The Serialised Recollections of Old Liverpool: Chapter One.




Birth of Author; Strong Memory; A Long-lived Family; Tree in St. Peter’s Church-yard; Cruelty of Town Boys; The Ducking-stool; The Flashes in Marybone; Mode of Ducking; George the Third’s Birthday; Frigates; Launch of the Mary Ellen; The Interior of a Slaver; Liverpool Privateers; Unruly Crews; Kindness of Sailors; Sailors’ Gifts; Northwich Flatmen; The Salt Trade; The Salt Tax; The Salt Houses; Salt-house Dock; The White House and Ranelagh Gardens; Inscription over the Door; Copperas-hill; Hunting a Hare; Lord Molyneux; Miss Brent; Stephens’ Lecture on Heads; Mathews “At Home”; Brownlow Hill; Mr. Roscoe; Country Walks; Moss Lake Fields; Footpads; Fairclough (Love) Lane; Everton Road; Loggerheads Lane; Richmond Row; The Hunt Club Kennels.


The “Recollections of Old Liverpool,” contained in the following pages, appeared originally the Liverpool Compass, their publication extending over a period of several months.

When they were commenced it was intended to limit them to three, or at the most four, chapters, but such was the interest they created, that they were extended to their present length.

Those who have recorded the green memories of an old man, as told while seated by his humble “ingle nook” have endeavoured to adhere to his own words and mode of narration—hence the somewhat rambling and discursive style of these “Recollections”—a style which does not, in the opinion of many, by any means detract from their general interest.

The frontispiece is copied (by special permission) from part of a very finely-painted view of Liverpool, by Jenkinson, dated 1813, in the possession of Thomas Dawson, Esq., Rodney-street.  The vignette of the Mill which stood at the North end of the St. James’ Quarry in the title page, is from an original water colour drawing by an amateur (name unknown), dated 1821.

November, 1863.


I was born in Liverpool, on the 4th of June in 1769 or ’70.  I am consequently about ninety-three years old.  My friends say I am a wonderful old man.  I believe I am.  I have always enjoyed such excellent health, that I do not know what the sensation is of a medical man putting his finger on my wrist.  I have eaten and drunk in moderation, slept little, risen early, and kept a clear conscience before God and man.  My memory is surprising.  I am often astonished at myself in recalling to mind events, persons, and circumstances, that occurred so long ago as to be almost forgotten by everybody else.

I can recollect every occurrence that has fallen under my cognizance, since I was six years old.  I do not remember so well events that have taken place during the last twenty or thirty years, as they seem confused to me; but whatever happened of which I had some knowledge during my boyish days and early manhood, is most vividly impressed upon my memory.  My family have been long-livers.  My father was ninety odd, when he died, my mother near that age at her death.  My brother and sister are still living, are healthy, and, like myself, in comfortable circumstances.

I may be seen any fine day on the Pier-head or Landing-stage, accompanied by one of my dear great grandchildren; but you would not take me to be more than sixty by my air and appearance.

We lived in a street out of Church-street, nearly opposite St. Peter’s.  I was born there.  At that time the churchyard was enclosed by trees, and the gravestones were erect.  One by one the trees died or were destroyed by mischievous boys, and unfortunately they were not replaced.  The church presented then a very pretty appearance.  Within the last thirty years there was one tree standing nearly opposite to the Blue Coat School.  When that tree died, I regretted its loss as of an old friend.

The stocks were placed just within the rails, nearly opposite the present extensive premises occupied by the Elkingtons.  Many and many a man have I seen seated in them for various light offences, though in many cases the punishment was heavy, especially if the culprit was obnoxious in any way, or had made himself so by his own conduct.

The town boys were very cruel in my young days.  It was a cruel time, and the effects of the slave-trade and privateering were visible in the conduct of the lower classes and of society generally.  Goodness knows the town boys are cruel now, but they are angels to what their predecessors were.  I think education has done some good.  All sorts of mischievous tricks used to be played upon the culprits in the stocks; and I have seen stout and sturdy fellows faint under the sufferings they endured.

