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The liver building

History of Liverpool


We asked our Facebook fans to let us know which British cities’ histories they’d like to know more about. We received loads of votes, with the top cities being Glasgow, Portsmouth and Liverpool.

In the final piece of this series, we’re telling you all about the history of Liverpool.

Origins and Early History

We can’t be completely sure of the origins of this city, but we are aware of a place in the area traced back to 1190 by the name of Liuerpul. The common consensus is that this is the city we now know as Liverpool and that this name can be roughly translated to mean pool or creek with muddy water, referring to the Mersey. The city was officially established on 28 August 1207 when King John issued a letter advertising the city as a new borough, and inviting people who were able to come and take up residence there. Being a port town it initially served as a base for troops headed to Ireland, but began to become a more residential borough. With the building of a castle, church and an established market, Liverpool took the shape of a functional fishing and farming town.

This prosperity was short-lived, however. The population stagnated at 1,000 people, and trade did not take off as expected. By the middle of the 16th century, the town was under the control of the country gentry, trade was slow and the population had dropped to below 600 people. Things began to look up for the city in 1626. The people harnessed the opportunity to win trade with other cities, Ireland and the Isle of Man. They were given a new charter by King Charles I. From this point onwards, regular shipping began to America and the West Indies, the city began to flourish, making it Great Britain’s second city.

Slavery in Liverpool

In 1699 Liverpool sent out their first recorded slave ship to bring back 220 slaves from Barbados, followed straight after by a second ship headed for the Gold Coast. The slaves were needed as Britain’s first wet dock had just been built in the city and had the capacity for 100 ships. In this century Liverpool were the biggest players in the slave trade, bringing 45,000 slaves over from Africa in their peak year (1799). Slavery was eventually abolished in the British colonies in 1833; however, many business men and merchants in the city ignored this and continued to deal slaves on the black market long after this time.

Industrial Revolution

Throughout the industrial revolution, Liverpool became the world’s leading city for cotton production, as well as continuing to experience a boom in its other industries – including slavery. Because of this its population grew quite rapidly from 6,000 to over 80,000. With a large population and thriving industries, it was time to make sure that Liverpool could be swiftly connected with the rest of the country’s powerful metropolises. Firstly, in 1721, developers linked Liverpool to Manchester by canal, adding links to Leeds and St. Helens in the following years. In 1830, Liverpool showed how ahead-of-its-time it was by linking itself to Manchester by railway, with the world’s first inter-city rail link. Years of building on its structures, industries and communities followed, and in 1880 it was granted official city status.

Liverpool in WW2

Liverpool was quite badly affected in WW2. Its docks provided the control centre for the Battle of the Atlantic, and it was subject to over 80 air raids, particularly concentrated in May 1941. Throughout the war 2,500 people were killed in Liverpool, and 11,000 homes completely ruined, with over half the residences in the city badly damaged. Around 70,000 people in the city had been made homeless.

Gangs of Liverpool

Throughout history Liverpool has had quite an infamous gang culture. You can read more about that here.


Of course it’s impossible to talk about Liverpool without mentioning the Fab Four. The Beatles are Liverpool’s most famous export, and indeed one of the most famous and successful bands the world has ever known. The Beatles were formed in Liverpool in 1957. John Lennon, aged 16 at the time grouped together four friends from his school to form a skiffle group with the name “The Blackjacks”. Over the next two years, the line-up changed to include George Harrison and Paul McCartney and by August 1960 they were called The Beatles. We know you probably know all about The Beatles, but did you know…?

  • Their debut LP Please Please Me was recorded in three three-hour sessions over one day!
  • I Want To Hold Your Hand was the first Beatles track to be recorded in stereo.
  • Ticket To Ride was the first Beatles song to last over 3 minutes.
  • The Ballad of John and Yoko was recorded solely by John and Paul, with no input from Ringo or George.
  • The End from the Abbey Road album contains Ringo’s only drum solo across any of their mammoth back catalogue