History of Liverpool

The History of Liverpool can be traced back to 1190 when the place was known as 'Liuerpul', possibly meaning a pool or creek with muddy water. Other origins of the name have been suggested, including 'elverpool', a reference to the large number of eels in the Mersey, but the definitive origin is open to debate and is probably lost to history.


Although a small motte and bailey castle had earlier been built by the Normans at West Derby, the origins of the city of Liverpool are usually dated from 28 August 1207, when letters patent were issued by King John advertising the establishment of a new borough, "Livpul", and inviting settlers to come and take up holdings there. It is thought that the King wanted a port in the district that was free from the control of the Earl of Chester. Initially it served as a dispatch point for troops sent to Ireland, soon after the building around 1235 of Liverpool Castle, which was removed in 1726. St Nicholas Church was built by 1257, originally as a chapel within the parish of Walton-on-the-Hill.John Belchem (ed.), "Liverpool 800: Culture, Character & History", 2006, ISBN 1-84361-035-0]

With the formation of a market on the site of the later Town Hall, Liverpool became established as a small fishing and farming community, administered by burgesses and, slightly later, a mayor. There was probably some coastal trade around the Irish Sea, and there were occasional ferries across the Mersey. However, for several centuries it remained a small and relatively unimportant settlement, with a population of no more than 1,000 in the mid 14th century. By the early fifteenth century a period of economic decline set in, and the county gentry increased their power over the town, the Stanley family fortifying their house on Water Street. In the middle of the 16th century the population of Liverpool had fallen to around 600, and the port was regarded as subordinate to Chester until the 1650s.

Elizabethan era and the Civil War

In 1571 the inhabitants of Liverpool sent a memorial to Queen Elizabeth, praying relief from a subsidy which they thought themselves unable to bear, wherein they styled themselves "her majesty's poor decayed town of Liverpool." Some time towards the close of this reign, Henry Stanley, 4th Earl of Derby, on his way to the Isle of Man, stayed at his house, the Tower; at which the corporation erected a handsome hall or seat for him in the church, where he honoured them several times with his presence.

By the end of the sixteenth century, the town began to be able to take advantage of economic revival and the silting of the River Dee to win trade, mainly from Chester, to Ireland, the Isle of Man and elsewhere. In 1626, King Charles I gave the town a new and improved charter.John Belchem (ed.), "Liverpool 800: Culture, Character & History", 2006, ISBN 1-84361-035-0] Few remarkable occurrences are recorded of the town in this period, except for the eighteen-day siege of it by Prince Rupert of the Rhine, in the English Civil Wars in 1644. Some traces of this were discovered when the foundation of the Liverpool Infirmary was sunk, particularly the marks of the trenches thrown up by the prince, and some cartouches, etc., left behind by the besiegers.

The first cargo from the Americas was recorded in 1648. The development of the town accelerated after the Restoration of 1660, with the growth of trade with America and the West Indies. From that time may be traced the rapid progress of population and commerce, until Liverpool had become the second metropolis of Great Britain. Initially, cloth, coal and salt from Lancashire and Cheshire were exchanged for sugar and tobacco; the town's first sugar refinery was established in 1670.

In 1699 Liverpool was made a parish on its own by Act of Parliament, separate from that of Walton-on-the-Hill, with two parish churches. At the same time it gained separate customs authority from Chester.John Belchem (ed.), "Liverpool 800: Culture, Character & History", 2006, ISBN 1-84361-035-0]

lavery and Trade

On 3 October 1699, the very same year that Liverpool had been granted status as an independent parish, Liverpool's first 'recorded' slave ship, named "Liverpool Merchant", set sail for Africa, arriving in Barbados with a 'cargo' of 220 Africans, returning to Liverpool on 18 September 1700. The following month a second recorded ship, "The Blessing", set sail for the Gold Coast.

