A Potted History of Liverpool

There are full-blown books at one end of the reading spectrum and small articles or blogs, usually on the Internet, at the other end. This potted history sits somewhere in the middle. The sole objective is to give the reader a taste for the subject. Hopefully, there are sufficient links within the text and information in the bibliography section to allow the reader to delve further if he or she is interested.

There is a wealth of material available on Liverpool and its history. Apart from books you can find a myriad of detailed articles and essays on a wide range of topics, the majority of which are available on the Internet. My objective is simply to provide a (hopefully) useful overview which covers the period before Liverpool came into existence, through to the middle of the 1960s.

Please note that when referring to dates, BCE (before the Common Era) and CE (the Common Era) are used rather than BC and AD.

Comments and feedback are welcome via the contact me page. This includes suggestions for further relevant links.


This is a brief overview of the article. If you are interested in the detail then it is suggested that you bypass this Abstract.

In pre-history, Merseyside was a remote, largely forested area. It was very sparsely populated, although various remains have been found which date back to the hunter-gatherers.

There is little evidence that the Romans spent any significant time in the area. They used nearby Chester as a legionary base because it was strategically positioned, and because it had a navigable harbour.

The end of the Roman occupation heralded the arrival of the Angles and the Saxons, although it probably took quite some time before any of them settled in this area. They were eventually followed by the Vikings. There is hard evidence that Norwegian Vikings settled in the Wirral in the 10th century. They also settled in South West Lancashire, although the evidence here is largely based on the significant number of place names that are of Norse origin.

Anglo-Saxon Hundreds were divisions of a shire, and south west Lancashire was part of the West Derby Hundred, so called because West Derby acted as the administrative centre of the area. Edward the Confessor was the lord of the manor of West Derby before the Normans arrived.

West Derby is mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086), along with a number of present-day suburbs and villages in the area. However, there is no mention of Liverpool, which first appears in a document which dates from the early 1190s.

King John granted a charter to Liverpool in 1207, creating a new town of the period. It was in part a money-making exercise by John who granted a significant number of charters for towns and markets. It also provided a natural harbour (the Pool) which could be used as a point of embarkation for military operations in Ireland and Scotland, one that could be protected by defensive fortifications.

The original town consisted of seven principal streets, which were sited to the north of the Pool, and a castle which was built in the 1230s. After an initial period of expansion which saw the population reach a thousand by 1300, Liverpool’s fortunes remained fairly static until the mid-1600s for a variety of reasons, including plagues, wars and modest levels of trading.

The wars included the English Civil War in the 1640s when Liverpool experienced three sieges during the early years of the conflict, as the Parliamentarians took the town, only to be ousted by the Royalists, who in turn lost it again.

It was after that war that Liverpool at last started to grow. Arguably, the initial spur was the beginning of trade with the Caribbean after Britain had taken Barbados and Jamaica. Sugar, rum and tobacco were the main commodities, to be followed by cotton. Economic growth led to sharp rises in the population and the construction of the first dock in 1715 on the site of the Pool.

Liverpool’s fortunes really took off with the infamous slave trade which the port dominated in the second half of the 18th century. The wealth that it created provided a foundation for Liverpool to exploit the success that the Industrial Revolution brought to Britain right through the 19th century.

By the end of the Victorian era Liverpool’s docks covered seven miles from Herculaneum in the south to Hornby Dock in the north, while the population grew to roughly 100,000 in the early 19th century, and to 716,000 in 1901. The 19th and early 20th century saw the enlargement of what subsequently became a city in 1880, as various surrounding villages were subsumed.

The rises in population brought with it dreadful housing conditions for the vast majority of working families, and workhouses for the poor and infirm. Unsurprisingly, the inevitable lack of sanitation brought disease. In this respect, Liverpool was no different to any other large town in 19th century Britain. Once again, similar to other towns and cities, Liverpool became grateful to a relatively modest number of individuals who helped to see gradual improvements in many areas, including social welfare, health, sewage and water supplies, law and order, culture and sport.

Liverpool’s wealth led to the construction of impressive public buildings in the second half of the 19th century and in the early 20th century, including: St. George’s Hall, Museum / Libraries / Art Gallery in William Brown Street and the three buildings on the waterfront which are known as the Three Graces.

After the successes of the 19th century, the British economy struggled in the aftermath of World War I, and many working class people suffered, with unemployment peaking at around 30% in Liverpool during the years of the Depression in the early 1930s, although various infrastructure projects in the city during the inter-war period helped to alleviate some of the suffering.

World War II compounded Liverpool’s problems when the Luftwaffe bombed it over a period of 18 months, with the peak occurring in May 1941 when the city was attacked on seven consecutive nights at the beginning of the month. Although the docks were the Germans’ main objective, there was significant damage and destruction to public buildings and to residential property, along with an estimated death toll of 4,000.

It arguably took the best part of 20 years for the city to fully recover from World War II, helped by more peaceful activities such as the building of the two cathedrals, the arrival of popular culture and success on the football field (always assuming that football can be described as a peaceful pastime!).


The Merseyside Area before Liverpool

Geology and Soil
The Hunter-gatherers
The Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages
At the Time of the Romans
Anglo Saxons and Vikings
The West Derby Hundred
The Norman Conquest and the Domesday Book

From 1207 to 1660

The First Mention of Liverpool
Liverpool’s Attraction to King John
Outline of the 1207 Charter
The Early Town
The Extent of the Pool
Introduction to the Local Nobles
Liverpool Castle
Further Lords, Charters and Leases
Notable Burgesses
Rivalry between the Stanleys and the Molyneuxs
Grammar School and first “Town Hall”
Early Law and Order
Formation of the Town Council
Charter of 1626
The English Civil War
Reasons for Liverpool’s Lack of Growth

From the Restoration of the Monarchy to the End of the Victorian Era

Initial Economic Growth
The Area to the South of the Pool
Water Transport
The Wet Dock
Slave Trade
The End of the Castle
Town Halls
Exchange Flags and Corn Exchange
18th Century Churches
Early Signs of Enlightenment

Growth of the Port in the 19th Century
Shipping Trade
Dock Expansion
Shipping Lines
Local and Visiting Seamen
The Borough
Municipal Reform Act 1835
Enlarging the Borough
Immigration in the 19th Century
City Status
Social Welfare, Housing and Health
The Poor Laws
Public Baths and Wash Houses
Sewage and Water Supply
Justice, Policing and Fire
Law and Order
Fire Service
Transport in the 19th Century
Omnibuses and Trams
Further Education
Buildings in William Brown Street
Theatre and Music
Parks and Gardens
Sport in the 19th Century
Horse Racing
Rugby and Soccer
Mr. Brodie’s Goal Nets

Up to the 1960s

Overhead Railway
The Three Graces
Architectural Heritage
Infrastructure Projects
Other Industries
Inter-war Years
World War II
Popular Culture


Brief Notes on Selected Suburbs
Docks up to 1889
Background to Plessey and BICC
A Few Words on the Scouse Accent

Relating to the Article

Bibliography & Further Reading
Version History

Merseyside before Liverpool

Geology and Soil

The geology of Merseyside principally comprises: carboniferous rocks, overlain by sandstones and mudstones which were formed in the Triassic and Permian periods some 250-300 million years ago; boulder clay which was produced at the end of a glacial period; and areas of blown sand in the north of the region. The most notable example of the use of local sandstone is Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, the majority of which came from the quarry in Woolton.

There are various views on the position of the coastline in recent history. There is certainly evidence of forested areas which are now under the sea from Crosby up to the River Alt, notably at Hightown, and on the Wirral at Meols. One unsubstantiated claim has it that as late as the Roman occupation the area beneath a line drawn between Formby Point and Hilbre Island was either dry land, marshy land, or at the very least it was fordable. The general subject of the coastline has been fuelled in part by a debate as to whether Ptolemy, in his 2nd century Geographia, actually identified the River Mersey.

The soil varies across the district, ranging from clayey to sandy, generally slightly on the acidic side, while fertility is described as poor to moderate. The exception is the coastal plain of West Lancashire, generally marshy land which has been reclaimed. Its soil is described as dark, peaty, fertile and agriculturally productive.

The Hunter-gatherers

The area was probably heavily forested at this time, consisting mainly of oak and hazelnut.

The Mesolithic age (roughly 9600BCE to 4000BCE) corresponds to the final period of the hunter-gatherer cultures. Flint scatter from this period has been found in various parts of the country, including locally at Irby, Tarbock and Crosby.

Lunt Meadows settlement – Liverpoolmuseum.org.uk

The established view was that hunter-gatherers were nomadic people. However, a number of Mesolithic settlements have been unearthed in the recent past, including one at Lunt Meadows in Sefton, indicating that they might not have been quite as nomadic as we originally thought. Another interesting local find has been made at Formby Point where coastal erosion has recently revealed human and animal footprints which date from the late Mesolithic / Neolithic periods.

Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages

Agriculture originated in the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East around 10,000BCE, with the first farmers not arriving in Britain until circa. 4500BCE to 4000BCE at the start of the Neolithic age.

Calder Stones – Liverpool Museum Blog

The Calder Stones, six sandstone megaliths, date from the late Neolithic / early Bronze Age. They were situated at the entrance to the park at the junction of Druids Cross Road and Calderstones Road, although they now reside in the greenhouse inside the park. It is thought that they originally formed part of a passage tomb where the stones may have been placed together in a box shape and covered with turf and soil to form a mound, similar to the one to be found at Bryn Celli Ddu on Anglesey. Robin Hood’s Stone, which is located at the corner of Booker Avenue and Archerfield Road (about 1500 metres away), may originally have been part of the Calder Stones.

In the Iron Age (800 BCE to 43CE), hillforts, defensive structures surrounded by walled banks and ditches, were constructed in various places around Britain. It has been claimed that Camp Hill in Woolton may have been such a hillfort, although there is no conclusive evidence to back the theory.

Finally, farming, as we might recognise it today, dates from the late Bronze and the Iron Age. This includes the cultivation of a range of cereal crops in small oblong fields, known as Celtic fields, which were typically around half the size of a football pitch. A number of Iron Age farmsteads have been located in the area, including at Irby, Halewood and Lathom.

At the Time of the Romans

Ptolemy, in his Geographia, tells us that at the time of the Roman invasion the Brigantes, a Celtic tribe, controlled most of northern England, with their power base centred mainly on Yorkshire, while south and west Lancashire was populated by the Setantii, possibly a sub-tribe of the Brigantes.

The Romans first appeared in North West England around 50CE, and although occasional remains, such as coins, have been unearthed, there is no evidence that they were particularly interested in the Merseyside area.

When a treaty with the Brigantes failed and they decided to subdue the area by force, they chose to set up a military base at Deva (Chester). Chester was strategically positioned for marches to the north (crossing the River Mersey at Warrington), to the south, and for dealing with the troublesome Welsh Druids. They were also attracted by its harbour, as it was the highest navigable point on the River Dee at that time. Chester subsequently became one of the three legionary bases in Britain, the others being at Caerleon in South Wales and at York, and it remained in use until late in the period of the Roman occupation of Britain.

Anglo-Saxons and Vikings

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms circa. 800CE

The mass immigration of the Angles and the Saxons began after the Romans departed from Britain in the early 5th century. These Germanic tribes arrived in East England, but it took quite some time before any of them got across to South West Lancashire.

Eventually, individual Anglo-Saxon kingdoms came into existence in the 6th and 7th centuries, with this area regarded as being on the southern edge of Northumbria initially, before coming under the control of Mercia.

The Vikings were the next to appear in Britain, arriving in the 9th century, notably along England’s east coast initially. However, a group of Norwegian Vikings, led by Ingimund, who had been driven out of Dublin, settled in the Wirral in 902CE, using Meols as a port. Many place names on the Wirral have Norse origins, including Thingwall (“place of things”, i.e. an assembly field), Irby, Thurstaston and Birkenhead.

It is claimed that Æthelflæd, the Lady of the Mercians and daughter of King Alfred the Great, allowed them to settle there on condition that they prevented any warfaring Vikings from setting foot on the peninsula. Perhaps unsurprisingly, after they had settled in, these Norwegian Vikings made several unsuccessful attempts to capture Chester. Æthelflæd subsequently continued a project, first started by Alfred, of building fortified settlements, called burhs. This included Runcorn in 915, where the fort was established on Castle Rock, overlooking the Mersey at Runcorn Gap, to protect the northern edge of the Mercian kingdom against the Vikings.

Norwegian Vikings also moved into South West Lancashire although there is no evidence that it was the result of any conflict. The area was very sparsely populated, and perhaps there was enough land to accommodate both Vikings and Anglo-Saxons without too much aggravation. Also, there was little in the way of rich monasteries and the like that could be plundered. Once again, there are many place names which have Norse origins, including West Derby, Crosby, Ormskirk and Toxteth, while Anglo-Saxon names include Walton, Bootle and Allerton.

An aside – the Battle of Brunanburh (937CE) is regarded as one of the more important in English history. Earlier in his reign, Æthelstan, king of the West Saxons and Mercia, had taken Viking York and invaded Scotland. This ultimately led to a Celtic / Viking alliance to challenge his dominance, and to the decisive battle of Brunanburh. Æthelstan and his allies triumphed although there was a heavy loss of life on both sides. This victory has led some historians to regard Æthelstan as the first king of England. There has been much debate as to where the battle took place, with over 40 locations being put forward as possible candidates. The two main contenders are Bromborough on the Wirral and Barnsdale Bar, north of Doncaster. Bromborough appears to be currently favoured.

The West Derby Hundred

The Vikings set up a Wapentake (meeting place / court) at Thingwall, near Knotty Ash. This is very roughly the Danelaw equivalent of the Anglo-Saxon Hundred, part of a shire. The area of South Lancashire was subsequently to be known as the West Derby Hundred, as West Derby became the administrative centre of the area.

