History of Liverpool

With 800 years of history, Liverpool is a city with a long and storied past. Much of it, of course, lies under the confident banking halls, civic buildings and bullish waterfront shipping line headquarters, all built during the city’s ‘second city of Empire’ Victorian heyday.

Today, much of the fabric of downtown Liverpool is protected – and celebrated – as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (putting it on a par with Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat) and, when the sunlight refracts off the Mersey onto the gleaming white fascias of the Three Graces (the trio of Pier Head buildings, dominated by the iconic Liver Buildings) it’s hard to argue against its listing alongside the world’s greatest urban cityscapes.

The city’s story, of course, begins at the river. The ‘pool’ – actually a sinewy inlet of the Mersey, now buried beneath the Liverpool ONE shopping centre – was home to a huddle of fishing families at the turn of the first millennium.

Trade with Ireland helped grow the town to city status – gaining Royal Charter by King John in 1207. But it was trade of a less celebrated nature – Liverpool’s role in the triangular ‘slave trade’ that cemented the city’s prosperity. You can learn about this dark chapter in the city’s excellent International Slavery Museum.

The town's first wet dock – the world’s first commercial wet dock – was opened in 1715 and secured Liverpool’s role as a major port city for the next two centuries. The story’s ably told in the city’s Merseyside Maritime Museum.


The Albert Dock in Liverpool opened in 1846, a revolutionary docking system as ships were able to load/unload directly to warehouses based at the site. It is now popular with tourists and locals alike, housing museums, galleries, shops and restaurants.

By the early 19th century a whopping 40% of the world’s trade passed through Liverpool’s Docks. It’s partly the reason why the city’s home to Europe’s oldest-established Chinatown, and why our musicians were among the first to be exposed to the rhythm and blues of Deep South USA. Our port status has always meant we’ve been quick to soak up customs, and cultures from all points of the globe. It’s a habit we’re in no rush to shake off!

After the devastating blitz of the Second World War, Liverpool suffered the same post-industrial confidence crisis that hit many northern cities. Because of the dependence on port industries we found the transition harder than others. It’s a tale fascinatingly told in the Museum of Liverpool – we can’t think of a better place to get an instant primer on our Liverpool home.

But, these days, the city is enjoying a tangible renaissance. Liverpool’s regional economy is one of the fastest growing in England, and the Office for National Statistics rank the City Region as the only northern enterprise region in the top 10.

Make no mistake; the best is yet to come.

"Walking tours are great fun (in good weather) as you build more of a rapport with a group when it's face to face. On my tours, people can never believe that the Anglican Cathedral has not stood there for hundreds of years, when it was only finished in the 1970's! There's always a gasp of awe as you go in too."

Harriet Gilmour, Blue Bridge Guide