Liverpool and the Great Exhibition of 1851

A recent update on the Great Exhibition of the North piqued my interest in Liverpool's contribution to the original Great Exhibition of 1851.

I previously blogged the model of Edge Hill at the National Railway Museum that was built for the 1886 "Shipperies" exhibition; the large building housing the exhibition is also an OpenSim work-in-progress. The Shipperies was Liverpool's first foray into the major league of international exhibitions promoting trade and industry and the inspiration for this was the Great Exhibition of 1851 held in London in the immense Crystal Palace designed by Joseph Paxton and built in Hyde Park. It turns out that there was a Liverpool model there as well and many of the contractors and engineers who started out in Georgian Liverpool would meet once more in London.

The Great Exhibition of 1851

As with the Shipperies, the name was a shortened form, the full name being The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations (it was sometimes called the World's Fair as well). It was championed by the royal consort Prince Albert but nevertheless was a hard sell, not least because those local to the park were loathe to see their tranquility disrupted by an international exhibition. Finance was an issue as well and the organisers resorted to the Victorian equivalent of crowdfunding, public subscription.

The form of the exhibition hall was also problematic. A design competition was held and there were some 240 entries, including one from Liverpool-based architect William Raffles Brown. Unfortunately, none of the entries satisfied the eminent Building Committee which included both architects and engineers, most notably Stephenson and Brunel. In the absence of a clear winner, the Committee opted to create their own design based where appropriate on elements from competition entries. The end-product unsurprisingly looked as if it had indeed been designed by a committee and, being brick-based, looked more permanent than temporary, much to the dismay of locals. The project was in trouble.

Rescue came from an unexpected quarter. Noted gardener and greenhouse designer Joseph Paxton mocked up the outline for a glass-based building that would eventually become known as the Crystal Palace. Plans were completed in 8 days and were popular with the public, one benefit being that the elm trees in Hyde Park could be accommodated by the high roof in the transept (legend has it that Brunel gave Paxton the necessary measurements). Championed by Stephenson, the new design was adopted and the building completed within 9 months ready for the opening on 1st May.

Samuel Holme of Liverpool (builder for St George's Hall and part of the original Lime Street station) was invited to bid for the building contract but declined. Instead, the Birmingham firm of Fox, Henderson & Co. took on construction of the modular design (they had already done Birkenhead Market and Liverpool Exchange Station) with many of the operations semi-automated using machines devised by Paxton. William Cubitt acted as Principal Engineer. Most of the sheet glass was produced by Chance & Co. in Birmingham but some was also made in St Helens by Pilkington Brothers, presumably to help meet a tight deadline.

The finished design was based on modules comprising 24 foot squares with 36 in the west nave and 38 in the east. The two were separated by a transept running north-south. This was 3 squares wide so the final length was probably 1848 feet (563.3 m) rather than the more symbolic 1851 widely quoted. The naves were tiered such that there were additional galleries and courts running alongside the main nave with a second storey of galleries above.

Liverpool at the Exhibition

As might be expected, Liverpool was well-represented at the exhibition, not least by a large (15 x 2.5 m) model of the docks and commercial quarter. The image below comes from the exhibition catalogue (just one of three volumes). Liverpool also had a large display of the raw materials imported through its docks with copious details listed in the official catalogue (Hull had a similar display but no listing).

These displays were coordinated via the a local committee working out of the Town Hall but in common with other towns and cities, Liverpool's citizens had individual displays of manufactured goods as well as tools and raw materials. Joseph Mayer (subsequently a benefactor to the Liverpool museum) had a large and expensive display of decorative items including tableware, inkstands and jewellery, and Milner's of Smithdown Lane had a display of their fire-resisting safes in various stages of manufacture. Other artefacts with a Liverpool connection included the architect's model of St Georges's Hall, a model of the Lime Street station train shed, a model of a railway bridge in Chepstow made by the Windsor Foundry to Brunel's design and an invention by noted local artist WG Herdman to assist the novice with perspective drawing.

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Fig: Case and map of the Liverpool model displayed at the Great Exhibition

The model was displayed in the West (British) Nave and can be seen on the left in the print published by Dickenson below as well as in a similar view by Joseph Nash in the Royal Collection. It is readily recognised by the model elephants supporting alternate legs of the case.

Fig: The west (British) Nave at the Great Exhibition on opening day. The case containing the Liverpool model is on the left.

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Fig: Closeup of the model case in painting by Edmund Walker (c) Victoria & Albert Museum.

Details of the model and its construction

The model represented 5 miles of dock frontage and a third of the town, a total in excess of 300 acres. The scale was 8 inches to the mile. It included not only detailed models of buildings but also people, animals and vehicles. Doubtless the model would be of interest to those who already knew Liverpool as well as those who were aware of its commercial significance and wanted to know more. Of course, some would simply be impressed by the size and quality of the model. To ensure that the message got across, the model had an index map and a table reviewing the development of economic activity mediated by the docks.

The model cost £1000 to construct, about £100000 in present day terms. Its financing is a little obscure. In contrast to earlier state-sponsored events in France, the 1851 Great Exhibition was a private venture and hence neither politically partisan nor a drain on the public finances. Some Liverpool merchants were happy to contribute to the general cost of mounting the exhibition but were less enamoured of funding Liverpool's entry. In some quarters there was an expectation that the Corporation and Docks Committee would provide the bulk of the finance while others saw the whole project as ill-founded and refused to have anything to do with it. At one stage there was a shortfall in the monies required for construction of the Crystal Palace itself and hence doubt as to whether the project as a whole would come to fruition. A degree of evangelising by the central organising committee, some financial guarantees centrally plus advocacy locally by the liberal Liverpool Mercury newspaper eventually saw the Liverpool project funded.

Construction of the model was supervised on behalf of the local committee by engineer John Grantham. The designer and contractor was architect William Raffles Brown. Architectural and marine model builder David Graham was in charge of the 24-strong team doing the actual building variously in wood, cardboard and paper. Some 1500 sailing ships and 120 steam vessels were made. Water was modelled using St Helen's glass tinted green, unground on its upper surface to represent waves and silvered on the lower to permit reflection. The modellers included both men and women, the latter responsible in particular for fine detail (people in the model were the size of the very tip of a pen nib). The case was designed by Grantham and manufacture contracted to the firm of Samuel and James Holme (Samuel Holme would be elected Mayor in 1852-3).

While the major elements arrived in London in good time for assembly and last-minute modifications, construction of the model ships, including the Great Eastern, continued in a (rent-free) room on Liverpool's Lord Street above Milner's. Completion must have been close to the opening itself. This was probably not unusual as there was a general feeling among exhibitors that the opening would have to be postponed until, of course, a tremendous panic ensued when it proved not to be the case.

Visiting the Exhibition

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Fig: Full-size LNWR locomotive Liverpool was also on display. It won a prestigious Council Medal in its section. The class came into service in 1847 and was credited with speeds up to 78 mph although at the cost of some damage to the track.

Railways played a prominent role in the success of the exhibition, both in terms of transport of exhibits and visitors. Unsurprisingly locomotives were among the exhibits as was ancillary railway equipment. Even the Liverpool docks model showed multiple railway stations. One limitation of the Hyde Park site, however, was the absence of a convenient railway station!