By the way, at the top of Marybone, there was once a large pond, called the Flashes, where there was a ducking-post and this was a favourite place of punishment when the Lynch Law of that time was carried out.  I once saw a woman ducked there.  She might have said with Queen Catherine:—

“Do with me what you will,
For any change must better my condition.”

There was a terrible row caused once by the rescue of a woman from the Cuckstool.  At one time it threatened to be serious.  The mayor was dining at my father’s, and I recollect he was sent for in a great hurry, and my father and his guests all went with him to the pond.  The woman was nearly killed, and her life for long despaired of.  She was taken to the Infirmary, on the top of Shaw’s Brow, where St. George’s Hall now stands.

The way they ducked was this.  A long pole, which acted as a lever, was placed on a post; at the end of the pole was a chair, in which the culprit was seated; and by ropes at the other end of the lever or pole, the culprit was elevated or dipped in the water at the mercy of the wretches who had taken upon themselves the task of executing punishment.  The screams of the poor women who were ducked were frightful.

There was a ducking tub in the House of Correction, which was in use in Mr. Howard’s time.  I once went with him through the prison (as I shall describe presently) and saw it there.  It was not till 1804 or 1805 that it was done away with.

My father was owner and commander of the Mary Ellen.  She was launched on the 4th of June, my birthday, and also the anniversary of our revered sovereign, George III.

We used to keep his majesty’s birthday in great style.  The bells were set ringing, cannon fired, colours waved in the wind, and all the schools had holiday.  We don’t love the gracious Lady who presides over our destinies less than we did her august grandfather, but I am sure we do not keep her birthday as we did his.

The Mary Ellen was launched on the 4th of June, 1775.  She was named after and by my mother.  The launch of this ship is about the first thing I can remember.  The day’s proceedings are indelibly fixed upon my memory.  We went down to the place where the ship was built, accompanied by our friends.  We made quite a little procession, headed by a drum and fife.  My father and mother walked first, leading me by the hand.  I had new clothes on, and I firmly believed that the joy bells were ringing solely because ourship was to be launched.

The Mary Ellen was launched from a piece of open ground just beyond the present Salt-house Dock, then called, “the South Dock.”  I suppose the exact place would be somewhere about the middle of the present King’s Dock.  The bank on which the ship was built sloped down to the river.  There was a slight boarding round her.

There were several other ships and smaller vessels building near her; amongst others, a frigate which afterwards did great damage to the enemy during the French war.  The government frequently gave orders for ships to be built at Liverpool.  The view up the river was very fine.  There were few houses to be seen southward.  The mills on the Aigburth-road were the principal objects.

It was a pretty sight to see the Mary Ellen launched.  There were crowds of people present, for my father was well-known and very popular.  When the ship moved off there was a great cheer raised.  I was so excited at the great “splash” which was made, that I cried, and was for a time inconsolable, because they would not launch the ship again, so that I might witness another great “splash.”  I can, in my mind’s eye, see “the splash” of the Mary Ellen even now.  I really believe the displacement of the water on that occasion opened the doors of observation in my mind.  After the launch there was great festivity and hilarity.  I believe I made myself very ill with the quantity of fruit and good things I became possessed of.

While the Mary Ellen was fitting-up for sea, I was often taken on board.  In her hold were long shelves with ring-bolts in rows in several places.  I used to run along these shelves, little thinking what dreadful scenes would be enacted upon them.  The fact is that the Mary Ellen was destined for the African trade, in which she made many very successful voyages.

In 1779, however, she was converted into a privateer.  My father, at the present time, would not, perhaps, be thought very respectable; but I assure you he was so considered in those days.  So many people in Liverpool were, to use an old and trite sea-phrase, “tarred with the same brush” that these occupations were scarcely, indeed, were not at all, regarded as anything derogatory from a man’s character.  In fact, during the privateering time, there was scarcely a man, woman, or child in Liverpool, of any standing, that did not hold a share in one of these ships.

Although a slave captain, and afterwards a privateer, my father was a kind and just man—a good father, husband, and friend.  His purse and advice were always ready to help and save, and he was, consequently, much respected by the merchants with whom he had intercourse.

