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Published on Thu Sep 20, 2012 by David Colbran
I've been wanting to see inside the old postal sorting office in Liverpool since it closed in 2010 and finally through contacts at Liverpool John Moores University and Liverpool Biennial I arranged access prior to it being fitted out for the 2012 Biennial show. Below is a 5 minute slideshow on YouTube.
Urban archaeology at Copperas Hill
The abandoned Copperas Hill postal sorting office is to be given a new lease of life as first temporary home to the 2012 Liverpool Biennial and then as an addition to Liverpool John Moores University building estates portfolio.
This body of work examines an unseen urban experience in one of Liverpool’s iconic buildings. It looks at an emptiness left after humans have departed; the waste, graffiti, the obscure messages and attempts to tell the story of a building from the inside out. Changed textures, altered by anonymous hands, litter the massive spaces. Forgotten signs, point to distant towns, often identified only by a postcode. Everywhere, there are signs of life, interrupted.
1756 saw the first change of use on this site as a copper sulphate works was forced to move due to the smell. However the name stuck as Copperas was the old name for Copper Sulphate (this is incorrect - it is Iron Sulphate - see note at end of article. Dec. 2014).
For a building that once employed 600 people and the scene of many industrial disputes, it was eerily quiet when I first visited in July 2012, indeed I felt like an unexpected guest. The 24,000 square metre Copperas Hill building sprawls over several floors on a 3½-acre site adjacent to Lime Street Station. It was purpose-built for the Royal Mail in 1977 and remained as the main postal sorting office in Liverpool until 2010 when it was closed as part of Royal Mail cost-cutting measures. Most of the sorting work is now undertaken outside Liverpool in Warrington.
I like the visual honesty of the utilitarian architectural style of this building; it is devoid of decoration unlike many corporate and residential structures and clearly remains a functional workspace, even if a lot of the machinery has been removed.
The security devices are an interesting element of the building. In the image above you can see a dropped corridor, with one way windows. This enabled managers to view the sorting office floor, without being spotted, in order to deter theft from parcels. Other areas included panic or 'bandit' alarms within strengthened internal rooms and complex mirror systems for monitoring areas.
I wanted to make a visual record of the Copperas Hill sorting office before its human traces and cultural memory disappeared. The following images show the building filling up with people again on the opening of the Liverpool Biennial.
Liverpool John Moores University have used some of my images on a blog post about Copperas Hill.
UPDATE - November 2012
I've had quite a bit of interest about this project, including ex-workers from Copperas Hill. I had a really interesting phone conversation with Andrew, who worked in the building between 1987 and 1999. Andrew explained that the URL to this blog post was circulating amoung current and past staff. He said the images were really interesting, as workers didn't have access to the whole building and were unable to take photographs themselves, for fairly obvious security reasons.
He went on to suggest that the tunnel linking Copperas Hill and Lime Street train station was haunted. Many new members of staff were sent down the tunnel and came back reporting all sorts of strange noises and events. Also mentioned that the building had a pub, canteen and snooker room up on the fifth floor and asked if it was still there. I was unsure as not all of the building was open to me, as some areas were unsafe with large drops and unsecured lift shafts.
Andrew mentioned a particularly memorable time soon after he starting working at the site; a bitter industrial dispute in 1988. Approximately 400 pickets gathered at the rear of the building during a strike, as the Royal Mail bused in casual non-union labour, and there was quite a bit of pushing and shoving.
So if you are reading this and have memories / information about Copperas Hill, please get in touch, I'd love to hear more !
Update March 2014
Images from this project licenced to an architectural firm.
Urban archaeology at Copperas Hill - link to You Tube video
Update November 2014
Another urban exploration post that you might be interested in - some photography in Liverpool Seaman's Orphan Institution
Update December 2014
Carl writes "Just a quick note - Copperas has nothing to do with Copper, it's the old term for Iron (II) Sulphate. It was mainly used for darkening wool dyes and producing Sulphuric acid, starting in the 1500's (from fossilised copperas stones, hence the name)."
2016 update - wow checking my site analytics, this page has received thousands of impressions and a really high CTR % (that's the percentage of users who see this on a Google search and then visit the page - CTR = click through ratio). So if you've arrived here and read to the bottom of the article and found it useful, please share / like the page using the social media buttons below, I'd really appreciate it ! Sharing is caring, as they say.
Also interesting update and film on the Echo's website - http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/look-inside-copperas-hills-former-11131491
November 2016 update - it looks like Liverpool John Moores Univeristy has scrapped plans to redevelop the Copperas Hill old sorting office building, with spiralling development costs blamed. Read more about LJMU halting Copperas Hill development.
interior, Urbex, urban, exploration, urbanexploration
Author: David Colbran
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