Home of The Cavern & Eric’s Club – Mathew Street, Liverpool: What’s In a Name?
Above Photo: How Pluckington Alley, the former Mathew Street, would have looked 300 years ago. (Painting by John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872))
Mathew Street in Liverpool city centre is undoubtedly one of the world’s most famous music streets, if not THE most famous.
It was home to the Cavern Club, where the Beatles and many other Merseybeat bands played in the 1960s, and subsequently, in the late 1970s and early 1980, it was also home to Eric’s Club, which was the epicenter of the Liverpool New Wave and Punk revolution.
I’ve always been interested in the history of Mathew Street, especially the thought that the buildings accommodating the Punk and New Wave scene, including the one that housed Eric’s, restaurants like the Armadillo Tea Rooms, rehearsal space such as we used in Temple Court when I was in a little-known band (outside of Liverpool, anyway) called Pink Military Stand Alone, and clothes and music shops like Probe, were originally built to store fresh fruit and vegetables imported at Liverpool docks in the nineteenth and early twentieth Centuries.
The Cavern was also located in a former fruit and vegetable warehouse on Mathew Street.
I recently read a superb article by Scott Wheeler, which detailed an even earlier history of Mathew Street, from its earliest beginnings as a cart track, which passed over agricultural land owned by a Mr Mathew Pluckington.
This is a summary of that article. I have added photos for illustration.
The Pool of Liverpool was a deep, narrow, natural channel that cut into the eastern bank of the Mersey near the present site of the Albert Dock and penetrated to the northeast, through the present-day city centre, into the area now occupied by Canning Place, South John Street and Whitechapel.
The Pool provided a convenient means of travel and goods transport between the riverfront and the largely undeveloped land to the east, where Mathew Street now lies, and boats were actually built on the banks of the Pool at Whitechapel.
Mr. Pluckington’s path, or what is now called Mathew Street, ran from present-day North John Street to Stanley Street, lying only a short distance from the Pool. His parcel of land was practically waterfront property and therefore a prime piece of commercial real estate.
It is likely that cargoes of fruit and other imported produce were sailed straight up the Pool from the River Mersey, unloaded directly from its bank, and hauled away a few hundred feet up the slope along Pluckington Alley/Mathew Street.
The city reclaimed the land covered by the pool in the 1700s for residential and commercial development.
Within the space of only a few decades Mr. Pluckington’s humble dirt lane developed into a busy commercial thoroughfare — known for generations as Pluckington’s Alley, later renamed Mathew Street after Mathew Pluckington himself — with rows of warehouses built for the storage of fruit and other food products unloaded from the produce ships arriving daily on the Mersey.
By the early 1700s rows of imposing, multi-story brick buildings lined both sides of the former country lane, and a steady, noisy traffic of horses, wagons and pedestrians squeezed up and down the street, clambering over cobblestones greasy with trampled produce dropped from passing wagons.
Despite the overwhelming changes visited upon Mathew Street over the past three centuries, some of the present buildings stand on sites that have been used for similar purposes for hundreds of years.
The Grapes pub was originally an inn, complete with pub and stables, as far back as the 18th century, and a public house may have been operating continuously on the site of for at least 300 years.
The original Cavern Club building stood at 10 Mathew Street, almost opposite Eric’s (which was located in 9 Mathew Street), until it was demolished. The building housing the Cavern, like the one that hosted Eric’s, began its career simply as one more undistinguished produce storage warehouse among many.
Another warehouse located further down the street at number 18, which now houses the Irish pub Flanagan’s Apple, took its name from the days when the building was used for storing large quantities of apples. Back in my day, it was called the Armadillo Tea Rooms and served up great food.
All the buildings mentioned in this article, and of course Mathew Street and the surrounding roads itself, are frequently referred to in my 1970s-1980s music, Liverpool, band and Eric’s memoir of growing up through that time, called Bombed Out!, which also highlights historical links between the city in the 1970s and 1980s, and other periods of Liverpool history stretching back much further in time.
Buy a signed copy of Bombed Out! here: http://www.bombedoutpunk.com/buybook.php