The view from Grand Central

Today’s post appearing here and also as a guest post on SevenStreets.

Following last week’s worrying news that the owners of Renshaw Street’s Grand Central Hall, the O’Brien Group, have submitted a planning application “To change use to create 41 bed student accommodation on 1st, 2nd and 3rd floors” rumours of the demise of the building’s shops and workshop spaces have been calmed.Grand Central01

Martin Womack, co-owner of the ‘Hippy Hole’ at Grand Central tells me:

“We’ve had discussions now with the O’Brien Group, and they’ve made it clear that the planning permission they’re seeking is mainly about the upper floors of the building. The ground floor and basement, where most of the shops are, will not be affected by the plans and on the first floor the plans are for an area that’s currently offices, not the shops. So we feel mostly ok now.

Obviously we know things can change in the future, but equally we’re all supportive of the fact that something’s got to be done about the upper floors and the fabric of the building, which are in dire need of help.”

So, fears generally calmed then. Though feelings left a little bruised by the fact that the owners, who people generally seem to get on with, left them to find out about the planning application through SevenStreets, rather than tell them directly. Another shop and workshop owner complains:

“Even in this one week I’ve had schools ringing me about whether we’ll now be going ahead with projects we’ve got planned for their pupils? You know, worries like that are not good for business.”

Which, along with downright curiosity, is one of the reasons I’m here. To get an inside view of what’s happening at Grand Central and to have a serious nose around the historic building, with my hosts Martin and his partner Jen Womack, from the Hippy Hole.Grand Central02

Jen and Martin

Jen and Martin

Central Hall (it acquired the ‘Grand’ along the way) was built in 1905 as a Methodist Church, replacing a previous Methodist Church which had stood on the site since 1790, one of its congregation back then being William Roscoe. Being so large, the art nouveau Hall was used for multiple purposes right from the start. Variously a cinema and also a temporary home for the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, after the original Philharmonic Hall burned down in the 1930s.

An early postcard, in the days of trams.

An early postcard, in the days of trams.

Changing times.

Changing times.

The Methodist Church finally sold the building in 1990 and a few years later parts of it were renovated, becoming the Barcelona Bar, our very own bit of downtown Barcelona. That didn’t last long though and soon Renshaw Street was emptying out, the whole Rapid Hardware side becoming vacant as the Liverpool One shuffle of retailers broke out and the town centre moved itself closer to the river. Leaving space, though, for new and independent life to arrive at, by now, Grand Central Hall, as many of the former Quiggins tenants started arriving here as Quiggins on School Lane was closed down for Liverpool One

And here they still are, with clothes, piercing, gaming, vintage, vinyl and couture shops joined by newer arrivals like tie-dye Hippy Hole. Thirty and more shops and workshops trading in a colourful bazaar that’s some kind of imitation of or homage to the great architect Antoni Gaudi of, yes, Barcelona. Well, his ‘Sagrada Familia’ or ‘Parc Guell’ this certainly isn’t. But looking up at its colourful carved ceilings (‘All inspired by the four elements’ Martin tells me) and down into the twinkling shops which seem to have tumbled from the balconies and stairs above, there is certainly nothing else like it in Liverpool.Grand Central04 Grand Central05 Grand Central06 Grand Central07 Grand Central08 Grand Central09 Grand Central10

The place also contains a large theatre, Roscoe Hall, soon to stage ‘Elvis!’ A performance space where, not too long ago, Jen and Martin had their wedding. They love this place.dome 2

475497_373943152655101_87670607_oBut Jen and Martin have never been on its roof, which is where ‘H’ the building’s friendly ‘security’ agrees to take us. Wonderful it is too. With views over to nearby Bold Street none of us have ever seen before. But also worrying. Because it’s in a terrible state. Well established buddleia forcing apart the bricks and dome-work, leaving none of us in any doubt that considerable restoration needs to be carried out up here as soon as anyone likes, to preserve the place.

'H' looks over to Bold Street.

‘H’ looks over to Bold Street.

It's that close, this is the Bold Street Oxfam building. I worked here in the 1980s when it was Liverpool Housing Trust.

It’s that close, this is the Bold Street Oxfam building. I worked here in the 1980s when it was Liverpool Housing Trust.

Across the rooves of the city.

Across the rooves of the city.