I have been told that he was quite a different man at sea, that there he was harsh, unbending and stern, but still just.  How he used to rule the turbulent spirits of his crews I don’t know, but certain it is that he never wanted men when other Liverpool ship-owners were short of hands.  Many of his seamen sailed voyage after voyage with him.

It was these old hands that were attached to him who I suspect kept the others in subjection.  The men used to make much of me.  They made me little sea toys, and always brought my mother and myself presents from Africa, such as parrots, monkeys, shells, and articles of the natives’ workmanship.

I recollect very well, after the Mary Ellen had been converted into a privateer, that, on her return from a successful West Indian cruise, the mate of the ship, a great big fellow, named Blake, and who was one of the roughest and most ungainly men ever seen, would insist upon my mother accepting a beautiful chain, of Indian workmanship, to which was attached the miniature of a very lovely woman.

I doubt the rascal did not come by it very honestly, neither was a costly bracelet that one of my father’s best hands (once a Northwich salt-flatman) brought home for my baby sister.  This man would insist upon putting it on the baby somewhere, in spite of all my mother and the nurse could say; so, as its thigh was the nearest approach to the bracelet in size of any of its little limbs, there the bracelet was clasped.  It fitted tightly and baby evidently did not approve of the ornament.  My mother took it off when the man left.  I have it now.

This man used to tell queer stories about the salt trade, and the fortunes made therein, and how they used to land salt on stormy and dark nights on the Cheshire or Lancashire borders, or into boats alongside, substituting the same weight of water as the salt taken out, so that the cargo should pass muster at the Liverpool Custom House.  The duty was payable at the works, and the cargo was re-weighed in Liverpool.  If found over weight, the merchant had to pay extra duty; and if short weight, he had to make up the deficiency in salt.

The trade required a large capital, and was, therefore, in few hands.  One house is known to have paid as much as £30,000 for duty in six weeks.  My grandfather told me that in 1732 (time of William and Mary), when he was a boy, the duty on salt was levied for a term of years at first, but made perpetual in the third year of George II.  Sir R. Walpole proposed to set apart the proceeds of the impost for his majesty’s use.

The Salt houses occupied the site of Orford-street (called after Mr. Blackburne’s seat in Cheshire).  I have often heard my grandfather speak of them as an intolerable nuisance, causing, at times, the town to be enveloped in steam and smoke.  These Salt houses raised such an outcry at last that in 1703 they were removed to Garston, Mr. Blackburne having obtained an act of Parliament relative to them for that purpose.

The fine and coarse salts manufactured in Liverpool were in the proportion of fifteen tons of Northwich or Cheshire rock-salt to forty-five tons of seawater, to produce thirteen tons of salt.  To show how imperishable salt must be, if such testimony be needed, it is a fact that, in the yard of a warehouse occupied by a friend of mine in Orford-street, the soil was always damp previous to a change of weather, and a well therein was of no use whatever, except for cleansing purposes, so brackish was the water.

To return to the launch.  After the feasting was over my father treated our friends to the White House and Ranelagh Tea Gardens, which stood at the top of Ranelagh-street.  The site is now occupied by the Adelphi Hotel.

The gardens extended a long way back.  Warren-street is formed out of them.  These gardens were very tastefully arranged in beds and borders, radiating from a centre in which was a Chinese temple, which served as an orchestra for a band to play in.  Round the sides of the garden, in a thicket of lilacs and laburnums, the beauty of which, in early summer, was quite remarkable, were little alcoves or bowers wherein parties took tea or stronger drinks.

About half-way up the garden, the place where the Warren-street steps are now, there used to be a large pond or tank wherein were fish of various sorts.  These fish were so tame that they would come to the surface to be fed.  This fish feeding was a very favourite amusement with those who frequented the garden.  In the tank were some carp of immense size, and so fat they could hardly swim.  Our servant-man used to take me to the Ranelagh Gardens every fine afternoon, as it was a favourite lounge.  Over the garden door was written—

“You are welcome to walk here I say,
But if flower or fruit you pluck
One shilling you must pay.”

