St George's Hall and St John's Gardens, Liverpool

St George's Hall by Elmes - the Stirling Lee panels, and the statues of Gen. Earle and Prince Albert, can just be discerned.

The sculptural heart of Liverpool is around St George’s Hall and the Walker Art Gallery. This page covers the statues around the steps of St George’s Hall, and in St John’s Gardens next to it. Even for those with the interests of these pages in surface decoration rather than architecture, though, it must be said that the architecture dominates, and there can be few more inspiring sights than to emerge from the humdrum streeets around Lime Street Station and see St George's Hall. Only the British Museum can compare.

St George’s Hall, by the architect Harvey Lonsdale Elmes, and completed by C. R. Cockerell after Elmes’ untimely demise, is undoubtedly one of the most important Neo-Classical buildings put up in the 19th Century. The building, a massive Greek temple, the size of a major cathedral, is multi-sided, with more than one principle front. This reflects its several uses as public hall, assize court, and concert hall. The long side towards the railway station has a vast portico 16 Corinthian columns wide, opening to the main public hall, which is central within the building – the other long side is plainer. The southern end has a second giant portico, for the law courts, and once bore the pediment sculpture. The northern end, more like the rear of a cathedral, is curved around the interior shape of the circular concert hall.

Side facing towards Lime Street

Two of the Justice panels on St George's Hall by Stirling Lee.

The sculptural decoration was to have included some 28 panels around the base. Only a dozen of the panels were ever made, of which only six are by the artist originally commissioned to create them. Thomas Stirling Lee, the sculptor, chose for his first subject ‘The Attributes and Results of Justice’, to take up six panels. As told at the time:

‘When the first panel was placed, considerable opposition resulted from ‘the child Justice’ being represented without clothing. This was intensified when ‘the girl Justice’ in the second panel was found to be also nude, and eventually the commission was cancelled. Mr P. H. Rathbone, who is always to the front in all that concerns the advancement of art in Liverpool, fought manfully, but without effect, until six years ago he went the length of offering to defray the cost of the four panels required to complete the series, provided they were left undisturbed for two years before judgment was passed upon them, which proposal was accepted. The sculptures, each of which measures six feet by five feet one inch, harmonise admirable with the building, and emphasise the desirableness of proceeding with its due adornment. It remains to be seen whether Liverpool will appreciate the importance of going on with the worthy decoration of one of the finest buildings in the country.’

Well, it did not, at least not so much. There were two further panels eventually made by C. J. Allen, and four more, by, I think, Derwent Wood, though I cannot locate a good reference source to confirm this.

Mermaid, by W. G. Nicholl. Queen Victoria, by Thomas Thornycroft.

The lost pediment showed Britannia with Commerce and the Arts, and was, I believe, the work of the sculptor W. G. Nicholl, based on a design by Alfred Stevens. It was removed after falling into disrepair. However, there is the opportunity to see some of Nicholl's work on the steps on the front of the Hall facing towards the station. Firstly, there are the four great stone lions, noble and full-maned. As well, there are at the top of the steps a pair of mermaid and merman, again in stone, carrying cornucopias. They are classical in style, he heavily muscled, with conspicuous pointed ears for a bacchanalian emphasis, she full-figured, and with long curled hair bearing fruits and leaves. Rather than having the legs fused to a tail, they are of the twin-tailed variety. Much more weathered equivalents, with lamps affixed to them, are at the northern entrance to the building.

On the steps and in front of the steps are four further statues. Thomas Thornycroft, the father of the better known Hamo Thornycroft, was the sculptor of the two equestrian statues of Victoria and Albert, and the Victoria was the piece that made his name. Young, but already rather stern, this statue has its best view the right hand profile, where the long skirt of the queen, who sits side-saddle, and the plume of her hat, show to advantage. The horses of both are admirable.

The dramatic statue of General Earle, advancing over the fallen shield of his enemy, sword drawn, gauntleted hand raised to summon his followers, is the work of C. B. Birch, who also designed several other portrait statues showing moments of strong action rather than simple standing poses. An example of his more formally-posed work is the fourth statue, of Disraeli. He stands with long cloak held draped over one arm, contriving to give something of the Roman patrician to modern dress. His face is ascetic and sombre, and this is one of the most characterful statues of the great politician.

Also there, a blocky War Memorial with two friezes, showing mourners bringing wreaths and flowers to a coffin on the one side, and lines of marching soldiers on the other. Arms of Liverpool with festoon at the end.

