Lister Steps: Walking into the future? Part Two

Returning to Lister Drive and the possible future of its near derelict library building.

Lister Drive Library in 1912.

Lister Drive Library in 1912.

In Part One of our exploration of Lister Drive, between Old Swan and Tuebrook, we found that it once had three buildings by Liverpool’s most celebrated municipal architect, Thomas Shelmerdine, a library, a school and a swimming baths.

The swimming baths is still here but is now being used as an aquarium.

The swimming baths is still here but is now being used as an aquarium.

The school, seen here in 1949, is long gone.

The school, seen here in 1948, is long gone. (Thanks to blog reader Pak Chan for this photo from his collection.)

And where the school once stood are these portakabins.

And where the school once stood are these portakabins.

The home, for now, of popular local nursery and after school club, Lister Steps.

‘For now?’ Well yes, because the local community have begun organising themselves to save, renovate and move into the other Thomas Shelmerdine building.

The near Derelict Lister Drive Library.

The near Derelict Lister Drive Library.

And here in Part Two of our exploration we’re going to get inside the old library building to see and hear what the local community have planned.

Approaching it is like walking into a Secret Garden. On the corner of busy Green Lane, but nearly left behind by history.

Approaching it is like walking into a Secret Garden. On the corner of busy Green Lane, but nearly left behind by history.

Lister Drive Library was abandoned nearly ten years ago now. It’s condition being so bad that a librarian here had been injured by the building itself, the City Council closed the library in 2006. Intending at first to repair the building, they soon found the necessary works to be prohibitively expensive and so here the building has sat this past decade, quietly decaying in its secret garden.

Soon after it was closed thieves stripped most of the lead from its roof and caused, well, what we’re about to see.

Round the side of the building, meeting our two guides for the day.

Round the side of the building, meeting our two guides for the day, Jack and Kerry.

Jack Parr is from specialist contractors Robinsons Preservation Ltd, who have been taken on by Liverpool City Council to carry out emergency works to stop the Grade II listed building deteriorating any further. And with him is Kerry Massheder-Rigby, Heritage Development Officer for Lister Steps. Taken on by them to help pull together their bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore the building. (More details from the Community themselves here.)

We go inside.

We go inside.

Much has been done.

Much has been done.

And much is happening.

And much is happening.

Robinson only have another week's work to do.

Robinsons only have another week’s work to do.

Then the structure will be secure while the Lottery bid is done and matched funding found. But for now let’s have a look back at where we’re standing.

We've come inside the building that these men built in 1904/05.

We’ve come inside the building that these men built in 1904/05.

And we're now standing in the Gentlemen's Reading room, newspapers displayed along the right hand wall there.

And we’re now standing in the General Reading room, newspapers displayed along the right hand wall beneath the windows there. Only seem to be men in here.

Clearly the place was as much a peaceful place to come and read as it was to borrow books.

In fact it had three separate Reading Rooms here on the ground floor.

Gentlemen's, Boys and Girls and Ladies. It was a different time.

General, Boys and Ladies. It was a different time.

Notice too that ‘Ladies’ had their own separate entrance there on the right.

It was one of many public libraries throughout Britain and the rest of the world funded by Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. He would provide the money to build them on condition that the local authority would then take over the running of them.

Andrew Carnegie didn't come to the opening of this one.

Andrew Carnegie didn’t come to the opening of this one.

But the local great and good did.

But the local great and good did.

Including the Library's Architect, Thomas Shelmerdine.

Including the Library’s Architect, Thomas Shelmerdine.

We also still have the Catalogue from when the Library was opened.

We also still have the Catalogue from when the Library was opened.

Then over the years, as Liverpool itself expanded, the Library here ran mobile services to newly developing places.

Cantril Farm,

Cantril Farm, Leyfield Road and Hunts Cross.

Back to now, in the General Reading Room.

Repairing.

Repairing.

Retaining what's precious.

Retaining what’s precious.

Through to the other Reading Rooms.

Through to the other Reading Rooms.

Internal wood and doorways doing mostly fine.

Internal wood and doorways doing mostly fine.

As ever, Shelmerdine's beautiful windows.

As ever, Shelmerdine’s beautiful windows.

And tiles. At some point thoughtlessly painted over.

And tiles. At some point thoughtlessly painted over.

But shining

But shining

Everywhere there will be light.

Everywhere there will be light.

Up the stairs now.

Up the stairs now.

An ancient fireplace and bits of left behind past.

An ancient fireplace and bits of left behind past.

A place full of its own stories.

A place full of its own stories.

