Goree, Liverpool. Part Two: The Goree Piazza

This is the concluding part of our history of an area in Liverpool named after the 18th century slave-trading post of Gorée in Senegal. This deals with a famous range of warehouses known as Goree Piazza that were destroyed by fire in 1802, and rebuilt soon after.

Also, as generations of Liverpudlians were once convinced enslaved people were once kept chained to iron rings at Goree Piazza, we also examine Liverpool’s oral tradition of the slave trade. Often dispelled as urban myth, we examine how these stories originated, and if they have any basis in truth.

Please note: This work is a preview of a forthcoming book and all content is copyright of Bygone Liverpool.

George’s Dock and Goree Piazza, entitled ‘Goree Docks Liverpool’ [undated], David Cox. Image: Birminghammuseums.org.uk

A short recap of the previous Goree posts

In part one we shown how a short strip of shoreline known as the Goree Causeway had been earmarked for the building of warehouses since 1765. This was in front of an area known as the the Old Custom House Yard.

In another Goree-related post we detailed a small building on the the corner of Water Street called the Watch House. This was connected to Custom House at the Old Dock. From 1755 to 1764, the Tide Surveyor (inspector of ships) stationed there was John Newton. Newton had come to Liverpool in 1748 to captain slave ships, he would leave as an ordained minister, heading to Olney where he would meet William Cowper and write the world’s most famous hymn Amazing Grace.

What would become Goree Causeway is the central section on this close up a plan from 1750, shown in Part One. ©Athenaeum Library
A reconstruction of the Old Custom House Yard shown in Part One,
©Bygone Liverpool

The British had captured Gorée, Senegal from the French in December 1758. The Derby Mercury of 26th January 1759 reported:-

This island being in a Manner a Key to Senegal, its Preservation is of great Consequence for the Negro Trade

No doubt it was for this reason that the Corporation of Liverpool chose to commemorate the victory. But, although the name was relevant when first proposed, by the time the first of several plans for warehouses appeared on a map in 1765, Gorée had already been returned to the French (Treaty of Paris, February 1763). It later returned to British control between 1779 and 1783.

The history of Liverpool’s Goree Causeway began when the island was still in British hands. In 1761 an Act of Parliament (the date of 1762 is sometimes also given) was passed that transferred control over Liverpool’s dock to the town corporation, enabling it to expand. The shoreline between Water Street and Moor Street was chosen for the location of a new dock. Work must have began on the causeway almost immediately as it was reported that a hurricane in October 1762 blew down 30 yards of the new dock wall. This first wall was probably the east side of the dock, turning the old beach into the causeway and establishing an area of flat ground to continue work on the dock.

‘George’s Dock’ took 9 years to complete, once it opened in 1771, purpose-built buildings to store the ever-increasing goods were required. By the 1780s the first range of warehouses had been erected on the Old Custom House Yard but the Goree Piazza was still on the drawing board. This had to wait until Brunswick Street (planned since 1786) was opened by 1790. This cut through the old Custom House Yard and created a much needed alternative route from Castle Street to George’s Dock and the River Mersey.

New research into Goree Piazza

Surprisingly for such a famous structure, no comprehensive research has ever been undertaken on Goree Piazza before (or the wider Goree area for that matter). What has been written previously is often brief, ambiguous, and almost always incorrect as far as dates are concerned. Goree Piazza is often described as ‘late 18th century warehouses’ but this is barely correct – the building work on half of Goree Piazza only began in the last 4 years of the the 1700s, the remainder only dated to 1804. Our research into Goree Piazza is the result of over 5 years of painstakingly unravelling its history, by going back to original sources to separate fact from fiction, and in one case, reality from myth.

Past historians have given varying dates for its construction, some are out by 16 years. Our research discovered the exact date.

‘Goree Piazza’ confused with the earlier ‘Goree Warehouses’

There has been much confusion about the date when Goree Piazza was erected, and this had led to an oral tradition (since debunked) that enslaved people were once sold there (See Myth section). The cause for the dating errors appears to be historians incorrectly assuming that every appearance of the term ‘Goree Warehouses’ in old records relates to the Goree Piazza. In fact the Goree Piazza was only the final phase of warehouses built on the Goree Causeway.

Here is an example from 1869 – James Stonehouse in his ‘Streets of Liverpool’ mentions the ‘Goree Warehouses’ erected in 1780 and destroyed by fire in 1802. 1802 is the year as ‘Goree Piazza’ and several other warehouses were burnt down. But confusingly the 1780 date Stonehouse gives is actually for the warehouses behind Goree Piazza that were destroyed in the same fire. Stonehouse is correct, but his ambiguity is confusing.

The Goree warehouses, erected in 1780, were destroyed by fire in 1802.

In fact, before 1796, the term ‘Goree Warehouses’ related to those of James France, Baker & Dawson and a short-lived range of buildings that were hastily constructed around a fish market.

Note: The term ‘Goree Piazza’ only appears to have been used to refer to the rebuilt warehouses after 1802. To avoid confusion with the other ‘Goree Warehouses’ we refer to them as Goree Piazza from the outset.

Maps and art as dating evidence
For use as dating evidence, maps and contemporary illustrations are not always what they seem. Sometimes these works were commissioned to include proposed structures that never materialized. An example of this is John Eye’s plan of 1765 that shows proposals for both the warehouses on the Goree Causeway (Cawsey) and George’s Dock (Intended Dock). When finally built, neither would bear much resemblance to this plan. Note that Eye’s shows the warehouses as 7 individual blocks.

John Eye’s plan of Liverpool, 1765 showing a proposal for warehouses on the ‘Goree Cawsey’ (Causeway)

Timothy Lightoler makes the first plan of the Goree Piazza in 1765

John Eyes had based his plan on designs made by Timothy Lightoler who had been commissioned by the Corporation of Liverpool to produce a ‘Plan for the new Intended [George’s] Dock’. This rarely-seen plan, now fragile and in poor condition, shows the same 7 individual blocks that Eye’s would include on his plan. Interestingly, it also shows that the original proposal was to raise the entire warehousing off the ground with columns (16 for each block). This would make sense as the original purpose was to to store corn (Liverpool Guide, 1801). Two of the earliest investors were corn merchants (Gladstone and Corrie – see later in the post)

Timothy Lightoler’s 1765 designs for George’s Dock.

Lightholer was the architect of St Paul’s church in Liverpool with John Hope, completed in 1769. Lightholer also designed St John’s Church.

John Hope alters the plans

On the 6th July 1768, the Corporation appointed John Hope (1734 – 1808) to ‘copy and alter’ Lightholer’s plans for the warehouses ‘between Water Street and Moor Street end or thereabouts.’ Hope had been hired by the corporation in 1766 to make an ‘arched room’ in the Exchange to store charters, books and leases (see page 264 here).

John Hope was paid 12 guineas for the Goree Piazza plans, and instructed to arrange materials and ‘things appurtenant to them’. (Rise and Progress of Liverpool, James Touzeau). A committee was then formed to review the new plans.

1768, July 6. Charles Goore Mayor.

Ordered that John Hope be paid the sum of twelve guineas for copying and altering the drafts or plans of a set of warehouses intended to be built between Water Street and Moor Street end or thereabouts and for all materials and things appurtenant thereto or found thereon, or such further sum as the Committee shall see fitting.

Ordered that Mr Mayor and Bailiffs (with ten others) be appointed a Committee to take into consideration the plan of the said warehouses and Committee, carrying the said buildings into execution, and to report their proceedings to the Council as to the mode and terms of disposing of the said ground and building the said warehouses before any sale, contract, or agreement shall be entered into concerning the same.

Municipal Archives and Records, 1700 to 1835, Picton, 1886

A month later, two plans for a set of warehouses were on display at the Exchange (Town Hall). One would have been Hope’s, perhaps they also retained Lightholer’s design for comparison? The designs were planned to front the Key (Quay – proposed George’s Dock) and to back onto Goree Street (the causeway). Even though the corporation were seeking to purchase the land and to appoint contractors, work would not commence for another 3 decades.

Liverpool Chronicle, Thursday 25 August 1768. British Newspaper Archive

Just a month after the plans went on show this advertisement below for Samuel and John Hope appeared, it includes ‘N.B. buildings design’d, Executed, Survey’d or Measur’d, as usual’

Manchester Mercury – Tuesday 01 November 1768. British Newspaper Archive

The Samuel mentioned in the advertisement was John’s brother, they came from Millington in Cheshire, and were working in Liverpool from 1763. John Hope is listed in Gore’s directory from 1767 as an architect living in Prussia Street, Thomas Street in 1769, and St Paul’s Square in 1772 (number 17). St Paul’s Square was actually off Prussia Street, the shortest of commutes for his workplace at the church. The location of his house from 1772 is shown below:-

John Hope’s house from 1772, 17 St Paul’s Square. indictaed on Horwood’s plan of 1803. ©BygoneLiverpool

More information about John Hope can be seen below, taken from an outstanding paper on the history on St Paul’s church by Liverpool 1207 Blog. This shows that as well as designing St Paul’s with Lightholer, Hope also made additions to St Domingo House.

paper by The Liverpool Architectural and Archaeological Society from 1869/70. Image: Liverpool 1207

Both Hope and Lightholer were both buried in the church they designed, St Pauls.

Hope’s designs appear on George Perry’s plan

In 1769, George Perry published his ‘New and Accurate Plan of the Town and Port of Leverpool.’ This featured a completely different plan of the ‘New intended warehouses’. These must be the new design by John Hope.

A close up of George Perry’s ‘A New and Accurate PLAN of the Town and Port of LEVERPOOL’ of 1769. Map: British Library

The plans were discussed again by the committee on 7th January 1771 (page 263 here). In July the same year, Hope was advertising for ‘good journeyman masons’ that were wanted immediately. He also specified that ‘none need apply but good sober hands’. Likely with the intent of commencing work on Goree Piazza.

Manchester Mercury, 2nd July, 1771. British newspaper Archive

Below is a view of Liverpool in 1770 by M. A. Rooker (engraved by E. Rooker). It features Hope’s proposal for the Goree Piazza design – being identical to that shown on Perry’s plan. Indeed, the engraving has the following legend:-

Publish’d as the Act directs August the 20th. 1770. by George Perry of Leverpool.

As it was proposed almost two decades before Brunswick Street existed, the warehouse design is one continuous block. The central section of the building had a pediment surmounted with a cupola.

The section of Rooker’s view showing the proposed Goree Piazza.
“The South-East Prospect of LEVERPOOL, taken from Seacombe Boat-house.”
Image: British Library
Close up of the above. Image: British Library

Why call warehouses a piazza?

Although the term piazza is generally used to describe a square in a town, it can also be used for ‘an arcaded and roofed gallery’. The latter is an apt description for Goree Piazza, as each of it’s two sections featured walkways behind stone arches. Reminiscent (although less grand) of those at Covent Garden or Piazza San Marco.

George’s Dock and Goree Piazza in 1850. Joseph Appleyard, 1952. Image: Credit

The term piazza did not refer to the warehouses themselves, or to the space in front, but to the covered arcade that ran uninterrupted below them.

Inspired by a London building

John Hope’s inspiration for Goree Piazza came from a building in London, as a descendant of George Perry revealed in 1853:-

the Author has been informed by a member of the family of Mr. Perry, that he obtained for that purpose the elevations of the warehouses from London, from the architect employed respecting them. In his curious and accurate plan of Liverpool, of 1769, he calls them “new intended warehouses.”

Liverpool as it was during the last quarter of the eighteenth century, 1775 to 1800. Richard Brooke, 1853

The London building that inspired Hope is not known, but maybe it was the great Piazza at Covent Garden? Shown below is an architectural elevation from 1720 of St Paul’s Church and adjoining buildings with an arcade. Below it is an elevation of the buildings of Covent Garden market around the piazza.

On the North and East Sides are Rows of very good and large Houses, called the Piazzo’s, sustained by Stone Pillars, to support the Buildings. Under which are Walks, broad and convenient, paved with Freestone.

Description of Covent Garden in 1720. Strype’s 1720 edition of Stow’s Survey.

It is built with exact uniformity, on a rustic stone basement, which incloses to the front a fine flagged arcade…, very convenient as a promenade for the merchants in wet weather. This piazza is formed by alternate great and smalI arches.

Description of Goree Piazza in 1806 The Monthly Magazine, Volume 22, November 1806
Original hand coloured engraving by T Bowles title ‘ A view of Covent Garden London’ 1794. Image: Credit

The final design for Goree Piazza

Apart from retaining John Hope’s stone arches shown on Rooker’s view, the final design bore little resemblance to the early proposal. Instead of one long building with taller structures at each end and in the middle, it was a simpler and more regular design of two blocks.

