Local History & Heritage: News Items & Opportunities

Free Tours of ‘The Old Dock’ – See Where The Port of Liverpool Began

Liverpool’s revolutionary Old Dock – which opened in 1715 as the world’s first, commercial, enclosed wet dock - is open to the public.
The internationally-important Old Dock has been carefully preserved under the new Liverpool ONE.
For the first time in centuries the bed of the Pool - the creek that gave Liverpool its name - can be seen.
The Old Dock was discovered during excavations in 2001 after being buried since 1826.
Developers Grosvenor preserved the dock and now organise guided tours to see the Dock ~ this outstanding and important reminder of Liverpool’s innovative beginnings and our vital historic status.

To find out more, click onto http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/visit/old_dock_tours.aspx 

Local History & Heritage: Tales and Fascinating Facts

Ken regularly includes new articles about Liverpool or Merseyside local history topics, so log on regularly to see what new story is available:

Also, if you have a suggestion for a topic that you would like covered, or a local history question you would like answered, drop it in the box below and send it to Ken. He will respond in the next month’s update.

Liverpool's Court Dwellings

Whilst the successful ship-owners, slave-traders, mill and factory proprietors, merchants, and entrepreneurs became ever more wealthy, powerful, and comfortable, those ordinary people of Liverpool who had generated that wealth were trapped in their poverty.

Large, Georgian town-houses that had been built in the Town-centre - before the great ‘Middle-Class exodus’, and the spacious mansions and villas of central Liverpool, all had cellars built into them for the domestic servants and household staff. However, once the merchants and their families had moved out, having sold their former homes to opportunistic landlords, the labouring classes moved in; often more than one family to each room, and paying rent for extremely poor and frequently overcrowded accommodations. After the upper floors had been filled with new tenants, the cellars soon filled up too: these properties became Liverpool's first slums.

The workers, who laboured on the dock and canal-sides, and in the factories and workshops; their families, and those of the mariners setting sail on frequent, long, and uncertain sea-voyages around the world, could not afford to leave the grimy, dark, and unhealthy heart of the Town.

They were trapped, in an increasingly over-crowded urban metropolis, finding themselves eking out their existences in squalor. Indeed, the census of 1789/90 noted that people were living in the cellars of buildings because there was not enough existing housing to meet demand. The same census reported that there were 1,728 occupied cellars, containing 6,788 people, which at that time was approximately 12% of the Town's population.

It was around this time too, that a more notorious form of dwelling was created by private speculators and landlords – the Court. These comprised a central square, about 20-30 feet long by about 10-15 feet wide, around which blocks of rooms had been built, often up to 4 floors high. Each block accommodated dozens of families, each one occupying only one or two rooms. At times, there could be more than one family in each room.

Court dwellings were accessed by a narrow gate or passageway that, from the outside at least, might have looked like a normal doorway or entry in the front of a terrace of houses. However, these would lead directly into the court-yard and the self-contained complex of tenemented rooms. Even before the creation of Liverpool's first dock there were already many such court dwellings in the Town.

These confined urban communities would not have had any form of localised water supply, and the only sanitary provision for the hundreds of people living around each court might have been a single, communal water-closet, placed at one end of the yard. These would generally consist of a wooden bench, with lavatory a hole cut in it, suspended over an earth pit.

If not flowing into cess-pits, or scooped out to be added to the public middens, the contents of these lavatories would be emptied by the ‘Night-Soil’ men, but not always on a regular or predictable basis. Tenants would have to pay for this service in addition to their basic rent. Sometimes, there might be a full or half door on these cubicles, and sometimes not; but in such dense filth and poverty a lack of personal privacy was a minor consideration!

By the end of the 18th Century, there were four major districts of the Town in which large numbers of court dwellings were to be found; the 'North End', around the streets north of Tithebarn Street; the 'Central District’, between Dale Street and Whitechapel; the district around Castle Street; and the 'South End', west of Park Lane and St James Street, in the now rapidly urbanising district of Toxteth. In these areas over a quarter of the population, and in some streets almost half the people, were living in these enclosed and unwholesome places, inter-mixed with cellar dwellings, which were also prevalent in these districts.

All this meant that, as Georgian Liverpool became Victorian Liverpool, the population of the Town was already a divided society, and the barriers between rich and poor were becoming broader. As far as the underprivileged of Liverpool were concerned only two things sustained them; a developing sense of shared suffering, and therefore solidarity-of-community, and a hope and faith in the afterlife to come. In fact, religious faith was often the only solace for many Liverpudlians, at what was soon to be a time of yet more social transformation and upheaval, as Britain became increasingly industrialised and class-structured.

Many Court Dwellings survived well into the 1930s, especially in the inner city, and in places like Woolton and Wavertree – now amongst Liverpool’s more attractive suburbs. This meant that the divided communities, and the poverty and squalor that the working classes suffered, were to continue well into the new, 20th century.




Return to article list