Liverpool's centre for the contemporary arts

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0151 702 5324 | info@thebluecoat.org.uk

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The story so far
The story so far

The Bluecoat is the oldest building in Liverpool city centre, dating from the early 18th century.

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Heritage

One of Liverpool's most distinctive buildings, the Bluecoat is situated in the heart of the city centre in the busy Church Street retail area. Its elegant Queen Anne style architecture, cobbled front courtyard and beautiful 'secret garden' make it amongst the top visitor attractions in the region. This Grade 1 Listed building is an architectural gem and, almost 300 years old, is the oldest building in the city centre. It began life as a school, however for most of the past century, it has been a centre for the arts and a meeting place for the people of Merseyside.

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Historic photo of the Bluecoat

Historic photo of the Bluecoat

As custodians of the building, the Bluecoat is responsible for the upkeep of the centre, carrying out restoration work and access improvements, and maintaining a thriving community of artists, cultural organisations, shops and small businesses.

The Bluecoat’s own promotions have achieved a national profile, with an award-winning art gallery presenting a continuous programme of innovative exhibitions, and a wide range of contemporary dance, music and other live events. From the local to the international, this programme is culturally diverse in its outlook, and is accompanied by an innovative participation programme.

My Bluecoat

My Bluecoat is an ongoing project that brings alive the building’s heritage. It was set up to help celebrate Bluecoat’s 300 anniversary in 2017. With Heritage Lottery Fund support, we delivered a 300-day programme of exhibitions, performances, workshops, talks, tours, a free publication and many participatory heritage events. 

A significant legacy of that year is the My Bluecoat website: mybluecoat.org.uk, which explores different aspects of Bluecoat’s rich history, bringing together information about the building’s transformation from 18th century charity school to the UK’s first arts centre in the early 20th century.

We collaborated with the current Blue Coat School in Wavertree and Liverpool Record Office on digitising archives held in their collections and by us, making much of the material publicly accessible for the first time. A team of volunteers scanned over 20,500 individual items.

Collections include all our arts programme brochures from the past 40 years, some 200 exhibitions and events posters, documentation from exhibitions in the gallery and offsite, images of the garden, and films documenting music and live art performances. Material relating to the school’s connections to maritime mercantile Liverpool, including the Transatlantic slave trade, is also featured

This valuable and accessible resource provides an introduction to Bluecoat as well as in depth information such as historical documents, from the journal of the school’s founder and principal patron, master mariner Bryan Blundell, to the founding constitution of the Bluecoat Society of Arts in 1927, to a comprehensive list of the exhibitions staged at Bluecoat since 1907 (when Monet exhibited) and 1911 (when Picasso, Matisse and others were included in a ground-breaking Post-Impressionism exhibition).

Other features of the website include 300 ‘Bluecoat facts’, a downloadable schools pack, and a section on people’s Bluecoat stories. These include over 20 specially made short filmed ‘vignettes’ reflecting a breadth of narratives about the building. And if you have a Bluecoat story you’d like to share with us, you can also do this on the site.

 

The School

St Georges day at the Bluecoat

St Georges day at the Bluecoat

Now known simply as the Bluecoat, the Bluecoat building has a fascinating history. In 1708, the Reverend Robert Styth, rector of Liverpool, and Bryan Blundell, master mariner, founded the Liverpool Blue Coat School (also referred to as the Blue Coat Hospital), an institution "dedicated to the promotion of Christian charity and the training of poor boys in the principles of the Anglican Church." A Latin inscription of this text above the main entrance is a reminder today of the building's original function. Work on the building began in 1716 and was completed nine years later, and there were later extensions and alterations, especially to the rear of the building. The building's design has caused much speculation, and research is currently being undertaken to discover the identity of the mystery architect. After nearly 200 years of occupancy, the School having outgrown its original home, moved in 1906 to new, larger premises in suburban Wavertree. (view the Bluecoat School's website www.bluecoat.schoolzone.co.uk for further information)

Britain's Oldest Art Space

A year after the school relocated, a group of painters and sculptors - seeking a new home following the demolition of their studio space at Sandon Terrace, opposite the Anglican Cathedral - moved to the Bluecoat. Artistic activity has been at the heart of the building ever since, and it was the efforts of the Sandon Studios Society, inspirationally led by Mrs Fanny Dove Hamel Calder, that secured the Bluecoat's future as a centre for the arts. In 1910 they convinced the first Lord Leverhulme to purchase the building, and when, after his death, it had to be sold in lieu of death duties, Sandon members raised an appeal to again save the building in 1927. The appeal's success established a successful programme to manage the building, conserve its architectural heritage, and to promote the arts within it.

During the Second World War, the building was severely damaged during the Merseyside blitz of 1941, and it wasn't until 1958 that it was fully restored to its former glory. From the 1960s onwards the Bluecoat firmly established itself as a cornerstone of Liverpool's artistic life. John Willett's book Art in a City, commissioned by the Bluecoat in the mid-60s, remains a classic study of the arts in Liverpool, and provided a blueprint for much of its subsequent development.

The Bluecoat Gallery was formally established in 1968, to exhibit work by contemporary artists, and has developed a distinctive exhibition programme, featuring artists from the local to the international. Music, dance, literature, live art and other performance activity are also part of the arts offer.

Heritage at the Bluecoat: volunteering and sharing artefacts and memories

Contribute your own insight to the Bluecoat's history by sharing your artefact or story with us or registering your interest in volunteering with our Heritage Programme.  Please click here to specify your interest or story.

About the Bluecoat

Bluecoat is Liverpool’s centre for the contemporary arts, the oldest in the UK. Our landmark building, located in the ...

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Mon - Sat 9.00am - 6.00pm
Sun 11.00am - 6.00pm

Tickets & Information

0151 702 5324 | info@thebluecoat.org.uk

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