The final Goree Piazza consisted of a range of two giant warehouses separated by Brunswick Street in the middle. The north section terminated at Water Street and the South at James Street. The view below shows Goree Piazza when it was rebuilt after the fire, but the design was almost identical to the original. George’s Dock is to the left and the spire of St Nicholas’ church can be seen in the background.

Goree Building Drawn by E. Westall. A.R.A. Engraved by Edwd. Finden, 1834. Image: Liverpool Record Office

You can read more about Rooker’s view in the Miscellaneous Notes section at the end of this post.

A fish market on the site of Goree Piazza

After Rooker’s imposing prospect of Goree Piazza it appears the plans were shelved soon after. Even 14 years after George’s Dock opened, the Goree Causeway had barely changed. A small fish market was the only structure on it.

The plan below of 1785 shows the Fish Market called the ‘Fish Stones’ on the Goree Causeway (coloured blue). Brunswick Street has not been laid out at this point.

Section of 1785 map: www.liverpoolpictorial.co.uk

Fish wives and Formby Trotters
James Stonehouse gives an excellent history of the Fish Stones from the 17th century (Although he’s a year out on the date of the fish market):-

At the bottom of Chapel street, adjoining the church-yard, in 1675, the fish market was held. It consisted of stalls, under arches. Adjoining were stables for the accomodation of the fishermen’s wives, who came to it from Formby on horses, ponies and asses. These women were called “Formby Trotters” -they came in strings of sixteen at a time. In 1756 the fish-stalls were destroyed by a mob in a riot amongst the fish people. In 1764 the fish stones were removed to the top of Redcross street ; in 1786 they were taken down to the Goree, near the end of Moor street; in 1822 to St. John’s Market, where they were located at the Roe street end; and to the Fish Market, erected specially for the trade, in 1837.

Streets of Liverpool, James Stonehouse. 1869

Stonehouse neglects to say that the Fish Stones were removed from Goree circa 1792 (see misc. Notes) to the top of Moor and James Streets. No doubt as part of the plans to finally begin to erect the Goree Piazza (don’t hold your breath).

James Wallace, writing in 1795, proves that even at that point the Goree Piazza plans appear to have been shelved again as a corn market was planned to be next to the Fish Market on the Goree Causeway:-

It is in contemplation to build a convenient and dry corn market on some part of St. George’s quay, contiguous to the fishmarket.

Read more about the Goree Fish Stones (including a newly discovered drawing) in Miscellaneous Notes.

The first warehouses on Goree Causeway

Baker & Dawson

The earliest known warehouse was situated on the corner of Back Goree and Water Street, and belonged to Baker & Dawson.

William Gawin Herdman drew a scene of of the shoreline at the foot of Water Street showing the Old Custom House (based on a view by Maxim Gauci shown below). Herdman wrote that the tall building to the left of the gateway into the Custom House Yard was ‘said to be the residence of John Dawson’. At the time of writing (1843) it was still standing and had become the ‘Londonderry Spirit Store’. In 1750 this warehouse building had belonged to Mr Knight.

Herdman made an error here, because Dawson’s warehouse was actually destroyed in the fire of 1802.

Maxim Gauci view of the shoreline at the foot of Water Street showing the Old Custom House Yard (1821). ©Athenaeum Library

Dawson’s building was actually next door to where Herdman had placed it. There were two warehouses owned by the company, these were next to a gigantic warehouse owned by James France on Back Goree with one being on the corner of Water Street (the latter was likely to have originally been Dawson’s home). They were on the site of the small corner building above (the Watch House) and the Old Custom House next to it.

Baker & Dawson achieved fame as a partnership between a shipwright and Privateer, but they were also slave merchants and owners. The wealth from a captured French East Indiaman ship named Carnatic in 1778 allowed them to focus on slaving ventures, making 100 voyages by the early 1790s. This reliance on the slave trade was to be their undoing:-

In 1786 Baker and Dawson had signed a contract with the Spanish government to supply slaves to Spanish America. Despite delivering more than 11,000 slaves with an estimated value in excess of £350,000, they over-reached themselves: Dawson was declared bankrupt with estimated debts of £500,000 during the credit crisis of 1793. Such eye-watering losses dwarfed the activities of minor players in the slave trade and demonstrated the risks of focusing too heavily on the slave trade alone.

Slavery and the British Country House, Edited by Madge Dresser and Andrew Hann. English Heritage

Burials of two Black men ‘of Baker & Dawson’ in the 1780s

Burial records of St John’s church that show their at least two people of African heritage died within a year of each other, both were ‘Of Mass, Baker & Dawson’. Whether these were enslaved is not clear, but the fact Baker & Dawson are listed instead of the deceased names, strongly suggests they were:-

A Black Man of Mess. Baker & Dawson.
Burial Date: 8 Jan 1788

A Black Man of Mess. Baker & Dawson.
Burial Date: 18 Feb 1789

The deaths of these two Black men occurred in the period of Baker & Dawson being the largest firm involved in the slave trade (between 1783 to 1792):-

The Liverpool firm of Peter Baker and John Dawson was the largest firm in the slave trade from 1783 to 1792. They had a contract with the Spanish government to supply slaves to Spanish colonies from 1785 to 1788. When the Spanish market was opened to all merchants in 1788, they remained the leading British slave trader to the Spanish Caribbean. Baker & Dawson used large slave ships to supply the Spanish colonial market and employed the same captains for this trade. William Sherwood was given command of Baker & Dawson’s Princess Royal (596) from 1786 to 1788, Brothers (325) in 1789, Garland (525) in 1790 and 1791, and Elliot (271) in 1792. Between 1785 and 1795 Joseph Fayrer sailed four voyages for Baker & Dawson, William Forbes and Joseph Withers each sailed five, and Thomas Molyneux commanded six.

THE CAPTAINS IN THE BRITISH SLAVE TRADE FROM 1785 to 1807, Stephen D. Behrendt. Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire

In 1788 John Dawson was one of the many slave merchants who contributed to a report ‘relating to Trade and Foreign Plantations’ that concerned the ‘present state of the Trade to Africa, and particularly the Trade in Slaves’. Dawson claimed that the higher mortality rate of enslaved people taken from the Bight of Benin region was due to them having more substantial food to eat than they were used to and ‘better and higher living’ on board the slave ships:-

That the greater Mortality among Slaves brought from the Bight, is to be attributed to the different Way of living, being Fed at Home upon Yams, and other washy and low diet, and their country being low and swampy. – When they are on Board, the better and higher Living they have there, produces Fevers, that frequently terminate in Fluxes, which carry them off’.

Evidence given by John Dawson, Reports of the Lords of the Committee of Council appointed for the …, Volume 2, 1789
Evidence given by John Dawson, Reports of the Lords of the Committee of Council appointed for the …, Volume 2, 1789

Read more about Baker and Dawson in Miscellaneous Notes.

James France’s 14 storey warehouse

In August 1791, the Corporation conveyed a plot of land on Goree Causeway to a merchant dealing in slave goods from the West Indies named James France (see Act of Parliament). Soon after, work commenced on a range of giant warehouses (14 storeys including two basements). At this point France’s warehouse had a clear view of George’s Dock, and the Mersey beyond with no other buildings in front of them.

Our House (business) then occupied one of a large pile of warehouses, which the late Mr. France had built upon the Goree, besides rooms in others of them, in which, during that winter, we held not less than 1,500 hhds. of sugar, besides rum and other articles of West India produce.

Autobiographical Memoirs of Thomas Fletcher- Of Liverpool (Obit 1850). 1843

To give some idea of the immense height of France’s warehouse we have made the comparison below to Parr’s warehouse on Parr Street.

A diagram showing the approxiamte height of James France’s warehouse on Back Goree, compared to Parr’s warehouse on Parr Street. France’s building was 14 storeys high including two basements. ©BygoneLiverpool.
Photograph credit: Grade II listed house on the corner of Parr Street and Colquitt Street, built c. 1799 for Thomas Parr; listed as part of the Liverpool Royal Institution. Parr’s warehouse can be seen to the left down Parr Street. Rodhullandemu under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Wikipedia

The Liverpool guide of 1801 (the year before the fire that destroyed them) made the highly unlikely claim that France’s warehouses were:-

so high, that they may be viewed with surprise by a native of Edinburgh.

The Liverpool Guide of 1801
James France (one of Liverpool’s merchants who were both slave merchant and church builder) pointing to the Octagon Chapel on Paradise Street, of which he was a benefactor. Image: Liverpool Record Office.

Like many merchants involved with the slave trade, France was a benefactor for the building of schools and churches. In his case the Paradise Street Chapel, also known as the Octagon Chapel due to it’s design. France can be seen pointing to the chapel in the painting above. France was in partnership with his nephew Thomas Hayhurst (France & Nephew) who following the terms of his will, took France’s name on his death. With the money he inherited and under instruction to invest in property, Thomas France purchased the Bostock Hall estate in Cheshire.

The France family were also in partnership with Thomas Fletcher of Gateacre. At the age of 16, Fletcher (the son of a hatter) was apprenticed to France on the recommendation of Rev. John Yates, the minister at Key Street Chapel. Thomas Fletcher later obtained a share in the firm with money loaned in part from a fellow Unitarian, Matthew Nicholson.

James died on 21st July, 1795, just one year after his warehouse was finished.

Thomas Fletcher not only traded in goods made by enslaved people, he was also a slave-owner with plantations in Jamaica with Joseph Brookes Yates. When slave-ownership was abolished in Britain’s colonies in 1833, Fletcher and his partners received a share of £14,735 in compensation from the British Government for their 715 slaves (worth approximately £2 million today):

Compensation awarded to Thomas Fletcher for the loss of his slaves

Jamaica Clarendon 278 (Richmond Park)
96 Enslaved = £1,846 8s 0d.

Jamaica St Thomas-in-the-East, Surrey 299 (Mount Pelier (sic) Estate) 156 Enslaved = £2,948 9s 1d

Jamaica St Thomas-in-the-East, Surrey 300 (Mount Ephraim) 142 Enslaved = £2,912 11s 6d

Jamaica Vere 65 (Caswell Hill)
321 Enslaved = £7,029 16s 1d

Information: www.ucl.ac.uk
The warehouses that were erected on the site of the Old Custom House can be seen in this section from a view by John Thomas Serres (1759-1825) that was drawn in February 1798. The Goree Piazza do not appear on the illustration and would still not be completed in 1802. France’s warehouse can be seen to the right of the church and has a giant weather vane in the shape of a ship.

Construction of Goree Piazza finally began in 1796

It is highly likely that the reason the work on Goree Causeway was delayed for three decades was to wait for Brunswick Street to be finally laid out, this happened by 1790. Without that street, these new warehouses would effectively block the entire east side of George’s Dock, all goods for loading and unloading would have to be carted along a narrow strip of land left and right, creating mayhem of the dockside.

Once Brunswick Street was open, a central access was available to allow goods to be taken easily to and from Castle Street. Even so, work still did not commence on the Goree Piazza for 6 years after the street was constructed.

Brunswick Street appeared for the first time on John Gore’s plan in 1790 (section shown below). A range of short-lived and irregular-shaped buildings had also been erected around the fish market (coloured pink). The green area is where the first stage of Goree Piazza would soon commence.

John Gore’s 1790 plan of Liverpool. Base map: British Library

Six years later John Gore’s new plan included the Goree Piazza completed. Although this plan is described as ‘From An Actual Survey Made in the Year 1796’, that is not the case with Goree Piazza as the work was only about to commence. It is likely that only the site was cleared at this point.

James Wallace does not mention them in his his description of the town in 1796.

John Gore’s 1796 plan of Liverpool. Image: Yo! Liverpool

One of the short-lived warehouses prior to Goree Piazza

In 1795 Dennis Sullivan was operating his Liverpool Vinegar Manufactory from 2, Goree. Interestingly, his advertisement is a perfect example of how the slave trade seeped into every area of business, even something as seemingly innocent as vinegar – a note at the bottom announces that ‘Merchants may be supplied with vinegar for the African trade at the shortest notice’.

Chester Courant – Tuesday 22 September 1795. British Newspaper Archive

But by August 1796, Sullivan has moved to 11 Old Hall Street. Perhaps this is the date of the Goree Causeway being cleared?

Chester Courant – Tuesday 22 September 1795. British Newspaper Archive

1797 and still no Goree Piazza…

This close up of a view by Thomas Serres drawn in May 1797 shows France’s warehouse (with the weather vane) and in front are the sails of ships in George’s Dock. Importantly there is no Goree Piazza between the dock and France’s warehouse. This proves that no part of Goree Piazza had finished by that time. It is possibly the foundations were in place at this time.

A detail of an etching that was based on another painting by John Thomas Serres from May 1797.
To the right can be seen the warehouse of James France with its unmistakable weather vane in the shape of a ship. More evidence that Goree Piazza were nowhere near completion by this date as work had only just commenced. Image: British Library.

