he Black & White Picture Place

Photographs of Liverpool: The Sailors' Home 1

sailors homeThe Sailors' Home in Canning Place, Liverpool was designed by John Cunningham. Influenced by Elizabethan great houses such as Wollaton and Hardwick Hall, the foundation stone of this palatial lodging house for Liverpool seamen was laid by Prince Albert in July 1846. A medal struck to commorate the occasion is shown below.

It was a philanthropic venture erected from the subscriptions of shipowners and merchants to provide good, clean and inexpensive accomodation and give sailors a refuge from the grog shops- "drunk for 1d and blind for 2d"- and the attentions of 'Judies' such as Harriet Lane, Jumping Jenny and 'The Battleship'...

In the streets and alleys around the docks there was no shortage of places where 'Seamen's Lodging House' was painted boldly onto a cracked, dirt-specked fanlight and where, at an exhorbitant charge, the sailor would be fed and bedded- after a fashion. Many of these lodging houses were notorious establishments from some of which the shellback would be lucky to escape with his life, let alone his money belt.

If some of the Sailors' Home appeared somewhat like a prison, this was not Cunningham's concept. He modelled the interior upon ship's quarters with cabins ranged around five stories of galleries in the internal rhomboidal court.

The columns and balustrades of these galleries were powerfully moulded in cast iron utilising nautical themes such as twisted ropes, dolphins and mermaids. The cast gates were the architect's chef d'oeuvre in iron, a splendid arrangement of maritime buntings, trumpets and ship's wheels, surmounted by the crowned insignia of the legendary Liver Bird- all handled with tremendous virtuosity. These gates are discussed in greater detail by historian and Sailors' Home enthusiast Stephen McKay here. His fascinating history of the building may be read here.

sailor's home entrance
sailor's home interior
interior of sailors home

To the great and lasting disgust of many Liverpudlians, this wonderful folly of a building was needlessly demolished in 1974; its site was not even required for new buildings- or even a road scheme- and (illustrated below left) for the next three decades remained an unsightly, rubbish-strewn hole in the ground within which was erected scaffolding to support a bunch of advertising hoardings. Larger versions of these images, plus many more from our growing archive, may be seen and wondered at on the following pages...

site oif sailor's home
surviving stonework from sailor's home

sailors home commemorative medalopening of sailors homeThe author was examining the remaining brickwork in June 2004 when he made a remarkable discovery- several huge pieces of finely sculpted stonework- including a capstain and (illustrated above right) this detail of a ship's rigging- remain on the site, largely hidden from casual view by rubbish and vegetation. The discovery was reported to the Merseyside Maritime Museum, which is situated just across the road in the Albert Dock. The site of the Sailors' Home has now vanished beneath the vast Liverpool One development. What became of these remarkable survivors of Liverpool's nautical past remains a mystery.

In February 2004, reader David Berner kindly sent us some photographs of a medal that was struck to commemorate the founding of the Liverpool Sailors' Home. It states at the bottom, "His R H Prince Albert laid the foundation stone July 31st 1846". The rear of the medal bears his portrait.
David wrote, "Although I have no Liverpool connections it has been in my family for many years. I attach a few pictures of the medallion and wonder if it would be of interest to local museums or collectors?" Interested parties should contact David directly.

Reader Ray has made a short and moving video of the Sailors' Home ruins which you can see here.

Further pictures and information our readers may have about the Liverpool Sailors' Home would be gratefully received!

sailors home and office block
The modern erection next door to the Sailors' Home (above) is the newly-built Steer's House. A photograph of it immediately before it was demolished to make way for the 'Paradise Project', the Liverpool One scheme, may be seen here.
demolition of sailor's home 1
John Rouse photographed the demolition of the Sailors' home in 1974
and kindly allowed us to reproduce these pictures of the sad event.

demolition of sailor's home 2

sailors home mashup
A clever combination photograph showing the Sailors' Home position among the modern streets.
We'd love to give credit to this image's creator so please get in touch if it was you!

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