A Gone but not Forcotton Facade
Imagine crossing Tithebarn/Chapel St having just been enthralled by Exchange Flags and its rich history, venturing into Old Hall St (one of Liverpool’s oldest streets dating from the 13th Century St) seeing the wonderful Albany Building (1) on your right, and then being greeted by this wonder:
Well, that would have been the case upto 1967 when in an act of unthinkable vandalism the stunning front part of the building and its classical façade was demolished, and replaced by what we see today:
Liverpool’s association with the cotton trade is a long and globally influential one. The first recorded cotton dealing in Liverpool was a newspaper advertisement for an auction of 28 bags of Jamaican cotton in 1759.
In 1770 Joshua Holt became the first Liverpool Cotton Broker trading solely in cotton, and by 1787 cotton had become one of Liverpool’s major imports. By 1795 Liverpool would permanently overtake London as the leading British cotton importer, and later the trade was said to be only second to the port in terms of global fame.
Read more about the fascinating Liverpool cotton trade here
1841 would see The Liverpool Cotton Brokers’ Association established. In 1866 John Rew would evolve a world first ‘futures’ scheme. Despite problematic times growth continued, and in 1911-12 Liverpool imported a staggering 5,230,399 bales of cotton.
Liverpool’s cotton traders, who had been based in Castle Street, moved to Exchange Flags in 1808, and in 1896 finally moved indoors to Browns Building, Exchange Flags. This soon proved too small and would lead to the building of the Old Hall Street building:
‘In March 1903 property was acquired in Old Hall Street which covered just over an acre. A competition was held to design the new building and from the 24 sets of plans submitted by Liverpool and Birkenhead architects, the winning entry came from Messrs Huon Matear and Frank Simon of the Temple, Dale Street. The original estimated cost was £150,000, which rose to nearer £300,000 on completion. It had the whole panoply of the very latest features at the time, including 12 electric lifts, synchronised electric clocks and a spacious main hall in the centre of which was the cotton ring, or pit. Thousands of people turned out to cheer on the Prince and Princess of Wales when they officially opened the new building (30th Nov 1906), the speech of welcome being delivered in the presence of some 3,000 guests’ – ICA
The visually stunning building with its Barogue angle towers and Portland stone facade clearly and proudly demonstrated Liverpool’s power in the cotton market, but also provided the most up to date facilities for trading – electric lifts and clocks, telephones and a direct cable to the New York Cotton Futures Market.
The opening was described as “an event of imperial significance” – Sphere Dec 8th 1906
The Exchange was built by the Waring-White Building Company with 2000 men, and completed in just 17 months. This was well ahead of schedule and earned the company considerable bonuses:
The Grand Opening, which took place at 12 noon, was quite an occassion with the Royal party being greeted by many thousands both before an after. The Liverpool Echo of 30th Nov 1906 tells us
‘Oldhall-street itself wore a gay and festive appearance, venetian masts, linked up with swaying lines of bannerettes, and gaily-coloured streamers were ranged down from either side of the thoroughfare, and across Chapel-street entrance there was a large banner bearing the hospitable message, “Welcome Royal Guests” ‘
The official opening was followed by a grand banquet on 20th Dec, and the first day of trading was on 2nd January 1907.
The new build must have had quite an impact upon Old Hall St., both in terms of appearance and footfall. It had replaced Nos. 14 to 36 Old Hall St, including Bancroft’s Building, and a range of small trades/outlets including victuallers, umbrella makers, watch & clock makers, tailors, cutlers, hairdressers, and various merchants. On Edmund St and Bixteth streets it had replaced smithys, cooperages, courts, spirit houses, warehouses, and possibly a chapel. Orleans House was also in the process of being built in Edmund St, and by 1908 City Buildings across the road would also be remodelled, influenced by the influx of cotton traders.
The 1907 Gores Directory lists all 60 or so occupants of the New Exchange offices as being cotton brokers or merchants. The grand trading floor, surrounded by 74 royal pearl granite columns quarried in Norway, must have been something to behold in all its glory:
The building had a lucky escape in 1913 when on 5th July suffragette Edith Rayner placed a bomb there, which thankfully did not detonate.
The following 100 years would see many dramatic twists and turns in the fortunes of Liverpool’s Cotton trade/markets with wars, trade depressions, emerging markets, and crop failures to contend with.
On 5th April 1922 – The Cotton Association War Memorial statue of ‘The Unknown Soldier’ was unveiled taking pride of place on the front colonnade. It later stood in the court yard before being moved to Exchange Flags in 2013
Having thankfully survived the ravages of The Blitz, at the end of the war the trading room was reportedly used to store and sort servicemen’s personal effects.
In 1941 World War II had led to the closure of the Liverpool market and, following government involvement, would not reopen until some 13 years later on 18th May 1954.
Recently some fascinating video coverage of the 1954 re-opening ceremony has emerged via British Movietone including superb shots of the lost façade:
You will also find many superb photos here illustrating the beauty and grandeur of the building.
Despite the proud and much celebrated reopening the Liverpool Cotton Exchange however never reached previous heights. In 1960 the trading floor was vacated and moved to a smaller room in the building, and by 1963 drastic reorganisation is necessary. This would include talk of mergers, sale of the Old Street building, a temporary name change, and a new constitution.
