With Liverpool’s famous landmark, the Bombed Out Church, under threat, Getintothis’ Banjo looks at why this might be.
There is a cliché that tells us that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone and, like most clichés, there is at least a kernel of truth at its heart. Liverpool, or at least those in charge of decisions that can affect the city, suffers quite badly from this.
The latest victim of this is potentially St Luke’s, affectionately and universally referred to as The Bombed Out Church. Hit by bombs in the war, St Luke’s consists of nothing more than walls, leaving it roofless and thereby making it an interesting mixture of indoors and outdoors. Despite being essentially a ruin, the Bombed Out Church is a beautiful sight, still grand and imposing despite its age and condition. It is made somehow more beautiful by its near destruction, a monument to the artistry and build quality of old and a symbol of the defiance the country and the city put up during the dark days of the second world war.
Visible when walking up Bold Street and sitting on the corner of Berry Street and Leece Street, the Bombed Out Church is at once a landmark, a meeting place and a creative space. Urban Strawberry Lunch have used the space to great effect, holding events, gigs, exhibitions and displays. One of the great joys of wandering around Liverpool on a sunny afternoon has been being drawn to the drumming that used to emanate from within its walls, or seeing that a group of artists have their work on display. The place could be an unexpected treat, a moment of oasis in a busy city centre.
The film nights that Urban Strawberry Lunch ran were wonderful affairs. Showing classic old black and white films for Valentine’s Day, Christmas or just on a cool summers evening, the Bombed Out Church was shown to be a versatile and useful space. All this made the place a vital part of the city’s cultural makeup.
But now the church is up for sale, possibly for as little £1, sold or leased by a council who would rather not pay for maintenance on the building. This has raised a great deal of concern amongst people aware that selling the family silver to save money in the short term is seldom a good idea.
As a city that culturally punches well above its weight, Liverpool always seems to have to a battle on its hands to find places where that culture can develop. The city’s creativity has flourished in dark basements, abandoned buildings and, until recently, in the shell of a bombed out church. But running parallel to its creativity is a story of these places being closed down and even sold off.
For a long time, Liverpool was famous across the world as the birthplace of The Beatles. The band took the whole world by storm creating music that is still instantly recognised in all corners of the globe. The Cavern in Matthew Street is where all of this took off. Now at some point in the 70s, The Cavern was bulldozed by Merseyrail and filled in with rubble, turning the space into a wasteland. For a long time, it never seemed to occur to anyone that love for The Beatles could be capitalised on. It was eventually realised that there was profit to be generated from all this, so a huge amount of time and money was spent on rebuilding the Cavern from scratch. Obviously this time around it was decided that what it really needed was an great big shopping centre tacked onto it, to really monetarise the otherwise non profitable space around it.
One would think that lessons would have been learned.
Perhaps The Cavern’s successor, Eric’s was forced to close, victim of financial problems and a police bust. Again it was only when the bands and people involved started to generate money that they became accepted and even lauded as sons of the city.
Cream is another example of this apparent disregard, with Nation being sold to developers, knocked down and replaced with the flats, echoing the fate of The Hacienda. The amount of money, people and credibility Cream brought to Liverpool is incalculable, and while it is undeniable that its bubble eventually bust, there is something grim and depressing about it all and the poor treatment Liverpool’s hubs of culture seemingly have to suffer. Is it entirely possible that at some point in the future, a Cream based shopping experience will open in Wolstenholme Square, where tourists can buy Cream logoed mugs and keyrings and pretend that they are part of the club’s history.
This sad situation would seem akin to a farmer spraying his entire field with potent weedkiller in an attempt to maximise his profits, before realising that now nothing will grow in his fields and he has lost his livelihood. Why does it have to be the case that creativity and these beautiful little pockets of oddness flourish despite their surroundings rather than because of them? Why can’t those in power want to see this kind of thing and these kind of places flourish and be preserved, rather than seeing them as pointless or unprofitable?
Maybe it’s time for the city’s keepers to provide space and resource for Liverpool’s creativity. Maybe it’s time for them to see the bigger picture rather than the short term profit and loss. Maybe the city has been telling them that its best treasures are its people and that by putting money first a disservice is being done to them.
In the meantime, let’s hope that someone sympathetic to these issues buys St Luke’s and the spirit of creativity that it has engendered can be carried forward in a proper manner. The Council have made some good choices with buildings in the recent past, such as Calderstones going to The Reader Organisation and Edge Hill Library to the Carnival Company, so fingers crossed they do the same again