The intertwined history of The Blue Coat School and the Bluecoat Arts Centre, which occupies the School’s original premises in Liverpool city centre, is now more accessible than ever with the launch of a superb new website, My Bluecoat.
My Bluecoat brings together stories, films, documents and archival images based in one of Liverpool’s most celebrated historic buildings, which housed Blue Coat Hospital (School) from its completion in 1717, until relocation to the present site in 1906.
Bluecoat is the oldest building in Liverpool city centre and the UNESCO World Heritage Site. My Bluecoat plots a timeline in detailed words and pictures from the building’s beginnings as the Blue Coat charitable boarding school for Liverpool’s poor children through to transformation in the early 20th century into the UK’s first arts centre, a role that continues today.
The identity of who designed the original building remains shrouded in mystery, although recent research indicates it may have been Thomas Steers, who created Liverpool’s Old Dock, a globally significant innovation which began the seaport’s journey to become Second City of the British Empire.
Like Blue Coat School itself, the building is an incredible survivor. After the School moved out, the building was saved from demolition by the influential architect and critic Prof Sir Charles Reilly, who persuaded soap magnate Sir William Lever to buy it in 1909 as the premises for Liverpool University’s new School of Architecture. Lever agreed, using damages he won in a libel action against the Daily Mail and as a result renamed it Liberty Buildings. Then in the 1941 WWII May Blitz the building was burned out, but evaded demolition once more and was sensitively restored and reopened in 1951.
The building was also home to the Sandon Studios Society which hosted major exhibitions of works by Picasso, Matisse, Cézanne and Van Gogh. Significantly, the Bluecoat exhibition provided the first opportunity to see contemporary British art – by mainly Liverpool artists – and Post-Impressionism together. Other world famous artists’ work displayed at the Bluecoat included Elizabeth Frink and Henry Moore. Yoko Ono performed here in 1967 and 1984.
Another enduring link with Blue Coat School is the rare and historic Father Willis pipe organ, which stood proudly on the original building’s first floor chapel (now the Bistro) from 1874. Because of the organ’s value, it was transported to the new School premises in April, 1906 – highly fortuitous as otherwise it would have been destroyed in the 1941 Blitz.
The website brings together these historic strands alongside the stories of the people who have visited, experienced and participated in Bluecoat’s varied activities.
The Blue Coat School’s Development Office was deeply involved in research as a partner for the My Bluecoat website during 2017, the building’s 300th anniversary year, along with Liverpool Record Office. The project is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.
My Bluecoat is an ongoing project, with updated material and additions from numerous sources. The website managers are keen to collect any stories or memories connected with Bluecoat story. To view the MyBluecoat site please click here.