Time to make up time in Liverpool.
So this morning we headed to The Walker Art Gallery. I’d noticed when deciding what to see in Liverpool that there was an exhibition on Alphones Mucha. Since my college days I have been a fan of his work. One scene painting exercise at college was to copy a printed artwork and I chose his poster for Ruinart Champagne. The end product was, even if I do say so myself, very good and hung in my parents conservatory for years. Not enough height on Oleanna so it now sits rolled up in our attic in Scarborough. A trip to Prague in the late 90’s meant I had chance to visit the Mucha Museum, which I loved and very uncharacteristically bought myself two copies of his Sarah Bernhardt theatre posters. These stayed in a tube until my 40th birthday when my Dad paid for me to have them framed. In my 30’s I bought a house which had Mucha tiles in the surround, this wasn’t the reason I bought the house but was a nice touch.
Alphonse Mucha 1860-1939 was a Czech Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist with a very distinctive style. He started out as a scenic artist but after moving to Paris to continue his education he volunteered to design a poster for the superstar of the time Sarah Bernhardt and her next theatrical production, Gismonda. His distinctive style and the large format of the posters caught everyone’s eye. Sarah Bernhardt was so taken with the image that for the next six years he designed all her posters. Quite often people liked the posters so much they would be taken down in the streets of Paris for people to take home. HIs graphic style spread into other areas, perfume, cigarettes, mostly depicting beautiful young ladies with flowing hair. Borders of flowers quite often formed halos around the ladies heads. His colour scheme was pastel colours which contrasted with his contemporaries.
Between 1916 and 1928 he worked on The Slav Epic depicting the history of the Slav and Czech people. Some of these paintings are 6m by 8m and it was a major labour of love. In the exhibition there was a slide show of these paintings which took over a large corner of the room, one image of each painting and the another that scrolled around showing that image in greater detail. Also on display were works by his contemporaries, Rodin, Gauguin whom he shared a studio with in Paris. Then a section on works influenced by him. In the 60’s art nouveau influenced many a psychedelic poster. His influence carries on including on a Grateful Dead album cover.
Back at Oleanna new boats had arrived and we had a new neighbour on one side. Tilly was pleased to see us, too right! Who said they could go out all day and leave me to meet the woofing neighbours just outside my window. Spoiling my view!!
Late afternoon we walked over to the Georges Dock Building, Grade 2 listed Art Deco where we joined a tour of the Queensway tunnel and it’s ventilation shafts that help to keep air smelling sweet below the Mersey. The building was the former head office for Mersey Tunnels and is still a working building. Our two tour guides Ryan and Billy were very informative and their patter was very well rehearsed.
Construction was started in 1925 from both sides of the Mersey and by 1928 the two tunnels met out of line by just an inch. When it opened in 1934 it was the longest road tunnel in the world at just over 2 miles. The tunnel is round with the road deck halfway down it, below is a similar sized passage which at one time was planned to have double decker trams going between Birkenhead and Liverpool, but this never happened.
Our tour took us up flights of deco stairs to the old control room, where two engineers used to sit and monitor the air in the tunnel. Almost two years ago they were moved downstairs to share an office with the tunnel police force. The banks of old controls were installed in 1966, dials, bulbs and switches a go go. We then started to head downwards through doors that had air locks, this was to prevent clean air getting mixed with bad. The ventilation towers, originally six of them now five, are used to push and pull air through the tunnel. In one large room we were shown the huge fan (6m diameter) that helps to suck polluted air up through the roof of the tunnel to be expelled. The air quality in the tunnels has improved through time, no more 4 star leaded petrol has made a lot of difference.
Down more floors and through more air locked doors to the fans that draw fresh air into the building and push it down into the bottom section of the tunnel. Here the old opening looked like something from Tracey Island in Thunderbirds.
Then we went down and down and down to reach the road level of the tunnel. Taken out to a viewing area which was a refuge we clung to the wall to avoid any possible contact with wing mirrors. The tunnel was built for much narrower vehicles! No photography or hand gestures were allowed here to distract the motorists, they did all seem to slow down though at the sight of our high vis. Here we could see where the air came in at road level on both sides of the tarmac and large wholes in the ceiling is where it is sucked out. Should there be a fire in the tunnel the air flow is kept going so that the smoke doesn’t build up and the emergency services can see what they are doing. Modern refuges have been built below the road deck where the trams were once going to be. Monitors in each of the seven areas would relay information from the control room down to those safe below.
Once back up all the stairs we got to meet one of the Police constables who works there. They have their own force who are also fire fighters and first aid trained, so that should an emergency occur they would be able to deal with it before other emergency services could arrive. If you break down in the tunnel there is a charge to get you towed out, if however you run out of petrol or have a flat tyre without a spare you will be charged a lot more! Traffic can back up quickly right through Liverpool as around 90,000 vehicles use the Queensway Tunnel each day. A fascinating tour well worth the £6 and all the steps.
0 locks, 0 miles, 1 Nouveau graphic designer, 0 photos allowed, 2 hours reading and looking, 2 bowls scouse, 2 teas, 2 nephew presents to be returned, £6 for an £8 million tunnel, 4 boaters do steps, 1 double act, 212 steps back up, 5 down, 2 humungous fans, 4 olympic sized swimming polls full of air a minute, 12 cat naps to go!!!!