All is quiet on New Year’s Day

As I set out on the first run of 2013 there is hardly anybody about. I could have crossed and recrossed the Smithdown dual carriageway at the end of our road several times before the first car appeared. And all the way round the rest of the run, apart from a Dad and his two daughters with their new Christmas bikes and a couple of dog walkers in the park, I see no one.

Later I persuade Sarah out on  a walk. It’s cold, so it won’t be a long one.

Penny Lane...
Penny Lane…
On New Year's Day...
On New Year’s Day…
All is quiet.
All is quiet.

Then, passing the student halls close to Plot 44, we catch a glimpse of something tantalising.

Greenbank House.
Greenbank House.

I’ve been there, but Sarah hasn’t and has always wanted to have a proper look. All’s quiet, the students aren’t here, doesn’t look like there’s anyone around, the gate’s open…

We walk into the grounds.
We walk into the grounds.
And round the lake to Greenbank House.
And round the lake to Greenbank House.

Here’s what Liverpool University, who now own it, say about the house:

“The original Greenbank House was built in the early 18th century on part of the Toxteth Park estate, which was at the time outside the Liverpool city boundary. In 1788 the house and estate were leased by the Earl of Sefton to William Rathbone IV and his family as a country retreat. Upon William’s death in 1809 the property was sold to his widow Hannah Mary, who carried out substantial alterations to the buildings in accordance with her husband’s wishes. A large part of the house was re-built as a villa in the ‘Strawberry Hill’ Gothic style, incorporating a fine cast-iron screen on the south face to form a verandah with a sheltered balcony above. The screen was manufactured at the Coalbrookdale iron works in Shropshire.

Greenbank was initially the Rathbone’s summer home but eventually became central to their family life and it was here that they extended their hospitality to numerous public figures including American artist and ornithologist John James Audubon.

Several generations of Rathbones lived at Greenbank, the last of which were Mr Hugh & Mrs Emily Rathbone, daughter of William Rathbone VI. Mr Hugh Rathbone was closely involved with the University of Liverpool and towards the end of their lives the couple donated parts of the Greenbank estate for use as student accommodation. Derby Hall was built on part of this land and opened in 1939. Hugh Rathbone died in 1940 and Greenbank House remained the Rathbone family home until 1944 when the house and gardens were given to the University by his widow and children, in accordance with his wishes. Greenbank House became an annexe to Derby Hall but was converted in the early 1960s for use as a club house for staff and students.

On 29 July 2001 English Heritage placed a blue plaque on Greenbank House:

Blue Plaque

Well that’s all pretty impressive and we’re clearly looking at a significant piece of history here. But what did these two Rathbones who were ‘social reformers do?

William Rathbone was a colleague and close friend of Florence Nightingale, and created the world’s first system of district nursing. He was also one of the principal founders of Liverpool University.

imagesHis daughter Eleanor Rathbone? Well, where do you start? She was a leading suffragette and negotiated the terms of women’s inclusion in the 1918 Representation of the People Act, she was councillor for Granby for 25 years, was responsible for setting up the Liverpool Personal Service Society, was an early anti-Nazi campaigner and  pioneered Family Allowances paid directly to women. And that’s the briefest of summaries. An astonishing woman.

And the only time I’ve actually been inside Greenbank House was when I organised a meeting for the board of Liverpool Housing Trust there in the late 1980s. Margaret Simey, herself an astonishing woman, who was on the board then, turned to me and said ‘Do you know, the last time I was in this house I was having tea with Eleanor Rathbone.’

Sometimes we are standing right next to history.

Though now, the house seems sadly unused.
Though now, the house seems sadly unused.
But here's the lovely cast iron screen that was added to the house in 1809.
But here’s the lovely cast iron screen that was added to the house in 1809.
And later influenced architecture in the United States, thin New Orleans and Charleston.
And later influenced architecture in the United States, think New Orleans and Charleston.
Also Australia and New Zealand.
Also Australia and New Zealand.
Just wonderful.
Just wonderful.

And when the house was renovated in the 1960s, the architect responsible was Quentin Hughes. Not only the author of two of my favourite books about Liverpool, Seaport and Liverpool, city of architecture, but also a colleague and friend of Sarah’s dad, Frank Horton, at Liverpool University. And when the children were young, the Hortons would borrow Quentin’s holiday home at Criccieth in North Wales for the family’s summer holiday.

Eleven year old Sarah in the garden at Criccieth.
Eleven year old Sarah in the garden at Criccieth.
And today, outside the house Quentin Hughes restored in 1964.
And today, outside the house Quentin Hughes restored in 1964.
The gardens.
The gardens.
Looking to the west and the low New Year's Day sun.
Looking to the west and the low New Year’s Day sun.
These days the grounds of Greenbank House contain several University halls of residence.
These days the grounds of Greenbank House contain several University halls of residence.
And a small lake.
And a small lake.
But leaving the house behind us...
But leaving the house behind us…

We cross the road and enter somewhere else that was once part of the grounds of Greenbank House, when it was in the countryside, outside of Liverpool.

Greenbank Park.
Greenbank Park.

Bought from the Rathbones for £13,000 in 1897, on the understanding that ‘the corporation  maintain this land as open space or recreation ground for the general public’. Which, as you see, they have.

And splendidly too.
And splendidly too.
Walking home now, Sarah says 'How do they avoid colliding?'
Walking home now, Sarah says ‘How do they avoid colliding?’
Crossing Smithdown, all still quiet.
Crossing Smithdown, all still quiet.

And in case it’s nagging at you, the song of this post’s title? By U2.

6 Replies to “All is quiet on New Year’s Day”

  1. Wonderful post again, Ronnie. That Greenbank House is just about the most beautiful in Liverpool. I recall an intoxicated party one summer’s night on the lawn outside the house when I was a student at the Uni. BTW – I know you love everything Liverpool & The Beatles, so take a look at this wonderful piece, writtten by a guy who regularly comments on my blog; I think you’ll like it: http://underthegazeofeternitydotcom.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/for-each-december/

    1. Lucky you. Don’t know how I managed to be at Liverpool University for 3 years and only ever see the joyless inside of the 1970s Eleanor Rathbone building, rather than her actual house.

      And thanks for the link. I must go and find Julia’s grave myself on one of these walks.

  2. This is a wonderful piece. The house with that superb cast iron verandah is quite out of this world. And yes there is a lot of cast iron work in Australia – mostly in the Eastern states. Full marks to the Rathbones for building such a beautiful structure. I’m wondering if the verandah is unusual in terms of English domestic architecture ? Such a pity that the house has an air of neglect, really it deserves to be used with respect. How interesting that Sarah has a link with the 1964 restoration (I can see her in that attractive 11 year old). Lovely photographs of the grounds and surrounds such an interesting account.

    1. In my experience that verandah is very unusual around here. Though, as you say, it was much copied elsewhere.

      And we’ll be returning to Greenbank House again soon, as I’m reading a fascinating book about Liverpool Abolitionist William Roscoe, and it contains reports of him visiting the house, being a friend of the Rathbones, and there’s even a lovely contemporary illustration of the house from the early 19th Century, just after the verandah was added. Coming up here soon.

  3. Wonderful Ronnie! Isn’t life incredible? 6 degrees of separation and all that with those links through Sarah’s family to local architecturally significant places. You really make history fun and meaningful!

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s