Although the Great Exhibition opened on the 1st May 1851, the doors had been temporarily opened some weeks previously to those curious to see the building before exhibits were installed; monies from this went to workers injured during construction. When it opened, the exhibition and associated events proved highly popular and attracted some 6 million visits (including multiple visits using a season ticket). Of these, probably 4 million originated from outside of London, many arriving by train. Although excursions had been an early feature of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway back in 1830, the success of the Great Exhibition was founded not only on subscription clubs mounting special excursions but also on low return fares as a result of cut-throat competition (5 shillings for a return adult fare travelling Third Class from York, equivalent to about £25 now) as well as low entry prices on selected days (1 shilling or £5 now). Enlightened employers would provide assistance to their employees to enable them to attend.

Travel agent Thomas Cook also organised visits to the Great Exhibition. Some 350,000 people travelled from Yorkshire and the Midlands on his rail excursions and he published his own newspaper, Cook's Exhibition Herald and Excursion Advertiser, which ran through to 1939 as the (recently revived) Excursionist.

The exhibition experience

The exhibits were organised in four major groups (Raw Materials, Machinery, Manufactures, Sculpture and the Fine Arts) subdivided into some 30 classes. As far as possible exhibits were arranged geographically although those from Great Britain & Ireland (as it was then) were joined in the West Nave with their colonies, supposedly according to ambient temperature.

There were some 100000 exhibits and 14000 exhibitors so a description is beyond this blog even if those numbers are subject to a degree of "interpretation". Many books were published both at the time of the exhibition and after but a partwork (incomplete) gives a good impression of the exhibits and visitor experience.

One aspect worth noting, however, is that the exhibits included the first ever photographic exhibition and, of course, many photographs and daguerrotypes were taken both of the building and exhibits. These included stereotypes that incorporated two images and hence gave a 3D effect when seen using a handheld viewer. Nevertheless, the lithographs and watercolours, some based on daguerrotypes, remain invaluable in terms of detail and colour. Despite the reference to Fine Arts, paintings themselves were excluded from the Great Exhibition and a separate private initiative, the General Exhibition, attempted to form a gallery of contemporary international art in Lichfield House.

Setting for the Liverpool exhibits

The Liverpool model was at the far end of the Nave adjacent to the west entrance and hence a good distance from the principal entrance on the southern end of the transept. The imports exhibit of some 2000 items was in the gallery above the Nave and was estimated to require five display cases each 40x5 feet. Whether this was forthcoming is unknown but there may have been constraints on floorspace in the galleries. Photographs of the vegetable product display in the Scottish gallery show a vertical case being used.

The role of the east and west entrances is unclear although they appear to have supported paid entry so were not confined to season ticket holders (there was a separate entrance queue at the main entrance for this group of visitors). Presumably the entrance would at times have provided a welcome draft in what was frequently a hothouse atmosphere. The fountains may also have contributed to a cooling effect.

Walker's painting suggests that seating adjacent to the model case was very popular. One (possibly over-enthusiastic) estimate suggests that there were some 21 miles of aisles to negotiate with daily attendances often of the order of 50000 (maxima 110000 per day, 93000 concurrently). Calico linings to some of the roof would moderate the greenhouse effect but clearly the occasional break would be welcome (there were refreshment areas to the north as well). Of interest would be the two mirrors attached to the western end of the Nave, said to be the largest in the world at that time. There was also an organ above the entrance so on occasion there was an opportunity to listen to music (each entrance was similarly equipped).

The impact of the Liverpool model is hard to gauge but its size and subject likely guaranteed a good audience with positive coverage in guidebooks and newspaper reports. The importance of the topic and city merited the model's inclusion as part of an activity for young people in an educational tour of the exhibition. On the other hand a series of lectures to accompany the exhibition petered out for lack of audience.

Did the exhibits garner further trade for Liverpool? The economic impact of the exhibition overall is frequently held to be slight. Although it made a profit (and put pressure on hotel accommodation), it drained other aspects of London's economy, the theatres being especially hard hit. Selling in the exhibition was expressly forbidden but the prints suggest exhibitors were present to answer questions. There is no record of an attendant supervising the Liverpool stands but presumably someone must have been responsible for polishing the glass on the display cases if nothing else.

Both Liverpool exhibits won Prize Medals at the end of the exhibition. Originally there had been some suggestion that monetary prizes would be awarded but this mostly fell by the wayside, presumably in the interests of economy. Companies winning medals used the information in advertisements. Doubtless the Liverpool local committee could see them as an index of a job well done.

The impact of the Exhibition in Liverpool

For those unable to attend in person, there were opportunities during the summer to see a model of the Crystal Palace (at 34 Church Street) and to experience "being there" by means of a panoramic picture of the inside of the building at the Zoological Gardens. Newspaper adverts encouraged prospective visitors to buy new clothes before going to London and exhibitors sold their display wares at the end of the run (or copies thereof).

The exhibition ends

The exhibition closed on 11th October. It subsequently opened for two further days gratis to exhibitors only and then for the formal announcement of prizes. The good news was that it had made a significant profit and this was invested in the establishment of a set of permanent museums in Kensington which continue to the present day. There was some deliberation on the fate of the Crystal Palace itself but the intention had always been that it would not stay in Hyde Park. Ultimately it relocated to Sydenham (actually Penge) where it remained in a somewhat modified albeit much larger form until 1936 when it sadly burned down. There have been suggestions that a copy of the original Crystal Palace might be built at Sydenham or as part of a national capital of culture bid at Coventry. Not everyone thought this a good idea.

The fate of the Liverpool model may have followed similar lines. Part of the rationale behind investing in its construction was that the model later be used in a museum to illustrate the commercial importance of the city. Accordingly, when it came back to Liverpool, the model was displayed in the newly opened Derby museum (pdf) at the corner of Slater Street and Parr Street. Nearby was a smaller model of Liverpool in the mid-C17. Its provenance is unclear although there were early suggestions that such a model would be a useful complement to the model displayed in London. It is possible that there was insufficient space allocated for both to be on show in London.

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Fig: The former Union Newsroom by John Foster Snr (centre). The first city museum was in the building to the right behind it on the corner of Parr and Slater Streets.

The current museum opened to the public in 1861 on William Brown Street (named after the principal benefactor). The models were supposedly assigned to two rooms in the new venue but the museum history is obscure as to their eventual fate, much being lost as a result of bomb damage during the Second World War.

The present day

The excellent museums in Liverpool continue to make excellent use of models similar to that displayed in London and in many cases they are interactive. One of the most recent and engaging is the digital city model at the RIBA North.


Fig: The interactive Liverpool model at RIBA North

The OpenSim model

This simple build used a script to replicate a transverse section 35 times (there is some variation in section width to the north side that is not modelled). The result would need extensive editing to generate the courts and staircases but even without content, decoration and precise measurements (beyond the 24x24 ft unit), the model still gives some idea of the environment and adds additional context to some of the lithographs.

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Fig: OpenSim model of the West Nave showing the Liverpool model in situ. The transept would be in the far distance with the nave then continuing beyond.

Clearly some of lithographs were made looking from the gallery (which extended across the nave above the west entrance). It would appear that the gaps the courts inserted into the upper floor also improved lighting in areas otherwise overshadowed. The weather vane above the model had the city's name on it.

There is a venerable VRML model of the 1851 Crystal Palace from the University of Virginia that includes downloads and some nice renderings. The University of Bristol has a model of the Sydenham Crystal Palace in Second Life(TM).

Time and trains

There are a couple of nice blogs on the Museum of Science & Industry blog site about the sundial at Liverpool Road station. It has been scanned and will be available in some kind of 3D app the BBC is using to accompany its new Civilization series. I've been in equal measures impressed and perplexed by this early relic of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway which seems to pre-date the railway age. The display label passes no comment on its role so speculation duly follows!