By the time of the Normans, Lancashire consisted of six Hundreds, with West Derby covering an area from the Mersey to the Ribble (Inter Mersam et Ripam).

At the beginning of 1066 King Edward the Confessor was the lord of the West Derby manor.

The Norman Conquest and the Domesday Book

After his victory over Harold at Hastings in October 1066, William the Conqueror granted much of the land in England to members of the Norman nobility. Roger the Poitevin (Roger de Poitou), the third surviving son of Roger Montgomery who was a close advisor and friend of William, was granted a significant amount of land throughout England, including the lordship of the West Derby Hundred.

The Domesday Book, compiled in 1086, mentions various local townships (or inhabited cultivated areas) within the manor of West Derby, including Allerton, (Much and Little) Woolton, Childwall, Toxteth, Walton, Kirkdale, Bootle, (Great and Little) Crosby, Maghull and Aughton. However, there is no reference to Liverpool. The opendomesday website provides a very useful summary of the information held in Domesday by place name.

Early map showing Toxteth Park – Carnegie Collection

After the West Derby manor reverted to the Crown in the reign of Henry I, Toxteth Park was made into a royal hunting forest. It covered an area, stretching from what is now Parliament Street to Otterspool on the coast and inland as far as Smithdown Lane.

1207 to 1660

The First Mention of Liverpool

A berewick (remote farmland owned by the lord of the manor) called Lieurpul or Liuerpul was first officially mentioned in 1192 in a document which confirmed that it, and various other estates, had been granted to Warine, the Constable of Lancaster Castle, by Henry II somewhere around 1176. It is said that Lieurpul means a pool or creek with muddy water. There are other possible origins for the name of Liverpool, including Leofhure’s pool and Llyfr-pwll (of Celtic origin).

In 1207 King John confirmed to Henry, the son of Warine, the lands granted to his father with the exception of Liverpool, which he decided to keep for himself.  

Liverpool’s Attraction to King John

John had lost Normandy, part of the Angevin empire, early in his reign. This led him to introduce various economic measures, mostly unpopular, which would allow him to finance a campaign to recover Normandy. One measure was to sell charters to create new towns and markets, and in 1207 Liverpool was granted such a charter.

Liverpool’s charter (1207) – liverpoolmuseum.org.uk

While the revenue will have been gratefully received, John almost certainly had another reason for promoting Liverpool. Chester was the main port in the north west. Unfortunately, Ranulf de Blondeville, the 6th Earl of Chester, was something of a thorn in John’s side, and indeed in Richard the Lionheart’s before him. It was thought that he had dealings with the rebellious Welsh, and was possibly considering rebellion himself. It seems reasonable that John, who needed a port in the area to ship troops to Ireland to deal with troublesome Normans there, would not want to rely on Ranulf’s goodwill to use Chester. Hence, the idea of his own port in the region.

Liverpool had two principal attractions to John’s surveyors: the Pool which was effectively a sheltered inlet (now part of Liverpool One); and the nearby higher ground (present day Derby Square) where a defensive fortification could be sited.

Outline of the 1207 Charter

The charter of 1207 was effectively an invitation for individuals to purchase a burgage in the new town, a burgage being a small plot of land within the town’s boundaries, large enough for a house with premises for trade. In addition, the holder of the burgage, called a burgess, was allocated two acres of land to cultivate in the town fields just to the north. The right to hold a weekly market was granted from the beginning, along with an annual fair on St. Martin’s Day (November 11th).

The Early Town

The town was originally laid out as seven streets on the north side of the Pool. The following conjectural map is based on information compiled by W. Ferguson Irvine.

The streets (using their modern names) were: Castle Street, Dale Street, High Street, Water Street, Old Hall Street, Chapel Street and Tithebarn Street. Building plots, there were 168 by 1300, were laid out with gardens at the rear.

Burgesses could trade freely in the town, whereas outsiders had to pay dues and tolls. In addition, they got the best spots at the Saturday market. The town was initially governed by a royal bailiff or steward who also presided over the Portmoot (borough court).

On the northern side lay the town fields which were divided up into strips (called selions) and cultivated in the open field manner that was prevalent in feudal times, while the ground on the south side of the Pool, present day Lime Street, Church Street, Bold Street et cetera all the way up as far as Parliament Street, was an area of common waste (called the Great Heath) where a burgess might dig turf or peat for a fire.

Present day London Road was originally a track leading to West Derby, while a second track (now Scotland Road) led to Walton where the parish church was located.

The Extent of the Pool  

The Pool narrowed beyond the basin where ships moored. The resultant stream ran over present day Paradise Street, Whitechapel, past the northern end of Dale Street where the Queensway tunnel entrance is situated, on towards Byrom Street, and then back to Mosslake Fields where it first rose. There was a bridge across it called Townsend bridge at the northern end of Dale Street and a ferry which traversed it at the junction of Lord Street and Church Street, where some estimates indicate that the Pool might have been as much as 60-70 yards wide.

Conjectural 14th century map – Ramsay Muir’s History of Liverpool

Introduction to the Local Nobles

The most powerful members of the nobility in the area were to be the Molyneux and Stanley families, as we shall see. The following is merely by way of a brief introduction to them.

The Molyneux family originally hailed from Molineaux-sur-Seine, near Rouen in Normandy. They came over with William the Conqueror and were granted lands in Lancashire. As the Earls of Sefton, they had a moated manor house and a private chapel in Sefton Village. They eventually moved to Croxteth Hall in the early 1700s.

Robert Fitzhenry de Lathom possessed lands throughout South Lancashire, including manors at Lathom and Knowsley (which was originally a medieval hunting lodge). These properties subsequently passed to the Stanley family, the eventual Earls of Derby, after Isabella de Lathom, the family heiress, married Sir John Stanley in 1385.

Liverpool Castle

How Liverpool Castle may have looked – based on the work by E.W. Cox

William de Ferrers, lord of Liverpool at the time, was responsible for the building of the castle between 1232 and 1237 on what is now Derby Square. It had 3 towers initially, a fourth being added in 1442, and it was surrounded by a ditch 20 feet wide (which was probably dry). An underground passage was created which went down to the river, running parallel to James Street. Provisions could be brought in via this passage, which also provided a means of escape, should it be required. The castle had its own orchards which were situated on what is now Lord Street.


It is said that the chapel of St. Mary Del Quay dates back to 1257, possibly earlier. It was on the site of what is now St. Nicholas’s churchyard at the bottom of Chapel Street. Before that time the only place of worship had been inside the castle.

A century later, St. Mary Del Quay was deemed too small for a growing population, and consent was given to construct a second chapel next to it, called Our Lady and St. Nicholas.

It should be noted that Liverpool did not achieve parish status until 1699. Before that time, St. Mary’s in Walton was the local parish church within the diocese of Lichfield (later Chester), and as such it acted as the mother church to these chapels.

Further Lords, Charters and Leases

A revised charter for the borough was created in 1229. The burgesses paid £6 13s 4d to the king (Henry III) in return for: the rights to appoint their own officers (instead of the royal bailiff doing it); the rights to hold their own court for matters relating to the borough; freedom from royal dues; and permission to create their own Guild. In return for a further £10, they effectively sidelined the royal bailiff when they obtained a “lease of a fee-farm” for four years (renewable), which basically allowed them to collect various tolls which were due to the king instead of the royal bailiff carrying out these duties, and thus it made them reasonably self-governing.

Within seven months, Henry III, in need of political support, granted his Lancashire lands, including the lordship of the borough of Liverpool, to Ranulf de Blondeville. After Ranulf’s death in 1232, it was passed to his brother-in-law, William de Ferrers, the Earl of Derby. They then remained in the de Ferrers family until 1266 when they were confiscated and granted to Henry’s second son Edmund, the Earl of Lancaster.

The above pattern was repeated through to the 1600s, viz. the lordship moved between families periodically, while various tinkerings with the charter occurred, and the lease of a fee-farm was renewed somewhat erratically, usually because the lord at the time was not happy with the existing arrangements.


In these early centuries Liverpool was occasionally used as a port of embarkation for the military, usually for campaigns in Ireland and Scotland, but certainly not as often as King John or the original burgesses had envisaged.

There was limited sea-going trade, some with Spain and France for wine, but mainly with Ireland from where skins and hides were imported, while iron, coal, woollen cloth, knives and leather goods were exported back.

Otherwise, brewing, agriculture and fishing were the main local activities, while craftsmen and tradesmen of various sorts were naturally required to support a small medieval town.


It is estimated that the population had grown to between 800 and 1,000 by the end of the 13th century. However, between one third and one half of the population perished when the Black Death struck around the middle of the 14th century. There were too many people to bury in Walton Church graveyard, and so permission had to be sought to establish a graveyard at St Nicholas. In 1558, another 300 individuals died of the mysterious “sweating sickness” that was prevalent in Tudor times.

All these deaths, and the lack of any noticeable increase in trade, helped to ensure that the population did not grow much over the 1,000 mark until well into the 1600s.

Notable Burgesses

In the established town, the most notable families from the 14th century were the Liverpools, the Crosses and the Moores.

The Liverpool family were successful businessmen, holding 15 burgages by the middle of the 14th century. William of Liverpool was the wealthiest burgess around this time. Among his portfolio, he was the tenant of Liverpool’s principal mill, had a bakery in Castle Street, a fishery near Toxteth Park, and he held 24 strips of land in the town fields.

After his death, his lands and the mill passed to Richard Crosse, a son by his second marriage. The Crosse family subsequently played an important part in Liverpool’s history for the next century. Crosse Hall, sited on the current Crosshall Street, may have been William of Liverpool’s property originally.

The Moore family (formerly De More or De Mora) were the principal landowners in the area. The first reference is to Randle De La More in the first half of the 13th century. They lived in Moore Hall,  in what is now Old Hall Street, from the 13th century, moving out to Bank Hall in Kirkdale in the 15th century. Richard and John, both sons of Randle, sat in Parliament for Liverpool in 1307.


The bailiff who was appointed by the lord initially governed the borough, while the reeve represented the burgesses and effectively ran the town on a day to day basis, although he is only mentioned once in 1246.

In 1292 the burgesses asserted that they had the right to elect their own bailiff, and in 1309 there is mention of two bailiffs, one known as the major ballivus who was appointed by the lord, while the other was chosen by the burgesses. As the lord’s power gradually diminished, the burgesses came to appoint this major bailiff who eventually became known as major or mayor. He subsequently came to nominate his own bailiff, while a second one was elected. The first recorded mayor was William, son of Adam of Liverpool, in 1351.

A small group of men was formed, called the mayor’s brethren (or aldermen or elders) who ran the town. Anyone who was mayor for a year automatically became an alderman for life.

Rivalry between the Stanleys and the Molyneuxs

The rivalry between the Stanley and Molyneux families became distinctly pronounced in the early 1400s. One writer has likened it to the feuds between the Montagues and Capulets in Romeo and Juliet.

Fortified Tower of Liverpool – towerbuilding.co.uk

Sir John Stanley who had married Isabella, the daughter of Thomas Lathom and family heiress, was made titular king of the Isle of Man by Henry IV for his services at the battle of Shrewsbury (1403), a position which was held in the family until 1737. To facilitate journeys to the Isle of Man, he was given permission to fortify his house at the bottom of Water Street in 1406, subsequently to be known as the Tower of Liverpool. This is the site of the current Tower Buildings.

In 1421, Richard Molyneux was allowed to live in Liverpool Castle with his own soldiers. Unsurprisingly, the close vicinity of these two fortified buildings brought tension to the town, and in 1424 a feud threatened to break out between the two families. The news brought the Sheriff of Lancaster hot foot. He found that Thomas Stanley had 2,000 men stationed in the town, while Richard Molyneux was located nearby, on what is now Abercromby Square, with 1,000 men. Both Stanley and Molyneux were arrested. Fortunately, after the two sides were ordered to calm down, the storm blew over and a pitched battle in the town was narrowly avoided.

Molyneux was subsequently made constable of the castle in 1441, and in 1446 the position was made hereditary, and remained so for two centuries.

As an aside, the burgesses tended to side with the Stanleys, since the Molyneuxs were considered to be the more dangerous family.

A later Thomas Stanley came to national prominence at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 when Richard III had been expecting him to join his forces, but at the last minute he plumped for Henry Tudor’s side, a decision which arguably won the battle for Henry. In recognition of his service, Henry VII subsequently appointed him Earl of Derby.

Grammar School and First “Town Hall”

In 1515, John Crosse moved to London where he had been appointed the vicar of St. Nicholas of the Shambles. As a parting gift, he made an endowment, making over all his property to the borough, which helped to establish a grammar school. School places were to be free to poor children and to members of the Crosse family, while the fees paid by the parents of other pupils would help to augment the salary of the schoolmaster. The school appears to have been based in the chapel of St. Mary’s initially. He also presented to the borough a new house on the High Street, called Our Lady’s House, which would function as a meeting place for town business.

Early Law and Order

Manorial courts were the lowest courts of law in feudal England. The Portmoot replaced them in various boroughs, including Liverpool. It dealt principally with civil matters within the borough.

Assizes were established in England in 1361 to deal with serious crimes, and Lancaster was made the assize town for Lancashire. Shortly afterwards, in 1388, courts of Quarter Session came into existence. They could deal with all but the most serious crimes. They were held four times a year across the county. Ormskirk, where the summer session was held, was the nearest venue to Liverpool.

There was no police force in those days. Indeed, there were no public servants of any kind. It was the responsibility of the burgesses themselves to provide all necessary services, e.g. take turns to guard the town at night; pursue thieves; act as firemen, et cetera.

