Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Liverpool

The American transatlantic tourist, after a week or more spent upon the ocean, is usually glad to again see the land. After skirting the bold Irish coast, and peeping into the pretty cove of Cork, with Queenstown in the background, and passing the rocky headlands of Wales, the steamer that brings him from America carefully enters the Mersey River. The shores are low but picturesque as the tourist moves along the estuary between the coasts of Lancashire and Cheshire, and passes the great beacon standing up solitary and alone amid the waste of waters, the Perch Rock Light off New Brighton on the Cheshire side. Thus he comes to the world's greatest seaport—Liverpool—and the steamer finally drops her anchor between the miles of docks that front the two cities, Liverpool on the left and Birkenhead on the right. Forests of masts loom up behind the great dock-walls, stretching far away on either bank, while a fleet of arriving or departing steamers is anchored in a long line in mid-channel. Odd-looking, low, black tugs, pouring out thick smoke from double funnels, move over the water, and one of them takes the passengers alongside the capacious structure a half mile long, built on pontoons, so it can rise and fall with the tides, and known as the Prince's Landing-Stage, where the customs officers perform their brief formalities and quickly let the visitor go ashore over the fine floating bridge into the city.

At Liverpool most American travellers begin their view of England. It is the great city of ships and sailors and all that appertains to the sea, and its 550,000 population are mainly employed in mercantile life and the myriad trades that serve the ship or deal in its cargo, for fifteen thousand to twenty thousand of the largest vessels of modern commerce will enter the Liverpool docks in a year, and its merchants own 7,000,000 tonnage. Fronting these docks on the Liverpool side of the Mersey is the great sea-wall, over five miles long, behind which are enclosed 400 acres of water-surface in the various docks, that are bordered by sixteen miles' length of quays. On the Birkenhead side of the river there are ten miles of quays in the docks that extend for over two miles along the bank. These docks, which are made necessary to accommodate the enormous commerce, have cost over $50,000,000, and are the crowning glory of Liverpool. They are filled with the ships of all nations, and huge storehouses line the quays, containing products from all parts of the globe, yet chiefly the grain and cotton, provisions, tobacco, and lumber of America. Railways run along the inner border of the docks on a street between them and the town, and along their tracks horses draw the freight-cars, while double-decked passenger-cars also run upon them with broad wheels fitting the rails, yet capable of being run off whenever the driver wishes to get ahead of the slowly-moving freight-cars. Ordinary wagons move upon Strand street alongside, with horses of the largest size drawing them, the huge growth of the Liverpool horses being commensurate with the immense trucks and vans to which these magnificent animals are harnessed.

Liverpool is of great antiquity, but in the time of William the Conqueror was only a fishing-village. Liverpool Castle, long since demolished, was a fortress eight hundred years ago, and afterward the rival families of Molineux and Stanley contended for the mastery of the place. It was a town of slow growth, however, and did not attain full civic dignity till the time of Charles I. It was within two hundred years that it became a seaport of any note. The first dock was opened in 1699, and strangely enough it was the African slave-trade that gave the Liverpool merchants their original start. The port sent out its first slave-ship in 1709, and in 1753 had eighty-eight ships engaged in the slave-trade, which carried over twenty-five thousand slaves from Africa to the New World that year. Slave-auctions were frequent in Liverpool, and one of the streets where these sales were effected was nicknamed "Negro street." The agitation for the abolition of the trade was carried on a long time before Liverpool submitted, and then privateering came prominently out as the lucrative business a hundred years ago during the French wars, that brought Liverpool great wealth. Next followed the development of trade with the East Indies, and finally the trade with America has grown to such enormous proportions in the present century as to eclipse all other special branches of Liverpool commerce, large as some of them are. This has made many princely fortunes for the merchants and shipowners, and their wealth has been liberally expended in beautifying their city. It has in recent years had very rapid growth, and has greatly increased its architectural adornments. Most amazing has been this advancement since the time in the last century when the mayor and corporation entertained Prince William of Gloucester at dinner, and, pleased at the appetite he developed, one of them called out, "Eat away, Your Royal Highness; there's plenty more in the kitchen!" The mayor was Jonas Bold, and afterwards, taking the prince to church, they were astonished to find that the preacher had taken for his text the words, "Behold, a greater than Jonas is here."

Liverpool has several fine buildings. Its Custom House is a large Ionic structure of chaste design, with a tall dome that can be seen from afar, and richly decorated within. The Town Hall and the Exchange buildings make up the four sides of an enclosed quadrangle paved with broad flagstones. Here, around the attractive Nelson monument in the centre, the merchants meet and transact their business. The chief public building is St. George's Hall, an imposing edifice, surrounded with columns and raised high above one side of an open square, and costing $2,000,000 to build. It is a Corinthian building, having at one end the Great Hall, one hundred and sixty-nine feet long, where public meetings are held, and court-rooms at the other end. Statues of Robert Peel, Gladstone, and Stephenson, with other great men, adorn the Hall. Sir William Brown, who amassed a princely fortune in Liverpool, has presented the city with a splendid free library and museum, which stands in a magnificent position on Shaw's Brow. Many of the streets are lined with stately edifices, public and private, and most of these avenues diverge from the square fronting St. George's Hall, opposite which is the fine station of the London and North-western Railway, which, as is the railroad custom in England, is also a large hotel. The suburbs of Liverpool are filled for a wide circuit with elegant rural homes and surrounding ornamental grounds, where the opulent merchants live. They are generally bordered with high stone walls, interfering with the view, and impressing the visitor strongly with the idea that an Englishman's house is his castle. Several pretty parks with ornamental lakes among their hills are also in the suburbs. Yet it is the vast trade that is the glory of Liverpool, for it is but an epitome of England's commercial greatness, and is of comparatively modern growth. "All this," not long ago said Lord Erskine, speaking of the rapid advancement of Liverpool, "has been created by the industry and well-disciplined management of a handful of men since I was a boy."

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