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Fig.1: The plinth and sundial were located above the first-class entrance from 1833.

A digression about time

Firstly, the usual caveat: I am not a physicist, astronomer, engineer or horologist.

Historically time was measured relative to the meridian, the highest point of the sun in the sky. This defined midday, the basis for apparent solar time and readily ascertained by a sundial, at least on a sunny day. It transpires, however, that the actual time of the meridian varies somewhat according to the time of year, at one time or another being 15 or so minutes faster or slower than solar time averaged across the year, so-called mean time (as in Greenwich Mean Time, GMT). The two systems are related by the Equation of Time.

Solar time varies with location and the Liverpool Road station sundial accordingly has its latitude and longitude engraved on its face. Most likely it measures the local time in Manchester although this differed by only a couple of minutes from Liverpool local time, not a big deal when trains were relatively infrequent as was the case in 1833.

Nevertheless, as lines elsewhere grew longer, busier and more interconnected, so senior railway staff started to see problems that might lead to missed connections and even collisions. Timetables (first introduced c.1838) were more complicated than they need be and mistakes by passengers were common where different parts of the journey were conducted under, say, Liverpool and London times. One possible remedy was to have two clocks, one for local and one for London time (effectively GMT), or one clock with two distinct minute hands (one perhaps with the emblem of a sun on it to denote solar).

The most sensible solution, however, was to get everyone to use the same time, i.e. GMT. Engineer John Walker raised this as an issue with government as early as 1843, recommending general adoption of GMT to regularise communications with Ireland. Henry Booth went one step further by petitioning Parliament (unsuccessfully) on behalf of the L&MR in 1844, by raising the issue within the newly merged L&NWR and by writing the pamphlet The Uniformity of TIme in 1847, the same year that GMT in the guise of "railway time" was adopted as standard by many of the principal railway companies and the cities they served.

The Great Western had in fact led the way on this by unilaterally adopting GMT in 1840. There was, however, resistance in some quarters to having this change foisted on towns by the new fangled railways and it required an Act of Parliament in 1880 to put an end to the confusion of having multiple time standards operating both within and between cities.

The significance of the sundial was that it gave a measure of time against which clocks and watches could be set although other astronomical approaches were actually more accurate. In ports such as Liverpool the availability of reliable timepieces in the form of marine chronometers was vital to sailors for navigation purposes. Quite how distribution of this time was managed in Liverpool is a little obscure prior to the establishment of an Observatory at the Waterloo Docks in 1845. Historically buildings with external clocks, e.g. churches, were the visible standard but there were also synchronizing signals such as the one o'clock gun fired in the Morpeth Dock in Birkenhead from 1866. This was triggered by receipt of an electrical signal from nearby Bidston Observatory. From the early 1850s onwards the telegraph would play an important role in broadcasting time signals across the growing railway network.

That sundial

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Fig.2: The (substitute) sundial seen from the waiting-room.

All of which brings us back to that sundial above the first class passenger entrance at Liverpool Road station (the actual sundial is now on display inside). This was installed in 1833, three years after the L&MR opened. What was it for?

Three possibilities:

  1. It was functional, i.e. it was used either by staff or passengers to determine the time of day. This seems unlikely. According to Thomas, the termini at Liverpool and Manchester both had clocks as of 1830 (one can be seen in Bury's print of Crown Street though that might arguably be a residual sundial now in the shade of the verandah) as did Newton as of 1831 (its location is unclear but suggests that there was a building there at the time). There is no mention of the other two stations having had sundials, just Manchester. The sundial is located outside the first floor window of the first-class passenger waiting-room at Liverpool Road. While this may give good access to the sun, it must surely have made it awkward to read. The wealthy individuals travelling first class would in any case have had pocket watches set in advance of travel and have no need of station sundials (a sundial adjacent to the second class waiting-room might make more sense). Likewise the railway senior staff would presumably have had recourse to chronometers as and when a degree of precision became necessary. That is not to say that the Directors were indifferent to time. They paid £5 p.a. to the nearby church of St John's in order that the tower clock be properly maintained and show the correct time. The nearby church of St Matthew also had a public clock although apparently it only had a minute hand added in 1833.

  2. It was symbolic. It showed that the railways were effectively causing time to contract by enabling people, especially businessmen, to achieve more in a day than had previously been possible. The sundial was already a relic from a slower, now bygone, age. It may also have been an homage to George Stephenson who resigned from the L&MR in 1833. It is part of the Stephenson legend that George set his son Robert to make a sundial that was then mounted above the door of his childhood home in Killingworth, Dial Cottage.

  3. It was decorative. The early railway buildings had a relatively simple neoclassical appearance. The low key design may have been an attempt to normalise the railway travel experience for nervous passengers and at the same time an economy measure to reassure investors. Its lack of ostentation may also have reflected the non-conformist religious sensibilities of many Directors as well as the Principal Engineer. With Stephenson's departure the Directors or station superintendent may have felt a little additional ornamentation was in order.

Fig.3: The original sundial now on display in the second-class booking office.


Alas, I have no special insights to offer; my guess would be either 2 or 3 or a mixture thereof with a slight preference for 3. If nothing else, the sundial may have served as a talking-point for passengers waiting to board their train!

The L&NWR model of Edge Hill, Part 1

As a side-project I have been working on an OpenSim model of part of Edge Hill. The timepoint is c.1886-7 to coincide with the major national and international exhibitions held in a vast purpose-built hall just off Edge Lane. Although much has been written on the topic by Murray Steele and collaborators, I am still looking for visual content to inform the build.

I was delighted therefore to find a superb 1/18000 scale model of the area in the Warehouse space at the National Railway Museum at York. It was created by the London & North Western Railway (L&NWR) specifically for the 1886 exhibition which was known locally as The Shipperies due to the large number of model ships on display. The L&NWR model shows the huge Edge Hill gridiron goods yards and surrounding areas, including the station, tunnel entrances, Wavertree Botanic Gardens and the building housing the Shipperies Exhibition of 1886. Indeed, the model was developed specifically for that exhibition and I like to imagine there's a miniature copy of it inside the Shipperies model and so on ad infinitum! Doubtless the same thought struck many of the visitors to the exhibition.

Edge Hill station and its environs in 1886

Edge Hill station received its first trains in 1836 when the passenger terminus switched from Crown Street to Lime Street. Initially trains ran down to Lime Street under gravity and were rope-hauled up to Edge Hill by stationary engine. By 1886, however, passage in both directions was driven by locomotives with the tunnel partially exposed and a large ventillation tower on Smithdown Lane used to evacuate smoke (Ramsbottom's chimney). Both the Victoria/Waterloo and (more distant) Wapping tunnels continued to be rope-hauled.

The gridirons opened in the early 1870s and by 1875 the establishment at Edge Hill covered some 40 acres. At the time of the exhibitions the gridirons were probably approaching the summit in terms of their size and level of activity. Their importance was sustained through the two world wars but then severely diminished by the advent of containerization in the 1970s.

Further details are available in a blog by Jan Ford and in this thread.

Pictures from the museum visit

I have a fairly basic smartphone and had to crop and enhance a few of the images to make them adequately visible. Where appropriate, I've added 3D map views from the 1905 25 inch Ordnance Survey courtesy of National Libraries Scotland. The map legends are linked to the appropriate view though not always at the same magnification. Of course, the model and map are separated by 20 years so there will be differences. Nevertheless, many features carry over between the two, the main exception being the Shipperies site which the map shows as largely vacant space.

