By Stuart Ian Burns (feeling listless blog)
This lunchtime (April 18 2007) I strolled up to Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral for the first of a series of lunchtime lectures celebrating 800 years of Liverpool History. They’re being held over the next six weeks in the Lady Chapel and are a collaboration between the Cathedral and Liverpool Universities Centre for Lifelong Learning. They’re free to attend and the Chapel was filled with people, the seating configuration changed to a Horseshoe around a table at the side. I ended up moving slightly because I had my back to the altar and it simply felt very odd. I’m not superstitious or that religious but you never know.
The first lecture was on the Letter’s Patent written by King John in 1207 that founded the city, or at least advertised the idea of there being a place here called Liverpool. It was given by Paul Booth, a Lecturer in Medieval Studies, and he managed to present what could have been fairly dry academic material in a friendly accessible way, cleverly meshing in some autobiography to keep things interesting. He explained that since he was from Birkenhead he’s always been a guest to the city and he talked about visiting the docks as a child and looking around the city centre which then had such marvels as the Overhead Railway and how exotic it all seemed.
The main body of the lecture was split into two sections – the contents of the Patent and the geographical implications. Although we take the foundation of the city from King John’s advert, the area didn’t begin to take shape until a few decades later under the reign of Henry III and it was nearly a century before it became a recognizable destination. His thesis, in opposition to some of his colleagues, was that despite its diminutive size Liverpool was still a fairly prominent town – he mentioned that as early as the fourteenth century it had two members of parliament which is something even Manchester didn’t have. He also presented us with a list of the 145 tenants living in the area at the time and it included such surnames as Goldsmith and Dyer which indicates that quality goods were being created in our patch.
Perhaps the more fascinating section for me concerned the six initial streets on which the city would eventually be founded. This was apparently the frame that most places were designed around and what is amazing is that, although I’m not sure that Liverpool is considered a medieval city in the same bracket as York or Nottingham, by tracing upwards through history it becomes apparent that those six streets are still in use today. One of the earliest maps available is from the early-18th century and even though the population had only grown to 600 or so the map of the city is already taking shape with familiar street names and place such as Moorfields are already there.
But what’s really clever is that this map can still be used in conjunction with the title deeds of a Liverpool family who lived in the 1300s, the Moores of Bankhill so that we can discover which of the six streets have survived. And far from being some minor roads in the suburbs they’re big recognizable names and places in what could still be described as the administrative or business area of Liverpool (at least for now). Within those deeds there are references to a ‘Morestrete’ which has become Tithebarn Street. Also in there are Dale Strete, Castell Strete, Chapell Strete, a ‘Banck Strete’ which is now Water Street and ‘Jogeler Strete’ is now High Street, the one which runs along the side of the Town Hall.
What I’ve just noticed now is that Dale Street, Castle Street, Water Street and High Street fan out to become a cross with what would be Liverpool Town Hall at the centre. According to the wikipedia, the Hall was built twenty five years after this map was prepared but there is a building illustrated in the place where it would be. A disused church? The fact that I’m speculating, inferring and extrapolating means that Mr. Booth and the designers of these talks have done what they probably set out to achieve – get people interested in local history. I’m already thinking about taking a trip to the library to see if I can find out what that building was that stood in the place where the Town Hall is now situated.