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Hidden Gems Feature: Spaces of The Liver Sketching Club Since 1872

Spaces of The Liver Sketching Club Since 1872

Words by David Brown
Article Originally published in Hidden Gems

The Liver Sketching Club was founded on 11 May 1872. The passage of time may have dulled our appreciation of just how long ago this was; Charles Dickens had died just two years earlier, the club was formed only seven years after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and, in the USA, the Jesse James gang was still active (they robbed a bank in Kentucky a month before the club was founded). During the past 144 years, the club has been based in many locations around Liverpool. The meeting at which the club was founded was held in the Committee Room at St Augustine’s School, Salisbury Street, as were the initial meetings. The school was close to Liverpool Collegiate where the founders, the art teacher Samuel Burkinshaw, and ten of his students, met.

In December 1875, the club relocated to The Palatine Dining Rooms, Cable Street. Some reports show it as the Palatine Restaurant and others as the Palatine Hotel. Cable Street no longer exists following the bombing in the 1940s. By 1879, the club had moved to Pool Buildings, South Castle Street. Until then, members had met to offer constructive criticism of each other’s work, listen to lectures and discuss the business of the club, but this move was significant because it gave them rooms in which they could meet, work and hold exhibitions.

The next move was to the top floor of the warehouse of a fruit merchant at 22 Williamson Street. Josh Fisher wrote about his early days as a club member, “I remember the first model class I attended. This took place in Williamson Street in the top room of a fruit warehouse where we had to struggle our way up a flight of stone steps with boxes of oranges and barrels of apples on every step. The walls were lime-washed and heavy wooden beams supported the roof.” This part of Williamson Street was destroyed in the war. In 1880, the club moved to nearby Cuthbert’s Building, Clayton Square. This was a good and popular studio, but access was by a long, difficult staircase. After about ten years, it was decided to look for more modern premises. The main reason for a move seems to have been “the advent of lifts”.

On 13 December 1890, an advertisement appeared in the Liverpool Mercury: “To Artists and Others. To be let: the large room with top light, at present occupied by the Liver Sketching Club in Cuthbert’s Building, Clayton Square. Rent moderate. Apply to Cleaver, Holden & Co, solicitors, 26 North John Street, Liverpool”. In 1890, the club moved to premises at 11 Dale Street where it would remain for more than 80 years. It was reported in the Liverpool Mercury on Monday 5 January 1891 that that the new studio was, at last, “reached by an elevator”.

Although the club was happy to be in Dale Street, we almost burned the building down. The Liverpool Daily Post reported on 3 June 1936, “Quick work by Liverpool Fire Brigade prevented a fire at the Liver Sketching Club’s studio from spreading to valuable business property in the same building. Seeing smoke arising from the building block, a constable in Dale Street telephoned for the fire brigade. The firemen smashed a panel of the massive front door to gain entry, and located the fire on the club’s premises on the third floor. Books and other property were ablaze, and the heat had cracked the roof windows. Books and pictures were destroyed, but little damage was done to the structure of the building.” The cause of the fire was known: “the cause of the fire was negligence on the part of one of our members in leaving the radiator burning and neglecting to switch off the power.” The culprit was not named.

In his report for 1972/73, the Secretary reported on what he rightly called “an eventful year” which included the club’s centenary celebrations and ended with “our sudden eviction from 11 Dale Street”. When the eviction from 11 Dale Street came, an emergency General Meeting was held, and the club moved to Bluecoat Chambers. Another move took the ‘Liver’ to 36 Seel Street in 1992.

The basement of 36 Seel Street was once the studio of sculptor Arthur Dooley, who was one of the club’s Patrons. Access to the upper floors was either by the stairs or by a vintage lift, although it was quicker and safer to use the stairs. Parts of Liverpool around Seel Street were undergoing redevelopment and the landlord of our studio warned that the building would be part of that development at some point. The club was variously told that this could be either in a few months or a couple of years. The Committee decided that it would be better to find a new studio now, rather than be left in a situation where we were given very little notice and were forced to take whatever was available at the time, if anything was available!

So, in March 2004, the Liver Sketching Club moved into Gostins Building, Hanover Street, where it remains active to this day. The club has almost 100 members who attend some or all of the 36 classes every month. There is a meeting at the studio almost every day – sometimes twice a day – and virtually all of them, in line with the club’s aims since the start, involve working from a live model.

Many places linked to the club no longer exist. The site of St Augustine’s School is now part of a housing estate, Cable Street has been subsumed by the Liverpool One development and is now occupied by Debenhams, and what was Pool Buildings is now the Queen Elizabeth II Law Courts. 22 Williamson Street is now a modern shop, Cuthbert’s Building is now Boots in Clayton Square and 36 Seel Street is currently being redeveloped. Bluecoat Chambers remains, although much changed from the club’s time there, and we wait to see what happens to our current studio home in Gostins Building!

Read the paper online HERE.