The streets of Liverpool are fascinating, starting with the very early ones in the centre of the city - or borough as we should call it, because Liverpool wasn’t a city until the 1880s. Prior to that it was a town and a borough, the medieval borough was of course founded by King John in 1207, and the king’s representative, a bailiff or someone similar, laid out the first original streets of Liverpool - and those are still important thoroughfares..
…..Chapel Street, Bank Street (now Water Street), Castle Street, Dale Street, Tithebarn Street (formerly Moore street) and Juggler Street (High Street).
Castle Street was perhaps the single most important street in the medieval town because it ran along a height of land between the river and the pool, between the castle and the market and it was laid out by the King’s representative when the Borough was created.
Castle Street was originally narrow and barely wide enough for two carts to pass through but like the other streets, it too was widened in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the head of the street but not exactly in the same location were successive town halls, the present one completed in l797. There have been others dating back to the 14th century.
Fairs and markets were held, and protection from arrest marked out by an area designated by large granite stones, one of which still survives set in the surface of the street. The stone marking the edge of the town’s fair is on the west side of Castle Street, the side nearest the river at the top end, closest to the town hall.
Dr Iain Taylor talks about the history
of Castle Street
Courts and alleyways evolved as burgage plots ..the strips of land allocated to freemen….were filled in and used for sheds, workshops and later, houses. There is a refence to such a house in an alley off Castle Street in the 1700s when it was described in normal usage as "a little house in ye backside"!
Until 1721 the castle itself survived, a relic of an earlier age, but as the area occupied was quite large, the land became more valuable and it was acquired by the corporation in l704, in part as use for a church - St. George’s, on the site of the Victoria monument.
Chapel Street is steeped in history. There was an old chapel (as the name implies) - St. Mary atte Key, down by the quay, which allowed Liverpool residents the luxury of not having to walk all the way to Walton where the mother parish church existed before Domesday. It is in fact mentioned in Domesday Book. Liverpool itself was not a separate parish until much later on, until 1699.
Chapel Street is first mentioned in a deed dated 1368 where half of a piece of land called a burgage plot was sold lying in" le Chapel Strete" for 17lbs of silver - quite a sum. At the top of the street lay the white cross market at the end of Old Hall Street, where stood a stone cross on the top of five stone steps. Market sellers clustered around and conspicuous among them, especially after links to the New World opened up, were the potato growers of Formby. These potatoes were such an unusual delicacy that they were sent as presents to friends.
Dr Iain Taylor talks about the history
of Chapel Street
Near the churchyard was a market where fishermen’s wives from Formby rode in by horse through the sand dunes of Litherland and Bootle. They must have been a tough lot because in 1764 a riot broke out and all the fish stalls were destroyed. Soon after these "salty" ladies were removed to another location and they eventually ended up in St. John’s fishmarket - opened in l837 and closed within recent memory.
The chapel itself was built and rebuilt several times. In 1774 the entire church except for the tower was rebuilt, but in l810 as the congregation was assembling on Sunday morning for divine worship, the chucrh spire collapsed and fell through the roof along the centre aisle of the church. The children of the Moorfields charity were entering at the same moment, the girls preceding the boys. It was for this reason that most of the boys survived, while many of the girls were among the 28 who were buried under the fallen mass. The collapse itself was caused bv the ringing of the bells over the years, which had gradually loosened the stones in the arches supporting the spire.
Dale Street is one of Liverpool’s earliest, and still most important streets..as important today with its one way roaring traffic as it was in early medieval times when it led away from the centre of the old borough, down into the "dale" at the head of the creek of Liverpool.
In the area of what is now the old Mersey Tunnel entrance, the medieval track, the lane - dipped into a shallow valley which is where it gets its name - and across up the hill to London Road, the way to Warrington and all points south. In the mid 19th century sewer excavations uncovered a wild boar’s head in this vicinity, so you can imagine how rural this area was.
It is first mentioned in a deed of 1328 in the reign of Edward III and like the other medieval streets, the townsfolk had their plots originally assigned by the King’s Bailiff. Henceforth these were known as burgage plots, strips of land with a dwelling in front and a garden behind. It was these plots, as they gradually became used for other purposes, that provided the most important element in the structure of the town’s layout into the early 18th century. Plot owners names were often associated with the new streets and lanes built through them.. Hattons Gardens, Cross Hall Street etc.
Dr Iain Taylor talks about Dale Street
Dale Street remained for much of its life a narrow and crowded thoroughfare, little wider than today’s Cable Street. However, by the 19th century, something had to be done and at great expense, Dale Street was widened several times. It was also the principal location for the large packhorse and coaching inns which provided lodgings and board for travellers and changes of horse for the coaches. . These included names long gone such as the Saracen’s Head, the Golden Lion, the Golden Fleece, the Woolpack - all taken down during the commerical expansion of the 19th century.
Water Street was originally called - Bonk Street (it ran up the "bonk" in Lancashire dialact, the bonk of the river i.e. the bank), eventually became Bank Street and then Water Street. It’s one of Liverpool’s oldest streets and it was the main approach from the river, at the foot of which travellers landed on the sandy seashore of the town, from the monks’ ferry at Birkenhead, or from Ireland. Later, the Talbot, a coaching in, crowned the top of the slope where the Bank of Liverpool was later to replace it. On either sides, little lanes and alleys, forerunners of the town’s notorious courts, ran between wretched houses alongside butchers’ shambles.
Dr Iain Taylor talking about Water Street
At the foot of the street, guarding the place of embarkation, lay the strong thick walls of the tower, built initially as the residence of the powerful Stanley family but converted after 1413 into a place of strength. The Stanleys were also Lords of Man, a title granted after the battle of Shrewsbury where as Shakespeare’s Richard III tells us, Stanley’s troops switched sides at the last minute. The tower protected the Lord and his retinues, they came and went by sea. During the Royalist seige of Liverpool by Prince Rupert, the tower was used as the parliamentary headquarters and later as a prison for French captives during the Napoleonic wars, by which time it was "so ill suited and disorganised that debtors mixed with criminals in the grossest and most wretched conditions, and gaol fever was rarely absent".
It was finally demolished in 1820 and a set of new offices - the Tower Buildings - erected in its place.