Rising building maintenance costs were adding further pressure, global market changes meant that trading volume remained low, and eventually in early 1963 the Cotton Exchange building was sold to St Edmunds Properties owned by Mr Jack Taubman for £400,000, and was again sold in 1964 for a reported £500,000. Following a further purchase in 1967 by British Telecom its conversion into an office block, Cotton House, began and during a sad period for Liverpool’s built heritage the unthinkable demolition of its classical frontage took place. This, and the replacement six storey addition, was completed by early 1969, but not before further plans were abandoned to build a 27 storey tower block replacing the Bixteth St section of the site.
Surprisingly there does not appear to have been a great deal of outrage over the demolishing of the magnificent 1907 façade. There are various possible reasons that could be explored.
Much else was happening to the built environment in Liverpool at the time and perhaps the demolition was not as significant as it would be today. The original St Johns Market demolition and redevelopment was ongoing. Modernist plans and modern buildings were/had been built – Concourse House, No.1 Old Hall St, Silk House Court, Senate House and the R.C. Cathedral. Demolition of other historic buildings was not uncommon – Walton Town Hall, St Catherine’s Church, Richmond House. Shanklands 1965 Plans for ‘streets in the sky,’ and urban motorways were partly under way with Breeze Hill and Churchill Flyovers on the horizon. It was a period of change.
In the mid-60s unemployment was low and the city was enjoying relative growth, optimism even led to comments such as ‘“the future belongs to Liverpool, and it is planning for that future on a massive scale” (Turn of the Tide – 1967). So sad all would change in the 70’s.
Working class residents living in poor housing were, many reluctantly, in the midst of the displacement programme to new developments out of town resulting in the sad break up of many communities. High rise blocks were changing the city skyline. Why would people worry about the Cotton Exchange?
Perhaps it was the lively arts and music scene that kept potential protesters otherwise engaged.
Ironically, the one letter I did come across (in my limited search) protesting about the loss of heritage was from a visitor to the city…. sometimes it does take a stranger:
Pevsner’s Guide (2) tells us that ‘immediately behind the front was the main exchange hall’. This too was demolished in 1967 creating an open courtyard, with a pond representing the previous trading pit.
Despite the changes the building clearly retained its cotton connection and in 1968 tenants of the buildings some 155+ offices still included:
- Liverpool Cotton Association Ltd.
- Cotton merchants and brokers
- Liverpool Cotton Bank
- Cotton Controllers
- Cotton Supervisors
- Cotton Agents
- Shipping Agents
- Timber Agents
- Liverpool City Police Traffic Wardens Dept
- Old Hall Club Ltd
- Raw Cotton Testing Laboratory (in basement)
Statues that once adorned the Edwardian façade can still be found around the building today. ‘Navigation and Commerce’ sit in the courtyard, whilst ‘River Mersey’ (again by William Birnie Rhind) can still be found sitting rather forlornly on Old Hall Street. Much of the colonnade and granite columns that once surrounded the trading floor also survive.
Despite the 1967 ‘vandalism’ to the front facade the elevations to Edmund St, Bixteth St, and Ormond St are still very much worthy of viewing. The large windows to Edmund St specifically designed to allow ‘north light’ in to examine cotton samples.
In 1994 The Daily Post reported that the building had once again been sold, this time to a ‘mystery buyer’ for just under £1 Million.
Many peoples more recent memories of the Cotton Exchange will relate to it being the home of the Liverpool Register Office. The Liverpool Echo reported in 2011 that ‘Up to 100,000 people visit the current Cotton Exchange offices on Old Hall Street every year to register births, marriages and deaths’ – but this was soon to change, as of 23rd Jan 2012 the service moved to St Georges Hall. The space now called ‘The Cotton Yard’ is occupied by law firm Moorcrofts.
The building remains an integral part of Liverpool’s Business Quarter and has recently undergone refurbishment by owners Bruntwood:
The Liverpool Cotton Association became The International Cotton Association in 2004 and still today the majority of world wide cotton trading is according to the ‘Liverpool Rules’, with ICA being based in its spiritual home of Exchange Flags http://www.ica-ltd.org/
For those who want to research the building and the Cotton Association further there is a mass of records available at the Central Library Liverpool Record Office: Ref 380 COT
338.476771/LIV – The Liverpool Cotton Exchange (Newspaper Cuttings) 1953 -94
942.7213 COT – Catalogue of the Valuable Club Furnishings – 17th Dec 1963 by Marsh Lyons & Co, 19 Dale St.
Sale included oil paintings, mahogany and oak furniture, carpets, and an electrically operated ‘Vari Typer’ machine!
942.7213/OPE – Opening of the Liverpool Cotton Exchange 1906: Cuttings
(1) J.K.Colling for wealthy banker Richard Christopher Naylor, see coat of arms on gate 1856-58
(2) Pevsner Architectural Guides: Liverpool, Joseph Sharples (2004)
Other external Links you may find of interest:
Revealed: The hidden world of Liverpool Cotton Exchange – Liverpool Echo
Streets of Liverpool – 1910
A city built on cotton – Museum of Liverpool
Tour of Bruntwood’s Cotton Exchange
Go to Historic Liverpool Buildings
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