Liverpool city center’s oldest building

At the beginning of June I had the joy of a professional skills test, numeracy edition. Eugh. For anyone unaware, in England you must pass numeracy and literacy tests before you can commence teacher training. For myself and many others the numeracy test is a cause of great anxiety with lots of people failing their first attempt. I travelled to Liverpool to complete mine (my first attempt) and I passed! I was so excited I temporarily lost all sense and failed at exiting through a door with a release button. People saw. Someone had to press it for me. I cared not a bit.


To make a great day even better I decided to find and visit the oldest building in Liverpool. One quick Google search later and I was surprised to find that Bluecoat (built in 1717) is the oldest surviving building in the city centre, for some reason I’d just assumed there would be some older survivors. I didn’t realise that pre 18th century there just wasn’t a lot there. So off I trotted with my Mum in tow, yes she was brought along for skills test moral support, in case things went sideways. We entered through the back of the property which is a pretty terrace sitting area with a secret garden vibe. Photo above shows one of the arched sash windows with cherub detail and some of the lovely plant life. Once inside you could be in any modern white box gallery. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the eighteenth century facade outside (when it was built it was actually old fashioned for the time) and the obscure/absurd looking floating octopus monster I saw inside, among other things:


Bluecoat  was founded in 1708 as a charity school for orphaned children. The founders were the Rector of Liverpool  Reverend Robert Styth and a local ship owner by the name of Bryan Blundell. It started as a day school but funds were raised to create a much larger building where students could live in. It is noted on Bluecoat’s website that much of the funds used to build Bluecoat came from the port and 65% of regular subscriptions were sourced from the profits of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery related goods. On that note Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum on Albert Dock is a must visit if you ever find yourself in Liverpool, its a one of a kind museum that covers historical and contemporary slavery. 

Bluecoat was created in Queen Ann style, a good example of late English baroque architecture. The architect of Bluecoat has always been debated but recent research by Gavin Davenport who is project manager of the My Bluecoat project has suggested that it could have been Thomas Steers and local mason James Litherland. It is suggested that the two had finished Old Dock in 1715 before starting work on Bluecoat.The building as its seen today is the result of 19th century additions as the school outgrew the original building. By the end of the 19th century the school moved to the suburbs. Soon after they vacated Lord leverhulme (multimillionaire business man of Lady Lever Art Gallery where you should also visit) ‘purchased an interest'[1] in the buildings. Soon it was displaying Picasso, Van Gogh and Cezanne and was well established as a centre for arts. Following WW1 and the death of Lord Leverhulme the future of the site  became uncertain. Luckily a public appeal in 1925-7 resulted in the Blue coat Society of Arts purchasing the site. Later it took substantial damage during WW2 and was restored during the 1950s. 

Fun fact, the oldest known liver birds can be seen over the gate and  entrances on the cobbles:

 Inside I thought their timeline display was really well done with the light boxes, it just worked. I guess being an art center they’d have to get this right, but I have seen displays looking a lot less eye popping than this in the past.


For more info on Bluecoat see the Gavin Davenport ‘s video below:

If you’re interested in Liverpool’s history you can also find A Time Team Special The Lost Dock of Liverpool (2008) on YouTube:

🐦 You can follow me on Twitter @emhistblog 🐦


1 [Bluecoat Conservation Plan, 2002.]

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