Decline and rebirth
The start of World War I in 1914 saw the beginning of a decline in Liverpool’s fortunes. The passenger liners moved to Southampton, which had better tidal conditions, but were themselves later superseded by air travel. Liverpool’s substantial banking and insurance businesses moved to London as part of the general concentration of the nation’s business leadership in the capital. World War II brought death and destruction to Liverpool. Large numbers of Liverpool seafarers were killed and much of the central area was destroyed by German bombs, especially in May 1941. Liverpool was the most bombed British city apart from the capital. But the port remained open, the only British port to stay open throughout the war.
In the later part of the twentieth century, more docks were built but the mechanisation of dock work meant that, while currently handling as much tonnage as ever in its history, the port now employs only a few hundred people instead of the 15,000 who once worked in it. Industrial plants such as Tate & Lyle’s sugar refinery and Meccano of Dinky toys and Hornby trains fame were closed. (Henry Tate and Frank Hornby were Liverpool men). New industry preferred to be in the southeast of England successive governments favoured the south east for the headquarters of the growing number of public sector departments. The population of the city fell from nearly 800,000 in the 1940s to about 450,000 as the twentieth first century dawned – but it is now rising again.
The twentieth century saw re-housing in suburban council-controlled estates, the earlier ones of good standard, the later ones less satisfactory. Many of the mid-twentieth century blocks of flats were so bad that they have since been demolished. The condition of many of the houses built in Victorian times for the rich had seriously deteriorated. Many were torn down. Others are now being refurbished. Housing for Liverpool people and industrial estates spilled over into neighbouring boroughs.
National policy was slow to tackle the decline in this and other northern areas. Britain’s expanded commercial and political links with other European Union countries made matters even more difficult. The success of the Liverpool and Everton football clubs and the rise of the Beatles and a large number of other pop groups and entertainers of all kinds seemed to be all that sustained Liverpool in the 1960s and 70s. Severe riots in the Toxteth part of the city in 1981 drew attention to the city’s plight and there followed the government supported International Garden Festival of 1984 and the beginning of financial assistance from the European Union’s Regional Development Fund. The European money and changes in British government policy sparked new commercial and industrial development which has now led to something of a boom, at least in the centre of the city.