The Black Moor’s Head and the Bight of Benin in Liverpool – New slave trade era discoveries by the Old Dock

It is well known that Liverpool’s links to the the transatlantic slave trade survive in street names. But what of the streets that no longer exist? What could their names tell us of the darkest chapter of Liverpool’s history?

Most streets in Liverpool that are linked to the slave trade owe their names to the owners of the land that was developed. Some, like Goree on the strand and Jamaica Street instead recall the locations of the trade. The first being a trading post off the coast of Senegal and the latter being the final destination for many of the enslaved Africans.

Some of the city’s old streets have vanished forever, erased off the map by countless generations of draftsmen. The names of some of these lost streets and passageways are known, others await to be discovered. One such street, and a public house, has been undocumented by historians – until now. Their names brings us right back to the era when Liverpool had become the capital of the slave trade.

The authors have discovered two such forgotten locations with very sinister origins. A dockland area named the Bite of Benin and a public house named the Black Moor’s Head.

Liverpool’s lost streets

Liverpool’s first street directory was published in 1766. The first ‘Gore’s Directory’ (named after the proprietor John Gore) was a slim volume. As Liverpool grew in area and population so did the entries of each new directory. George T. Shaw of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire reprinted the 1766 directory in a paper. This is a very useful resource as it often gives the names of streets that have either been renamed or demolished. Lost to time are the names of Bird Street, Bridge Street, Brooks Square, Castle Hey, Clayton’s Alley, Darwen’s Alley, Gorrell’s Yard, Key Street, Old Custom House Yard, Old Shambles, Pemberton’s Alley, Potato Market, Spittal Fields, Temple Bar, Temple Court and Trafford’s Wient.

Other old street names occasionally resurface when researching other archives such as church records, town books or probate records.

Liverpool in the 1750s

To discover the street names prior to the first directory, The Liverpool Memorandum book for 1753 (published December 1752) is of great benefit. This guidebook is an incredible resource for anyone researching the town in the mid 18th century. Within this slim volume is a list of the streets. It also names the principal merchants, the churches and public buildings, the magistrates and even every mayor since 1696. You can read the list of carriers transporting goods to an from the town. Also a list of the vessels in the Irish trade and all over Europe.

So far the book is little different from any guidebook. That is until the other sections are reached. These shocking additions leave the reader in no doubt that they are peering into a town that had just over a decade earlier had overtaken London and Bristol to be Britain’s main slaving port.

Company of Merchants Trading to Africa
Listed are the members of the company of the 101 merchants trading to Africa in Liverpool. This company was established by an Act of Parliament to extend and improve the trade to Africa. By this Act, Parliament had dissolved the Royal African Company and transferred all of its assets to the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa. A footnote at the bottom explains that even though London and Bristol had more merchants, their trade to Africa was not as extensive. Liverpool was proud of it’s place as the capital of Britain’s slave trade, a position achieved with the support of both the king and parliament.

The 101 members of the merchants trading to Africa in 1752 from the Liverpool Memorandum Book.
Image credit

The next page lists the slave vessels trading from Liverpool to the coast of Africa. This shows the name of the ship, the owner and the captain. Also detailed is the destinations in Africa of each ship. The final column shows the number of slaves purchased by each ship. One ship’s entry, the African shows the slaver (later ‘Reverend’) John Newton as the captain and that the capacity of the ship was 250 slaves. In fact at the time of printing, this ship was still on it’s way to Africa. Newton didn’t meet his quota, instead 207 souls were purchased – 41 would die before reaching the plantations in St Kitts. Some died during an insurrection – a desperate bid for freedom onboard the ship.

Streets listed in the Memorandum Book
As the book is 14 years prior to the first Gore’s directory, the inclusion of a ‘list of the streets, Lanes, Squares, Alleys, &c. in the Town of Liverpool‘ is of great interest. Included here can be found street names not recorded anywhere else. Amongst these rediscovered thoroughfares are the evocative Dancing School Lane, Brass Founders Court, Collector’s Alley, Tennis Court Alley and Bull and Dog Yard. The last, situated in Chapel Street, would be close to the site of the town’s custom of public bull baiting – a legal requirement of butchers prior to slaughter. If a butcher refused to carry out this barbaric ritual they would be prosecuted by the corporation, the fine was 6 shillings and sixpence in 1713.

