Book Review

Mersey Ferries Through Time

mersey ferriesIan Collard, 2013. Amberley Publishing. 96 pages, 180 illustrations. Paperback. ISBN 978 1 4456 1333 8. £14.99.

Did you know? –
– That two Mersey Ferry boats took part in a courageous wartime assault at Zeebrugge in 1918, in which 11 VCs were awarded for bravery? l
– That the Mersey Ferries once carried over 30 million passengers a year between Liverpool and Wallasey?
– That the New Brighton Ferry was founded by an Everton builder in 1830?

These details and many more can be found in this illustrated account of the Mersey Ferries, from its inception in 1150 on behalf of the new Benedictine Priory at Woodside, Birkenhead to the less romantic, more regulated but perhaps even more cherished, activities of the present day.

Ian Collard summarises the history of the Birkenhead and Wallasey Ferries in separate chapters, concluding with a final chapter on the years between 1969 and 2012. Each gives a brief overview, concentrating on the more accessible detail available of events in the 19th and 20th centuries. To be realistic, 73 of the 96 pages are devoted to mainly photographic images of ferry boats, piers, landing stages and ferry terminals. It should be described therefore as essentially a visual record of a ferry service once crucial to the greater Liverpool transport system, operating on at least four distinct services across the Mersey.

The high water mark reached in the year ending March 1920, when the combined Seacombe, Egremont and New Brighton Ferries carried 32 million passengers emphasises how important this service has been to the development of both Liverpool and the Wirral Peninsula. The more chastened modern day operations which carry around 600,000 passengers and lose £1 million a year also highlight how Liverpool has changed, with a reduced population and the advent of competing rail and road transport systems.

Those readers searching for a detailed account of the history of the Mersey Ferries need to look elsewhere. The book is sketchy on the pre-Victorian background (both written and visual) and the images are undated and not presented chronologically. On the other hand, Ian Collard’s nostalgic compilation does attempt to recapture the romance of the ‘ferries across the Mersey’.

Tony Melling

Why Spencer Perceval Had To Die

why percival had to dieAndro Linklater, 2012. Bloomsbury. 296 pages, 10 illustrations. Hardback. ISBN 978 1 4088 2840 3. £18.99. Also available in paperback at £9.99 and Kindle at £5.14.

The media has ensured that it would not have escaped your attention that the 22nd of November 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy.

However, the 11th May 2012 passed with hardly a mention of the fact that it was the 200th anniversary of the assassination of the leader of the then most powerful country on earth – British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval. History buffs will know that not only was he the only Prime Minister to have been thus despatched but that the assassin was Liverpool merchant John Bellingham, late of 46 Duke Street.

Despite its racy title, this book is a serious, but highly readable, study of what was arguably the most notorious murder of the 19th century – it comes with copious endnotes, extensive bibliography and a useful index and was written by historian Andro Linklater, brother of the journalist Magnus Linklater. In one of those ‘goosebump moments’, the day I finished reading the book, I happened to read The Times, which carried Andro’s full-page obituary; he had died on 3rd November, aged 68.

Without giving away too much, suffice it to say that Bellingham’s self-justification for the deadly deed stemmed from a Russian business deal that had gone sour and his frustration at the unwillingness of government officials in England and Russia to offer him justice and redress for his financial ruin. Liverpool features quite large in the story, including Bellingham’s restraint and immediate identification by fearless Liverpool MP General Gascoyne who “gripped his hand so hard he cried out in pain”.

In what can only be described as a shameful miscarriage of justice, the clearly deranged Bellingham was thrown in jail, tried, strung up at a public hanging at Newgate Prison, and his body immediately dissected… all within one week of the assassination.

However, the sting is in the tail for this saga revolves around Linklater’s own conspiracy theory (shades of JFK!) involving the recently abolished slave trade, the impending war between America and Britain and Bellingham’s shadowy American financial backers. Highly recommended.

Ron Jones

Liverpool It All Came Tumbling Down (updated edition)

Liverpool it all came tumbling downFreddy O’Connor, 2013. Countyvise. 244 pages, 500+ black & white photos and maps. Paperback. ISBN 978-1-906823-70-2. £14.95.

Many LHS members will recall the modest little book of the same name that came out in 1986. I certainly do. One of my roles in those days was running Liverpool’s Tourist Information Centres. Freddy’s book of Box Brownie snapshots of streets levelled during the great slum clearance drive of the 60s and 70s touched the nostalgia sweetspot and we sold it like the proverbial hot cakes.
Fast forward 37 years and Freddy and his Radio Merseyside DJ brother Frankie have produced this worthy large format update that will no doubt have a similar appeal.

