Learnin’ In Liverpool

August 7 – Liverpool

We thought our discoveries today, should involve some learning about this city of Liverpool. We visited Liverpool on our last cycle tour and did the Beatles experience and that side of the city’s story, so today we thought we’d learn a different side of Liverpool’s backstory. 

After a morning spent in the salubrious surroundings of a launderette, we had an afternoon to do some roaming and take in some stories of Liverpool. So today’s post will be a sharing of some the fun facts we learnt along the way.

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The Town Hall, built in 1749

Down in the dock area, there are three buildings, known as The Three Graces, which are the Liver Building (pronounced liver as in diver), the Cunard Building and The Port of Liverpool building. The buildings weren’t designed or constructed to compliment each other, it just so happens that they sit together very nicely indeed!

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The “Three Graces” with the Port of Liverpool Building in the foreground, the Cunard Building in the middle and the Liver Building at the end

The Port of Liverpool Building was the first of the three to be built, in 1907 and is made of steel encased in concrete and the outside is Portland stone.

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The Liver Building was the next to be constructed, in 1911 and was one of the first buildings to use the new technology of building multi-storey buildings with reinforced concrete. Nowadays, concrete is thought to be a material of lesser quality but in those days it was much admired for the fact that it sped up construction. In the Liver Building, the concrete skeleton was built on site and then a thin layer of granite was added, to make it look a little more fancy.

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The last of the “Graces” was the Cunard Building, built in 1916 and it was actually designed to take into account the local environment and its polluted air. Wind and rain carried dirt and soot into the stone and crevices that created a pattern of light and shade. I thought that was really interesting, to actually take advantage of dirty surroundings! These days, modern cleaning and cleaner air quality have evened out the contrasts in the exterior that were once there.

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We strolled around Albert Dock, one of the many docks that were at the heart of Liverpool’s shipping industry. It was opened by Prince Albert in 1846, and was designed to enable warehouses to be in place, right at the quayside, to allow ships to load and unload easily. The big steam ships eventually made the dock obsolete in the 1890’s but smaller ships continued to use it and the warehouses remained profitable. In fact, the warehouses were more profitable than the docks themselves. Today it’s a great area, with cafes, restaurants, galleries and museums surrounding the dock.

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We decided to visit the Maritime Museum, to learn a little more of that side of the city’s story. This was a great museum, on four levels, with a lot of interesting information to read and see. The migrant story is a big part of Liverpool’s history. Between 1830 and 1930 about nine million people sailed from Liverpool seeking a new life in North America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and at that time Liverpool was the largest emigration port in the world.  

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The ports here also received emigrants who travelled from parts of Europe and Ireland, many passing through, to board larger ships, before crossing the Atlantic to find a better life. The journey to Australia took between ten weeks and four months and the trip to America took about thirty five days. Conditions were pretty awful, with people living below deck with no light or ventilation and as one Emigration Officer said in 1854, they would “live up to their knees in water.”

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You’re walking through the dock area in 1854 on your way to board the sailing ship Shackamaxon, sailing to America
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This is how you would have spent the journey – below deck with no natural light and no ventilation
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The voyages must have been pretty bleak if some ships advertised light and ventilation as a selling point, not something you could just expect to have!

One thing I learnt was about the Welsh migration to Patagonia, which I had known nothing about. A lot of people emigrated from Wales in the nineteenth century to escape poverty and most went to America. The children of the Welsh who settled in the U.S. didn’t learn the Welsh language and lost many of the cultural traditions, so the idea of creating a Welsh colony was born. The chosen place for the establishment of the colony was Patagonia in Argentina, where the government was granting parcels of land. In 1865, the ship Mimosa sailed from Liverpool carrying 160 Welsh emigrants and two months later they landed at Porth Madryn and then trekked forty miles south to create their first settlement by the Chubut River. Today there are over 150,000 people of Welsh descent living in Patagonia and while Spanish is the first language, Welsh is still spoken. Now I didn’t know that! Did you know that? I hadn’t heard a thing about the Welsh in Argentina! 

We saw an exhibition about the sinking of the Lusitania, the passenger ship that was sunk by a German U-Boat in 1915. The last remaining life jacket from the ship was on display, with its straps cut, indicating it had been cut from the body of one of the victims. The ship sank in eighteen minutes and 1,191 men, women and children died. The ship was quite a symbol of Liverpool’s dominance of Atlantic passenger travel and trade at the time and her sinking had a profound effect on the city, as well as many families from Liverpool losing loved ones. We also saw an exhibition of the Titanic, with artefacts from the ship on display and stories of the sinking. 

Fun fact – have a look back at that picture of the Liver Building… well, if you put three of the Liver Building end to end, that’s how long the Titanic was!

It was an interesting visit, wandering amongst the exhibits and reading the information about the city’s maritime history. We then went next door to the Slavery Museum, which was, as you would expect, quite a confronting experience. Liverpool’s ports played a part in the slave trade.  Of course we knew about slavery and the horrendous practices, as well as the legacy it has left, but it was still incredibly powerful to see the images and the instruments of punishment that were used and to see right in front of us, the images and artefacts design to completely dehumanise people. One of the statements displayed, that I thought was very powerful and gave me pause for thought, was spoken in 1937 by William Prescott, a former slave. He said, “They will remember that we were sold, but not that we were strong. They will remember that we were bought, but not that we were brave.” It occurred to me that yes, we do focus on the practices that sought to strip people of their humanity, identity and dignity but perhaps we don’t give enough thought to what those people in slavery did to fiercely hold on to those things and the strength and courage it took to do that.

After our museum visits, we then popped into the Piermaster’s House. The piermaster was responsible for ensuring safe passage of ships entering or leaving the dock at high tide. There were originally four houses on the site, built in 1852 for the piermaster, two dockmasters and the warehouse keeper. The one that is there today, at No. 9 Albert Parade is the only one left standing after bombing during WWII. It’s set up as a home during the 1940’s and gives an insight into life during the war. At the time, a couple would have slept in the front bedroom and displaced relatives would have shared the children’s bedroom. The family would have also tried to grow their own food in the front garden, with food being hard to come by and rationing in place. 

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The Piermaster’s House

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Another stroll around the docks and we called it a day. It had become very, very windy and a bit chilly and it rained! We didn’t like the sound of Carol’s forecast this morning, saying that “a deeper than usual for August” cold front is about to hit with “heavy rain and gale force winds.” Nope, we don’t like the sound of that at all! I hope it at least holds off until we’re across the Irish Sea and we don’t rock and roll in a gale while we’re out on the water! 

So that was our day, a day of jobs done and then some learning about the stories of the life of Liverpool. It’s an interesting city and the entire city is UNESCO World Heritage Listed, so I’m glad we had the chance to visit again and see it beyond The Beatles. If you’d like to read about our last visit and the Beatles side of the story, you can see it here.

There won’t be a blog post tomorrow, on account of spending the entire day, from morning until evening on a ferry making our way to Ireland. So I will say toodle-ooh and cheerio from English shores and we shall pick up the story and adventure on the shores of the Emerald Isle! That’s unless the gale strikes us and we end up in Greenland or Canada, or…well, stay tuned to hopefully find us wind blown but safe and sound on Irish soil, where we shall continue our Grand Tour on shores anew! To be continued…

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