William Brown Street - Central Library and Walker Art Gallery. Image courtesy of Liverpool Record Office.
William Brown Street - Central Library and Walker Art Gallery. Image courtesy of Liverpool Record Office.

A building for all times, one of the great edifices of the world.

Norman Shaw describing St George’s Hall

Area 5: The Cultural Quarter – William Brown Street

William Brown Street is a testament to Liverpool’s exceptional maritime mercantile wealth and was created through enormous philanthropic and civic investment.

Liverpool’s wealthy merchants and entrepreneurs helped establish and fund the city’s major public educational and cultural institutions including its museums, art galleries and libraries as well as setting the foundations for health and welfare institutions that underpin the city’s drive to improve quality of life for the benefit of its citizens today.

In the mid-19th century the area around William Brown Street was transformed into the principal cultural quarter, creating a new cultural forum at the point of arrival by rail and road. It includes a high concentration of impressive public buildings, great cultural collections, art and monuments of international acclaim.

The major cultural, educational and civic institutions of the city are located in this area.  St George’s Plateau has been the focus of many of the most significant events in the city’s history.

Key buildings include:

  • St George’s Hall
  • World Museum
  • Central Library
  • Walker Art Gallery
  • Lime Street Station

St George’s Hall (1840-55) Grade I listed

The imposing St George’s Hall is universally admired as an outstanding example of European neo-classical architecture.

Designed by the young Harvey Lonsdale Elmes, this architectural masterpiece combines a concert hall and a court house.

The Great Hall is richly decorated to celebrate the Corporation of Liverpool and its port. The Minton tiled floor is decorated with the mythical Liver Bird, Neptune, sea nymphs, mermaids, dolphins and tridents, symbols of maritime commerce.

Figures on the spandrels supporting the roof portray the qualities Victorian Liverpool aspired to: Fortitude, Prudence, Science, Art, Justice and Temperance. The monogram SPQL, ‘the Senate and People of Liverpool’ is incorporated into the huge bronze doors, as a reference to the ancient Roman monogram SPQR, highlighting Liverpool’s imperial aspirations.

Statues of Liverpool’s great men can be seen on either-side of the hall, many of them were merchants and ship owners and statesmen of the day.

Charles Dickens had great affection for Liverpool and visited on several occasions. He gave public readings from his works in the small concert room in St George’s Hall which were immensely popular with his audiences.

World Museum Liverpool and Central Library (1857-1860) Grade II* listed

The completion of St George’s Hall set the pattern for other civic projects on adjacent land. The Liverpool Improvement Act was passed and a competition was opened in 1855 for a new museum and public library. Local MP, William Brown, donated £6000, and the street was renamed in his honour.

The Walker Art Gallery (1877) Grade II* listed

Designed by architects Sherlock and Vale and named after its principal benefactor, Alderman Andrew Barclay Walker, at that time Lord Mayor of Liverpool. A classical portico is the centrepiece of the exterior, which includes friezes of scenes from the city’s history, and is surmounted by a replica of an allegorical sculpture representing, ‘The Spirit of Liverpool’ by John Warrington Wood.

A number of artworks originally in the collection of the banker and M.P. William Roscoe were gifted to the Walker by the Liverpool Royal Institution.

Lime Street Station (1836)

Lime Street Station opened in August 1836, six years after the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR) ran Robert Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’, the first locomotive driven by steam power, between Liverpool and Manchester.