Central Liverpool
The Commercial Quarter
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Last updated 30th April 2017
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Walk: The Commercial Quarter
In the text below, whole paragraphs in italic are quotations from original sources, as follows:
ROL   Recollections of Old Liverpool by a Nonagenarian, Anon., 1863.
SOL   The Streets of Liverpool, James Stonehouse, 1869.
TDE   A Topographical Dictionary of England, Samuel Lewis, 1848.
VHL   Victoria History of the County of Lancaster, ed. W. Farrer and J. Brownbill, 1907.
The Commercial Quarter in Gage's map of 1836
The Commercial Quarter
Liverpool's Commercial Quarter is, broadly speaking, the area bounded by Vauxhall Road, Hatton Garden, Crosshall Street, Victoria Street. Cook Street, James Street, New Quay (now George's Dock Gates and the Strand) and Leeds Street, as shown on Gage's 1836 map on the left. Note that Victoria Street did not exist at that time and most of Leeds Street ran closer into town than it does now. New Quay was in fact the waterfront before the emergence of the docks and the Pier Head area, which are all on reclaimed land. The area began to emerge as the banking and insurance hub of Liverpool during the 18th century, a process that continued throughout the 19th century, when the old thoroughfares were reconstructed. Nowadays the area is characterised by the monumental archtecture of financial institutions dating from the latter half of the 19th century and the early 20th century. It also contains the magnificent Town Hall and several excellent and historic pubs.


The Mediaeval/Tudor City in 1572
The Commercial Quarter in Eye's map of 1765
Liverpool Castle from the north
The Tower of Liverpool and St. Nicholas's c.1700
The Old Customs House and the Castle c.1700
The Tithe Barn
A Short History of the City up to 1700
The Commercial Quarter sits on the site of the mediaeval town, and up until about 1700 Liverpool still did not extend very much further. The street patterns already established by the 14th century still survive. So it is appropriate here to give a brief overview of the city's history up to that time. Subsequent developments, in fact those that make up the entire modern Commercial Quarter, are discussed on the remainder of the page, organised according to the mediaeval street plan.
The absence of Liverpool in the historical record before the Norman Conquest is thought to be because there was no major navigable river outlet here until relatively recent times (see here). The Romans left neither mention of a usable estuary here nor roads to one, although the Dee to the south and the Ribble to the north were of prime importance to them. There was probably a major geological event in the 6th century that forced open the estuary that we now see (an earthquake of 543 is a possible culprit) the rest being down to powerful tidal action.
In the period up to the Norman Conquest (1066), inland villages such as Walton and West Derby were growing in importance, but little happened on the banks of the Mersey by a tidal inlet later called The Pool to suggest that a city would emerge there. However, in 1207 King John recognised the potential of the Pool as a safe anchorage for shipping in campaigns against Ireland. In that year, the Borough of Liverpool was founded by royal charter and development began in earnest. A castle was completed by the 1230s on an elevated site overlooking The Pool, now Derby Square, surrounded by a dry moat excavated out of the rock. Parts of this moat were incorporated into deep cellars for bank buildings on the north side of Derby Square in the 19th century.
By 1300 the population was about 1000 (mainly engaged in fishing) and the H-shaped street plan was emerging. This can be seen in the 1572 map shown on the left. The north side of the H consisted of Moor Street (later Tithebarn Street), and Chapel Street leading to the chapel of St. Mary del Quay on the waterfront, which was demolished c.1360 to build St. Nicholas's Church. The tithe barn was built in 1524 and stood at the eastern end of the street. The south side of the H consisted of Dale Street and Bank Street (later Water Street). The cross-bar was Juggler Street (later High Street but lost when the Town Hall was built), which extended south along Castle Street to the castle and north along Milne Lane (later Old Hall Street). At the junction of High Street and Castle Street was the town square known as High Cross, containing the town cross, stocks and pillory. The renaming of the streets took place in the late 16th century.
In 1413 a town house that had stood on the waterfront between Water Street and St. Mary del Quay since 1252 was demolished by the owner Sir John Stanley, who built a fortified house called the Tower of Liverpool on the site. This was demolished in 1819 and the site is now occupied by Tower buildings. The first Town Hall was in existence by 1515. By the mid-16th century, the Townsend Bridge carried Dale Street over The Pool. At this time, because of plague, the population will still only about 1000. No more streets were added until the 17th century.
