Most of the bigger hotels in Liverpool cluster dound the dock area but because neither Cressida nor I are that keen on large modern hotels, we go and stay in the wonderful 1950s Parr Street studios – still very much a working recording studio complex which has one ‘hotel’ floor for the convenience of their artists.
Staying at Parr St does more or less guarantee you two sleepless nights (but sleepless nights under a red satin duvet…) as it is in the heart of Liverpool’s party district and Liverpudlians do like to party on Friday and Saturday nights. But we love it – and at least it means to you are up early enough to watch the dawn rise over the massive, lowering Protestant Cathedral with its glowing green copper roofs, which is only five minutes up the road. (Liverpool’s Protestant Cathedral, built in the early years of the 20th century, claims to be not only the world’s tallest cathedral, but to have the world’s highest nave and the world’s heaviest set of bells, the world’s biggest organ.…..)
The other virtue of rising with the dawn is that you have the wonderful St James Garden, deep in the disused quarry ‘moat’ which runs down the east side of the cathedral, almost entirely to your self apart from a couple of early morning dog walkers.
The garden was the burial ground for Liverpools’ great and good for much of the nineteenth century century and its’ steep sides are lined with many of their lichen-covered gravestones; others stand to attention in serried ranks like soldiers presenting arms.
A grand grassy ramp runs down the steep northern slope of the garden, down which Victorian funeral corteges would process. And at the bottom is a spring of ‘healing waters’ – although they can have done little for those about to be interred.
From the front of the cathedral you reach the garden through a gravestone-lined tunnel (To the memory of Joseph Purdie, died aged 17 months, 18th September 1867 and his sister, Amelia, died at 3 years of age on the 4th June 1868. And to Anne Purdey, wife of James Purdey above, who died in her 48th year on the 12th December 1884……) and it really does feel as though you are walking back in time…
My second early morning tramp took me to the hill opposite the Protestant Cathedral – where sits the Catholic cathdral, the extraordinary ‘crown of thorns’ designed by Sir Frederick Hibberd and spurred into existence by the redoubtale Cardinal Heenan in the 1960s – glowering at its Protestant rival down the other end of the appropriately named Hope Street.
When we were in Liverpool last year I had only had time for a quick gallop around the outside of the cathedral but this time I had more time to explore the totally circular interior (designed so that every single member of the congregation has equal access to the altar and the services), the small surrounding chapels (every one a different shape and design) and the spectacular stained glass. (Not to be outdone by the Prots on the other hill, the catholic cathedral claims to have more stained glass than any other cathedral in the world!)
The glass is truly spectacular and even on a dull day, as this was, it really glows. It is mainly blue with just the occasional tall thin slash of blood red. The chapels are all different in both shape and character – from sparse, modern and angular to this delightful family chapel where the painted light relief has actually been carved into the walls of the chapel.
Just to bring it all into perspective, the cathedral was built on the site of the former Liverpool Workhouse on Brownlow Hill (the image below comes from the cathedral’s history display). The workhouse covered 9 acres and was home, if you could call it home, to 4,000 of Liverpool’s poor, sick and orphans until it closed in 1928. Apparently the Prots from the other hill ‘strongly opposed’ the purchase of the site for the construction of the ‘rival’ RC cathedral!
Well, so much for the cathedrals – but do not think that we spent all our time spare time in Liverpool in church…. We have yet to cover (see blog number 3) the Stirling prize winning Everyman Theatre, the sadly crumbling Futurist cinema and the best tuna I have tasted in years at Il Forno…..