WATER STREET AND PRISON WEINT
The roadway from the Town Hall to the Mersey slopes down the bankside of the river, hence its original name Banke St. At a later period it was called Water St and at the lower end of this a couple of centuries ago, there stood two notable buildings, the old Custom House and Sir John de Stanley?s Tower, the latter remained until 1819, the former disappeared much sooner for when the Old Dock was completed in 1720 the office for customs was transferred to other quarters, the old building itself remaining till 1785 when it was removed for warehouses. Besides the visible road from the Exchange to the Tower there was formerly an undergound one, it was rediscovered in excavating the foundations for the first Exchange and was found to go [after running a short distance south] down towards the river. It was considered to have once been a secret passage between the Tower and an old house near the White Cross, a few yards from where Nelson?s Column now stands. In those barbarous times of old, in anticipation of attack by sea or land the valuables of the STANLEY?S would be hurriedly carried along this passage, perhaps the Lord of the Tower had to prepare for the worst in the strange changes of those days of, ?battle, murder, and sudden death.?
Prison Weint runs along the west side of the present Tower Buildings and was originally part of the terrace which flanked the Tower walls, up to the edge where the Mersey used to flow. This terrace had been completed and faced with stone as far back as 1572, the Tower then was an ancient structure of red sandstone in the Norman style, it is supposed built in 1252 as the seaside residence of the Derby family, the place of rendezvous for their ships, and the spot where their troops embarked, it figures in our ancient ballad, ?Lady Bessie?  where Lord Stanley, promising Elizabeth of York to send her messenger, H. BRERETON, to Henry V11, says :-
I have a good ship of my own
Shall carry Humphrey,
If any man ask -Whose is this ship?
Say it is the Earl of Derby.
Without all doubt at Liverpool
He took shipping upon the sea.
It was from the shore near the foot of Water St that travellers coming from the south and west via Chester were landed at Birkett [Birkenhead]. For a man and horse in Edward 111?s time the fare was 2d, for a footman a farthing, on market days the charge for a man and his wares 1d. The ferry boats belonged to the monks of Birkenhead, one of them had a house in Water St, wherein the unsold grain of the monks were stored, and passenger occasionally cared for in bad weather, this house known as, ?Jonathan Hunter?s Hoose? was standing in the 17C just below Drury Lane. One of the last relics of Water St disappeared in 1832, the Talbot Inn, originally the Golden Talbot, long famous as a coaching house, and spanned Lower Castle St, carried over an archway, the site now occupied by the Bank of Liverpool. On the west side of this was the King?s Arms Inn, where 100yrs ago Daniel DALE the landlord, was wont annually to allow his swarthy head-waiter, ?Black Matthew? on George 111?s birthday, to sit at the head of a pipe of port, in Mr Dale?s cellar in the afternoon, where he would pledge all corners to the toast ?Of the King? until he fell from his seat and was carried to bed. Close by in Drury Lane was a theatre opened in 1759, on the opposite side of Water St, then very narrow, a number of leading merchants used to dwell. Their offices and warehouses adjoined their residences, and the story is told of a distinguished lady, who returning home one day, found the street in commotion opposite her own mansion, all sorts of things seemed to be flying about the air. It was her Ladyship?s monkey who had got into her bedroom and was clearing out through the window whatever light material he could lay his hands upon.
The old Liverpool families who were here included were, CORLESS, FORMBY, BLUNDELL, CASE, LEIGH and TARLETON. One member of the TARLETON?S was Mayor in 1764, and resided on the south side, at the corner of Lower Castle St, now the site of the Manchester and Liverpool Bank. It was here the future Sir Banastre TARLETON was born, to become famous for generalship in the American war, and so figure as Liverpool?s favourite soldier, and her representative in many elections. A political squib of 1806 has him saying :-
My three-fingered hand, I keep constantly showing,
But the once blind electors are all grown to knowing,
Of Roscoe, and freedom they?re constantly crowing.
O! I fear I shall never say Aye or No.
He represented our borough from 1790 to 1812 with the exception of the short ROSCOE interval in 1806, and was a man of many good points.
Prison Weint with its Tower , has a very chequered history sometimes the latter ministered to anarchy instead of peace, it was here in 1424 Thomas STANLEY, mustered 2000 fighting men to go forth in battle against Sefton?s, Sir Richard MOLYNEUX, constable of Liverpool Castle and who had got together from West Derby and its neighbourhood some 1500 men-at-arms. The magistrates aware of the storm and hearing ?great rumours of congregations on routes? went with Sir Richard RADCLIFFE, Sheriff of Lancaster and found at the Tower serious disturbances were really in contemplation by these English Montagues and Capulets. Thomas STANLEY was there with his men prepared to sally forth, he was arrested in the king?s name and packed off to Kenilworth, a tedious journey, while Sir Richard was apprehended and sent away to Windsor, the arrangement was productive of peace and honour, for these formidable families intermarried shortly afterwards and during the War of the Roses, both took the same side.