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Fig.1: The model is in a wooden case at a good height but partially obscured by the shelf above and reflections on the glass cover from an adjacent illuminated exhibit.

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Fig.2: The gravitational marshalling of trains at Edge Hill was the brainchild of Harry Footner whose signature can be seen on the title panel.

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Fig.3a: The extensively canopied Edge Hill station from the south-east with a substantial chimney on its south platform. Tracks leading to Crown Street and Wapping can be seen nearer the bottom, the Victoria/Waterloo tunnel at the top.

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Fig.3b: Corresponding NLS 3D map view

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Fig.4a: Looking back to the station along the line of the partially covered Lime Street tunnel with the Victoria/Waterloo tunnel to the left. The model extends into the far distance.

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Fig.4b: Corresponding NLS 3D map view

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Fig.5a: Looking up Chatsworth Street (centre) and Tunnel Road (right) from the south with Smithdown Lane crossing diagonally. The Windsor Barracks and Victory Machine Works are to the left off Chatsworth Street. A single "Pillar of Hercules" appears to be present on the north side of the cutting, one of the chimneys for the boilers driving the stationary engines in the (now demolished) Moorish Arch.

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Fig.5b: Corresponding NLS 3D map view. The Phoenix Safe Works aand Crown Street yard are just off the map to the left (west).

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Fig.6a: Wavertree Park and, to its north, the walled Wavertree Botanic Gardens. The sidings at bottom right were used by trains bringing excursionists to the Shipperies exhibition.

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Fig.6b: Corresponding NLS 3D map view

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Fig.7a: The Shipperies Exhibition was opened by Queen Victoria in 1886. The building was used for a less successful Jubilee exhibition the following year after which it was closed and demolished.

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Fig.7b: Corresponding NLS 3D map view. Ultimately the space would be occupied by the Corporation tram depot and the iconic Art Deco Littlewoods Pools building on Edge Lane.

General comments

The model is on a much grander scale than the above images would suggest; probably only a third of the total area is shown here. The model does not, however, extend all the way to Edge Lane or, indeed, to Crown Street. I suspect it was produced to a tight timescale and in advance of actual completion of the Shipperies exhibition building as there are a few discrepancies. This is hardly surprising as the exhibition itself was drawn together in some haste.

The model has no explanatory labels. Perhaps there was an accompanying leaflet or annotated poster conveying additional information regarding the gridirons. The inclined plate glass cover suggests that the model was to be viewed from one side only and may have been located against a wall.

Although there are no labels, roofs appear to be colour-coded although again the code is obscure. Non-residential buildings (Shipperies, L&NWR properties, churches, schools) appear to be mainly bright blue. Elsewhere colours may have helped distinguish separate distinct terraces or blocks of housing. If there was an accompanying poster, this may have helped viewers correlate locations between model and poster.

Although the modelling is fairly crude in some respects, it successfully conveys an immersive appreciation of the locale. Some of the larger buildings are shown in detail likely unavailable elsewhere.

Little of the 1886 physical environment exists today. Exceptions include parts of Tunnel Road, the station (including tunnels and carriage ramps), Botanic Road and the adjacent park, the Picton Road bridge, and (possibly) part of Wavertree gas works.

Possible issues with the Shipperies model

It seems as though the main entrance on Exhibition Road was originally intended to be surrounded by twin towers. These appear in the model and in other promotional material but are noticeably absent from sketches of the opening procession and photos of the building prior to demolition. I strongly suspect that they were never completed due to time and cost constraints. Their inclusion here suggests that the modeller had an advance plan of the layout. Similarly, we know that ultimately there were additional attractions located between the building and the railway which are not shown here. Nevertheless, it is an extremely impressive piece of work.

The rail tracks leading up to the building enabled exhibitors to bring heavy objects into the building. Whether all three tracks were used for this purpose is moot as interior photos suggest that only the easternmost hall had a large doorway. This led to the heavy machinery exhibits, including locomotives. The L&NWR also had some booths outside and there were demonstrations of engines in steam on the adjacent tracks. These were not, however, used by excursion trains as separate sidings were provided. Somewhat surprisingly these are devoid of temporary platforms in the model.

The model needs to be on Merseyside

When I visited in September, the model's wooden case was far from accessible (I had the sore head afterwards to prove it!) and there was negligible interpretation for what is a significant historical "document" when seen in a local context. To be fully appreciated the model really needs to be somewhere on Merseyside, either at the Museum of Liverpool or, better still, part of a display at Edge Hill station as a physical complement to Metal's Edge Hill archive. Perhaps an extended (or even temporary) loan could be made.

Failing that, there needs to be a comprehensive repository of high quality images that could be used for future research and as the basis for a poster-style display at Edge Hill station.

An important piece of the Padorama puzzle?

The booklet accompanying the Padorama exhibition is a valuable source of images of the early days of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway which opened in 1830. Both the booklet and exhibition covered the 31 mile journey from Manchester to Liverpool. The exhibition was held at the Baker Street Bazaar in London and appears to have been open from mid-May until the end of August, 1834. Its presence would have coincided with construction of London's first steam railway, the London & Greenwich, which opened in 1836.

Although there has been much speculation, little is known about the origins and nature of the Padorama. A brief description in the Spectator, however, gives valuable context.

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Figure: Excerpt from the Spectator, May 1834.

From this it may be plausible to deduce:

  1. It was a moving panorama rather than a model railway set against a static backdrop. It is not possible to say whether this involved the canvas being located on the outside of a large rotating cylinder or being scrolled between two spindles. While the latter was normally the case during presentations, i.e. with a speaker interpreting the scene, the Padorama operated on a continuous basis such that the entire display could be seen in 30 minutes from time of entry (as per the final advert in the same volume). As house lights would probably be dimmed, the accompanying (and optional) booklet would be of limited use and was probably more by way of an aide memoire or memento. Perhaps there were posters briefing viewers in advance of their seeing the actual display.
  2. The viewer perspective varied and model trains appeared when the railway was in the close foreground. If the booklet is any guide, the railway is sometimes seen in the distance, as at Newton for example. Some have suggested that viewers sat in simulated train carriages but this would make little sense for such a view. It is true, however, that the viewer is typically facing towards the north, the Sankey Viaduct being a notable (and possibly ignored) exception. A more useful analogy might have been with a bird flying alongside the track. Some have suggested that the model trains constituted the first model railway although it is equally likely that they were made of cardboard and operated behind the scenes either by hand or by clockwork (as with elaborate town clocks). The apparatus was described as a "Disyntrechon" which provided a "mechanico-graphoramic" view.
  3. The fact that there are multiple perspectives suggests that, while there may be sections that are continuous, lights may be dimmed or curtains drawn during transitions. This in turn suggests a proscenium-style presentation with the audience in tiered seats, probably with an optional standing area.
  4. The allusion to the Daguerre Diorama suggests that some views were lit such that objects were revealed or hidden sequentially or that variations in lighting in a particular scene marked the passing of time, e.g. while waiting for the early morning train. The reference to "lanes" presumably refers to the roads leading to level crossings as seen at Green Lane (Patricroft) and Ordsall Lane (Salford).
  5. The sponsor and author of the Padorama has always been something of a mystery. However, we now see that it was sponsored by one of the foremost companies showing moving (persitrephic) panoramas, Messrs Marshall of Glasgow. Philip Phillips was a well-known panorama artist and the only pupil of Clarkson Stanfield, scenic painter at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Stanfield was one of the most eminent panorama artists of his day although by now he was moving into less arduous landscape painting. It is possible therefore that Phillips inherited the commission from Stanfield. Others have identified the otherwise unknown Thorne as the artist but works on this scale were often carried out by teams.
  6. The identity of H. West is not revealed. West was responsible for the sketches in the Padorama booklet and the 1833 "Railway Companion". This person may be another minor scenic artist but it is also possible that it is a nom de plume for Charles Marshall (of Messrs Marshall). In his book "Illusions of Motion", Huhtamo describes Marshall as "elusive". The Marshall brothers were also painters so well able to execute the sketches concerned while also having the authority to decide what would make a good subject for the display and what could be edited out or condensed. Marshall is thus potentially also the enigmatically named author "A Tourist". The "Railway Companion" may have been a marketing tool to ascertain or excite interest. However, quite why Messrs Marshall are not acknowledged in the 1834 exhibition booklet is a mystery. Perhaps there was concern over how the railway proprietors would regard the panorama and the "revelation" in the Spectator was accidental. Possibly there was concern that the panorama was too "experimental" and a wish to avoid negative publicity should it fail commercially (it appears to have had only one further outing the following year in New York).

