In Liverpool – The Museum Of Liverpool

Although I was ostensibly in Liverpool to attend the Rathole Radio Roadshow at Leaf on Bold St, I took time out to visit the new Museum of Liverpool, out on Liverpool’s Pier Head next to the Albert Dock. This rather controversial building (the largest purpose-built museum in the UK to open for more than a century) was due to open in 2008 but because of various legal wrangles didn’t actually open its doors until  July of last year.

Love or hate its exterior, what you’ll find inside is a depiction of the life of Liverpool and Liverpudlians from its earliest days as a 13th century settlement up to the modern era. On the ground floor, the major feature is ‘Global City’ which looks at the effect that being a major sea port had on the city and its population. Much of the space is dedicated to colourful displays which examine the formation of Liverpool’s large Chinese community, which began in the 1870s with the arrival of Chinese immigrants from Shanghai (and which Liverpool has been twinned with since 1999). The ‘Great Port’ area of the museum shows off the history of Liverpool’s working docks, and even includes a steam engine, the fully restored ‘Lion’, which started its life hauling luggage back and forth along  the quaysides.

Take the gently spiralling central staircase to the first floor and you’ll find several pieces of Liverpool’s curious overhead railway. Built in 1893 and stretching seven miles along the riverside, although it was used by many dockworkers it was also sold as a tourist attraction to visitors to the city – one can only imagine what passengers travelling along the route thought of the mile after mile of noisy, bustling docks! Amongst the artifacts is a restored engine and passenger carriage, as well as signage extoling the virtues of one of Britain’s first electric railways. In keeping with every large City museum the country over, the first floor also contains an area dedicated to Liverpool’s war dead  from the major conflicts of the twentieth century. Military memorabilia and audio-visual displays tell the stories of ordinary Liverpudlian men who went to war…

On the top floor of the museum, Liverpool’s iconic themes are dealt with – pop music, football and the city’s modern history. The ‘Wondrous Place’ gallery examines the tensions between the city’s three main football teams while also celebrating the Beatles through music and memorabilia, and which includes some very rare items including the John and Yoko bedspread. There’s also a Beatles documentary that runs throughout the day – you can grab free tickets for this from the ground floor reception. On the other side of the second floor in the ‘People’s Republic’, subjects as diverse as tourism, religion and politics are covered – you’ll discover Sir Edwin Lutyen’s plans for an absolutely monumental Catholic cathedral that would have rivalled St Pauls in size if it had ever been built, a full-size reproduction of one of the birds that stand on top of the Liver Building just down the street and many objects representing Liverpool’s fractious political scene over the decades.

I’m not sure whether the Museum of Liverpool is worth the £72m it cost to build, but a visit will certainly furnish you with a great deal more information about the city than you arrived with. I’d suggest setting aside an afternoon to see it all. Highlights for me included the beautiful tapestries on the walls of the second floor lobby that celebrate’s Liverpool’s year as ‘Capital of Culture’ in 2008, the cheeky seaside sculpture on the second floor, and the ‘superlambananas’ which stand in the ground floor lobby and just outside  the main entrance. These started a craze of public sculpture that most recently saw eggs deposited across London as part of the Faberge Big Egg Hunt…

About Pete Stean

Pete Stean is a London-based writer and photographer. He can also be found on Twitter and on Google Plus.

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