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Electrical Exhibition (c. 1930s)

Courtesy of Angus Tilston

Main image of Electrical Exhibition (c. 1930s)
9.5mm, 12 min, black & white, silent
Directed byMr Andrew

A family holiday to Liverpool, New Brighton and Southport.

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What is particularly notable in archive footage filmed by tourists and other visitors to Liverpool in the first part of the 20th century is the extent to which shots of the docks, River Mersey and waterfront landscape outnumber those of other parts of the city. Electrical Exhibition provides a good illustration of this. It was filmed in the 1930s by an amateur filmmaker on holiday with his family in Liverpool and Southport, and the 'tourist gaze' that is revealed in the Liverpool sequences is one firmly trained on activity on and around the Mersey, with a selection of panoramic views of the docks and river taken from ferries or from the dockside Overhead Railway - or 'Dockers Umbrella', as it was known. The filmmaker seems particularly impressed by the sheer scale of the industrial infrastructure of the docks.

The Overhead Railway, which opened in 1893 to serve the port city's expanding system of docks, quickly established itself as a popular tourist attraction, offering visitors what were promoted as 'unrivalled panoramic views' of the river, docks and ships. Indeed, among the very first moving images of Liverpool, shot in 1897 by the Lumier√® Brothers' cameraman Alexandre Promio, were tracking shots filmed from the then newly-opened railway (Panorama Pris Du Chemin De Fer √Člectrique I-IV). Striking panoramic views shot from the Overhead Railway also feature prominently in Anson Dyer's A Day in Liverpool (1929), and Down to the Sea (1938).

As with the Lumierè films, Electrical Exhibition frames a visitor's perspective of the city that, looking out over the river and docks, offers few significant architectural landmarks or picturesque views, but represents instead a thriving industrial landscape which in many ways was itself the iconic centre of the city. The spectacle of huge transatlantic liners berthed along the waterfront, or of the bustling dockside activity (rivalled only by London) meant that the Overhead Railway, which offered visitors unprecedented access to these sights, played a crucial role in shaping early filmic representations of Liverpool as a vibrant port-city, replete with what the historian Graeme Milne describes as "the showy modernity of Liverpool waterfront".

The New Brighton and Southport sequences in the film are no less typical of many of the early travelogues; both were popular resorts for tourists and day trippers and appear in much of the amateur footage shot in Liverpool and Merseyside.

Les Roberts

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Video Clips
Complete film (12:52)
Pool of Life, The (1974-76)
Liverpool: Across the Mersey
Liverpool: Days in the Life