This time round, Freddy’s images, many shown here for the first time, have been supplemented by others from outside sources, including the Liverpool Record Office. The text too has been greatly expanded and brought up to date.
It’s a big book, A4 in size with over 500 photographs and maps covering the length of the dock road as well as Liverpool’s inner city areas. There are reasons aplenty for getting your hands on this book, one of which will be to gaze fondly at long-gone Liverpool streets and buildings familiar to you in your salad days!

Ron Jones

Sugar for the House – Mona Duggan

sugar for the house2013. Fonthill Media. 175 pages, 83 b&w illustrations. Paperback. ISBN 978-1-78155-040-3. £12.99 (£8.50 incl p&p from Amazon).

LHS member Mona Duggan, known affectionately as ‘Ormskirk’s History Woman’, sadly passed away at the age of 87 last January. But not before her last book, a history of early sugar refining in the North West, had been published.
Not surprisingly, Mona’s journey began with her discovery that cane sugar had been refined in an Ormskirk cottage in the 1680s. Intrigued, she then went on to conduct research throughout the North West. The book begins with interesting accounts of the birth of the sugar industry and the process of making sugar. Liverpool then takes up the major part of her account whilst other chapters deal with Chester and the south and north of the region.

In the wake of the Great Fire of London in 1666, Alleyn Smith, decided to relocate his sugar refinery to a site in Red Cross Street, off Pool Lane, thus marking the start of Liverpool’s sugar refining industry, which was to last another 300 plus years ending with the closure of Tate & Lyle in 1981. An idea of the size of the industry can be gauged by the amount of sugar imported into Liverpool: 760 tons in 1704; 46,000 tons in 1810.

Mona’s study has been painstakingly undertaken and she clearly spent a lot of time poring over old maps and directories. She admits that whilst she was able to track down the location and ownership of many 18th century refineries, there were virtually no records of their output. “

Perhaps it was this absence of hard facts that led to her claim (surely overstated?) that, “…it was to supply the needs of the sugar industry that the first docks were constructed in Liverpool, the Mersey was made navigable to serve Warrington and the Irwell was cleared to serve Manchester. The roads of the region were also upgraded to enable sugar and coal to be transported to the refineries,…” According to port historian Dr Adrian Jarvis, “Liverpool’s Old Dock was primarily geared to the Irish and coastwise trades and Salthouse did what it said on the packet.” That apart, Mona’s book sheds new light on the early days of Liverpool’s sugar industry and can certainly be recommended.

Ron Jones

How to Survive the Titanic or The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay

how to survive the titanicFrances Wilson, 2011. Bloomsbury Publishing. 328 pages, 64 black and white photos and illustrations. Hardback £18.99 / Paperback £8.99. But both versions are available on eBay at 99p plus £1.80 p&p or Amazon at 1p plus £2.80 p&p. ISBN 978-1-4088-0922-8 (hardback) and 978-1-4088-2815-1 (paperback).

The story of the Liverpool-registered and owned White Star liner Titanic never ceases to fascinate and that is particularly the case here as it concentrates on Ismay the Crosby-born Chairman and Managing Director of the White Star Line.

Was he the coward that the American press claimed him to be or was he innocent of that charge as judged by the British Board of Trade Enquiry chaired by Lord Mersey? Did he, as owner, pressure Captain Smith to go faster despite the iceberg warning or was he just an ordinary passenger with no influence over the captain? These and other crucial questions are answered in this intelligently written book. For a pound or a penny (plus postage) it’s well worth a punt!

Ron Jones

The Liverpool Masonic Rebellion and the Wigan Grand Lodge – David Harrison

liverpool_masonic2012. Arima Publishing. 113 pages, 32 b&w illustrations. Paperback. ISBN 978-1-84549-561-9. £9.99.

This is the third in a series by Masonic historian Dr Harrison concerning aspects of the history of English Freemasonry. As the text on the back cover comments, the book traces ‘the strange tale of the last great Masonic rebellion in England which occurred in 1823. The rebellion which started in Liverpool, sent shock waves through Freemasonry…and the book reveals a story full of Dickensian intrigue and skulduggery…’

Organised into five chapters (The beginning of the rebellion, The rebel Grand Lodge in Liverpool, The Wigan Grand Lodge, The end of the ‘Antients’, Life after the rebellion) the account is seen by the author as ‘a story of a clash of ideas; the old and the new coming into conflict, but it can also be seen as a story displaying emerging class distinctions, reflecting the anger and frustrations of men from industrial towns who felt that they were not being listened to in a newly united society which was now dominated by a London based aristocracy.’