…and only half completed by 1802!

Work on the Goree Piazza was painfully slow – with just over half of the warehouses completed before being destroyed by fire in 1802.

At the time of the fire only the north section was complete and just 1/4 of the south section. The engraving below shows all of the original warehouses before a fire that destroyed them in 1802 (from Thomas Troughton’s history of Liverpool, 1810).

At first glance, this view below appears to show the completed Goree Piazza and the artist has cropped the view from the right. But look again! The arched ground floor extends beyond the upper storeys. The north section of Goree Piazza on the left is completed, but not the south section. This is because the ground floor stone arches of both north and south piazza were erected first, then the brick warehouses on top were added, starting from Water Street. Behind them is the massive warehouse of James France.

Goree Piazza before the fire in 1802. The north section of Goree Piazza on the left is completed but not the south section. Behind them is the 14 storey warehouse of James France. Image: Troughton’s History of Liverpool, 1810

At the time of the conflagration, the stone basement of the whole of that large and beautiful range that fronts to George’s Dock, had been erected, but the super-in-cumbent warehouses had only been built on that division which reaches from the bottom of Brunswick-street to Water-street, and on about one-fourth part of the other division. The whole part of this, except the small part last mentioned, was entirely demolished.

The Monthly Magazine, Volume 22, November 1806

Richard Horwood’s plan of Liverpool was published on 1st 1803. His depiction of the Goree shows the area immediately after the fire. He still included the Goree Piazza but It clearly shows that only 5/8 of the warehouses were completed at the time. (the whole block on top of the word Goree and a small section to the right of Brunswick Street)

Shown below is the same plan but we have added the very first residents, based on when each company took on the lease. All the occupants who took leases at Goree Piazza were still at their original addresses in Gore’s directory of 1796. This indicates that the buildings were not open until towards the end of that year

Diagram showing the earliest residents of Goree Piazza and Back Goree. Image: Copyright of Bygone Liverpool.

Back Goree
1. Baker & Dawson, 1780s
2. James France, 1790
3. James France, 1794
Goree Piazza
4. John Gladstone, Corn, cotton, Insurance, and slave owner, 1796
5. Dawson & Cumming, (possibly John Dawson) 1796
6. J. T. & W Hornby, Linen manufacturers, 1796
7. John Gregson, Banker, and receiver General, Mayor 1784, 1796
8. J & W Hope, 1796
9. Henry Carson, 1796
10. Bancroft & Lorimer, Sugar Dealers, 1796
11. Thomas & William Earle, (T & W Earle & Co) Slave merchants, 1796
12 & 13. Edgar Corrie, Corn merchant (Corrie, Gladstone & Bradshaw), Associate of John Gladstone, 1798

John Gladstone and Edgar Corrie

The leases of (Sir) John Gladstone and Edgar Corrie were on different sides of the piazzas. Gladstone had the end warehouse of the north piazza closest to Water Street. Corrie’s two warehouses were the only ones on the south piazza that were erected by the time of the fire. Although business partners, they were also on different sides with their views on the slave trade.

Photograph of Sir John Gladstone, father of William Gladstone. Image: Wikipedia

Goree Piazza was not their first business address in the area, Gladstone and Corrie took out insurance on the Goree in 1791. Gladstone invested over £1,600 into the Goree warehouse scheme, and was central to the rebuilding project after the fire.

John Gladstone was the father of William Ewart Gladstone, the future Prime Minister. Gladstone (originally Gladstones) moved from Scotland to Liverpool to become a partner of Edgar Corrie in his business importing corn from the United States (Corrie, Gladstone & Bradshaw). Gladstone also traded in sugar from the West Indies, and cotton from Brazil.

There is no evidence whatsover of John Gladstone taking any part in the slave trade.

The Gladstones: A Family Biography 1764-1851, S. G. Checkland, Cambridge University Press, 30 Sept 1971

So confidently did S. G. Checkland state in the 1971 book The Gladstones: A Family Biography 1764-1851.

Actually, Gladstone was a slave owner, with large sugar plantations in Jamaica and Demerara, and Chairman of the West India Association. By 1833, he had become one of the largest slave owners in the British West Indies.

In 1901 Robert Gladstone Junior felt compelled to write to the St. James Gazette to defend his ancestor from accusations that he was a slave merchant. Robert attempted to make a moral distinction between John Gladstone’s ‘slave-owning’ from that of ‘slave-trading’. He asserted that the ‘planters and the slave-traders were quite distinct bodies of men’. He suggested that accusing John Gladstone of being a slave merchant was akin to ‘a landowner being connected to or engaged with the iron trade because his agent from time to time bought wire fencing for the estate’.

The newspaper was having none of it, their response was that it was the planters who created the demand for slaves in the first place. Gladstone must have been sorry he wrote the letter.

St James’s Gazette 22 October 1901. British Newspaper Archive

Gladstone actually was a slave-trader
As for his excuse of John Gladstone not trading slaves, this was also false, John Gladstone was also the owner of at least one slave ship, The Kingsmill in 1803. That ship took 439 enslaved people from Bonny, Africa to the Bahamas. 44 people died during the journey. (thanks to Laurence Westgaph for the information on the Kingsmill)

Gladstone was a public defender of the slave trade, in contrast Edgar Corrie came to have abolitionist views. Corrie wrote two enclosures on the African slave trade to Lord Hawkesbury. In fear of his views damaging his business in Liverpool he asked for anonymity, only William Pitt the younger was allowed to know his identity.

Edgar Corrie, a prosperous corn merchant who wrote to Lord Hawkesbury in February 1788 making a long attack on the conduct of the slave trade in Liverpool, asked that his name should be concealed from all except Pitt since it would cause him ‘irreparable prejudice’ in the town if his letter became known. Hawkesbury respected his wishes and included the letter in the evidence before the Privy Council under the pseudonym ‘ W.I.’

The Liverpool Abolitionists, F. E. Sanderson, Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire

Corrie’s and Gladstone’s views on slavery were so completely different that it’s hard to imagine how they remained in business together. But in 1801 the company of Corrie, Gladstone & Bradshaw was finally dissolved.

Edgar Corrie (1748-1819) Brewer and grain merchant, John Smart. Image: National Galleries Scotland

A failed plan for another piazza

A special meeting held on the 22nd March 1798 shows that the Dock Board were contemplating another arcaded warehouse to be erected by Salthouse Dock (the Saltworks of John Blackburne were relocated in 1766):-

At a special meeting of the Dock Committee, the plan being reconsidered, it was resolved unanimously that the said plan be finally fixed upon and reported to the Council.
“The above mentioned plan having annexed to it an arcade to the front of four yards wide, forming a most important part of the design, in as much as the safety and convenience of persons employed in transacting their business there are more effectually secured, it is unanimously resolved that the said arcade be provided as explained upon the plan and that the front part be immediately erected at the expence of the Docks.

Municipal Archives and Records, 1700 to 1835, Picton, 1886 (pages 231-232)

Goree Piazza destroyed by fire in 1802

A devastating fire destroyed the buildings on Tuesday 14th September 1802 – this started in the warehouse of France, Poole & Fletcher and spread to the Goree Piazza in front.

In total, 17 warehouses were destroyed. The completed north piazza comprised of nine separate warehouses, a further six belonged to France and two to Dawson on Back Goree.

The solemn grandeur! the majestic horror, of the scene, no tongue, pencil can describe.

Through great part of the immense crowd that assembled, scarcely a whisper disturbed the awful stillness that prevailed ; and without an effort to resist the devouring evil, it was left for a while, to act its dreadful part alone, every eye being fixed on the tremendous spectacle, and every countenance marked with emotions of profound astonishment, or of silent despair.

Lancaster Gazette – Saturday 18 September 1802
Image: Liverpool Record Office

The height of France’s warehouse, combined with the direction of the wind prevented the fire from reaching further into the town. The view above clearly show the flames spreading towards the Mersey and not the town. At the bottom of Water Street (on the left) can be seen a man hopelessly attempting to quell the inferno with a small fire extinguisher pump.

Many of these warehouses had been storing highly inflammable goods from the West Indies – cotton, sugar, and rum. ‘A snuff of a candle among shavings in a porter-vault’ was blamed as the cause. Vast quantities of corn and tallow flakes were also held, the latter melted and became molten oil pouring down the sides of the building.

The Chester Chronicle on 17th September reported that flames of the fire were so high that residents of Chester could see them from the Walls and believed them to be much closer than they were. The same paper reported that the damage was likely to be between £700,000 and £800,000. It was actually closer to £1million (worth approximately a staggering £104 million today). George’s Dock was at flood which enabled the ships docked in front of the warehouses to be moved to the other side of the dock.

The scene was later described by Thomas De Quincey in his ‘Note book of an English opium-eater’ of 1855. De Quincey had visited Liverpool in 1801 and 1803 but appears to have been in London at the time of the fire.

Some few years before this event (fire at Drury Lane theatre in London), a prodigious fire occurred at Liverpool ; the Goree, a vast pile of warehouses close to one of the docks, was burned to the ground. The huge edifice, eight or nine stories high, and laden with most combustible goods, many thousand bales of cotton, wheat and oats in thousands of quarters, tar, turpentine, rum, gunpowder, &c., continued through many hours of darkness to feed this tremendous fire.

To aggravate the calamity, it blew a regular gale of wind ; luckily for the shipping, it blew inland, that is, to the east ; and all the way down to Warrington, eighteen miles distant to the eastward, the whole air was illuminated by flakes of cotton, often saturated with rum, and by what seemed absolute worlds of blazing sparks, that lighted up all the upper chambers of the air. All the cattle lying abroad in the fields through a breadth of eighteen miles, were thrown into terror and agitation. Men, of course, read in this hurrying overhead of scintillating and blazing vortices, the annunciation of some gigantic calamity going on in Liverpool ; and the lamentation on that account was universal. But that mood of public sympathy did not at all interfere to suppress or even to check the momentary bursts of rapturous admiration, as this arrowy sleet of many-colored fire rode on the wings of hurricane, alternately through open depths of air, or through dark clouds overhead.

The note book of an English opium-eater, Thomas De Quincey, 1855

Thomas Fletcher, a business partner in the company France & Nephew, also described the scene in his memoir:-

Hearing a rushing noise, I said, “The wind seems rising,” which effect I afterwards learned was owing to the violence of the flames creating a partial current in the air, by which some of the burnt com, of which the warehouses contained a. great deal, was scattered almost as far as Prescot. In the morning early I got up and walked down to the Goree, where a scene of extraordinary desolation presented itself; a whole street of fine warehouses reduced to a heap of smoking ruins.

Such was the heat when the pile belonging to Mr. France was fairly ignited, that nothing whatever could be done to stop the progress of the flames i nobody, indeed, could stay in the street, and though the wind, which was from the westward, carried the flames in the other direction, the warehouses opposite caught fire from the radiant heat alone. The ships in George’s Dock were in some danger, but were got out of the way as much as possible, and fortunately escaped ; nor did the fire communicate to the town, though the wind carried the flames that way; but the warehouses being lofty, and above the houses in Drury Lane, the next street, and having few apertures on that side, the flames passed over. It was by far the most destructive fire that ever occurred in Liverpool before; but we have had some very bad ones since – one or two, perhaps, equally so.

Autobiographical Memoirs of Thomas Fletcher- Of Liverpool (Obit 1850). 1843

It was reported at the time that miraculously no-one had died. This was not the case, a Mr Phillips was rushed to hospital with no sense of recover after a whole wall fell on him on Brunswick Street. This report below says he died within a few hours. Also, at least one man was killed while pulling down the high walls of France’s warehouse.

On Saturday, morning past, part of the ruins of the late dreadful fire on Goree, Liverpool, fell on Mr. Phillips, (in the employ of Mr. Foster) and he was so-dreadfully crushed that be died in few hours.

Lancaster Gazette – Saturday 25 September 1802

This was not the only fire to occur in Liverpool warehouses, and specifically in the Goree area, in fact they were common. This one below, in 1846, caused a warehouse on Back Goree to collapse:-

“Great fire at Liverpool’, a warehouse on Back Goree collapse. 1846

Read more about the 1802 fire, and the remarkable good fortune of Thomas Fletcher in Miscellaneous Notes.

The aftermath

This rare image below, from the Liverpool Record Office, shows the devastation caused by the fire. To our knowledge, this watercolour has never been published before. The North section of the Goree Piazza has been reduced to smouldering rubble. France’s warehouse behind the Piazza (the source of the fire) is completely destroyed. A white cloud of smoke marks the site of his giant warehouse. Behind the column of grey smoke can be seen the dome of the Town Hall. The buildings on the corner of Water Street and Drury Lane (Commercial Buildings) were undamaged, they were saved by the thick party-wall of Dawson’s warehouse. It is likely that the uncompleted south section of Goree Piazza also survived the fire (see later in this post).

