Old Blue Graham Jones, from the Class of 1964, has written two magnificent books on Liverpool’s history in which he is the first to debunk the myth surrounding one of Liverpool’s most globally important but forgotten architects who invented the skyscraper.
Lavishly illustrated with many beautiful and rare photographs, both books display a phenomenal amount of research and are highly readable. They are a glowing celebration of the city Graham loves and which has such a fascinating history.
His latest book Walking on Water Street takes the theme that the area around the Pier Head was once above the Mersey’s shoreline, which has now been pushed far out into the river. The Strand expressway which is now well inland is the old Norse word for ‘beach’ marking where the river waters once lapped against the town.
Graham takes the reader on an 800-year journey from when ‘bad’ King John created his “free borough on the sea” to the present day around what was the UNESCO World Heritage Site, an accolade now sadly removed.
His other book, co-written with the late Robert Ainsworth, In the Footsteps of Peter Ellis, is the first serious investigation of the internationally important, but now largely forgotten Liverpool architect Peter Ellis.
As ‘father of the modern office block’, Ellis essentially created the modern skyscraper. The myth is that his career was destroyed as his mid-19th century Liverpool work was so avante garde that his career was ruined by criticism. Graham’s research dispels this story.
He was the first architect to use a metal framework with cladding which allowed buildings to rise far above traditional buildings, in which the walls carrying the structure’s load limited their height. Luckily, his two pioneering buildings Oriel Chambers (1864) and 16 Cook Street (1866) remain in Liverpool.
Graham said: “I became interested in the historic core of Liverpool when I took an apartment in Tower Building, opposite the Royal Liver Building, on the Strand. I was fascinated by Peter Ellis’ almost forgotten two buildings nearby.
“I was stunned by the amount of material about them in the Athenaeum Club Library and Liverpool Library. I wrote 12 articles for the Liverpool History Society Journal and also gathered material about the area around Water Street, over 2012 to 2019.
“Someone said to me ‘you’ve enough material to write a book and this cemented the idea in my head. Then the pandemic arrived and I was stuck in our North Yorkshire house, so I thought let’s go for it. Luckily, I’d just about all the material I needed to write Walking On Water Street.
“For the Peter Ellis book, I was very fortunate in my History Society co-author Robert Ainsworth who was good at the computer research, while I was good at the paper research.”
Although Graham claims to “know nothing about architecture”, he clearly has a fine eye for design. However, he says his career as an ICI research chemist was invaluable in historical research and structuring the books.
He has generously donated a copy of each book, which has had a limited private print run, to the school library.