1897 Overhead railway footage screened as part of programme for Museum of Liverpool (UK)

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Members of the public were invited to attend a screening of the famous Lumière Brothers’ Liverpool Overhead Railway (LOR) films at Liverpool FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) on Friday.

As part of the public programme for the new Museum of Liverpool (MoL), the free lecture showcased new findings of the world’s first tracking shot by Alexandre Promio in 1897. It was introduced by Sharon Brown, curator of land transport and industry for National Museums Liverpool (NML), who also provided an insight into the history of the LOR itself.

Mrs Brown said: “An original LOR motor coach will be a key feature in the new MoL’s Overhead Railway gallery. It will be displayed in an elevated position as part of a re-construction of Pier Head station.”

Dr Richard Koeck, from the University of Liverpool, shared insights into his research and ongoing production of the film animations that contextualised the original Lumière archive footage with historical maps of the time not to mention retracing the precise route of the films.

“Dr Koeck’s completed work on the Lumière archive footage will also be shown in the gallery,” Brown confirmed, “allowing visitors to get a real taste of what it was like to travel on the world’s first elevated electrified railway line, and what they would have been able to see in 1897 four years after it first opened.”

Opened on 4 February 1893, the LOR was built to ease congestion along the Dock Road following the completion of the dock network in the 1880s and Liverpool’s transformation from a small tidal inlet into the world’s second busiest port.

The seven-and-a-half-mile route not only eased congestion, though, but also served as a tourist attraction providing amazing views both of the docks themselves and the transatlantic liners on the River Mersey.

There’s no mistaking that getting to see over the dock walls and viewing the hidden world within was a selling point. “Already in 1902,” John Belchem says in his encyclopedic treatment of Liverpool’s history, Liverpool 800: Character, Culture and History (ed.), “one of the guidebooks of the city had a chapter devoted to ‘touring’ the docks by the Overhead Railway, and according to a 1930s poster, it was ‘the best way to see the finest docks in the world and the giant ocean liners’.”
The only surviving motor coach was presented to NML after LOR closed in 1956, and is currently being conserved before being moved to the LOR gallery in the new MoL.

The gallery will also explore stories about the people living and working underneath the rails of the LOR, or the “Dockers’ Umbrella” as it was commonly known, and will feature an original third class Overhead Railway carriage, suspended above the gallery to suggest its working height.

Some further facts about the £72 million MoL, which set to open in Spring 2011:

• Currently under construction at the Pier Head, at the core of the World Heritage Site on its famous waterfront, the MoL is the largest newly-built national museum in the UK for over a hundred years
• The museum will provide 8,000 square meters of public space across three floors, and visitors will have access to over 6,000 objects that are currently in store, many of which have never been on public display before
• The galleries in the museum will focus on four main themes: Port City, Creative City, People’s City and Global City
• Find out more: A display about the museum is open at the Piermaster’s House, Albert Dock. It features a model of the museum and information about the museum’s galleries and the objects and stories on display. It is open daily from 10am to 4:30pm and entry is free

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