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Secret Liverpool – An Unusual Guide
22nd November 2019
Secret Liverpool – An Unusual Guide by Mike Keating.
‘Written by local experts, our Secret Guides are intended both for local inhabitants and curious travellers.The places included in our guides are unusual and unfamiliar, allowing the reader to step off the beaten track. You will find in our books the places that other guides don’t mention, places that are secret and unknown.’
Your guide to hidden parts of Liverpool is proud Scouser Mike Keating. Born and educated in the city, he is a retired university lecturer and writer who has spent close to three years digging into the secrets that have found their way into this fascinating guide to ‘England’s finest Victorian city’. The result? A discovery ‘that things are not what they appear to be: objects and places we take for granted in our everyday lives reveal the surprising stories that shaped Liverpool’s shoreline, streetscape and skyline and the lives of its people.’
The book is split into four distinct physical areas: The Liverpool Waterfront; The Georgian Quarter; The Northend/Southport; The Southend/Wirral. In my first short visit to Liverpool, I only had time to scratch the surface, using the book to lead me around the Waterfront, and the author himself to show me some very secret – and unusual – places in the Georgian Quarter.
Here is but a flavour of the feast this book can offer ‘tourists and locals who have outgrown Hop on-Hop off bus excursions, river cruises and Beatles tours‘.
The Liverpool Waterfront
Most visitors to the city will come face to face with Andy Edwards’ bronze statue of the Fab Four at Pier Head, but thanks to Mike and ‘Secret Liverpool’ you’ll be looking for something very different to most camera-wielding tourists. John holds two acorns – cast from nuts found in Central Park, close to the Dakota Building where he lived – in his cupped hand, referring to John & Yoko’s ‘Acorns for Peace’ campaign in the late 1960s. A camera case slung over Paul’s shoulder is a nod to his photographer wife Linda. Hidden under Ringo’s boot, the L8 inscription references his birthplace in Toxteth. And the belt dangling behind George’s back is inscribed with Sanskrit verse from his Hare Krishna adherence.
During World War II, Liverpool was the most bombed city in the UK after London. Head to Rumford Street and buried deep below the pavements is a bombproof bunker, constructed with 3-foot thick walls and a 7-foot thick roof, and covering a total of 55,000 square feet. This was the Western Approaches HQ, masquerading as a restaurant but where 400 operators of radios, teleprinters and a telephone exchange formed Churchill’s Command Centre for the strategically critical Battle of the Atlantic. Virtually untouched since the end of the war, the bunker is now a fascinating Museum.
Mathew Street is the legendary home to the Cavern Club, where the Beatles and our Cilla rose to worldwide fame in the 60s. But pop round the corner to Harrington Street, look up a little and smile at the clay relief of a gorilla, holding a compact mirror and applying her lippy. Architect Dave Backhouse added this cheeky little motif as a sideswipe in the direction of Norman Foster, who had griped that public art in contemporary architecture was ‘like putting lipstick on the face of a gorilla’.
The Georgian Quarter
Ever wondered why Everton FC – the blue half of this passionate footballing city – are called ‘The Toffees’? Find your way to 108 London Road and wonder no more. For this is the site of Mother Noblett’s former toffee shop and cultural legend has it that when the club moved to Goodison Road, canny Ma Noblett coated her own toffees in mint candy and sold them as ‘Everton Mints’ to get round predecessor Molly Bushell’s toffee patent. And she even got permission from the club’s Directors to throw the ‘minted toffees’ into the crowd before kick-off.
Did you know that the fifth largest cathedral in the world is in Liverpool? To my shame, I certainly didn’t. Mike kindly refrained from asking me to close my mouth, as we wandered around the Anglican Cathedral on St. James Mount, gazing in awe at the sheer scale of its structure. Towering above the old quarry of Mount Sion, the Cathedral also contains many wonders within its vast walls, some of which you probably wouldn’t find without a copy of ‘Secret Liverpool’ to hand.
After wandering around Mike’s favourite garden, St. James Garden – wherein lie intriguing gravestones and the rare Ouroboros and Butterfly – we had worked up a thirst.
At Peter Kavanagh’s pub on Egerton Street, take a look at Eric Harald Macbeth Robertson’s murals as you sup your pint at this award-winning authentic hostelry. Walls in the front and back ‘snug’ rooms are daubed with scenes from Dickens and Hogarth, by the talented Scottish artist Robertson. ‘One of the most creative and brilliant young artists of his day’, he liked a drink and it may be popular myth, but it is said that the superb murals were painted in part payment of his gargantuan bar bill.
On Hardman Street, a coat of arms above The Fly in the Loaf pub indicates its forgotten past as the most prestigious bakery in Liverpool. And Mike explains in the book the legend behind the pub’s name.
Too many pints? Check out the famous Philharmonic Pub Urinals. Sorry, that may sound a little sexist, but ‘women can sneak an escorted peek too, by arrangement.’ Why? Because the ‘Phil’ is Britain’s most ornate pub, inside and out. Designed by Walter W. Thomas, the Gents was built for brewer Robert Cain, whose proclaimed purpose was to beautify his public houses, and challnge the prejudices of the Temperance movement: ‘if working men insist on spending their wages on drink, they should at least enjoy the benefits of a pseudo-classical culture. The Gents are no exception, adorned by the original Twyford’s Rouge Royale, five red marble urinals, three luxurious washbasins, a glinting mosaic floor and original gleaming brass fittings’.
These are just a handful of the 150 secret and unusual places and things to uncover in Liverpool. Thanks for being my personal guide to reveal such a fascinating few to this wide-eyed southerner, Mike.
Andrew for the TripFiction team
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