Although much of the detailed narrative, appendices and illustrations will be of limited interest to non-freemasons, those LHS members who have read with interest the author’s article in the 2014 Journal (‘Michael Alexander Gage; The Masonic Rebel and The Liverpool Waterworks Bill’) will find that this book provides a context for the man who was a ‘tempestuous’ and ‘turbulent’ tailor at the outset of the rebellion, later becoming a land surveyor. Gage is best known to historians today for his highly detailed ‘trigonometrical plan’ of Liverpool which he surveyed in 1835 (not the much simplified version illustrated in the book) and of which valuable use has been made in various accounts of Liverpool including two of the Society’s own.

Graham Jones

‘Liverpool Unitarians: Faith and Action’

‘Essays exploring the lives and contributions to society of notable figures in Liverpool Unitarian history’
The Grade 1 Listed Ullet Road Unitarian Church, opened in 1899. © copyright photo: Ron Jones.

The Grade 1 Listed Ullet Road Unitarian Church, opened in 1899. © copyright photo: Ron Jones.

Edited by Daphne Roberts and David Steers. 2014. The Merseyside and District Missionary Association. 128 pages. 52 black and white photographs. Paperback. ISBN 978-0-9929031-0-7. Cover price is £10 although not available in retail outlets. Concessionary price to LHS members £8: contact Philip Waldron, Minister of Ullet Road Unitarian Church on 07828 883484 or Postage is £2.20.

‘The Unitarian churches on Merseyside have an unbroken history that stretches back over four hundred years. In that time they have included in their number many people who have made remarkable contributions to the life of Liverpool….whether in industry and commerce, in education and the arts or in responding to the needs of society, particularly the poor and marginalised.’

So the cover of this recent book proclaims about the mark left on history by some notable Liverpool Unitarians. The evidence for this becomes clear when one reads the personal backgrounds and achievements of the subjects featured. Of the 17 essays, 13 are brief biographies of dissenters with Liverpool connections, from the truly local William Roscoe, Charles Pierre Melly, Sir Henry Tate, and Sir John Brunner, to the transient but still influential Noah Jones, John Johns, and William Channing. Two families who contributed commercially and philanthropically on a dynastic scale are also discussed: the Rathbones and the Holts. The role of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth in the foundation and growth of local Unitarianism is highlighted by Bernard Cliffe, its caretaker. He also concludes the collection with some interesting examples from its Visitors’ Book.
The legitimacy of this collection derives from the fact that all nine contributors are active Unitarians; several of whom are, or have been ministers and pastoral activists. They describe these outstanding achievers from an informed perspective of religious faith and moral values. For example, the Unitarian emphasis on universal education and its support for liberalism and political radicalism derive from spiritual principle. David Steers in his essay on William Roscoe, quotes from his subject’s House of Commons speech condemning slavery to a very hostile reception: “…and I consider it the greatest happiness of my life to lift up my voice on this occasion against it, with the friends of justice and humanity.”

This collection does not attempt to chart the history of Liverpool Unitarianism, nor to analyse it as a movement. What it faithfully reveals is the historic debt that Liverpool owes to individuals inspired by their faith to improve the conditions and prospects of its poorest inhabitants. Unitarians were placed apart from the religious and political establishment of the Liverpool of their day. Despite this disadvantage, they set a moral example to these elites, often anonymously, in ‘making a difference’ to its communities’ lives.’
Tony Melling  Chair: Liverpool History Society

