Friday, 25 November 2016

The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth

The Unitarian Chapel of Toxteth is one of Liverpool's oldest surviving buildings; built in 1618 for the local Puritan Community, Richard Mather being listed as the first Minister, Mather later emigrating to New England in the American Colonies in 1635. Mather had been appointed the first Master of the school that had been built in 1611 by Puritan farmers, and he seems to have displayed leadership qualities and intellect, becoming a celebrated Puritan Minister and Teacher in colonial Boston, Massachusetts until his death in 1669. His son Increase Mather was also a Puritan Minister in New England and was somewhat politically active, becoming involved in the Salem Witch trials. His son Cotton Mather, gave unwavering support for the trials, a stance that attracted criticism, and though a prolific author, Cotton Mather didn't have the political career his father had.

The chapel in Toxteth became a central place of worship for the Unitarians during the later eighteenth century, and many famous Liverpool Unitarians were associated with the chapel, and are buried in the grave yard, such as the Rawdon family, the Rathbones, the Holts and the Melly family. The chapel is a historical gem and for anyone interested in Liverpool history, it's well worth a visit.

A memorial for Jeremiah Horrox (Horrocks) who predicted the transit of Venus in 1639.

A grave stone commemorating a member of the Holt family.

A grave stone commemorating a member of the Rathbone family.

Graves commemorating the Holt family.

The mixed coloured local sandstone used in the building of the chapel.

All photos taken with permission by Dr David Harrison.

© Dr David Harrison 2016.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

A history of Old Swan

Old Swan in Liverpool has a fascinating history; named after an eighteenth century public house called The Three Swans, a stop-off place for pack horses and travellers at the junction of what is now Prescot Road (which was a main pack horse route bringing coal from Prescot and St Helens) Broadgreen Road (once called Petticoat Lane), and what is now St Oswald Street. The sign of the swan was inspired by the coat of arms of the Walton family, and there are symbols of the swan feeding three cygnets in various locations in the area. The site of The Three Swans was located over the road from the present Old Swan pub (which was called the Swan Vaults), where the Red House pub used to be, and another pub called The Cygnet (which is now closed) was situated on the other side of the junction. There was also a Blacksmiths located on Prescot Road.

Old Swan grew from being a stop-off place to water the horses and refresh the travellers, into what effectively became a village, with the St Oswald's church being built in 1842 (designed by Pugin) with a school and a Convent being built. Industry settled in the area, with the early glass works situated near to where the present Glasshouse pub is today, and a rope walk which can still be seen at the side of Tescos opposite the church. The glass works which was opened in 1825, was one the earliest manufacturers of clear plate glass and imported around forty French glass workers to make the plain sheet glass. The factory was a success, and Old Swan glass was reputedly used for the Liverpool based Custom House and the Royal Insurance Buildings. The factory was closed in 1855 due to a Fraud Case, and according to one source, was bought out by Pilkington and the Chance brothers. The church had some major rebuilding done in the mid 1950s and the spire was rebuilt in 1989.

There is also the local mystery of the 3561 burials that were discovered in the mid 1970s on the site of the present St. Oswald's Primary School. The corpses - part of a mass burial - were exhumed and cremated, so no known testing was carried out, and all that can be said is that they were buried there before the death records began in 1837. Local historians have debated if the burials were plague victims from the 17th century or victims of the cholera epidemic of the 1830s.1

Old Swan is a historical gem with still a lot of hidden history to see. Here are a few photos taken from a recent history walk with a group of local students.

The old school building and St. Oswald's Parish Club.

From the grounds of the church - it could be in any English village. The Church and surrounding buildings were constructed using Woolton sandstone.

The school and convent buildings by St. Oswald's Church.

Another view of the church that could be any village in England.

The swan feeding three cygnets - from a tomb in the churchyard.

The font of St. Oswald's.

The Glasshouse Pub - the Old Swan glass works was situated in this area.

All photos taken with permission by Dr David Harrison

© Dr David Harrison 2016.

1. See the booklet St Oswald's Old Swan 1842-1992 which was printed by the church and celebrates the 150 years of St. Oswald's. It has much information concerning the history, the rebuilding of the church and the mass burial that was discovered in the area.

Monday, 21 November 2016

The Decaying Camelot Theme Park at Park Hall

A year ago or so I had the pleasure of giving a talk to a Masonic lodge that meets in the Park Hall hotel just past the Charnock Richard Services on the M6, in West Lancashire. Next to the hotel, one can see the decaying remains of the once popular Camelot theme park, complete with concrete castle, rides, jousting area and various activity areas. In its heyday during the 1990s, it pulled in millions of visitors, with re-enactments of medieval jousts and knights and wizards wandering around the courtyard to give the kids something entertaining and educational to do on the summer holidays.

The theme park is now closed and has become the hang out for graffiti artists and a place for people to dump their rubbish, its eerie emptiness and stark cold, empty atmosphere creating a sad and lonely picture of how the park used to be. Here are a few photos of the site.

The castle and car park.

The castle looking slightly worse for wear.

The courtyard. Once filled with crowds, now graffiti heaven.

Order out of chaos.

The remains of the jousting area

The Park Hall nightclub was still open.

The Medieval Banqueting Suite of the hotel. Scene of the lodge Festive Board.

Inside the 'Mock' Medieval banqueting Hall.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Historical Graffiti at the Temple of Poseidon, Sounion, Greece

During a recent visit to Athens in Greece, I visited a number a Temples such as the Parthenon in Athens and the Temple of Poseidon, a majestic and deeply spiritual Temple just north of Athens that sits on headland overlooking the Aegean  Sea called Cape Sounion. The Temple at Sounion dates to c.440 BC, and is also famous for having the supposed etched name of the Romantic poet Lord Byron, though despite him mentioning the Temple in a poem and visiting Sounion while in Athens, there is no evidence that the graffiti belongs to Byron himself. The Temple is now a popular tourist destination, the sunsets being a must for any visitor. There are many etched names all over the Temple, reminding us that people over the years like to leave their mark to say they were there. Wikimedia commons free media repository

The anchor symbol, dated 1891, by sailors from the SS Sparta.

A selection of graffiti on the base of the columns, dating from the 1800s and 1900s.

A symbol with graffiti revealing a Masonic-like symbol of a compass crossed with a hammer, dating to 1902.

Another symbol that is similar to Masonic symbols with the compass and rule.

The Temple of Poseidon itself.

All photos taken with permission by Dr David Harrison unless otherwise stated.

© Dr David Harrison 2017