It’s Liverpool, in 1820

Last time we were here it was 1775, now, just 45 years later, Liverpool has changed
dramatically.

The population is now 118,000 and growing rapidly. By the middle of the century it will be 376,000 and the town will be calling itself a city.

'The Stranger in Liverpool.' Nearly 200 years old and our Guide Book for today's walk.

‘The Stranger in Liverpool.’ Nearly 200 years old and our Guide Book for today’s walk.

The spreading town, 1820.

The spreading town, 1820.

William Roscoe, the young poet just making his way in 1775 is now sixty seven years old, and his fortunes have passed their zenith. Having lived in some style out in the country at grand Allerton Hall, his bank has failed, he’s been declared bankrupt, has had to sell his house and all of his books, and is now living in Lodge Lane.

But since we last met him he has become increasingly radicalised. By his religious non-conformism, which in these days means he will never be allowed into the closed shop of 41 Liverpool town councillors. By his instinctive moral opposition to the Trans Atlantic slave trade, which 37 of the councillors are involved in. And by his initial and public support for the reasons behind the French Revolution of 1789.

Allerton Hall

And now, along with many others, not least the slaves themselves, he appears to have helped end the iniquitous Slave Trade. This was not easy, given the heavy involvement of most of the people of Liverpool in some aspect of the trade. (Roscoe himself, as a banker, must have handled money from the slave trade.) And there were times, campaigning to be the town’s MP, when he was stoned in the street. But the trade seems to be over and Roscoe and the other abolitionists are now working together to end the slavery of all those transported to the Americas and the Caribbean before the trade was stopped in 1807.*

* In her book ‘After Abolition: Britain and the Slave Trade Since 1807′ and quoting from contemporary sources, including Roscoe, Marika Sherwood makes a convincing case for the fact that the slave trade was continued well beyond 1807, by Liverpool ship owners registering their ships abroad and carrying slaves for other countries. I’d heard years ago that this practice was the origin of the phrase ‘Doing a foreigner’ but I can find no references to it now.

Again, this is bringing Roscoe into conflict with the Liverpool business community, one of whom, John Moss, a slave owner is related to Roscoe through marriage and is living in splendour on the banks of the Mersey at Otterspool House.

Otterspool House. Only the steps remain in the 21st century. Part of my regular 10k run.

Otterspool House. Only the steps remain in the 21st century. Part of my regular 10k run.

The steps in 2013. A disused café in the place of Otterspool House.

The steps in 2013. A disused café in the place of Otterspool House.

But while we’re metaphorically here, back in 1820, let’s have a look around. And we have a special guide, ‘The Stranger in Liverpool’. This is one of the earliest guide books about Liverpool, and I’ve got one with me here, dated 1820.**

** ‘The Stranger in Liverpool’ was given to me in 1999, when he knew he was dying, by Frank Horton, Sarah’s dad. He said ‘I think you’ll make good use of this.’ I’ve treasured it ever since, and though very much ‘of its time’ I often walk the streets of Liverpool looking through the book’s eyes. And it’s been lovely to have the book by my side whilst researching and writing this post.

Talking about us inhabitants the book notes:

“The impartial observer will, however, see, that, in those regulations which relate to the prevention of immorality, much yet remains to be done.”

Some things just make you proud, don’t they?

182002

Along with a history of Liverpool that manages not to mention the slave trade beyond a vague reference to ‘sailing to Africa’, the book contains a walk around Liverpool and lovely illustrations of buildings and places. So let’s walk around like it’s 1820. Beginning at the centre of the town.1820 Lord Street1

'Constantly crowded with passengers and carriages of every description.'

‘Constantly crowded with passengers and carriages of every description.’

The building of the Georgian terraces on the edges of the town, top right of the map at the top of the post, is underway, on the drained peat bog of the former Mosslake Fields.

Rodney Street is here.

Rodney Street is here.

The Canning area is being built.

The Canning area is being built. Though not that Cathedral for a long time yet.

182007

Parliament Street, where the Church of St James has stood since 1775, marks the southern edge of the town.

Parliament Street, where the Church of St James has stood since 1775, marks the southern edge of the town.

Walking down the hill towards the centre of the town:182009

Still with us, though no longer a chapel.

Still with us, though no longer a chapel. Now the Alma de Cuba bar.

Round the corner, on Concert Street and Bold Street:182011

Still here.

Still here, the rear of the former music hall.

And still musical.

And still musical.

Further down Bold Street, The Lyceum, gentleman’s club and Europe’s first lending library:

182014

‘A sumptuous edifice.’

And still with us, though empty now.

And still with us, though  mostly empty now.

Round the corner, into School Lane, The Bluecoat:182016

'It was finished in 1726; but it has a more modern appearance, owing to an embellishment of the brick and stone work in front.'