  The passing away of the Tower of Liverpool, in 1820, severed almost the last of the very few links that held together the modern days with the old days. The Tower of Liverpool stood at the bottom of Water street. [...] In 1252 it was a dwelling-place only, about which date it was supposed to have been erected. In 1360 it is recorded as being the property of Sir Thomas Lathom, of Lathom, with other 'burgage houses and lands'. In 1404, in the reign of Henry IV, Sir John Stanley, into whose possession the Tower had passed, made an application to be allowed 'to fortify his house at Leverpull'. In 1413, it is said to have been rebuilt by 'John the Irischman'. From that period it became a place of strength, and so it continued for three hundred years. [...] During the siege of Liverpool, in 1644, the Tower was used as the head-quarters of the Parliamentarians. Although from its position it was of no use to repel the onslaught on the town, it was necessarily of some importance. After the surrender of the town, Prince Rupert divided his forces between the Castle and the Tower, in both of which, and St. Nicholas' Church, he imprisoned the principal inhabitants and others found in arms against him. [...] In 1737 the Tower passed out of the hands of the Stanleys and became the property of the Liverpool Corporation, by whom it was converted into a gaol. It must have been a very picturesque object from the river. Including its gardens, it occupied an area of 3,700 square yards. The Tower was constructed of red sandstone. [SOL]
During the English Civil War (1632-51), Liverpool was at first held by the Royalist Stanleys and Molyneuxs. Parliamentary forces attacked in 1643 and took over the town, strengthening the fortifications. Royalists again took over in 1644 under Prince Rupert, following fierce resistance by the locals. However, a few months later the parliamentarians laid seige and regained the town. The castle was partially dismantled in 1659 and the ruins finally cleared in 1726.
In 1648 was the first recorded arrival of cargo from America: 30 tons of tobacco. Further trade with America, including sugar, soon followed and fuelled the increasingly rapid commercial development of the town. Sugar refining began near Dale Street in 1667. In 1668 Lord Street was laid out from the castle to the Pool with the intention of building a bridge there. By 1672 Liverpool Corporation controlled through leasing the development of most of the land on the opposite side of the Pool from London Road to Crown Street to Parliament Street. By 1697 there were 28 streets and the following year Liverpool was established as a parish separate from Walton. In 1700 the population was about 7000. On a sombre note, 1700 saw the first recorded departure from Liverpool of a slaving ship, and, not unconnected, the beginning of the development of the present-day Commercial Quarter.
  Liverpool is not noticed in any of the Roman Itinera, nor does the name occur in the Norman survey; its site was contained within the limits of the West Derbyshire Forest, which was royal demesne, at one time in the possession of Edward the Confessor. After the Conquest it was bestowed by William, together with all the land between the Ribble and Mersey, upon Roger de Poictiers, by whom it was subsequently forfeited. [...] In October, 1323, Edward II dated some orders from it; and in April, 1358, Henry, Duke of Lancaster, made it his residence for upwards of a month [...]. King John, in the 9th year of his reign, gave to Henry Fitzwarin de Lancaster an estate near Preston, forming part of the possessions of the honour of Lancaster, in exchange for Liverpool; upon which occasion he granted a charter to the place. Henry III, in 1229, made the town a free borough, instituted a guild-merchant, and bestowed additional privileges. Little is known of the state of Liverpool during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; Leland, writing in 1558, describes it as a paved town, much frequented as a good haven by Irish merchants, and as supplying Manchester with yarn imported from Ireland. From this period, however, till the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth, it appears to have declined. In 1571, the inhabitants petitioned the queen to be relieved from a subsidy imposed on them, and in their petition described it as 'Her Majesty's poor decayed town of Liverpool'. [TDE]
  Next to nothing is known of Liverpool before the creation of the borough in 1207. In Domesday it is almost certainly one of the six unnamed berewicks attached to the manor of West Derby. What degree of dependence upon the parent manor was involved in the berewick period cannot be determined; but probably the Liverpool tenants did suit at the West Derby halmote, as the tenants of the other berewicks long continued to do. At some date between 1166 and 1189 Liverpool was granted by Henry II to Warine de Lancaster, along with other lands, and this may have involved separation from West Derby and the institution of a distinct court. [...] On 23 August 1207 John reacquired it, giving the township of English Lea near Preston in exchange. Five days later the so-called 'charter' was issued which turned the vill into a borough. [...] Liverpool is distinguished from most other boroughs by the fact that it owes its foundation absolutely to an exercise of the royal will; there is no evidence that the place was a centre of any trade before the date when John fixed upon its sheltered Pool as a convenient place of embarkation for men and supplies from his Lancashire lands for his Irish campaigns. He may have visited the place in February 1206, on the way from Lancaster to Chester; and probably the creation of the borough should be regarded as part of the preparation for the great expedition of 1209. [VHL]
  At the inner or north-eastern end of the Pool there was a stretch of wet ground known as the Moor Green; the path which led to it from the village (the modern Tithebarn Street) was known as Moor Street until the 16th century. This 'moor' may have given its name to the great Liverpool family of Moore, More, or de la More. Between the Pool and the Mersey a small peninsula was thus inclosed, roughly triangular in shape, with its base to the north and its apex overlooking the mouth of the Pool. The peninsula sloped gently from each side and from the level ground on the north, reaching its highest point, about 50 ft. above sea level, near the apex of the triangle, at the top of the modern Lord Street. This point was the obvious site for the erection of the castle; while the whole peninsula formed a natural fortress, easily defensible except on the north until the age of artillery, when it was commanded from the ridge behind. [VHL]
Dale Street looking east
Dale Street c.1800
Dale Street and Water Street
Dale Street gets my vote as Liverpool's most impressive street, especially the south side. The monumental line of architecture from the Royal Insurance Building via the Prudential Assurance Building to the Municipal Buildings is breathtakingly grand and so it was meant to be - they were confident times when these were built.
