Traveling last summer in England, starting in Liverpool, I quickly noticed that I was surrounded by buildings of red brick, sandstone and a bit of terra cotta—more so than I expected and more beautiful in its variety than just the mundane words “red brick” could suggest.
Liverpool's Pilot Service headquarters, 1883, and still in use for the pilots who guide ships into the port. Puts the modern museum next door to shame!
It’s not an accident, either, that so many of the grand buildings of Liverpool and Manchester are made that way: they are the cities of the 19th century, villages before the industrial revolution, and quickly built in the most industrial of 19th century materials.
Not all the structures are ornate; some impress with sheer size, like the Albert Dock buildings that were the heart of Liverpool's cargo trade.
It’s not that brick isn’t found elsewhere in England, or that it doesn’t have a more-than-5000 year history, it’s that it was used here so much and over a relatively short era to give the cities a particular look, and one whose color matches well with nearby native sandstones.
I’m not an architectural historian, but it’s clear to me I’m not the only one to associate red brick with England’s industrial expansion; the six new universities created at the turn of the last century, including Liverpool and Manchester, were referred to as “red brick universities” in contrast to the generally stone buildings of the older schools, Cambridge and Oxford.
Princes Road synagogue, above, and two churches below, are all of an era. The lower one is St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
Of course, not all the red-brick buildings were the great fantasies and piles in most of these pictures; the brick also went into cheap housing for the workers of the industrial revolution; small cramped quarters that in later years became acres of slums in some areas, and upgraded in others. Today, many are still in use, while, as seen below, some are closed up and awaiting demolition and new construction.
Two blocks, steps apart, in Liverpool's Toxteth area. Quite similar to Ringo Starr's childhood home, below.
In any case, I began taking more and more pictures of Liverpool’s and Manchester’s red brick wonders and not so wonderfuls, and to think of them as one of the highlights of our time there. When I sat down to write this, I first had to plow my way through over 200 images.
It was almost like reliving 10 days in the north, and I felt a pang at each one I left out. The gallery that remains is, I hope, enough to show you why I’ve come to love this humble but magnificent look.
Without further ado, and with not much comment, here are some more. And soon, a look at a true champion of red brick, London's Saint Pancras.
The Midland Hotel, built opposite the terminal of the Midland Railway, was the place to meet and stay; it's where Charles Rolls was introduced to Henry Royce. You might say it's the Rolls-Royce of Edwardian hotels.