I’ve recently discovered pinterest and have spent a hell of a lot of time looking at pictures of the city that i live in, Liverpool. Only I’ve been looking at pictures from the 18th/19th and early 20th century as the city boomed from trade and was growing to become the 2nd most important city in the British Empire, the first global city in the world. The excitement of spotting one building in a 150 year old photo i walked past yesterday and then piecing together the city as it was in my head. The incredible buildings bombed during the war and those demolished to make way for the post war eyesores, leaving one thinking ‘what if?’. Naturally this had me thinking about the trade and industries that the city was built to service and create and with an itch to write and show off the pictures I’ve decided to write more about this fantastic symbol of commerce and finance that is the city of Liverpool.
As this is the first post over what is to be a lot more on Liverpool it makes sense to start at the beginning, or at least the beginning of the first dock and the engineering and business challenges involved.
Work began in 1710 and finished in 1716, engineered by Thomas Steers whom it was named after. The point of the first dock was so ships could load and off load cargo irrespective of the tide and weather. It could cater for up to 100 ships at a time.
The dock was financed by the Liverpool Corporation and cost £12000, double it’s original estimate. Who were the Liverpool Corporation and why was it built in the first place/ considering Liverpool was not an ideal port (prone to silting) and there was the thriving port of Chester 15 miles south.
The Liverpool Corporation is the 18th century version of what is now basically Liverpool City Council. With tobacco coming in from the America’s the city decided to take a business risk and invest in a state of the art wet dock. With such a state-of-the-art dock (much more so than any of the others on the west coast, courtesy of Liverpool’s higher investment/risk) and being positioned facing the Atlantic, Liverpool put itself in a position to take advantage of the massive increase in global trade crossing the ocean.
Such an engineering feat to build the first wet dock took more than plain common sense, it required vision, energy and serious management. Entrepreneurial talents which still set successes and failures apart in modern day business.
The corporation sent Sir Thomas Johnson and Richard Norris Esq, its two representatives in parliament to ‘find a proper person’ to draw up plans for the dock. This was Thomas Steers, with a budget of £6000 he set to work. I am unsure how this specific capital was raised but considering it went over budget, a clue as to the practices of the corporation becomes apparent in 1720. The city mortgaged all of the lands of the town, including all corporation lands and the butchers shambles to raise an extra £10000 from a ‘gentleman in London’. That meant the council basically risked the whole town to a ‘man in London’ in order to raise the capital of this one dock, this same dock which launched the city forward to becoming the gateway of the West, had this not paid off the Cities history would have been very different.
Why was it placed where it was?
Whitechapel which now leads to Liverpool 1 was the course of the pool or river which ran basically from where the museum and Walker art gallery is now, to the waterfront. It was at this connection to the waterfront where the original dock was built (this is now Chavasse Park/Hilton Hotel). If you look at the layout of the city you can see today all the roads created to service this original dock all pointing towards Chavasse Park. The fast expansion of the City can be seen literally emanating from the Dock.
These streets would have contained rope companies, carpenters, warehouses and other seafaring industries of the time and bolstered the local economy as more ships entered the port. Not only would this have raised the local economy but also the goods entering the city to be sold on and in to England. With Liverpool basically being in the middle of the country it made it easier to transport goods the length and breathe of Britain. Goods such as Cotton which would be transported to the new mills of Lancashire and then, when woven, back to Liverpool to be exported worldwide. Liverpool’s population in the 18th century grew from 6000 inhabitants to 80000. It became first linked with Manchester by canal in 1721, to St Helens in 1755 and Leeds in 1816. In 1830, Liverpool became home to the world’s first inter-urban rail link to another city, Manchester, through the Liverpool and Manchester Railway and the maiden journey Stephenson’s The Rocket train.
The remnants of this first dock can be seen today through a glass portal looking down from the newly developed shopping area (Liverpool 1) and Liverpoolmuseums.org.uk hold regular tours of the old dock. The story of this first dock shows a spirit of entrepreneurship and ambition which allowed Liverpool to rise ahead of not only its competitive ports in Britain but that of the world, placing it on the map as the worlds first global city. Something the city is without doubt today and proudly so.
I shall be writing much more on the city of Liverpool in the months to come and specifically following the merchants, businesses, endeavors and corporations that made up its vibrant trading history.
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