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Liverpool pub with spectacular loos becomes first to be Grade I listed | Art and design


A pub in Liverpool with spectacular gentlemen’s toilets has joined Buckingham Palace, Chatsworth House and the Palace of Westminster in gaining England’s top heritage status.

The Philharmonic Dining Rooms has been upgraded to Grade I, making it the first purpose-built Victorian pub in England to be given Historic England’s highest honour.

Regarded as a “cathedral among pubs”, the opulent Philharmonic was one of the most spectacular drinking dens to be completed at the end of the 19th century, known as the “golden age” of pub building.

Built during 1898-1900 by the Liverpudlian architect Walter W Thomas, the exuberant Philharmonic was first Grade II* listed in 1966 and has now been upgraded to Grade I for its outstanding architectural quality and magnificent interior. It is “the pinnacle of the ‘gin palace’ form of pub”, according to its Historic England listing.





The interior of the Philharmonic Dining Rooms. Built in 1898, the pub aimed to reflect the wealth and ambition of the Age of Empire.



The interior of the Philharmonic Dining Rooms. Built in 1898, the pub aimed to reflect the wealth and ambition of the Age of Empire. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

Features include elaborate carvings, mahogany fireplaces, mosaic-clad bar counters and art nouvea elements, including metal gates by designer Henry Bloomfield Bare. There are also stone sculptures of musicians and musical instruments in low relief, a nod to the nearby Philharmonic Hall, as well as references to Liverpool’s maritime history.

The gentlemen’s toilets also survive from its original Victorian design, the imitation marble urinals proving one of the most Instagrammed conveniences in the UK. The ladies’ loos are somewhat less stunning: they were added some years after the pub opened, being superfluous in what started life as a men-only establishment.

The Beatles used to drink at the “Phil” in their early years and Paul McCartney returned there in 2018 with comedian James Corden to play a surprise gig.





An opulent bar at the Philharmonic Dining Rooms, built by architect Walter W Thomas.



An opulent bar at the Philharmonic Dining Rooms, built by architect Walter W Thomas. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

Two other Liverpool pubs have also had their listings upgraded. The Vines on Lime Street, another Thomas design, is now Grade II* listed, thanks to its opulent Edwardian interior, featuring rich, original mahogany woodwork and plasterwork, and a large stained-glass dome in the former billiards room. The separate lounge bar, public bar and smoke room survive in good condition, as do a number of striking fireplaces. The rather eccentric Peter Kavanagh’s, named after its landlord and inventor, includes various unique features including carved ‘corbels’ (wall brackets) thought to be caricatures of the pub’s regulars, and original tables designed by Kavanagh, with channels for spilt drinks and in-built ash trays.

Historic England is working with the Campaign for Real Ale pub heritage group to protect the best pubs for the nation. Together they have so far given 51 pubs a Grade I listing – but none of those began life as a “pub” in the modern sense in the same way as the Philharmonic.

Although the term “public house” can be traced back to the 1600s, the “pub” as a distinct building type emerged in the mid-1800s. It brought together and developed three earlier types of building – the inn, tavern and alehouse.

There are examples of Grade I listed inns which include the late 15th century George Hotel and Pilgrims Inn (Glastonbury) and the 17th century George Inn (Southwark).

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