The Old Blind School, 24 Hardman Street, Liverpool, L1 9AX
Liverpool School for the Blind, a place with a layered history.
In the shadow of the Philharmonic Hall a building lies dormant. “I’ve been waiting,” reads a spray-painted note in one of its windows. The dilapidated exterior, bearing the marks of several historic occupancies, will tell you a fair amount about this structure. Part neo-Classical (the old brown bit), part Art Deco (the new white bit) this is an architectural hybrid whose form echoes a multifaceted past.
So what is this place? Good question. A convenient commemorative plaque at the main entrance on Hardman Street tells us this is the Liverpool School for the Blind. Founded in 1791 by Edward Rushton – whose own sight was impaired after he contracted ophthalmia – this was the first school of its kind in Britain, second in the world after Paris. A row of bas-relief sculptures, the work of John Skeaping, first husband of Barbara Hepworth and a leading figure of modern British sculpture in the mid-20th century, depict the trades taught here: brush-making, Braille, basket weaving, piano tuning, knitting.
For who denies that in the mind dwell truer sight and clearer light than in the eyes?
Extend your gaze upwards beyond the plaque, however, and a red banner notes that this is the Merseyside Trade Union, Community and Unemployed Resource Centre. That explains the sticker peering out from the upstairs window, then. “Don’t smash our working conditions or grab our pensions,” it reads, in fierce capitals.
It was on this site, between 1984 and 2004, that a legendary independent music venue thrived. Developed in the context of high unemployment and with funding from artists including Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and Pete Townshend (namesake of the Pinball recording studio), The Picket provided opportunities for upcoming artists to perform and record. The La’s, Space and The Wombats all launched their careers here, as did The Coral. The man who spotted them was Alan Wills, Deltasonic Records’ boss whose untimely and tragic death shook the music world to its core. The Picket now stands on Jordan Street after private development forced it to relocate in 2006.
The Florist, a new restaurant venture, looks set to open at the venue in 2018.