Lost Liverpool landmarks that have been confined to history

In a city so rich in history as Liverpool, there have been many landmarks that have vanished or been transformed out of all recognition over the years.

From transport infrastructure such as the Liverpool Overhead Railway and the former Exchange Station, to popular attractions like the old Lime Street with its cinemas, there is so much we have loved and lost.

The building of the Liverpool ONE complex, meanwhile, has completely transformed the character of Paradise Street and Hanover Street.

And the changes still keep on coming, with the demolition of the old Churchill Way flyover over the past few months.

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Here we take a look back at the amazing landmarks that have either gone completely, or which our ancestors would struggle to recognise today.

Liverpool overhead railway

The Liverpool Overhead Railway in all its glory

Known to many as The Ovee or The Dockers’ Umbrella, this feat of ahead-of-its-time engineering was the world's first electric elevated railway, as well as the first UK railway to boast automatic signals.

The landmark and pioneering "railway in the sky", as well as helping to ease dockland congestion, served as a stunning architectural backdrop to our busy and bustling industrial city and port.

It ceased operation at the end of 1956 and by 1958 had been demolished. Today the only reminder of it is a display inside the Museum of Liverpool.

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The Rialto, Toxteth

This landmark on one of Liverpool’s busiest road junctions was badly damaged in the Toxteth Riots and destroyed soon after.

The Rialto housed a cinema and dancehall that were famous to generations of Toxteth residents, with its white facade and double domes becoming landmarks at the junction of Parliament Street, Catharine Street and Princes Road.

Burnt out milk float July 1981 Toxteth, Liverpool. Looking towards Berkeley Street, NatWest bank on left, Rialto on right.

There were also shops around the building, as well as the Rialto Garden Cafe upstairs.

But the cinema struggled in the 1950s and 1960s and finally closed in 1964. It was converted into a furniture store by Swainbank’s.

The site of the former Rialto Club on Upper Parliament Street. Pic: Andrew Teebay

That shop was set alight during the riots of 1981, and the ruins were later pulled down. Today a modern Rialto office building, with shops around the side and a domed glass tower, stands on the site.

Exchange Station

The beautiful facade that once led into Exchange Station still survives – but the grand train sheds and structures behind have long disappeared.

The entrance to Exchange Station viewed from Moorfields in the 1960s

The first Exchange Station opened in 1850 but proved too small and was replaced in 1888, becoming one of the North West’s grandest termini.

The frontage that survives was once the Exchange Hotel. Passengers passed through arches and into a cab circulation area before entering the concourse itself, with an array of booking offices and shops and its 10 platforms below giant glass roofs.

The concourse at Exchange Station, Liverpool, April 1977 (Post & Echo archive)

Its days were numbered when the Merseyrail loop line plan was announced and it finally closed in 1977, to be replaced by nearby Moorfields.

Theatre Royal, Williamson Square

The stunning Theatre Royal first opened in 1772 and was rebuilt 30 years later with a curved facade. Among those who appeared there were Charles Dickens, pioneering clown Joseph Grimaldi and Hungarian composer Franz Liszt.

The building would have made an imposing sight, however by the early 20th century the building's interior had been stripped out to be used as a cold store.

Its distinctive curved facade inspired the curved 1960s extension to the Playhouse theatre next door, but that couldn't stop the building from being flattened in 1971.

The former Theatre Royal, Williamson Square, being demolished in April 1971. By its demolition, the theatre has been used by the Union Cold Storage Company as a depot for almost a century. The Matalan/Liverpool FC store now stands on the site. Post & Echo archive

Today the block housing Matalan and the Liverpool FC store stands on the site.

Old St Johns Market

The first St Johns Market was opened in 1822 and was divided into five huge shopping avenues.

American painter and naturalist John James Audubon wrote in 1826: "The new market is, in my opinion, an object worth the attention of all traveller strangers. It is thus far the finest I have ever seen."

Liverpool's old St. John's Market in the process of demolition. Circa 1964.

The present day St Johns Market is housed upstairs in the St Johns Centre precinct, which dates from the 1960s and now stands on the site of the old market.

Lime Street

Lime Street was once dominated by three ABC cinemas – the large one overlooking St John's shopping centre and the mainline railway station, along with its two smaller cousins, the Futurist and the Scala.

Many of us will have fond memories of catching the new releases in these vintage picture houses – in many cases, it would have been our first ever experience of going to the cinema.

Of the three, only the main Lime Street ABC cinema still survives in some form.

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The long disused Futurist and Scala cinemas were demolished as part of a redevelopment of Lime Street, with a Lidl store now covering part of the site.

The sky walkways

In the 1960s, the council came up with a plan to create a linked system of walkways over the city.

So some of the city’s biggest developments of the time, including the former ECHO building and Royal Insurance headquarters, were built with walkways through and around them and bridges across roads.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, trying to force skyways into the fabric of a historic city never really worked.

The former walkway running across the Strand into Beetham Plaza. It was pulled down in 2007.

The isolated walkways were unpopular and the scheme was soon abandoned. The bridges were pulled down and walkways closed off or forgotten.

Festival Gardens

The Festival Gardens site in Otterspool is an important part of Liverpool's modern history.

The gardens were part of an 100 acre former landfill site that was redeveloped in the 1980s to play host to the International Garden Festival in 1984.

But after the five-month Garden Festival was over, the site gradually fell into decay and neglect.

Bought by the council in 2015 for £6 million, the site is now earmarked for the construction of 1,500 new homes.

Original Cavern Club

No list of this kind would be complete without a mention of the original Cavern Club.

Perhaps the most significant music venue in the world, the club opened in 1957 in a Mathew Street cellar.

It became world-famous in the 1960s when The Beatles became global megastars, with the Fab Four playing at the Cavern 292 times up to 1963.

The Cavern closed in 1966 but was soon overhauled and reopened by Prime Minister Harold Wilson to mark its status as a top tourist attraction.

The entrance to the Cavern Club, 1966

But in 1972 the club and the warehouse were bought by British Rail, which planned to clear the site for its Merseyrail loop line plans. The warehouses were pulled down, and the club was filled in with rubble.

But the proposed ventilation shaft was never built and the site became a car park.

Eventually, a re-constructed Cavern Club – using many of the original bricks and to the original plans of the old one – was opened in Mathew Street.

It is still going strong today, and no doubt many of the thousands upon thousands of foreign visitors who descend on the site every year are unaware that it is a replica rather than the original cellar where The Beatles once played.

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David Lewis Theatre and Hostel, Great George Place

This hulk of a building once dominated the area below Liverpool Cathedral.

The David Lewis building, which included a theatre, a hostel, and a club, was built in 1906.

David Lewis, founder of the famous Lewis's department store chain, left his fortune to benefit working class people – and the trust that bore his name built the centre that became known as the Davy Lou.

The David Lewis Hotel in Great George Place. Circa May 1977.

The Beatles played there in 1961 in the first event organised by the band's fan club.

It was pulled down in the late 1970s for road widening, along with other buildings nearby. Its site is today occupied by housing.

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