Liverpool’s maritime history stretches back 800 years. The name derives from the pool or natural inlet (which is now effectively the entrance to Liverpool One Bus Station) and Liver or Liuerpul (pool or creek meaning muddy water)
The city was created in 1207 when King John wanted to establish a community – and army – as close to Ireland as possible for his campaigns there. For those who agreed to settle, he gave a strip of land to build and access to the Common ground for grazing etc.
Following various upheavals during the English Civil Wars in the 1640’s, King John’s Liverpool Castle fell into disrepair and was demolished. Later, in 1712 the Pool (or inlet) was enclosed and a brick dock was built - the world’s first commercial wet dock. Liverpool has the second highest tidal range of around 8m and, once the dock was finished, wooden ships could be easily loaded and unloaded. At this time, the warehouses, customs house and seamen’s homes were all constructed around the then new dock.
The city features prominently in respect of international slavery. By 1750, Liverpool had overtaken London and Bristol as the largest slaving port. This explains why many Merchants gained considerable wealth and encouraged the building of Liverpool’s Georgian Quarter around 1785 whose architecture is still prominent to this day.
Liverpool has never really manufactured anything that it has traded in. As an example, it brought in cotton which was processed in Manchester. Indeed, Manchester even built the Manchester ship canal to try to avoid paying duty to Liverpool merchants! Even so, Liverpool’s Lime Street station was a necessary and vital link in the cotton industry.
By the late 1790’s, the abolitionists were around and the slave trade died out. It meant Liverpool Merchants started to diversify and used their connections to continue trading in new areas. The events of that period are commemorated in the International Slavery Museum in the Maritime Museum.
The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was the first successful passenger-carrying railway in the world and trials for Stephenson's Rocket were carried out at Rainhill in 1829.
Liverpool, more famously, is the birthplace of the famous Cunard Line. The Company’s first ship, Britannia, departed from its Liverpool HQ on her maiden voyage to Boston on July 4 1840.
By 1877, the company had 46 vessels. The first recorded visit by a senior royal to a Cunard ship took place in Liverpool on 11 July 1913 when His Majesty King George V and Her Majesty Queen Mary visited the Mauretania.
Cunard in Liverpool
The famous Cunard Building, which the company moved into in 1916, was a construction on a massive scale. Built of 180,000 cu feet of Portland Stone, with 50,000 cu feet of Italian marble, the building’s design was based on the Farnese Palace in Rome – the family home of Pope Paul III.
At its peak, the Cunard Empire had over 1,000 staff working in the building. It remained its HQ for 50 years. But by 1967, the focus of Cunard activity had shifted away from Liverpool. After 128 years in the city, Cunard’s Head Office moved to New York and its operational base moved to Southampton
In 2015, however, Cunard celebrated its 175th anniversary with all three of its flagship liners sailing up the Mersey together - Queen Mary II, Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria.
The White Star Line, owners of the Titanic, was founded in Liverpool in 1845. Their headquarters was at 30 James Street in the city. The Titanic never actually made it to its home base. It was built in Belfast by Harland and Wolff and set sail from Southampton on its ill fated maiden voyage. Many relatives of the crew who were from Liverpool went to 30 James Street where the managers came out on the balconies to give announcements of the unfolding disaster. Today, the Titanic’s home address has been preserved as a luxurious Signature Living Hotel.
The Albert Dock was built in 1846 and opened by Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband) (see more in Albert Docks section). After being devastated in May 1941 during the seven days of bombing in the Blitz, the dock area remained an empty and derelict space, signalling Liverpool’s slow decline.
By the late seventies, when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, there was record unemployment in Liverpool. In 1981, the Toxteth riots occurred. Cabinet Minister Michael Heseltine came to Liverpool, looked out from the balcony of the waterfront Atlantic Tower Hotel at the docks and famously said: “My god what have they done to you.”
In 1984, Liverpool International Garden Festival achieved record crowds, which arguably kick started the modern day tourism sector.
Following the formation of the Merseyside Development Corporation, in 1986 the Albert Dock was reopened as a tourist attraction with a few shops. It took time to blossom but today, with The Beatles Story as one of its major attractions, Albert Dock is the UK’s most visited tourist destination outside London.
But regeneration didn’t properly take root until Liverpool’s successful bid to host the European Capital of Culture in 2008.
Today, with Liverpool One at its heart, the city centre has been completely transformed with the Albert Dock now being imaginatively connected, providing easy access from the waterfront into the city.Liverpool is now a major destination city, with world class shopping, conferencing and entertainment facilities.
And the link with her maritime past has not only been rekindled but is stronger than ever. The city is now a booming Cruise destination, with around 80 cruises per year from all over the world sailing into Liverpool.
The opening of Liverpool2, a new £300million deep-water container terminal enhances the city’s position as one of the largest, busiest and most diverse ports in the UK, will be complete This will double the port’s container capacity and make Liverpool one of the country’s best-equipped and connected terminals, capable of loading and unloading the world’s largest container ships.