The first wet dock in Britain was built in Liverpool and completed in 1715. It was the first commercial enclosed wet dock in the world and was constructed for a capacity of 100 ships. By the close of the 18th century 40% of the world's, and 80% of Britain's Atlantic slave activity was accounted for by slave ships that voyaged from the . Liverpool's black community dates from the building of the first dock in 1715 and grew rapidly, reaching a population of 10,000 within five years.

Vast profits from the slave trade transformed Liverpool into one of Britain's foremost important cities. Liverpool became a financial centre, rivalled by Bristol, another slaving port, and beaten only by London. In the peak year of 1799, ships sailing from Liverpool carried over 45,000 slaves from Africa.John Belchem (ed.), "Liverpool 800: Culture, Character & History", 2006, ISBN 1-84361-035-0]

Many factors led to the demise of slavery including revolts, piracy, social unrest, and the repercussions of corruption such as slave insurance fraud, e.g. the Zong case, 1781. Slavery in British colonies was finally abolished in 1834, though some apprenticeships ran until 1838. [cite web|url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/liverpool/localhistory/journey/american_connection/slavery/timeline.shtml|title=www.bbc.co.uk/liverpool/localhistory/journey/american_connection/slavery/timeline.shtml ] However, many merchants managed to ignore the laws and continued to deal in underground slave trafficking, also underhandedly engaging in financial investments for slaving activities in the Americas.

Industrial revolution and commercial expansion

The international trade of the city grew, based, as well as on slaves, on a wide range of commodities - including, in particular, cotton, for which the city became the leading world market, supplying the textile mills of Manchester and Lancashire.

During the eighteenth century the town's population grew from some 6,000 to 80,000, and its land and water communications with its hinterland and other northern cities steadily improved. Liverpool was first linked by canal to Manchester in 1721, the St. Helens coalfield in 1755, and Leeds in 1816. In 1830, Liverpool became home to one of the first inter-urban rail links to another city, Manchester, through the Liverpool and Manchester Railway

The built-up area grew rapidly from the eighteenth century on. The Bluecoat Hospital for poor children opened in 1718. With the demolition of the castle in 1726, only St Nicholas Church and the historic street plan - with Castle Street as the spine of the original settlement, and Paradise Street following the line of the Pool - remained to reflect the town's mediaeval origins. The Town Hall, with a covered exchange for merchants designed by architect John Wood, was built in 1754, and the first office buildings including the Corn Exchange were opened in about 1810.

Throughout the 19th century Liverpool's trade and its population continued to expanded rapidly. Growth in the cotton trade was accompanied by the development of strong trading links with India and the Far East following the ending of the East India Company's monopoly in 1813. Over convert|140|acre|km2 of new docks, with convert|10|mi|km of quay space, were opened between 1824 and 1858.John Belchem (ed.), "Liverpool 800: Culture, Character & History", 2006, ISBN 1-84361-035-0] During the 1840s, Irish migrants began arriving by the thousands due to the Great Famine of 1845-1849. Almost 300,000 arrived in the year 1847 alone, and by 1851 approximately 25% of the city was Irish-born. The Irish influence is reflected in the unique place Liverpool occupies in UK and Irish political history, being the only place outside of Ireland to elect a member of parliament from the Irish Parliamentary Party to the British parliament in Westminster. T.P. O'Connor represented the constituency of Liverpool Scotland from 1885 to 1929.

As the town become a leading port of the British Empire, a number of major buildings were constructed, including St. George's Hall (1854), and Lime Street Station. The Grand National steeplechase was first run at Aintree in 1837.

Between 1851 and 1911, Liverpool attracted at least 20,000 people from Wales in each decade, peaking in the 1880s, and Welsh culture flourished. One of the first Welsh language journals, "Yr Amserau", was founded in Liverpool by William Rees (Gwilym Hiraethog), and there were over 50 Welsh chapels in the city. [John Davies, "A History of Wales", 1993, ISBN 0-140-28475-3]

When the American Civil War broke out Liverpool became a hotbed of intrigue. The last Confederate ship, the CSS "Alabama", was built at Birkenhead on the Mersey and the CSS "Shenandoah" surrendered there.

