This is the first of two pieces regarding Calliope and its Liverpool setting.
In the second Intermission, Lewis Carroll brings Alice Liddell to the first location we see for Calliope: a Victorian building that we plucked out of time to use as a location. Initially, this was also going to be the setting for modern Calliope, but it turned out not to be practical, as modern Calliope has turned out to be a far more complex entity than originally planned.
When determining locations in Namesake, we didn't want to rely on the old defaults: New York, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, etc. Settings and character origins have a lot of personal meaning for us. Emma and Elaine live in Toronto, because that is where Isa first began really developing Namesake both solo and as part of a team with Meg. Emma and Elaine are originally from Quebec, where Isa is from. Jack Wright is from Harrisburg, which is where Meg moved to shortly before the series began.
While the development of Namesake was going on, Meg's husband still lived in Liverpool, England. One day, he began telling her about an abandoned library that was just a few blocks from his home: a century-old Andrew Carnegie institution.
Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish-born millionaire who made his fortune in the United States. He sold his steel empire in 1901 for $480 million. At the time, he was the richest man in the world, and he vowed to give away as much as he could before he died. As part of Carnegie's philanthropy, he put up funding that built nearly 1,700 libraries in the United States and 660 libraries in the United Kingdom. These libraries were remarkable in part because not only were they beautiful buildings, but they were facilities that women and minorities could use. In places where integrated libraries weren't allowed, Carnegie funded libraries for minorities. The stipulation was that while Carnegie put up the funds to build the libraries, the communities had to provide the books, staff, and maintenance.
One of these libraries was the Lister Drive Library in Liverpool. Also known as the West Darby Carnegie library, it was built in 1905. It is a Grade II building in the UK, which means it has national importance. The library would remain open for the next century.
In 2006, the library was immediately shuttered when a staff member was injured on the premises. This came after a period of underfunding . Time literally froze for the library at that point. Books were left on the shelves, things abandoned as if people simply got up and walked away. When Namesake originally started, the future of the building was in debate. It badly needed repairing, with parts of the structure rotting away.
In 2011, Meg visited the abandoned library. There's a huge wall around the library, but she managed to find a section of it that had crumbled away and ventured onto the grounds. Trespassing in the name of research.
It was absolutely beautiful, this beautiful century-old library hidden behind weeds, overgrown trees and crumbling walls. This was Calliope. A year later, it made its debut in the comic.
Since then, there's been some very good news for the first Calliope building. Funding was secured to restore the library in September 2016. It will now be a community center with childcare, a cafe, a history room, gardens, and more. It will be more Calliope-like than ever.
Photos from the Lister Drive Library
- Meg's photos of the exterior from 2011
- Liverpool Confidential article on the library which shows photos of the interior
- An assortment of photos from the Liverpool Echo featuring the library in historic and modern times
- Lister Steps plans for renovating the Lister Drive Library
- Liverpool Echo article from 2015 on the effort to raise money for renovations
- How Andrew Carnegie benefitted the UK
- NPR: How Andrew Carnegie turned his fortune into a library legacy
Footnote: Carnegie's philanthropy came at a price. He was at the center of the largest labor dispute in the US in 1892. His workers wanted better wages and working conditions. He insisted the money was put to better use elsewhere. "If I had raised your wages, you would have spent that money by buying a better cut of meat or more drink for your dinner," Carnegie told critics. "But what you needed, though you didn't know it, was my libraries and concert halls. And that's what I'm giving to you."