How the UK could have looked: 6 historic landmarks reimagined

Thursday 09th May 2024

If you’re ever strolling through a famous city in the North or Scotland, look up and look around. You’re likely to see some of the most important and historic buildings in the UK. From Liverpool Cathedral to the National Monument of Scotland, there’s some serious history, folklore, and tales of our past in these buildings.

But, what if they didn’t look quite like they do today? Not many people know this, but quite a few of these famous landmarks didn’t go to plan. It got us thinking: what if the original plans had gone ahead instead?

In this series, we’ve reimagined some of the North’s and Scotland’s most iconic buildings to understand how the UK could have looked. We really dove into the archives for this one! We uncovered original plans, competition entries, and alternate architectural options for six buildings in some of the most popular cities on our network.

1. National Monument of Scotland, Edinburgh

Perched on top of Calton Hill in Edinburgh, the National Monument of Scotland is the national memorial to Scottish soldiers and sailors who died fighting the Napoleonic Wars from 1803 to 1815. It’s a famous structure but gets mixed reviews. It’s even been called “a national disgrace” and the “pride and poverty of us Scots”.

The monument was first suggested by the Highland Society of Scotland in 1816, but there was no available funding from the government. Building work began in 1822 with only a small percentage of the funds needed to complete the construction. Work had to stop in 1829 with only a small part of the Parthenon-style structure ever being built.

The idea for a National Monument was suggested in 1816. Two prospective plans were put forward – a pantheon-style church structure by architect Archibald Elliot and Athenian Parthenon-imitation by Lord Elgin. Elgin was given the green light, and construction began in 1822 with Charles Cockerell overseeing the development. However, a lack of funding changing tastes regarding Greek revival meant the structure was never completed.

Here’s how it could have looked if Elliott’s design had stayed. And if the funds had been in place of course!

A reimagined view of what the National Monument of Scotland could have looked like

2. Manchester Cathedral

Manchester Cathedral is way older than it looks. According to records, a church has been on this site as far back as 700 CE, with a parish church named in the Domesday book of 1086.

The reason the cathedral today seems fairly new is because of its extensive renovation in the 19th Century. All the external and some of the internal stonework was replaced between 1850 and 1870. But, there were plans to build a full new cathedral.

The designs by R.J. Carpenter had a central grand tower and two stories. Hard to believe how different it could have been!

A gif of the Manchester cathedral changing from the current version to the reimagined version

3. Black Gate Museum, Newcastle

This is one of Newcastle’s most famous buildings. The castle keep and its 13th century gatehouse, the Black Gate, were once part of a much larger fortress. Newcastle is very big on castles, of course.

Nowadays, the museum offers an interesting glimpse into the early beginnings of Newcastle. But did you know that in the 1850s there were grand plans to return Black Gate to its former glory (and size)?

Architectural plans by John Dobson would have transformed the site into a much more elaborate stone building on a grand scale. It never happened, sadly. But at least we still have the original stone structures to continue providing a window into the city’s soul.

A reimagined view of what Black Gate Museum could have looked like

4. Queen’s Gardens, Hull

Hull’s city docks had run their course by the 1920s. After this, the area was eventually converted into the Queen’s Gardens we know today.

But in 1930, before the Queen’s Gardens, there were plenty of other plans for the space. Some ideas included creating the Venice of Hull, a tube station, a central market, and an underground garden.

More recently, in 1970 there were plans to create Hull’s own Louvre, erecting a glass pyramid in the middle of the gardens. Here’s how the Louvre of the North could have looked.

A reminagined view of what Queens Gardens in Hull could have looked like

5. Liverpool Cathedral

Liverpool Cathedral as we know and love it today was completed in 1978, with the construction taking 74 years from the very first stone being laid.

It now takes pride of place as Britain’s biggest cathedral, but there was talk of its creation well before those first foundations were put in place. In fact, the site for the city’s Church of England cathedral was originally planned to be next to St. George’s Hall rather than where it is now.

A competition for the design took place between 1884 and 1886, with this concept by James Emerson submitted to the competition and winning first place, but never actually being built.

Described by the architect as “an early phase of Gothic bordering on Romanesque”, with the large dome and two towers, it would have dramatically dominated the Liverpool skyline.

A reimagined view of what Liverpool Catherderal could have looked like

6. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow

Currently home to a world-famous painting by Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum has an interesting history and folklore.

In 1892 a competition was held to design the structure for the city’s new museum. The winners were the London-based architectural practice, John William Simpson and Edmund John Milner.

After the building was constructed in 1901, a rumour about the building started going round. The rumour was that the museum was built the wrong way round, and the architect threw himself off one of the twin towers when he discovered the mistake. Many people in the city still believe this to this day.

The rumour isn’t actually true, as the competition stipulated that the entrance should face north into Kelvingrove Park.

But what if there had been a different competition winner? Well the building would still face the same way, but it could have looked like this competition entry from 1892 with towers at each corner and a scaled back entrance.

A reimagined view of what Kelvingrove Museum could have looked like

So, this is how our part of the UK could have looked. But the real thing isn’t too bad either, and there’s nothing like getting out and about and seeing the best of these cities for yourself.

With TransPennine Express you can do exactly that by exploring the very best of the North and Scotland by rail. Even better, if you book an Advance train ticket you could save over 50%. Where will you go first?

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