During our recent visit to Liverpool for the Genesis concert my husband wanted to go to The Walker Gallery while I wanted to see inside the Central Library. The weather was wet and blustery when we set off so we travelled on Merseyrail from James Street Station, underneath our hotel (The Heeton Concept) to Liverpool Lime Street; the return ticket cost only £2.40 each, which I thought was a bargain. We soon found William Brown Street, home to the World Museum, Central Library, Walker Art Gallery, Steble Fountain, Wellington Column, St George’s Hall and County Sessions House , all in Victorian neo-classical style and all listed. This area is called the Cultural Quarter or St George’s Quarter.
THE WALKER ART GALLERY
There is no charge to enter the Walker Gallery although donations of £5 or more are suggested. We could have left our bags in lockers but the gallery staff said we could carry them round with us if we were careful. The interior of the building is impressive and we climbed the staircase to the first floor to start our tour. We already knew that the medieval, renaissance and baroque displays are closed to visitors until Autumn 2022 as the galleries are undergoing major refurbishment which was a disappointment for my husband. We could have paid to see a special exhibition of the work of Sickert but I think we should have pre-booked tickets so we just walked through all the remaining galleries on that floor. A group of primary school children soon caught up, overtook us and left to get back to school for lunch, having being given tasks of finding a particular painting in each of the galleries as they swept through – rather reminiscent of ticking off finds on a National Trust children’s treasure hunt sheet. There is a fine selection of paintings in the Walker Gallery, one of the largest collections in the UK outside London, and I saw many there that I knew about but hadn’t realised they were in the Walker Gallery.
I was soon in need of a drink and snack so we went downstairs to the cafe behind the shop in the reception hall. Although my husband only wanted a coffee and piece of cake I decided I’d like to try a bowl of Scouse, as I’d never eaten it before and it seemed a good idea on such a cold and wet day. I was glad I did as it was really delicious and I think it only cost £6.75; it was served with a sourdough roll and a small dish of pickled red cabbage. While we were eating we noticed a door leading to a Liverpool Crafts and Design gallery so when we had finished our lunch we had a look there and I enjoyed that gallery most of all. There were glass cases filled with mainly contemporary and beautiful ceramics, woodwork etc. from local studios. The theme continued, but going back through time, showcasing crafts and locally produced items of decorative art, all displayed in glass cabinets or arranged in drawers beneath. We skipped the sculpture gallery as I needed to find a gift to take home so went to the museum shop for some retail therapy; there was a good selection, much better than I’d seen in any of the shops I’d had time to go in.
THE CENTRAL LIBRARY AND PICTON READING ROOM
I’d wanted to see inside the Central Library since stopping outside it on a Liverpool City open top bus tour a few years ago. Sandwiched between the World Museum and the Walker Art Gallery the facades of the Library and Picton Reading Room are in the same style as the other buildings in William Brown Street. The building where the Library is housed was badly damaged in WW2 and the post-war refurbishment/replacement was dark with low ceilings so work was carried out between 2010 and 2013 and the result is very striking. There is now a beautifully shaped central atrium with glass structure at rooftop level, built to mirror the dome on the adjacent Picton Reading Room. An escalator links the ground floor with the open plan 1st floor and glass sided staircases continue to the top floor, criss-crossing the vast space; there are also lifts. All the floors are open plan and in addition to the thousands of books there’s an archive of maps, newspapers and other records, free wifi, 160 computers and a games area. We also found glass cases containing 1960’s music artefacts, including Beatles memorablia. At the very top there is a roof terrace but this was not accessible when we were there (probably due to Covid!); apparently the views of Liverpool from the terrace are amazing.
A door from the 1st floor leads into the equally beautiful, but very different, 1879 circular Picton Reading Room which has been refurbished to a high standard: this was the first public library to be lit using electriciy. Climbing the iron spiral stairs to a gallery I then walked around the circumferance of the room lined with shelves of reference books and looked down at the people below who were sitting at polished wooden tables with reference books and computers. The sunlight coming through a glass skylight in the dome cast patterns on the curved ceiling, adding to the already beautiful scene. There is a higher second gallery of books but this is not open to the public.
Unfortunately I didn’t have time to see the adjoining Hornby Library or Oak Room with their collections of rare books but my husband, who spent all day in these adjacent buildings had a brief look and said they were also beautiful and thought the residents of Liverpool are very lucky to have such wonderful resources at their disposal. He was not so keen on the World Museum which, with its interactive displays, he thought was aimed more at youngsters.