A historic pub interior of national importance
Listed Status: II2-6 Egerton Street
This idiosyncratic interior was fitted out in 1929 by Peter Kavanagh, licensee from 1897 to 1950. The historic core has the common northern layout of front and rear rooms with a drinking lobby/servery in between (cf. the Hare & Hounds, Manchester and Swan with Two Necks. Both rooms have fixed seating, above which are large murals commissioned by Kavanagh from Scottish artist Eric Robinson: at the front are scenes from Dickens and at the rear ones from Hogarth. There is also much attractive stained glass made by artist William English, with seafaring themes in the ‘Dickens Room’ and a miscellaneous selection in the ‘Hogarth’. Kavanagh also introduced jokey woodwork, including four panels with scenes set in what seems to be the 16th century, and faces on the bench ends caricaturing Peter K. himself. He was an inventor, for example, of the highly distinctive tables with grilles covering bowls for water to extinguish cigarette ends. The pub was extended in 1964 with a new lounge and again in 1977, taking in 6 Egerton Street. Formerly the Grapes, it was renamed in 1978 in honour of the remarkable Mr Kavanagh in 1978.
This unique pub interior is the result of a refitting in eccentric fashion in 1929 by Peter Kavanagh. The layout is a typical northern one of a drinking lobby with rooms at the front and rear of the building – both are served from doorways to the servery and have remained virtually unaltered. Situated at the end of a terrace of houses dating from 1840, the pub, originally 2 Egerton Street, was rebuilt in c.1877 and has a cream and burgundy tiled façade added in c.1920. In 1927 the Rialto ballroom complex opened close by and with no alcohol on sale it led to an increase in trade for the pub. In 1929 Peter Kavanagh was able to buy the pub on a 99 year lease from Liverpool council and then drew up plans for exterior and interior alterations to the pub.
Subsequently, 4 Egerton Street was added initially as a beer store and then in 1964 altered into a new lounge bar with a servery being installed; also new ladies and gents toilets were added. The pub was carefully extended into 6 Egerton Street in 1977 when the lounge bar servery was removed to insert a staircase giving access to the new trading area. All the later alterations have not impacted on the 1929 scheme. Peter Kavanagh was licensee from 1897 until his death in 1950 and at 53 years service this makes him one of the longest serving licensees in the country. He was also a successful businessman, designer and alderman.
The exterior and interior lobbies have mosaic floors. From the front door a passage leads to the centrally placed public bar with fielded panelled bar front with a copper top, leaded glass windows behind the servery but covered up by mirrors, a large collection of nick-nacks hanging around the bar and from the ceiling, just bar stools and no tables. In the two snugs are colourful leaded windows installed by craftsman William English, who also installed large stained-glass windows in Worcester Cathedral. There are a set of four attractive windows in the rear room – the first is of an 18th-century coach and horses; then the coat of arms of Oxford University, coat of arms of Cambridge University, and finally one of Stephenson’s famous steam locomotive ‘Rocket’. In the bay window of the front room are three stained and leaded windows ‘The Lighthouse’, ‘Galleon in full sail’ and ‘Crossed Oars’ being a reminder of Liverpool’s seafaring links.
Both snugs have curved wood panelled walls with original 1929 fixed seating and above are original paintings by Eric Robinson (a Scottish artist) that date back to 1929 and a shelf and up to the ceiling are curved stained and leaded glass panels at the top. In a frame on the wall is what appears to be a pub myth “it states that he ran up a beer bill on a slate but couldn't pay it to Peter Kavanagh and said he would paint the pub. It says Kavanagh expected a lick of paint but got two fascinating murals of scenes from Pickwick Papers instead! However, the truth is that Peter Kavanagh commissioned Scottish painter Eric Robinson to complete two murals – one based on scenes from Dickens for the front room and another based on the work of Hogarth for the rear room. The eleven feet long one in the front ‘Pickwick Room’ is a variation on a scene from Pickwick Papers and the thirteen feet wide one encapsulating several scenes, all of which depict some form of drinking and merriment and has led to the name of ‘Hogarth Room’. Also in the front room is a mural being a variation of the Tony Weller ejects Mr Stiggins scene from ‘The Posthumous papers of The Pickwick Club’ and two other murals situated either side of the fireplace. A door at each end of the servery provides service to drinkers in each snug. Also, more 1929 fixed seating under the exterior windows.
Throughout the pub are a number of hand-carved oak woodwork such as some 28 corbels as extra supports for the shelves, four beautiful oak wood panels depicting drinking scenes in the eighteenth century situated either side of the two fireplaces of glazed brick with oak wood surrounds; small faces carved on the door jams of the bar placed above service bells; and figure heads supporting the shelves on the upper parts of the fireplaces; six carved heads on the end of the bench arms which are believed to be a caricature of Peter Kavanagh. A lot of this work is said to have been done by craftsmen working on Liverpool’s Anglian cathedral, on which work started in 1904.
Peter Kavanagh patented many inventions including in 1924 a table with a twist-lock mechanism that allowed for the quick positioning or removal of tables and seating from floors in theatres, shops, hotels and ships. Then in 1938 he designed a superior version with more features. These included an ashtray below a latticed circular shaped grill set into the centre of the table beneath which lies a metal bowl filled with water to extinguish lighted cigarette ends pushed through. The table top is hinged so can be lifted up to allows access to the water filled bowl for emptying. There is an amply sized shelf below, then further down there is a set of electric bell pushes (now defunct) for table service, which continued into the 1960s; and towards the bottom of the column are two revolving cups to hold lighted pipes or cigars. Several hundred of these tables are said to have been manufactured by a local firm and twelve of them grace the two snugs. It is said that similar ones were in use on the SS Lusitania – with the ashtray incorporated below a grill which can collect spilt ale they are ideal for a rough transatlantic crossing! Kavanagh also patented three legged stools and chairs with an adjustable front leg to solve the problem of rocking on uneven floors but sadly none remain.
The plans of 1929 show a new gents toilet at the rear (now a cleaning cupboard), a telephone booth and a ladies toilet built in the basement. The walls of the (now disused) ladies’ and the stairway down to it were lined with a material called ‘Nicolite’, which is made of glass but the appearance of marble. The steps and the floor of the ladies’ was of terrazzo. The pub was originally the Grapes and known for many years by locals as Peter Kavanagh’s so it was no surprise when it was renamed in his honour in 1978. The present licensee Rita Smith has carried out some restoration such as the removal of black paint added to the oak carvings which was added to them in 1976.
A book about the book ‘Peter Kavanagh’s A 150 year history of a Liverpool pub’ was written by Patrick A Kavanagh in 2000 (Walton Press Ltd.) and much of the details in this description have come from the book.