Dale Street has some exceptional pubs, in particular Rigby's (see below), the Vernon and the Ship and Mitre. The Vernon is an unpretentious, friendly, traditional pub with fine beers. At the far end by the Mersey Tunnel entrance, the Ship and Mitre, an austere block of a building, holds within a veritable beer heaven: a vast range of draft and bottled beers served by enthusiastic staff.
Water Street: The north side of Water Street is also imposing as it stretches from Oriel Chambers to Tower Buildings, with the Royal Liver Building looming above in the distance.
Water Street looking west
Water Street looking east c.1800
I recollect Dale Street when it was a narrow thoroughfare, ill-paved and ill-lighted at night. It was not half the present width. In 1808, as the town began to spread and its traffic increase, great complaints were constantly being made of the inconvenience of the principal streets, and it was agreed on all sides that something should be done towards improvement.
The first movement was made by widening Dale Street; the improvement being by throwing the thoroughfare open from Castle Street to Temple Court, but it really was not until 1820 that this street was set out in anything like a bold and handsome manner. Great difficulties were constantly thrown in the way of alterations by many of the inhabitants, who had lived in their old houses, made fortunes under their roofs, and were hoping to live and die where they had been born and brought up. Many tough battles had the authorities to fight with the owners of the property. Some were most unreasonable in the compensation they demanded, while others for a time obstinately refused to enter into any negotiations whatever, completely disregarding all promised advantages.
The most obtuse and determined man was a shoemaker or cobbler, who owned a small house and shop which stood near Hockenall Alley. Nothing could persuade him to go out of his house or listen to any proposition. Out he would not go, although his neighbours had disappeared and his house actually stood like an island in the midst of the traffic current. The road was carried on each side of his house, but there stood the cobbler's stall alone in its glory. While new and comfortable dwellings were springing up, the old cobbler laughed at his persecutors, defied them, and stood his ground in spite of all entreaty. There the house stood in the middle of the street, and for a long time put a stop to further and complete improvement, until the authorities, roused by the indignation of the public, took forcible possession of the place and pulled the old obnoxious building down about the owner's ears. [ROL]
Dale Street was originally called Dele street from the Saxon 'Dele or Dale', a Valley. It was one of the four leading streets of the town, proceeding from the High Cross, which stood on the site of the Exchange.The first mention of Dale street appears in a deed bearing date, 15th April, 3rd of Edward III [1315], in which Cecilia Utting 'in her pure widowhood', gave to Richard de Walton the half of a burgage in the town of Lyverpoll 'in le Dele street'. [...]
Dale street has always been a thoroughfare of great importance - perhaps more so than either of the other three original streets, as it constituted the old way, by Ormskirk and Preston, to the north. From its two inns, the 'Golden Lion' and the 'Fleece', issued forth at one time strings of pack-horses, consisting of fifty and sixty quadrupeds laden with goods for the interior, each horse's burthen weighing on an average three cwt.; or they might have been seen returning with produce for consumption or exportation - the drivers herding together for safety on the unprotected roads. [...] Previous to 1757 there was not a single public conveyance out of Liverpool. In 1766 there were two coaches to the metropolis, which started from the Golden Fleece, Dale street, on Tuesday and Friday mornings, making the journey in two days in summer, and three in winter. [...]
