RODNEY STREET – SOME BACKGROUND INFORMATION
The following extract comes from the ‘Illustrated Liverpool News’ of June 1962.
“THE FAMOUS SHOPPING THOROUGHFARES of Liverpool may attract larger crowds, but Rodney Street is part of the very fibre of the city, intimately linked with its character and traditions. Named after Vice-Admiral Rodney, whose victory over the French admiral De Grasse in the Battle of the Saints on April 12th, 1782, came as a much-needed tonic to English morale following the military defeats in America, the street only just escaped the fearful fate of being called Schlink* after a Dutchman who had purchased much of the land in the area. However:
‘They gave the street its honoured name
In gallant Rodney's recognition,
And knew not it would owe its fame
To orator and politician.
Now doctor use their healing skill
Within the sombre Georgian portals
Of Rodney Street, illustrious still
Through one of Liverpoo/'s immortals’.
Up to 1783 the site was waste land, but between 1756 and l771 lots scheduled for building were parcelled out to various Liverpool gentlemen including Scrope Colquitt. Finally in 1783 the entire site was leased to ‘Samuel Aspinall, Peter Hope and William Roscoe, all of Liverpool, Gentlemen’. The first house to be completed was No.35, which was leased out in 1784 for an exhibition of pictures intended to revive the Academy of Arts.
Building continued over the next forty years or so, and by 1825 all the houses, with isolated exceptions, were erected.From 1792 to 1846 John Gladstone is recorded as lessee from the Corporation of ‘345 yards of frontage on Rodney Street running northwardly from Knight Street’. There in No.60 his son, William Ewart Gladstone, four times Liberal Prime Minister, was born in 1809:
‘The infant Gladstone's tottering feet
Along these pavements were directed;
His baby eyes surveyed the street,
And few his future then suspected.
Was even then his speech profound?
His eye commanding and magnetic?
Did he his wondering nurse astound
And fill her mind with thoughts prophetic?'
Gladstone's feet did not totter along the Rodney Street pavements very long as the family moved to Seaforth House in 1816, and the house was then divided into two. Number 62 was opened in 1932 by the Earl of Derby as a hostel of Toc H. In 1889 the Historical Society of Lancashire and Cheshire placed a Della Robbia plaque on the front of the house to commemorate the birthplace of the great statesman.
The poet Arthur Hugh Clough was also born in Rodney Street, and there seems to have been considerable argument among local historians as to the precise house in which the event took place. A plaque was even placed on what was afterwards found to be the wrong house, but this is of only academic interest, and the street itself gains lustre from having been the birthplace of the author of the lines quoted by Sir Winston Churchill as a peroration to one of his great wartime speeches:
‘And not by Eastern windows only
When daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!
But westward, look, the land is bright!'
The first tenants of the street were wealthy merchants, most of whom moved out to start new suburbs with their mansions as the city grew in size. Bankers, Army officers, customs officials – all had their homes here, but Rodney Street has always been primarily a street of doctors. The pioneer was Ambrose Dawson, M.D. in 1790 who lived at No.35, and since his day many renowned specialists and surrgeons have had, and still have, their consulting rooms in Rodney Street.
What was described by Picton as the ‘inevitable triumph of the trader’ is being achieved here also, but with discretion and regard for the character of the street (with some exceptions!). The big houses soon attracted those in search of a profit, and schools, boarding houses and other commercial establishments came into being. Today (1962) there are at least two commercial colleges, an advertising agency, a motor school and sundry shops among the houses, but Rodney Street is still a comparatively tranquil backwater in the roaring flood of trade and traffic that is Liverpool today. It is reassuring to learn that Mr. Graeme Shankland, Liverpool's Planning Consultant, ‘hopes' that the city's revised inner ring road will not involve the destruction of Rodney Street. Liverpool cannot afford to lose it.”
* This is a myth. The street was never to be named after Schlink as indicated by the lease of the site in 1783 which mentions ‘the new set out street, called or intended to be called Rodney St.’