Throughout this year there is an impressive series of events across the city to celebrate 300 years of one of Liverpool’s most cherished (and oldest) buildings, Bluecoat.
Today Bluecoat is a thriving centre for artists, art seekers, coffee drinkers and shoppers, but back in the 1700s it began life as an institution known as the Blue Coat Hospital. It was founded as a charity school for teaching poor children to read and write, later becoming a boarding school providing meals, clothes and accommodation. Brian Blundell established the school with help from Reverend Robert Syth, (the rector of Liverpool) in 1708. Construction on the building started in 1717 and it opened in 1718. However the building was not really finished until 1725 when it was completed with funds raised by Bryan Blundell and donations from the good people of Liverpool. The Liverpool Blue Coat Hospital played a vital role in the city at a time when living conditions were inadequate and the death rate was high, particularly amongst children.
After 200 years the Hospital (or school as it came to be known) outgrew its building and in 1906 moved to larger premises in Wavertree. In 1907 a group of painters and sculptors moved into the city centre building, beginning Bluecoat’s life as an arts centre.
Bluecoat girl's uniform
At the Museum of Liverpool we have some fascinating items in our collections relating to Bluecoat. Some, from its time as a school, are on display in our ‘Timeline’. The school's uniform changed little between 1709 and 1948. The girl's uniform consisted of a cloak with a hood, a tippet (a scarf-like narrow piece of clothing, worn over the shoulders), a petticoat, stockings, a navy blue woollen dress with pleated skirt and a bonnet.
During Bluecoat’s 300 years it has endured many struggles and has faced and overcome a series of financial troubles and neglect. One of the worst periods was during the Second World War when the building was bombed during the May Blitz of 1941. Parts of the building were set on fire by an incendiary bomb and unfortunately strong winds at the time intensified the fire causing significant damage. Restoration of the building started in 1951 and it was designated Grade I status, 28 June 1952. However it was not until 1958 that the building was fully restored to its former glory. My colleague Anne Gleave has very kindly searched our photographic archive to find this image taken in June 1945 showing the damage.
Bomb damage to Bluecoat during Second World War
You can see that the tower is missing, the clock is damaged and there is broken glass and structural damage to the left wing.
From the 1960s onwards Bluecoat established itself as a cornerstone of the Liverpool artistic scene. This leaflet in our collections showcases the cutting edge talent displayed at Bluecoat during this time. ‘The Bluecoat Gallery’ was formally established in 1968 and exhibited work by contemporary artists. It developed a unique exhibition programme featuring local and international artists and included several different art forms including music, dance, literature and live art.
In the 1960s Bluecoat's reputation for being a home for the avant garde grew.
In 2008, during the Liverpool Capital of Culture year, a £12.5m renovation of Bluecoat took place with the new building re-opening on 15 March 2008. This successful renovation secured the building for future generations.
I recently met with Gavin Davenport, (Project Manager) from Bluecoat who told me about a really interesting project he was working on called ‘My Bluecoat‘ which is encouraging people to share stories, memories, facts and images of Bluecoat online using the hashtag #mybluecoat – watch this space to see some of Museum of Liverpool’s collections featured on twitter using this hashtag. You can find out more about this project here.