Liverpool: A History of ‘The Great Port’: Adrian Jarvis

POL–Front-coverLiverpool History Press – 2014 – 280 pages – 170 colour and black and white photographs, maps and Illustrations. Paperback.
ISBN 978-0-9573833-1-9. £14.99 (£9.99 to LNRS members. Contact Ron Jones: or Tel: 0151 637 1122).
In producing this re-appraisal of the history of the port of Liverpool, Adrian Jarvis has put his extensive academic research and deep local knowledge to extremely good use. This book covers the 300 years between 1672 (when land was first acquired to begin the long process of conversion to dock use) and 1972 (when the old Mersey Docks and Harbour Board was wound up). It is a fascinating tale of impressive growth to majestic supremacy, sad decline almost to extinction and steady recovery from the 1980’s to the present.
The author has performed a valuable service in avoiding well-worn local themes and bravely concentrating on more prosaic areas of port history well-hidden but utterly deserving of independent analysis. It is not a history of Liverpool. The slave trade is mercifully avoided, as is the detail of labour disputes and local politics. Social history is addressed only as it touches on dockside communities, their commercial and industrial activities. Adrian has mined the extensive but arcane archives of the old Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and revealed a series of remarkable ‘killer facts’.
One is the constant difficulty the MDHB had in achieving strategic planning in the face of rapid technological change, amidst the pressures from shipowners, Liverpool Council and various government agencies. The launching of bigger and bigger ships, with their increased cargoes and passenger traffic forced ports into a constantly reactive process to modernise existing docks and build new ones, along with their attendant handling and transportation facilities. The Board constantly found itself between the ‘rock’ of shipping line demands and the ‘hard place’ of raising capital for new dock development (on the financial markets), whilst maintaining revenue to sustain port operations. Another ‘killer fact’ is that the Dock Engineer spent nearly all of the port’s capital funds and 75% of its annual revenue in these rounds of remorseless modernisation. Yet another finding is that whilst the Board was secretive in much of its commercial activities, it operated almost free of corruption.

Particularly revealing is the way the big shipping lines (at the expense of other port users) would minimise the ‘official’ net registered tonnage capacities of their ships to avoid port charges. Jarvis reveals for example, that when the superliners Mauretania (1) and Lusitania went into the service, total port dues paid by Cunard to the MDHB went down, not up!
Adrian Jarvis has succeeded superbly in producing a history of the Port of Liverpool that combines painstaking research, operational insight and good humour with an independent perspective. The book is attractively presented and features stunning photographs and illustrations. It is strongly recommended to anyone interested in the underlying truth of the Port of Liverpool’s story.

Tony Melling

Available from various Merseyside outlets including Waterstones, Merseyside Maritime Museum, Museum of Liverpool, Tate Liverpool, Anglican and Roman Catholic Cathedrals, Blackwell’s Bookshop (Brownlow Hill), News from Nowhere (Bold Street), Liverpool Tourist Information Centre (Albert Dock), Williamson Art Gallery bookshop, Linghams, Heswall, Gould’s, Heswall, Port Sunlight Garden Centre and Gordale Garden Centre, Burton, Wirral. Or order on-line direct from the publishers, Liverpool History Press (
Special: only LHS members’ offer! – £9.99 plus £2.80 p+p from Ron Jones, Liverpool History Press (email:

In the Footsteps of Peter Ellis

Footsteps cover for website

Click on the cover to view an excerpt from the book.

Two Liverpool History Society members walk in the footsteps of Liverpool’s elusive architectural genius, Peter Ellis.

Written by Graham Jones and the late Rob Ainsworth, designed by Matthew Duddington and published by the Liverpool History Society, this book traces the life of a local architect from his birth in 1805 on Shaw’s Brow to his death in 1884 at Falkner Square. It vividly re-creates with text, maps and photographs the parts of Liverpool (some then outside the boundary) in which Peter Ellis lived and worked, and where he met his Evertonian bride, Mary Helen Syers. Its title is, therefore, particularly appropriate and, as the authors point out, this is a book about an architect and not architecture.

Apart from the two buildings for which he is best known (Oriel Chambers and16 Cook Street) and for which he was reviled in print in his lifetime but is now internationally renowned, Ellis’ actual built output, as the book details, was very local and decidedly run of the mill.

The authors’ research, however, has unearthed many surprises about an architect of whom not much was widely known, such as his submission of designs in the competition for what became St George’s Hall and his other life as an inventor, the apogee of which must be his ground-breaking patent for the paternoster lift, which he appears to have been paid by a rival to allow to lapse.

This is a hefty book of 240 pages, printed in full colour and is brought to life by the lavish use of some 260 photographs, paintings, illustrations and maps (extensive use has been made of Michael Gage’s superb 1835 trigonometrical map of Liverpool). Each chapter is extensively referenced and there is a useful index.

This book (RRP £24) will be of great interest to local historians and no doubt more widely to architectural historians. It can be ordered (post-free) direct from the Society’s website and is available from a range of local outlets.

A generous discount is available to Liverpool History Society members: contact the Admin. Secretary, Fred Forrest.

Ron Jones

N.B. A 70-page supplement The Signatures of Peter Ellis (see details below) is available as a free download.

Liverpool History Society: Notes on Talks

8th March, 2020 – Equestrian Drama in Liverpool. Talk by John Pinfold

Equestrian Drama in Liverpool Talk

9th February 2020 – Architect Herbert Rowse (1887-1963). Talk by Professor Iain Jackson

H J Rowse Talk