Liverpool and the North West

Here we look at Liverpool and the North West's part in the British slave trade and the impact left in our historic environment.

Liverpool Town Hall

Listed Grade I 

Like The Guildhall in London, Liverpool Town Hall,  High Street, Liverpool L2 3SW was at the centre of the city's trading activity.

The Town Hall dates from 1749 and was designed by John Wood of Bath. The building has an exterior decorative frieze showing African faces, elephants, crocodiles and lions - references to the slave trade where Liverpool gained much of its wealth. All of the city's mayors between 1787 and 1807 were involved in the slave trade.

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Canning Graving Docks

Liverpool was one of Britain's busiest trading ports. Canning Graving Docks, Liverpool, Merseyside L3 4AN is all that remains. These were used for fitting out and repairing slave ships in the late 18th century.

62 Rodney Street

Listed Grade II*

A plaque at 62 Rodney Street, Liverpool L1 9AD commemorates the birthplace of the Liberal Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone (from 1809 to 1898).

The house was built for William’s father, John Gladstone and stands as a merchant town house in one of Liverpool’s well-preserved Georgian streets.

John Gladstone (from 1764 to 1851), made his fortune investing in West Indian plantations. As a result his wealth increased from £40,000 in 1799 to over £500,000 in 1828.

John Gladstone began trading in sugar and cotton in 1803. He purchased several estates including the Belmont estate in Demerara, Guyana and the largest one Vreedenhoop, which had 430 slaves. Throughout the 1820s John Gladstone ignored the growth of the anti-slavery movement.

William Gladstone used his maiden speech in the House of Commons in 1833 to argue against the immediate emancipation of slaves. After 1834, when slavery was abolished, the Gladstone family received over £90,000 in compensation.

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Parr Street

Listed Grade II 

Parr Street in Liverpool is named after Thomas Parr (from 1769 to 1847), a slave trader and banker. His ship Parr was equipped to carry 700 captives. It is reported that it exploded off the coast of West Africa in 1798. It may have been carrying gunpowder to exchange for enslaved Africans.

At 57, Parr Street, Liverpool L1 4JN Thomas Parr built an elegant warehouse behind his townhouse. It is thought to have originally stored iron. Iron goods were transported aboard slave ships like the Parr to West Africa where they were traded to buy enslaved Africans.

The building later became home to The Royal Institution from 1817 to 1848. The institution, established by Liverpool merchants in 1814, was founded for the pursuit of literature, science and the arts. Many of the men who established it were linked to slavery, either as traders or owners of plantations.

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North West merchant houses

Some successful plantation owners with links to Liverpool also built grand houses elsewhere in the North West of England.

Whernside Manor

Whernside Manor, Dent, Sedbergh, Cumbria LA10 5RE, now a hotel, was the country home of the Sill family from Liverpool whose wealth came from Jamaican plantations.

Speke Hall

Speke Hall, The Walk, Liverpool L24 1XD was the home of Richard Wyatt, a Liverpool merchant who made his fortune from sugar plantations in Jamaica. He bought the house and its 2,400 acre estate for £73,500 in 1795.

Speke Hall is owned by the National Trust and is open to the public.

Quarry Bank Mill

Quarry Bank Mill, Styal, Cheshire SK9 4LA was built by cotton manufacturer Samuel Greg (from 1758 to 1834).  It began operating in 1784. By 1832 the Greg firm was the largest spinning and weaving business in the country. The family also owned a sugar plantation in Dominica. Quarry Bank Mill was acquired by the National Trust in 1939 and is open to the public.

Port of Lancaster Custom House, St George's Quay

Listed Grade II*

During the 18th century, Lancaster and Whitehaven ships carried over 29,000 and 14,000 enslaved people, respectively, out of Africa. Though overshadowed by Liverpool, London and Bristol, these statistics put them at the forefront of smaller operators.

From 1750 until 1775 100 voyages to the African coast set sail from St Georges Quay, Lancaster, LA1 1RB. Whitehaven ships accounted for almost 60 further slaving voyages.

The Port of Lancaster Custom House and warehouse buildings at St George's Quay are now home to the Lancaster Maritime Museum.

The museum is housed in the Quay’s old custom house (about 1799), at 26 St George’s Quay. Surrounding it there is also surviving warehouses from the same era. The custom house itself has a Palladian design. It and the warehouses were built by merchants who made their fortunes from the slave trade.

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