If the conjectures above are at all accurate, the disyntrechon presentation at the Baker Street Bazaar may have been an interesting hybrid and significantly more sophisticated than the majority of panoramas displayed in this era.

More railway-related buildings designed by JW Casson?

Over the past few weeks I've been following an architectural trail on the 1830s Liverpool & Manchester Railway (L&MR) that started at Sudley House (a possible station precursor), continued to Liverpool Crown Street station (the Liverpool terminus) and thence to Manchester Liverpool Road station (the Manchester equivalent).

The tenuous link between these three locations is the presence of paired pilasters around the entrances. At Sudely and Crown Street they encompass useful sidelights but these are unnecessary at Liverpool Road given its unobstructed south-facing windows and entrance.

The prime candidate for architect at Sudley is John Whiteside Casson and the suggestion is that he then designed the two railway termini, Crown Street relatively soon after the enabling Act was passed in 1826 and Liverpool Road just before the railway opened in 1830.

While the issue of confirmation bias is significant, this list of possible Casson designs was then extended by addition of Windsor Terrace sited at the junction of Upper Parliament Street and Crown Street in Liverpool. There are no sidelights but here the paired entrance pilasters are accompanied by giant recessed pilasters covering the upper two storeys. These effectively simulate paired pilasters and form a pilasade.

Further candidate Casson designs

Two further railway-associated buildings have either paired or recessed pilasters:

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Figure: Dale Street frontage of Eastwood's Royal Hotel from WG Herdman's sketch of 1858. The booking office is highlighted in red and the giant paired pilasters in dark brown. The shop(s) to the right and rooms above are not part of the hotel.

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Figure: Smithdown Lane offices based on @lmrailway twitter images. End units in particular have recessed and part-hidden pilasters.

In both cases there is channelled rustication of the ground floor facade. The Smithdown Lane buildings are single-storey and the pilasters in the main block form part of a blind arcade into which are inserted doors, a large window and a service hatch, all with semicircular fanlights.

The pilasters at Dale Street don't extend to the shop-like booking office on the ground floor of the Royal Hotel's Dale Street frontage (the main entrance was around the corner on Moorfields). The siting of the booking office may have been a commercial lease by the hotel proprietor, Peter Eastwood, contracted on the basis of mutual benefit. However, if Casson was involved in the hotel's design he may have alerted the L&MR to the availability of a venue in the main business district. Alternatively, the hotel may have been co-financed by railway directors (if not the railway company itself). In either case the hotel advertises in railway guides its provision of accommodation close to the departure point for omnibuses taking passengers to and from Crown Street. On that basis it would seem to constitute an early railway hotel, albeit some distance from the station itself.

Assuming the buildings are all the work of Casson, an evolutionary pathway can be traced that starts with Sudley in 1824/5 followed by Crown Street in ~1827 but which then divides to yield the larger Windsor Terrace (sometime after 1824) and Royal Hotel (1829/30) on the one hand and Liverpool Road (1830) and Smithdown Lane (unknown) on the other. If the pathway is correct then it suggests that Smithdown Lane is a late addition and may have replaced space that was lost once Crown Street had to accommodate passengers.

Edge Hill station

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Figure: Edge Hill railway station by Haigh & Franklin. Note presence of pediment and corbels absent from earlier buildings.

In 1836 Crown Street was closed to passenger traffic and the station part-demolished soon after. The focus switched instead to the tunnel leading down to the centre of Liverpool and the new Lime Street station. Office functions at Dale Street and Clayton Square were relocated to Lime Street.

The eastern end of the tunnel was marked by Edge Hill station which replaced a smaller station at Wavertree Lane. The architects of the 1836 Edge Hill station, Haigh & Franklin, seem to have developed the Casson design to their own tastes. The six-bay by two-bay arrangement of Crown Street is retained, at least at first floor level, with the long side again facing the track and the short side the road (at the foot of a carriage ramp). However, the pilasters have disappeared completely, the channel rustication has a markedly different pattern and for the first time there is a bay with a small pediment and corbels facing the track.

1836 and all that

The absence of any semblance of pilasters at the 1836 station seems to mark the departure of the original architect from the project, here presumed to be Casson who died in 1842 at the age of 75. It seems not unlikely that he would be "slowing down" post-1830 although he is known to have designed St Thomas Melling in 1834/5. This has the characteristic large windows and surprisingly modern design that we first saw at Sudley but now in a Gothic Revival format.

The change in style seen in the 1836 station suggests that Haigh & Franklin did not design any of the aforementioned pre-1836 works and that the paired pilasters were not a company "logo". They did, of course, design the 1830 warehouse at Manchester (which has no significant similarities to the adjacent station building). The Haigh & Franklin design does not seem to have been widely adopted on the L&MR which probably reflects a steady decline in popularity for the neoclassical approach.

Of course, all of the above can also be explained by coincidence or a temporary vogue for pilasters. We cannot be sure either that the buildings we see now are in the same form that they were in the 1830s. Further research is required.

A Crown Street station mystery: the missing door knob

Door size

If you look at Bury's print of Crown Street station, you are immediately struck by how small the people are standing on the verandah. Bury was an architecture student, so maybe he wanted to accentuate the grandeur of the built environment or possibly that's what his publisher, Ackermann, needed to attract custom. Another possibility is that the men in the picture are actually smaller than we expect (average male height would be about 5ft 5 in in the early 19th century) and that the door was significantly bigger than the average front door enountered these days.

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Figure: Bury's print of Liverpool Crown Street station with inset showing paired pilasters (left, Wikipedia) and the former main door at Sudley showing paired pilasters and suggested size of original main door (red outline).

If the hypothesis is correct that both Sudley House and Crown Street were designed by the same architect, JW Casson, then perhaps the main door at Sudley served as a model for the station. As previously mentioned, both have paired pilasters with sidelights.

My guess is that the main door at Sudley originally filled the space presently occupied by the door, small sidelights and transom light. That would equate with the door at Crown Street which lacks those features and, very rough guess, would make the door plus immediate surround about 5ft wide by 10 feet high. If the door to the platform had similar dimensions then it is not that the men pictured next to it are small but that the door is just larger than expected.

A door of that size had practical consequences. It meant that two people could pass each other going in opposite directions and that awkwardly shaped luggage or packages could enter without difficulty. In all probability the door was also a status symbol. Its size would impress and in a house the owner would employ someone whose job in part was to open it for visitors.

