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.


The origins of the city are usually dated from August 1207 when letters patent were issued by King John advertising the establishment of a new borough at Liverpool, 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 Liverpool Castle was built, which was removed in 1726.

Elizabethan era

For four centuries, Liverpool was relatively unimportant. In the middle of the 16th century the population of Liverpool was only around 500, and the port was regarded as subordinate to Chester until the 1650s. A number of battles for the town were waged during the English Civil War, including an eighteen-day siege in 1644.

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 at Liverpool called 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.

From this time until the end of the next century, Liverpool made but a slow progress in the extent of its trade and in the number of its inhabitants. Neither is there any remarkable occurrence recorded of it except the siege of it by Prince Rupert of the Rhine, in the English Civil Wars in 1644, some traces of which 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.

17th and 18th centuries

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. From that time may be traced the rapid progress of population and commerce, until Liverpool had become the second metropolis of Great Britain. During the 1840's, the Irish began arriving by the thousands due to the Great Famine 1845-1849. By 1851, approximately 25% of the city was Irish-born. In the 18th century, as trade from the West Indies was added to that of Ireland and Europe, Liverpool began to grow.


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 misanthropically named, "The Blessing" set sail for the Gold Coast. Slavery, which also gave host to numerous related activities such as banking, finance and insurance, was inarguably the single, most significant factor that effected Liverpool's eventual development into Britain's 2nd city.

The first wet dock in Britain was built in Liverpool in 1715, it was also the first commercial, enclosed wet dock in the world and was constructed for a capacity of 100 ships. Hence, 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 docks at Liverpool. 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 the once insignificant fishing village into Britain's second most prosperous metropolis. Liverpool became a financial centre, rivalled by Bristol, another slaving port, and beaten only by London, the nation's original slaving capital which, by late 18th century, had conceded to Liverpool's aggressive stronghold on slaving causing London slave mercants to move their direct activities to Liverpool. By now, Liverpool had become the expert in all aspects of the business of human slavery, including slave-ship design, building and repair, slave trafficking, and slave merchant finance & insurance.

Many factors led to the demise of slavery including revolts, piracy, social unrest, and the repercussions of corruption such as slave insurance fraud, ie., the Zong case, 1781. Slavery was 'officially' abolished in 1807 however, it was formally replaced by 7 year apprenticeships, even though slave merchants knew that the life expectancy of slaves on plantations did not exceed an average 4 years maximum. Such was the importance of slavery to Liverpool's prosperity, that the somehow the City managed to ignore all legislation 'unnoticed' and continued to deal in underground slave trafficking, also underhandedly engaging in financial investments for slaving activities in the Americas. Over 50 years after official abolition, an American slave ship is recorded as docking in Liverpool in 1860.

(The importance of the cotton trade should not be understated as above, nor should the commercial connections to other northern towns and cities such as Manchester or Leeds.)

Industrial revolution

Liverpool expanded significantly in the 19th century and a number of major buildings were constructed (St. George's Hall, Lime Street Station etc.). When the American Civil War broke out Liverpool became a hot bed 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.

The importance of the cotton trade should not be understated as above, nor should the commercial connections to other northern towns and cities such as Manchester or Leeds.

In 1830, Liverpool became home to the on of the first Intercity Stations/Rail Link to another city, Manchester, throught the Liverpool and Manchester Railway

20th century


During the first part of the 20th century Liverpool continued to expand, pulling in emigrants from Europe. 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. (Vision of Britain: History of Liverpool)

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 1912-1913, though this is much disputed and many believe the memoirs to be a forgery.

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, Eisteddfod were held in Liverpool. The population of the city exceeded 850,000 in 1930.

1939-1945: World War II

During World War II 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, almost half the homes in the metropolitan area sustained some damage and 11,000 were totally destroyed. John Lennon, one of the founding members of The Beatles, was born in Liverpool during an air-raid on October 9, 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.

Map of Liverpool from 1880
Map of Liverpool from 1880

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 sharp decline. The advent of containerisation meant that Liverpool's docks became largely obsolete.


Historically Liverpool was part of Lancashire, it became a county borough in 1888. In 1974, it 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. 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.

Liverpool City Council was taken over 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). 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, and again over the murders of Kenneth Bigley in 2004.

Recent History

The brutal murder of black student Anthony Walker in a racially motivated attack brought Liverpool's historical label as the "most racist city in Europe" to the forefront once again. It was said to have been a shock to the British public as a whole, however, the incident may have been perceived with little surprise by those who have feel that Liverpool is a poor model for harmonious race relations.

In recent years, the city has emphasised its cultural attractions, winning the accolade of European Capital of Culture for 2008. The riverfront of the city is also a world heritage site.

Tourism has become a significant factor in Liverpool's economy, capitalising on the popularity of the 1960s pop group The Beatles and other groups of the Merseybeat era.

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.

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