Credit - National Museums Liverpool.

Afterlife of a grand Victorian institution

From neoclassical grandeur, to dereliction - and regeneration.

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School for the Blind, Hardman Street. Stewart Bale Collection, courtesy of National Museums Liverpool.

The School for the Blind’s first building was a modest cottage style building on London Road Liverpool, with a much grander chapel added in 1819. Thirty years later, in 1851, the school moved to a new site on donated land at Hardman Street, and built a far more aspirational building.

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Painting shows the Hardman Street site including the chapel with Doric columns and a carriage passing along the street in front of the building.

The Hardman Street home of the School for the Blind showing the Doric chapel. Courtesy of Royal School for the Blind, Liverpool.

When the School moved, it took its chapel with it. A replica of an ancient Greek temple, it was in keeping with the ambitious main building at Hardman St. By now, the school was a teaching institution that provided students with a trade or instruction in music, and it had a royal patron. The chapel, which can be seen in this picture, was eventually demolished in 1927 as the School wanted to build a new extension and it had become less popular since the building of Liverpool Cathedral.

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Relief showing hands reading braille on the side of the School’s extension. Photo: Anna Fairley Nielsson.

The School flourished at Hardman Street for more than a century. Then in 1958, it moved wholly to its other site in Wavertree, and sold the property to the Liverpool Corporation for £47,000.

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The Hardman St building became Liverpool City Police Headquarters until 1982, then it was used by the Merseyside Trade Union with facilities including a small theatre, nightclub and recording studio. From 2004, when the centre closed, it became derelict.

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Crumbling paintwork on a grand interior with neoclassical scrollwork around a blue door.

These images from the Hidden Liverpool project, taken by Carolyn Murray show the building in this period, with peeling paint meeting grand neoclassical design.

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Room under renovation with tools against the walls and pink window frames and concrete flooring.

The Hardman Street building under renovation.

Building under renovation, slightly less peeling paint and a radiator and two cones in the middle of the floor as the regeneration progresses.

Building under renovation, slightly less peeling paint and a radiator and two cones in the middle of the floor as the regeneration progresses.

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Image shows a long room with tables for restaurant meals, four round mirrors high on the wall, and paintings of dogs in 19th century upper class dress.

Bar Room. Reproduced with kind thanks to The Old Blind School.

The building has now been renovated to become a restaurant. In its name and decor, The Old Blind School, it retains a memory of the building’s history, combining restoration of some original fittings with a modern look.

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Exposed brick wall with memorabilia from the Old Blind School

Pictures on the wall reflect the building’s past. Reproduced with kind thanks to The Old Blind School.

The Old Blind School retains its heritage by showcasing various models of brailler and the tools of leather good production on its walls. A framed portrait of Edward Rushton, the School’s founder, hangs proudly in the main bar.

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Image shows exterior night scene with the school lit up by streetlights and cars rushing past in the road in front of the building.

The exterior today. Reproduced with kind thanks to The Old Blind School.

The renewal of a historic building for a new purpose which honours its past is typical of the wider regeneration of Liverpool.

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Find out more:

  • The Hardman Street building on the Hidden Liverpool project website.
  • More about Edward Rushton, who founded the School, and the DaDaFest play about his life, Unsung.
  • Read the timeline of the School for the Blind.
  • Sign up to our newsletter to hear more about our plans for an exhibition about the School for the Blind at the Museum of Liverpool in 2018, and the digital and real world games we are planning.