2. We Can Work It Out

Resize Birds from the Museum

October 16, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

The liver birds are five and a half metres (eighteen feet) tall.

They are over a hundred years old.

They are made of copper and they were designed by Carl Bernard Bartels.

This much we know – however, we aren’t quite sure what they actually are.










The birds are either a cormorant, an eagle, or something else – a dove or a spoonbill perhaps, for the twitchers amongst us – maybe even a phoenix.

‘We have something no zoo has ever seen, no museums have ever secured, nor the world’s wealth can buy – the Liver Bird’ (Eric Hardy, 1934).

We can be sure that they have a sprig of broom in their mouths, or maybe it is laver (seaweed) and although no formal names have been suggested, they are unofficially called ‘our people’ and ‘our prosperity’ because ‘the liver is a mythical bird that once haunted the shoreline. The female is looking out to sea watching for seamen, while the male is making sure the women are behaving themselves and pubs are open…’

These myths, the wonder surrounding them, is what I wanted to focus on.

Despite their omnipresence and status across the city, the liver birds are not just the sole property of a certain football club. Indeed, they featured on medals and souvenirs produced by the city’s first team from 1878, also universities and the council.

Many I have spoke to have questioned their very nature and importance by seemingly not knowing their history, nor the tales that have been built up around them over the past century or so.

Peter Sissons once described them as ‘the most distinctive and recognisable civil emblems in the UK’ and Don McLean apparently said that ‘… those two Liver birds can sing, we just can’t hear them… but they are singing!’

However, the story that got me, the one which intrigued me the most, is the one that involves the remote possibility that they might fly away should they see each other / mate / fall in love. I had never heard this before, but it goes some way to explain why they are facing away from each other.









I’ll be writing about this romantic notion later in the week.

Another, more sinister suggestion, is that they are like protective parents (‘they will be there, no matter what is happening’) and if they should ever fly away, the city would fall in to the sea.

Perhaps this inspired ex FA chief Brian Barwick to decide that ‘Liverpool without the Liver birds is unthinkable, unimaginable…’ That is to say that, should they fly away, or if an honest man and a virgin woman pass / fall in love (delete where appropriate) before the two birds, then the city would cease to exist i.e. fall to the ground.

Just think about that for a second.

A whole city, rich in heritage and character and fully functioning, to be wiped out in an instant, think of Pompeii, of Hiroshima, of those desolate, post-apocalyptic cities we marvel at in disaster or zombie movies.

Think of Planet of the Apes, and the buried statue of liberty.

Now, replace it with the two empty domes that the birds currently perch on.

It will never happen, of course… The disconcertingly vague versions of the rumour here is probably part of the reason why nobody believes it, and the fact that nothing yet has suggested this be the case.

However, a watered down version of this tale is just that if either the man or woman mentioned walks by the Liver birds, they flap their wings, I am not sure why, presumably in excitement.

But some people do believe, they talk about it at least, especially those who sing a little known chorus from an extended version of a famous local anthem – ‘In my Liverpool Home’ – in local hostelries:

Our Liverpool ladies will hug and kiss men
But a virtuous lady you’ll find now and then
Our eighteen foot lyver birds perched up on high
They flap their great wings every time she goes by
In my Liverpool home…

Now, I am pretty honest.

Also, I have walked down the Strand quite a few times.

However, I don’t believe I have ever witnessed a flapping of wings up to now.

A huge part of me still wants to believe the story though, because it does create a sense of mystery, of wonder, about the place.

Therefore, I decided to investigate further whether or not any of this could be proved, and if there was evidence of the birds having magic and potentially disastrous powers…


Avatar of Jonathan Greenbank

Jonathan Greenbank

An avid collector of stories, objects & ideas, I am fascinated by those secret narratives unwinding within our cities, noticed only by those involved and observant onlookers. Working across a variety of media, from pencil drawings to scrapbooks, film & installation, even lasering my eyes to become a superhero for my MA. All this can be found on my blog www.jonathangreenbank.com