The explosive times that led Liverpool to trade superpower

As we approach the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot (5 November 1605), Liverpool John Moores University research allows us to take a look at the overall impact of the Stuart-era (1603-1714) on Liverpool. 

Dr Simon Hill, from the Department of History, has assessed how Liverpool grew from a remote Medieval fishing village to an Early Modern port-town with trans-Atlantic connections. Amongst the several factors that contributed towards this transformation during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were booms in the local coal and salt industries. This led to increased migration into Liverpool as people sought employment. The result was that the town constructed more buildings and the area became more densely populated (although the town would still have appeared somewhat rural by twenty-first century standards). 

Furthermore, it was at the end of the Stuart period in 1709 that work began on the Old Dock – which was arguably the first commercial wet dock in Britain. This was a landmark development that  helped Liverpool expand from a riverside town to trade superpower.

Speaking to Your Move Magazine, Dr Hill explained:

“The construction of Liverpool’s Old Dock at the tail end of the Stuart period really stimulated the development of the town. If you’ve got all these ships coming into the docks you need to provide warehouses and docking facilities, and that has an impact on the landscape of the town – it becomes more nautical in nature.” As a consequence, Liverpool became increasingly intertwined with the emerging overseas empire. 

Stuart Liverpool was noteworthy in other respects. For example, during the English Civil War of the 1640s, the town changed hands several times between the Royalists and Parliamentarians – an indication of the growing importance of Liverpool. The town and its environs also had followers of the Roman Catholic, Church of England and Puritan faiths. This coincided with national religious-political strife during the seventeenth century, of which the Gunpowder Plot (by a handful of Catholics to destroy Parliament and kill King James I) was but one manifestation. 

LJMU History staff offer several courses and expertise on Merseyside, imperial and maritime history. Equally, LJMU is one of the oldest nautical institutions in the UK, having served the sector with innovative technology since 1892.


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