Merchants -- England -- Liverpool -- History Merchants -- Dwellings -- England -- Liverpool -- History Housing -- England -- Liverpool -- History Έμποροι -- Αγγλία -- Λίβερπουλ -- Ιστορία Έμποροι -- Κατοικίες -- Αγγλία -- Λίβερπουλ -- Ιστορία Στέγαση -- Αγγλία -- Λίβερπουλ -- Ιστορία
The School of History at the University of Liverpool is engaged in a three-year project investigating the merchant community of Liverpool in the second half of the 19th century. One element of this project, funded by English Heritage, is a study of the merchants’ architectural activities over a longer period (the mid 18th to the early 20th century), focusing particularly on housing.Liverpool during this period was entirely a commercial town, created and governed by merchants and traders rather than by hereditary landowners. Their aspirations and self-image are reflected in the types of houses in which they chose to live. The broad picture of the development of merchant housing in Liverpool is one of gradual decentralisation, combined with steadily increasing scale. In the 18th century, the mercantile elite lived in the very centre of the town, close to the docks where they made their money, in dwellings that were often combined with their warehouses and offices. In the later 18th and early 19th century they began to move to new, more spaciously planned streets on the outskirts, separate from their places of work. In the middle of the 19th century, residential parks were developed on the rural fringes of the town, where the wealthy could enjoy greater privacy in much bigger houses, with greener, more spacious surroundings. This development reached a climax with the laying out of Sefton Park in 1867-72, a 109-hectare public park 3 km from the old town centre, surrounded by extremely large villas. Throughout the period, the very richest merchants lived even further out, in substantial mansions set in extensive private grounds.Research for the project has only just begun, and it is not yet possible to say what results will have emerged by October, but I will be in a position to present preliminary findings and identify emerging trends. Among the questions my research will address are the following:• Over time, what were the patterns of movement of individuals and families from one residential area to another? What evidence is there that merchants lived in clusters, according to shared commercial interests, ethnicity or religious affiliation? To what extent was the exodus from the centre dependent on developments in private and public transport? What proportion of merchants had second homes in the country, and what proportion left the town on their retirement?• How did residences for the merchant class increase in size, to accommodate expanding households, to provide facilities for entertaining, to give greater comfort, and to proclaim status? Was the merchant class distinct in its architectural expression from comparable social or professional groups?• How did the provision of gardens develop over time? Was the trend towards increased privacy constant during the period, or did exclusivity reach a peak with the private, gated parks of the mid 19th-century, to be followed by the more ostentatious villas of Sefton Park that border public roads and pleasure grounds? • To what extent was housing for the merchant class erected speculatively by builders, and to what extent did future occupiers build for themselves? What does the evidence of architecture, furnishing and decoration tell us about the aspirations and life-style of the merchant class? How many were art collectors? Was their taste advanced or conservative? How did they use their houses to display their wealth and possessions? Among the major sources for this research project will be maps, street directories, census returns, family papers, architectural periodicals, historical photographs, and most importantly the surviving buildings themselves. The aim is to arrive at a deeper understanding of the way of life of this influential but little-understood commercial elite, through the study of its architectural legacy.
Paper presented at Seventh International Conference on Urban History: European City in Comparative Perspective, Panteion University, Athens - Piraeus, Greece, 27-30 October 2004, Session: Living in the city: Urban Elites and their residences