Eberle Street: cock fights, The Tempest and 250 years of transformation – Blog, Liverpool Museums

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Eberle Street: cock fights, The Tempest and 250 years of transformation

25 January 2016 by Matt

Garlands New Year's Eve poster with people dressed as Wizard of Oz characters

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Eberle Street, it is one of the main streets in Liverpool’s defined ‘Gay Quarter’ around Victoria Street and Dale Street, and is home to Garlands nightclub and to GBar – but more on those a little later.

Eberle Street is soon to have a makeover with ‘a unique paving and lighting scheme paying homage to the mythical Emerald City, Yellow Brick Road and Judy Garland’. Now, makeovers often lead people who work in museums, especially to me working on the Pride and Prejudice project to start thinking about the past. How did Eberle Street go from being a dark and non-descript alley to being a thoroughfare straight out the Wizard of Oz?

Well, I think it best to start at the very beginning (as a different musical tells us is ‘a very good place to start’). Eberle Street was first laid out in the beginning of the 1700s as part of Liverpool’s massive expansion following the construction of the city’s first dock in 1715. Little is known of the early beginnings of Eberle Street (then called Blackberry Lane). Local entertainment was a little more vicious than it is now – Blackberry Lane housed a cock-fighting pit. The name is also of interest; Blackberry Lane was supposedly named after Mr Black and Mr Berry who lived either side of the lane’s junction with Dale Street.

In the 1740s Blackberry Lane had its first ‘makeover’, the cock-fighting pit went and was renamed ‘The Blackberry Lane Theatre’, opening with a production of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. Not long after the theatre opened a slow process of gentrification began as Liverpool was catapulted onto the world stage. Part of this process was the first renaming of the ‘Lane’, Blackberry Lane became William Street.

'There's no place like Garlands' poster with Wizard of Oz scene

By 1810 the theatre had gone and William Street fell quiet for nearly 200 years. The theatre became a grain warehouse and the once vibrant thoroughfare slowly became a dark and dingy alleyway. Phillip Eberle, the caterer of the Town Hall, opened a hotel on the corner of William Street and Dale Street and when he retired William Street was renamed in his honour, finally becoming Eberle Street.

In the early 1990s the first entertainment venue in almost 200 years opened on Eberle Street. Garlands was the first after-hours gay club in Liverpool and immediately became a success. Even in the early 1990s Liverpool’s LGBT scene was largely underground and Eberle Street remained a bit of a dingy alleyway, though occasionally brightened up by the drag queens and other performers from Garlands.

In 1996 a sister club to Garlands opened opposite named GBar and the prospects of dull and drab Eberle Street really began to change. Both clubs have won numerous awards and still come high up on lists of best after-hours venues both locally and nationally.

2016 won’t be the first time the Wizard of Oz theme has been sported by Eberle Street. For over a decade and a half Garlands nightclub has had an affinity with the film, as seen in these two objects kindly donated by Garlands in 2015 as part of our Pride and Prejudice project, which will soon be featured in our online LGBT collections page. New Years Eve 2000 had a ‘Return to Oz’ theme with a resident ‘Dorothy’ drag queen and to this day the club states ‘there’s no place like Garlands’! I wonder what Mr Black and Mr Berry would make of this newest transformation?

  1. Vic Welsh says:

    My best memories are in garlands and gbar 1996-2006 best years of my life.

    • Christine says:

      Yea, I agree, great memories. I met my soul mate, my best friend and soon to be wife in Gbar. Fantastic people here, truely.

    • Matt says:

      I’ve had many a good night in the GBar as well Vic, thanks for the comment!

      • Matt says:

        That’s a wonderful story Christine, congratulations on the upcoming wedding. Fancy bringing a bit of wedding cake down to us at the Museum of Liverpool? haha

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