Foundations of Cunard building, dated 28 July 1913. Credit: Courtesy of National Museums Liverpool (Merseyside Maritime Museum)
On Saturday 2 July 2016, Cunard is celebrating the centenary of its former Liverpool headquarters – the iconic Cunard Building on the city's world famous waterfront. Did you know that in our Maritime and Archives Library, we have some very rare images of the building under construction 100 years ago? Anne Gleave, Curator of Photographic Collections, Merseyside Maritime Museum tells us more:
The four photographic prints show the progress of the construction of the Cunard Building.
They were taken by the former Liverpool based firm of Stewart Bale Ltd, who were commercial, industrial and shipping photographers from around 1911 to 1982.
The photos are all stamped and dated, and are held in our Maritime Archives and Library, as part of our wider Stewart Bale collection. This provides, amongst other things, an excellent social and commercial history record, primarily of Liverpool and the North West - but also nationally, due to Bale’s extensive client base, making it a collection of national relevance and importance.
Early Cunard building progress of the lower storeys dated 4 September, 1914. Credit: Courtesy of National Museums Liverpool (Merseyside Maritime Museum)
The firm of Stewart Bale was often commissioned to produce ‘progress’ photography; as the name suggests, this involved photographs being taken at regular intervals of time to create a visual record of construction progress, as with the Cunard Building, from the foundations to completion. The Stewart Bale order books record that the photographs were commissioned by the well known construction firm of Cubitts (Holland, Hannen & Cubitts). We know from the original documentation that there were at least 76 images taken for this project but only these four prints from a recent donation exist in our collection.
The architects of the Cunard Building were the Liverpool based firm of Willink & Thicknesse along with Mewes & Davis who had made a design submission prior to Willink & Thicknesse’s appointment, close to the form of the completed building.
These photographs were generously donated to our collections in September 2015 by Colin Powell, a former employee of the architectural practice of Gilling Dod (successors to Willink & Thicknesse). Mr Powell rescued the prints when the firm relocated from the Cunard Building to other premises. We are extremely appreciative of this significant gift.
These photographs are significant on many levels.
The Cunard Building is one of Liverpool’s three iconic waterfront buildings, the last to be constructed, it was completed in 1916 and filled the earlier gap between the then Mersey Docks & Harbour Board headquarters and the Royal Liver Building, all of which were built on the former George's Dock site. These three structures, close to and parallel to the River Mersey, visibly manifest Liverpool's assured position as a wealthy maritime power built on commercial enterprise and its status as a major transatlantic port.
Advanced building progress to the top storey, dated 2 June 1915. Credit: Courtesy of National Museums Liverpool (Merseyside Maritime Museum)
The Cunard Building housed the headquarters of one of Liverpool's most prominent and long standing shipping companies, the Cunard Line, which also included a passenger terminal. The Cunard Building’s prominent location at the Pier Head alongside the Royal Liver and Mersey Docks & Harbour Board buildings, close to the Liverpool Landing Stage, meant that it was part of the trio of iconic forms clearly visible from across the Mersey and at the approach to the Liverpool Landing Stage by the huge influx of people who arrived at or departed from the city by ship.
Therefore these four images of the construction of the last of the group to be built record an important aspect of Liverpool's history in the making by documenting the changing landscape of this iconic location and contextualizing the period in which it occurred. In particular the 1915 image, which features building progress to the top storey, also features World War I forces recruitment posters pasted to the hoardings around the base of the building; a noteworthy historical reference to the time when the building was constructed and a further glimpse into the Liverpool of WWI.
The building is of architectural consequence; it is broadly Italian Renaissance in style and clad in Portland stone and has been recognized as part of Liverpool’s UNESCO designated World Heritage Maritime Mercantile City, which makes the images that we have recently acquired even more valuable as they both detail and site historically the Cunard Building's construction.
Last but not least we believe that the earliest image of the four Cunard Building photographs, dated 1913 is actually the oldest image within the Bale collection; this makes this donation of major importance.
Reproductions of two of the four images (the 1913 & 1914) were displayed in our recent ‘On the Waterfront’ exhibition. This has now ended, but the original photographs are still accessible by appointment at our reserve North Street store; please contact us for an appointment.
Cunard building virtually completed, dated 8 August, 1916. Credit: Courtesy of National Museums Liverpool (Merseyside Maritime Museum)