Formation of the Town Council

The mayor was elected by a General Assembly of the Burgesses. However, there were several instances in the 16th century when this General Assembly impeded the normal running of borough business. While attempts were made to resolve the problem by electing a council, the General Assembly always refused to re-elect them if it did not approve of some particular measure.

In 1580, the current mayor, Edward Halsall, proposed an elected council of 24 members who would sit for life, and any necessary replacements would be decided by the council, not by the Assembly. This motion was carried after much debate, and the system remained in force, for good or bad, until the Municipal Reform Act of 1835.

Charter of 1626

The last of the series of charters that stretched back to John was purchased from Charles I in 1626. There had previously been some confusion, as to whether the borough was incorporated or not. This charter spelled it out clearly that Liverpool was an incorporated borough, and from now on it is usually referred to as the Corporation. The charter also removed all doubts as to the burgesses’ rights to act as owners of the town’s commons and wastes.

The English Civil War

The townsfolk at this time were essentially Puritan, and therefore they were on the side of the Parliamentarians, but the local nobility and gentry in South West Lancashire, including the Stanleys, the Molyneuxs and the Norrises in Speke, were all Royalists, which meant that both the castle and the tower were in royal hands.

Liverpool experienced three sieges in the early years of the conflict. In 1643 the Royalists in the town had reduced manpower because some of them had been sent south to aid the king’s cause, while Lord Strange (Lord Derby to be) was forced to go to the Isle of Man where trouble had broken out.  The Parliamentarians took this opportunity to capture the town and the castle after some fighting.

Possession of the port was important for the movement of troops and for control of the Irish Sea, and therefore the Royalists were intent on retaking it. Prince Rupert, having set off from Shrewsbury with 10,000 men with the objective of relieving the Royalist forces at York, took what he thought would be a short detour to retake Liverpool, but he was probably unaware that the Parliamentarians had reinforced the town’s defences, digging a ditch on the north side with a thick rampart of earth behind it, along with a series of cannons that were strategically positioned to protect both the north and south sides. Despite being joined by men loyal to the Stanley family, the assault in June 1644 took longer than he had planned, and he lost 1,500 men and used up ammunition that he could ill-afford. However, his bombardment of the town eventually led John Moore, the acting governor, to the conclusion that it could not be defended, and the majority of the garrison slipped away by ship, leaving Rupert to take the town without too much further trouble. He then scurried off to relieve the Royalist forces in York, leading to the famous battle of Marston Moor where they were defeated.

The Parliamentarians began another siege of the town in September of 1644. On this occasion they simply parked themselves outside the town with the intention of starving the garrison out. They were joined by Moore’s ships which sat in the river to complete the blockade. A number of Royalist soldiers deserted, causing the private soldiers to mutiny, and the town fell back into Parliamentary hands in November. A military governor and a substantial garrison were subsequently put in place to secure possession of the town.

Although Lancashire continued to see fighting up to 1650, Liverpool was not directly affected.

Reasons for Liverpool’s Lack of Growth

Liverpool did not make any significant economic strides during the first four centuries of its existence. The reasons included:

  • the population was fairly static – it was still only around 1,000 in the early 1600s. A major factor here was disease: the Black Death in the 14th century; and the mysterious “sweating sickness” which struck in 1558
  • As previously mentioned, the use of the port for military embarkation to fight in Ireland and Scotland was not as great as had been hoped
  • The majority of England’s trade was with the Continent and Liverpool was on the wrong side of the country to benefit from it. In addition, Chester was the largest and most prestigious port in North West England
  • Liverpool, and indeed Lancashire as a whole, suffered from the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century.

From the Restoration of the Monarchy to the End of the Victorian Era

The start of Liverpool’s economic growth roughly coincided with the Restoration of the Monarchy, when Charles II came to the throne.

Factors at play in the late 17th century and during the 18th century included: London’s misfortunes due to plague and fire; the beginning of trade with the Caribbean; general improvements in transport; the opening up of trade with the Far East; and most significantly, Liverpool’s part in the slave trade. The wealth that was accumulated through this infamous trade provided a strong foundation for Liverpool to fully exploit the economic success that the Industrial Revolution brought to Britain in the 19th century.

Initial Economic Growth

Chester’s supremacy began to diminish, as Liverpool became a free port in 1647, no longer tied to it, and in 1699 it gained a separate Customs authority from Chester.

This period saw the first significant upturn in Liverpool’s fortunes. Initially, the town benefited from London’s adversities when the capital suffered from the plague of 1665, followed by the Great Fire in 1666.

In addition, the so-called second Hundred Years War with France started in 1689, leading to French privateers lying in wait for English trading ships, mainly in and around the English Channel. This made Liverpool a safer, better choice of port, particularly for vessels coming down the Irish Sea.

With regards to trade, cotton spinning had started in Manchester and East Lancashire, and Liverpool benefited from it. Trade with Ireland continued to be good, but arguably the most noteworthy event in this period was the introduction of imported sugar and tobacco from the West Indies. The Dutch, French and British had each been gradually eating into Spain’s holdings in the Caribbean – the British taking possession of Barbados (1625) and Jamaica (1655). It was the Dutch who brought sugarcane into the West Indies from Brazil, a business which the English quickly adopted. A trade also developed with smugglers in various Spanish colonies in the West Indies, Central and South America. As a result of these various increases in trade, the number of vessels owned in the port grew from 70 in 1700 to 220 in 1750, manned by over 3,000 sailors.

Other industries in Liverpool during this period included: ship building, rope-making, sugar refining, pottery, iron foundries and watch making.

Pottery and watch making are slightly surprising trades for the town, at least to my untutored eye. Both started in the 17th century. Clay pipe making was a significant trade, to be followed by delftware and then porcelain of the soft paste type in the 18th century. Arguably, the most notable company was Herculaneum Pottery in Toxteth who made creamware and pearlware pottery as well as bone china porcelain in the first half of the 19th century. It gave its name to the dock that was subsequently built on the site.

Watchmaking was first introduced in Prescot by Woolrich, a Huguenot refugee. Other watchmakers in England came to rely on Prescot for making watch movements. Thomas Aspinwall in Toxteth Park was one of the first 17th century watchmakers in Liverpool.

James Chadwick’s map of 1725 shows that there were now 38 streets, as the economic growth brought with it a rapid rise in the population: 5,000 (1700), 18,000 (1750) and 25,000 (1760).

The Area to the South of the Pool

The Great Heath, an area of common waste, was on the south side of the Pool, stretching as far as the present day Parliament Street where the edge of Toxteth Park lay. The park had passed through various hands over the years until it was sold to the Molyneuxs by the Stanleys in 1604. It had become “dis-parked” around 1592, and it was converted into farmland, attracting Puritan farmers from the Bolton area, among others.

Molyneux had regained the lordship of Liverpool after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, and in the process he created Lord Street. He had also set his eyes on the Great Heath, wanting to connect Lord Street with Toxteth. With this idea in mind, he set about building a bridge across the Pool at the modern day junction of Lord Street and Church Street. However, the mayor had it torn down. Although Molyneux threatened all sorts of legal action, a compromise was reached whereby he was allowed to build his bridge, and in return for a payment to him of £30 per annum, he recognised the corporation’s ownership of the Heath, which had in fact been specified in the latest version of the town’s charter that had been granted by Charles I in 1626. He also granted the lease of Liverpool to the borough for 1,000 years, and thus all feudal superiority over Liverpool came to an end.


The poor state of roads in England, particularly the main roads out from London to other towns and cities, began to affect the transportation of goods in the country’s growing economy, not least because cargo-related traffic exacerbated the condition of the roads.

This ultimately led to the erection of turnpikes from around the beginning of the 18th century. The resultant road system was not centrally planned. It was based on local enterprise. Bodies of local trustees, regulated by Acts of Parliament, were given powers to levy tolls on users of a turnpike, a stretch of road which was usually 15 to 20 miles in length. The income was used to maintain and improve the road.  These trusts remained responsible for the majority of England’s trunk roads through to the 1870s.

The Prescot Turnpike Trust received Royal Assent in 1726 for an eight mile stretch of road from Liverpool’s border on Low Hill to Prescot. Five further Acts were passed later in the century to cover extensions to St. Helens, Ashton and Warrington.

The advent of turnpikes saw a marked increase in stagecoach services, particularly for passengers: one service to London started in 1760, a journey which took 4 days: and one to Manchester from 1767 which could take between 2.5 and 5 hours.

Subsequently, the Liverpool & Preston Turnpike Trust was set up in 1771 to improve and repair the existing road.

Water Transport

The Industrial Revolution, which started around the middle of the 18th century, necessitated an economic and reliable way to transport goods in large quantities. This led to developments in water transport, most notably the construction of canals.

While the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, started in 1770 and completed in 1816, is best known to locals, it is but one part of a comprehensive network of waterways in the north west which were developed in the second half of the 18th century, and from which Liverpool benefited:

  • the River Douglas was made navigable from Wigan to the Ribble, from where goods could be transported to Liverpool
  • the deepening of the River Mersey and River Irwell allowed barges to go to Manchester
  • the River Weaver was deepened as far as Nantwich for the salt trade
  • the Sankey Canal connected St. Helens to the River Mersey at Warrington
  • the Bridgewater Canal connected Runcorn to Manchester and Leigh
  • and the Trent and Mersey Canal ran from the East Midlands, through the West Midlands and up to the Mersey via the Bridgewater Canal.

The Wet Dock

The Wet Dock

In 1715 the Pool was converted into a wet dock, some 3.5 acres in size. It is sometimes called the Old Dock or Steer’s Dock, after the engineer who was responsible for its construction. The adjacent stream was closed off, and it became marshland, eventually being built over to form Paradise Street and Whitechapel. In the years that followed, a tidal basin or dry dock was added to the north of the Wet Dock, and Salthouse Dock to the south, the latter opening around the middle of the century.

The Slave Trade

Bristol and London were the primary users of this trade between 1698 to 1730, although there was one solitary ship from Liverpool which carried 15 slaves. However, the picture changed in 1730 when an Act of Parliament opened up the trade to anybody who paid a £2 registration fee.

In 1752, Liverpool had 58 ships involved, and by 1792 it was responsible for 62% of all the English trade in slavery and 42% of all European trade in the business which was triangular in nature: cheaply made goods were taken from Liverpool to West Africa; slaves were taken from there to the Caribbean and to the southern states of the USA; and cargoes of sugar, rum, cotton and tobacco were brought back to the town. Approximately 25% of all tonnage handled by the port was in the so-called “African trade”.

Moves to abolish slavery started in Britain in 1783, leading to the formation of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787. Liverpool-born William Roscoe was a leading member of the movement, and he probably did not make many friends in his home town, certainly among the merchant class, by campaigning for the cause. The Act of Parliament which eventually abolished the slave trade was passed in 1807. It allowed existing slaves to be retained, but not sold. It was to be 1833 before slavery itself was thankfully abolished in British law. However, even this law still allowed existing slaves to be kept as “apprentices” for six years. After protests, these “apprenticeships” were abolished in 1838.


A series of wars between 1756 and 1815 affected maritime trade, due to the presence of men o’ war or privateers. A privateer was a private person (or private warship) who was authorized by a country’s government to attack foreign shipping. They were an accepted part of naval warfare among the major powers from the 16th to the 19th century.

For example, American privateers targeted British ships during the American War of Independence. Britain gave as good as it got. A significant number of Liverpool seamen were involved in this business at its peak.

The End of the Castle

After the Civil War, the Parliamentarians had ordered the castle to be removed. However, although some damage had been done to the walls and the gatehouse, the Restoration of the Monarchy brought any removal to a halt, albeit temporarily.

The prestige of the Molyneuxs suffered a blow when they supported the Jacobite cause to re-install the Stuarts on the English throne after William III’s accession. A penalty for this support was the loss of their hereditary title of constable of the castle. Soon afterwards, the Corporation was granted a lease of the castle, which subsequently became something of an eyesore.

The Corporation wanted to build a church on the site, but Molyneux fought against the proposal, and the matter dragged on through the courts until the Corporation finally triumphed.

The castle had disappeared by 1725, to be replaced by a church and a fish market. St. George’s Church was consecrated in 1734. Unfortunately, there were problems with the building, requiring it to be rebuilt in 1825. A dwindling congregation, as people moved out of the centre of the town in the 19th century, led to it being demolished in 1899, and replaced by the Victoria Monument in 1902.

Town Halls

Our Lady’s House, bequeathed to the borough by John Crosse in 1515, was replaced by the first official Town Hall in 1673. It stood on “pillars and arches of hewen stone” with a merchant’s exchange underneath. In turn, it was replaced by the current Town Hall which was built between 1748 and 1754, slightly to the north of the previous incarnation. Initially, the ground floor of the building was used by merchants.

Exchange Flags and Corn Exchange

The Town Hall suffered a fire in 1795. As part of the reconstruction work, the narrow alleys and buildings behind it were demolished, and the first Exchange Building was opened in 1808 around the square that now appeared. While cotton merchants and brokers may have had offices in the building, they preferred to meet others outside in the square to do business. They only moved indoors to Brown’s Building, Exchange Flags in 1896. The square became home to the monument to Admiral Lord Nelson which was unveiled in 1813.

Corn merchants had also done business in the area of the Town Hall, along with the cotton merchants and brokers. However, with the advent of Exchange Building and Exchange Flags, they decided to set up their own exchange in Brunswick Street in 1807. It was rebuilt in 1853-54. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the World War II bombing of the city.


Charitable housing for the poor and elderly appeared in several places in the town, although it was initially concentrated in the “Dale”, roughly the area from the north end of Dale Street to Shaw’s Brow (now William Brown Street).

The first almshouses at the bottom of Shaw’s Brow are thought to have been given by David Poole in 1684, followed in 1692 by a second block which was built by Dr. Sylvester Richmond, and finally a third block which resulted from a bequest by James Scasbrick in 1724. These properties were subsequently demolished in 1748, being in a dilapidated state by that time, and replacement dwellings were erected near the Fall Well on the corner of Roe Street and St. John’s Lane, where water had been first noticed in 1568.