Image: Liverpool Record Office

Ink from burnt corn

Faced with a massive financial loss, estimated at the time as £1m, one enterprising Liverpool merchant saw an opportunity in the face of adversity. Mathew Gregson took the burnt corn from the fire and turned it into ink!

Image: Liverpool Record Office

The warehouses are rebuilt

Goree Building Drawn by E. Westall. A.R.A. Engraved by Edwd. Finden LRO 1834. Image: Liverpool Record Office

Rebuilding the warehouses on the Goree took almost exactly four years as it was reported in the Monthly Magazine in November 1806. This not only included the Goree Piazza, but the buildings on Back Goree where France’s and Dawsons’ warehouses had stood.

The enormous piles which have been lately erected on the West India and Wapping Docks, in London, are indeed vastly superior in size and extent, but in beauty and convenience they are not to be compared.

The new row on the Goree is, including the two divisions, in length nearly two hundred yards, of a proportionable depth, and in height fix stories, exclusive of the cellar, and garrets: It is built with exact uniformity, on a rustic stone basement, which incloses to the front a fine flagged arcade of thirteen feet in width, very convenient as a promenade for the mer­chants in wet weather. This piazza is formed by alternate great and smalI arches, the former ten feet nine inches in breadth; the latter five feet eight inches. This intermixture has a pleasing appearance to the eye, and detracts much from the heaviness of that spe­cies of architecture. The whole pile has the convenience of being open to a wide pave­ment both in front and rear; and the front rooms of the lower story are used as counting houses by the merchants who occupy the warehouses.

The noble range of buildings belonging tn Mr. France, Mr. Dawson, and others, which stood behind the pile just described, was also entirely consumed, and the whole: of this ground, except a few yards, are likewise been completely rebuilt. The new buildings, it is true, do not reach the enor­mous elevation which in the old was so much admired, but this deficiency may justly be reckoned an improvement. The extreme height of the former warehouses was not only beyond the bounds of just proportion, but occasioned a variety of inconveniences; and particularly rendered the danger and mischiefs of a fire much more alarming and imminent.

On the whole, these buildings may justly be considered as a most extraordinary monument of the opulence and enterprize of the town of Liverpool, and entitled to the highest attention both as a public ornament, and as a commercial establishment.

The Monthly Magazine, Volume 22, November 1806

Gage’s map from 1836 (below) shows the completed Goree Piazza. On the other side of Back Goree are the new, smaller warehouses that replaced those of France’s and Dawson’s.

Gage’s map of Liverpool, 1836. Map: Historic Liverpool
Goree Piazza C. 1910 Photo by C. R. Bailey. Image: Liverpool Record Office
Traffic at the Pier Head City Engineers Department 23 September 1919. Image: Liverpool Record Office
Goree Piazza facing the Strand. The Liver Building and Liverpool Overhead Railway can be seen on the left. Image: Liverpool Record Office
THe James Street end of Goree Piazza, viewed from under the Overhead Railway. Image: Credit

Did the basements of the original Goree Piazza survive the fire?

The Monthly Magazine also mentioned the ‘alternate great and smalI arches’ of the new Goree Piazza warehouses. But these look identical to the originals. Compare the illustration depicting them in 1802 to photographs from the early 20th century:-

The original Goree Piaza has identical arches.
Photograph: Liverpool Record Office

The front has, given way, except some large stone arches, which, formed its basis ; these, as the buildings have fallen are mutilated, and appear above the heaps of rubbish… a perfect picture.

Saint James’s Chronicle – Saturday 18 September 1802

A close inspection of the basement of the rebuilt piazza shows that the original arches of some of the north piazza and likely all of the south piazza have survived the fire. The left-hand side stone is rendered differently to the right. To blend the two sides together the entire surface has been painted – including the drainpipe!

Photograph: Liverpool Record Office

The differently treated stonework is also evident on this very early photograph, probably from the 1860s. Look how the light coloured stone is smooth on the left corner but rough below the second window.

Strange marks in the stone work

Close up of a photograph of the Goree Piazza showing the strange design. Liverpool Record Office

The stone arches featured very unusual design carved into them, you can read more about these in the Miscellaneous Notes section at the end of this post.

Famous residents

Washington Irving (supposedly)

Portrait of Washington Irving by John Wesley Jarvis from 1809. Image: Wikipedia

It has been said that the American writer and diplomat Washington Irving had an office at number 1 Goree Piazza for several years. This story appears to have originated from James Picton in his Memorials of Liverpool. It later made its way into Baedeker’s ‘Handbook for travellers of 1898 and stayed in there until, at the very least, 1910:-

The dark recesses of the Goree Arcades were for a time irradiated by the genius of Washington Irving, who about the year 1817 entered into connection with a mercantile house at No.1. A more uncongenial employment for the gentle refined Geoffery Crayon could hardly have been found. He had already published his “Knickerbocker’s History” and other pieces, and had acquired considerable literary distinction, when in an evil hour he was induced to join his elder brother and other relatives as a merchant in Liverpool. The times were unpropitious, and a collapse soon took place. The shock was too great for the nervous susceptibilities of Irving, and his mind fell into a stupor, from which it seemed impossible to rouse him. He was removed to Birmingham to the house of his brother-in-law Henry Van Wart, where he was tended with the utmost care and affection. For a long time every effort proved ineffectual. At length Mr. Van Wart, who had been brought up with him from childhood, tried the plan of calling up recollections of their early days amongst the uplands of the Hudson, and the quaint legends of the Dutch colonists in the Sleepy Hollow. Here a chord was struck which vibrated keenly to his memory of the past, and brought a smile to his countenance. He retired to his room, took up his pen, wrote all through the night, and the next morning at breakfast produced the greater part of his inimitable Rip Van Winkle, which subsequently expanded into the world-renowned Sketch Book.

Memorials of Liverpool, J. A. Picton, 1875

Is this another Goree Piazza myth?
We have added ‘supposedly’ because were unable to discover where Picton got this information from. In 1815, Irving moved to Liverpool to look after the failing business of his brothers Peter and Ebenezer that Washington had a 1/5 share in named P. & E. Irving & Co.. Peter had been previously been in business with Nathaniel Paulding in New York company under the name Paulding & Irving, that company was dissolved in 1811. The three Irving brothers then formed the business together, with Ebenezer in New York (No. 135 Pearl Street) and Peter in Liverpool. Soon Peter Irving suffered ill health and his principal clerk had died.

He remained at Liverpool for some time, examining the affairs of “P. & E. Irving & Co.,” which had fallen into confusion on account of the sickness of his brother and the death of his principal clerk, mastering details, and learning book-keeping, in order to straighten out their books. The business of the Irving brothers ended in failure, owing to a variety of causes, which there is no occasion to specify now, and the literary member of the firm turned his attention again to the only business for which he was really fitted.

Life and works of Washington Irving by Washington Irving, 1880

At the time the Irvings were supposed to be at 1, Goree Piazza it was actually occupied by the shipping merchant Silas Richards (who’s business Washington Irving mentions in letters).

Liverpool Mercury – Friday 19 September 1817. British Newspaper Archive

Washington Irving didn’t approve of of his workplace in Liverpool he referred to it in a letter as ‘the loathed Liverpool office’.

Water Street and James Street, not Goree Piazza
Two years before Washington Irving came here, Peter is listed as Peter Irving & Co., Counting House, 14 Water Street in the Gore’s directory of 1814. In Gore’s 1816 (the last entry and while Washington was still here) it’s 23 James Street. This is backed up by a 1978 book of Washington Irving’s letters that states his office was only near Goree Piazza:-

Apart from occasional visits to Birmingham and London and an excursion or two into the English and Welsh countryside, Irving spent the next two years in the little office in James Street near Goree Wharf, trying to breathe life into the faltering business.

Letters by Washington Irving, Aderman, Ralph M; Kleinfield, H. L; Banks, Jenifer S, 1978

The bottom of James Street was indeed near the south Goree Piazza, but Number 1 Goree was at other end of the north Goree Piazza, at the bottom of Water Street.

Washington Irving’s bankruptcy hearing at the Kings Arms, Water Street
Washington Irving, along with the company, finally became bankrupt in 1818. The hearing was held at the King’s Arms in Water Street.

London Gazette, 31 January 1818

By the summer of that year, Irving moved to London to resume his writing career.

Can you prove Washington Irving had an office at Goree Piazza?
If you have any information that proves Irving did indeed work at Goree Piazza, please leave a comment or email us at Bygoneliverpool@gmail.com, and we’ll be happy to update this post with a credit.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Portrait of Nathaniel Hawthorne by Charles Osgood, 1841 (Peabody Essex Museum). Image: Wikipedia

Liverpool had an American Consulate from as early as 1790. The first person to have the post of Consul in Liverpool was James Maury (up to 1829). During Maury’s tenure the consulate building was at Paradise Street. A replica of a huge Golden Eagle that used to be on this building was erected during the Liverpool One development. The original is in the museum of Liverpool. Although this was originally thought to have belonged to the consulate, new research suggests otherwise.

A notable person to hold this role was Nathaniel Hawthorne who was appointed in 1853. By Hawthorne’s time the consulate offices were at Goree Piazza. Hawthorne’s wife described Liverpool as “second in dignity to the Embassy in London.” Hawthorne didn’t agree:-

One of Maury’s successors was Nathaniel Hawthorne, US Consul in Liverpool and author of books such as The Scarlet Letter and Tanglewood Tales. Hawthorne hated Liverpool: ‘what with brutal ships’ masters, drunken sailors, vagrant Yankees, mad people, sick people and dead people’. Not a sociable man: in four years ‘I have received and been civil to at least 10,000 visitors … and I never wish to be civil to anybody again.’ Still, there were compensations. One of the consul’s jobs was to certify invoices for exports: at $2 per autograph, and up to 25 invoices a day, it was significant extra income for the poor man.

The Atlantic, G,S. Hillard, September 1870

Hawthorne’s office in Liverpool was in Washington Buildings, Goree Piazza

The Consulate of the United States, in my day, was located in Washington Buildings (a shabby and smoke-stained edifice of four stories high, thus illustriously named in honor of our national establishment), at the lower corner of Brunswick Street, contiguous to the Goree Arcade, and in the neighborhood of one of the oldest docks. This was by no means a polite or elegant portion of England’s great commercial city, nor were the apartments of the American official so splendid as to indicate the assumption of much consular pomp on his part.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, Our Old Home, via liverpoolmiscellany.blogspot.com
The Goree Piazza at Junction with Brunswick Street showing The Strand at the left of the picture 1928-9.
The sign for Washington Buildings, where Hawthorne had his office, can be seen on Brunswick Street side. Image: Liverpool Record Office

For a wealth of information, and fascinating (often funny) insights into Hawthorne’s time at Liverpool, we heartily recommend the blogs by Phil Oates on liverpoolmiscellany.blogspot.com.


After London, Liverpool was most bombed city in England during the Second World War. The extent of the damage was suppressed at the time to prevent the Germans knowing the effectiveness of their raids, but also for propaganda – the British people knew that the food, and weapons from America, came through Liverpool. Because of this, until relatively recently, the lists of towns and cities bombed that appeared in many history books either named Liverpool near the bottom and sometimes not at all.

This ‘Heat map’ below represents the number of bombs dropped during the war (purple shows the most intense levels of bombing while the red indicates there were numerous attacks in that area):

Image: The map can be found at warstateandsociety.com via Daily Mail

The Germans stated that the attack on Liverpool and the surrounding area (between 31 March until 13 April 1941) was one of the heaviest ever made by their air force on Britain. Several hundred bombers had been used, visibility was good and docks and industrial works, storehouses and business centres, had been hit. In addition to many smaller fires, one conflagration, it was claimed, was greater than any hitherto observed during a night attack.

The Times, via Liverpool Blitz

At the peak of the ‘May Blitz’ of 1941, the number of bombs that were dropped on Liverpool is staggering:-

During the Blitz in May 1941, 681 planes dropped 870 tonnes of high explosives and more than 112,000 firebombs on Liverpool.

Liverpool and the May Blitz of 1941. www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk

Liverpool played such an important role during the Battle of the Atlantic that the Admiralty’s headquarters, Western Approaches, was moved from Plymouth to Liverpool in February 1941.

Although we are discussing buildings here, it must be remembered that around 4,000 people in Merseyside alone lost their lives due to bombing between August 1940 and 10 January 1942.

