Liverpool in 1907

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Landscape painting showing aeriel scene of a port city with buildings, ships and clouds

Modern Liverpool 1907 by Walter Richards

I am particularly proud that Modern Liverpool 1907 (shown here) was acquired by Merseyside Maritime Museum last year as a result of my Maritime Tales column in the Liverpool Echo. The owner of this important oil painting rang me after I wrote about several historic views of Liverpool in our collections. He revealed that he had this large oil painting showing the city at the height of its Edwardian prosperity.

Ships of all sizes can be seen around the waterfront in this stunning aerial view of the bustling port. The city panorama was painted by Walter Richards as part of Liverpool’s 700th anniversary celebrations. There is a fascinating wealth of detail, particularly around the Pier Head, Prince’s Stage and nearby docks, some of which have long vanished.

A huge four-funnelled Cunard liner is moored alongside the Prince’s Stage. No name can be seen on the bows so it could be either the Mauretania or her doomed sister Lusitania, sunk by a German submarine in 1915. Many other ships can be seen, some from shipping lines identifiable by their funnels.

Three ferry boats, including a paddle steamer, are moored at the Pier Head while passengers come and go. In 1907 there were many more ferries than today, including services to New Brighton, Egremont, Rock Ferry, New Ferry, Seacombe, Birkenhead and Eastham. When the ferry service to Eastham ended in 1929, it marked the last use of paddle steamer ferries on the River Mersey.

Other ships depicted in the painting include tugs and tenders which assisted the big liners. Most of the vessels are steamers but there are a few sailing ships moored in the docks. Among the vanished docks depicted in Modern Liverpool 1907 is the George’s Dock standing between the Liver Building and the Port of Liverpool Building.

I recently went into the basement of the Cunard Building, which now stands on the site, to see a surviving section of the George’s Dock wall. I closely examined the huge sandstone blocks which are almost seamlessly mortared together. It was quite emotive for me because my Guy ancestors were living and working within sight of the dock when it was built. One was mariner Peter Guy, who was 35 in 1771. He worked as a tidesman – a customs officer who boarded merchant ships. For a time he was also employed as Liverpool’s postman or letter carrier – when only the rich and influential generally received letters.

Modern Liverpool 1907 is currently on show at the Walker Art Gallery in the 'Historic Liverpool Cityscapes' section of the Ben Johnson's Liverpool Cityscape 2008 and the World Panorama Series exhibition. The exhibition is open until 2 November.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1.50 p&p UK).