In 1706 Richard Warbrick, a mariner, donated £160 to erect almshouses for sailors’ widows, which were subsequently endowed by his nephew, another Richard Warbrick. They were built at the east end of Hanover Street.

The Corporation acquired all the various properties in 1787 and consolidated them into a new development in Cambridge Street (near Oxford Street), an area that was virtually open countryside at the time.

18th Century Churches

Liverpool became a separate parish in 1699, no longer tied to Walton. As St. Nicholas’ Chapel was too small for a growing population, it obtained permission to build a church. St. Peter’s, across the Pool in what became Church Street, was consecrated in 1704. It became Liverpool’s Anglican Pro-Cathedral, i.e. a parish church acting as a temporary cathedral.

Increases in the size of the population naturally led to the creation of further churches, including: St. George’s in Derby Square, consecrated in 1734, as previously mentioned; St. Thomas’s on the corner of Paradise Street and Park Lane in 1750; St. Paul’s in 1769 (on the site of Liverpool Stadium); St. Anne’s on what would become St. Anne’s Street (1772); and St. John’s in Old Haymarket in 1784. From the 1770 / 80s onward, churches of other denominations also began to appear in the town.


Old Fish Market (1840) – W.G. Herdman

Markets were always held on Saturdays, roughly between the north-end of Castle Street and Stanley Street. As the town expanded, some changes were inevitable: in 1567 the cattle-market was moved to an open field on the far side of the Castle, viz. Pool Lane (South Castle Street); as previously stated, a fish market appeared on part of the old castle site (the original had been sited at the bottom of Chapel street); and a vegetable market at the top of James Street is mentioned in the 1780s.

St. John’s Market

In 1822 a fully enclosed, roofed market was opened to the public. St. John’s Market was approximately two acres in size. It was designed by the architect John Foster junior (circa. 1787-1846) and situated between Great Charlotte Street and Market Street.

Early Signs of Enlightenment

Ramsay Muir, in his history of Liverpool, painted a picture of a town which was solely concerned with making money in the 18th century. He used the term “provincial barbarism” to describe it at the beginning of the 19th century. However, he also recognised the first shoots of enlightenment with the appearance of a number of individuals who were variously concerned with acts of philanthropy and public service, and who were interested in the arts. In particular, he mentioned:

  • William Rathbone, the fourth of that name, a shipping merchant who was against slavery
  • William Roscoe, a businessman, writer and one-time politician, who was active in the areas of political and social reform, the arts and science .. a polymath of his day?
  • Doctor Currie, a biographer of Burns, who wrote various pamphlets on reform and was active in the administration of the Poor Law
  • Doctor Traill, another medical man, who was instrumental in helping to set up the Royal Institution in Colquitt Street. He also published a number of scholarly medical journals
  • Matthew Gregson, an upholsterer who became an antiquary, compiling Portfolio of Fragments relative to the History and Antiquities of the County Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster.

Growth of the Port in the 19th Century

19th Century Shipping Trade

Liverpool benefited significantly from the Industrial Revolution. Trade with America was greatly expanding, notably the cotton trade, and there were the beginnings of the Far East trade when, in 1813, the monopoly of the East India Company was brought to an end, and Chinese trade opened up in 1833.

The period from 1835 to 1870 saw political troubles in Europe and civil war in the USA, which all helped Britain to capitalise on her industrial innovations. Liverpool’s annual tonnage increased from 1.77 million to 5.73 million in this period. From 1870 these troubles in foreign lands subsided, and Britain saw a lot more competition, particularly as free trade arrangements started to disappear, but Liverpool profited from the so-called second Industrial Revolution which saw the expansion of electricity, petroleum and steel, and tonnage through the port reached 16 million by 1905.

Dock Expansion

The docks remained under the direct control of the Corporation until 1825. During this period the following were added: George’s Dock (1771), King’s Dock (1788), Queens Dock (1796), Union Dock (1816) and Princes Dock (1821). However, the Wet Dock was closed in 1826 because it was now considered to be too small and the quays too narrow. It was filled in, and the Customs House was built on the site between 1828 and 1837.

In 1825, a docks committee was formed by Act of Parliament, consisting of 13 members of the Corporation and 8 merchant ratepayers who were elected by those who used the docks. In theory, this gave the merchants more of a say in the running of the port, but in practice they were all too likely to be outvoted by the Corporation, leading to much friction between the two camps. Despite the disagreements, buoyant trade allowed the expansion of the port to continue apace, with 21 further docks being added in the period up to 1857, stretching from Harrington Dock in the south to Huskisson Dock in the north.

Jesse Hartley was the Civil Engineer and Superintendent of the Concerns of the Dock Estate between 1824 and 1860. He is arguably best known as the designer of Albert Dock, opened in 1846, with its fireproof warehouses. However, in his position he was naturally involved in the construction of all new docks and the rebuilding of existing ones during his tenure, not to mention other projects such as the building of the dock estate railway and the large exterior wall whose object was to prevent theft.

From about 1850 the Corporation came under increasing pressure from Parliament, Manchester and the merchants to relinquish control of the port to a separate public body. This eventually resulted, by Act of Parliament, in the establishment of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board (MDHB) in 1858, the overall port authority for the lower Mersey. Its responsibilities included the new docks that were being built in Birkenhead.

By the end of the 19th century, the dock estate had been further extended, with Hornby becoming the northern most dock, while Herculaneum had been added in the south. It should be noted that Liverpool’s docks were interconnected, i.e. ships could move between them without having to go out into the river.

A full list of docks and dates of opening can be found in the appendices.

Shipping Lines

This section briefly mentions a small number of the shipping companies that were started up in the 19th century, and continued trading into the 20th century:

  • The Blue Funnel Line was started in 1866 by the Holt brothers, trading with the Far East
  • Elder Dempster & Company began commercial operations in 1868, trading mainly with West Africa
  • T & J Harrisons was founded in 1849 by brothers Thomas and James. It traded principally with the Caribbean and Atlantic ports in South America
  • The White Star Line commenced cargo and passenger services to the USA in 1845
  • The Cunard Line started transatlantic passenger and mail services in 1840.


Dock work was purely casual labour. Men congregated at stands (or pens) in the morning and at lunchtime where they might be picked to work for a half-day. Although experience was not necessary, it could be difficult for newcomers to get work unless they knew somebody, e.g. other family members or friends.

The work, loading and unloading cargo, was hard and dangerous. Health and Safety did not exist of course, and accidents, sometimes fatal, were common.

While the hourly rate of pay was attractive, it did not translate into a regular weekly wage. The supply of labour often exceeded the demand, a position exacerbated by the flood of Irish immigrants in the mid-19th century, making work more problematic for individuals. There were also seasonal factors in the equation; imports of cotton were mainly centred on the months of October through to April.

The system was heavily skewed in favour of the owners, unsurprisingly leading to the workers distrusting them, and generally being against any changes, even if some of them may, just very occasionally, have actually favoured the dockers.

Local and Visiting Seamen

By the 18th century a good proportion of the workforce in Liverpool were seamen. In 1773 there were around 6,000 sailors out of a total population of 34,000. This obviously meant that they had significant support among Liverpudlians.

As previously mentioned, the American War of Independence affected trade at that time, leading to 3,000 being unemployed. The shipowners decided to reduce the wages of those in work, resulting in serious riots in 1775 when (perhaps) 10 sailors were killed. Although a number of seamen were subsequently tried and some found guilty, none went to prison after agreeing to join the Navy.

There were also many sailors from foreign lands who found themselves in Liverpool when their ships docked here. Herman Melville, the celebrated American novelist, spent 5 years at sea before becoming a writer, his first voyage being from New York to Liverpool in 1839. Redburn: His First Voyage was a semi-autographical work which was published in 1849 where he described the seedy side of Liverpool’s dockland with its many rough pubs, land sharks and prostitutes plying their trade.

In 1844, the Lord Mayor called a meeting to start a project with the aim of providing a safe resting place for visiting seamen. The Liverpool Sailors’ Home was opened in Canning Place in 1850. It provided inexpensive board and lodging with medical attendance for 200 men every night. It included educational and recreational opportunities in an attempt to dissuade the visitors from succumbing to the temptations of the docklands area. The building was eventually closed in 1969 and subsequently demolished. It is now part of the Liverpool One project.

The Borough

Municipal Reform Act (1835)

The Great Reform Act of 1832 was introduced by the Whigs. A primary objective was to get rid of the so-called “Rotten Boroughs”, frequently places with small electorates that were effectively controlled by a wealthy patron who decided which person(s) would represent the borough in Parliament. The Act also increased the electorate from 400,000 to 650,000, making approximately one male person in five eligible to vote.

This cleaning up of the system was extended to boroughs when the Municipal Reform Act of 1835 was introduced, more formally known as the Municipal Corporations Act. 178 boroughs were affected, including Liverpool.

The main effects of this Act were that a borough must: be run by a town council which was elected by ratepayers; publish its financial accounts which were liable to be audited; and appoint a town clerk and a treasurer who were not members of the council.

Enlarging the Borough

The population which stood at 60,000 in 1792, had rocketed to 165,000 by 1831 with a further 40,000 living outside the borough’s boundaries.

1835 was the year when Liverpool first began to extend its boundaries, first subsuming Everton plus parts of West Derby and Toxteth.

The population increased significantly around the middle of the century when there was a mass exodus from Ireland in the wake of the famine. Although, many emigrated to the USA, a substantial number remained in Liverpool. Kirkdale, where many of them were situated, became part of Liverpool in the 1860s.

Further expansion of the city took place in 1895 when Walton, Wavertree, the remainder of Toxteth and further parts of West Derby were added, followed by Garston in 1902.

The 1901 census showed that the population of the extended Liverpool was 716,000.

Finally, the urban districts of Childwall, Allerton, Little Woolton (now Gateacre) and Much Woolton were incorporated in 1913, along with Speke in 1932.

Immigration in the 19th Century

The Irish Famine, initially caused by potato blight, led to mass emigration in the 1840s. For example, 300,000 arrived in Liverpool in the 12 month period from July 1847 alone. Many travelled on to the USA, but one estimate indicates that circa. 65,000 were resident in Liverpool in 1851. They mainly lived on the north side of town.

Welsh people had been drawn to Liverpool from the 1700s, as the town’s fortunes began to increase. By 1813, approximately 10,000 were living here. Although they worked in various industries, they were most in demand for their skills in the construction trade. It is estimated that 20,000 were working in this sector by 1851. A further 120,000 Welsh individuals came to Liverpool in the period from 1851 to 1911. It is said that they lived mainly on the south side of the town, a claim which may well be part based (or even embellished?) by the estates that they were instrumental in building, and by the presence of the “Welsh streets” in Toxteth, viz. Wynnstay Street, Voelas Street, Rhiwlas Street, Powis Street, Madryn Street, Kinmel Street, Gwydir Street, Pengwern Street and Treborth Street. 

The Blue Funnel line employed many Chinese sailors, with the first wave arriving in Liverpool in 1866. Those who settled here found lodgings in the Cleveland Square area. By the time of World War I, there were approximately 1,500 sailors who were based in the city.

Scottish entrepreneurs were attracted to Liverpool, while members of the professional classes were also in demand, especially as the Scottish education system was considered to be superior to England’s in the Victorian era. There were around 9,000 Scots in 1851, growing to a peak of 17,000 in 1901.

City Status

Liverpool was granted city status in 1880. In the same year the Anglican Diocese of Liverpool was created. It had previously been part of the Chester Diocese.

Note – the Catholic Archdiocese of Liverpool had been created in 1850, when Pope Pius IX set up thirteen new archdioceses in England, as restrictions on Roman Catholics had started to be relaxed from the early 19th century.

Social Welfare, Housing & Health

The Poor Laws

The first Poor Law dates back to 1601 when each parish was made responsible for providing relief to its own poor. Although Liverpool was not an independent parish until 1699, being attached to Walton-on-the-Hill before that date, it had taken on the responsibility for its own poor from the 1650s.

Workhouses were formally introduced in 1723 via the Workhouse Test Act of that year, and Liverpool had its own small version in Pool Lane, South Castle Street, although this was replaced in 1732 by a new building on the corner of College Lane and Hanover Street. West Derby had its own workhouse, while rural workhouses existed in places such as Childwall, Woolton and Speke.

Increasing numbers of the poor in Liverpool led to the introduction of a new purpose-built workhouse in Brownlow Hill (1769-1772) on the site of what is now the Roman Catholic Cathedral. A Fever Hospital was added to the south of the main building in 1801. There were 1,661 individuals in this workhouse in 1832.

In the 19th century, there was a nationwide move towards a smaller number of larger workhouses. This was achieved by the creation of Poor Law Unions which would be run by Boards of Governors. This is mentioned in the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, along with the concept of workhouse infirmaries for the aged and infirmed.

While Liverpool continued to operate the Poor Law as an independent parish, the West Derby Union was created, with a new workhouse in Mill Road (later to become a hospital in the early 1890s). It covered twenty three parishes from Ince Blundell to Garston, making it one of the largest in the country. It was, in fact, considered to be too big, leading to the formation of the Toxteth Park Union in 1857 with a workhouse on Smithdown Road that could accommodate 600 paupers, along with an infirmary (later to be Sefton General Hospital) that could cater for 100.

The West Derby Union went on to create various new institutions:

  • It acquired land to build a further workhouse for the northern part of the union in Rice Lane, Walton in the 1860s (later to be Walton Hospital). A census in 1881 indicated that there were 1,783 inmates in this institution.
  • In 1889-90 a “test” workhouse was added in Belmont Road to cater mainly for able-bodied vagrants who were able to do manual labour
  • Fazakerley Cottage Homes for pauper children was opened around the same time
  • Alder Hey was built as a workhouse for chronic and bed-ridden patients. After being used partially as a military hospital during World War I, it was converted into a dedicated children’s hospital.

