Whether tucked away in alcoves or towering on pedestals, Liverpool’s statues are something to behold.
Monuments to one of the most ancient and skilled art forms, our city’s sculptures quietly witness the world go by, often from enviable vantage points.
So used to impressive architecture and public art, the people of Liverpool can almost be forgiven for casually walking past a magnificent rendition of a lounging demi-god or stone carving of a great political mind, without sparing it a thought.
Some statues, like John Lennon at Liverpool Airport or Bessie Braddock at Liverpool Lime Street Station, honour specific people, some commemorate disasters, some celebrate victories, but all are artistic achievements that will last for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years.
To celebrate Liverpool’s three dimensional works of art, here are ten of our most impressive sculptures and the story behind their commission.
LEWIS’ ‘LIVERPOOL RESURGENT’
Created by controversial sculptor Jacob Epstein, ‘Liverpool Resurgent’ has stood firm, above the entrance to Liverpool’s Lewis’ building for more than 60 years. Yes, he’s naked, yes it looks a bit nippy up there. But he’s proud god damn it and he’s got nothing to hide.
Nicknamed ‘Nobby’ or ‘Dickie’ Lewis, depending on who you ask, the statue was unveiled for Lewis’s Centenary celebrations in 1956. It was once a well-known local meeting place and was immortalised in the 1962 song “In My Liverpool Home” by Peter McGovern:
“We speak with an accent exceedingly rare…
Meet under a statue exceedingly bare”
THE RISEN CHRIST
Somewhat more modest, is Liverpool Anglican’s Cathedral’s ‘Christ Risen’ (who comes complete with a requisite loin cloth). This is Jesus, but not as you know him, there’s no beard, no kind features and no flock. Anglican’s Christ is a stark departure from more traditional depictions of our ‘Lord and Saviour’. (Actually that’s being kind, this Jesus looks like he’s just about to turn a few tables.)
The sculpture was brought to life by Dame Elizabeth Frink, who was selected for her ability to show the divine in human form. Dame Elizabeth often drew on archetypes which expressed masculine strength, struggle and aggression. It’s certainly a powerful sculpture, which offers a memorable (if not exactly warm) welcome to one of Liverpool’s most impressive buildings.
‘DAY’ AND ‘NIGHT’ OUTSIDE THE GEORGE’S DOCK CONTROL STATION
These basalt beauties reside on the back of the Grade ll listed George’s Dock building. They can go unnoticed, tending to be overshadowed by ‘Speed – The Modern Mercury’ who takes pride of place, front and centre. Personally, we prefer ‘Day’ and ‘Night’ as they quietly prove that smaller sculptures can be just as impressive as their colossal counterparts.
Looking like something from the set of an early 90s ‘Batman’ film, these fascinating art deco sculptures are a bit of an enigma. Seated in Buddha-esque poses, in turreted alcoves on the riverside of the building, these polished and profound figures, of no discernable sex, are as sleek and sublime as sculpture can get.
Created by Liverpool born sculptor Edmund Charles Thompson MBE, there is sadly little information available about the artworks online, we know that one represents ‘Day’ the other ‘Night’. We’d love to know more about them, but their quiet, contemplative nature is probably all part of their mysterious charm.
He might not like us saying so, but William Roscoe was a bit of an over-achiever.
A major figure in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Britain, the Liverpool born William Roscoe’s cultural influence was global and wide-ranging.
An accomplished poet, writer, historian, botanist and book collector, MP William Roscoe was prolific in many fields, but he is perhaps best known for his vehement anti-slavery stance, loudly voicing his objections in Liverpool, the world’s pre-eminent slaving port at the time.
This imposing marble statue of a seated, robed William Roscoe was created by Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey and resides in St George’s Hall. To us, it look a bit like the Lincoln Memorial’s Abraham Lincoln, but it’s still a suitably impressive monument to one of Liverpool’s greatest sons.
THE STEBLE FOUNTAIN
The trouble with William Brown Street is that there’s almost too much splendour. It’s easy to miss the finer detail on things, great things that would stand-out more in less grand locations. The Steble Fountain’s sculptures are one of these things.
Originally designed for the Paris Exposition of 1867, the fountain was gifted to Liverpool by Lieutenant Colonel Richard Fell Steble, a former Mayor, the Steble fountain costing £1000 in its day (£80,000 as of 2016).
