Liverpool's 3 Graces - A Brief History

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Liverpool is a much undervalued and little talked about city and sea port. At the beginning of what is often called the ‘naughties’, (2000 – 2009), UNESCO named this city a World Heritage Site, and that is of no small significance.

Among the many historical buildings is the world famous Liverpool Waterfront, and dominating this, or as some prefer, keeping guard, are the Three Graces.

It is assumed this group of buildings are named after the mythological Greek ‘Three Graces’, who were the goddesses of charm, beauty and creativity.

Going back to the beginning, St Georges Dock was built in the late1770s, the third port to be built in Liverpool, but as ships became bigger this dock proved too small to be useful and was more or less retired. By the 1900s this had been filled in and the Three Graces stand on that infill. Today these three iconic buildings on the Waterfront define Liverpool’s skyline, as well as the Pier Head area, but there is more to them than that.

The Port of Liverpool Building (1903-07) was put out to tender and Briggs, Wolstenholme, Hobbs and Thornely won the chance to create this structure. Originally this rectangular building, destined to be the headquarters  of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, had eight octagonal towers, yet the board felt it needed something more to make it stand out. That was why a dome, originally planned for a Catholic Cathedral which was never built, was added.

Just before its hundredth birthday in 2009, a £10m restoration project was started on The Port of Liverpool Building. This lasted three years, and the idea was to bring back to life all the unique features and give it back its original glory. It now stands proud, and clean, on the waterfront showing visitors just how important Liverpool is.

The Royal Liver Building, started in 1908 and finished in 1911, was the tallest building in Europe when it was completed, at the impressive height of ninety meters. It also boasts the biggest clock face in England, and yes it is bigger than Big Ben’s. The designer Walter Aubrey Thomas topped the Royal Liver Building with a copper dome and added mythical Copper Liver Birds crowning each tower.

During WWII there were fears for the two liver birds. Legend has it that one bird looks watches over the city to protect the inhabitants, while the other looks out to sea for incoming ships. The myth surrounding these important birds also states, and here was the problem, that if one bird should fly away, Liverpool would be no more.

Although the Blitz on Liverpool caused severe damage around the Three Graces, they all survived, and the bird remained in their nests.

The Cunard Building (1914-16) was designed by Willinck & Thicknesse, along with the help of Arthur J. Davis. This edifice is said to be inspired by the grand Italian palazzos along the waterfront in Venice. This simple looking, squat building is deceiving. Inside are grand wood-panelled rooms, Corinthian columns and even marble-lined toilets, (although quite why someone thought it useful to line such an item with marble remains a mystery). The overall idea for inside the Cunard Building, apparently, was to make this feel as if you were on one of Cunard’s grand liners, hence the elegant columns and panelling.

The Cunard Building provided refuge as a Second World War air-raid shelter, and being on the docks, it was an ideal location to keep ship building blueprints.

Recently restoration was carried out on the roof and in the basement, two areas found to be in need of repair.

The Pier Head, where the Three Graces, well… grace, is part of Liverpool’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a trip to Liverpool isn’t complete without a walk along the spectacular waterfront to admire the Three Graces. After all they are the goddesses of charm, beauty and creativity.

Words by Connor Maxwell

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LifestyleTim Byrne