The Wavertree Garden Suburb Institute

Cottage-style housing set amid green surroundings was just one of the hallmarks of a Garden Suburb in the years leading up to the First World War. Another was the possession of an Institute: a place where the residents could socialise together, entertain and also educate themselves. Liverpool Garden Suburb Tenants Ltd had planned a large, purpose-designed Institute on Queens Drive, but although the foundation stone was laid in 1914 (roughly where St Francis Xavier's School stands today) the building never materialised. Instead, this small sandstone building on Thingwall Road - converted out of a pair of cottages in 1912 for use as the Suburb's 'Temporary Club House' - is still in use today.

The Institute was the meeting-place of clubs and societies such as the Billiards Club, the Choral Society, the Horticultural Society, the Juniors Club, the Magazine Club, the Parliamentary Debating Society and the Women's Guild. It was (as it still is) the venue for concerts and plays, including - 'The Thingwallian' reported in 1914 - "the wonderful and weird production, entitled 'The Suburb in 2001 AD', in which play Messrs Mann and Faulkner appeared as the completely emancipated women of that period"! Henry Vivian and others gave lectures there, on the merits of Garden Suburb life. In addition the Institute was the meeting-place of the Tenants' Council: a group of representatives elected street by street to pass on tenants' views and complaints to the Board of Management.

Already, by the time the 200th house was completed in 1913, the fame of Wavertree Garden Suburb was spreading. Publications such as the 'Town Planning Review' - the journal of the Department of Civic Design at Liverpool University - and the national magazine 'Co-partnership' gave regular updates on the estate's progress. In October 1913 'Co-partnership' reported visits by two groups of Germans: town planners and members of a working-men's association. At the end of a musical gathering at the Institute, speeches were made and translated, and the visitors "all leaped to their feet with military precision and gave three resounding Hochs! for their English friends".

Such international get-togethers at the Institute were destined not to last. On 4th July 1914 - at the stone-laying ceremony on Queens Drive - the Lord Mayor of Liverpool said that "only in good homes, with good environment, could England produce sons and daughters with the physical and mental qualities necessary for the maintenance a great Imperial race". Exactly one month later, Britain and Germany were at war.

In the 1940s the tennis courts, bowling greens and the Institute were all threatened with closure, but were rescued by the Marquess of Salisbury who transferred them to a charitable Trust. Today, the Institute still functions as a social centre, though 'Saturday evening meetings of the Discussion Society' have given way to Bingo!

The above is an extract from 'DISCOVERING HISTORIC WAVERTREE',
. © Mike Chitty 1999.
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Page created by MRC 26 February 2000.