Classical Architecture in English Provincial Cities: Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle
Keywords: Classical style, Charles Edge, Grainger Market, William Brown Street, Cornelius Sherlock, Liverpool Free Public Library, Walker Art Gallery, John Weightman, St. George’s Hall, William Brown Library, Midland Bank, J.E. Dixon-Spain, Charles Reilly, Stripped Classicism, Charles Holden, Carliol House, School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Liverpool School of Architecture
The Classical style of architecture flourished during the Victorian period, but it figured differently in different provincial cities. Manchester, for example, was at the forefront of the Greek Revival, using the style for public buildings in the early nineteenth century. Manchester therefore had a Classical tradition comparable to that of Newcastle, although the city’s architecture became increasingly eclectic. In Birmingham, a new market hall was opened in 1834 to designs by Charles Edge. Resembling Newcastle’s Grainger Market, it had a Doric portico and was regarded as one of the finest market halls in England. However, there was no guiding hand to give Birmingham a singular architectural style, and Cherry concludes that Birmingham became ‘a city of bits and pieces’.
Liverpool had a Classical tradition that was enacted by Unitarian philanthropists. This group created a ‘Classical stage set’ for the city. William Brown Street boasts a concentration of cultural institutions, including the Walker Art Gallery (1874-7, designed by Sherlock and Vale), the Picton Reading Room (1875-9, by Cornelius Sherlock) and the Liverpool Free Public Library (1857-60, by John Weightman), later renamed the William Brown Library after the merchant and banker. All were designed in the Neo-Classical style, echoing the grandeur of St. George’s Hall. Defined by uniformly Classical buildings, this space embodied Liverpool’s civic consciousness. Like Newcastle, then, Liverpool used Classicism to manifest its civic values and to give an heroic expression of the city.
Viewed from the vantage point of the 1920s, it is apparent that Classicism was undergoing continuous reinterpretation in the early twentieth century. The Edwardian era had been dominated by the Baroque Grand Manner, but by the midpoint of Edward VII’s reign Baroque was beginning to fall from grace. This has been attributed to the development of steel frame construction, which made the animated plasticity of Baroque stonework seem untenable. Another factor was the emergence of new schools of architecture, which tended to endorse purer modes of Classicism. For these reasons, ‘All forms of classical architecture, other than the Baroque, suddenly seemed interesting to many architects.’
Numerous variations of Classicism occurred in the years leading to the First World War, and many of these continued to develop after 1918. Former Arts and Crafts practitioners created public and commercial buildings in a bold Classical style. For example, Sir Edwin Lutyens designed Nos. 67 and 68 Pall Mall (1928-30) and the Midland Bank in Manchester (1929), both remarkable for their geometric massing. Much neo-Georgian work was produced in the 1910s and 20s, manifested in Newcastle by the City Hall and Baths in Northumberland Road (1928, by C. Nicholas and J.E. Dixon-Spain). The neo-Georgian style appeared in domestic architecture as well as public buildings. A monumental civic Classicism became prominent in Liverpool, where Charles Reilly, director of the Liverpool School of Architecture, was a major proponent. As a port, Liverpool was receptive to transatlantic influence and became the chief conduit for American-style Classicism. In the 1920s and 30s Classicism was reduced to the severe, almost abstract form known as Stripped Classicism. Notable examples include the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (1926-8) by P. Morley Horder and V. Rees, and Senate House (1932-8) by Charles Holden. In Newcastle, Carliol House (1924-8) and the Magistrates Court, Police and Fire Station (1931-3) typify this new idiom; both resemble London’s interwar architecture. Thus, the Classical tradition continued, but was adapted in various ways for the new century. This helps to clarify the nature of Newcastle’s Classical tradition, revealing it as part of the long remarking of Classicism that occurred throughout the period and beyond.