The principal inns in Dale street at that time [...] were 'The Golden Lion', 'The Fleece', 'The Angel and Crown', 'The Bull and Punch Bowl', 'The Wool Pack', and the 'Red Lion'. All these houses have disappeared. The George, in Dale street, was another favourite Inn, which stood on the site of Rigby's Buildings, where the beauty of the barmaids, at all times, proved a great attraction to the 'snobs' of the time. Dale street has in it many beautiful buildings, such as the Temple, the Queen Insurance Buildings, the offices of the Liverpool Fire and Life, the Royal Bank Buildings, the North Western Bank, Rigby's Buildings, and the Royal Insurance Offices. [SOL]
Water Street was originally called 'Bonke street', that is 'Bank street'. Bonke street is first mentioned in a deed bearing date of 'Sunday after the Feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross, in the 43rd year of the reign of Edward III'. [1355] wherein 'Adam le Clerk, of Leverpull, grants to William, the son of Adam, of Leverpull, a piece of land 20 feet by 17, in Bonke street, between the tenements of St. Nicholas (the chapel), and that of John de Stanley [Liverpool Tower], or Staney'.
Water street is one of the oldest of the old streets of the town, being the main approach to it from the river, on the shore of which, at its foot, landed the travellers from the south and west, by way of Chester. The ferry-boats in the time of Edward II. were owned by the monks of Birkhed, (Byrkheid or Byrkheved, as it was then written). [...] The Town-hall stood in Water street previous to the erection of the present edifice. Behind it were the butchers' shambles and passages leading therefrom. Pemberton's alley opened upon Tithebarn street. Clayton's alley had its entrance from Water street. These alleys consisted of wretched houses, of which more than one traveller, recording his experience of Liverpool, complains.
High street was then to the east of the Town-hall, and was the junction between Castle street and Tithebarn street, and lineable with Oldhall street. High street was formerly called Jugglar street. The first mention of it was in a deed dated 18th August, 16th Henry VI [1437], in which John Gregory, chaplain, gives, to William Gaythread, of Leverpull, merchant, a piece of ground near the Cross, below Dale street and Jugglar street. [...] The present magnificent suites of offices in Water street are the marvel and admiration of all strangers. Emanating from the taste and skill of a Picton, and other well-known architects, Liverpool is much indebted to these eminent men for truly noble and beautiful commercial buildings, where elegance of design is mingled with convenience and comfort. [SOL]
Tower Buildings
Tower Buildings: At the lower end of Water Street, Tower Buildings of 1910 was designed by W. Aubrey Thomas and named after the Tower of Liverpool. The present building has three towers and vague suggestions of turrets.
Oriel Chambers on the corner of Water Street and Covent Garden is a Grade I Listed Building. It was completed in 1864 and is, according to the Pevsner Guide, 'one of the most remarkable buildings of its date in Europe'. It has a cast iron frame and an unusually large amount of glass.
Martins Bank, next to the Town Hall, was built as the bank headquarters in 1927-32 to a design of Herbert J. Rouse. Considered his masterpiece, it is also, according to Pevsner, 'among the very best interwar classical buildings in the country'.
Oriel Chambers
Martins Bank
The Town Hall today
The Third Town Hall
The Town Hall: The present Town Hall, imposingly situated at the junction of Water Street, Dale Street and Castle Street, is effectively Liverpool's fourth and is a Grade I Listed Building. It is a magnificent building, no less so inside, around which guided tours are available. The first Town Hall was in existence by 1515. It must have been a relatively modest building, possibly thatched. It was replaced in 1673 by a much more substantial building, the ground floor of which also functioned as an exchange, where merchants and traders carried out their business.
The third Town Hall was designed by John Wood Junior and opened in 1754. It was strikingly topped by a large square dome with a cupola. As before, the ground floor functioned as an exchange. For various reasons, the design turned out to be less than ideal and improvements began in 1785 with an extension to the north, designed by James Wyatt, and the removal of adjoining buildings.
Further plans were on the table, but a catastrophic fire in 1795 called a halt to the proceedings. The northern extension largely survived but the remainder of the building was gutted. Elements of the shell, particularly on the south side, were retained and the first stage of the rebuilding, with a new dome on a raised drum designed by Wyatt, was completed in 1802. A portico was added on the south side in 1811 but the reconstruction and decoration of the interior were not completed until 1820.
The Second Town Hall
The Fourth Town Hall
The Liverpool and London Insurance Company Building
Leather Lane
The Liverpool and London Insurance Company Building: Next door to the Town Hall at No.1 Dale Street, this magnificent building of 1856-8 was designed by C.R. Cockerell.
The Hole in the Wall: Off Dale Street in narrow Hackins Hey (named after John Hacking, a smallholder who originally rented the land) is the Hole in the Wall, which lays claim to being Liverpool's oldest extant pub. The building dates from 1706, when it was a Quaker meeting house. Later it was a whisky merchants and, probably by 1726, a pub. The interior retains the period character in abundance with tiny rooms, wood panelling and stained glass. An impressive polished brass fireplace proclaims the pub's antiquity.
