AN EXHIBITION of Japanese prints which opens at a Wirral gallery later this month shows an engine built in Newton-le-Willows, which was used on Japan's first passenger train service.

In what is an unlikely connection, the 19th Century print entitled 'Locomotive built in Newton-le-Willows, 1873' shows the small brown engine used on the service between Tokyo and the nearby port of Yokohama.

The engine was built at the Vulcan Foundry in 1871 and shipped to Yokohama from the port of Liverpool in the same year. It still survives today in more or less original condition and is among the most prized exhibits at the National Railway Museum in Tokyo.

The prints featuring in the exhibition, at the Lady Lever Art Gallery, are all from the collection of Wirral man Frank Milner, who has amassed this collection of 19th Century Japanese prints which include samurai warriors, sumo wrestlers, geisha and actors - and reflect the rich cultural world of Tokyo, then called 'Edo'.

Frank Milner said: "To me, what appeals about these prints is that so many are portraits of contemporary heroes that were originally bought by ordinary fans for the price of a bowl of noodles. People often think of Pop and its ephemera as a 1960s thing, but over 150 years ago, in a wooden city of a million people on the other side of the world, there was a buzzing, exciting Pop culture and these beautifully-crafted prints show that."

Sandra Penketh, director of art galleries at National Museums Liverpool, said: "Edo Pop: Japanese Prints is a wonderful opportunity for our visitors to get an insight into a fascinating city, rich in culture and character. These evocative images will take visitors back in time to a world of beautiful geisha, brave samurai warriors and fabulous story-telling.

"We are very excited to be showing the prints at the Lady Lever Art Gallery and continue to build on our reputation for top-quality exhibitions. We're sure our visitors will be won over by the striking imagery and skilful execution, enjoying them as exquisite windows into another world, seemingly very different to our own but on closer inspection dealing with many familiar human subjects."

The prints, often produced from 12 or more woodblocks, were issued in runs of up to 7,000 of each image.

The free exhibition will open daily from 10am to 5pm from May 26. For details, visit