Booker Avenue 1934
I drive down Booker Avenue everyday, usually just after 9.00 to avoid the school run to popular Booker Avenue School. The road is a built-up 1930s estate, all neat and well-cared for houses, but there is a hint of antiquity for, in a railed off corner plot is the Archer Stone, which was a target for local archers according to legend. The photograph shows rural cottages being dismantled in preparation for new housing. Today’s blog, however, follows a different path. Bennison’s Survey of Liverpool (1835) gives a clue.
Bennison’s Survey 1835
At the top left is the wooded estate of Calderstones. Further down is the land held by J. Booker. According to the history of the Booker Company, the biggest wholesaler in the UK: In 1815, Josias Booker, the third of seven sons of a Lancashire miller, emigrated to Demerara to work in the sugar plantations. One of the first British settlers in Demerara, he learnt his trade quickly and became a planter of some distinction, and by 1818 he was managing his own plantation. Following his success he was joined by two of his brothers, George and Richard, and the firm of Booker Brothers was founded. After a dispute with the Liverpool Shipowners who had been transporting their sugar, the brothers decided to form their own shipping company, and in 1835 they acquired their first ship, the Elizabeth, a brig built in Scotland in 1832. In the early years Bookers bought and sold many ships, unfortunately a lot of the company’s records were destroyed by fire in Guyana, and the complete record of the company’s activities was destroyed in London during WW2, but it is known that some of their early ships were; Palmyra, Standard, Lucknow, Lord Elgin, John Horrocks and Lancaster.
In 1846 John McConnell went to Guyana to work as a clerk for the Booker Brothers, where he prospered, and in 1874 founded his own firm of John McConnell & Company. Due to his long and close association with the brothers, the two firms merged in 1900 and became known as Booker Brothers, McConnell & Co Ltd, and the company set up an office in The Albany, Old Hall Street, Liverpool, where it remained until 1941.
Booker were the sponsors of the prestigious Booker Prize for literature and two local authors have featured in its shortlist (Beryl Bainbridge and Linda Grant). Perhaps a less welcome link to such an important prize is the unsavoury fact that the Booker’s wealth depended on slave labour. The first awards were held in 1968 and it is now known as the Man Booker following the withdrawal of Booker as its main sponsor.
It is always interesting to dig deeper into Liverpool’s history, there are always fascinating facts that can be gleaned from the most ordinary places.