The Bite of Benin, a Liverpool street

Overlooked by historians until now is a street named Bite of Benin. Like the inclusion of merchants trading to Africa, the inclusion of this name brings us right back to the slave trade. The guidebook tells us this was located by the dock gates. In 1752/53 this would have been the Wet Dock. This would shortly be known as the ‘Old Dock’ when the town’s second dock would open the year after the book was published (South Dock, later Salthouse Dock was opened in 1753)

The Bite of Benin, near Dock Gates. Liverpool Memorandum Book for 1753.

Bight of Benin
The Liverpool place name was a misspelling of Bight of Benin. This was an infamous location for slave trading on the west coast of Africa. A ‘bight’ is a bend or curve in the coastline, this may have been misinterpreted as a ‘bite’ taken out of the coastline by the Liverpool slave captains.

The Bight of Benin was the scene of extensive slave trading between the 16th and the 19th century, and the region of coastal lagoons west of the Niger delta became known as the Slave Coast.


The Bight of Benin was also notorious as a place for disease. Fever often took hold of a ship, killing the crew and their valuable human cargo. The stool pictured below is engraved with a variation of a popular sea shanty that warned of the dangers of the area.

Beware and take care of the Bight of Benin, there’s one comes out for forty goes in!

This three-legged stool comes from Porto Novo in the former French colony of Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin) with a central design inscribed on the seat (the original African carving).
On the underside is carved ‘Oh, beware of the Bight of Benin. Its few go out, but many come in’ This is a version of a shanty – ‘Beware and take care of the Bight of Benin, there’s one comes out for forty goes in’ – that reflects the high European mortality on the ‘fever’ coast in Africa.
Image: Royal Museums Greenwich

Where was the Bite of Benin in Liverpool located?

The biggest clue of course is that it was located close to the Dock Gates. Yet, further clues may be had by looking at what was not included in the Memorandum Book list. Some streets are notable from the absence; Bridge Street (the bridge was adjacent to the dock gate), Bromfield Street, Darwen’s Weint, and Carpenter Street are all missing. These are all located in the same area – on artificial land, part of which dates back to the Old Dock’s construction, 1709-1715. And with the creation of two further docks: Dry Dock (Canning), and the South Dock (Salthouse) – which added more land, almost surrounding the area on all sides, forming a sailortown peninsula, as shown on the map below.

Perhaps then this whole area was known as the Bite of Benin?

The Bite of Benin? The area around Bridge Street, Bromfield Street, Darwen’s Weint, and Carpenter Street is the likeliest candidate.
To the left of the highlighted area can be seen the Dock Gate and below it the draw bridge that gave Bridge Street it’s name.
Map used: A New and Accurate PLAN of the Town and Port of LEVERPOOL George Perry] Published according to Act of Parliament. July 7th 1769

Origins of the name in Liverpool

After extensive searches in all the historical archives known to us, the name only makes that singular appearance. No doubt this explains why it has been missed by previous researchers. Because of this, further information to why it was chosen is unlikely to ever appear. But, we can think of two possible explanations for choosing that name.

#1 Where sailors ‘abandoned themselves to passion’

The area highlighted on the map above just happens to be the most notorious in the whole of Liverpool in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Therefore, the name Bite of Benin in Liverpool may have been chosen as a sick joke. Mariners returning after a slaving venture would face a crowd of people lining the entrance to the old dock. Owners would be there eager to see the return of their investment. Merchants would be keen to get the first opportunity to purchase goods brought back on the ships (in some instances this also included enslaved Africans, chosen by the officers as a ‘privilege’ and now no longer required). Hawkers and boarding house owners would be keen to separate the sailors from their wages.