Shown below is section of a chilling map used by the Nazi German Supreme Command to pinpoint stategic targets in Liverpool for bombing by the Luftwaffe. Goree Piazza can be seen to the left of the telephone 73 (listed in the German key as ‘Telefonzeentrale, India Buildings, Water Street’). The areas outlined in red (also violet but not included here) show targets of military importance. The key to symbols shown is very specific they represent: Anchor- Port facilities, transshipment dock’, Train – Railway workshops station facilities, Purple boat – Dry dock shipyard.

Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) (Nazi German Supreme Command of the Armed Forces).
Full map: www.davidrumsey.com via Liverpool 1207 Old Maps of Liverpool

In 1945 the Liverpool Daily Post ran a series of photographs showing the damage caused by the bombing, this was entitled ‘Bombers over Liverpool’, the image below shows the devastation caused in just one area. You can view all of the series on the Liverpool 1207 Blog.

‘Hitler passed over this city’ Tuesday 08 May 1945, Liverpool Daily Post. British Newspaper Archive via Liverpool 1207

Goree Piazza survived the Luftwaffe’s Blitz, but it did receive some damage (although possibly not as much as what has been assumed). Here is an aerial photograph from 11th June 1941, the south piazza looks relatively unscathed, but part of the roof of the north piazza is missing nearest Brunswick Street. Of course there could be more significant structural dame that is not visible.

Close up of an aerial photograph taken on 11th June 1941. The block in front of the Cunard Building has damage to its roof. Image: Imperial War Museum

This photograph from 1947 show that part of the north piazza which lost several of its top floors. The south piazza seems to have incurred far less damage:-

Goree Piazza in 1947. Image: LRO via Yo! Liverpool

Below is a photograph from 1944 showing that it was still open for business. This makes any severe damage from the Blitz far less likely.

Liverpool Evening Express – Monday 02 October 1944. Image: BNA

Some damage is evident on this photograph below from 1946, but certainly not enough to warrant demolition. As was often the case with buildings in Liverpool, the loss of Goree Piazza was down to town planners as much as the Luftwaffe.

Goree Piazzas 1947 showing war damage. Image: LRO via Yo! Liverpool


Considering its strategic location next to the docks, it is amazing that Goree Piazza survived the Blitz – albeit with a few war wounds. Like its old neighbour the Custom House, it’s highly possible it could have been saved. The truth was that Liverpool Corporation had been trying to get rid of Goree Piazza since the early 1920s, Hermann Goering just gave them the motivation.

By 1916 Liverpool’s ‘Three Graces’ (Port of Liverpool Building, Royal Liver Building and the Cunard Building) were completed. These elegant buildings now stood on the site of George’s Dock site (filled in by 1900). On the other side of the road also stood the equally impressive Tower Building. Before 1919, West Africa House on the corner of Water Street had further encroached into Back Goree. These new buildings, gleamed white amongst the crumbling old warehouses. The were overshadowed by what was then seen as an ‘ugly pile’. What stark contrast these light-coloured buildings must have made with the Goree warehouses – blackened by both age, and their link to a shameful past Liverpool was keen to forget?

The Liverpool Echo of 14 October 1924 ran a story entitled ‘The Goree Piazzas to go’. It stated ‘The Goree Piazzas would soon be a memory, if the order is about to go forth for their demolition’. 12 years later, On 15th July 1936 the Echo declared ‘Goree Piazzas may be demolished’, this was the result of a report by the Corporation surveyor Mr Jenkins. The article reveals that the Corporation had been buying up the leases of the individual warehouses with a view of demolishing those they owned:-

with a view of to demolition and a street widening that would give additional dignity to the Pierhead and its surroundings.

Liverpool Echo, 15th July 1936. British Newspaper Archive

George Jennings (timber merchant and Rotary Club President) was advocating demolition in 1939:-

Liverpool Daily Post – Friday 07 July 1939. British Newspaper Archive

The Goree Piazza was not the only thing that (literally) stood in the way of creating a modern inner ring road. Between Back Goree and the Pierhead was also crammed the Overhead Railway. Also damaged in war (and corroded by the steam of trains beneath it) that too would be pulled down to make an open thoroughfare.

Steam train passing under the Overhead Railway with Goree Piazza on the right by Albert Ernest Brockbank (incorrectly listed as Back Goree), Walker Art Gallery. Image: Artuk.org
Goree warehouses and Overhead Railway, 1947. Note the trees that have now made a return. Image via Streets of Liverpool
Top: The Goree Piazza in the middle of the road with the Overhead railway to its right, 1929. Liverpool Record Office
Bottom: The same area in 2012
Image comparison: Keith Jones, Liverpool – Then and Now

Another nail in Goree’s coffin was the development of the motor car. In February 1939, the Evening Express published this wonderful photograph below, but announced the piazza was threatened with demolition under plans to convert it into a car park.

Liverpool Evening Express – Friday 24 February 1939. British Newspaper Archive

In March 1946, just a year after V.E. day, the Goree Piazza ‘with their slave trade memories’ was again listed as part of the big area of clearance to to make the new inner ring road.

Liverpool Echo – Thursday 28 March 1946. Image: BNA

In 1947 Alderman A. Ernest Sheenan requested that a full photographic record of the ‘historic buildings’ be made before it took place. These photographs are now held in the Liverpool Record Office and several appear in this post.

Liverpool Echo – Friday 30 May 1947. Image: BNA

In October 1947 it was reported that the Corporation were to reserve the timber from Goree Piazza as they could ‘find a thousand valuable uses for it!”

Liverpool Echo – Tuesday 07 October 1947. Image: BNA
The partly demolished Goree Piazza in 1848. Image: LRO via Yo! Liverpool

An RAF aerial photograph from 19th August 1948 shows that almost all of the south piazza had been already been demolished, and also half of the north piazza was gone. Goree Piazza are the two blocks in the centre of this photograph:-

By 4th April 1949 the Goree Piazza had been all but demolished, only the arches were left on msot of the site, but a small, stubborn section of north piazza at the bottom Water Street refused to budge for another decade (see Last one standing below). Before the arches were demolished, one reader, W.G.G. from Wallasey had asked if they could be preserved and turned into a single-storey bus terminus with a ventilated glass roof.

If only they would have taken up this superb idea! What we got instead was covered in a vile geometric pattern of bile-green tiles.

Liverpool Echo – Monday 04 April 1949. Image: BNA
Boom time for car parks! – the partly demolished Goree Piazza with the arches remaining. Image: Corn Poppy

The photograph above shows the area between Water Street and Brunswick Street, shown below on Google Earth. (see Last one standing below).

Image: Google Earth
The last remaining section of Goree Piazza in 1949. Image: Yo! Liverpool

Last one standing

The section shown above, at the junction of Water Street remain there until at least 1955. This included the end building that belonged to the Brewers Threlfall’s the ‘Liverpool Arms’ that in March 1955 stood ‘in isolated glory at the bottom of Water Street’.

Liverpool Echo – Tuesday 22 March 1955. British Newspaper Arcive
Surveyed / Revised- 1949 to 1955, Published- 1956. Map: National Library of Scotland
Overhead Railway at the Goree / Water Street – May 1955. Image: @inmylivpoolhome via Scyscrapercity.com

The Liverpool Arms was known to many as ‘Tom Hall’s’ after a previous boxer-turned-landlord. It lasted until 1958, shortly before demolition Threlfall’s opened a new hotel called The Strand.

The Strand Hotel has taken over the licence of the nearby Liverpool Arms—Tom Hall’s to many generations of seamen using Liverpool – which is to be demolished.

Liverpool Echo – Wednesday 16 April 1958
Strand Hotel, Liverpool Echo – Wednesday 16 April 1958. British Newspaper Archive

1.500 attended the last night of the Goree Piazza establishment.

Wilberforce House

A replacement for Goree Piazza had been discussed as early as 1946. Finally, In 1965 plans were unveiled to create a ‘New Goree Piazza’. At the outset, an ‘imposing water structure’ was earmarked for the space between the corn Exchange, Mersey House and Wilberforce House. The latter named after the Abolitionist William Wilberforce to recall the city’s historic links the slave trade, and specifically the connection to the Goree area.


Now being developed, Liverpool’s newest piazza —the New Goree Piazza will provide one of the most exciting glimpses of the new Liverpool . On two levels, the new piazza will be flanked by the Corn Exchange on one side, and the new Mersey House on another, and Wilberforce House, now under construction, will form an extension to Mersey House on the third side. The frontage to Brunswick’ Street will be partially open’ to provide views of the street.’ while Wilberforce House will have colonnades at the level of the Piazza giving views across the Strand to Pierhead and the river.

Liverpool Echo – Wednesday 24 November 1965

The water fountain was designed by Richard Huws of the Merseyside Civic Society, originally to be installed at Bold Street, and then Williamson Square in 1963. The fountain appears to have a Goree-myth of its own – that it was originally designed to commemorate the Tryweryn Scheme, which would provide drinking water to Liverpool.

The Goree Piazza fountain was constructed by the shipbuilders Cammell Laird in 1967. The shipyard also produced a plaque to be displayed on the fountain’s viewing platform – ‘a beautiful bronze African shield. This commemorates the history of the original Goree Piazza’‘:-

“GOREE–PIAZZA”. Originally two arcaded warehouses in the middle of the old dock road were named after the island ‘Goree’ off the west coast of Africa.

On the 14th September 1802, the Piazza was gutted by a spectacular fire, described by Thomas De Quincy.

In 1817 Washington Irving worked at number 1. and 1853-7 Nathaniel Hawthorne, American Consul in Liverpool, had his office at Washington House – Goree.

The old Piazza was severely bombed in the air raids of 1941 and finally demolished between 1948 and 1950.

In 1967, to mark the completion of the new Piazza this plaque was kindly presented by Cammell Laird and Company (S & E), Builders of the fountain.

Liverpool Echo – Saturday 26 January 1963. British Newspaper Archive

Known locally as the ‘Bucket Fountain’ it was a popular attraction from the start (especially with people armed with washing powder that turned tumbling water into foam). By 1976, leaking water from the tipping buckets had caused £12,000 of damage to the underground car park below it. By 1998 the fountain was in serious disrepair.

In 2019 the Elliot Group who owned the site, wished to build a hotel and relocate the fountain. In August that year, the fountain was awarded Grade II listing from English Heritage. In 2021 the Merseyside Civic Society and The Friends of the Piazza Fountain joined together to launch a crowdfunding appeal for £12,250 that would pay for an engineering report into the sculpture.

THe water fountain today. Image: Tony Folan and Mersey Civic Society via www.lavidaliverpool.co.uk

Were Slaves were sold at Goree Piazza?

We cannot tell the history of Goree Piazza without addressing the oral tradition that enslaved people were once sold there. For over a hundred years a claim that enslaved people were sold at Goree Piazza had been repeated in the press, books and tour guides. Although repeatedly debunked as urban myth, surprisingly, this story still resurfaces from time to time. Not only can we finally put this story to bed, we’ll also provide an explanation as to how it originated.

As with all histories, misconceptions surrounding Liverpool’s role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade have appeared. Since the late 19th century there have been some stories linked to the trade that are unsupported. These are often sensational in nature, and take place on the sites of Liverpool landmarks, past, present (and often about to be demolished). For many they have served as an introduction to the history, often it is a parent who would tell their child the story where they can point to where the event took place. They also prove a distraction from the documented facts. For many years the oral tradition was the only information on the trade available to most. Now with the benefit of experts and a wealth of literature and online resources we now know more about the trade than ever. New information and insights are still being discovered (hopefully a few on this post).

Although some locally published books had mentioned the subject of the Slave Trade from as early as 1773, it would only be in the late 19th century that the subjest was covered more more comprehensively.1 Most schools did not cover the subject in their curriculum. Some schools still don’t, even after the surge of interest in Black Lives Matter since the murder of George Floyd and the toppling of the Colston statue. Because of this lack of information there was a host of colourful legends connected to slavery including slave cellars, secret tunnels where the slaves were transported onto ships and a slave market near Goree Piazza. Most of these stories appeared at the start of the 20th century but some were older.

The story of ‘slave rings’ on or near the Goree Piazza was by far the most enduring. Sometimes these myths were even repeated by academics so it’s not too surprising that people believed it.

1: ‘Dicky Sam’, 1883 and Gomer Williams, 1897 – Enfield’s 1773 History of Liverpool, the anonymous The History of Liverpool 1810; Smither’s 1825 Liverpool its commerce, statistics and institutions with a history of the cotton trade; Baines’s 1852 History of the Commerce and town of Liverpool and Brooke’s 1853 Liverpool as it was during the last quarter of the eighteenth century 1775 to 1800 all talk about the slave trade but in to the same extent.