Closer to the roof, closer to the damage.

Closer to the roof, closer to the damage.

New temporary holding joists supporting rotted timbers for now.

New temporary holding joists supporting rotted timbers for now.

Jack and his torch show me the rotting timbers up in the eaves.

Jack and his torch show me the rotting timbers up in the eaves.

The roof is going to have to come off and be replaced when the full works are done.

Looking down from the balcony.

Looking down from the balcony.

The parquet floor will need repairing but it's mostly there.

The parquet floor will need repairing but it’s mostly there.

And up here are the bookshelves.

And up here are the bookshelves.

Steps and handles for the librarians to climb up.

Steps and handles for the librarians to climb up.

Close up of a step.

Close up of a step.

And here are some of Shelemerdine's laylights.

And here are some of Shelemerdine’s laylights.

Heavy metal and glass tiles for spreading daylight through the building.

Heavy metal and glass tiles for spreading daylight through the building.

The idea always was that this would be an inspiring place, a place where people would be encouraged to ‘look up’ from their lives. Now, when the money is raised and the works are done the local children and the local community will be able to do just that. Instead of being camped out in those portakabins.

Time to go down again. We take the stairs, not this temporary pulley!

Time to go down again. We take the stairs, not this temporary pulley!

And have a look around the outside of the building.

And have a look around the outside of the building.

The roof in a clearly bad state.

The roof in a clearly bad state.

And the nostalgic graffiti.

And the nostalgic graffiti.

‘Orange Juice’ were a rightly popular group from Glasgow, over 30 years ago. Hope their big hit ‘Rip it up and start again’ doesn’t apply here?

And here is the 'Ladie's Entrance'

And here is the ‘Ladie’s Entrance’

And the main entrance.

And the main entrance.

And yes, it's an Andrew Carnegie Library, with all the history that implies.

And yes, it’s an Andrew Carnegie Library, with all that history that implies.

So all the way around I’ve been trying to re-imagine it as something else. Is it right that it should be something other than a library?

Well, a long abandoned library and nearly a lost place altogether? Brought back to life for the children of the place? Where they will learn and play and read and tell their own stories of the lives they’re just beginning? And the rest of the local community will join them there in the writing and telling of stories, in the building and in the garden? A place for everyone to ‘look up’ from their lives and be inspired again?

I think the local people deserve this. I think the building deserves this. And I doubt that Andrew Carnegie or Thomas Shelmerdine would disagree.

So I’ll be back regularly now to see how things progress.

Much, much more on the thinking and details of all this at the Lister Steps website. and big thanks to Kerry Massheder-rigby of Lister Steps for showing me round and sending me  the historic photos, most of which originate from the Liverpool Records Office.

And see Part One for the background walk to all we discovered above. See also the Liverpool Echo who picked up and featured this post.

10 thoughts on “Lister Steps: Walking into the future? Part Two

  1. dragonsnapper13

    How fantastic to see that at last something positive is happening to this iconic library, I passed a few weeks ago taking my mum in law (86) on a nostalgia trip around her old haunts and I stopped here to try and take some images, to no avail as it was nigh impossible to see anything due to the undergrowth and the huge amounts of dumped ‘fly tip’. I really hope that this, and other, historical buildings are refurbished and bought back to life, I for one can’t wait to pass again on my next visit to Liverpool.I wish the venture all the very best of luck and will watch this development with pleasure.

    Reply
  2. Cathy Alderson

    Great to see this, Ronnie, but also very sad to see this magnificent building in such a parlous state.
    It was our local library and the “Boys’ Reading Room” became the children’s section, where we always took our daughter to satisfy her passion for books.
    I really look forward to being able to use this lovely building again.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Hi Cathy, glad to have been able to get in there and show you how things are going. It wasn’t in quite as parlous a state as I’d imagined, and it’s going to take a lot of effort to sort it. But I think they will.

      Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      They were different times Pak and women didn’t even have the vote. And even now in many parts of the world women are treated with something that’s badged up as honour and respect, but is of course control and domination. Frightening to see sexism done so blatantly in the form of a doorway round the back of the place.

      Reply
  3. Martin Greaney (@histliverpool)

    I feel like the word ‘library’ has such a wider range these days than just books (see for example Central Library, or any other modern one for that matter), so it feels like this new use is in keeping with the old, while moving with the times.

    Best of luck to the team, and I’m glad you’ll be keeping us posted, Ronnie!
    PS: I was a regular user of the “book bus” at its Leyfield Road/Blackpool Drive stop in the 80s. Fun to see it had been going decades by then!

    Reply

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