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Painted prosperity

15 January 2007 by stepheng

The 19th century is a period that fascinates me, Stephen Guy, and it was a particularly exciting time in Liverpool.

Three remarkable views of Liverpool in Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Art & the Sea gallery show the port at three stages of its development in the halcyon years of the century.

A View of Liverpool about 1815‘ by John Jenkinson is seen from between New Brighton and Seacombe. My great-great-grandfather Henry Guy was a 17-year-old in Liverpool at that time. He was a bookbinder and later a labourer who married three times before his death in 1864.

A new era dawned in 1815 with the end of the Napoleonic wars, leaving Britain the unchallenged master of the seas for nearly a century. Liverpool was among the ports that benefited most.

Jenkinson shows Liverpool framed between two groups of sailing ships. At this time the river was still a great source of food – a boy with a dog walks with a man carrying a shrimping net.

The Port of Liverpool 1836‘ by Samuel Walters is a finely-detailed view from the river on a stormy day. It is so realistic that you can almost feel the howling wind coming out of the canvas.

Several sailing ships and a rowing boat are struggling against a northerly gale during the high waters of a spring tide. A lone steamship can be seen in the middle distance. The long wall of Princes Dock, built in 1821, has a forest of masts behind it.

'Liverpool Landing Stage, WF Preston

Liverpool Landing Stage 1893‘ by WF Preston is an evening view of the Pier Head waterfront with a ferry about to leave for Woodside.

This was a panorama well known to my grandfather, Roger Bolland Guy, who had married May Kendrick in 1891. They had nine children, my father George being the youngest. Roger ended his working life as a ceremonial porter at Liverpool Town Hall.

The landing stage with its covered walkways was the largest floating structure in the world when it was built in 1876. It was designed to float so that ferries and other passenger ships could berth at any stage of the tide.

The stage existed until the 1960s and I remember it very well with its large crowds of commuters, excursionists and holidaymakers.

Also featured in the painting are the colonnaded public baths, demolished in 1907.

Merseyside Maritime Museum is open seven days a week, admission free.  A new Maritime Tale appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo.

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