A generation ago, our Council leaders had a bright idea. They wanted us to never make contact with the ground again. But we weren’t promised jetpacks, just dimly lit corridors in the sky.

Take a closer look at Moorfields station. It has the dubious distinction of being the world’s only underground railway station where passengers from the street have to ascend to the first floor concourse before they can descend beneath the surface to catch their train.

What’s that all about?

The curious design is a remnant of a plan to stop us ever reaching the pavements at all. If our town planners had their way, our feet wouldn’t be touching the ground.

Back in the late 60s, the City Council had a vision to create aerial walkways above the city streets – from Mount Pleasant to the waterfront. Like some huge Go Ape! fun park, a lattice of levitating gangways and gantries would keep us from ever having to deal with the traffic clogged streets below.

Back then, cars really were king, and we had to make way. Rise above. Now, of course, it’s practically impossible to drive around town. Back then, they wanted to make it difficult for us to walk.

So how far did the plan get? Well, surprisingly, quite a lot of the bridges, balconies and infrastructure was completed. Remember the bridge across to the ‘gyratory’ by the Royal Court – pic above – that was one. Seen the amputated walkway hovering mid-air next to the new Travelodge, on The Strand? That’s another.

The overhanging protrusion above No1 Old Hall Street isn’t just a fancy sun shade – it, too, was destined to be a walkway. Follow your eyeline across the road, and it meets a hole in the wall of the opposite building, above the Old Hall Street entrance to Moorfields. Never spotted that before, did you?

Much more, of course, has disappeared – the last bridge, across the Strand to Beetham Plaza, was demolished in 2006. You can still see the remains of where it joined the Plaza, behind Etsu.

But it’s not just walkways. Many of the city’s buildings, too, were engineered to be accessed from the first floor, not street level. That’s why St John’s Precinct has that external balcony, and why you’ll see office buildings with external, first floor walkways: in Cheapside, and Hatton Garden (pic below – spot the outside walkway) to this day.

Many of the walkways started life in our huge, inner city housing schemes – like St Andrew’s Gardens, St Oswald’s House and Gerrard Gardens, allowing residents to pop into Lewis’s and back without putting a foot on the ground.

In those brave new world post war days, Liverpool was considered to be a bit of a pioneer when it came to cutting edge civic planning (the University’s Department of Civic Design is Britain’s oldest, opened in 1909).

We were, after all, a planned town from the beginning. Those seven streets you may have heard of? They were deliberately laid down in a grid pattern – which, more or less, paved the way for the modern street plans of every city since.

So, with hindsight, it seems odd that we were so keen to separate the city from its streets. But such was the fervour for first floor living, notices like this (about the development of the 051 complex) were a regular occurence on the lampposts of the city in the late 60s/early 70s:

Provision of a City Walkway 1969
Notice is hereby given that the City Council has received an application for planning permission to erect a multi-storey building comprising an Entertainments Complex consisting of a Hofbrauhaus, Restaurant, three Cinemas and a Discotheque with two floors of separate offices over, on a site west of the Mount Pleasant multi-storey car park between Brownlow Hill and Mount Pleasant. Included in the proposal is provision for a city walkway. This walkway forms part of a planned system of elevated walkways in the City Centre and will connect with a walkway incorporated in the Mount Pleasant car park. Together these walkways will form part of a system which will start on Brownlow Hill, cross Mount Pleasant and Renshaw Street and link with the west pavement of Renshaw Street. Any persons who wish to make representations about the proposals for the City walkway should make them to me in writing before the 1st February 1973.

“Liverpool’s devotion to rebuilding is nothing new,” says Emeritus Professor Simon Pepper, of Liverpool University’s School of Architecture. “For a long time, the council was Britain’s number one when it came to pulling things down. It kept on long after other cities more realistically switched to refurbishing their valued older buildings.”

“We’ve seen whole phases of design ideas, one wave after another. The elevated pedestrian pavement network of the late 1960s was a complete disaster. Students of major postwar civic blunders still come to savour a remnant of this particularly ill-conceived planner’s paradigm,” he says.

It was, says Professor Pepper, a direct result of our addiction to petrol that lead to the scheme: “Without doubt the biggest impact on our cities and towns was the explosive growth in motorised road vehicles since 1945. As a result, civic engineers were given unprecedented authority to rip up established communities and commercial areas, driving through new roads to resolve the traffic problem.”

The streets in the sky never really did take off. But, curiously, its legacy remains. When it was first proposed, the planners talked about how they’d taken as their model Chester’s first floor ‘rows’ – a 12th century civic construction that still works today.

Odd then that, in Liverpool ONE, those first floor walkways have returned and – by all accounts – arrived to save the city’s fortunes.

Maybe our Council leaders were just too ahead of their time?