Familiar places from unfamiliar angles.

Familiar places from unfamiliar angles.

Jen and Martin have never been up here either.

Jen and Martin have never been up here either.

This is the balcony we're standing on.

This is the balcony we’re standing on.

But the plants are in the mortar.

But the plants are in the mortar.

It's in urgent need of restoration.

It’s in urgent need of restoration.

And none of us would risk that ladder to the top dome, not even 'H'

And none of us would risk that ladder to the top dome, not even ‘H’

Jen kneels on the edge of the roof to capture something sacred.

Jen kneels on the edge of the roof to capture something sacred.

The Roscoe Memorial, set in its cross. He was born here in Mount Pleasant and now sits in front of the city's ugliest car park.

The Roscoe Memorial, set in its cross. He was born here in Mount Pleasant and now sits in front of the city’s ugliest car park.

One more picture...

One more picture…

And it's time to go down.

And it’s time to go down.

Where the rooms are a mess.

Where the rooms are a mess.

But full of dreams...

But full of dreams…

And possibilities.

And possibilities.

Couldn't there be more trading and creativity, rather than still more student flats?

Couldn’t there be more trading and creativity, rather than still more student flats?

So should the works that obviously need doing to preserve the building include adding to the city’s student housing stock on these upper floors?

As we walk down through the warren of oddly shaped rooms, exploring the third and second and first floors, two words are on all of our lips: ‘Affleck’s Palace.’ This is easily big enough and interesting enough to be our version of the great Manchester emporium. The Liverpool Palace, down on Slater Street might be long gone, but in here could there perhaps be an even bigger bazaar than now? Full of more shops, more art, more Liverpool creative types? Just a thought. Something, anyway, more fitting with the spirit of the place than yet more student flats.

Still, even as it is the place is a marvel and well worth crossing the road from Bold Street to see. And while you’re this side, have a look at what else is here. The Olive Tree for all things Moroccan; 69A for antiques, curios and buried treasure; And, of course 81 Renshaw for your hunger, thirst and a good sit down after all that shopping.Grand Central29 Grand Central30 Grand Central31

So do come and explore Grand Central Hall. In an age of increasing corporate blandness, such a one-off wonder full of independent enterprises is a treasure. Let’s treasure it then. A market place, a bazaar in fact, that enriches all of our Liverpool lives. Long may it continue.

Thanks for the hospitality, the historical photos and for showing me round. Chloe, Martin and Jen of the Hippy Hole.

Thanks for the hospitality, the historical photos and for showing me round. Chloe, Martin and Jen of the Hippy Hole.

7 thoughts on “The view from Grand Central

  1. stan cotter

    Hi Ronnie, I love this one mate, I used to work across the road from there in Robert Kellys tool shop on the corner of Newington. Another branch across the road and a workshop in Newington. At the side of Renshaw Hall you can see THE BEE bikes shop, that dept was for scooters and motor bikes etc and in renshaw street they had a bike shop where my first bike came from. I remember the Garlick Burrel & Edwards car showroom being on the ground floor of that building.

    Also, inside Robert Kelly himself had his office and his accounts dept. And the last words I can remember him saying there were ‘We are sorry but will have to let you go. You have no interest in the job.’ And me a 16yr old tying parcels up with corrugated cardboard and string all day, he was right there i had no interest at all!

    But youve dug up a lot of memories here, thank you for that.

    Reply
  2. Jan Hasak

    Grand Central is divine, simply divine. May they never tear it down or convert it all to flats. It’s a treasure worth renovating to a grandeur that surpasses our imagination. Would love to go to the Hippy Hole…great memories.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      It’s a lovely building Jan and well worth a top quality restoration. Whether it will get one in straitened economic times is of course another thing. For now, I think, being water-tight would represent great progress.

      Reply
  3. Michele Carrington

    Discovered this fabulous building today quite by chance as we wandered around waiting for our daughter who was having an interview at Liverpool John Moore’s University. It is obviously in a state of disrepair, but may it never be drastically altered as it’s a real art nouveau gem. It needs totally restoring and turning into something like a boho arts centre with independently owned shops. Wonderful; but then Liverpool is blessed with many, many architecturally interesting and fabulous building – I love looking up whenever I visit the city as there’s always something fascinating and interesting on the buildings to see!

    Reply

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