A long-running mystery of who built Liverpool Bluecoat may have been solved as a heritage project continues ahead of the building’s 300th anniversary.
Research through the ‘My Bluecoat’ initiative has discovered fresh information about the team of architects and builders behind the city centre’s oldest surviving building, which is now a contemporary arts hub.
Staff at the Grade I-listed site, which dates from 1717 and is preparing to mark its tercentenary next year, believe master mason Edward Litherland and engineer Thomas Steers were behind the landmark.
The duo, who were highlighted as records were being examined to help piece together the Bluecoat’s history, were also behind the city’s Old Dock (1715) and a number of other Liverpool buildings.
Steers has been suggested before, alongside Thomas Ripley and Henry Sephton, but with no conclusive evidence. There was no mention in the former charity school’s historic accounts records of an ‘architect’s fee’ so previous researchers had also suggested that the fee may have been waived – and therefore not accounted for.
However, new findings are said to have pointed out that during the 1700s the term ‘architect’ was rare, with masons and engineers like Litherland and Steers carrying out design work that would nowadays fall under an architect’s remit.
Close analysis of the accounts book also revealed the two men had both received large payments, confirming they played a central part during the construction period of the Bluecoat.
Visitors to the Bluecoat will be able to find out more about the discovery this weekend (9-11 September) when a three-day heritage event takes place as part of the nationwide Heritage Open Days programme.
Gavin Davenport, project manager for the Heritage Lottery Funded (HLF) My Bluecoat scheme, says: “It’s long been a subject of debate as to who its architects were. Now we can say with confidence that we know who is responsible for the design of this stunning building.
“Whilst Steer’s role is not clear, we know Litherland was the chief mason for the build. Traditionally it is the master mason who would oversee the design of the building, though from 1709 onwards we see a pattern in Liverpool where Litherland facilitates the design of buildings by Steers.
“The connection with Litherland and Steers is really important, as they were responsible for so much building work around Liverpool in the early 1700s. It really illustrates Bluecoat’s significant place in the history of the city.”
My Bluecoat, which has already received HLF backing and is set to receive a further earmarked £182,000 at a later date, will digitise a range of archives related to the building and will bring historic records together with memories from the public.
A celebratory 300-day programme of exhibitions is also being lined up for the Bluecoat from 4 February to 29 November in 2017 to mark the building’s milestone 300th anniversary.