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Map Liverpool history
Credit: Wiki commons - yoliverpool.com - James Chadwick

We Look into The Fascinating History of Liverpool

Know as ‘Liuerpul’ in the earliest Liverpool history records, a small selection of streets became an amazing city over the centuries. We took a look back at how the past helped shape the city the world knows and loves today.

Everything from the Slave Trade Triangle, to the Toxteth Riots has transformed Liverpool from a few streets near a muddy bit of water to one of the most exciting and appealing cities in the UK, if not the world.

Take a look back at what we’ve discovered and find out where you can learn more about Liverpool history and the effect it has had on the world today.

Some of the Streets That Formed the City

Many of Liverpool’s most historic streets that still exist today formed the foundation of the city.

Map Liverpool history
Map of Liverpool 1725 | Credit: Wiki Commons – yoliverpool.com – James Chadwick

Water Street

In the 1520’s Water Street was home to the city’s first tower, although back then the street was referred to as Bank Street, due to it’s proximity to the riverbank. It was a building that served as the Jail of Liverpool and held notorious criminals and even prisoners of war in 1756.

Water Street - Liverpool history
Martins Bank Water Street | Credit: Flickr – Reading Tom – creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Today’s Water Street is home to the latest Tower Buildings, a beautiful structure built in 1908, and the stunning India Buildings as well as some of Liverpool’s nicest bars and restaurants.

Castle Street

One of the original founding streets of Liverpool, Castle Street first made an appearance on maps of the city as early as the 13th century.

Castle Street - Liverpool history
Castle Street Liverpool | Credit: Flickr- travlemag.com – creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Named for the ancient castle that once resided where Derby Square is today, the street has always been at the hub of Liverpool’s commerce, hosting the city’s earliest medieval markets and fairs.

Famous for its well intact Victorian building frontages, taking a walk down Castle Street it’s easy to imagine the hustle and bustle of Liverpool life from way back when. The street is home to no less than 19 listed buildings, including two grade I the Town Hall and what was once the Bank of England.

Some of the exciting bars and restaurants on Castle Street even have their own fascinating historic stories to tell of Liverpool’s earlier years.

Chapel Street

Ever inventive, it comes as no surprise that Chapel Street was named after St. Mary del Key chapel which was based in the area in the 13th century.

The chapel itself remained a focal point of the street, the base of which was repaired and rebuilt over the centuries, becoming St. Nicholas’s Chruch in 1361. The spire, however, was left untouched and resulted in a great tragedy in 1810.

St Nicholas' Church tragdey Liverpool history
Extracted from St.Nicholas’s Church. Liverpool: Its Architectural history – Source: hslc.org.uk

It is recorded that as the Sunday morning congregation gathered in the chapel, and as the Moorfields charity children were entering the church, the spire collapsed and fell on the group, killing 28 of them and wounding many others inside.

Today Chapel Street is part of the busy business district in Liverpool, with hotels, restaurants and bars lining its pavements.

Dale Street

As busy today as it was centuries ago, Dale Street serves as one of the city’s most heavily used access points. It was named for the dale it reached when winding its way out of the city on its way to Warrington and southerly access routes.

Dale Street Liverpool history
Dale Street | Credit: Rept0n1x creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

The street was lined with medieval plots of land, owned by townsfolk who eventually became the namesakes of streets in present-day Liverpool.

The narrow strip of road that formed Dale street was lined with many inns, and coach houses that provided travellers with lodging and horse changes.

These few streets were the building blocks of the city, going on to form a real global powerhouse over the next few centuries.

Transatlantic Trade and Ocean Travel Throughout Liverpool History

The first recorded ship to sail from Liverpool across the Atlantic was the ‘Liverpool Merchant’ in October 1699. It took just under a year to complete the journey from Liverpool, to Africa and over the sea to Barbados. The reason for the journey: slavery.

A piece of Liverpool history that some would rather forget but, that nonetheless played a major part in shaping the city, and the country we know today.

Slave Trade Liverpool history
International Slavery Museum | Credit: Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

During the peak of the slave trade, Liverpool’s ships were responsible for transporting 1.5 million Africans across the ocean and into America and the Caribbean.

