, saw tough times, with the closure of many stores and leisure attractions. In 2008, when Liverpool won the honour of European Capital of Culture, Lime Street witnessed the arrival of its massive, panoramic media wall, presenting a larger than life, digital welcome to our city’s national and international visitors.
Today Lime Street is still changing and regenerating and it’s still at the forefront of modern trends. Lime Street Station is currently using 4D virtual modelling to prepare for a new layout and platforms, to accommodate more and longer trains.
A New Journey
In its long history, Lime Street has heralded the arrival of Liverpool and advanced the fields of travel, architecture and culture along the way. Yes, it’s suffered a fair few few delays, but with almost £40m being ploughed into the area, it looks like Lime Street is back on track for a brighter, more prosperous future.
Last week, plans were submitted to revamp the old ABC Cinema into a live music venue of ‘international standing’ as well as broadcast TV studios. Sadly, The Futurist was deemed unsalvageable and its façade has now been demolished, but its art deco style is expected to be ‘reflected’ in the new plans.
Lime Street is due to reopen this by the end of this week after the first phase of demolition work has been completed. The regeneration project will establish new hotels, restaurants and accommodation on Lime Street, bringing neglected parts of the street back to life and creating a more fitting welcome to a city transformed.