Liverpool’s rapid population growth was one reason why it failed to house its population adequately and why it became so notorious for its slums. It was characterised as the ‘Black Spot on the Mersey’, a place whose effects on the health of its population could be disastrous. In the 1840s, for example, the death rate in Liverpool for children under one year of age was over twice the national average.
Another reason was the type of employment available. As a port, Liverpool created fortunes for a merchant class. The needs of shipping lead to large banking, insurance, warehousing and transport sectors but little in the way of manufacturing industries providing employment for a skilled and relatively well paid workforce. For the majority of Liverpool’s working classes, employment opportunities consisted of unskilled, often casual, labouring jobs which were poorly paid and subject to periods of unemployment. Such a working population could only afford low rents. As a report of 1867 showed that between 1841 and 1866 only very small proportion of the 40,661 houses built in Liverpool were under the value of £12 per annum. The result was obvious. The greater part of Liverpool’s working class had, for much of the 19th century, little choice but to live in overcrowded and extremely unhealthy housing of the court and cellar type.
Another factor to exacerbate Liverpool’s housing problems was the cost and supply of building land. Much of the land needed for development was controlled by a small group of families. This group, which included the Lords Sefton, Derby and Salisbury, maintained a tight control on the release of land for development in order to maximise their income from rents. The result was further overcrowding. In Liverpool in the 1860s, the cheapest land cost 16/- (80p) per yard freehold whereas in Leeds land was available at between 2/6d 12.5p) and 5/- (25p). The result was that in Liverpool there was greater overcrowding in four or five floor tenement blocks.