The garden paling was carried up Copperas-hill (called after the Copperas Works, removed in 1770, after long litigation) across to Brownlow-hill, a white ropery extending behind the palings.

To show how remarkably neighbourhoods alter by time and circumstance, I recollect it was said that Lord Molyneux, while hunting, once ran a hare down Copperas-hill.  A young lady, Miss Harvey, who resided near the corner, went out to see what was the cause of the disturbance she heard, when observing the hare, she turned it back.  Miss Harvey used to say “the gentlemen swore terribly” at her for spoiling their sport.  This was not seventy years ago!

To return to the Ranelagh Gardens.  There was, at the close of the gala nights, as they were called, a display of fireworks.  They were let off on the terrace.  I went to see the last exhibition which took place in 1780.  There was, on that occasion, a concert in which Miss Brent, (who was, by the way, a great favourite) appeared.  Jugglers used to exhibit in the concert-room, which was very capacious, as it would hold at least 800 to 1000 persons.  This concert-room was also used as a dinner-room on great occasions, and also as a town ball-room.  Stephens gave his lecture on “Heads” in it very frequently.

G. A. Stephens was an actor, who, after playing about in the provincial highways and bye-ways of the dramatic world, went to London, where he was engaged at Covent Garden in second and third rate parts.  He was a man of dissipated habits, but a jovial and merry companion.  He wrote a great many very clever songs, which he sang with great humour.

He got the idea of the lectures on “Heads” from a working man about one of the theatres, whom he saw imitating some of the members of the corporation of the town in which he met with him.  Stephens, who was quick and ready with his pen, in a short time got up his lecture, which he delivered all through England, Scotland, Ireland, and America.  He realised upwards of £10,000, which he took care of, as he left that sum behind him at his death, in 1784.  He was at the time, a completely worn-out, imbecile old man.

Many of the leading actors of his day followed up the lecture on “Heads,” in which they signally failed to convey the meaning of the author.  I saw him, and was very much amused; but I do not think he would be tolerated in the present day.  The elder Mathews evidently caught the idea of his “At Homes” from Stephens’s lecture.

Brownlow-hill was so called after Mr. Lawrence Brownlow, a gentleman who held much property thereabout.  Brownlow-hill was a very pleasant walk.  There were gardens on it, as, also, on Mount Pleasant, then called Martindale’s-hill, of which our friend Mr. Roscoe has sung so sweetly.  Martindale’s-hill was quite a country walk when I was a little boy.

There was also a pleasant walk over the Moss Lake Fields to Edge Hill.  Where the Eye and Ear Infirmary stands there was a stile and a foot-path to the Moss Lake Brook, across it was a wooden foot bridge.  The path afterwards diverged to Smithdown-lane.  The path-road also went on to Pembroke-place, along the present course of Crown-street.

I have heard my father speak of an attempt being made to rob him on passing over the stile which stood where now you find the King William Tavern.  He drew his sword (a weapon commonly worn by gentlemen of the time) which so frightened the thieves that they ran away, and, in their flight, went into a pit of water, into which my father also ran in the darkness which prevailed.  The thieves roared loudly for help, which my father did not stop to accord them.  He, being a good swimmer, soon got out, leaving the thieves to extricate themselves as they could.

There were several very pleasant country walks which went up to Low-hill through Brownlow-street, and by Love-lane (now Fairclough-lane).  I recollect going along Love-lane many a time with my dear wife, when we were sweethearting.  We used to go to Low-hill and thence along Everton-road (then called Everton-lane), on each side of which was a row of large trees, and we returned by Loggerhead’s-lane (now Everton Crescent), and so home by Richmond-row, (called after Dr. Sylvester Richmond, a physician greatly esteemed and respected.)  I recollect very well the brook that ran along the present Byrom-street, whence the tannery on the right-hand side was supplied with water.  At the bottom of Richmond-row used to be the kennels of the Liverpool Hunt Club.  They were at one time kept on the North-shore.



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30th November 2018 by Chris Gibson
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