Rigby's: Just round the corner on Dale Street is Rigby's, another characterful old pub, probably dating from c.1850. It is named after Thomas Rigby (1815-86), a wine and spirit wholesaler who ended up owning a number of pubs and becoming an alderman. He modified the frontage to the upper floors in 1865 and further refurbishment was undertaken in 1922. The interior, though now opened up into three large rooms, oozes old-world charm.
Leather Lane: At the side of Rigby's is Leather Lane, a rare location where the more distant past can still be sensed.
The Vernon, on the corner of Dale Street and Vernon Street, is a welcoming no nonsense pub with bare boards and a cosy back room.
The Hole in the Wall
The Vernon
North John Street
The Royal Insurance Building: The corner of Dale Street and North John Street is dominated by the Royal Insurance Building with its golden dome 110 ft (34 m) above the street. The building was designed by James F. Doyle in a grandiose Baroque style and built in 1896-1903. It is steel framed, its date making it possibly the first such to be designed in Britain. On the second storey is a frieze by C.J. Allen depicting the theme of insurance.
The Royal Insurance Building
The Prudential Assurance Building
The Prudential Assurance Building: Further along Dale street, the Prudential Assurance Building is another of Alfred Waterhouse's Gothic inspirations. In arresting red brick, the original building is dated 1886. The extension on the left with the tower was an addition by Paul Waterhouse in 1904-6.
The Municipal Buildings: Further along Dale Street comes the Municipal Buildings, completed in 1868 and designed by John Weightmann and E.R. Robson in a suitably grandiose style for the Liverpool Corporation offices. The design is heterogeneous with suggestions of Classical, Gothic and French.
The Municipal Buildings
Chapel Street looking towards the waterfront
Tithebarn Street and Chapel Street
Apart from St. Nicholas's Church and Hargreaves Buildings of 1859 on the corner of Covent Gaden, Chapel Street does not have much to hold the attention these days. Things begin to look up at Tithebarn Street with the magnificent former Exchange Station building and a couple of good pubs: the Railway and, in partricular, the Lion, one of Liverpool's best.
  The first mention of Chapel street is found in a mortgage dated the Wednesday before the feast of St. Mary Magdalen, in the forty-third year of Edward III [1355], in which John de Formeby confirms, in mortgage to John Amoryson, of Wygan, the half of a burgage, with its appurtenances, in the town of Lyverpool, lying in 'le Chapel strete'. [...] In the reign of Elizabeth, at the top of the street was the White Cross Market. The Cross stood opposite the end of Old Hall street. It was a stone cross. Round the base and pedestal of the pillar were five stone steps. The market people clustered round the cross, amongst whom the potato growers of Formby were conspicuous, their potatoes being at that time of such high repute that they were even sent to a distance as presents to friends. [...]
  On the eastern side of the churchyard, at one time, were some picturesque half-timbered houses, of considerable antiquity [...]. A celebrated tavern stood at the corner of the alley, called the "Old Style House." [...] In the churchyard, at the north-west corner, was a public-house much in vogue at the time, called " Hindes," approached by steps in the west wall of the churchyard. [...] At the bottom of Chapel street, adjoining the church-yard, in 1675, the fish market was held. It consisted of stalls, under arches. Adjoining were stables for the accommodation of the fishermen's wives, who came to it from Formby on horses, ponies and asses. [SOL]
Tithebarn Street
Tithebarn Street, or Tithebarn lane, as it was called at one time, was originally known as Moor street, either named after the Moore family (who had much property in its vicinity), or from the "Moor Land" through which it ran. The first mention of it as Moore street is in a deed dated the day of St. Gregory the Pope, 12th March, 1304, wherein we find that Adam, son of Ranulf, of Letherpull, gives to Richard of Mapelduram two bovates of land (a bovate was as much land as an ox could plough in a day), lying in the field which is called Dalefield, near the Royal road [...] and the lands of Robert le Mercer. [...]
In the fifteenth of Henry VIII, 1524, the Mayor and burgesses granted a few roods of waste land situated in Moore green to Sir William Molyneux, to enable him to build thereon an office or tithe-barn, wherein to store the tithes of that part of Walton parish, which then comprised the town of Liverpool and village of Kirkdale. The actual Barn which gave the name to the street has been a source of much debate, some supposing it to be a barn which stood on the north side of the lane on the way to Bevington hill; while others have believed it to have been a large building which stood at the end of Tempest hey and extended to Stephen's weint or lane. This barn is in the recollection of many living. The end fronted Tithebarn street. One part of the bam in its latter days was occupied as a shippon and dairy, the entrance to which was from Tempest Hey. In the middle was a blacksmith's forge, and at the other end was a school.
