A Brief History of Liverpool

Apr 23, 2018

From the “New York of Europe” to musical pilgrimage site, the city of Liverpool has had many guises over the years.

A city steeped in tradition, culture and loyalty, humble ‘Pool is one of Britain’s most diverse and rich destinations.

Liverpool began life as a small coastal port, engaging in trade with Ireland and other small ports along the western coast. Its name is derived from the world “Liuerpul”, one of the locale’s original titles, and meaning a muddy creek or pool.

It was the boom of the slave trade and cross-Atlantic travel that brought expansion to one of the Empire’s greatest port cities.

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The first cargo from across the pond arrived in 1648, with cloth, coal and salt from the mines of Cheshire and Lancashire heading across the Atlantic, with tobacco and sugar arriving in Liverpool’s expanding dockyards.

The slave trade turned Liverpool into a boom town. By the end of the 18th century, 40% of the world’s slave ships set off from the banks of the Mersey. Near 45,000 slaves a year passed through Liverpool’s wet docks and the city was behind only London in terms of economic power.

It wasn’t only in slaves that the ports of Liverpool traded; cotton was also a major export from the city’s ports, turning Liverpool into a world leader in the market.

As the Industrial Revolution broke across the country, Liverpool became a first for canal and railway connections. Waterways linked the city to nearby Manchester, Leeds, and the coalfields of Cheshire and Wales.

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway, a route between the two northern cities, was the world’s first inter-urban railway, and another first followed with the inner-city electric overhead rail line.

With the expansion of industry came a boom in population figures. The Welsh and Irish especially flocked to Liverpool ports. In 1880, with a population of 700,000, Liverpool was granted city status.

With trade being so intrinsically tied to the Americas, the crash and Great Depression of the early 20th century hit Liverpool hard. Unemployment was rife and living quality plummeted in the council houses and terraces that span from Liverpool’s docks.

As ships got ever larger, Liverpool’s docks became inadequate and soon enough, the mighty container ships of the modern era moved away from the city’s port area.

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Liverpool gained a new identity in the mid-20th century as the birthplace of the pop culture sensation, Merseybeat. A fusion of pop and rock, the music of the 60s would soon conquer the world as the distinctive sound of The Beatles.

The most commercially successful music act of all time, the appeal of The Beatles turned Liverpool into a centre for youth culture and the changing attitudes of the later 20th century.

Unemployment remained at a record level, however, as it was for much of the UK. By the 1980s, Liverpool’s figures for the jobless stood at 20%, almost double the national average.

The 80s were a dark time for the city. The difficulties surrounding mass unemployment contributed to the Toxteth Riots, a series of public riots that led to many arrested and injured. In 1989, 96 supporters of Liverpool FC lost their lives during the Hillsborough stadium disaster.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that Liverpool’s fortunes began to turn. Huge investment has turned the city into a tourist hub. Regeneration has been focused on the former docks that once made this city one of the most important in the British Empire and in 2004, the waterfront was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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