The Borough of Liverpool, formed by the charter given by King John in 1207, lies on the eastern bank of the estuary of the River Mersey. Growth however was so slow that during the 16th century the town only consisted of seven streets with a population around 500. Things did not get much better during the 17th century, and there was a lot of fighting for the Royalist stronghold during the Civil War, including an eighteen day siege in 1644 when the town fell to forces under Sir John Meldrum, who had just returned from his victory at Montgomery Castle on the Welsh side of Offa’s Dyke in the Welsh Marches.
At the end of the century Liverpool was made a parish, and its infamy as a slave port began, with ships sailing in the triangle between Africa and the West Indies. The River Dee was silting up and the Freemen of Liverpool invested in the construction of a wet dock, in 1715, where ships could be housed and unloaded behind locks regardless of the state of the tide. The large profit made from slaves and cotton brought into Lancashire for processing ensured the support of the Confederate States during the American Civil War by shippers and cotton workers alike.
The slaving, cotton and its sealing industry ensured Liverpool’s growth, and by the beginning of the 19th century 40% of world trade was passing through its docks. The construction of a railway link to Manchester in 1830, and the construction of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, completed in 1816, further contributed to its economic growth. All this was reflected in the number of major building projects on the foreshore and in the business quarters. Liverpool is rich with architectural heritage with buildings ranging from Tudor to Victorian gems, although what has been built since adds nothing of interest.
Amongst the most impressive buildings in the city today are the Bluecoat Chambers, the Albert Dock, and the Pier Head buildings. Bluecoat Chambers, the oldest building in the city centre, was built in 1718 as a residential charity school for 150 children. Built around a quadrangle the impressive brick and stone dressed building is topped by an octagonal cupola with copper finial supported on Ionic columns. Following the schools move to a new site in 1906 the building has housed the Liverpool Centre of Arts.
The Pier Head with its trio of large buildings, known as the “Three Graces,” the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building, and the Port of Liverpool Building, is amongst the most famous waterfront views in the world. Being a leading port, docks are a major feature of the waterfront, and although Albert Dock built in 1846 is best known as it contains the largest collection of Grade I buildings in Britain, the first dock built was the “Old Dock.” Built in 1715 it was the first lock controlled wet dock in the world, serviced by the first ever hydraulic lifting cranes.
St Luke’s Church designed by John Foster was consecrated in 1831, but was unfortunately hit by an incendiary bomb during the war in 1941. Still standing and now famous as a memorial to Liverpool’s dogged resistance, it is known at the “Bombed Out Church.” Now open to the public as a place of peace, it contains a memorial to the dead of the Irish famine. During the 1840s the already multicultural population was vastly increased by hoards of Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine.
Stone was quarried on Quarry Hill to the south of the town until it was exhausted in 1825 when it became Liverpool’s main cemetery. St James’s Cemetery, on the now renamed Mount Zion, undertook over 57 thousand burials before it closed in 1936. Now the Grade I listed urban space, which was Liverpool’s first public park, is know known as St James’s Gardens and the quirky place is a very popular destination. The quarry workings have left tunnel workings and a spring which was found. Adjacent to the spring is the memorial marking the grave of William Huskisson who has the double fame of being an outstanding politician holding many posts, and the dubious fame as the first person to be killed by a locomotive. He was knocked down and killed by Stephenson’s Rocket at the opening of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway. At the western entrance to the park is the Oratory, built in Greek Revivalist style, it accommodated funeral services but now contains bronzes and statues removed from the cemetery.
At the start of the 20th century Liverpool was in the unusual position of having no cathedral, and its parish church was inadequate for the city. Only by chance it was decided to build an Anglican Cathedral alongside St James’s Gardens, which has to be the most impressive site in the city. The enormous Gothic building, largest cathedral in Britain and fifth largest in the world was constructed between 1904 and 1978. Not to be outdone the Roman Catholics decided to build a cathedral too. Despite impressive designs submitted by Pugin and Sir Edwin Lutyens, the construction was given to Sir Frederick Gibberd. “Paddy’s Wigwam” was built between 1962 and 1967 and resulted in Gibberd being sued for inferior quality workmanship.
Port of Liverpool Building
St George's Hall
The Burnt Church
St James's Gardens