The growing port city of Liverpool owned 80% of the slave trade in Great Britain, overshadowing the country’s own capital, and covered nearly half of all slave trade in Europe.

Although an astonishing and shameful part of the city’s past, the profitability of the slave trade and Liverpool’s pivotal role in the business became the source of Liverpool’s wealth and prosperity.

Visitors to Liverpool can explore the history of the slave trade at the International Slavery Museum of Liverpool.

Other exports from the city included coal, woollen cloth, leather and fish, all of which were produced in Liverpool or, brought to port from inland.

Liverpool history
Liverpool’s Docks circa 1910 | source: Wiki Commons

The first dock in Liverpool was constructed in 1715, to house the many vessels coming in and out of the city’s waterways and, by the late 18th century four more docks would be built to accommodate Liverpool’s flourishing sea trade.

By this point, the slave trade triangle was firmly in place, formed by goods exported to Africa in exchange for slaves. The slaves were then taken to America and sold or traded for exotic goods like sugar which was then returned to Liverpool, and sold.

As the 19th century approached Liverpool’s ports were the second busiest in the country, second only to London, which earned the city the title “Second City of the Empire”.

The wealth coming through Liverpool’s ports paved the way for global travel and, by the start of the 19th century the Cunard line had perfected efficient and safe global passenger travel. Those who could afford such extravagances would often board cruise ships at Liverpool to embark on luxurious holidays or business trips around Europe and to the US.

Britannic Liverpool history
White Star’s MV Britannic in Liverpool 1930 | Credit: greatships.net, Public Domain, commons.wikimedia.org

Two of the century’s most dominant shipping companies, Cunard and White Star both had offices in Liverpool based on the rich and affluent waterfront and became the jumping off point for many a wealthy traveller or immigrant, in search of the American dream.

Today Liverpool maritime heritage can be explored from within the Merseyside Maritime Museum which celebrates the city’s past and present connections to ocean-based trade and travel. Pay a visit to learn much more.

Immigration and Economic Growth in Liverpool History

It wasn’t just slavery that helped build the city, both cotton and corn trading served to bolster the city’s wealth.

The Town Hall itself, one of the city’s oldest buildings, once served as the city’s first covered market place for traders, followed quickly by the Corn Exchange on Brunswick Street in 1810.

Liverpool history - Town Hall
Liverpool Town Hall | Credit: Shutterstock

Of course, the ancient Town Hall still exists to this day but, sadly the beautiful Corn Exchange was destroyed by The Blitz, along with many of the waterfronts most impressive early architecture.

Our thriving city became a major attraction for those impoverished in other parts of the UK and the world.

The Birth of China Town

After the East India Company paved the way to access China’s trade, Liverpool and China’s business relationships were formed.

Chinatown - Liverpool history
Chinese Arch Liverpool’s Chinatown | Credit: Shutterstock

Shipping connections between Shanghai, Hong Kong and Liverpool were frequented and by 1844 The Blue Funnel Shipping Line had employed many Chinese seamen to navigate the busy trade routes.

Between journeys, these seamen would often take shore leave, stopping over in Liverpool’s purpose-built boarding houses. Some of the men became attached to the city and chose to settle in Liverpool, forming a community near the docks in Frederick Street, Pitt Street and around Cleveland Square.

Ever a friendly and welcoming people, Liverpudlians and the new Chinese residents in these streets opened places where shore leave seamen could cook or buy traditional food from their home country.

The people of Liverpool helped grow the Chinese community by giving Chinese seamen a place to feel more at home, where they could socialise with people from their own country and within their own culture.

What’s more, Liverpudlian women appreciated the values of Chinese immigrants and their attitude toward family life, leading to a wave of interracial marriages.

By the late 1930’s up to 20,000 Chinese mariners called Liverpool home, many of whom fought in WWII, for Great Britain. The war subsequently damaged many of the original settlement areas and communities formed near the docklands and, as a result, the China Town we know today was built.

Each year, Chinese New Year celebrations sweep through the city, bringing another facet to Liverpool’s cultural spectrum. This event is hotly anticipated and brings tourists and visitors from all over the world together to enjoy fantastic cultural events, displays and street parties that take place all over the city.