Prostitutes would also flock to the dock entrance, no doubt flaunting their feminine wares to catch the eyes of the crew – starved of female company since leaving the Americas. Perhaps Liverpool’s Bite of Benin was also known as a dangerous place for disease?

Several of the neighbouring streets (between Canning, Salthouse Docks and the Old Dock) present spectacles of vice and misery in their lowest forms, from which the heart turns with a disgust… a British sailor, who, too often, for want of rational restraint, abandons himself to his passions.”

The Stranger in Liverpool, Thomas Kaye, 1820

Devil’s Acre

This area was later referred to as ‘Devil’s Acre’, as told by James Stonehouse in two of his works; ‘Recollections of Old Liverpool’ (1863) and ‘Streets of Liverpool (1869):

(Pownall Square) was named after Mr. William Pownall, whose death took place in May, 1768, during his Mayoralty. He was called up one night in the month of March of that year, to suppress an alarming riot which had arisen in a place called the “Devil’s Acre,” near the corner of the Salt-house Dock. From the lawless character of the inhabitants of this quarter, the fact of appearing among the rioters was no small act of courage, but Mr. Pownall so greatly and gallantly exerted himself to restore order that he took a severe cold from which he never rallied.

The Streets of Liverpool, James Stonehouse, 1870

A shocking example of barbarity in the area from 1777
In February 1777 a harrowing news story appeared in the Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser. The location was the Dock Gates at the Old Dock, where local sailors and their wives violently set upon a pregnant 18 year old woman, for the simple reason she had been thrown out by her new husband (a bigamist) and so reported him to the authorities. What happened next was so shocking that the journalist wrote that people who read this in the future will be shocked it happened in this ‘enlightened’ and ‘refined’ age.

The background to the story is a Liverpool sailor had survived a wrecked ship in the Baltic and made it to Hull. There he was put up by a kindly man with an 18 year old daughter. The sailor and daughter were married and she became pregnant. The couple then came to Liverpool so he could rejoin a ship. To help them on their way the father gave them 5 guineas and a promise note for £10 from someone in Liverpool. Once there though, the sailor informed her that he was already married and demanded she returned instantly to Hull. This was impossible as he had kept hold of her father’s money and only gave her two shillings to make the 100 mile trip! Now desperate, the young sought help form a pub landlady at Low Hill. Together they went to town and sought assistance from the Mayor, which at that time would have been William Crosbie. On presenting her marriage certificate, she was given passage to Hull. The sailor he was handed over to the Press Gang.

When the sailor friends heard of his fate they took reprisals on the poor woman.

The villain’s friends therefore, and those of his former wife, having wrested her from the persons who were appointed to convey her out of town, delivered her into the hands of the mob, as an informer, By whom she was hurried down to the Old Dock Gates, were such acts of inhumanity were committed as would be a reproach to the most savage nation upon earth. She was first set upon by some of her own sex, who tore her hair from her head, her cloaths from her back, and beat her in the most shocking manner. In this condition, and almost naked, she was thrown into the Dock, the men having first tied a rope around her waist, where, after remaining a considerable time, she miscarried!

Even this circumstance had not power to abate the fury of her unrelenting, merciless persecutors, who dragged her the length of the Old Dock, thro’ Trafford’s Lane, and across King-street into Atherton ; where two gentlemen, with the humanity inseparable from true bravery, rescued the poor sufferer from those dastardly monsters, who are a dishonour not only to their country, but to human nature.

She is at present in the infirmary where she is treated with great tenderness. It is feared if her life can be preserved, that she will never recover the use of reason. Several have been taken up that were concerned in this cruel transaction, but, it is feared not the principals. –

Were it consistent with the dignity of history to convey to posterity the above relation, how would it astonish them to hear, that in a period so enlightened and refined as the 17th century [sic] and amongst a people celebrated for tenderness of disposition, there existed beings, who, divested of every thing human except the form, were capable of perpetuating an act that would have disgraced the most barbarous era.

Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser – Thursday 13 February 1777

William Crosbie the mayor is shown as living at 23 Pool Lane in the Gore’s directory of 1777. The attack was extremely close to his house, and the girl was dragged right past it. If he was home at the time it is almost certain he would have witnessed it.

The route taken by the mob as they tortured the woman. The mayor’s house at 23 Pool Lane has been coloured red.
Diagram ©BygoneLiverpool, plotted on Horwood’s plan of Liverpool, 1803

Perhaps then, the name drew parallel’s to the African interior that sailor’s feared the most:-

Beware and take care of the Bight of Benin, there’s one comes out for forty goes in!

#2 A reminder of Africa

Another explanation could be the similarity of Liverpool’s man-made dock entrance to the natural geography of the African Bight with its many lagoons. The number of slave ships waiting to go into the Old Dock at high tide would have resembled the slave ships anchored off the Benin coastline. No doubt the African merchants would have been just as keen to greet the arrival of the ships as their counterparts in Liverpool.

‘Carte du Golfe de Benin’. Bight of Benin. Nigeria coast. 1747 map. Image credit
The entrance to the Old Dock can be clearly seen on Chadwick’s plan of Liverpool, 1725. Image credit

Shown below is cropped section of a ‘Prospect of Liverpool’ by an unknown artist. This view is circa 1725, the same year as Chadwick’s plan above. The clipped picture shows one of three returning ships celebrating their return by firing their cannons (an extremely dangerous practice and later forbidden – see below). The painting gives us an idea of what the ships’ crew would have seen entering the Old Dock. The dock gates can be seen and beyond them the newly erected Custom House. Of the few people the artist has included are merchants awaiting the arrival of the ships while others run along the jetty to catch a better view.

Could the navigation through these complex dock structures have reminded the sailors of the tricky approach to Benin?

A cropped section of a ‘Prospect of Liverpool” by an unknown artist, attributed to 1725. Image: Merseyside Maritime Museum.

“Saluting the town’ with cannons results in at least two deaths at the Dock Gates
Shown below is an example of how the reckless tradition of returning ships ‘saluting the town’ with their cannons could be. This clipping from 1798 shows that the cannon tore the arm off a 64 year old cooper from Greenock named Robert M’Coombe who was standing near the Old Dock Gates. It also tore open the breast of 25 year old William Treasure (mate of the ship William) who died 15 minutes after the accident. It also killed 21 year old Dennis Burn who was an apprentice of Thomas Staniforth’s rope walk, who was standing on the bridge next to the Dock Gates. M’Coombe was taken to the infirmary and it was hoped he would recover as his wife and four children depended on his labour.

Chester Chronicle – Friday 12 October 1798. British Newspaper Archives

The burial record for Dennis Burn of Park Lane shows he was ‘killed by a bullet shot from a ship’ and buried at St. Peter’s. William Treasure was buried 9th October at St Anne’s, Cazneau Street. No burial record could be found for Robert M’Coombe so it is hoped he survived his injury, but finding work to support his wife and four children must have been difficult to say the least.

Image: Find my past

Black Moors Head, a Liverpool public house

Another recently discovered location is a public house named the Sign of the Black Moor’s Head. This was found by one of the authors in a copy of the Williamson’s Liverpool Advertiser, from 24 June, 1757.

The auction listing below formed part of Alderman Owen Pritchard’s estate. He purchased the Black Moor’s Head in 1750, and then sublet it on to George Marshall, its publican. Lot 4 represents only one of ten properties listed for Pritchard that day. A note at the bottom of the advertisement states ‘All of these buildings are nearly new and in good repair…‘.

