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Old St John Market and Town Scenes (c. 1960)

Courtesy of Angus Tilston

Main image of Old St John Market and Town Scenes (c. 1960)
16mm, black and white, 9 mins
DirectorJim Gonzales
Production CompanyLiver Cine Group

Amateur footage shot around Pier Head, Dale Street and Liverpool city centre.

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Made by Liver Cine Group member Jim Gonzales in the early 1960s, this amateur film shot in and around Liverpool city centre stands out in particular for its detailed depiction of the spaces and buildings around Queen Square and St George's Place, an area of the city that has witnessed profound urban transformation since the 1960s.

Gonzales' film starts off by exploring the landscape around Pier Head, including the iconic Liver Building and St Nicholas' Church. Repeated and pronounced use of the zoom is evident in these sequences, suggesting the filmmaker may perhaps have been experimenting with new camera technology. Footage shot in Exchange Flags behind the Town Hall and of Tempest Hey off Dale Street indicate that Gonzales is heading uphill from Pier Head towards the city centre, as if having just arrived by ferry.

The main part of the film is centred exclusively in and around the old market area around Great Charlotte Street, Queen Square, Williamson Square and St George's Place. Gonzales carefully observes the facades of the buildings, recording street names, shop signs, hotels, businesses and other commercial establishments long since vanished. Charting the film's locations on a 1950s ordnance survey map of the area reveals a filmic geography that is clearly focused on the spaces and buildings around the whole of the market area, spaces which are now dominated by the much-loathed St John's Precinct shopping centre and Queen Square multi-story car park.

The slow, lingering camerawork, scanning the buildings and panning across streets and squares, signals a desire to capture and memorialise a disappearing landscape, one that by the early 1960s had already been earmarked for demolition as part of plans to extensively redevelop this area of Liverpool. In the film the streets are mostly empty of people and traffic, lending the space a further air of impending and ghostly absence. The film is also notable for featuring rare footage showing the shops, restaurants and hotels that stretched along St George's Place, a view which used to greet visitors to Liverpool arriving by train.

Les Roberts

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Video Clips
Complete film (9:12)