19 Responses to “Liverpool Ghost Streets 5: The Floating City”

  1. Sir Duke

    This is what Seven Streets does best. Well done David Lloyd, another fascinating feature. Makes us all look at and apreciate the city with new eyes. Keep them coming.

  2. Fascinating article. I can’t believe I’ve never spotted the overhang on No 1 Old Hall St.

    I went to Minneapolis some years ago and they have an extensive network of fully-enclosed, heated walkways in the sky. They have quite an extreme climate so the walkways ensure traversal of the city centre regardless of the weather. Montreal’s Underground City serves a similar purpose. As the climate changes maybe this is a concept our own city will one day have to revisit?

  3. These aerial walkways were planned for London too in the 40’s by “architect Charles Holden and planner William Holford” and were developed across the City, culminating in the development of the Barbican.

    Curiously Chicago had a network of underground pedways diong the same thing – connecting shops and offices and keeping pedestrians out of the way of the traffic

  4. Fairminded

    Origional Seven Streets (but you knew that anyway didn’t you Seven streets, but just a reminder for those of us who didn’t)
    Dale Street, Bank Street, Juggler Street, Chapel Street, Moor Street and Whiteacre Street; three of these have kept their original name to the present day, Castle Street, Chapel Street and Dale Street.
    Bank Street (Water Street) formed the southern upright of the H, running past the site of the present town hall into Dale Street.
    The northern upright of the H consisted of Chapel Street, which continued into Moor Street (Tithebarn Street), these were connected in the middle by Juggler Street (High Street) which ran south into Castle Street, and north into Whiteacre Street (Old Hall Street).
    There were two crosses in Juggler Street, the High cross at the junction with Dale Street and the White Cross at the junction with Chapel Street

  5. ReluctantScouser

    Fantastic, interesting and informative article. Genuinely insightful. Thanks.

    But… What were the council thinking? I cannot think of a more idiotic idea with regard to transport around Liverpool’s city centre.

  6. I love these articles of hidden history. I knew about the raised walkways but not so much about where all the remnants are. Bookmarking this for future history geeking!
    The 1960s were all about massive schemes to rebuild the whole city, and knock down as much ‘irrelevant’ old crap as possible. It was indeed a Brave New World, with all that entails. And look what we’re left with… Still, we know better now, don’t we?

  7. Good article. The councils weren’t ahead of their time, the walkways were ill conceived and built for the wrong reasons, just look at the crime-arena roundabout underpasses and ring roads that dissect cities all over the country. Like Professor Simon Pepper said, the post-war explosion of privately owned motorised road vehicles changed everything – the traffic must flow and god help anything that gets in its way. It’s depressing really, even today cars reign supreme. Where did the culture of driving everywhere for everything come from? Why does everybody own a car? Get a bike, i would be ashamed to drive somewhere less that 5-10 miles away unavoidable. If it isn’t accessible by car it doesn’t exist, it shouldn’t be this way and its a shame it is.

  8. Not all traces have gone. The walkway between the World Museum and JMU (under the Churchill Way flyover) remains. The Atlantic Tower Thistle Hotel and the Metropolitan Cathedral sit on aerial plinths. The skyway from the hotel ran up Chapel St until Rumford Place was demolished due to its mouldy concrete construction. Much of Liverpool One (the Canning Place council offices and the Friends Meeting House on Paradise St) had first-floor access only.

    It was all a grand space-age idea, and the sort of thing which still excites council planning officers on the artists’ impressions drawn up by architects. In reality it had many flaws – not least of which was that the money ran out before they’d built 90% of their hare-brained scheme.

  9. Great comment James. I honestly wasn’t sure if that walkway by the museum was *actually* part of the scheme or just a walkway, if you know what I mean. But never knew about the Met Cathedral and the Thistle. Fascinating.

  10. Andrew Rowland

    If you ask me, this is really based on La Défence in Paris. I once walked to get there and it was a total nightmare. They had literally forgotten that people might reach it on foot and I couldn’t find a way to get in. Ended up walking on a dark road in a tunnel with no footpath at one point and turned back because it was too dangerous. Finally found a hotel with a back entrance I could use to get up the the ‘street’ level, which was really first floor level. The idea was to keep all the traffic hidden away below while the plaza was wonderfully traffic free. Sort of worked, if you like hot, concrete areas without enough trees. And arrive by car.

  11. Craig Lynn

    The Met Cathedral isn’t on an aerial plynth – that is Luytens crypt which was build as part of the original cathedrals design plans – the massive design with the domed roof that would have been the worlds biggest (can see the model in the new museum) but when the design had to be changed they decided to incorporate the crypt. That being said very interesting article/comments!

  12. Great article, I’ll be checking some of these places out. I remember mum driving me to school and wanting desperately to walk along the overpass on The Strand. I was a bit upset when they pulled it down!

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