Williamson’s Liverpool Advertiser, from 24 June, 1757. Liverpool Record Office

Another reference to enslaved people at the Old Dock Gates
Like the Bite of Benin the Black Moor’s Head was also situated by the Old Dock Gates, this time opposite. ‘Blackamoor’ was an archaic term for an African person:

dark-skinned person, black-skinned African,” 1540s, from black (adj.) + Moor, with connecting element

Online Etymology Dictionary
A Charles I gold coin from 1626-1627. Above the King’s head is that of a ‘Blackamoor’. Image: Credit

Adam and Abell, enslaved ‘Blackamoors’ in Liverpool, 1717
Shown below is a baptism record from 28th August 1717. It took place at St. Peter’s church, Liverpool (that gave its name to Church Street). It is one of many records of Liverpool slave owners baptizing and burying their so-called property. It shows an enslaved person named Adam, listed as; “Adam, Mr Fillingham’s Blackamore’. (Note that the word-initial ff looks like a H on the record, thanks to Tony Tibbles for pointing this out)

Thomas Fillingham was sole-owner of the slave ship Two Brothers in 1716 that took 237 enslaved Africans to Saint John, Antigua – 47 died during the middle passage. Thomas Hillingham [sic], is recorded as a merchant of Dale Street, who had his children Robert (1716) and Lidia (1718) baptized at the same church – a year either side of Adam. Fillingham was mayor of Liverpool from 1719-20.

St. Peter’s church, Liverpool, 28th August 1717. Record: Findmypast

Two months later on 1st October 1717, the burial took place at St. Nicholas’ church of:

‘Abell, a Blackmoor belonging to Mr. Rock’.

The earliest registers of the Parish of Liverpool (St. Nicholas’s Church) : christenings, marriages, and burials. HSLC, Henry Peet, 1909

Laurence Westgaph organized a memorial to Abell in 2020, this is located in the Old Churchyard.

Although there were earlier baptisms, his is the earliest burial, so we can see he was the earliest recorded Black resident of the city.

Laurence Westgaph, Black History Month 2020: Liverpool’s oldest known Black resident died over 300 years ago, Liverpool Echo, 3 October 2020
Monument to Liverpool’s first recorded Black resident, Abell, at Liverpool Parish Church (Image: Liverpool City Council) via Liverpool Echo

Lemuel Rock
The Mr. Rock mentioned was very likely Lemuel Rock, bankrupt in Liverpool in 1718 (listed again in 1720). A Samuel Rock is listed on the slave ship database as sole-owner of the slave ship Squirrell in 1717, captained by Joshua Bradock (73 enslaved people from Africa to Barbados, 13 died during the journey). Samuel is likely to be a transcription error for Lemuel.

The Blackamoor’s Head was a popular name for an inn, several still survive today across the country and are now the subject of a debate to remove them. Previous to this discovery in the newspaper, an establishment by that name was unknown in Liverpool.

As the Liverpool public house has the prefix ‘the sign of’ we know that a painted or sculptured sign hung outside the premises. One example of a sign appears on a trade card for Thomas Marshall’s tobacco at the Blackamoor’s Head in Wapping, London.

Image credit
Trade card of William Alldridge, goldsmith at the Blackmoors Head in Red Lion Passage, Holborn, London. Image: British Museum
A Black Moor’s head is used as part of the illustration on this trade card advertising the Carnaby Market Coffee House. Image: Credit

The exploitation of Black people for advertising continued for centuries of course. An example can be seen on a view of Lord Street from 1831 (shown below). Often when this image is shown, the extreme right hand edge is cropped, but on this rare full view, an African figure can be seen at the entrance to a shop. It’s likely this was a tobacconist shop, a similar example from circa 1900 can be seen here.

“Part of Lord Street, with St.George’s Church in the Distance” (Liverpool) engraved by B.Winkles after a picture by Harwood, published in Lancashire Illustrated, 1831. Image:
A close up of the image reveals an African figure on the extreme right, used to advertise a shop.

The location of the blackamoor figure can be found by comparing the left hand side building on both the Lord Street Lancashire Illustrated view (above); with the 1895 photograph (below). In each case the ‘Dresden Rooms‘ building can be identified on the left hand side – placing the blackamoor figure opposite on the corner of Lord Street with Whitechapel (where HSBC is today).