Those Goree Piazza ‘Slave rings’

In 1923, Charles Herbert Reilly a Liverpool architect and University professor (knighted in 1944), contributed to a small publication called Merseyside: A Handbook to Liverpool and District Prepared on the Occasion of the Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Liverpool. What Reilly’s chapter on the architecture of Liverpool lacks in facts and dates it makes up for in opinion. In just one paragraph, he managed to cram in a pantheon of Liverpool’s slave mythology for the visiting delegates;

Apart from these buildings, there are only a few fine old merchants’ residences in Duke Street and the neighbourhood, now used as warehouses, and the wall of a slave prison. It is not certain whether the Goree Piazzas, along the river front, are as old as the eighteenth century, but they certainly are in the eighteenth century manner of building, and local tradition says that slaves were exposed for sale in their arcades. Curiously enough, there is still a very finely carved wooden tiger with a negress upon its back (which ought to be in the local museum) to be seen above their arches.

A Handbook to Liverpool and District Prepared on the Occasion of the Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Liverpool. Charles Reilly. 1923
Sir Charles Herbert Reilly (1874-1948), Roscoe Chair of Architecture, University of Liverpool (1904-1933); University of Liverpool; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/sir-charles-herbert-reilly-18741948-roscoe-chair-of-architecture-university-of-liverpool-19041933-66824

Why Reilly should have thought it necessary to include these stories in a thin chapter on architecture, or for that matter why he did not check when the Goree Piazza was built, is puzzling. If Reilly had checked when the Goree Piazza was erected he would not have mentioned them in connection with a slave market.

In the same year that Reilly gave his list of slavery relics, Cicely Fox Smith published her book ‘Sailor Town Days’ in which she ‘remembers’ reading about ‘barred dens’ at Goree Piazza were slaves were held ‘in cold storage during the process of transhipment to the plantations’:

Its author I cannot remember — I am not sure it was not by that prolific author “Anon” — but its title, if I am not mistaken, was “John Manisty, Liverpool Merchant.” It was an incredibly prosy novel, and horribly printed on bad paper ; and I remember so little about it that I think the weather must have taken a turn for the better before I finished it. But the one part of it that found permanent lodgment in the scrap-heap of memory was the statement that there are — or were when the book was written — still to be seen in the neighbourhood of the Goree Piazza the barred dens where the slaves were, so to speak, put into cold storage during the process of transhipment to the plantations which were their final destination. Whether those places still exist I cannot say. I have never looked for them, for the simple reason that the scrap of memory only came to the surface while I was writing these pages.

Sailor Town Days, C. Fox Smith 1923

The book Fox Smith recalls reading is John Manesty (not Manisty), A Liverpool Merchant by William Maginn and was published in 1844. It is a work of fiction (not to be confused with the real slave merchant Joseph Manesty). Contrary to Fox Smith’s statement, the book makes no mention of Goree Piazza or barred slave dens. Although Fox Smith can’t be sure where she has heard of the story of the Goree slave dens – or looked for them – she has no qualms about repeating the story. Smith even admits she didn’t even finish the book!

20th century examples

There far too many examples of this myth being told in local newspapers and books to reproduce here. Instead we will restrict examples to just three for now.

In 1944 the Goree Slave Ring story even made it into a book named The Italian Element in English when it defined the term Piazza:-

Ricerche Anglo-Italiane by Mario Praz 1944

In 1985, Terry Fields (then MP for Broadgreen used the story of the slave rings when speaking to the House of Commons, (rather confusingly) to highlight a lack of investment in Liverpool:-

My father was a docker, so I feel qualified to speak on some of the matters on which I hope to enlarge. I remember, as a young person, seeing around the pier head, the Goree Piazza and the Strand, shackled to the wall, bolts where slaves were tied up in the lucrative trade in human misery.

Shown below is the famous Liverpool solicitor Rex Makin repeating the claim in his column for the Liverpool Echo. This was as late as 1994 (he did so a few times). This is the classic rendition of the myth where a child was told the story by his father:-

Liverpool Echo – Friday 05 August 1994. British Newspaper Archive

The precise locations of these chains and rings is often omitted, but here Makin identifies them for us. But ‘Chains on top of cellar covers’? An odd place to confine someone, inside the cellar would be more effective. These particular chains were obviously there to secure the cellar from theft. That said, if anyone could attempt to make a convincing argument in this face of overwhelming evidence, it’s a criminal defense lawyer.

Why the date of the Goree Piazza rule them out as a location for auctions of enslaved people

As we have seen, construction of the Piazza only commenced until 1796. 24 years earlier, in 1772, a landmark legal case known as the Somerset Ruling had helped to greatly reduce, (but not to completely end) the sales of enslaved people on Britain soil.

James Somerset had been enslaved to Charles Stewart of Boston and had been brought to England, but two years later Somerset escaped. Once recaptured, Stewart intended to take Somerset back to Jamaica but the court ruled he could not be forcibly sent out of England to be sold as a slave in the Americas and Somerset gained his freedom.

The celebrated Somerset ruling of 1772 concerned a slave’s liberty and status as property. The slave James Somerset (or Sommersett) was the property of a Boston customs official, Charles Stewart. Somerset was brought to England. After two years he escaped, but he was recaptured on 26 November 1771 and was forced onto a ship bound for Jamaica. With help from Granville Sharpe, a humanitarian anti-slavery campaigner, a writ of habeas corpus was granted by Lord Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice, ordering the captain of the ship on which Somerset was incarcerated to produce Somerset before a court.

The case was repeatedly adjourned. Somerset’s legal team argued that although slavery was tolerated in the colonies, the Court of King’s Bench was bound to apply the law of England. Mansfield ruled in 1772 that ‘no master ever was allowed here (England) to take a slave by force to be sold abroad because he deserted from his service… therefore the man must be discharged’. And so James Somerset won his freedom.

National Archives.gov.uk

Although the ruling did not make the selling of enslaved people illegal, it was a catalyst for the abolition movement and heralded the beginning of the end of the slave trade in Britain. After 1772 public sales of slaves in Britain were extremely rare but one example occurred as late as 1779 where the Liverpool broker George Dunbar sold ‘A Black BOY about 14 years old, and a large Mountain Tyger CAT’ from his office in Exchange Alley. In 1780 a runaway advertisement was placed that described a fugitive as The black is not only the slave but the apprentice’.

Although the vast majority of Liverpool merchants were staunch supporters of the slave trade, by the time the first stone of the Goree Piazza was laid, the Abolition movement across Britain was already well established. The British Abolition group, the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade was established in 1787. At the same time Thomas Clarkson was asked to collect evidence of the slave trade (often under the threat of violence by sailors who wanted to protect their livelihood). Between 1787 and 1794, Clarkson wrote several books or pamphlets opposing the slave trade. Clarkson had seen (and in some cases collected) slave chains and shackles openly on sale in British shops, including in Liverpool.

In 1789 a parliamentary bill for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was presented. In April 1791 William Wilberforce introduced the first parliamentary bill to abolish the slave trade, a second bill was presented in 1792. Finally, in 1807 the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade prohibited the slave trade in the British Empire. Although, slavery itself in most parts of the British Empire was not abolished until the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.

(After) 1796 is far too late for public auctions of enslaved people to have been held in England. If auctions were held in Liverpool (or anywhere else in Britain for that matter) in that period, they would have been presented as primary evidence by the abolitionists.

Origin of the story

The primary source for evidence of auctions of enslaved people in Liverpool are the announcements that appeared in the press at the time. These advertisements do not include a ‘slave market’ but smaller individual auctions, held at coffee houses and brokers’ offices. Of course it has to be remembered that these only record PUBLIC sales, private sales and auctions will have happened that were not advertised in the press. Also, Liverpool traded with the West Indies from 1666 – 90 years before Liverpool’s first regular newspaper! Because of this, we cannot be sure of the full number of auctions held, or their locations.

The difference with the slave-myth stories is they are not based on any evidence whatsoever. Of course that doesn’t mean we can rule them out completely.

Liverpool’s ‘Slave Market’

Stories of a ‘Liverpool Slave Market’ had appeared in the press since as far back as the 1880s. The earliest do not refer to specifically to Goree Piazza, but to the area ‘at the foot of Water Street’. Goree Piazza and the warehouses on Back Goree of course fitted into this description. The cellars of Tower Buildings (also in that area) also had their fair share of slave-related stories – as did practically every old building (but often not old-enough) in town that had a cellar. Often these ‘cellars’ grew to become ‘tunnels’ once the story reached the letters page of the local newspapers.

On the 5th August, 1889 the Liverpool Mercury had a feature about a conference to be held at Lucerne to discuss ways of suppressing of the existing slave trade in Africa that it stated still supplied slave markets in Arabia, Persia, Morocco and Turkey. The article included this claim:

It may startle some readers to be told that the piece of open ground at the foot of Water-street was once the Liverpool Slave Market, where human beings were bought and sold less than a century ago – one can measure the growth of public feeling in the right direction by the surprise and horror this fact excites – and efforts such as those of this convention will at least help in the same way.

Liverpool Mercury, 5th August, 1889

‘Human beings were bought and sold less than a century ago’ would make it after 1789. That is clearly far too late as we have shown.

Sir Hall Caine (friend of Gomer Williams no less) included this in his 1891 book The little Manx nation.

Shall I confess to you that in the bad days of the English slave trade the four merchantmen that brought the largest black cargo to the big human auction mart at the Goree Piazza at Liverpool were commanded by four Manxmen! They were a sad quartet. One of them had only one arm and an iron hook ; another had only one arm and one eye ; a third had only one leg and a stump ; the fourth was covered with scars from the iron of the chains of a slave which he had worn twelve months at Barbadoes.

The little Manx nation, Sir Hall Caine, 1891

On Monday 27 August 1906 in the Daily Post, a feature was published saying that the old Tower Building was to be demolished and replaced with the structure that is still there today.

The old building has always been of special interest because it indicated a historic landmark – to wit, the Old Tower, a model of which Professor Ramsey Muir suggests should be made as one item the celebration of the 700th anniversary King John Charter, has significance to the local antiquary : it stands on part, at any rate, of the site of the Slave Market.

In 1919, an old warehouse on Back Goree collapsed, a photograph from the time (shown below) made the claim that it was the ‘Old Slave Market Building Collapsed, 150 years old’ That date would make it older than 1769. In fact we have proven that all the buildings on Back Goree dated from after the fire in 1802 and most were only built in 1805 or 1806!

Image shared originally by @angiesliverpool

The Yorkshire Evening Post reported the collapse, and linked the Goree Piazza warehouses in front of it to auctions of enslaved Africans:-

The building occupied a site at the rear of Goree Piazzas, a name reminiscent of Liverpool’s interest in the slave-trading enterprises – and was in existence when the buildings in front of it were used as a market place for slaves.

Any basis in fact?

The story originally related to the land the supposed ‘Slave Market’ building stood on – being on, or near, the old Goree Causeway. Yet the buildings themselves only dated from after 1802. There is no doubt that enslaved Africans were sold near that area in the earlier 18th century, but there is no evidence to support the idea of a dedicated ‘slave market’. Instead these took place in coffee houses and brokers’ offices. Small-scale and impromptu slave auctions on newly arrived ships on the quayside almost certainly occurred, and so would not appear in the contemporary papers.

There is no doubt that the warehouses on the old Goree Causeway, including the Goree Piazza, were built almost exclusively by slave merchants, and by merchants who traded in goods made by enslaved people. This is an accurate description from 1866:-

In a former Letter I spoke of Liverpool as having been extensively and profitably engaged in the Slave Trade. I have since ascertained that its sins, in this respect, were of the deepest and darkest hue. An extensive block of stores on the quay, erected by Merchants engaged in the Slave Trade, took the name of the ” Goree Piazza,” which they still retain.

Letters from Europe and the West Indies, 1843-1852, Weed, Thurlow, 1797-1882. 1866

Somewhere along the line, this was corrupted to Goree Piazza being a place were enslaved people were actually sold.

As well as being erected by slave merchants, we have shown that enslaved people even worked (and died) in the warehouses of Baker & Dawson. There is no doubt that the buildings of Goree Piazza, and those on Back Goree, owed their very existence to the slave trade. That is shameful enough, without inventing stories of slaves being tied up in chains before being taken to the West Indies.

The origin of those Goree Slave Rings

One likely origin of the Goree Slave Rings story may be the result of the enterprising owner of Thorn’s Dining Rooms, situated at Goree Piazza. It appears Thorn had turned the cellar under the dining rooms into a slavery-themed attraction.

When the cafe was discussed in the Liverpool Echo in 1975, readers sent letters into the paper recalling being brought to Thorn’s as children many years before and being shown a chamber with slave rings, chains embedded into walls, leg irons, neck irons, ‘historic items’ and notices relating to the sale of slave pinned to the walls.

Liverpool Echo 12 September 1975. Image: BNA

This story resurfaced in the Echo letters page in 1990, when reader L. W. Harrison of L12 recalled going into the derelict Thorn’s cafe years before:

My mate and I went into this cafe. The door had been broken down so we went down the cellar and, impaled on the walls, were mighty iron rings. We came came to the conclusion that they were there for the slave trade.