‘It was finished in 1726; but it has a more modern appearance, owing to an embellishment of the brick and stone work in front.’

By this time, the wealthier townspeople have already begun their colonisation of Wirral on the opposite side of the Mersey. So we’re shown one of Wirral’s top attractions:182018

Even now, a favourite Friday Walks destination.

Even now, Hilbre Island, a favourite Friday Walks destination.

But what of William Roscoe? In a section of ‘The Stranger in Liverpool’ on ‘Eminent Natives’ he is mentioned, but for his non-contentious writings:

“The lives of Lorenzo di Medici and of Leo the Tenth, by Mr, Roscoe.”

Well, he’s worked on a lot more than that in his life. But ‘The Stranger in Liverpool’ here reveals itself as a clear product of the Liverpool establishment he has done so much to upset. Working and planning his slavery abolition campaigns here at Greenbank House, out in the countryside.Greenbank

Close to where we live and across the road from Sarah and Gemma's allotment.

Close to where we live and across the road from Sarah and Gemma’s allotment.

182020

Having lived out in the countryside himself, at Allerton Hall, Roscoe is now closer to the town in Lodge Lane:Lodge Lane

And walking along Lodge Lane ourselves now, we find Roscoe’s house has gone:

And been replaced by this small. modern housing development.

And been replaced by this small. modern housing development.

Mary Seacole.

Mary Seacole.

And the name of the development is ‘Seacole Close.’ Named for Mary Seacole from Jamaica. Fifteen years old in 1820, Mary went on to fame if not fortune as a great pioneer nurse. And I suspect William Roscoe would be very pleased to see her name celebrated where his old house stood.

So here in Lodge Lane, on a cold winter’s day we near the end our 1820 walk.

But heading downtown to Mount Pleasant, the country lane where William Roscoe was born back in 1753, we find his final resting place:182023

Nestling in the shadow of Mount Pleasant multi-storey car park. Liverpool's ugliest building.

Nestling in the shadow of Mount Pleasant multi-storey car park. Liverpool’s ugliest building.

Walk over, so, time for a drink? Just round the corner, in Roscoe Street, is my own favourite memorial to him.

The Roscoe Head, the spiritual heart of Liverpool Housing Trust, back in the 1970s & 80s when I worked there.

The Roscoe Head, the spiritual heart of Liverpool Housing Trust, back in the 1970s & 80s when I worked there.

RoscoeSome illustrations and biographical details, as with the 1775 post, taken from the lovely book ‘William Roscoe of Liverpool’  by George Chandler, City Librarian, in 1953, the bi-centenary of Roscoe’s birth.

11 thoughts on “It’s Liverpool, in 1820

  1. The Accidental Amazon

    Fascinating. What a great post, Ronnie. I am particularly struck that the Lyceum is currently empty! Is there really nothing in it right now? Are there any plans to put it to some use? Who owns it now? Is it no longer a library? Also love the pix of Hilbre Island. Thanks for this historical interlude. You are inspiring me to do something like that here. Lots of history around here, too. xoxo

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks Kathi, In recent years the Lyceum was a Post Office, plus a restaurant, with a bar in the basement and a bank at the front. And actually the bank’s still there, my mistake, but all the rest of the building is empty. Along with loads of other empty office space in Liverpool while the Tory/Liberal government carry out their class war, oh sorry, austerity policies. It hasn’t been a lending library during my lifetime. For most of it, in fact, it was an upper class ‘Gentleman’s club’. But also with a fantastic café in front where the women waitresses all wore black and white maids outfits. The last time I went there, well into the seventies, they were all well into their seventies too. Charming but doomed.

      Reply
  2. cheethamlibMandy

    ‘And only the steps remain…’ perhaps a just ending for Otterspool House, home of slave trader John Moss. The pictures of the past and present are so interesting and how the usage of some of the buildings has changed, I love that the chapel is now a bar but sad that the Lyceum is almost redundant. Gentleman’s clubs provided good lending libraries very early on but of course a subscription was charged for the privilege of borrowing. I wish William Roscoe’s Lodge Lane house had survived instead of that pedestrian looking housing estate. But the connection with Mary Seacole is interesting, we hear so much about Florence Nightingale and Crimean War but certainly not this woman. I feel so sorry that William Roscoe’s final resting place is in the shadow of that monstrous carpark, pity that his memorial couldn’t have been placed in the grounds of St James. Please keep going with the ‘then and now’ pieces, they are absolutely fascinating, thank you so much…

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thank you Mandy, I certainly will keep going with these pieces. I love researching and writing them and walking the streets as if I’m in another time – as I hope you can tell.

      Reply
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  6. Roger Perris

    Found your articles on historic Liverpool really useful. I am tracing my family tree and my furthest relative appears in Liverpool in the 1770’s so any background is really good. Thanks for all your hard work.

    Reply

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