The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw rapid industrial change across Britain, and whilst population growth was relatively modest overall,172 urban areas grew significantly. Founded in 1207, Liverpool remained a small settlement for centuries, and only gained city status in 1880, although the previous decades had seen major development. At the turn of the nineteenth century, the population of Liverpool was 82,000 and by 1831 it stood at 202,000.173 This was comparable with other seaport cities, most notably Glasgow, which grew to a similar size over the same period of time. The clustering of populations in urban areas was linked to the developing economy and the subsequent availability of employment, and with the industrial revolution underway at this time, cities that could support the growth in manufacturing by providing trade links prospered. Consequently, cities on Britain’s coast became important ports for the import of raw materials and the export of manufactured goods, and as working-class dock societies developed, “great seaports and industrial towns had more in common with each other than with their nearby rural counties.”174 This was particularly apparent with Britain’s Atlantic seaports, and considerable similarities can be found, beyond comparisons of population growth patterns, between cities like Glasgow, Liverpool and Bristol.
The development of the Atlantic economy was a considerable factor in Britain’s economic growth during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,175 and Liverpool grew on the strength of its geographical position near the mouth of the wide estuary of the River Mersey. Communication systems of canals and railways developed in the North West between Liverpool’s port and a hinterland rich with agricultural, earthenware and textile production industries.176 Consequently, when the Corporation of Liverpool, precursor of Liverpool City Council, successfully promoted the construction of the city’s first dry dock in
172 Lee, C.H. (1986), The British Economy Since 1700: A Macroeconomic Perspective, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.5
173 McCord, N. and Purdue, B. (2007), British History 1815-1914, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p.87
ibid., p.227 175
Lee (1986), The British Economy Since 1700: A Macroeconomic Perspective, p.121
176 Stobart, J. (2004), The First Industrial Region: North-west England, c.1700-60, Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, p.149
1709 and the world’s first wet dock in 1715,177 the city’s shipping industry was firmly established.
Fig. 1.2.1 Map of Liverpool’s wet and dry docks, c.1823/4
The wet docks facilitated the development of an ocean-going trade in an area that had previously been hindered by frequent silting,178 and Liverpool, so long on the periphery of Britain’s trade industry, developed into a strong and bountiful port economy.179 Liverpool traded primarily in slaves, as part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and its corollaries: sugar, tobacco and cotton.180 Liverpool established itself as Britain’s most important port of the Slave Trade, with six times as many slaving ships passing through the Liverpool docks than London by its peak. At the turn of the nineteenth century, 107 ships left Liverpool for West Africa between 1793 and 1804, compared to only eighteen from London and five from Bristol.181 To further illustrate the importance of the transatlantic trade during the eighteenth century, the ports at Hull and Newcastle trebled in size whilst Liverpool’s port grew fifteen-fold.182
Four further wet docks were built in Liverpool by the end of the eighteenth century (Lynch, A. (1994), Weathering the Storm: The Mersey Docks Financial Crisis, 1970-1974, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, p.1; Sharples, J. (2004), Liverpool, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, p.7; p.10)
178 Sharples (2004), Liverpool, p.93
179 Chandler, G. (1960), Liverpool Shipping: A Short History, London: Phoenix House, p.33 180
Gifford QC, Lord A.M. et al (1989), Loosen the Shackles: First Report of the Liverpool 8 Inquiry into Race Relations in Liverpool, Guilford: Karia Press, p.26
181 See Lamb 1976 182
The Slave Trade was abolished in 1807, however, and whilst Liverpool still imported materials such as cotton for the textile industry of Lancashire and Yorkshire, Britain’s economy began to change. By the end of the nineteenth century, the economy, whilst still heavily reliant on trade, saw the development of the financial markets and their location in London impacted on Britain’s seaports, although there was sufficient legacy in Liverpool for the number of millionaires and half-millionaires to be noteworthy at this time.183 Having developed over a relatively short period of time, however, and with the top of the city’s social hierarchy not being the wealthy landowners of the British aristocracy, Liverpool’s wealthiest individuals were self-made merchants who had been successful businessmen during the port’s heyday. David Cannadine, in his analysis of social class in Britain, cites former Prime Minister William Gladstone as the embodiment of this unusual social hierarchy in Liverpool.
His father was a self-made entrepreneur, who established a fortune on the bases of trade, property and shipping. He was based at Liverpool, it was there that Gladstone himself was born, and for all his Eton and Christchurch education, he remained ‘Liverpool underneath.’184