Last time we were here it was 1775, now, just 45 years later, Liverpool has changed
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Further down Bold Street, The Lyceum, gentleman’s club and Europe’s first lending library:
Round the corner, into School Lane, The Bluecoat:
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.
Having lived out in the countryside himself, at Allerton Hall, Roscoe is now closer to the town in Lodge Lane:
And walking along Lodge Lane ourselves now, we find Roscoe’s house has gone:
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.
Walk over, so, time for a drink? Just round the corner, in Roscoe Street, is my own favourite memorial to him.
Some 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.