posted 28 Feb 2017
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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.
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.
Join the My Bluecoat project, which will bring alive the building’s heritage to help celebrate Bluecoat turning 300.
Thanks to National Lottery funding, throughout 2017 there will be a programme of heritage, art exhibitions, live music and dance events and community projects will help audiences explore different aspects of Bluecoat’s history. Through this programme and our website we will also investigate the many connections between the Bluecoat’s story and the history of the city itself.
This history will be informed by Bluecoat collecting and sharing the stories of individuals who have personal connections to Bluecoat, presenting an alternative narrative to the “official” story. To help with this unofficial history, we invite you to share any stories you or your family may have from throughout Bluecoat's history. As well as gathering people's history, this project will also bring together information about the building’s transformation from charity school in the 18th and 19th centuries to the UK’s first arts centre in the 20th century by digitising archives held at Bluecoat, Liverpool Record Office, the current Blue Coat School in Wavertree, and elsewhere, making them publicly accessible for the first time.
Material will be uploaded onto a new My Bluecoat website coming later in the year, allowing current visitors to learn more about Bluecoat’s history and creating opportunities to share Bluecoat’s heritage with a new audience.
My Bluecoat has been supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Thanks to National Lottery players, this major initiative will digitise the archives from a number of key sources, bringing these fascinating records together for the first time alongside memories from the public.
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.