Somewhat bizarrely after the decision to create the Toxteth Park Union in 1857, both the Liverpool Parish workhouse and the Toxteth Union were subsumed into the West Derby Union in 1922. However, the Local Government Act of 1929 saw the end of Poor Law Unions when the responsibility for the destitute passed to County and Borough Councils.


Infirmaries which were granted a royal charter began to appear around the country during the 18th century. The Royal Liverpool Infirmary was opened in 1749 in a small building on Shaw’s Brow, part of the site now occupied by St. George’s Hall. It was the first of three incarnations of the infirmary: the second opened in Brownlow Hill in 1824; and the third in Pembroke Place in 1889. Meanwhile, Liverpool’s first dispensary appeared in John Street in 1778.

The Royal Infirmary was followed by two further hospitals just to the north and south of the old town: the David Lewis Northern Hospital was established in 1834; while the Royal Southern Hospital, originally the Southern and Toxteth Hospital, was opened in 1842. In addition, various voluntary hospitals came into existence during the 19th century. They were usually funded by philanthropists, and tended to specialise in a particular area of medicine. See this article on Liverpool Charities for further information.

Liverpool also became a prominent home for the teaching of medicine. A school of medicine was set up by local surgeons and doctors in 1834, initially meeting in rooms at the Royal Institution in Colquitt Street. It subsequently became attached to the Royal Infirmary in 1851, before going on to form the Faculty of Medicine at the University College in 1884.

William Rathbone, businessman, politician and philanthropist, was so impressed by the nursing care that his dying wife, Lucretia, received that he campaigned for a system whereby the poor might enjoy similar care. He consulted Florence Nightingale, and their lobbying led to the creation of the Liverpool Training School and Home for Nurses in 1862, from which the system of district nursing subsequently evolved. Rathbone’s involvement also made him aware of the poor state of nursing in workhouse hospitals, and he helped to ensure reform in that area.

Finally, Sir Alfred Lewis Jones, a prominent shipowner, founded the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in 1898. Extensive trade with Africa inevitably brought sailors to Liverpool suffering from “tropical” diseases, and hence his desire to set up a suitable medical facility to tackle the issue.


Rodney Street was well built up by the end of the 1700s, and in 1801 Mosslake Fields began to be laid out, including Abercromby and Falkner Squares, while the wealthy were building houses further afield in places such as Everton Hill, the southern part of Toxteth Park, Childwall and Allerton.

However, the general standard of housing for the vast majority of the population was dreadful. A study in 1795 said that 1,728 dwellings in the town had cellars which were inhabited by 6,780 people. To the north and south of the town there were many badly constructed courts and back-to-back houses with no adequate sanitation – there were no regulations at the time. Some of these properties were blown down in a severe gale in 1823.

Public Baths and Wash Houses

There was a public baths in (appropriately) Bath Street for a short period in the early 19th century which was demolished in 1820 to make way for Princes Dock. It was replaced by a new baths at the Pier Head in 1828.

A number of major cholera outbreaks occurred in Britain in the 19th century, including one in Liverpool in the summer of 1832 which claimed 1,523 lives, and resulted in a number of riots in the town. Kitty Wilkinson became renowned for letting other women use her boiler for one penny per week; boiling killed the cholera bacteria. She also showed them how to use chloride of lime to get the clothes clean.

Her work came to the Corporation’s attention due to the lobbying of various people, including William Rathbone and his wife, and a combined baths and wash house was opened in Upper Frederick Street in 1842 where Kitty was subsequently made superintendent in 1846. Other establishments followed, including Steble Street in Toxteth in 1874.

Sewage and Water Supply

There were a number of individuals around the country who were convinced that there was a clear link between cleanliness and disease. Waste from privies and waste water were likely to seep into unpaved streets and even into water pipes.

In Liverpool, Henry Duncan (the Medical Officer of Health) and Thomas Newlands (the Borough Engineer) lobbied for the construction of sewers. Work eventually got underway in 1848, and a total of 144 miles of sewer had been laid by the time that the project was brought to an end in 1869.

The town’s water supply had come principally from Bootle and Toxteth Park, but it was found to be insufficient, the supply only being available for parts of the day. In 1857 the building of reservoirs in Rivington, north of Bolton, cured the problem for a short period. However, Lake Vrynwy in North Wales was constructed in the 1880s to provide a long term solution to Liverpool’s water problems.

Justice, Policing and Fire

Law and Order

Liverpool had been a relatively lawless place, with little or no policing. Twenty one posts had been created in 1811 to support a population of nearly 100,000. The somewhat ad hoc system of policing was in fact a nationwide issue which had been exacerbated by the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the subsequent movement of people into towns and cities. This unsatisfactory situation ultimately led to the setting up of the first full-time police force in London by Sir Robert Peel in 1829.

Another aspect of the Municipal Reform Act of 1835 was that it required boroughs to set up their own full-time forces, leading to the establishment of the Liverpool City Police in 1836.

Liverpool had limited prison capacity: the Tower had been used, but it was demolished in 1819; there was a small bridewell north of George’s Dock; and a house of correction in Brownlow Hill (1776-1819). The situation was partially alleviated by the building of the Borough Gaol in Great Howard Street, although from 1787 until 1811 it was used to house French prisoners-of-war.

Meanwhile, the assizes court network in England was extended during the course of the 19th century to cater for the growing towns and cities, and Liverpool was made an assizes town in 1835, acting as the southern division of Lancashire. A house of correction which had been opened in Kirkdale in 1818 was made the county gaol for the southern division at the same time. Eventually, the Corporation paid £180K to construct Walton Gaol, opened in 1855, to cater for Liverpool’s ever growing population.

The idea of building a hall to host concerts was modified in 1840 to include provision for two law courts in the proposed edifice. £25k was raised by public subscription and construction work commenced in 1841, but it was 1854 before St. George’s Hall was opened.

The Quarter Sessions which had been held in Ormskirk for centuries were moved to Liverpool around this period. County Sessions House in Islington was subsequently built between 1882 and 1884 to house the Quarter Sessions of the Hundred of West Derby in the county of Lancaster.

Fire Service

The fire service, such as it was, was the responsibility of each parish. So it was in Liverpool after it achieved parish status in 1699. In 1718 it was recorded that two hand drawn fire engines were gifted to the Select Vestry (roughly the equivalent of a parish council today), followed by several others later in the century. However, the service was very much of the voluntary, best endeavours sort.

Merryweather 1850

The growth of Liverpool’s economy brought with it the increased risk of fire, particularly in business premises such as warehouses. This led to a number of insurance companies setting up their own fire brigades in Liverpool, manned by part-time staff, to try to minimise their liabilities.

Initial attempts to form a Fire Police force in Liverpool in 1825 had been unsuccessful, as the Vestry was against the idea, presumably on cost grounds. However, a huge warehouse fire in 1833 resulted in a change of mind, and a force was created with a fire station off Temple Court. By this time, many of the insurance company brigades had been disbanded or taken over.

Transport in the 19th Century


Depiction of the opening of the Liverpool – Manchester railway – painting by A.B Clayton

Although various railways had existed before 1830, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway is considered to be the first true passenger line. It is renowned for the trials which were held at Rainhill in 1829 to decide between five prospective locomotives, a competition which was won by George Stephenson’s Rocket, and for the unfortunate opening of the service in the following year when William Huskisson, MP for Liverpool and formerly a cabinet member, fell under the train and subsequently died.

The initial terminus at the Liverpool end was in Crown Street, Edge Hill, although there was a tunnel which took goods traffic on to the dock at Wapping. Another tunnel was subsequently dug to take trains into the centre of Liverpool, and Lime Street Station was opened in 1836.

Railway network from P.N. Walker’s The Liverpool Competition

A melange of railway companies were involved in creating a local network from around the middle of the 19th century, including the following services:

  • Liverpool to Southport from 1848, although the Liverpool terminus was initially situated in Waterloo until Liverpool Exchange Station was opened in 1850. The line was electrified in 1904
  • Liverpool to Ormskirk from 1849. The line was electrified between 1906 and 1913
  • Liverpool Central to Hunts Cross from 1874
  • Liverpool James Street to Birkenhead Green Lane through the newly constructed Mersey Railway Tunnel from 1886, with extensions to Birkenhead Park in 1888 and Liverpool Central in 1890. This line was electrified in 1903.


Benedictine monks, who had established a priory in Birkenhead around 1150, were the first to provide a service by rowing passengers across the Mersey to the Pool for a small fee. Ferry services have continued ever since that time, although before the arrival of steamships they were often delayed by adverse weather conditions.

The first steam-powered vessel, a paddle steamer, operated on a service between Liverpool and Runcorn from 1815, and steamships gradually appeared on other routes in the following decades. The first floating landing stage, which rose and fell with the tide, allowing docking at any time, was opened at the Pier Head in 1847, and rebuilt / extended in 1874.

The ferry companies obviously had a captive audience until the Mersey Railway Tunnel arrived in 1886 to provide some stiff competition.

Omnibuses and Trams

The horse-drawn omnibus business became established in England from around the 1830s, and there were several companies in Liverpool who were providing a service by the middle of the 19th century, including the Liverpool Road, Railway and Omnibus Company.

The 1860s saw moves to promote the use of tramways, and permission was given for lines to Walton and Dingle with an Inner Circle in the town centre. The first horse-drawn tram began operation in 1869, and further lines were gradually added; there were 61 miles of track by 1875.

Discussions on the possible use of motive power, rather than animal power, began in the 1880s, and there was a limited trial of an electrically powered system in 1890. Work eventually began on preparations for full electrification in 1894, and the first electric tram began operation from Dingle in 1898.



In 1708 Bryan Blundell, master mariner and part-owner of a vessel, in conjunction with the Reverend Robert Stythe, had set up Blue Coat, a day school for 50 destitute orphans. Blundell then effectively became a full-time philanthropist for Blue Coat. A new building was constructed in School Lane in 1719, by which time it had become a boarding school rather than a day school. This is now the Blue Coat Arts Centre.

Liverpool’s original grammar school had suffered when the Corporation merged the lands with which it was endowed into the general corporate estate, and subsequently only granted the school a miserable annual subsidy which it struggled to live on. Suffice it to say that it went into a terminal decline and quietly disappeared in 1815, some 13 years after its last schoolmaster died.

The Liverpool School for the Blind, reputedly the first in the world, was opened in 1791, and it was around this period that Sunday Schools began to appear across the country. Starting at 1pm, the objective was to teach working class children (and sometimes adults) to read and write. The movement was initially cross-denominational, but faiths gradually started to set up their own schools. The Anglicans created their national schools which would act as both Sunday and day schools, becoming a model for the future national system of education.

The Corporation, which had effectively ignored education so far, eventually set up two elementary schools in 1826, Corporation North and Corporation South on either side of the old town.

With respect to centrally located schools which eventually became grammar schools, the Liverpool Institute, originally called the Liverpool Institute and School of Art, opened in 1825, and the Liverpool Collegiate followed in 1840, while the Liverpool Institute High School for Girls, subsequently known as Blackburne House, dates from 1844.

In the late 18th and early 19th century Catholic Emancipation was a process of reducing and / or removing restrictions which had been placed on Catholics since the late Elizabethan period. This led to the gradual re-appearance of Catholic schools, among them St. Francis Xaviers High (1842) and St. Edwards College (1848).

I have inevitably merely scratched the surface of this rather large topic. http://www.liverpool-schools.co.uk/ is an excellent site if you are interested in the history of Liverpool schools.

Further Education

Liverpool’s University College was established in 1880. It became part of the federal Victoria University in Manchester, a university for the North of England which also included Owen’s College, Manchester and Yorkshire College, Leeds.

Students of these colleges were awarded external degrees by the University of London. However, the Victoria University was a relatively short-lived organisation, as each city eventually became an independent university, Liverpool receiving its Royal Charter in 1903 which allowed it to confer its own degrees. In the intervening period Liverpool established its own University Press in 1899.

John Moores University, established in 1992, can trace its roots back to the Liverpool Mechanics’ School of Arts to 1823. Subsequent mergers with various colleges over the years eventually led to the Liverpool Polytechnic in 1970.


Buildings in William Brown Street

Shaw’s Brow witnessed the construction of various imposing public buildings in the second half of the 19th century after the completion of St. George’s Hall.

The William Brown Library and Museum was built on land which was owned by Sir William Brown, local MP and merchant, who also funded much of the building. It was opened in 1860 and Shaw’s Brow was renamed William Brown Street in his honour.

The foundation stone for the Picton Reading Room was laid in 1875 by Sir James Picton, the chairman of the William Brown Library and Museum at the time, and the building was opened in 1879. The Hornby Reading Room, named after Hugh Frederick Hornby, was added to the rear of the building in 1906.

The Walker Art Gallery was opened in 1877. It is named after its benefactor, Sir Andrew Barclay Walker, a former mayor and brewer (Walkers of Warrington). It was initially populated with works which had been accumulated during the 19th century, starting with 37 paintings which the Royal Liverpool Institution had acquired from William Roscoe when his banking business failed.

As an aside, mention should also be made of Wellington’s Column. Built by public subscription, it was completed in 1865.


A small private literary club was started up with a collection of 450 books in 1758, obtaining a permanent building to house them in North John Street in the following year. It was the forerunner of the Lyceum Club, opened in 1802 on Bold Street, which featured a newsroom and a library.

The Athenaeum Club, founded in 1797 in Church Street, had a similar concept to the Lyceum, viz. to provide a library and a newsroom where gentlemen could access and share information in a comfortable environment. The library was opened in 1800, and had built up a collection of 10,000 volumes by 1820. The club moved to Church Alley in 1928.

