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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

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A Tale of the Liver Birds & the Hidden Birds of the City

As the city’s symbol for over 800 years, the magnificent metal Liver Birds have held position across Liverpool’s breathtaking skyline since 1911.

Perched on top of the historic Royal Liver Building, the Liver Birds are said to have originated in 1207 when King John was granted a Royal Charter to register the city of Liverpool as a borough. Needing a unique seal to differentiate documents and sterling from his territory, the symbol of the bird was chosen to feature as part of his crest.

Standing an impressive 18ft tall, the Live Birds are made of copper and hold a wingspan of 24ft! The two birds are a prominent display within the city and previously rekindled the idea that the Liver Bird was a mythical bird that once haunted the local shoreline.

History suggests that the Liver Birds are a female and male pair that go by the names of Bella and Bertie. The female, Bella, looks to the sea, watching for the seamen to return safely home. While the male, Bertie, looks into the city, watching over the seamen’s families (or old wives’ tales – making sure the pubs are open!)

An urban legend also has it that the LIver Birds face away from each other as if they were to mate and fly away, the city would cease to exist. Another local tale also tells of the Birds being chained down, as if they were to fly away, the River Mersey would burst its banks and flood the city of Liverpool.

Did you know: A British sitcom called The Liver Birds aired on BBC between 1969-1979, followed by a revival series in 1996. The title was coined by producer Michael Mills, using Bella and Bertie for inspiration. The show focuses on two single women sharing a flat in Liverpool, documenting their experience with each other, boyfriends, work and parents.

You would be wrong to believe that Bertie and Bella are the only Liver Birds running this city as they stand tall above the iconic Royal Liver Building. There are over a hundred disseminated throughout the city!

The third metal Live Bird is on the Mersey Chambers office building, adjacent to the Church of Our Lady & St Nicholas. The fourth was a bird carved in stone, which initially topped St John’s Market Building until it was demolished in 1964. The 18ft stone Liver Bird is now on display at the Museum of Liverpool.

Other Liver Birds are scattered across the city and beyond, including:

  • George’s Dock Building – A colony of figurative Liver Birds throughout its Art Deco design
  • Water Street – Above the entrance to the former offices of the Liverpool Building Society, a 3D sculpture
  • Liverpool Town Hall – The building located on Dale Street in the hall, including one incorporated into the hall’s Minton tile floor
  • Queensway Tunnel – Waving you goodbye out of the city, you will find an asymmetrical image of the Liver Bird atop the entrance of the tunnel
  • Bluecoat Chambers – Numerous Liver Birds are contained within the architecture, including sandstone statues that look over the School Lane grounds
  • Hahnemann Hospital – Originally the home of Liverpool John Moores University’s School of Art & Design, there are small reliefs of the Liver Bird on either side of the arch leading to the main entrance of the building
  • Walker Art Gallery – This Liver Bird was initially made out of aluminium, which has been dyed aniseed green to match the corroded brass of the statue
  • Cenotaph – A war memorial that stands in the shadow of St George’s Hall with a coat of arms, each bearing the Liver Bird at either end of the monument
  • Municipal Buildings – The Liver Bird is not only contained within the coat of arms but there are also three other stone Liver Birds around the exterior of the Dale Street building

With so many other buildings brandishing the city’s iconic emblem, have you spotted any other Liver Birds across Liverpool with a tale to tell?

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