Thorn’s Dining Rooms was owned by Herbert Thorn and was located at 18 Goree Piazzas, near to James Street. He also had Temperance Hotels in Tithebarn Street and Whitechapel. The dining rooms were at Goree Piazzas from about 1915 to at least 1938.

Goad’s insurance map from the 1880s (below) shows that before Thorn took over, number 18 Goree Piazzas was a corn warehouse and mill (second from the right).

Goad’s Insurance map (1880s) showing number 18 Goree Piazza (second from the right) as a Corn Warehouse and Mill.

Number 18 Goree Piazzas featured in an advertisement in the Liverpool Echo on Thursday 23 April 1914. The advertisement lists a ‘jigger, machinery and fittings suitable for a corn business’ – no doubt this corn warehouse also included iron rings on the wall to lower the sacks down – a practice known as Parbuckling. Iron rings may also have been attached to walls to be used as anchor points for chains to secure barrels from theft.

The location of Thorn’s cafe on the 1848 O/S map. ©BygoneLiverpool
A sign for H. Thorn Dining Rooms can be seen on this photograph of Goree Piazza. Image: LRO

Herbert Thorn must have spotted a marketing opportunity and created a fake slave dungeon beneath his café to titillate his customers. It’s likely he utilized the existing rings and adding the leg irons and assorted ‘historic items’ to complete the effect?

Thorn wasn’t the first to suggest a slave dungeon or market existed in the area, but his fakery certainly helped popularize it.

You can read our investigation into the slave-related stories Professor Reilly mentioned (and his unique thoughts on the Liverpool waterfront) at the end of Miscellaneous Notes section.

Ah, but Slaves were actually sold at the Goree Piazza!

The story of the Goree Piazza slave market refers to slaves present at the sale on British soil. But, if we consider slaves sold who were not present, i.e. on plantations in the West Indies, then slaves WERE sold at Goree Piazza, and for that matter, all over the country including London where they appeared in the Court of Chancery.

An advertisement from 1805 shows a plantation in Little Courabanna in Demerara with land, trees buildings and ‘154 prime negroes’ also the plantation Britannia on the West Sea Coast of the colony of Berbice with ‘94 prime negroes’ – For further particulars apply to Jones’s and Davies, Goree’.

Gore’s Liverpool General Advertiser – Thursday 24 January 1805. British Newspaper Archive

Below is another example, this time by London brokers instead of Liverpool. In this sale alone, the total of enslaved people in just one sale is over 1,259. The ‘Prime Negroes’ are sold alongside cattle ‘Head of stock’. Up for sale were Bryan Castle Sugar Estate, Brampton Bryan Sugar Estate, Low Layton Sugar Estate, Stoakes Hall Sugar Estate, Orange Vale Coffee Plantation, Fairfield Plantation (coffee and wood), a Warth and stores at Port Royal and a dwelling house in Kingston.

These were the properties of Scotland-born Alexander Grant of 6 Billiter Square, London. At the time of his death he was living in 12 Arlington Street, Piccadilly, the Ritz has been on the corner since 1906.

Morning Chronicle – Monday 09 June 1823. British Newspaper Archive.
Kingston, and Port Royal. From Windsor Farm. In 1670, there were already fifty-seven plantations on the island and by the beginning of the 18th century there were 124. ‘Sir Alexander Grant, a plantation owner and trader, reported that despite such successful production, business in Jamaica was ‘slow and dilatory’, and that he had to use much ‘perseverance and patience’ in his trading there’.
Image: Royal Museum Greenwich

A small selection of other auctions of plantations, together with their enslaved workers can be seen below.

Particulars for the first auction could be had from Messrs. Munn and Curtis, Walrook, near the Royal Exchange.

Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser – Monday 24 January 1820. Image: BNA

The locations to view particulars of this auction from 1821 below include London, Bristol, and the George Inn in Dale Street, Liverpool.

Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser – Monday 09 April 1821. Image: BNA

This auction from 4th August 1821 was held at the Auction Mart (St Batholomew’s Lane) near the bank of England. 160 ‘Negroes’ were up for sale, together with ‘Negroe grounds’. cane land, cattle, horses and mules.

Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser – Saturday 04 August 1821. Image: BNA
The Old Auction Mart., St Bartholomew’s Lane, London

In this one from 1825 you could view particulars in Glasgow and several addresses in London.

Morning Advertiser – Monday 23 May 1825. Image: BNA

The fact that the enslaved people were not present at the time of these sales is surely a technicality? Human beings facing unimaginable cruelty on plantations were, in at least one occasion, sold at Goree Piazzas – as well as across the whole of Britain – in huge numbers. In just one sale, they far exceed the numbers of slaves who were present at their own sale.

Miscellaneous Notes

Baker & Dawson

Baker & Dawson and the story of Carnatic
This partnership became the stuff of legend when their Privateer ship Mentor captured a French ship called the Carnatic that had £135,000 of diamonds aboard. The story goes that Peter Baker was a ship-builder at Garston and was commissioned to build a ship. This was so poorly built that the prospective buyer refused to accept her. Facing bankruptcy and desperate to recoup his losses, Baker fitted her out as a 74-gun Privateer ship named Mentor. Dawson had his son-in-law John Dawson to captain the ship. Mentor then captured a French ship with a booty of £400,000. Mentor arrived back in the Mersey to cheering crowds and the partnership of Baker and Dawson has been celebrated by historians ever since.

Peter Baker (1731–1796) was made Mayor in 1795 and built himself a house at Mossley Hill, this earned the local nickname of ‘Carnatic Hall’. Peter Baker’s house is shown on the map below:-

View map: South-west sheet – The county Palatine of Lancaster – Counties of Scotland. National Library of Scotalnd

The classic rendition of this story is given by Robert Griffiths’ in his history of Toxteth Park:-

As a lad, Peter Baker served a short apprenticeship as a joiner in the neighbourhood of Garston. He then came to Liverpool, where he worked as a carpenter, eventually becoming a master.

At this period Liverpool took a prominent part in fitting out of privateers against the French and other enemies, at the commencement of our American troubles in I775 . Baker accepted a contract to build and fit out a Privateer. When the ship was finished she was so clumsy, lopsided, and of such bad sailing qualities that the merchant rejected her, and she was thrown back upon Baker’s hands. Already seriously in debt, and unable to sustain such a heavy loss, Baker himself fitted her out as a privateer, and christened her The Mentor.

She mounted twenty-eight guns, was four hundred tons burthen, and had a crew of one hundred and two hands. The men were a mixed lot, picked up on the quays, and landsmen in search of adventure. Baker had a son-in-law named Dawson, who had voyaged several times to the coast of Africa, and knew enough about navigation to accept the command of the craft on her first voyage.

With doubtful visions of doubloons and pieces of eight he made sail for the Spanish ship. On the 28th of October, 1778, she hove in sight. He looked at her through his glasses, and saw she was pierced for seventy four guns. Thereupon he handed the glass to his carpenter,
John Baxter, who looked, and observed that all her guns were dummies. Dawson straightaway attacked in most vigorous fashion, and was surprised to find the
enemy make such feeble resistance to boarding. She was captured and brought into port, and proved to be The Carnatic, French East Indiaman, with a cargo of immense value, Said to be worth £400,000. It is stated that one box of diamonds alone realised the sum of £135,000. She had been three years in the Carnatic, trading in gold and diamonds, and had never heard that war had broken out.

When the treasure-laden galleon arrived in the Mersey in charge of her captors the bells of the town were set ringing and guns were fired in honour of the event, whilst both crews, victors and captured alike, were treated with great consideration by the townspeople.

They jocosely christened Baker “Lord Baker,” and later made him Mayor of Liverpool and a county magistrate. Out of the proceeds of the prize Baker built the hall at Mossley Hill, called by some wag CARNATIC HALL.

History of the Royal and Ancient Toxteth Park, Robert Griffiths with information from G. H. Parry. 1907

Fact Vs Fiction
Most of this story is in fact true, other elements have been embellished, and some of it is just plain nonsense. What’s worse is the fact they omitted the slave trading part out.

Let’s start with the diamonds worth £135,000 – Jane Earle, the daughter of Thomas Earle, wrote a letter to her aunt that says the cargo included saltpetre, fine muslin, raw silk, coffee, tea and:

a packet of sundry things supposed to be diamonds.

Jane Earle to her aunt via Privateers and Privateering, Edward Phillips Statham, 1910

It is also true that Baker Built a house at Mossley Hill that was known as locally as Carnatic Hall. Griffiths may have got the idea of it being named ‘by some wag’ from Joseph Boult. In Boult’s account of the story, written in 1868, he says Carnatic Hall was a ‘derisive pseudonym’.

Was the Mentor really so poorly built?
Based on evidence, the story of the ship Mentor being rejected because it was ‘so clumsy, lopsided, and of such bad sailing qualities’ is extremely dubious. Baker was in fact an experiened shipwright with previous commissions from the Royal Navy.

In 1761, at the age of 30, Baker was already a shipwright – 17 years before he was supposed to have made a hash of the Mentor.

According to Joseph Boult (HSLC TOPOGRAPHY OF AIGBURTH AND GARSTON), Baker had already built at least two very successful ships at his Garston shipyard before he built the Mentor in 1778. The Kent in 1773, was the largest merchant ship in northern England. The William in 1775 was a ship for the Greenland trade. In 1776 (2 years before the Mentor) he was ordered to build HMS Adamant for the Royal Navy and finished it within a year. HMS Adamant was so well-built it remained in service for thirty years and survived three wars!

The Adamant served during the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary Wars, and the Napoleonic Wars in a career that spanned thirty years”.

HMS_Adamant_(1780) Wikipedia

After Mentor, he built HMS Assistance in 1778 that lasted until 1801.

Perhaps the story of the hapless, but plucky, carpenter who became Mayor was embellished to create a Liverpool version of the Dick Whittington story?

John Dawson
Robert Griffiths’ description of John Dawson is more accurate. Dawson was indeed Baker’s son-in-law, and he had voyaged several times to the coast of Africa. Dawson was a veteran of two voyages to Bonny for slaves even before he captained Mentor. The Slave Ship Database shows many slaving ventures with a John Dawson as the captain prior to the Mentor. It has has many entries with him as the owner (far too many to include here). The aptly-named Carnatic made at least 2 voyages in 1792. The equally appropriate Mosely Hill had Peter Baker has joint owner and made at least 8 slaving voyages between 1782 and 1789.

Just some of the other slave ships with Baker and Dawson as joint partners include Blaydes in 1783/84, Brothers in 1788, Champion – six voyages between 1781 and 1786, Elliot in 1784 and 1786, the London registered Experiment and Garland in 1784, Hero – 4 voyages between 1784 and 1789, Prince in 1786 and 1788, Princes Royal – 4 voyages between 1785 and 1788, Sisters in 1786, Telemachus – 3 voyages between 1783 and 1785 and Young Hero – 3 voyages between 1786 and 1789. Further slaving voyages were made by Baker alone.

Baker and Dawson acquired so much wealth from these slaving ventures, that by 1791 they had purchased the Manor of Garston, which at that time included Aigburth (See Boult, page 164).

All that misery and death that Baker and Dawson inflicted was in vain. In 1793 both were bankrupt with massive losses. Baker was Mayor in 1795-1796. He died in February 1796 during his term in office.

The Fish Stones, Liverpool’s fish market since at least 16th century

The Fish Stones market was so-called as the freshly caught fish would have kept cool on the stones before the invention of refrigeration. Example still exist including those at Poulton and Kirkham, the latter being a circular design :-

The Fish Stones of Kirkham. Image: www.lancs.live

Sites of Liverpool ‘Fish Stones’ Markets since 1557:

1. 1557. Front of the High Cross, north end of Castle Street.

2. 1667. “Fish house and yards” south side of lower end of Chapel Street.

3. 1764-80. “Fish stones” the space in Derby Square between Redcross Street top and Cable Street.

4. 1786-92. “Fish stones” bottom of Moor Street, now occupied by the street and south end of the Goree warehouse.

5. 1792-1822. ” Fish market” top of Moor and James Streets.