Tithebarn street, at the close of the last [18th] century, and the commencement of the present, was a very narrow, crooked thoroughfare. Vast sums of money have been spent in rendering it convenient, but its ungainly condition has never been much amended. The houses were all of a very humble description, the shops being small and of little repute. The class of houses of which it consisted may still be seen in Leather lane and other small streets running out of the main road. [SOL]
St. Nicholas's Church
Exchange Station Building
The Church of Our Lady and St. Nicholas: At the lower end of Chapel Street is the Church of Our Lady and St. Nicholas, on the site of the mediaeval chapel of St. Mary del Quay that gave the street its name.
Mersey Chambers: Sporting another incarnation of the Liver Bird, this was built by G.E. Grayson as offices for the Harrison Line in 1878. The building stands on Old Church Yard, behind St. Nicholas's Church.
Exchange Station Building: This imposing block by Henry Shelmerdine was completed in 1888 as the terminus of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and later became that of the electric train line to Southport (now Merseyrail). This was closed in 1977, becoming redundant following the construction of Liverpool's underground railway system. The building once provided a hotel and railway offices with shops at street level. The first station here opened in 1850.
The Lion Tavern: The mid-19th century Lion Tavern has one of the finest Victorian pub interiors in Liverpool. It is named after the 1837 Lion steam locomotive, now in the Museum of Liverpool. The earliest recorded licensee was Richard Herdman in the early 1840's, although the current layout dates from 1914, when Robert Cain introduced the floor plan of public bar and two lounges along a corridor. The small front bar serves the two cosy rear rooms (one with an ornate glass cupola) via hatches. Everywhere there is superb woodwork and tiling dating from ca. 1900. The pub was refurbished in 2017.
Mersey Chambers
The Lion Tavern
Castle Street looking south c.1820
Castle Street
Castle Street originated as the street connecting the town square, High Cross, to the castle. It was originally very narrow but was widened when the west side was rebuilt at the end of the 18th century. James Street, connecting the end of Castle Street to the original waterfront, was laid out in the 18th century.
  The most admirable improvement that the town underwent was when Lord Street was widened and the Crescent formed, the completion of which undertaking cost upwards of half a million of money. Castle Street was narrow, badly paved, and badly lighted at night, as, indeed, was the whole town. Yet, I recollect there were some people who objected to the improvements at the top of Lord Street, who clung pertinaciously to the old Potato Market, and the block of buildings called Castle Hill. The houses that were erected upon the site of Castle Ditch had the floors of some of their rooms greatly inclined in consequence of the subsidence of the soil. [ROL]
St. George's Crescent and Castle Street c.1820
James Street looking towards the waterfront c.1820
The principal streets of Liverpool in the last century were so inconveniently narrow that it was with difficulty two vehicles could pass each other - indeed there were so few carriages in it at that period that such a predicament rarely occurred, in fact, it was necessary to mount up the steps of a house to get out of the way of waggons and carts. The streets were badly paved, and worse lighted, while the dwellings in them were of the most ordinary character. The people were ill-dressed, and the manners of the time were of the sea-salty. [...] The man who walked down Castle street then, attired in a broad-skirted coat, knee-breeches, cotton or silk stockings, and a three-cornered hat, would not have been believed as a true prophet had he told his young son that by the time he (the boy) was eighty years old, he would inhabit a town full of wide handsome streets, with fine shops in them, palatial-looking suites of offices and noble public buildings. [...]
Castle street is replete with interesting memories. It has witnessed the assembling of the retainers of two lordly houses, ripe for bloodshedding; it has seen rollicking savage cavaliers, cutting and maiming all they met in revenge for the sturdy resistance they encountered during the siege; it has witnessed gangs of infuriated sailors clamouring for an increase of pay or redress of wrongs; it has been scoured by press-gangs, and has been the scene of contested elections, that cost fabulous sums of money, engendering, in the lavishing of them, venality, intemperance and immorality. [...]
Castle street was widened under an Act of Parliament dated 1786, which enabled the authorities to sweep away a vast number of old tumble-down houses and ruinous tenements which were in the close vicinity of the Town-hall, in fact, abutted upon it northerly and westwardly. Courts, alleys, and passages were removed, and Fenwick street, Water street, and Chapel street were widened, as was part of Dale street. In widening Castle street it was intended at first to retire the west side of it considerably beyond its present lines and advance the eastern limit, so that the Town-hall would then have been in the centre of the street when viewed from the south. It is rather a curious circumstance that many of the public buildings facing the ends of streets are not placed in full view of the spectator. This plan was abandoned from a fear of the expense.