Lord Street, Liverpool, 1895. Photograph from

Location of the Black Moor’s Head

The advertisement placed in Williamson’s Liverpool Advertiser on 24 June, 1757 states

A Messuage or Dwelling-House situate opposite the Old Dock Gates, known by the Sign of the Black Moor’s Head, now in possession of George Marshall

This important clue allows us to identify the exact location. On the north side of the Dock Gates was Marshall’s Lane. By checking 18th century Corporation documents we found the corner plot of Marshall’s Lane that faced the dock gates was owned by Alderman Owen Pritchard from 1750, and occupied by George Marshall in that period. Shown below is a diagram showing the location of the Black Moor’s Head based on original documents.

A diagram showing the location of the Black Moor’s Head based on original documents. ©BygoneLiverpool
The location of the Black Moor’s Head, directly opposite the Dock Gates, has been coloured green on this drawing of Liverpool in 1728.
.The South West Prospect of Liverpool, in the County Palatine of Lancaster after a drawing of 1728. Image: National Museums Liverpool
Overlay of 1847 and 1803 plans. ©BygoneLiverpool
Location of the site of the Black Moor’s Head over Google Satelite image. ©BygoneLiverpool

If we return to the Prospect of Liverpool painting, on the left of the dock entrance is a building that matches the locations of the Black Moor’s Head. Another public house can be seen on the right.

The site of the Black Moor’s Head is indicated on this cropped section of ‘A Prospect of Liverpool”, unknown artist, (attributed to 1725).
Image: Merseyside Maritime Museum via Liverpool and the Slave Trade, Anthony Tibbles, 2018

And the view from the opposite side of the Old Dock, looking out towards the Mersey.

Old Dock, Liverpool, by Geoff Hunt. (Cropped view)
A modern reinterpretation – as it was in 1769.

Owners of the property

William Greenway
The Corporation owned the whole land around the Old Dock. After researching the property, the first name linked to it was William Greenway from 1715. This was when the dock was close to completion (work started in 1710 and completed in 1716). In fact Greenway had most of the properties on the north side of the dock. It is highly possible therefore that Greenway was responsible for building the properties. In doing so he may have overstretched himself because in 1718 he was in financial difficulty and bankrupt by 1721. Greenway’s debt was still unsettled 28 years after his death in 1740. His bankruptcy was renewed in 1749 but then the paperwork was lost. In 1768 the considerable sum of £721 (£127,500 today) was demanded by the Crown. But it seems it was worthwhile for others to take an interest in Greenway’s unsettled estate. John Ashton and Elizabeth Sutherland paid just the interest on the debt. Then Joseph Brookes was the assignee of the second bankruptcy. Brookes made £395 on commission but wouldn’t pay a penny. A report from 1768 says that if the fiat (Money – a formal authorization or proposition; a decree) was found the sum owed by Brookes could be even more and he would have to pay up.

Greenway was a Dissenter, shown by his marriage in 1716 Elizabeth Briscoe of Toxteth Park (the daughter of Michael Briscoe, a minister at the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth). A year after their marriage they are shown living in the same estate in Toxteth Park as Samuel Done (another Dissenter who married Mary, Elizabeth Briscoe’s sister). Done is an interesting character as he owned property in Liverpool before work on the Old Dock was started when it was still the tidal estuary known as The Pool. He was muster-master for the town’s troops in 1696. He also had a business enterprise that cleaned and refitted ships on the Pool in the same year. Another of Done’s businesses was a Bagnio or a bath house (sometimes these were used as a brothel). In 1705 Daniel Defoe (1660 –1731) visited Liverpool and stayed at Done’s house on Castle Hill. As Defoe was a lover of Bagnios it’s very likely he paid a visit (or two) to Done’s establishment.