C. B. Birch's Disraeli, and G. A. Lawson's Wellington, up on his pillar.

This side of St George’s Hall gives also a good view (with binoculars) of the statue of Wellington on a tall pillar in Commutation Row. The sculptor was G. A. Lawson.

Opposite St Georges Hall on this side is the North Western Hall, or Head of Steam, once the Lime Street Railway Hotel, by the architect Alfred Waterhouse and put up in 1868-71. It is a vast sandstone building with many identical bays, and opposite the Nicholl’s four lions is the centre portico, with projecting bay on each side to form the towers, which rise to steeples with pinnaces. In the middle at 3rd floor height, very small against the massive building, are two figures in stone. The one on the left holds some small sticks or tools, her right hand on a shield with an olive branch against it, at her feet a classical bust, on her head a castellated crown. The girl on the right is more exotic, with a leafy headdress, a quiver of arrows, both hands probably on a paddle, a small crocodile wreathed round her feet and lower leg. The two could perhaps be emblematic of Europe and the Americas, which would seem appropriate for a Railway hotel.

Lime Street Hotel figures.

Interior of St George's Hall

The interior of St George's Hall, open sometimes, is very beautiful. The Great Hall has a series of statues:

The floor is by Mintons. Note also the two marble Atlantes, and above the windows, winged allegorical girls, very beautiful, with complex drapes - possibly by Samuel Kelsey.

St John's Gardens

On the other long side of St George’s Hall, there is a platform, and a small green space, St John’s Gardens, with several portrait statues and a regimental memorial, which we leave till last.

Allegorical figure of Truth, by Thomas Brock, on the Gladstone Monument.

The principal monument among these is that to Gladstone, by Thomas Brock. He stands atop a blocky edifice, with two stern angels seated below. The one has a crown and holds a book and flowers; she is Truth. The other, Justice, wears a helmet, and carries her unsheathed sword, her scales resting beside her, thus an emphasis on the decision-making rather than the preliminary weighing up of arguments! A good thing altogether, if exceeded by the even more impressive Gladstone monument in Fleet Street, London.

There are three statues by George Frampton. A. B. Forwood shows the problems of a subject wearing a waistcoat, which tends to give a certain paunchiness. Canon Major Lester is better, with a long, heavy robe to make a bulky figure imposing. The third subject is Rathbone, familiarly ugly, again with an enveloping cloak. Low relief panels on the sides represent perhaps healing and philosophy.

An interesting contrast to the Frampton statues is the statue of Alexander Balfour, by Albert Bruce-Joy, who sculpted a variety of portraits of statesmen, most notably for Manchester. A calm, aesthetic portrait, most sympathetic. Rather less successful is the figure of James Nugent, with a poor boy, by F. W. Pomeroy.

Rathbone, by George Frampton, and Balfour, by Albert Bruce-Joy.

Finally, centrally placed, is the ambitious King’s Liverpool Regiment Memorial, by the prolific W. Goscombe John. Four figures in all adorn the memorial – to left and right, standing soldiers, flanking a central heap of flag, wreath, palm leaf etc, above which is the central figure of Britannia, a statuesque soldierly figure wearing a helmet and cowl which make her look rather symbolist. But it is on the rear of the monument where the most important statue is, the famous drummer boy, of which a version may also be seen in the National Museum of Wales.

So how can we sum up the sculpture, then? I don't think that when we think of Pomeroy or Frampton, New Sculptors associated with dreamy girls, Symbolist or art nouveau in sympathies, we would particularly choose these civic worthies as what we expect to see. Having said that, the Goscombe John pieces are more familiar of his type, and the Gladstone memorial shows Brock women reassuringly recognisable from the national Queen Victoria Memorial, Leighton's tomb in St Paul's, and in high relief on the Bartle Frere monument on the Victoria Embankment, to name but three examples from London alone. We have a chance to contrast some rather different approaches to the civic statue, especially the dashing Queen Victoria, which is unique. And the Stirling Lee panels are the best examples of his work we are likely to find. A far cry from their bleak condition previously, as poignantly described early in the 20th century:

'Who can ever forget the sordid conditions of the sculptured reliefs of Stirling Lee which confront you as you escape from the horrors of Lime Street Railway Station at Liverpool... blackened but not obliterated by the atmosphere of that great city of dreadful noise.'

Goscombe' John's Drummer Boy.

Top of page

Liverpool pages // Walker Art Gallery // William Brown Street // Walk along Dale Street

Sculpture pages

Home