Was Liverpool’s fate sealed in the city itself?
Mar 10 2008
by Peter Elson, Liverpool Daily Post

DID globalisation originate on a Liverpool railway station platform bathed in watery sunlight, shortly before 11am on September 15, 1830?

Sir Neil Cossons, former English Heritage chairman and Liverpool University graduate, believes it did. If so, it would also be a rich irony that the world-shattering trend which Liverpool unleashed has also been responsible for its downfall in the pecking order, as the dynamite of progress, sparked off here, then charged off elsewhere.

In an illustrated lecture marking the 300th anniversary of the Society of Antiquaries, Sir Neil will outline his theory that this day, 177 years ago was a historical watershed. It was the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway – the world’s first inter-city passenger service – by Prime Minister the Duke of Wellington.

An event of international importance, eight trains filled with guests were lined up at Edge Hill station destined for Manchester.

Driving the locomotive Northumbrian was L&MR chief engineer George Stephenson. Sir Neil will speak at St George’s Hall (itself positioned for maximum impact on arriving rail visitors) where Stephenson’s form stands forever frozen as a statue in Liverpool’s pantheon of great and good.

Sir Neil, whose wife comes from Knotty Ash, says: “Railways were Britain’s great gift to the world. They were the start of a transport revolution that started shrinking the world, part of the process of globalisation still continues with airlines carrying people to the farther corners of the planet. Such has been this effect on ordinary life that people now regard travelling as their right.

“But that key moment was in Liverpool, whose merchants had bankrolled the project, so it’s an iconic place that symbolises a dynamic turning point in the world. Railways had been around for 30 years, but for carrying freight, and so this was an earth-shattering event.”

Sir Neil will also examine the huge impact of freight containerisation and its dire effects on traditional ports, particularly Liverpool. Likewise, he reviews the Boeing 747-400 which ended sea travel.

“The first container voyage using standardised steel boxes on April 26, 1956, initiated by entrepreneur Malcolm McLean, began another commercial revolution leading to fantastic efficiencies, compared to loading loose cargoes in nets by crane. This means transport costs are negligible and made possible Indian, Chinese and Brazilian industry’s colossal growth supplying world markets,” says Sir Neil.

“Although there are now 200m containers around the world, the idea was slow to catch on. Port managers didn’t want to invest in new facilities and dock labour saw it destroying jobs. It took off when the US military adopted it to supply the Vietnam War across the Pacific.”

McLean’s standard containers crucially had a tab, or box casting, at each corner allowing them to be stacked on land, ship, train, truck or plane. To ensure maximum use, McLean never patented his idea.

“New ports like Felixstowe grew up around servicing container traffic and Seaforth is also a direct response, as the Mersey’s miles of quayside cranes and warehouses were rapidly rendered redundant,” says Sir Neil.

The final version of the Jumbo-jet “commodified” mass global transport, he says. With their distinctive up-turned six-foot winglets, 700 such planes each fly more than 400 passengers on the longest non-stop flights.

Sir Neil adds: “So many people are familiar only with Liverpool’s decline, whereas they should understand its matchless place in world history. If I gave this lecture in London, it wouldn’t be much different.”

GLOBALISATION: the making of our world – Society of Antiquaries lecture by Sir Neil Cossons, introduced by Loyd Grossman, at Small Concert Hall, St George’s Hall, William Brown Street entrance, Liverpool, on Friday (March 14) at 6pm; tickets £10 including wine reception, bookable on 020 7479 7080; or website: www.sal.org.uk

Source: Liverpool Daily Post