Around the middle of the 19th century, various groups, including the Free Library Movement, were working for the improvement of the general public through education. This led to the Public Libraries Act of 1850 which allowed boroughs with a population of 10,000 or more to open libraries under the following conditions: a local referendum should indicate that at least two thirds of the ratepayers were in favour; no more than a halfpenny could be added to the rates to pay for the service, and it could not be used to purchase books. It can be seen from these criteria that many politicians were against the general idea of public libraries.

A subscription, which had previously been raised for a public library in Liverpool, was passed on to the Corporation, who used it to open a temporary library in Duke Street in 1852. Around this time, the Earl of Derby bequeathed his collection of natural history specimens to Liverpool, resulting in the idea to build a combined public library and museum. This produced the William Brown Library and Museum.

Liverpool’s Central Library, as it became known, eventually spanned the William Brown Library and Museum, the Picton Reading Room and the Hornby Library.

Branch libraries opened in Everton and Toxteth in 1853, but despite the halfpenny on the rates being raised to one penny in 1855, it was not easy to fund new libraries. It was left to a small number of philanthropists to make donations to help facilitate their set up across the country. In Liverpool, Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate, funded six branch libraries: Sefton Park, Walton, West Derby, Garston, Kirkdale and Old Swan.  The penny rate was only lifted in 1919.


Unsurprisingly, press censorship (Licensing of the Press Act 1662) did not encourage the birth of newspapers. It was relaxed when the Act was not renewed in 1695, and so newspapers gradually began to appear from the early 18th century. This section covers a selection of papers that appeared in Liverpool. It is by no means comprehensive.

The Liverpool Courant, a bi-weekly paper with two small pages, lasted less than a year in 1712.

It was eventually followed by Williamson’s Liverpool Advertiser, which was founded in 1756, and continued under two other guises until 1856, along with Gore’s General Liverpool Advertiser (1795-1876).

The Liverpool Mercury was founded in 1811 as a weekly newspaper which covered national and international, as well as local news. It was followed in 1855 by the Liverpool Daily Post, a morning paper, which subsequently introduced an evening variant, the Liverpool Echo in 1879. The Daily Post and the Mercury merged in 1904.

Theatre & Music

A court at the bottom of James Street had been used for drama productions in the reign of Charles I. It was closed during the Civil War and the following Interregnum because the Puritans were against theatre. Although there was mention of it reopening after the Restoration of the Monarchy, no further information is available on it.

The next theatre appeared nearby in Drury Lane in 1759. Once again, it is unclear precisely how long it lasted. It was followed by the Theatre Royal in Williamson Square in 1772. It has to be said that Liverpool’s wealthy were not particularly interested in this art form at the time, and the Theatre Royal was ultimately converted into a cold storage warehouse.

In 1826, John Cooke bought a site in Roe Street for his circuses, plays, operas and concerts. It was known as Cooke’s Royal Amphitheatre of Arts. It was re-designed as a standard theatre in 1881, and called the Royal Court.

Back in 1784, the first of a triennial series of music festivals had been held in Liverpool at St. Peter’s Church. The price of one and a half guineas for five concerts indicates that they were strictly aimed at the affluent. They were eventually moved to St. George’s Hall after it was opened in 1854.

The Liverpool Philharmonic Society was founded in 1840. Initial plans for a concert hall were drawn up in 1844; the foundation stone was laid two years later; and the Philharmonic Hall opened in Hope Street in 1849 with a capacity to support 250 musicians and an audience of 2,100.

Back in the theatre, the Liverpool Playhouse in Williamson Square originally opened as a music hall in 1866, converting into a repertory theatre company in 1911.

Finally, the New Prince of Wales Theatre and Opera House (the name subsequently changed to Royal Alexandra) was also opened in the same year, 1866. It was sold in 1896, and renamed the Empire Theatre. Demolished in 1924, a larger theatre was built on the same site, which opened in the following year.


Parks and Gardens

Victorian towns and cities were dirty, unhealthy places with little or no green spaces. In the late 18th century, Liverpool had the popular Ranelagh Gardens (on the site of the current Adelphi hotel) and a couple of bowling greens on Mount Pleasant. In addition, there were two “Ladies Walks”, one from Old Hall Street to the river and another between Bold Street and Duke Street. These gardens and walks had disappeared by the start of the 1800s, leaving just a short parade on the seaward side of George’s Dock and some small gardens on St. James’ Mount. There were of course some open fields around this time, as various streets had yet to be laid out, particularly on the south side of the Pool.

Eventually, there was a general clamour across the country for publicly-funded parks. On the other side of the Mersey, Birkenhead Park, opened in 1847, is generally recognised as the first-ever publicly-funded civic park. In Liverpool, Prince’s Park, albeit a private development, had been opened to the public in 1843. The Corporation set aside £670k in 1868, despite significant opposition it has to be said, to create Sefton, Newsham and Stanley Parks. Others followed, including Wavertree Playground (1895), Calderstones Park (1905) and Bowring Park (1906).


Liverpool has managed to retain a good number of public houses which date back to the Georgian and Victorian periods. I must confess that the following list is heavily influenced by those watering holes that were often pit stops on our office pub crawls which took place twice a year in the late 1970s and early 1980s, typically places where “Higgies” could be found .. some were actually visited more frequently by the professional drinkers among us, of which I was one I am afraid to say! See Ken Pye’s Liverpool Pubs for a more complete list with comprehensive descriptions.

  • The Hole in the Wall (we never used the Ye term) in Hackins Hey claims to date back to 1726. It may be that there was a tavern of that name in existence but probably not on the current site. Women were not allowed in this establishment until 1977
  • Thomas Rigby’s in Dale Street also claims 1726 as its date of establishment
  • The Poste House in Cumberland Street is thought to date back to 1820
  • The Lion in Moorfields was a licensed oyster bar in 1842. It was named the Lion Tavern in 1865 in an attempt to appeal to railway passengers using the nearby Exchange station
  • The Grapes in Mathew Street dates back to the 1850s, although it was only known by that name from 1898
  • The nearby White Star in Rainford Gardens was named after the shipping line. It came into existence in 1878 and served an excellent pint of draught Bass in my time
  • The Cornmarket. Beer was being sold on the premises in 1792. There were subsequently two separate establishments – the Bull’s Head from 1818 and the Cornmarket from 1854. They merged into one pub in the late 1960s
  • The Baltic Fleet in Wapping, or at least a pub on this site, probably dates from the early 18th century
  • Peter Kavanagh’s in Egerton Street started life as the Liver Hotel in 1849, and was renamed the Grapes in 1897 when Peter Kavanagh became the licensee. It was named after him in 1978
  • and finally, the Phil (formally known as the Philharmonic Dining Rooms), a wonderfully ornate establishment which was built between 1898 and 1900.

Sport in the 19th Century

There is little reference to sport in Liverpool before the 19th century. It seems to have been limited to cock-fighting and bull-baiting, although bowls, horse racing and archery get brief mentions. The following sections are limited to horse racing, cricket, rugby and soccer.

Horse Racing

Although references to horse racing can be found as far back as the 11th century, the sport of kings was arguably kick-started by Charles II who arranged match races (one horse versus another) at Newmarket in the second half of the 17th century, while Queen Anne subsequently created the course at Ascot in the early 1700s where races involving more than two horses took place. The growing appeal of the sport led to the formation of the Jockey Club in 1750.

Locally, an annual race had been run over 4 miles on the sands at Kirkdale in the 16th century under the patronage of the mayor, while Nicholas Blundell, the lord of the manor of Little Crosby, had organised races on the sands between Crosby and Formby in the early 1700s.

In 1829, William Lynn created a race track at Aintree. In 1836, he opened a grandstand and staged a 4 mile steeplechase, known as the Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, which was won by Captain Becher on ‘Duke’. The 1839 running of this race is currently recognised as the first Grand National, won by ‘Lottery’, although the event was only given that name retrospectively in 1847. It is said that 50,000 people were in attendance for the 1839 race.

William Lynn was also responsible for the inauguration of the Waterloo Cup in 1836, a hare coursing event that was held annually in Great Altcar until the sport was banned after the 2005 competition.


The first definite reference to “creckett” occurred in Guildford in the middle of the 16th century. The game was popular in the counties to the south of London, eventually spreading to the capital. The first laws of cricket date back to 1744, while the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) surfaced in 1788 at the Lords ground.

The game spread to other parts of the country, brought by teachers, former students and businessmen who had encountered it at public schools and in London.

The Mosslake Field Cricket Society was formed in 1807, possibly slightly earlier, seemingly becoming known as the Liverpool Cricket Club by 1811. It was definitely a club for gentlemen amateurs, as a working man was unlikely to be able to afford the annual subscription or to find the time to play. In its early years it simply organised games inside the club, the first match with another side being against Manchester in 1824. Until it moved to its present home in Aigburth in 1881, the club played at several grounds in the Mosslake and Edge Hill areas.

PN Walker’s map

Other clubs began to appear, starting with Bootle (1833) and Ormskirk (1835); the advent of the railway arguably being the main driver behind the subsequent spread of cricket around the Merseyside area from the middle of the 19th century, as shown in P N Walker’s excellent map.

Cricket matches had been friendlies until the first signs of competition appeared with the creation of the County Championship in 1890. In 1892, the Liverpool Daily Post started to publish the scorecards from games between local clubs, and christened it the Liverpool & District Competition.

Rugby and Soccer

Medieval football was a violent game with no rules to speak of, more accurately known as mob football. There could be a hundred or more players on each side in games that were typically played on feast days, notably Shrovetide. However, I can see no reference to it being played in Liverpool.

From around the middle of the 18th century, more organised games with rules began to appear, some ad hoc and others in public schools. Each school developed its own laws, some favouring a handling game while others preferred a kicking game, although they all allowed forms of both handling and kicking.

Association Football (or soccer) evolved from the kicking variant when the Football Association (FA) was formed in 1863, using laws which were largely based on those that had been introduced at Cambridge University in the 1840s. The Rugby Football Union was set up in 1871 to cater for those who favoured a predominantly handling game, mainly using rules that had been written down by Rugby School, originally in 1845.

Liverpool Rugby Football Club, a gentlemen’s club, was formed in 1857, and it was rugby rather than football that became popular in the town in the following two decades. There were 18 clubs by 1880 that could all be categorised as being lower middle class. However, Liverpool RFC, the elite club, did not deign to play against any of these local sides. Waterloo RFC, eventually a top-class side, was formed in 1882.

Association Football appeared in Liverpool in the late 1870s. St. Domingo’s was formed in 1878, changing its name to Everton FC in the following year. Meanwhile, a number of curates who espoused Muscular Christianity arrived in the district from Cambridge University around the same time. One of them, Alfred Keely, formed Bootle St. John’s football team in 1879, originally as a club for gentleman amateurs. Other teams that were set up by these curates included St. Mary’s Kirkdale and Everton United Church.

Robert Lythgoe, an official of the Shropshire Union Railway and Canal Company, who was living in Liverpool and had previously been a player with Ruabon Druids near Wrexham joined Keely at Bootle St. John’s. He was a dynamic official who ultimately became the main driving force behind the club. He is better known for being heavily involved in the creation of the Liverpool and District FA in 1882, becoming its secretary for over 30 years, as well as being a senior official on the Lancashire FA committee and a referee of some distinction.

Keely left the district in 1882, and the majority of Bootle’s gentlemen players went off to form Liverpool Ramblers in the same year, a club which is still in existence today. It played at various grounds over the years, including Liverpool Cricket Club’s ground in Aigburth, before eventually settling in Moor Lane, Crosby.

Meanwhile, Everton FC had quickly become an ambitious club, playing matches against sides from across Lancashire, It initially played in Stanley Park, but there were concerns about the size of the crowds surrounding the pitch, and so the club moved, first to Priory Road, and then on to Anfield in 1884 where it began to build covered stands.

The major turning point in the history of English soccer arguably came with the formation of the professional Football League in 1888. Around this time, Bootle was arguably a better team than Everton. However, the Football League decided on a rule which only allowed one club per town or city, and Everton, perceived to be a better business prospect (in terms of attracting large crowds and hence revenue), got the vote and became one of the twelve founder-members.

After Everton won the Football League Championship in 1891, a bitter conflict broke out between John Houlding, the club’s President and the owner of the Anfield ground, and the Everton committee. The long and short of it was that a split occurred and the Everton committee vacated Anfield, moving to the other side of Stanley Park where it constructed Goodison Park, while Houlding set up Liverpool FC at Anfield.

It is interesting to note that in Liverpool FC’s first ever match the entire side was made up of Scottish players who had been shipped in by Houlding. After a year in the Lancashire League, Liverpool FC was admitted to the Football League in 1893 when a second division was added.

The association game had gradually become more popular than rugby in Liverpool by the mid-1880s. However, it was initially, like rugby had been, mostly a game for the middle classes. A modest survey from this period indicates that less than 30% of players were members of the working class.

The Liverpool Junior Cup was set up in 1886 for ambitious working-class teams, joining the Senior Cup which had been instituted in 1882. In addition, a Minor Medals competition was started, which was intended for under 19s.

Amateur grassroot leagues gradually appeared. The Liverpool and District Alliance (c. 1890) principally consisted of church and works teams, while the Liverpool and District Combination, set up around the same time, was slightly more elite. However, the formation of the I Zingari League in 1895 was a notable step up in class. It included old boys teams from local grammar schools, such as Old Xaverians, along with university and volunteer brigade teams. By 1901, it is claimed that there were 18 local leagues with 339 teams across Merseyside.

