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Barclay's Bank, Liverpool

Description: Barclay's Bank

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 12 July 1966
English Heritage Building ID: 359718

OS Grid Reference: SJ3412390479
OS Grid Coordinates: 334123, 390479
Latitude/Longitude: 53.4070, -2.9924

Location: Rumford Street, Liverpool L2 0RD

Locality: Liverpool
County: Liverpool
Country: England
Postcode: L2 0RD

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Listing Text

392/52/1335 WATER STREET
12-JUL-1966 (North side)
4 AND 6

Bank building, lying on the north side of Water Street. Built as headquarters for Martins Bank, 1927-32, by Herbert H. Rowse. Sculpture by Herbert Tyson Smith, assisted by Edmund Thomson and George Capstick. The building was latterly, and until recently, a branch of Barclay's Bank. It is currently (2007) undergoing renovation.

EXTERIOR: Portland stone on steel frame. Large square block in classical style. Seven storeys, with mezzanine, attic, and basement, end bays of four storeys. Eleven bays and rusticated canted corner bays; 11-bay returns. Rusticated ground floor. Centre giant round arch with keystone and coffering, balcony above to three central windows; another entrance to left with cornice. Three round-arched windows to right and one to left with keystones and carved tympana. Arms on flat band over 3rd floor, rich frieze and cornice over 4th floor. Mezzanine above with Greek key band. Bronze doors in low relief.

INTERIOR: Main doorway flanked by identical relief sculpture panels, the flat, linear style is influenced by the Paris Exhibition of 1925. These depict Liverpool as Neptune, accompanied by African children carrying bags of money, with anchor and weighing-scales. Above, grasshoppers, the sign of Martins Bank. The frieze of the entrance hall shows tribute bearers pouring coins into central receptacle. The entrance hall leads to large top-lit banking hall, with vaulted arcades on four sides, the columns hollow, threaded on to the frame. Travertine walls, floor, and columns. Circular corner lobbies. Curved counter in centre; light fittings, desks, and war memorial. The design of every detail was overseen by Rowse.

HISTORY: Martins Bank has its origins in the sixteenth century; the bank is supposed to have been founded by Sir Thomas Gresham - the grasshoppers at the entrance to the Water Street building are from his crest. In 1918 Martins Bank was acquired by the Bank of Liverpool (the new name, Bank of Liverpool and Martins was shortened to Martins Bank in 1928); the Bank of Liverpool had previously absorbed Heywood's Bank, founded by brothers Arthur and Benjamin Heywood in 1773. In 1969 Martins Bank was incorporated into Barclays Bank.

While the original Martins Bank is not known to have any direct links with the slave trade, banks were inextricably linked to the trade in eighteenth-century Liverpool, supplying the credit essential to a risky business which offered relatively long-term returns. The Heywood brothers, having been left a fortune by their father, established themselves as Africa merchants, engaging in at least 125 slaving voyages.

The relief sculptures at the entrance to 4 & 6 Water Street have provoked controversy in Liverpool since the late twentieth century. Some see them as dignifying, or accepting unquestioningly, the role of slavery in Liverpool's economy; whilst some see them as a more general celebration of the international aspect of Liverpool's trade and prosperity. Either way, the fact that the subject was chosen in 1927-32 is an indication of the extent to which Liverpool's former involvement with the slave trade has been embedded in its economic culture.

Joseph Sharples, Liverpool (2004);
R. Pollard and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Lancashire: Liverpool and the South West (2006);
Terry Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Liverpool (1997) pp.241-42.

4 & 6 Water Street is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Masterpiece of Herbert J. Rowse; one of the best interwar classical buildings in the country
* An essentially Liverpool building, its design perfectly expresses the American classicism promoted through Charles Reilly's Liverpool School of Architecture
* Sculptural decorations, referring to Africa's contribution to Liverpool's economy, in combination with the bank's connection with slavery, add to historical interest of building. This amendment is written in 2007, the bicentenary year of the 1807 Abolition Act.

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.