The Blind School Extension (1)
Hope Street / Hardman Street, Liverpool L1

Picture by Carly Neill
 
Architects: Anthony Minoprio & Hugh Spencely
 

The Liverpool School for the Blind was founded by Edward Rushton (1756 - 1814) in 1791 and was the first such school in the country. The second building occupied by the school, from 1851 onwards, is the yellowing Bath stone neo-classical building on the south side of Hardman Street which was later to become the headquarters of Merseyside Police and later still The Trades Union Centre. The white Portland stone extension dates from 1932 and sits at the corner with Hope Street opposite the Philharmonic Dining Rooms. It replaced the neo classical school church, designed by John Foster junior, which was built in London Road and moved to this corner site stone by stone in 1851. The architects of the new extension were Anthony Minoprio and Hugh Spencely, recommended by Spencely's bank manager who was the honorary treasurer of the school. They were both old Harrovians who had studied in Liverpool under Charles Reilly. Minoprio had also studied in Rome where he met the sculptors John Skeaping and James Woodford. The extension has minimal art-deco decoration but that decoration includes (on the Hardman Street elevation) a series of five relief panels by Skeaping illustrating the life and work of the school. From left to right the reliefs show brush making, reading Braille, basket weaving, piano tuning and brush making again. There is one additional occupational relief in the stepped corner with Hope Street, showing knitting. Also, in the corner between Hope & Hardman Street is a monumental plaque commemorating the opening. Woodford designed the magnificent doors which now grace the schools Wavertree premises. John Skeaping (1901 - 1980) was born in Essex, and studied at several art colleges in London before specialising in carving. He was the first husband of Barbara Hepworth and for a time he, Hepworth and Henry Moore spearheaded modern sculpture in Great Britain. Well known for his sculptural carvings of animals he illustrated Helen Sidebotham’s Whipsnade Animal Book in 1933. From then onwards he combined his work as a versatile sculptor with draughtsmanship, illustration and printmaking. He was an official war artist from 1940 to 1945 and went on to paint, teach and write whilst achieving success in the groves of academe.

Sources:
Charles Reilly & The Liverpool School Of Architecture 1904 - 1933 by Joseph Sharples & others
Pevsner Architectural Guides: Liverpool by Joseph Sharples
Waterman.co.uk
M.Royden 

Alan Maycock 2007

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