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old liverpool streets
Source: Google Maps

The Weird and Wonderful History Behind Liverpool’s Street Names

The rich history of Liverpool has led to some weird and wonderful road names in the city. The strangest stories behind the old street names include murders, mistresses and even quack doctors.

Here are some of the odder tales behind the names of the city’s streets.

Brunswick Road (L6)

A strange legend circulates around this street name. Formerly called Folly Lane, rumour has it that a painter was employed to redo the street signs in the area. Before he arrived to paint the Folly Lane sign, a women sympathetic to the consort of George IV (the reigning King) chalked “Brunswick Place” onto the road sign, in honour of Caroline of Brunswick (the Queen).

old liverpool streets
Source: Wiki Commons

On returning and seeing the graffiti, the painter assumed it was left by his employers, so painted the sign up. The ‘Place’ eventually changed to ‘Road’.

Solomon Street, Gilead Street, Balm Street (L7)

These small streets in Kensington has a unique back story. In the early 1800s, a quack doctor by the name of Samuel Solomon began selling a concoction he called the ‘Cordial Balm of Gilead’ in the UK. Solomon claimed that the medicine could cure “debilitated constitutions, loss of appetite weakness of the solids and hypochondriac affections” . He later advertised it as helping ward off blindness, melancholy and sinful behavior.

old Liverpool streets
Source: Google Maps

The balm was a huge success for Solomon. From his earnings, he was able to build an imposing mansion in the Kensington area which he named ‘Gilead House’. It became a local landmark.

When the house was demolished, three streets were laid out in Kensington called Gilead Street, Solomon Street and Balm Street.

Falkner Square (L8)

The beautiful Falkner Square in the Georgian Quarter takes its name from the perceived idiocy of the man who built it.

Edward Falkner was a soldier and the Sheriff of Lancashire who supposedly raised 1000 men in one hour to defend Liverpool against a threatened French invasion in 1797.

old liverpool streets
Source: Google Maps

He built his square on land formerly known as Moss Lakes Fields and named it Wellington Square.

Following construction, many of the houses remained vacant as prospective buyers feared that the houses would sink into the marshy ground they were built on. They nd were also reluctant to move so far outside of town. Locals nicknamed the square Falkner’s Folly, which over time morphed into Falkner Square.

Grenville Street South (L1)

Originally named Leveson Street, this road had its name changed after a brutal massacre gave it an infamous reputation.

On 28 March, 1849 a young Irishman from Limerick by the name of Maurice Gleeson answered an advert to rent a spare room in No.20, Leveson Street.

The house belonged to Ann Hinrichson and her sea-captain spouse John. While her husband was at sea, the pregnant Ann was looking after her two sons Henry George, five, and John Alfred, three, and decided to let out the spare room to generate extra cash.

Gleeson paid a week’s rent in advance and moved in.

old liverpool streets
Grenville Street South tday. Source: Google Maps

The following day, a delivery boy called at the house but there was no answer. Hearing a moan, he looked through the keyhole to see a pair of feet lying in the hall. When a police officer was called, they found Ann Hinrichson, one of her sons and her maid, Mary Parr, lying in pools of blood. They had been battered with a poker and left to die. Upstairs, the other son, John, was also dead.

Gleeson was already covering his tracks. He bought new boots and trousers and went to his other lodgings at 44 Porter Street, where his landlady gave him a fresh shirt. He then visited a barbers for a shave and enquired about buying a wig as well as how to secure passage to America.

He was only caught when he tried to sell a gold watch to a Great Howard street grocer, who dragged him into the bridewell on Dale Street. Gleeson was hanged at Kirkdale jail.

The notoriety of the horrific murder lead to the street being renamed Grenville Street South, after Lord Grenville who was responsible for introducing the bill for the abolition of slave trade in 1807.

Lime Street (L1)

When Lime Street was first laid out it was outside the city limits of Liverpool. Along the street were located the lime kilns used to produce quicklime, giving the street its name.

old liverpool streets
The original frontage of Lime Street Station | Source: Wiki Commons | Mechanical Curator Collection

By 1804, however, the city had expanded and doctors at a nearby infirmary complained that the smell of the kilns was insufferable. They were moved, but the name stuck and was given to the railway station built on the road in 1851.

Commutation Row (L3)

This road takes its name from an argument between its inhabitants and Inland Revenue. In the days of the Window Tax (introduced in 1696), residents had to pay tax on each individual pane of glass they owned.

But the residents of this particular Liverpool road came up with a canny way to cheat the system, making the few window panes they had as large as possible, to reduce their outgoings. This lead to a dispute with Inland Revenue that was only resolved through an agreement known as a ‘commutation’.

Smithdown Road (L15)

Smithdown Road is one of the oldest highways in Liverpool. The earliest record of the area was in the 1086 Doomsday Book when the area of ‘Esmedune’ was recorded. In 1207, King John enlarged Toxteth by adding ‘Smeedon’ Manor to the Royal Hunting Park.  The Old English name translates to mean smooth slope.

old liverpool streets
The Top of Smithdown Road | Source: Wiki Commons

Clayton Square, (L1)

Clayton Square is named after a formidable business woman from Liverpool’s history.

old liverpool streets
Clayton Square today | Source: Wiki Commons

Sarah Clayton took over the business of her merchant father Alderman William Clayton after his death in the mid-18th century. At the time, it was unheard of for women to take such an instrumental role in business. This savvy business woman merged the family coal business with her brother-in-law’s, meaning she presided over a considerable area of mines situated near to the Sankey Canal. In the 1750s and 1760s, she was one of the most important coal dealers in Liverpool.

In 1752, she built Clayton Square to memorialise the family name. She occupied the largest house in the square.

The ‘Welsh’ Roads, off Walton Road (L4)

There is a famous stretch of roads off Walton Road in north Liverpool that, when you take the first letter of each street, spell out “Owen and Williams”. Allegedly, these roads were laid out by Welsh builders from the 19th century, who left their mark on the city by immortalizing their names.

 

 

Know any weird and wonderful stories behind Liverpool’s street names? Let us know in the comments below!

If you’re interested in the history of place names, why not read our blog on how the places of Liverpool got their names?

 

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About Lucy Kehoe

Lucy is a junior copywriter at Signature Living, with an interest in culture and food and drink.

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