Mr. Brodie’s Goal Nets

From the Liverpool Echo (1891)

It is a little-known fact that goal nets were invented by John Brodie, who was working for MDHB at the time, subsequently becoming the City Engineer for Liverpool. He thought of the idea after witnessing a dispute over whether a goal had been scored in Everton’s match with Accrington Stanley in 1889.

He applied for a patent in 1890, and Liverpool Ramblers tried the nets out for him. The first version included bells which would ring when the ball hit the net. The bells did not ring and were therefore dispensed with. The first official FA trial took place in a North versus South game at Nottingham in 1891. Nets were subsequently used in the 1892 FA Cup Final between West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa, and became widespread thereafter.

Mr Brodie may be more celebrated for his day job and his involvement in projects such as the construction of Queens Drive, the Queensway Tunnel and Otterspool Promenade, but the world of football has other reasons to thank him.

Up to the 1960s

The Overhead Railway

Popularly known as the Dockers’ Umbrella, the Overhead Railway ran alongside the docks on an electrified, elevated track above the MDHB’s freight line.

The Liverpool Overhead Railway Company had been formed in 1888, and it completed the initial building project in January 1893, opening in the following month when it ran from Herculaneum Dock in the south to Alexandra Dock in the north.

To attract custom outside working hours, the line was extended to Seaforth Sands in the north (1894), and to Dingle via a half mile tunnel in the south (1896). This was followed by a further extension in 1905 from Seaforth Sands to Seaforth & Litherland where trains to Southport could be boarded.

It is stated that the line carried circa. 19 million passengers per year in the inter-war years, and even 9 million in the 1950s before it was closed at the end of 1956. The iron structure, which suffered significant damage during World War II, had started to corrode, not helped by the steam coming up from the MDHB freight trains which ran underneath, and the company decided that it could not afford the necessary repairs.

The Three Graces

No, not Canova’s exquisite work in marble. It is the name popularly given to the three buildings that comprise Liverpool’s imposing and memorable waterfront. They were built on the site of George’s Dock which had existed from 1771 to 1899, but it had been closed and filled in because it was too small and shallow for the commercial vessels of the late 19th century.

MDHB owned the majority of the site, with the remainder belonging to the Corporation. After protracted negotiations, the Board agreed to sell the site to the Corporation, except for the area which it retained to accommodate its own Port of Liverpool building that was opened in 1907.

The Royal Liver Building, described by some as England’s first skyscraper, was built between 1908 and 1911, while the third and final edifice, the Cunard Building, was constructed between 1914 and 1916.

Architectural Heritage

This is arguably a suitable place for a brief discussion on Liverpool’s architectural heritage, having already mentioned a number of its most famous buildings.

There are over 2,500 listed buildings in the city, including 27 Grade I and 85 Grade II. The oldest building in the centre of Liverpool is thought to be Bluecoat Chambers which was built between 1716 and 1718, while the Town Hall dates from 1754.

In 2004, UNESCO declared six areas of the city a World Heritage Site, known collectively as the Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City.

  • Pier Head – principally The Three Graces
  • Albert Dock – also includes Canning Dock, Salthouse Dock and parts of Wapping Dock.
  • Stanley Dock Conservation Area – Stanley Dock, Collingwood Dock, Salisbury Dock, Clarence Graving Dock plus parts of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and associated locks
  • Duke Street Conservation Area / Ropewalks also includes two warehouses on College Lane and Blue Coat Chambers
  • The “Commercial Quarter” / Castle Street Conservation Area – effectively the original medieval streets of Liverpool
  • The “Cultural Area” / William Brown Street Conservation Area – includes St. George’s Hall, Lime Street Station, the North Western Hotel and the buildings previously mentioned on William Brown Street.

Infrastructure Projects

Discussions on a possible ring road dated back to the mid-19th century when it was realised that slum housing would need to be replaced with new developments away from the inner-city. However, it was 1903 before construction began on the A5058, better known as Queens Drive. It was completed in 1927, by which time the dual carriageway connected Breeze Hill in Bootle with Aigburth Vale.

Fruitless discussions had also taken place during the 19th century about a possible road tunnel under the River Mersey. It was 1925 when work commenced, and the two pilot tunnels met under the river in 1928. The completed tunnel, named Queensway, was opened in 1934. It was 2 miles long with four lanes, two in each direction, and two branch tunnels to take traffic to the Birkenhead and Liverpool docks, respectively.

Two streams which surfaced in Wavertree, and eventually fed the lakes in Sefton Park and Greenbank Park, entered the Mersey via a creek at Otterspool. John Brodie, the City Engineer, was keen to reclaim the shoreline at Otterspool and build a promenade. Spoil from the excavation work on the Queensway tunnel project was dumped on the shoreline for use as a base for the reclamation, and a concrete sea wall was constructed between 1930 and 1932. The land between the wall and the original shoreline was subsequently filled in with household refuse. It was 1950 before the promenade was opened after it had been landscaped.

Other Industries

I briefly mentioned them in the course of covering the late 17th and early 18th century. It is time to pick up the subject again, giving some examples of industries that appeared from the mid-19th century and on into the 20th century.

It is important to note that the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce had been established in 1774 to help local businesses at a time when the port was beginning to grow rapidly.

What follows is merely a selection of industries and noteworthy companies:

  • Let us start with sugar refining which had commenced around 1673. It really took off in the mid-Victorian period, and is most notable for the presence of Henry Tate who started up in Liverpool in 1859. It was his successors who engineered the subsequent merger with Lyle in 1921
  • J. Bibby & Son, who had originally opened a corn mill near Lancaster, opened a mill in Liverpool in 1885, attracted by its sea and rail links. The business expanded over time to include a variety of products, such as soap, meal (for animals) and oil fats
  • Towards the end of the Victorian period, Crawford’s, the Scottish biscuit company, established a factory in Binns Road in 1897, to be followed by Jacob’s in Aintree in 1914
  • The mid-19th century saw the establishment of a number of insurance companies in Liverpool: the Liverpool & London & Globe Insurance Co. (1836), the Liverpool Independent Legal Victoria Burial Society (1843) which subsequently became the Liverpool Victoria, and Royal Insurance (1845) who acquired the Liverpool & London & Globe in 1919.
  • The telecommunications industry in this area started in the late Victorian era with a tiny outfit called Telegraph Manufacturing Co. Ltd in Helsby in 1884 and the British Insulated Wire Co. in Prescot in 1890. A series of mergers and the setting up of new companies eventually led to Plessey in Edge Lane and BICC in Prescot in the 20th century. See the Background to Plessey and BICC appendix for some further information
  • Lastly, the new automotive industry took its first tentative steps in Liverpool when Joseph Lucas set up a distribution depot in Fazakerley in the early 1920s. However, it was to be in post-war period that car assembly plants appeared: with Triumph in Speke (1959), followed by Ford’s much larger plant at Halewood (1963).


Liverpool Corporation Tramways, formed in 1897, ran its first buses in 1910. However, the focus remained on the use of trams until 1945 when the decision was made to transfer to buses. It took twelve years to complete the project with the last tram, the 6a from the Pier Head to Bowring Park, running in September 1957.

Ribble and Crosville Motor Services had both been trying to expand into Liverpool, and the Corporation, possibly begrudgingly, allowed them to run limited services into Canning Place in 1925.

Ribble gradually extended its services in the early 1930s, some operating in conjunction with Liverpool Corporation Tramways. Eventually buses ran northwards to Crosby, Formby and Southport and inland to Maghull and Ormskirk. The terminus in Skelhorne Street was only opened in 1960.

Meanwhile, Crosville had a service from Liverpool to London in the late 1920s, along with routes to Chester and North Wales in the 1930s.


Speke Airport, now called the John Lennon Airport, was built in the late 1920s on land that had been part of the estate of Speke Hall. The first service to London was started in 1930 by Imperial Airways, although the airport was not officially opened until 1933.

By the late 1930s, business had started to grow, with a particular demand for Irish Sea crossings, and so a passenger terminal, control tower and two hangars were built.

The airport was requisitioned by the RAF for the duration of the World War II.

Inter-war Years

Life was difficult after World War I when there was a surplus of labour, exacerbated by the arrival of sailors and soldiers from other countries, both during and after the conflict. Tension led to race riots in Liverpool in 1919, and subsequently in other parts of the country.

Attempts were made to offset the general economic problems of individuals by instigating infrastructure projects. We have already mentioned Queens Drive, the Queensway tunnel and Otterspool promenade. In addition, the Corporation embarked on a major rehousing project, building over 33,000 homes in the inter-war years. Despite this, the Great Depression of the early 1930s saw unemployment in Liverpool peak at around 30%.

World War II

The Luftwaffe began to target major seaports across Britain from 1940. Liverpool was to suffer 68 air raids between July 1940 and January 1942, the peak occurring in May 1941 when there were seven raids on consecutive nights at the beginning of the month.

Approximately 4,000 people were killed and another 4,000 injured in the raids on Merseyside. The docks were the primary target, the single biggest explosion being the SS Malakind, a ship that was loaded with munitions.

There was also significant damage to public buildings and residential property. The church of St. Nicholas was gutted; the Corn Exchange destroyed, as was the Goree Piazzas; the Customs House was so badly damaged that it was pulled down; and Lewis’s store was partially destroyed. St. George’s Hall, the Central Library and the Anglican Cathedral also saw some, albeit lesser, damage. Somewhat surprisingly, the Three Graces escaped, unharmed. It is estimated that 10,000 homes were destroyed and 184,000 were damaged.


The Anglican diocese, newly created in 1880, began with the idea of building a cathedral on the site of St. John’s Church, adjacent to St. George’s Hall. This never came to pass, and the question of a suitable site was revisited in 1900 when St. James’s Mount was identified, and a competition began in the following year to select an architectural design.

Giles Gilbert Scott’s winning design with twin towers is somewhat different to the finished building. The Cathedral Committee appointed G.F. Bodley, a leading exponent of the Gothic Revival style, to oversee the project. A fractious relationship between the two men did not help the project. After Bodley’s death in 1907, Scott came up with a revised plan which only had one tower.

The first section of the main body of the cathedral was completed in 1924 and consecrated in the same year.

The overall construction of the cathedral was delayed by various factors, including: periodic shortage of funds; two World Wars; and some damage during the second conflict. A service of thanksgiving for the completed building was eventually held in 1978.

The first ideas for a Roman Catholic Cathedral had surfaced in 1853 when Edward Pugin was commissioned to build one in Everton on the site of St. Edward’s College. However, the pressures at the time to use available funds to improve education for Catholic children meant that the project had to be abandoned.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral – e-architect.co.uk © Adrian Welch

The Archdiocese purchased the site of the former workhouse on Brownlow Hill in 1930, and Sir Edwin Lutyens was commissioned to produce a new design. Unfortunately, World War II intervened, and the subsequent large increase in the estimated costs for the building resulted in the project being abandoned, apart from the crypt which was completed in 1958. The eventual cathedral was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd. Construction work began in 1962 and the building was consecrated in 1967. It was christened “Paddy’s Wigwam” by local wags.

It is interesting to note that the two cathedrals are at either end of Hope Street!


By the end of the 1950s Everton FC and Liverpool FC had each won the Football League Championship on five occasions, while Everton had twice triumphed in the FA Cup. Everton had a particularly successful spell from the late 1920s up to the start of World War II, winning the Championship three times and the Cup once. It was in the 1927-28 Championship winning side that Dixie Dean scored a record-breaking 60 goals in one season.

The 1960s was a decade when both teams experienced success, Liverpool winning the League twice and the FA Cup for the first time, while Everton had one League title and one FA Cup triumph.

At the grassroots level, various local amateur leagues were formed in the early decades of the 20th century, including: I Zingari Combination (1904), Liverpool County Combination (1908), Liverpool Shipping League (1920) and the Liverpool Old Boys League (1923). The Liverpool & District Sunday League was subsequently formed in 1951, although the FA did not officially recognise Sunday football until 1960.

A three mile motor racing circuit was built in 1954 at Aintree inside the racecourse, and the Formula One British Grand Prix was subsequently held there on five occasions between 1955 and 1962.

Popular Culture

The Liverpool Philharmonic Hall was irreparably damaged by fire in 1933. Fortunately, it was insured, and work started in 1937 on the replacement building which was opened in 1939.

The first signs of Rock ‘n Roll and skiffle in the 1950s were the precursors to the pop music scene, which Liverpool came to dominate in the early 1960s. Sometimes known as the Merseybeat, it built on the rapid global success of the Beatles. It is claimed that some 300 groups were in existence during this period. Names included: Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cilla Black, The Searchers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, the Fourmost and the Swinging Blue Jeans.

The Cavern is far and away the most famous club where local musicians could be seen, again most notably the Beatles. However, there were other clubs around the city centre in the 1960s, including the Iron Door and the Mardi Gras.

On the folk music scene, the Spinners were a highly successful group that was originally formed in 1958. They played to sell-out audiences, including at the Philharmonic, and eventually got their own TV series in the early 1970s.

Liverpool continued to produce comedians in the post-war period, notably Ken Dodd, Jimmy Tarbuck and Norman Vaughan in the 1960s.

Finally, The Everyman Theatre was opened in 1964. The building in Hope Street which was originally opened in 1837 previously had various uses: as a chapel, church, concert hall and cinema.


Brief Notes on the Origins of Selected Suburbs

See David Lewis’s excellent Illustrated History of Liverpool’s Suburbs for a comprehensive guide.

Childwall is mentioned in the Domesday Book. All Saints Church in the old village dates back to the late 16th century although it is speculated that there may have been a church on the site in the 10th or 11th century. The parish was large in the Middle Ages, stretching from Childwall itself to the Mersey at Garston. The area was mainly agricultural, and it is probable that the monks from Stanlaw Abbey (Stanlow Point on the Wirral) owned and farmed land in this area before the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  Childwall became part of Liverpool in 1913.