Liverpool was granted city status in 1880, and the following year its university was established. By 1901, the city's population had grown to over 700,000, and its boundaries had expanded to include Walton, West Derby, Toxteth and Garston.John Belchem (ed.), "Liverpool 800: Culture, Character & History", 2006, ISBN 1-84361-035-0]

20th century


During the first part of the 20th century Liverpool continued to expand, pulling in immigrants from Europe. In 1904, the building of the Anglican Cathedral began, and by 1916 the three Pier Head buildings, including the Liver Building, were complete. This period marked the pinnacle of Liverpool's economic success, when it regarded itself as the "second city" of the British Empire.John Belchem (ed.), "Liverpool 800: Culture, Character & History", 2006, ISBN 1-84361-035-0] The formerly independent urban districts of Allerton, Childwall, Little Woolton and Much Woolton were added in 1913, and the parish of Speke added in 1932. [cite web|url=http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/relationships.jsp?u_id=10027317|title=www.visionofbritain.org.uk/relationships.jsp?u_id=10027317 ]

Adolf Hitler's half-brother Alois and his Irish sister-in-law Bridget Dowling are known to have lived in Upper Stanhope Street in the 1910s. Bridget's alleged memoirs, which surfaced in the 1970s, said that Adolf stayed with them in 1912-13, although this is much disputed as many believe the memoirs to be a forgery. [cite web|url=http://www.btinternet.com/~m.royden/mrlhp/local/hitlerinliverpool/hitlerinliverpool.htm|title=www.btinternet.com/~m.royden/mrlhp/local/hitlerinliverpool/hitlerinliverpool.htm ] [cite web|url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/legacies/myths_legends/england/liverpool/user_1_index.shtml|title=www.bbc.co.uk/legacies/myths_legends/england/liverpool/user_1_index.shtml ]

The maiden voyage of Titanic was originally planned to depart from Liverpool, as Liverpool was its port of registration and the home of owners White Star Line. However, it was changed to depart from Southampton instead.

Aside from the large Irish community in Liverpool, there were other pockets of cultural diversity. The area of Gerard, Hunter, Lionel and Whale streets, off Scotland Road, was referred to as "Little Italy". Inspired by an old Venetian custom, Liverpool was 'married to the sea' in September 1928. Liverpool was also home to a large Welsh population, and was sometimes referred to as the Capital of North Wales. In 1884, 1900 and 1929, Eisteddfods were held in Liverpool. The population of the city peaked at over 850,000 in the 1930s.

Economic changes began in the first part of the 20th century, as falls in world demand for the north west's traditional export commodities contributed to stagnation and decline in the city. Unemployment was well above the national average as early as the 1920s, and the city became known nationally for its occasionally violent religious sectarianism.John Belchem (ed.), "Liverpool 800: Culture, Character & History", 2006, ISBN 1-84361-035-0]

1939-1945: World War II

During World War II, Liverpool was the control centre for the Battle of the Atlantic. There were eighty air-raids on Merseyside, with an especially concentrated series of raids in May 1941 which interrupted operations at the docks for almost a week. Although 'only' 2,500 people were killed, [Some sources state 4,000] almost half the homes in the metropolitan area sustained some damage and 11,000 were totally destroyed. Over 70,000 people were made homeless.John Belchem (ed.), "Liverpool 800: Culture, Character & History", 2006, ISBN 1-84361-035-0] John Lennon, one of the founding members of The Beatles, was born in Liverpool during an air-raid on 9 October 1940.


Significant rebuilding followed the war, including massive housing estates and the Seaforth Dock, the largest dock project in Britain. However, the city has been suffering since the 1950s with the loss of numerous employers. By 1985 the population had fallen to 460,000. Declines in manufacturing and dock activity struck the city particularly hard.