The missing door knob

There are two contemporary pictures of Crown Street that show the door, one by Bury and one by an unknown artist that appeared in 1833 in the Penny Magazine of the Society for the Distribution of Useful Knowledge. The latter looks like Bury's print minus coaches, carriages and people. However, it also shows features of the train shed/verandah missing from Bury's print but present in Shaw's sketch in which the door, alas, is obscured by omnibuses. Neither shows a door knob or handle. While it is possible that this omission was made on aesthetic grounds or that the knob is hidden by the door recess, another possibility exists: there was no door knob.

Perhaps the wealthy first class passengers expected to have doors opened for them. The station clerks would keep an eye open through the sidelights for the arrival of the coaches and open the door from the inside when one arrived. As each coach reversed up to the door, the 18 passengers would get out and queue through the door to the desk inside as they checked-in, their names being added to the waybill given to the train guard. The portico/porch would shelter them from rain or bright sun depending on the prevailing weather. They would then proceed either to the waiting-room beyond or onto the verandah.

The door is not seen as opened in Bury's print as the people have just arrived from Manchester and are boarding the omnibuses. Their carriages have been marshalled for the next departure.

The booking office(s)

Clearly the clerks would not want to open the door for each and every visitor so the door on the verandah would be the normal entrance for those wanting to make a booking in advance (as was required). Generally such booking would be transacted via the Dale Street office in the city centre but Crown Street would be more convenient for those living in country houses as many merchants and bankers did. It is not unlikely that such bookings would be made by servants used to using a secondary entrance.

The spatial separation between departure and booking traffic suggests that the second door further along the verandah would be for those using second class trains. This is something I had considered previously but abandoned. While not ideal, it makes more sense if both classes accessed their respective booking desk via the verandah rather than first class passengers having to wrestle with the huge door. Again second class passengers would queue sheltered by the verandah. It would be a little less convenient with the same door being used for passage in both directions but that was probably the idea.

The doors at Manchester and Sudley

Of course, a plausible solution to the door mystery doesn't absolve Bury of all errors of perspective but it perhaps explains the smaller double-doors and larger check-in area at Manchester. As a consequence Manchester didn't require a porch and, according to Fitzgerald, sported a vestibule to retain some wamth from its coal fire in wintertime. Some of this may reflect different local circumstances but it may also be a consequence of a more custom, less off-the-shelf, approach to the Manchester design. If so, this constitutes further evidence that Crown Street was built prior to Manchester and informed its development.

For some reason the second family to occupy Sudley, the Holts, changed the main axis of the house such that the entrance moved from the side considered here, the east, to the north side of the house. One possibility is improved access for carriages but another might be the considerable loss of heat that occurred when the large east door was opened in cold weather. The extensions to the wings along with the portico would have provided some shelter but not as much as the curious blind-ended portico ultimately added to the north.

Deconstructing Shaw's sketch of the Railway Office

The classic image of the Liverpool Railway Office, i.e. the 1830 Crown Street station, is by Thomas Talbot Bury. My preference, however, is for the sketch by Isaac Shaw (zoomable version courtesy of Yale Center for British Art). Both, in fact, depict the station in 1831 when the train shed was built. We can see the skylights in the train shed compensating for the shadow cast by this new shelter for the expensive railway carriages.

As with the Barton Moss pictures, it is almost as though the two artists were present at the same scene though there are differences in both cases. Whether the railway company exerted any editorial influence is unknown though some think it likely.

Like so many railway artists, Shaw occasionally struggles with perspective (the two omnibuses that brought first class passengers from Dale Street, for example) and scale (some people are dwarfed by what were actually quite small carriages) but he tells a more interesting story.

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Figure: Liverpool Crown Street station by Thomas Talbot Bury (left; Wikipedia) and Isaac Shaw (right; Yale/Public Domain)

The omnibuses

Firstly, the two omnibuses parked in the station yard clearly differ. This is not entirely surprising because the nearest has the same shape as the red one in Bury's print, the remainder being yellow like the first class "glass" coaches. As previously with the Mona's Isle advert on the righthand wall, the image can be manipulated to reveal the text on the righthand coach, in this case "Liverpool Post Office".

The Royal Mail started using the Liverpool & Manchester Railway soon after it opened and operated a superior grade railway carriage to carry the mails. Shaw's sketch presumably ante-dates arrival of this special carriage but indicates that the mail street coach, like the railway carriage, carried passengers as well as post.

Both omnibuses have metal edging around the roof to prevent luggage falling off. The post office omnibus used a tarpaulin as well. Several men and one of the women are carrying umbrellas so it may just have finished raining.

The presence of the extra horse is curious as it suggests that the teams are being changed. Perhaps the sheds behind the station building are actually stables?

Presumably the passengers have left the omnibuses which are now waiting for the next train to arrive once this one has departed (the tunnel is single-track).

The railway carriages

The departure platform is on the left and four coaches have been assembled. Trains typically comprised 4-5 coaches and we can see another coach on the right under the train shed. However, this has been forsaken for the 4-inside premium coach being hauled in from the right. This would appear to take two additional passengers riding in the coupe compartment at the front as well as the guard or brakesman at the rear. It differs from the later mail carriage but its spaciousness similarly came at a (slightly lower) premium.

Presumably the 4-inside was normally located in the main train shed and the track to the adjacent Millfield station had been used for a brief stop while it was swapped for one of the yellow coaches which we now see resting in its place. We can see one of the turnplates clearly but there were actually three, one for each track.

The departing passengers

While the station may appear a bustling hive of activity, it is likely a pale shadow of its normal self prior to departure; we are probably witnessing latecomers. After all, a four carriage train could accommodate 128 people, passengers who are presumably already onboard the train.

The two couples who are to be the occupants of the 4-inside are being addressed by the guards (perhaps mail trains had two, one specifically for the mails), both of whom are dressed in heavy overcoats as protection against the elements. I assume the remaining two passengers riding in the coupe at the front are the man with his hat tied down, possibly a trusted servant who fears the worst, and the lad with the hat who looks as though he may be going away to school. His sister and mother are there to see them off -- there was no barrier to public access to the station at Liverpool, unlike Manchester.

The arrivals

Trains arriving would have been rope-hauled up the centre track by the winding engines at the far end of the tunnel. The rope has presumably been withdrawn at least as far as the tunnel to prevent it being fouled and damaged by carriage movements.

To the right of centre we see a man in a heavy cloak and an accompanying woman. These may be passengers remaining from the previous arrival who have been awaiting their personal carriage to take them home while the train they arrived in is manually shunted to its present position on the departure platform. The porter beside them will take their baggage to the carriage waiting outside the main gate.

The reflected shadows on the windows of the mail omnibus might be construed as people inside but I think not.

The porter is one of three men seen actively carrying baggage, presumably all porters. One seems to be specifically attending the occupants of the 4-inside but another may be assisting the group of two women and accompanying girl who are waiting for him before boarding the train. Presumably this is a company porter who may also assist the women into the train from the trackside despite the presence of a reasonably elevated platform/verandah (where an overlooker is keeping an eye on matters). Legend has it that the twelve pillars supporting the train shed sometimes interfered with the opening of doors so that passengers had to enter on the other side.

The two women and girl are waiting by what is generally termed the Chinese coach.

The Chinese coach

There is no sign of "indoor" porters loading baggage onto the carriage roofs and, indeed, no sign of baggage on any roof. My guess is that the Chinese coach is carrying the luggage for this train along with the mails (it also appears in Bury's print albeit at the opposite end).

I speculated previously on the role of this carriage. Perhaps Shaw's sketch brings us closer to the truth.