Edge Hill was originally known as Chetham’s Brow until the late 1700s. It overlooked Mosslake Fields, parts of which could be boggy and even under water during the winter months. It was drained in the early 1800s. Joseph Williamson, a successful businessman, moved to a house in Edge Hill in the early 19th century. Over 35 years he had a maze of tunnels built, fanning out from his property. In the 1830s, Edge Hill became noted for the railway when it was initially the Liverpool terminus for the Manchester to Liverpool line.

Everton was probably a hamlet at the time of the Romans. It was known as Evreton in the 11th century, but as Everton from the 13th century. It was not part of the manor of West Derby. The oldest landmark was the Beacon, a two-storey stone edifice which gave excellent views of the surrounding area. It may have been built in the 1580s when a Spanish invasion was threatened. It is noted that Prince Rupert was billeted in Everton while his Royalist troops besieged Liverpool in 1644. Everton became part of Liverpool in 1835.

Kirkdale is mentioned in the Domesday Book. It became a village that was defined by the roads that went through it to Bootle and to Walton. It became the possession of the Moore family who built Bank Hall, near what is now Sandhills Station, in the 15th century. The Hall was demolished in the 1770s when Kirkdale was on the main stagecoach road to Walton, Ormskirk and beyond. It lost its rural appearance as the docks expanded in the 19th century. It was incorporated into Liverpool in the 1860s.

Toxteth consisted of two manors, of roughly equal size, before the Norman Conquest.  It then became a royal hunting forest, and the manor of Smithdown was merged into the park in 1207. It was converted into farmland in the early 1600s when various people were attracted to the area, including Puritans from Bolton. They built the Toxteth Ancient Chapel on Park Road near the Dingle in the 1610s, which gradually became a place of worship for nonconformists. Various current street names indicate their past presence, including Jericho Lane in Aigburth / Otterspool and the “Holy Land”, a series of streets between Park Road and Mill Street, called Isaac, Jacob, David and Moses. The first housing development between Parliament Street and Northumberland Street took place in the 1770s. The inner part of Toxteth was incorporated into Liverpool in 1835, followed by the outer half in 1895.

Walton probably dates back to the 4th or 5th century. It is claimed that Druids may have worshipped on the ground where the first church appeared around the 10th century. Walton Parish covered an area which included West Derby, Toxteth, Kirkby, Bootle, Kirkdale, Everton, Formby and Liverpool. Walton is mentioned in Domesday. It was in fact a larger township than West Derby, and Walton men owned land from Bootle to Toxteth. Two significant properties were in existence by the 1300s: Walton Hall (the park of that name is part of the land that surrounded the Hall) and Spellow House. Walton became part of Liverpool in 1895.

West Derby, a heavily wooded area, was the centre of the Hundred which covered south west Lancashire. The Vikings set up a Wapentake (a meeting place / court) there. The West Derby Courthouse, built in 1586, still exists today. A wooden castle existed before the Normans, who replaced it with one built on the motte and bailey principle. The majority of Croxteth Hall was built in the 17th and early 18th century, around the time that the Molyneuxs moved in. West Derby became part of Liverpool in stages during the 19th century.

Woolton. As previously mentioned, there is an unsubstantiated claim that an Iron Age hillfort existed on Camp Hill. Much Woolton and Little Woolton (Gateacre) are both mentioned in the Domesday Book. From 1178 until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII, the land was owned by the Knights Hospitallers, an order of monks who cared for sick pilgrims. The old school in School Lane is dated 1610. Sandstone quarrying began in earnest in the early 1800s. It is most notable for its use in the construction of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. Woolton became part of Liverpool in 1913.

Docks up to 1889

The following information is taken from British History Online: Liverpool Docks

1. Old Dock, opened 31 August 1715; closed 31 August 1826.
2. Salthouse Dock, opened 1753; altered 1842; enlarged 1855.
3. George’s Dock, opened 1771; enlarged 1825; closed 1900.
4. King’s Dock, opened 1788; closed 1906, the name being preserved for two new branches of the Wapping Dock.
5. Queen’s Dock, opened 1796; enlarged 1816; deepened and half-tide dock added 1856, and closed 1905; enlarged 1901; branches added 1901, 1905; altered 1906.
6. Union Dock, opened 1816; thrown into Coburg Dock 1858.
7. Prince’s Dock, opened 1821; half-tide dock added 1868.
8. Canning Dock, opened 1829; previously a basin known as the Dry Dock, opened 1753; enlarged 1842.
9. Clarence Docks, &c., opened 1830; enlarged 1853.
10. Brunswick Docks, opened 1832; enlarged 1848, 1858, 1889; branch dock added 1878; altered 1900.
11. Waterloo Dock, opened 1834; reconstructed as E. and W. Waterloo Docks, 1868.
12. Victoria Dock, opened 1836; altered 1848.
13. Trafalgar Dock, opened 1836.
14. Coburg Dock, opened 1840; altered from Brunswick Basin; enlarged 1858; altered 1900.
15. Toxteth Dock, opened 1842; closed to make way for new works, 1884.
16. Canning Half-tide Dock, opened 1844.
17. Harrington Dock (bought), opened 1844; closed to make way for new works 1879.
18. Albert Dock, opened 1845.
19. Salisbury Dock, opened 1848.
20. Collingwood Dock, opened 1848.
21. Stanley Dock, opened 1848; partly filled in 1897.
22. Nelson Dock, opened 1848.
23. Bramley Moore Dock, opened 1848.
24. Wellington Docks, opened 1850; half-tide dock closed 1901.
25. Sandon Dock, opened 1851; half-tide dock added 1901; altered 1906.
26. Manchester Dock (bought), opened 1851.
27. Huskisson Dock, opened 1852; branch docks added 1861, 1872, 1902; altered 1896, 1897; enlarged 1900.
28. Wapping Dock and Basin, opened 1855; two King’s Dock branches added 1906.
29. Canada Dock, opened 1858; enlarged 1896; altered 1903; branches opened 1896, 1903, 1906.
30. Brocklebank Dock, opened 1862; known until 1879 as Canada Half-tide Dock; enlarged 1871.
31. Herculaneum Dock, opened 1866; enlarged and branch dock added 1881.
32. Langton Docks, opened 1879.
33. Alexandra Dock (and three branches), opened 1880.
34. Harrington Dock, opened 1883. 
35. Hornby Dock (and branch), opened 1884.
36. Toxteth Dock, opened 1888. 
37. Union Dock, opened 1889. 

Background to Plessey and BICC

The emerging telecommunications industry eventually produced Plessey in Edge Lane and BICC in Prescot. Here is a brief background to the unfolding story.

A tiny firm with the grandiose title of Telegraph Manufacturing Co. Ltd was started up in a shed in Helsby in 1884 by J. and G. Crosland Taylor, producing batteries and cables. As the business grew, it acquired premises off Renshaw Street in 1892.

Meanwhile, the British Insulated Wire Co. had come into existence in 1890 in Prescot. The two companies amalgamated in 1902, forming the British Insulated and Helsby Cables Co. which, after it had started to build manual telephone exchange equipment, opened a factory in Edge Lane in 1903.

A new company, Automatic Telephone Manufacturing (ATM), was set up in 1912 to fully exploit the opportunities that were available in this relatively new industry, deploying Strowger’s technologies. ATM ultimately led to Plessey, while the cable side of the business saw a change of name to British Insulated Cables in 1925, and a subsequent amalgamation with Callenders Cables and Construction in 1945 to form BICC


In 1378, there were 18 households whose principal occupation was brewing. By the end of the eighteenth century it was claimed that there were 40 public breweries plus various brew pubs. The following notes concentrate on the better-known breweries that date from that period onward.

Higsons. William Harvey had a small brewery at 64 Dale Street in 1780. He was a part-time brewer, being a builder and bricklayer by trade. The business eventually passed to Daniel Higson, and was registered in his name by 1888. A new brewery was opened in Upper Parliament Street in 1914. The company was acquired by J. Sykes and Co. in 1918 who bought Walker Cain’s brewery in nearby Stanhope Street in 1923.

Cains. The Cains Brewery in Stanhope Street was founded by Robert Cain in 1858. It eventually had over 200 pubs, including the Philharmonic Dining Rooms and the Vines. Cains merged with Walkers of Warrington in 1921, and subsequently sold the Stanhope Street brewery to Higsons.

Bents. Richard Bent was brewing in Scotland Road by 1810. The company moved to a new brewery in Johnson Street around 1840.

A Few Words on the Scouse Accent

A local accent is naturally derived from the people who reside in that place.  Liverpool’s population grew very rapidly, from 25,000 in 1760 to over 700,000 by the end of the 19th century. The increases were mostly attributable to the arrival of immigrants, principally the Irish in the aftermath of the famine in the 1840s, followed by the Welsh, and then the Scots.

Scouse was therefore an amalgam of the accents of original Liverpudlians and these incomers. Some people talk about variations in the Scouse accent. For example, those in the north end of the city having a slightly different accent from those on the south side. The fact that the Irish tended to settle in the north, while the Welsh were mainly in the south, may well provide evidence for that assertion.

As individuals moved to new housing on the borders of the expanding city, and beyond, they will have taken the Scouse accent with them. And so, Scouse, or forms of it, gradually covered a greater part of Merseyside.

Languages and accents are always evolving, never static for very long. It is generally thought that the Scouse accent started to become more pronounced, more individualistic if you like, from the 1950s and 1960s.

Bibliography & Further Reading

It is usual to specify books in alphabetic order by author. However, I order them by the degree to which I have used the material in a book, with the most used publication appearing at the top of the list.

Ramsay Muir, J., A History of Liverpool, University Press of Liverpool, 1907
Aughton, P., Liverpool: A People’s History, Carnegie Publishing, Lancaster, 1990
Lewis, D., The Illustrated History of Liverpool’s Suburbs, Breedon Books, Derby, 2008
Harding, S., Viking Mersey, Countyvise, Birkenhead, 2002
Herdman, W.G., Pictorial Relics of Ancient Liverpool, privately printed, 1856
Pye, K., Liverpool Pubs, Amberley Publishing, Stroud, 2015
Williams, J., Red Men, Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh, 2011

Web Links

In the following list I have specified the URL in those instances where it is meaningful, i.e. the topic is fairly obvious. Where the URL is a bit of gobbledygook I have replaced it with the name of the topic.

Liverpool Record Office is an essential place for any researchers.

Liverpool-specific websites

The Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire
Mike Royden’s History of Liverpool
History of Liverpool for children

General Histories of Liverpool

British History – City of Liverpool 

Before Liverpool

The Evolution of a Coast Line
Geology of the Liverpool District
Wavertree Burial Urn
British History – Roman Chester
Introduction to the Hundred of West Derby

Early Liverpool

The Pool of Liverpool (Stewart Brown)
The Pool of Liverpool
Moore of Bankhall
British History – Toxteth Park
Brief history of Tower Buildings

17th, 18th and 19th Century


Turnpikes and Water Transport
Table of turnpikes
Map of turnpikes in Lancashire

Shipping in the 18th Century

Town Hall, Almshouses and Churches
Liverpool Almshouses
Liverpool Churches – British History Online

Shipping in the 19th Century
British History – Liverpool Docks
Jesse Hartley
Dock Labour at Liverpool
Maritime Library – Major Collections
Liverpool Seamen’s Revolt of 1775

Borough in the 19th Century
http://ymliverpool.com/welsh-connection-liverpool/31513 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinatown,_Liverpool
Expatriate Scots Community on Merseyside

Social Welfare, Health and Sewage / Water Supply
Poor Law in Liverpool
History of Liverpool Charities

James Newlands – Borough Engineer
Liverpool’s Drainage History

Justice, Law & Order and Fire
Merseyside Police History
Liverpool Law Society History
Buildings of the Criminal Law
http://www.merseyfire.gov.uk/historical/earlyYears.htm Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service – History

Transport in the 19th Century
Disused Railway Stations
Tramway Companies in Liverpool 1859-1897
Tramway Companies in Liverpool

British History – Liverpool Schools

Further Education


Early Liverpool Newspapers

Theatre and Music

Parks and Gardens

Sport in the 19th Century
Various football links, more football links and cricket links can be found in my potted histories of those sports.

Architectural Heritage

20th Century





Toxteth Park
West Derby
Woolton Quarries

Higsons Brewery


I would like to thank Peter Jackson and Janet King for reading the early draft and providing advice on useful extensions to the text. There are others who also helped me but prefer to remain anonymous. I thank them also.

The images that have been used in this article come from various sources. As far as I am aware, the majority are in the public domain. Many of the captions include a link to information on the source / attribution. Anybody who suspects that I have infringed any copyright should contact me. Please note that this is not a commercial site and its contents are simply for the enjoyment and, hopefully, the education of others.

All errors are mine.

Version History

Version 0.1 on June 7th, 2019 – mega drafty!
Version 0.2 on June 13th, 2019 – marginally less drafty
Version 0.3 on June 16th, 2019 – added appendix with notes on selected suburbs
Version 0.4 on June 23th, 2019 – minor changes plus several new images
Version 0.5 on June 26th, 2019 – added population graph plus sections on immigration and architectural heritage
Version 0.6 on July 7th, 2019 – various minor additions including section on Exchange Flags and the Corn Exchange
Version 0.7 on July 23rd, 2019 – added section on other industries, a couple of maps plus sundry other minor additions / changes
Version 1.0 on August 1st, 2019
Version 1.1 on August 21st, 2019 – added section on local and visiting seamen
Version 1.2 on January 16th, 2020 – added appendix on breweries
Version 1.3 on February 7th, 2020 – minor changes plus appendix on the Scouse accent
Version 1.3.1 on July 25th, 2020 – added brief info on Jesse Hartley
Version 1.4 on March 29th, 2022 – rewrote section on rugby and soccer.