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800 Years of History

In 2007, Liverpool was 800 years old! No medieval buildings survive in the city centre but the ancient street pattern is still there. What follows is a summary of the city’s history, a tour of its seven original streets, now flanked by Victorian and more recent buildings and a description of some of the new streets and districts created when the city expanded in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

An outline of the city’s history

Early days

Six large pieces of sandstone, between one and two and a half metres high the Calderstones – are the earliest signs of human activity in Liverpool. There are few records of Liverpool’s existence before 1207. The Romans were apparently never here, although they had a legionary base at Chester, twenty miles away, a quarry at Storeton in Wirral and a port at Meols on the north Wirral coast. Liverpool is not mentioned in the Domesday Book, the register of land made for King William I in 1086. But other habitations which have now been incorporated into modern Liverpool and its suburbs were mentioned in this record, including Crosby, Litherland, Bootle, Walton, Kirkdale, Wavertree, Toxteth and Esmedun (which became Smithdown).

King John wanted a port from which to send troops to Ireland, a port independent of nearby Chester, which was too much under the control of its powerful and independent-minded Earl. On 23 August 1207, he issued letters-patent which resulted soon afterwards in the little hamlet of Liverpool becoming a borough. John invited people to come to settle in his new township and offered them tax concessions and land to do so. His agents laid out seven streets to accommodate them.

Around this time, the Norman Baron Roger de Poitou, who controlled the southern part of the County of Lancaster, created a deer park of some 2,300 acres in the Toxteth and Smithdown areas, to the south of the hamlet of Liverpool. Tradition has it that the remains of a hunting lodge from medieval times survive in a property near modern Lodge Lane. But apart from Speke Hall, an Elizabethan “black-and-white” house in the suburbs near the airport, the Bluecoat School and several churches, there are few buildings dating back to the seventeenth century or earlier in the modern city.

The Civil War touched Liverpool, as it did most parts of the kingdom. Liverpool was at first occupied by the Royalists. A ship brought Parliamentary forces into the Mersey in 1643. They took the church and set up a defensive position on the line of Dale Street. The town was then garrisoned under Colonel John Moore for the Parliamentary side, with gun batteries along the line of modern Paradise Street and Whitechapel and fortifications from Old Hall Street to the Dale Street bridge over the Pool. Liverpool men attacked Birkenhead. In 1644 Prince Rupert set out to take the town from a base in Everton Village and set up cannons where Lime Street now is. The Parliamentary Roundheads counterattacked and took the town. In 1651, Royalists under the Earl of Derby approached by sea but were rebuffed by Parliamentary ships from Liverpool. Cromwell was in the ascendancy. In 1654 the defensive gates at the ends of the streets and the mud fortifications were taken down and the Dale Street bridge repaired. William Stanley, brother of the Earl of Derby, was elected to Parliament for the town in 1660 and assisted in the restoration of King Charles II.

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