The tunnel

Two pillars can be seen above the tunnel and these are the two "Pillars of Hercules", actually chimneys serving the boilers for the winding engines in the Moorish Arch at the far end of the tunnel. Look at the tunnel closely and you will see the locomotive at the other end awaiting the train. The train was started by a manual push and then descended through the tunnel under gravity.

The group by the hut to the right of the tunnel presumably includes the policeman/signalman who manages access to the tunnel based on signals sent to a bell by wire from the Moorish Arch. There may also be the Inspector of the Coach Wheels and, logically, a pointsman who changes the points (assuming this is not done by the policeman). Alternatively they may be trackworkers, including a lad, who are stopping for a chat.

A different world

The picture reminds us of a society still only on the cusp of a momentous change. The steam age as seen here still depends on horses and humans and operates for the benefit of the well-to-do or, in the case of the 4-inside, the very well-to-do. Most railway employees were classed as "servants" and poorly paid for long hours doing work that was often hazardous. That would change, albeit gradually. Anyway, what appears on the surface to be a charming if somewhat arbitrary picture in fact reveals a lot of what was needed to make the railway work.

A terrace by JW Casson on Liverpool's Upper Parliament Street?

Over the last couple of weeks I've been exploring the idea that John Whiteside Casson was the architect of the first two purpose-designed railway stations, one at Manchester in 1830 and the other at Liverpool in about 1827. This is predicated on Casson being the architect of the older parts of Sudley House, residence of Liverpool's mayor in 1828-9, Nicholas Robinson.

Did Casson "sign" his buildings?

Casson apparently had a signature motif comprising paired pilasters either side of the main door, sometimes encompassing sidelights. If true, it should make it easier to recognise his work. Much of this, however, seems to have been beyond Liverpool with the exception of Gladstone's residence on Rodney Street, a very early, if important, commission.

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Figure: Booking offices, Manchester Liverpool Road station (now Museum of Science & Industry)

The Liverpool and Manchester buildings are in some ways quite different and it would be of interest to find a Casson build that more closely reflects the Manchester design.

Behold, a terrace of two

Figure: 248, 250 Upper Parliament Street (Wikimedia, creator: rodhullandemu, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

Numbers 248 and 250, Upper Parliament Street, Liverpool, date to the 1820s according to Historic England and are Grade II listed. They were probably part of a terrace and both have the paired Tuscan pilaster motif without sidelights, as seen at Manchester but not Crown Street. They also have a rusticated ground floor facade, again as seen at Manchester but not Crown Street. Some of the pilasters are recessed, yet again something seen at Manchester but not Crown Street.

Overall the style is far less austere than Sudley (and Crown Street) without being in any way obtrusive. It may be that the directors felt more confident about their product by the time it came to build the Manchester station probably more than two years later than Crown Street.

Update: Windsor Terrace

It appears that the remaining two houses were part of Windsor Terrace which comprised six, possibly 7, such houses. It doesn't appear on the 1823/4 map by Swires published in Hollinghurst's book on the Fosters so presumably it is 1824 or later.

In 1858 it appears to have found brief use as an orphan asylum prior to the asylum's relocation to the old Botanic Gardens close to Crown Street (the terrace is at the junction of Crown Street and Upper Parliament Street). It is an outside possibility that the asylum archives mention the original architect of Windsor Terrace.

As ever, caveats

There is no documentary evidence that the buildings on Upper Parliament Street are Casson's work although they date to the right period. They may also indicate that Casson continued to attract commissions in Liverpool, including fairly large ones such as this terrace.

Of course, paired pilasters are neither unique to Casson nor Liverpool but they do not appear to be that common either. It does seem to me that if an architect "signs" his creations in such an obvious way then it is at best contrary for local contemporaries to knowingly copy him.

However, Casson could also flout his own "rule". There's no obvious paired pilaster on Rodney Street or the Gothic Revival church at Melling. In both cases it would probably be a poor "fit".

The paired pilaster "signature" raises the possibility that Casson's work was moderately well-known in Liverpool and that the cognoscenti at least would nod sagely when they saw the paired pilasters at both stations.

Or perhaps that's what Casson hoped?

What we know of pioneer station architect John Whiteside Casson and why we know so little

As usual, much conjecture...

John Whiteside Casson was one of 21 persons listed as architects and surveyors in Gore's 1827 Liverpool Directory. Of these just a few are remembered today, most notably John Foster Jnr. While the Fosters, as borough surveyors, were in a unique position to influence major projects in Liverpool, they could not manage every development in a fast-growing port, let alone the hinterland of country houses and estates.

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Figure: Sudley House from the west. The station-like block is on the far right with a more recent verandah.

Others such as Casson were indeed active and his work at Sudley House for future mayor Nicholas Robinson bears a marked resemblance to the 1830 railway station at Crown Street. This in turn shares certain motifs with the Manchester terminus at Liverpool Road. Casson may therefore have a unique claim to fame as the architect of the first two purpose-designed railway stations.

And yet, we know almost nothing of him. The authority on such matters, Colvin, has just two sentences on Casson, saying he was active around Liverpool in the 1820s and '30s and crediting him with the 1835 Church of St Thomas & the Holy Rood at Melling. Pevsner adds Gladstone's house on Rodney Street as well as Sudley.


Even post-Google it is hard to assemble more than the basic facts of Casson's life. The following is a best-guess timeline derived from readily accessible sources.

1767 John Whiteside Casson was born on 11th September and baptised in St Peter's on Church Street nine days later. His father was John Casson, a "joyner", generally a key figure in construction projects.

Preliminary guesswork concerning family background (via Occupation (joiner), church (St Peter's) and domicile (Peter Street) are potential connections but a number of different Cassons appear to have attended St Peter's and further study would be needed to clarify their relationships, if any. Little is known for sure but Casson Snr may have lived on Peter Street (now School Lane). His wife presumably had the family name of Whiteside. He may have had another son, Thomas (b. 6th July 1777), who became a coachbuilder. He probably also had a daughter, Molly, born in 1769. A James Casson, also a joiner of Peter Street and possibly another brother or uncle, had a son John on 5th January 1807.

1790 A John Casson marries Ann Roberts, a widow, on 20th November 1790. It is unclear whether this is father, i.e. a second marriage, or son (or, indeed, unrelated). The groom is, however, listed as "Joiner". It seems not unreasonable that an architect should start out as a builder following his father's trade. After all, John Foster Snr became highly successful despite lacking formal qualifications in either architecture or engineering.

1793 A John White Casson is a witness to another wedding, this time of Robert Bradley, bookkeeper, and Hellen Woodward, spinster.

1796 JW Casson is tentatively credited by Pevsner with Gladstone's house on Rodney Street, a prestigious commission and a building that still stands. The basis for the attribution is not mentioned. He also surfaces as a witness to the marriage of another joiner, William Sharrock, and Mary Dutton.

1805 Baptism in St Peter's of a John Casson, son of John and Ann Casson (formerly Stevenson) of Peter Street. Father's occupation: Excise Officer! We have a confusing surfeit of not only Johns but now also Anns. On balance this is probably not the John and Ann in question.

1807 A John Casson of Liverpool is listed as having a recurring subscription to the African Institution, an organisation that attempted to establish a refuge for freed slaves in Sierra Leone. Other Liverpool members included William Roscoe, William Huskisson MP, Bartin Haigh (builder), and David Hodgson and James Cropper, both subsequently directors of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. Note, however, that there was a contemporaneous John Casson (1743-1814) in Liverpool who was a notable blind organist, composer and educator.