In 1955, the Labour Party, led locally by Jack and Bessie Braddock, came to power in the City Council for the first time.

In the 1960s Liverpool became a centre of youth culture. The city produced the distinctive Merseybeat sound, and, most famously, The Beatles.

From the 1970s onwards Liverpool's docks and traditional manufacturing industries went into further sharp decline. The advent of containerisation meant that Liverpool's docks ceased to be a major local employer. In 1974, Liverpool became a metropolitan district within the newly created metropolitan county of Merseyside.


The 1980s saw Liverpool's fortunes sink to their lowest point. In the early 1980s unemployment rates in Liverpool were amongst the highest in the UK, an average of 12,000 people each year were leaving the city, and some 15% of its land was vacant or derelict.John Belchem (ed.), "Liverpool 800: Culture, Character & History", 2006, ISBN 1-84361-035-0] In 1981 the infamous Toxteth Riots took place, during which, for the first time in the UK outside Northern Ireland, tear gas was used by police against civilians. In the same year, the Tate and Lyle sugar works, previously a mainstay of the city's manufacturing economy, closed down.

Liverpool City Council was 'dominated' by the far-left wing Militant group during the 1980s, under the "de facto" leadership of Derek Hatton (although Hatton was formally only Deputy Leader). The city council sank heavily into debt, as the City Council fought a campaign to prevent central government from reducing funding for local services. Ultimately this led to 49 of the City's Councillors being removed from office by the unelected District Auditor, for refusing to make staff redundant or remove council services to reduce their spending.

In 1989, 96 Liverpool fans died and many more were severely injured in the Hillsborough disaster at a football game in Sheffield. This had a traumatic effect on people in both cities, and resulted in legally imposed changes in the way in which football fans have since been accommodated. In particular this led to strong feeling in Liverpool because it was widely reported in the media that the Liverpool fans were at fault (especially in the tabloid newspaper The Sun which led to a boycott of the paper in Liverpool that continues to this day). It has since become clear that South Yorkshire Police made a range of mistakes at the game, though the senior officer in charge of the event retired soon after.


A similar outpouring of grief and shock occurred in 1993 when two year-old James Bulger was killed by two ten year-old boys, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson.

Recent history

A general economic and civic revival has been underway since the mid-nineties. Liverpool's economy has grown faster than the national average and its crime levels have remained lower than most other metropolitan areas in England and Wales, with recorded crime per head in Merseyside comparable to the national average — unusually low for an urban area.

In recent years, the city has emphasised its cultural attractions. Tourism has become a significant factor in Liverpool's economy, capitalising on the popularity of The Beatles and other groups of the Merseybeat era. In June 2003, Liverpool won the right to be named European Capital of Culture for 2008, beating other British cities such as Newcastle and Birmingham to the coveted title. The riverfront of the city was also designated as a World Heritage Site in 2004.

In October 2007, Liverpool and London continued with wildcat strikes after the end of the official CWU strikes that had been ongoing since June in a dispute with the Royal Mail over pay, pensions, and hours.


External links

* [http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/srd/ Liverpool Slavery Remembrance Initiative]
* [http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=41369 British History Online]
* [http://www.mersey-gateway.org/ Mersey Gateway]
* [http://www.lmu.livjm.ac.uk/lhol Liverpool John Moores University]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/liverpool/localhistory/ BBC Local History]
* [http://www.localhistories.org/liverpool.html Local Histories]
* [http://www.redstarline.org.uk/civil_war_in_liverpool.html Liverpool and the American Civil War]
* [http://www.gresham.ac.uk/event.asp?PageId=45&EventId=478 "Liverpool and the Slave Trade"] , lecture by Anthony Tibbles at Gresham College, 19 March 2007 (available for download as video or audio files)
* [http://www.nowandthen.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk Liverpool The Gateway To America]
* [http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/21324 Recollections of Old Liverpool, by A Nonagenarian] , published 1836, from Project Gutenberg

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