Owen Pritchard
The reason for Pritchard’s sale was that had become bankrupt in December 1756. Pritchard came from Angelsey, he had been apart-owner of the slave ship Hopewell in 1731. He had been Mayor of Liverpool from 1744-45 when the Jacobite rising of 1745 threatened Liverpool. In response he raised a Regiment of Foot but then ran off to Wales for a week:-

By the third week in September, Liverpool was getting very concerned, especially when intelligence was received from Glasgow that the Jacobite army had imposed a compulsory levy upon that place. Owen Pritchard, the mayor of Liverpool, was absent from the town, “some Urgent Affairs calling me”, as he said, “into Wales for a week.” He left the care of the town, he said, “in the hands of Mr. Ald. Brooks”, who served the office of Mayor the preceeding year.

The town of Liverpool in the ’45, R. C. Jarvis F.S.S, 1756, THSLC

Just prior to the advertisement for the Black Moor’s Head he was an investor in one of Fortunatus Wright’s Privateer ships, the St. George in 1756. It may have been this investment that caused his bankruptcy. The St. George was lost just prior to the advisement being placed.

Date of construction

The building could have dated from, or soon after, William Greenwood’s name is listed in connection with the plot in 1715.

When the advertisement was placed in 1757, a note at the bottom states that all the ten properties were then owned by Owen Pritchard and are ‘nearly new and in good repair’. Chadwick’s map of 1725 shows the completed block that faced the Old Dock with the Black Moor’s Head on the west corner, the buildings on the other side of Marshall’s lane are not complete. They were certainly there before 1723 when a report was commissioned to set the boundaries of the dock:-

…from the outward gates of the said dock on each side of the entrance into the dock and all along the quays and wharfs thereof at each end and on each side of the said dock containing 665 yards about as aforesaid as they are now bounded by the buildings fronting the said wharfs or quays which said wharfs or quays are in breadth on the north side from the outward gates to the east end or the uppermost part of the dock 15 yards

Customs Letter-Books of the Port of Liverpool 1711-1813, Manchester University Press, 1954

This gives us an approximate date of between 1715 and 1723 for the construction.

The home of a famous resident –
William Hutchinson

William Hutchinson (C. 1715 0 1801) Image: Credit

It appears that the building did not remain a public house house for long. In 1763 the building became the home and workplace of William Hutchinson who had lived in the smaller premises next door since 1756 (shown green below).

William Hutchinson’s houses: 1756 is shown green. 1863 to 1801 was the building previously known as the Black Moor’s Head. ©BygoneLiverpool

The street directory listings for William Hutchinson show him as living at 1, North Side Old Dock or near the Dock Gates.

Gores 1766 William Hutchinson, Dock Master, near Dock Gates
Gores 1777 William Hutchinson, Dock Master, 1, North side Old D. G.
Gores 1777 William Hutchinson Dock Master, 1 North side, Old D. G.
Gores 1781 William Hutchinson Dock Master, 1, North Side Old Dock
Gores 1790 Hutchinson William, master of the Old Dock, 1, Old Dock
Universal 1794 Captain William Hutchenson [sic], 1 Dock passage (this refers to Marshal’s Lane)

A brief biography
Hutchinson (c. 1715 – 1801) is one of Liverpool’s most famous residents. Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, he went to sea at a young age as a cabin boy. He was a Forecastle Man on East India ships in the 1730s sailing to China and Madras. In the early 1740s he served in the Royal Navy, by 1746 he was a Privateer in the employment of Fortunatus Wright. He took command of the West Indiaman Perl. Although he was a Privateer until 1758, he was also involved with the town’s affairs, in 1755 he was made Freeman of Liverpool:-

in consideration of his efforts for the better supplying the town with sea fish by fitting out well boats (or cod smacks)

Some Aspects of the Life of William Hutchinson,Philip L. Woodworth, 2006

At the time he moved into the house next door to the Black Moor’s Head he was Captain and part-owner of the privateer ship Liverpool during the first part of the Seven Years War (1756-63).

