Vikings, steam railways, suffragettes and Beatles psychedelia: The Museum of Liverpool

By Ben Miller | 12 March 2012
A photo of a large museum on an urban seaside
© Mills Media
Museum: Museum of Liverpool, Liverpool

Telling the story of a place as loud and proud as Liverpool is probably a bit of a daunting prospect. On a board at the top of the vertiginous staircase winding its way through the centre of the largest museum to have been built outside London in lifetimes, punters are asked to name their most loved and loathed local buildings.

Someone – probably with good reason – doesn’t like the hospital much, but the rest of the messages speak of their love for the city. Scouse pride, if ever it was in doubt, is well documented here without any need for curation.

A photo of a white staircase staring upwards towards a skylight inside a gallery
The stairs at the centre of the museum
© Mills Media
There’s a war section which holds personal memories from the trenches and footage of the conflict the Liverpool Terriors battalions faced in World War I. Suffragettes, scientists and the daring plan to build the world’s second-largest cathedral – Sir Edwin Lutyens’ 200-year-old building plan only bore a crypt in 1958, with a redesign competition leading to the more modest Metropolitan Cathedral – are among corridors of lesser known stories.

And although we have almost become complacent about new museums and galleries offering gobstopping views, some of the ones here are truly spectacular, looking out between the sea and magnificent ancient architecture. From China and America to Wales and Spain, Liverpool’s trade and ancestral links are explored in succinct detail.

Some of the sections seem fleeting – Liverpool, Tranmere, Everton, The Beatles and stars of stage and screen are all only touched upon, probably because there are plenty of other venues nearby in which partisan visitors can indulge their passions. Perhaps acclaimed photographer Mike McCartney’s photos, on the top floor, are evocative enough to go some way towards all-encompassing, in feeling if not in scope.

A photo of a man in a dark coat pointing at framed photographs inside a gallery
Mike McCartney's Liverpool showcases the photographer's work in one of the opening displays
© Mark McNulty
The industrial and transport artefacts dominate. They have to, thanks to the huge Liverpool Overhead Railway Carriage which dwarfs part of the ground display, where carriages only usually seen in black and white sit near enormous restored steam trains. There’s an interesting archaeological run-through which explains (among other things) how the River Mersey split the kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria in Anglo-Saxon times, as well as the Viking expulsions in Dublin which led to Nords arriving in AD 902, founding all those towns ending in “by”.

The business of Liverpool’s gutsy boxers turns to mums and kids singing Yellow Submarine in a karaoke booth within a few metres.

Behind the booth, from huge windows, you can see the Merseyside Maritime Museum, Tate Liverpool and the tide lapping against the docks of the World Heritage Site. If its newest addition isn’t definitive, it’s because it’s at the centre of a cultural quarter few cities in the world are lucky enough to have.

  • Open 10am-5pm (10pm May 18 2012). Admission free.

More pictures:

A photo of a small model of a temple under a light inside a bright modern gallery
© Mark McNulty
A photo of a gallery with a model of a temple inside it in front of large windows
© Mark McNulty
A photo of three large cartoonish sculpted figures outside the huge windows of a modern gallery
© Mark McNulty
A photo of a modern gallery full of cars and bygone exhibits under dark blue lights
© Mark McNulty
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