This small book is a precious possession, found for me by my friend Daryl of the seriously great treasure house that is 69A in Renshaw Street, Liverpool.
I’ll let the book explain itself. Well done you Corporation of Liverpool, the book is more than half good.
Why so? Well it’s a book of two uneven halves. Forty pages on ‘The History of Liverpool to 1900’ by F.A. Bailey that’s as good a summary as I’ve ever read. Followed by a 16 page boast about ‘The Twentieth Century’ up to 1957 by R. Millington that I’ll quote from mainly for my own amusement.
Early on we’re taken through a ‘conjectural’ time before 1207 when:
“We may imagine them as cultivators of an area of arable land known afterwards as ‘The Old Field’ extending between present day Islington and Great Nelson Street (next to Cazneau Street), as grazers of cattle and pigs in adjacent common land and woodland, and as fishermen.”
When King John turned up in 1207 and granted us a charter as a borough and a port (where he could sail from to dominate Ireland), it was partly because of our ‘pool’ – the inlet from the Mersey roughly where Paradise Street and Whitechapel are now, where he could berth his ships. But also partly because we weren’t Chester:
“As that port lay within a virtually independent Palatine Earldom.”
I didn’t know that. Though we all know what kinds of trouble King John has with his Earls, culminating in their Magna Carta stand-off of course.
So anyway I’m not going to write out the whole history of Liverpool here. Just step you through a few quotes and show you some of the book’s lovely illustrations.
‘Saltons Moor’ is Kirkdale, stretching over to The Mosslake, later known as Toxteth. Visible at the centre of all the fields are the castle and our original Seven Streets. Described very clearly here, as they are still several of the central streets of Liverpool now:
Soon after, in the mid-17th Century, Liverpool is still a tiny place, seen here in what looks like a model: Gives me a real feel for how we were then. Small and mainly rural.
Forty years later though, we’re looking more like a town. The Dee at Chester is silting up and we’re beginning to trade with the new colonies in America and the Spanish Main:
By 1725 ‘the pool’ has been replaced by the world’s first commercial wet dock and we’re getting serious.
Though you’d still be in open fields before you reached what’s now Church Street.
Then we found the single thing that lifted us into becoming major traders. And though I remember it being pretty much dismissed during my own early education in the 1960s, here we have F.A. Bailey explaining the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade pretty clearly:
We all did it then, ‘all classes’. And I’ve written much more about this period in my posts on the abolition of the trade through William Roscoe and others. So we’ll move on here.
And as the 19th century ends the George’s Dock is being replaced by the waterfront we know today:
The Liverpool Overhead Railway also present now along the dockside.
The Lusitania there, later sunk controversially in the Great War.
And Church Street is here, its ‘church’ opposite what’s still Marks & Spencer on the extreme right of the photo.
So we’re into the 20th Century now and here the book changes authors, immediately diving into the civic boosterism, always new always the best, so beloved of City authorities in those and more recent years. Where a new Bishop ‘chides’ us that he doesn’t have a decent cathedral and:
“It was a hurt to the civic pride, a hurt which was healed only in 1904 when King Edward VII laid the foundation stone of the Anglican Cathedral.”
After the reality that a Mr Marconi pretty well invents radio, not just in Seaforth but because of Seaforth, so that’s all to our credit, the sensible people of Liverpool take the General Strike of 1926 ‘quietly enough’ (being in no way argumentative?) and our ‘far sighted Council’ opens a Municipal Airport in 1933, thereby more or less inventing the aeroplane. Also in Speke and Kirkby, we invent ‘the new town’ where ‘all physical, cultural and recreational needs are catered for.’
To be fair though, he doesn’t try and put a positive spin on the Second World War.
But on the whole, much and clear evidence of us actually inventing on-message-corporate-speak here in Liverpool.
In spite of this fact we really did do many good things here, despite two world wars, declining docks trade and being written off to ‘planned decline’ in the mid to later 20th Century, as I’ve written about often. But, with the City’s authorities positioned to write off so much from now on in the service of cars, roads and streets in the sky, as you’ll remember from my ‘1948’ post (you are keeping up here?) the quality of writing and crawling to the far sightedness of the Liverpool Corporation of 1957 finally descends to this lamentable drivel:
So as the trams and the Overhead go the City reaches its ‘pulsating’ zenith where we reach the long-planned perfection of 1957? That old lazy version of historical writing where everything builds inevitably to the perfection of now.
Oh well, we’re still putting up decent housing in 1957. Aren’t we?
Despite its 20th Century lapse then, a mostly more than decent walk through the 750 years of our history as a Borough up to then.
And given it was written to ‘be presented to citizens of all ages in the schools of the City‘ it never was in any of the schools I went to. Shame on the schools I went to then, at least for the history part.
Big thanks to Daryl and 69A, it’s a precious and a lovely thing that you finally put my way.