Liverpool’s Irish Population

Huge numbers of Irish people escaping the Great Famine, came to Liverpool in seek of a new life. By 1851, the unceasing waves of Irish immigrants formed a quarter of Liverpool’s population.

Irish Immigrants Liverpool history
Source: wikitree.com

It is estimated that around 1.5 million people left their homes in Ireland, fleeing to Liverpool. A third of the people who made it onto the ships in Ireland never made it off the other side, dying from disease or hunger on the short but perilous journey.

After landing safely in Liverpool, another 750,000 Irish men, women and families went on to chase the American dream aboard the earliest trans-Atlantic voyages from Liverpool, the rest chose to remain in the city and set up home. Its these Irish immigrants that helped build the city we know today, literally.

Workers from the Irish community were well known for working long hours and for getting the job done. It’s thanks to these labourers that we have our iconic Albert Docks, as it was their hands who dug out the footings for the long stretches of docklands Liverpool is now famous for.

We also have the Irish to thank for our superb scouse accent and some of our dialect, as before the arrival or the Irish in the early 19th century, a Liverpudlian accent wouldn’t have sounded to dissimilar to what some jokingly class as ‘wools’ today.

Both the cultural and physical landscape of Liverpool has been formed by Irish immigration.

Some of our most stunning historic buildings were funded and built by the hands of Irish immigrants including The Walker Art Gallery. Given as a gift to the people from wealthy Irish immigrant banker, William Brown.

Walker Art Gallery - Liverpool hitstory
Gifted by Irish Immigrant William Brown as ‘a gift to the people’ | Credit: Shutterstock

Thanks to our love of the Irish, Liverpool’s St Patricks Day celebrations are known to be among the best in the UK.

Once a year the city turns green, in honour of Ireland’s patron St. Patrick, and the fondly named “Capital of Liverpool” welcomes thousands to the streets and well-established Irish pubs, for a weekend of well-heeled shenanigans.

Both of these immigrant communities have become integral to the face of Liverpool’s multicultural heritage and today their influences have a profound effect on the city’s global appeal.

Liverpool History: The Fall from Riches to Ruin

After soaring through the centuries, Liverpool took a harsh dive late in the 21st century under the Tory leadership of Margaret Thatcher.

As a city, Liverpool employment was based heavily in industry in either the docklands or many warehouses, and as they began to shut, Liverpool’s unemployment levels topped UK averages.

With the city out of work and unrest in the black community of Liverpool, thanks to the heavy-handed and racially motivated searches and arrests of young black men in the area, the Toxteth Riots spilled into the streets of the city.

Toxteth Riots - Liverpool history
Riots in Toxteth, Liverpool in 1981 against police harassment and racism | Credit: Youtube – Reddebrek

In the aftermath of the riots the government abandoned regeneration of the city in what was termed a “managed decline” and this is when Liverpool began to fight back on their own.

A lot of the once prosperous city had fallen into dereliction and disrepair so schemes were introduced in the 90s to restore and redevelop the most neglected areas, starting with the waterfront in 1982.

By 2003, the last of the docks empty spaces were occupied and the area began to attract visitors once more, drawn in by the two Premier League football clubs and the legendary Beatles.

The Beatles Liverpool hitsory
50 Year Commemorative Beatles Statue for Last Gig in Liverpool | Credit: Shutterstock

This astonishing growth earned the city the European Capital of Culture in 2008 and the rest is literally Liverpool history.

Over a decade later, Liverpool is one of the worlds favourite places to visit.

This ancient city attracts people from around the globe, coming to Liverpool to explore the vast musical and maritime heritage, ground-breaking sporting achievements, stunning historic architecture and to attend the many exciting annual events.

Book a stay at Signature Living so you can explore this remarkable city. Check out all you need to know about the city, it’s landmarks, nightlife and fabulous food scene in Signatures Liverpool’s extensive archives. Discover exactly how Liverpool history was integral to shaping the city the world knows and loves today.

About Laura Bowery

Laura is a creative writer who has an interest in all types of artistic expression, be it food, music, fashion or art and she enjoys sharing those interests through her writing

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