As a child I could never quite get my head round how Dad travelled the world on business but claimed never to see much of the places he visited. After several years of trading at vintage fairs up and down the country I'm beginning to understand. We travel to fantastic cities most weekends but, other than a glimpse from the van window, we rarely see more than the room the fair is held in, the loading bay and car park.
It was the fourth time we'd taken our wares to Liverpool and as usual were set up in super quick time, the advantage of setting a day aside during the week leading up to a fair and having a dummy run in the garden.
With half an hour to spare before opening time we set off to explore the venue, Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral Of Christ the King.
The fair itself was held in the crypt and below is where you'd have found us at 8am on Saturday morning, humping twenty-nine sacks of vintage through that doorway.
In 1930 Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869 - 1944) was tasked with designing an appropriate response Neo-Gothic Anglican Cathedral on the newly acquired grounds of a former Victorian workhouse opposite. His plans were ambitious, a massive structure with a dome larger than that at St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, to be funded by donations from Liverpool's working class Catholic population. Work started in 1933 but with the building restrictions imposed by WWII and costs spiraling from £3 million to £27 million, construction was forced to stop eight years later. Work recommenced in 1956 but Lutyens' original plans were considered too costly and were abandoned once the crypt was completed in 1958.
Accessed by a spiral staircase from a glazed chapel in the cathedral above, Lutyens Crypt is wonderfully atmospheric. Built to withstand the weight of what was originally intended to be the second largest church in the world, the crypt is constructed from six million purple bricks and granite dressings hewn from Cornish quarries. The vaulted passageways lead to numerous side rooms and make for a fabulously dramatic backdrop to showcase the equally fabulous vintage wares on offer.
Following the abandonment of Lutyens plans, in 1953 architect Adrian Gilbert Scott (brother of the architect of the nearby Anglican cathedral) was given a budget of £4 million and tasked with creating an alternative cathedral. His suggestion was for a scaled-down version of Lutyens' but the idea was widely criticised and the plan was shelved.
In 1959 a competition to design the cathedral was launched with just two requirements, the design should allow a congregation of 2,000 to be able to view the altar and that Lutyens Crypt was incorporated into that structure.
The winner was Sir Frederick Gibberd (1908 - 1984), construction began in 1962 and was completed in 1967. Shortly afterwards the building started to display architectural flaws including leaks in the aluminium roof and defects in the mosaic tiles, leading to the cathedral authorities suing Gibberd for £1.3 million.
The jury's still out as to whether the cathedral was a success. When we tell people that we're trading at Liverpool's cathedral we often get asked if its the ugly one or the other one. Widely nicknamed Paddy's Wigwam, the American broadcaster CNN placed it at number seven in their top ten of the world's ugliest buildings.
When The Antiques Roadshow was broadcast from there a few years ago I was riveted, it looked unlike any church I'd ever seen and I loved it.
It's even more breathtaking in real life, Mid-Century design on a huge scale, packed with vibrant colour and stark, modernist details.
Isn't this concrete panel incredible?
Beautiful, awe-inspiring and still causing controversy at 50 years old? Amen to that!
We didn't have a religious experience on our whistle-stop tour (or were we looking for one) but went back to the fair feeling uplifted and refreshed. We agreed that it had been far too long since we'd had the time to do anything cultural but with only two fairs left until the end of the year it's high time we dusted off those NT membership cards and took a trip. Discovery is good for the soul.
The fair? It was school half-term and fairly quiet but, if we'd never taken the risk and had stayed close to home trading at local fairs in community centres & church halls it would have been a record breaker takings-wise (and we'd have never got to see such a cool cathedral). Next stop, Art Deco splendour at Walthamstow Assembly Hall.
See you soon!