The Liverpool market was held at the High Cross at one period. The Liverpool market was only regularly constituted m 1557; but doubtless in 1112, when the first charter was granted to the town, the country people came to the High-cross to sell their produce. Within the last fifty years Castle-street used to be thronged with hucksters on market-day, who completely blocked up the thoroughfare. [...]
The clearing away of Castle Hill, the Potato Market, Temple Bar, and the adjacent buildings was a great improvement in this locality. Some of the houses in Preeson's-row [...] were constructed of the stones and bricks of the Old Castle. Portions of the Castle Moat have been laid open, as for instance in digging the foundations of the North and South Wales Bank, in 1838.
When the excavations for St. George's Church were in progress, the base of the south-eastern tower of the Castle was discovered. One of the houses at the corner of Castle-street, which was erected on the site of Castle Ditch, subsided so materially as to give a decided incline to the rooms in it. It was said at the time that the dining-room of this house was very convenient, "as it permitted the gravy to flow on one side of the plate." [SOL]
Castle Street looking north
From the 1840s, Castle Street was the city's principal financial street, as is still evident from the remaining buildings, many of which are now used for other purposes. It is one of Liverpool's grandest streets.
The east side of Castle Street, features from north to south the former art dealer's Agnew's of 1877, the British and Foreign Marine Insurance Building (see below), the Queen Insurance Building of 1888, the Scottish Equitable Chambers of 1878, the Scottish Provident Building of 1874, the offices of lawyer and developer Ambrose Lace of 1846 and the Bank of England Building (see below).
The west side of Castle Street, features from south to north, a line of former bank buildings culminating in Parr's Bank Building of 1901, the Edinburgh Life Assurance Building of 1897 and the former jewellers shop of Robert Jones and Son.
Castle Street - east side
Castle Street - west side
The British and Foreign Marine Insurance Building
Queen Avenue
The British and Foreign Marine Insurance Building: This building on Castle Street was designed by Grayson and Ould and was completed in 1890. The striking colour is down to the use of red brick, sandstone and terracotta. Above the first floor is a mosaic frieze of shipping scenes by Frank Murray.
Queen Avenue: Passing through an archway beneath the ornate Queen Insurance Building you arrive in another of Liverpool's forgotten corners. Queen Avenue was once known as Elbow Lane because of the right angled bend half-way along and still exudes the atmosphere of the past with its peace and quiet, elegant buildings and antique street lamps.
The Bank of England Building: The former Liverpool branch of the Bank of England, completed in 1848, is a Grade I listed building. The Pevsner Guide tells of 'one of the masterpieces of Victorian commercial architecture [...] combining Greek, Roman and Renaissance in a remarkably vigorous and inventive way'.
No.16 Cook Street: Off Castle Street on Cook Street is the celebrated No.16, designed in 1864-6 as offices by Peter Ellis, who also designed Oriel Chambers (see above). The general shaping recalls the old warehouse designs, with the central arch as the loading bay, but in other aspects this building looks forward to moderninsm, especially in its extensive use of plate glass, at the rear as well as the front. There is much decorative ironwork inside, especially a spiral staircase. Unappreciated in his day, Ellis gave up architecture after this.
The Bank of England Building
No.16 Cook Street
The Queen Victoria Monument
The Queen Victoria Monument on Derby Square, the site of Liverpool Castle, dates from 1902-6. The bronze sculptures of the Queen and various allegorical figures are by C.J. Allen and form one of the most ambitious monuments to her in Britain. On the dome is Fame and above the supporting pillars are Justice, Wisdom, Charity and Peace. Surrounding the raised podium are Agriculture, Industry, Education and Commerce. All very much aspirational and of its time.
The north side of Derby Square, features the vaguely temple-like Castle Moat House of 1840, designed by Edward Corbett for the North and South Wales Bank. It was built over the old castle moat, which was used to construct a deep basement. Next door on the corner of Castle Street is the Alliance Bank of 1868, now Trials Hotel.
Derby Square
Heywood's Bank Building
Heywood's Bank Building: The former private bank of Arthur Heywood and Sons on Brunswick Street off Castle Street was possibly designed by John Foster Senior in 1789 and was completed in 1800, making it one of Liverpool's oldest commercial buildings and perhaps the first purpose-built bank by quite a margin. The living accomodation was appended on the Fenwick Street side. The upper end of Brunswick Street has many fine buildings.
