Thoughts on Smithdown Lane

The Liverpool & Manchester Railway Trust is doing an archive month on Twitter and very good it is too.

The evidence

One of their posts was a reminder that the Liverpool & Manchester Railway Company (L&MR) had offices on Smithdown Lane, between Myers Street and Edge Vale, and, indeed, their outline can be seen on the 1836 map as well as the 1830 map previously published by the Trust. The tweet images, however, date from much later and it is possible that the buildings not only changed hands and hence purpose but that they changed appearance as well.

Overall layout of the offices

Almost all of the L&MR operation was carried out behind high walls. The Smithdown Lane offices are an exception albeit that absence of significant glazing in parts suggests they were designed with privacy and security in mind.

On first sight the offices seem slightly underwhelming although not entirely without architectural pretension compared to the brick-built housing nearby.

They are single-storey but with high ceilings. The general layout appears symmetrical with two small "wing" units and a larger central unit. The wings are separated by (formerly) gated courtyards although these may service the buildings at the rear rather than the offices. In any case it seems unlikely that there was significant additional glazing there (of course, there might be skylights not visible here).

The symmetry seen from Smithdown Lane is, however, illusory as maps show that the wings had very different shapes due to the skewed nature of the junction with the adjoining streets.

The two "wing" units

Thus the lefthand wing (as seen from the Lane) has a triangular layout and abutts a neighbouring garden in Edge Vale. The chimney seen in the photograph seems likely to be a later addition although it isn't clear how the buildings were otherwise heated (the chimney behind the righthand unit may belong to a building at the rear). The size of the doors suggests that it could have been used to garage a small coach or cart although the building's shape and dimensions would be a limitation and it might also function as a storage space or repair shop.

The righthand unit has a more quadrilateral floor plan although the doors seem slightly smaller. The presence of a more distinct shuttered window suggests that a degree of lighting was required. My guess is that this could be a small stable. It extends some distance up Myers Street with (probably) an additional narrower doorway (with step) there.

The central unit

The central block appears to comprise two separate elements, one smaller one to the left and then a larger one to the right. The angles at which the photographs were taken shows the left wing and centre block as being improbably shallow in depth but in fact they both go back some way.

The smaller element simply has a door and a skylight which doesn't suggest an office of a superior of any significant status. Perhaps this was the domain of the person responsible for the two wings, someone looking after the horse and cart or the stores.

The larger element is only properly seen in the sketch. It has both a door and a partially shuttered window. On the right is either a noticeboard or, more likely, a service hatch.

Now this could be an office for a middle-ranking manager plus a clerk or two with the hatch used for interaction with others in the street. Its role is unclear so what follows is pure conjecture.

It is tempting to think of this as the reception area for second class passengers and we know that there was a door in the wall opposite and steps down to the station. How such passengers were received is obscure but this seems an unnecessarily distant and awkward location for them.

It could be a reception for carriages and carts about to use the carriage ramp down to Millfield Yard.

It could be a shop servicing the significant numbers of people working in the vicinity.

The list of possibilities is almost endless but, finally, my favourite: it could be a payroll office that also served as a secondary base for policemen (in the lefthand central unit) and provide some form of secure transport for monies collected at the station and, indeed, paid out to staff by payroll clerks via the central hatch. As this would service both Millfield Yard and Crown Street there is some logic in having it in a location separate to but accessible to both. There were, of course, additional policemen in the hut adjacent to the tunnel. Bearing in mind that the term police station is supposed to derive from a connection with the railways, this might even be the very first police station! A tempting conclusion but, of course, pure conjecture.

Changed use and end of service

It isn't clear what became of the units and whether they changed function with the opening of Lime Street in 1836. They are manifestly still present albeit with changed use in the 1920s and 1930s but the area then changes dramatically, most likely due to bomb damage, and they disappear.