Dockmaster and privateer
On 7 February 1759 Hutchinson was given the dual role of Head Dock Master and Principal Water Baliff at the Old Dock, his residence was certainly the perfect location. Hutchinson took over the position of Dockmaster from Alderman Bird, the previous Water Bailiff was Spencer Steers (son of Thomas Steers- the engineer responsible for the construction of the Old Dock). But he hadn’t given up adventures at sea just yet, shortly after he was appointed Dock Master he narrowly escaped an attempt on his life:

(Hutchinson) survived through pistol misfire an attempted murder in 1759 (about 3 months after becoming Dockmaster) by seaman called Murphy from the New Anson privateer. Murphy was sentenced to Navy for life.

Some Aspects of the Life of William Hutchinson, Philip L. Woodworth, 2006

Inventor and author
Among Hutchinson’s inventions were parabolic reflecting mirrors and oil burners for lighthouses. His mirrors were were tested at Bidston in 1763. He initiated the building of lighthouses at Hoylake and Leosowe. He also improved on quick-fire priming mechanisms for large guns, and methods of scraping barnacles of ships’ hulls whilst at sea. In his book from 1777, Hutchinson even proposed a method to ventilate the hulls of slave ships by circulating air via stoves, this was not only the cause of disease but dangerous as the stoves were used in the confined space:

And as Guinea ships, whilst the slaves are on board, have their large close fire furnace standing nearly over their pump well; how easy might a short cop∣per pipe, of about four-inch bore, be made to go into an iron nozel in the side of the furnace, and the other end on to a lead or wooden pipe of near the same bore, that might be carried down into the pump well by various ways; and as they make their fires for cooking just after midnight, which is the time when all the slaves are below, and then ventilators are most wanted, it is known from experience in ships of war, were such pipes are used, that whilst the fire burne, by its rare∣faction, it will draw up and expel a constant flow of air from the pump…

A treatise on practical seamanship: … By William Hutchinson, mariner, and dock master, at Liverpool.

Measuring the tide
From 1764, the year he moved into the Black Moor’s Head building, Hutchinson began keeping meticulous records of tides, barometers, weather and wind. He would do this for almost 30 years – until 1793. The result is the earliest continuous set of tidal records in Britain. Not only did this make navigating the Mersey more efficient and safer, it also provides a valuable record for modern scientists to study the changes.

He measured the tide level from the Dock Gate, right outside his house:-

And as I live fronting and but fourteen yards from the dock gates above mentioned, which opens with the flood and shuts at high water, whilst I am able and willing would be glad of any directions, rules, or hints, that might improve observations on the tides, to make them more useful to seamen, pilots, mathematicians, astronomers, or philosophers.

A treatise on practical seamanship: … By William Hutchinson, mariner, and dock master, at Liverpool.

William Hutchinson died in 1801 and was buried in St. Thomas’ church, Park Lane. You can read about his grave here.

Hutchinson appears to have never married as his will mentions neither a wife or child (or if his wife had died before him and he had no children). His Will left £100 to his nephew Thomas Wassel (a mariner) and the remainder to his sister Mary Ward. Mary inherited the block of building from the corner Hutchinson lived. In 1808, after her death (and the last life of her lease expired) these were taken back by the corporation. In 1828 they were designated for improvements to the Old Dock buildings.

Further reading on William Hutchinson
A treatise on practical seamanship: … By William Hutchinson, mariner, and dock master, at Liverpool, 1777.
Wikipedia William Hutchinson (privateer)
Biography by Robert Edwards, Liverpool Picturebook
Some Aspects of the Life of William Hutchinson, Philip L. Woodworth, 2006
Archaeological report on St. Thomas; graveyard, Park lane, 2010


Both the Black Moor’s Head and the Bite of Benin would be the first things sailors saw when returning from a slaving voyage as they entered the Old Dock. With their first cargo of human beings left to a life of misery in the West Indies (if they had survived the middle passage), these were now replaced in the hull with rum, sugar and tobacco – made by people enslaved on earlier voyages.

With cannons firing and crowds cheering, the latest profits from human misery would now be celebrated in the town – from rowdy public houses like the Black Moor’s Head and the brothels of ‘Bite of Benin’ – to the merchant mansions and Town Hall.

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