The White Star Line Building: James Street has little to catch the eye until you reach the lower end. Here you find the White Star Line Office Building by Norman Shaw, completed in 1898 and now known as Albion House. The design closely follows that Shaw's 1887 New Scotland Yard building in London. According to the Architectural Review, it made 'everything around it look little and mean' and it is still dominant on this corner position. The bands of red brick and Portland stone have earned it the nickname the Streaky Bacon Building. When news of the Titanic disaster reached the offices in 1912, officials read the names of the dead from the balcony. In 2014, after years of neglect, it was re-opened as a Titanic-themed hotel.
The White Star Line Building
The Albany Building
Exchange Flags and the Town Hall
Old Hall Street
Although Old Hall Street was one of the mediaeval streets, it was not a public right of way until 1516. Before then it was a private road to Moore Hall, the original seat of the Moore family. Located at the northern end of the street, it had gardens running down to the waterfront. The Moores acquired a large amount of land in Kirkdale in the 15th century and built a new and much grander mansion, Bank Hall, there. Moore Hall then became known as the Old Hall, giving its name to the street.
  [Old Hall] street was originally called "Milne street," and previously to that "Peppard street," which name was formerly that of the Blundells of Ince, who obtained a right to change it by Act of Parliament, April, 1772. Like the other leading original streets of Liverpool, Oldhall street, in the last [18th] century, was narrow and shabby. The houses, for the most part, were little better than cottages. There were very few shops in the street, and these were of the most ordinary description. [...] When the widening of the street took place, about 1825, the houses on the west side were removed, the line on that side being thrown back. The houses on the east side gradually assumed a better appearance by being new fronted. [SOL]
The Albany Building: Today Old Hall Street is a pleasant enough thoroughfare with a few good buildings, especially the Albany Building. This was built as an unusually large office block in 1856-8 to a design of J.K. Colling. It is built in very attractive red brick, with sandstone and polished granite, described in the Pevsner Guide as 'a very free treatment of the Renaissance, with Arabesque variations'.
Exchange Flags: Between the southern end of Old Hall Street and the Town Hall lies the secluded Exchange Flags, surrounded by imposing archtecture. The rear side of the town Hall dominates, but the enclosing Exchange Buildings on the north side are impressive in a very different way. They occupy the site of two former exchanges and date from 1939-1955, the War interrupting. In the centre of the square is the bronze Nelson Monument of 1813 by Matthew Cotes Wyatt and Richard Westmacott.
The West Tower: At the northern end of Old Hall Street the West Tower looms above. Completed in 2007, this is a prominent and elegant new feature on Liverpool's waterfront skyline. It was built by Carillion for property developers Beetham. At 450 ft (140 m) and with 40 floors, it is Liverpool's tallest building. Most of the floors consist of luxury apartments and penthouses, but the 34th floor is home to Britain's highest restaurant, the Panoramic, from where the views are sensational.
The Exchange Buildings c.1830
The West Tower
Acknowledgements and Further Reading
The definitive online history of Liverpool up to the turn of the 20th century is the Victoria History of the County of Lancaster, Vol.4, edited by W. Farrer and J. Brownbill, 1907. Also well worth reading are Liverpool Timeline and Liverpool Castle at Mike Royden's Local History Pages. I have as usual drawn on the indispensible Liverpool (Pevsner Architectural Guides), by Joseph Sharples, which has much more on the architecture. The following illustrations are from Victorian Web originally sourced from Muir's Bygone Liverpool by Ramsay Muir, 1913: Liverpool Castle from the north by E.W. Cox, The Tower of Liverpool and St. Nicholas's by J.M. McGahey, and The Second Town Hall and Dale Street by W.G. Herdman. The following are from Ancestry Images sourced from Pictorial Relics of Ancient Liverpool by W.G. Herdman, 1843: The Old Customs House and the Castle, The Tithe Barn, The Third Town Hall, Chapel Street looking towards the waterfront (B/W), Tithebarn Street, Castle Street looking south and James Street looking towards the waterfront. The following are from Ancestry Images sourced from Lancashire Illustrated, 1831: Water Street looking east engraved by R. Acon after a picture by G. & C. Pyne, The Fourth Town Hall and Chapel Street looking towards the waterfront (colour), both engraved by W. Watkins after pictures by G. & C. Pyne, and St. George's Crescent and Castle Street engraved by R. Wallis after a picture by Harwood. Also The Exchange Buildings by E.Francis, after a picture by W.Westall, published in Great Britain Illustrated, 1830.The colour photographs of the Liverpool and London Insurance Company Building, No.16 Cook Street and the Albany Building are copyright Stephen Richards and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. My thanks to all of the above.
This is a non-commercial website that is intended entirely for research and educational purposes. If I have unintentionally breached copyright with any images, I hope that the copyright owner will tolerate my usage in the present context, otherwise I will remove the material. Modern colour photographs are by the author.