1824/5 A memoir of Nicholas Robinson, the first owner of Sudley, recounts that the architect was "Daddy" Carson, almost certainly Casson whom Pevsner tentatively credits. Gore lists Casson as resident in Great Newton Street (the house number varies) from 1825 to at least 1829.

~1827/8 Building of Liverpool Crown Street station. The precise date is uncertain. The Millfield shaft for the Wapping tunnel dates to Summer 1827 and Locke was using Crown Street as an address as early as March 1827 though whether he was located in the Railway Office, i.e. station, is unclear.

1829 The tunnel to the Chatsworth cutting is finished and Crown Street is no longer isolated though the line is unfinished elsewhere.

1830 Building of Manchester Liverpool Road station, June-August. The necessary legislation to cross the Irwell only came into effect on 14th May. The railway opened in September.

1833 Name on electoral roll. Now living in nearby Gill Street.

1835 Credited with the church of St Thomas at Melling.

1837 Casson's name is on Liverpool's electoral roll (similarly 1840).

1842 John Whiteside Casson dies on 19th April.

1842 Ann Casson dies on 9th May. There is a probate record for Ann Casson of Gill Street (discussed below).

The probate record

This is Ann's will in which she divides her estate between Frances Ann(e) Keating (wife of broker John Francis Keating) and Ellen Casson, presumably her two daughters who are also to act as Executrices. The will is made on 25th April 1842, just after the death of her husband (who is not mentioned). She herself dies on 9th May 1842, less than one month after her husband. An addendum dated 11th January 1843 asserts that the estate was worth lesss than £100 (£150 was regarded as a decent annual wage around this time). By this time Frances was a widow and had remarried in the name of Owen. Ellen had become Ellen Rankin, wife of upholsterer Richard Rankin and still resident in Gill Street. She had a baby, John Casson Rankin, on 1st September 1843. Clearly the memory of her father was still dear to her.

The estate of John W Casson remains a mystery. Had he made separate provision for his daughters and sons (if any)? Had the family fallen on hard times and been forced to downsize by moving to Gill Street? That might explain his continuing to practice well into his late sixties (the church at Melling was finished when he was ~67). Was it a response to infirmity (moving in with family or to a more suitable house)? In 1843 a new market would open at Dancie Street, taking up the space between Great Newton and Gill Street; might the move have been a response to this development?

There is no record of where either John or Ann might be buried. St Peter's Church closed in 1868 and burials were transferred to Anfield Cemetery.

Other mentions

According to a third-party newspaper advertisement, he was also responsible for rebuilding Higher Hall at Westleigh for John Hodson Kearsley MP.

Casson is mentioned after his death in a legal document, apparently an update on a will, concerning the estate of William Molyneux, sailmaker of St Ann Street who died in 1817, and for whom Casson acted as surveyor.


The rather hazy genealogy above sheds little light on Casson's practice. The notion that he started out as a joiner is not incompatible with becoming an architect and it would be interesting to track back in Gore to see when he is first listed as an architect (presumably sometime before his involvement with Sudley c.1824). Comparing his neighbours in Gill Street and Great Newton Street may give some clue as to whether the family ended in reduced circumstances. For the moment, however, none of the research confirms or denies his supposed role as pioneer railway architect.


The inability to put a name to the architect of the first railway stations has puzzled and irritated a number of authors. By contrast, we know that Jesse Hartley, for example, made significant contributions at Manchester and elsewhere as well as being consulting engineer. Possible explanations include:

  1. Documents mentioning Casson have been lost.
  2. Casson was air-brushed out for reasons unknown. Unlikely for a project attracting so much attention.
  3. He worked for free (as Foster did) but on condition of anonymity.
  4. He worked as a company employee rather than as a contractor or consultant.
  5. With the focus on innovative engineering, i.e. locomotives, and the Northumbrian contribution, all else faded into obscurity unless the persons concerned, such as Hartley and Foster, already had a significant reputation or went on to create one, such as Vignoles.
  6. The railway office building lacked attention-seeking features compared to Foster's Moorish Arch and likely most coaching inns as well.

My preference is for 5, possibly combined with 4.

Casson's understated contribution in retrospect was to normalise the railway experience, to make it mundane and acceptable to the well-to-do who were its initial target audience. The station was on the periphery of Liverpool and at first sight it didn't need to promote the company any more than its low-key booking office on Dale Street. The company had already opened its doors at Crown Street by allowing paid visits to the tunnels and the Rainhill Trials in 1829 also received a good press. That said, there may have been some second thoughts among the directors and hence Foster's exotic Moorish Arch which presaged a near future when companies would be building "statement" termini in city centres on a cathedral-like scale.

Why might Casson have abandoned his usual customers, the likes of Gladstone, Robinson and Kearsley? One possibility is that the arrival of the railway project made it difficult to conduct business-as-usual given the company's urgent requirement for bricklayers and joiners to develop the estate. Moreover, the services of an experienced architect and surveyor on the company books would be valued at a premium. When the railway was complete Casson may have resumed his previous practice, too advanced in years to consider a long-term career or location change.

As far as recognition is concerned, many others fell by the wayside. Thomas Longridge Gooch, for example, acted as Stephenson's principal draughtsman and amanuensis, converting the great man's ideas into working documents, all for scant recognition by posterity.

Doubtless much high-profile work was put out to tender, as with the Manchester warehouse, but probably not all. Much of the fine detail would fall to Gooch and It seems not unlikely that there were others working with him in the large office at Clayton Square. Casson in Great Newton Street was, like Sandars in nearby Pembroke Place, handily located for both Clayton Square and Crown Street. He may have opted out of his normal practice for short-term financial stability rather than recognition and career advancement.

Was JW Casson the architect of Manchester Liverpool Road station as well?

Over the past week I've been trying to convince myself that little-known architect John Whiteside Casson designed both Sudley House around 1823/4 and Liverpool Crown Street station around 1828 for opening in 1830. One of the motifs connecting the two is the presence of a doorway surrounded on both sides by twin pilasters enclosing sidelights.

The architect of the terminus at the other end of the line, Manchester Liverpool Road station, is likewise unknown but has been suggested to be either John Foster Jnr who is credited with the Moorish Arch and train shed at Liverpool or Joseph Franklin who is credited with the 1830 warehouse at the Manchester station and the 1836 Edge Hill station, both with builder Thomas Haigh. All that is known with any certainty is that the station building was built at very short notice by David Bellhouse Jnr who also built Franklin's warehouse.

Without any documentary evidence, I would suggest that Casson may also have designed the passenger station at Manchester Liverpool Road. The challenge here is quite different as the track crosses the River Irwell and Water Street on a viaduct and is hence at first floor level at the station. Moreover, we now have twin booking halls and waiting rooms, one for first class and the other for second class, the waiting rooms being at first floor level with a staircase beside the service desk.

However, if we go outside the building we see that the first class entrance is similar to Sudley and Crown Street with four pilasters albeit without sidelights. Perhaps they were removed or deemed superfluous. Again, no portico, the suggestion being at the other venues that these were later additions by other hands.

At first floor level the pilasters are mirrored in the design of the windows and this time glazed.

Manchester Liverpool Road exterior 1.jpg

One possibility is that by the time the Manchester terminus was built, the decision had been taken to run two classes of train and this encouraged greater elaboration for the first class booking hall which is scaled back for the second class in the interests of harmony and economy. It also raises the issue as to what stone was used at Crown Street.

While others have suggested that the Liverpool and Manchester termini were indeed designed by the same person, extending the comparison to Sudley House suggests that the name of John Whiteside Casson merits consideration.

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