Today it sort of looks like an ancient Greek double date with Neptune and his wife Amphitrite exchanging loving glances on one side and Galatea and Acis looking longingly at each other on the other. More was more in the 1800s, and the Steble Fountain has incredible details and is crowned with a mermaid clutching a cornucopia.
Interrupting the idyllic scene, grotesque fishy headed monsters circle the edge of the bowl, adding a touch of drama. When the temperatures sour in Liverpool, children often join the cast of maritime characters, paddling their feet in the (strictly ornamental) fountain.
Unveiled in 1928, Sefton Park’s ‘Peter Pan’ bronze statue was donated to ‘the children of Liverpool’ by Sir George Frampton and adds to the park’s spirit of adventure. The work features Peter Pan, complete with pan pipes, atop a swirling mound, with lost boys, fairies and woodland creatures following pursuit.
The statue honours the work of J.M Barrie, but it also presents its own tale of mischief and tinkering. By 2001 vandals (we like to think of them as Lost Boys) had removed Peter’s pipes, a squirrels head and part of a fairy from the base of the statue. But thanks to the magic of Liverpool’s Victoria and Albert Museum, exact copies of the original pieces were recreated using 3D recordings and reattached to the popular statue. Making our old Peter Pan look youthful once more.
A CASE HISTORY
Employing a surrealist trick of Salvador Dali, ‘A Case History’ presents familiar objects in unexpected surroundings. At first glance this installation looks exactly like the scene it depicts; a load of old cases and trunks left abandoned on the pavement.
But this unique sculpture is far from random. It’s really all about Liverpool’s global connections and how the city, particularly the Hope Street area, has influenced the world and vice versa.
LIPA, with funding from the National Lottery, commissioned sculptor John King to create the work in 1998. Each concrete cast case ‘belongs’ to illustrious people with a connection to Liverpool, including The Beatles, Sir Malcolm Sargent, Charles Dickens and Arthur Askey, to name but a few.
Although known as Fu Dogs in the west, these sculptures are actually Chinese guardian dogs. They are said to symbolically protect and guard against evil and they are commonly seen outside a place of business or a major building or temple in China.
Liverpool City Centre has four Fu Dogs, all located in Chinatown. The first pair guard our Chinese Arch on Nelson Street, at the junction of Great George Street. The second watch over Berry Street, on of each pavement, near the junction with Bold Place.
According to the rules of Feng Shui, Fu Dogs should face outwards of the protected building, the male on the left, the female on the right. Under one male paw sits a globe, signifying the moon and the sun (the Yang). Beneath a female paw lies a lion cub, symbolic of nurture and protection (the Ying).
NOEL CHAVASSE VC AT ABERCROMBY SQUARE
There are many truly moving monuments in Liverpool, particularly ones which mark the lives lost during conflict.
War creates heroes of many, but some feats stand apart. Captain, Noel Godfrey Chavasse from Kings Liverpool Regiment is one of only three people to be awarded a Victoria Cross twice and became the most highly decorated British officer in the war.
Gifted to University of Liverpool by the Noel Chavasse VC Memorial Association, the statue by local sculptor Tom Murphy now has a permanent home in Abercromby Square. It depicts Captain Chavasse and a Liverpool Scottish stretcher bearer attending a wounded soldier and represents the brave men of Liverpool who lost their lives in the Great War.
THE LIVER BIRDS
We couldn’t talk about Liverpool sculptures without mentioning the Liver Birds.
These world famous and ever watchful copper-green symbols of our city, who top the clock towers of Pier Head’s Royal Liver Building, were created by German sculptor Carl Bernard Bartels.
Bartels won a competition to design the two iconic creatures, thought to be a cross between the cormorant and the eagle of St John the Evangelist.
Weighing in at around four tonnes each, these opposing sculptures were designed to watch over the city, one guarding the people, the other the city’s ‘prosperity’ or the sea.
But the more popular version has the ‘female’ bird looking out to sea, awaiting the safe return of the seamen, while the male looks inland, waiting for the pubs to open!
Liverpool is lucky enough to have more public sculptures than any other UK location, outside of Westminster.
Whether perched on rooftops or peering from the gutter, Liverpool’s statues each have an interesting story to tell. They silently help to communicate our city’s achievements and add to its splendour. Our statues are looking good for Liverpool and we shouldn’t overlook them.