It was at this Tower in 1532, the Earl of Derby maintained 250 Liverpool residents, fed 60 old people twice a day and entertained quests three times a week. In 1581 the Queen?s secretary, WALSINGHAM, addressed Lord Derby as, ?the chief person in, and patron of, the poor town of Leverpole? on the question of liberation from a Chester monopoly. Our port at that time subject to this one of customs-dues, his Lordship obtained a withdrawal of the monopoly. Years later in the struggles with Charles 1 and the Commons the Tower became headquarters of the Parliamentary party, and after Prince Rupert had compelled the town to surrender, quite a few of the principal inhabitants were imprisoned there. Reprisals ensued, in 1648 when the Parliamentarians had gained the upper hand again, Colonel BIRCH occupied the Tower and retaliated on Lord Derby for the indignity he recently committed upon him, having him dragged through Manchester at a hay cart?s tail. The Colonel seized his Lordship?s two daughters at Knowsley and kept them in close confinement in the Tower for several months, during which time the two ladies were so poorly supplied with food and raiment that they would have perished from cold and hunger had it not been for the secret attention of friends in the town.
In the year of the Scottish Rebellion 1715, Liverpool was alarmed by the tidings that the Pretender?s army being on their way to our port. Great preparations were made for defence, a third of the avenues were laid under water, an entrenchment was thrown up, 70 pieces of canon mounted. The ships in the Mersey were so stationed so that the rebels could neither plunder the town, nor escape by water. They came near the neighbourhood only, but four of the insurgents were executed at Gallows Mill, in London Rd and others kept prisoner in the Tower. In 1734, James Earl of Derby, being Mayor of Liverpool gave a grand entertainment in the Tower to the Council and principal inhabitants, three years afterwards it passed from the STANLEY?S to the CLATON?S who let it to the Corporation as a jail, Finally in 1775, the Corporation bought it for ?1535-10s, and continued to use it as a prison.
One side of the present Tower-Buildings is a street called Tower Garden, this to has its history, here in the last century the inhabitants of the town used to promenade, look about St Nicholas?s Churchyard adjoining and when thirsty go to the tavern in the churchyard and ?refresh human nature? As the Tower including its gardens occupied 3700 sq yds, there must have been room for a spacious promenade. Nor could it have been always cheerless in the prison for in the large hall the town assemblies were held, the music was so plainly heard that the prisoners themselves would ?jig it as well as the free merry-makers? At a later period however, service was held in this room as a chapel, the inmates were compelled to attend.
One can now see the meaning of the term Prison ?Weint?. It is the Scottish ?wynd? and we read of strange scenes within the walls along side which ?wound? the Weint. For years the utmost disorder took place in that building, and sights of the grossest depravity prevailed. Prisoners of war were sometimes incarcerated here, but from the lax discipline carried out would frequently escape. In 1774, John HOWARD visited the jail, there was no classification of prisoners, debtors mingled with criminals, the place was insufferably dirty, grimy and wretched. There was a large dungeon looking on the street, no infirmary, nor accommodation for the sick. The women debtors were respected a little, they were lodged over the Pilot Office in Water St. There were two large yards, one of which the poultry disported on a great dunghill in the middle. The cells were seven in number apart from the great dungeon. Mr HOWARD made representations about these matters, but the only reforms which followed were whitewashing and cleaning, In 1803 Mr NEILD inspected the Tower prison and found 39 felons, 70 debtors mingled together there, each prisoner?s allowance being 19ozs of bread daily. There was firing allowed by the Corporation, poorer debtors were allowed straw to lie on, beds could only be had from the jailor at 1s per week. The detaining creditors had their responsibilities, they had to pay 4d a day to maintain the debtors. The dirt in some of the passages was 3 to 4inches thick. Spirits and malt liquors were freely circulated. A low typhoid fever was constantly present. The most shameless robbery and extortion prevailed, the strong mastering and tyrannising over the weak, those debtors whose cells were on the Prison Weint side, used to hang out bags or gloves by a string with labels attached, ?Pity the poor debtors? and when any money was placed in the bags it was drawn up and spent in drink.
In 1789, Sylvester DOWLING and Patrick BURNS were executed here for a robbery at Mrs GRAHAM?S house at Rose Hill, where at 7am with other rogues they effected an entry and with knives in their hands they threatened the inmates should resistance be offered. Some of the people they tied to their beds, they took many valuable articles including bank notes and bills of exchange, they were captured at Bristol when just about to leave for Dublin. Many of the valuables, including bills to the value of ?1,100 were recovered, the two criminals were hung on top of the Tower, to the satisfaction of the crowds in Water St.
The whole building was cleared away in 1819, and the purchasers Messers BAILEY Brothers erected warehouses on the site, but, these had also to disappear and in 1856, when the alignment of Water St was set back the handsome Tower-buildings were erected, the architect being our distinguished local historian Sir J. A. PICTON. There is a tradition that in 432 St Patrick sailed from the banks of the Mersey on his famous mission to Ireland, was it by the way of Banke St he gained the river side, supposing it was from Liverpool he started and was there any sign of the Tower where people sailed for Ireland in those days ? Liverpool is not mentioned in Roman times, nor yet in the days of the Anglo-Saxons, not even in the Norman Domesday book of William the Conqueror. Our rise was noted in the times of the Crusades and this very Banke St or Water St, was one limb of the Cross impressed upon our town by King John, who, despite his failings, holds a foremost place in the making of Liverpool.