6. I822-1837. ” Fish market” St. John’s market, north end.

7. 1837 after 1872 (date of the HSLC paper). East side Great Charlotte Street

Henry Ecroyd Smith, HSLC, 1872

James Wallace described the fish market in detail in his description of the town in 1795. He also stated that although there was a clerk to supervise the market, the ‘exorbitant’ price of the fish often meant they were unsold and became ‘putrified and unwholesome’:-

This market is conveniently situated near the river, the south end of St. Georges Dock, it is an oblong building ninety feet by thirty, covered by a good roof, whereon is a small turret, which would have been greatly improved by the addition of a clock, the whole is supported by twenty-two pillars, and commodiously formed to secure both venders and purchasers from rain, and inclemency of weather, proper bulks, stalls lined with lead, a pump, and other conveniences are erected for exposing fish for sale to the best advantage…

…but with all these external benefits to the buyer and seller, there is perhaps nothing in the town of Liverpool that demands a more serious reform, a clerk of the market is appointed, but the office seems to be a mere sinecure, the sellers on the arrival of the fish, generally make the price too exorbitant for the purchase of the mediocrity, by which means the fish often remains on hand until it is putrified and unwholesome.

A general and descriptive history of the ancient and present state, of the town of Liverpool, James Wallace. 1785

A drawing held by the Liverpool Record Office fits this description perfectly (it may have had 3 rows of pillars). It too is oblong and of the same proportions as that which appears on the map. It also has a small turret on top of its ‘good roof’. On closer inspection the tower has a bell inside it. This matches the description given by Henry Ecroyd Smith of ‘cupola or belfry on the roof’ (See HSLC paper here). The view shows what appears to be a counter with people being served. A women holding a basket (of fish?) can be seen of the right.

Could this be the Goree Fish Stones but mislabeled as being the Alms Houses? Image: Liverpool Record Office

As can be seen, the image is labelled as being of the Alms Houses. This drawing is likely to have been a mistake, possibly because of a misreading of the sign on the building on the left – this actually says “Ale’ not Alm or Alms.

In this lithograph drawn in 1857, Liverpool artist William Gawin Herdman has imagined what Moor Street looked like when it supposed it was the home of one of Liverpool’s Custom Houses. At the bootom of the street Herdman has included the Fish Stones with its cupola, beyond it are the ships in George’s Dock.

We repeat the map below to show the location of the Fish Stones, relative to Moor Street.

Section of 1785 map: www.liverpoolpictorial.co.uk

Stonehouse referred to building as being ‘similar in appearance to the late St. George’s Market’. That later market is pictured below and it did indeed share several design features. The building is a single storey and oblong in shape. The cupola is retained, as are the pillars. A wooden railing surrounds the building, exactly like the earlier view. No doubt then, the earlier view does indeed depict the Goree Fish Stones and not Alms Houses.

Old Fish Market, James Street. William Gawin Herdman

The South East Prospect of Liverpool

THE South-East Prospect of LEVERPOOL, taken from Seacombe Boat-house. Publish’d as the Act directs August the 20th. 1770. by George Perry of Leverpool. Engraved by E. Rooker from a painting by M A Rooker. View a superb zoomable version on the British Library website

The view was originally painted by Michael Angela Rooker, then engraved for reproduction by his father Edward. Below the engraving are the following words:-

Behold the crowded port ! Where rising masts an endless prospect yield. And echoing Docks re-echo to the shout Of hurrying sailors , whilst they hearty wave Their last adieu, and loosening every shot, Resign the spreading vessel to the Wind.

It’s taken from a 1730 poem by Scottish poet James Thomson (1700 – 1748) called the Seasons, that part is taken from Summer. But Rooker has made two changes, he has deleted the words ‘with labour burn’. He’s also added a bit in about Docks but in the process used the word echo twice.

Frontispiece from The Seasons. Image: Wikipedia

Here’s the relevant Stanza from Summer

Full are thy cities with the sons of art;
And trade and joy, in every busy street,
Mingling are heard: even drudgery him self,
As at the car he sweats, or dusty hews ⁠1455
The palace-stone, looks gay. Thy crouded ports,
Where rising masts an endless prospect yield,
With labour burn, and echo to the shouts
Of hurried sailor, as he hearty waves
His last adieu, and loosening every sheet, ⁠1460
Resigns the spreading vessel to the wind.

An insurance job, good luck or common sense? Thomas Fletcher’s alibi for the night of the fire

Fires in warehouses, especially in Liverpool were common and merchants began to take insurance policies to cover the risk. Thomas Fletcher wrote that just prior to the fire, France, Fletcher & Co. had just moved all of their West Indies goods to Atherton Street and the Goree warehouse had just been insured. Thomas France personally lost out when the building was destroyed but the company actually made a profit on the lost goods. Was this suspicious, extremely good luck, or just common sense?:-

To Mr. France the loss was considerable. He had £11,000 insured on the buildings, and there was the land left ; but they had cost, I believe, about £30,000, and I should think be was minus at least £1 5,000. The Firm escaped without loss, for we had the principal part of our stock of West India produce in the Atherton Street warehouses, to which I
have before mentioned we had gone back, and having a policy of insurance on goods in the Goree warehouses to the extent of £5,000, it was more than sufficient to cover the value of the produce which we had destroyed there.

Autobiographical Memoirs of Thomas Fletcher- Of Liverpool (Obit 1850). 1843

Fletcher stresses in his memoir that he was not at the warehouse when the fire started, instead he was sick in bed that evening.

I was in Liverpool at the time, and had gone to bed unwell; and I had fallen into a profuse perspiration, when the woman (an old servant of my mother’s), whom Anna had engaged to look after the house, as she had taken all our servants with her, came into the room and awoke me, saying that a gentleman had called to let me know that Mr. France’s warehouses on the Goree were on fire. In the state in which I was I could not possibly stir ; it would have been as much as my life was worth to do it.

Autobiographical Memoirs of Thomas Fletcher- Of Liverpool (Obit 1850). 1843

Although the illness was so severe that Fletcher thought he life would be at risk if he left the house, he made an astonishing overnight recovery because he states ‘In the morning early I got up and walked down to the Goree’. Was this an alibi? Perhaps suspicion already been raised?

Strange markings on the stone arches

Goree Piazza acres, 1932. Image: www.thefootballvoice.com

A close inspection of photographs showing the stone arches reveal a very interesting and unusual feature. Chiselled into all of them is chevron design, some of these point upwards, some downwards, but in no discernible order. The carvings don’t appear to have any functional purpose.

This close-up below of another area of Goree Piazza shows that all faces of the arches had the same treatment. Quite strange we think you’ll agree. If they served a practical function, what would that be? If they are purely decorative, do they represent something?

Close up of a photograph of the Goree Piazza showing the strange design. Liverpool Record Office

Stone dressing?

The surface of stonework on a building is ‘dressed’ by the mason. The finished stone can have a range of dressings from polished to rough (rusticated). A selection of the different techniques can be seen below. None bear any resemblance to the repeated chevron design on Goree Piazza:-

Finishes for stone work. Taken from a lecture on stone masonry. Image: Credit

If the chevron design did had a function, why do some point in the opposite direction?

Without wishing to create a Goree-myth of our own, but…

If purely decorative, were the designs intended to represent the trade of the merchants who owned the warehouses?

The chevron design bears a resemblance to the trunk of a palm tree. Also of that huge influence on 18th century architectre, the pineapple. As the warehouses were intended to store goods from the West Indies, maybe the architect chose the design to represent this?

If not the West Indies, how about the other major connection to Goree Piazza – Africa. We were struck with the similarity between the chevron design, and the traditional ‘Mud cloth’ fabric patterns of West Africa, this example below is from Mali:

“Mudcloth hand-made in Mali West African fabric print, black with white chevron pattern. Image: aknfabrics.com

Another example of the chevron appears in this beaded figure from Cameroon:-

Image: Met Museum

The chevron was also popular for ‘Trade beads’ used to exchange for enslaved Africans:-

Of these designs, one of the most celebrated is the chevron. These beads, which began to be produced in the late fifteenth century in Venice, were modeled on classical examples and traded throughout the world. They were extensively used by Dutch traders in West and Central Africa in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, where a single bead was—for a period—worth the life of a slave in the trans-Atlantic trade.

Beadwork in the Arts of Africa and Beyond, James Green, 2018, Metmuseum.org

One thing is for certain, with such a unique design, if anyone has a piece of stone in their back garden that was reclaimed from Goree Piazza it would be unmistakable. The same goes if any Goree stonework was dumped on Crosby Beach with the rest of the city’s Blitz rubble.

If you have any idea why the Goree arches had these markings, please leave a comment, or email us at Bygoneliverpool@gmail.com, and we’ll be happy to update this post with a credit.

Research Liverpool’s other slave-related stories, as repeated by Professor Reilly in 1923

Professor Reilly’s observations on Liverpool’s other supposed slave-artefacts deserves further inspection. He may have been an expert on modern architecture, but when it came to the Liverpool’s involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, he really should have read up on it before submitting his chapter. We begin with his biggest faux pas; the ‘Negress on a Tiger’.

The ‘Negress on a Tiger’

It is not certain whether the Goree Piazzas, along the river front, are as old as the eighteenth century, but they certainly are in the eighteenth century manner of building, and local tradition says that slaves were exposed for sale in their arcades. Curiously enough, there is still a very finely carved wooden tiger with a negress upon its back (which ought to be in the local museum) to be seen above their arches.

A Handbook to Liverpool and District Prepared on the Occasion of the Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Liverpool. Charles Reilly. 1923

When this myth first appeared, the carving was referred to as the ‘slave girl on a lion’ (someone must have spotted the stripes). This was in fact a carved wooden shop-sign for Khoosh Tonic Bitters. It was carved by a ship’s figurehead maker named Kenwright who had premises Mann Island. Rather than depicting a slave, it featured a Indian Goddess that once held a flag saying ‘Health’ and dated only from about 1880.

Apart from tigers being from Asia and not Africa, Reilly had mistaken a sign less than 50 years old for a relic of the slave trade in the 1700s!

The carved wooden sign for Khoosh Tonic Bitters on Goree Piazzas made by a masthead carver. Image: LRO
The Khoosh Tonic Bitters trade mark, taking from an advertisement in the British Newspaper Archive
A trade card for Khoosh Tonic Bitters showing the lady on a tiger from 1882.
Image: Wellcome Collection.
The tribal goddess Bono Debi/Bono Bibi on Gosaba island, Sundarban, West Bengal, India, on 18th January, 2012. A tiger hid in this temple after attacking a woman. Villagers pray to this endemic goddess, known as Bono Debi to Hindus and Bono Bibi to Muslims, to protect them from tigers. Tigers have been known to swim, sometimes underwater, to the village to hunt humans. A successful Royal Bengal tiger breeding program has increased their numbers but decreased the number of husbands. There are now an estimated 3,000 widows in the villages where their husbands, have been killed by tigers. Photo by Suzanne Lee for The National

Khoosh were still trading in 1917, just 6 years before Reilly thought the sign depicted an enslaved African woman. We apologise for the racist image of the Indian servant used:-

The Bystander – Wednesday 28 March 1917. British Newspaper Archive

The Duke Street Slave Cell

The story behind Reilly’s other slave-artifact, the ‘Slave Cellar in Duke Street’ appears to date back to a photograph that appeared in Illustrated London News on 22nd August 1908. No evidence was given as to why they assumed this cellar was used to confine enslaved people. The fact it was an old cellar in Liverpool was all the proof they needed.

Illustrated London News 22 August 1908. British Newspaper Archive

A press clipping, shortly after Reilly wrote his chapter, shows the story had regained popularity at that time – having been sent to ‘The Children’s Newspaper’. This particular ‘slave den’ was under a shop (maybe it was Thorn’s cafe?). This remarkable ‘discovery’ consisted of massive iron gates, tunnels, seats, and iron rings, with a floor worn by the feet of armed guards marching ‘year after year’ in the tunnel No doubt the intended audience for this drivel (children) were thrilled.

Each room had massive iron gates, heavily padlocked, and within each room, above a stone seat round the walls. The passage was continued beyond the cellar and led down to the edge of the mersey , driven up the tunnel, and chained to the rings in the walls behind the padlocked doors, while an armed sentry marched to and fro in the passage. The path of the sentinel’s feet year after year could still be clealry seen in the stone floor.

Linlithgowshire Gazette 28 March 1924
Linlithgowshire Gazette 28 March 1924. British Newspaper Archive

Duke Street was one of the most desirable residences in the town, and yes, slave merchants and West Indies merchants lived there. Most merchants’ houses had a cellar, and not just to store their personal wine and spirit collection. Prior to the purpose-built warehouses that appeared later, merchants in the earlier 18th century used their own houses to store their trade goods.

Did enslaved people live in cellars?

The answer is definitely yes some did – along with the majority of the the working-class population of Liverpool, much to the detriment of their health.

In the ‘Liverpool Guide’ of 1801 (Surgeon) William Moss attempted to convince his readers that Liverpool’s dependency on cellar-dwelling, although ‘unpleasant’ ‘hovels’ were actually ‘more healthful residence than a room in a house where every room is tenanted’ (later doctors would have the exact opposite view):-

Inhabiting cellars, is extensively practised in some parts of the town. It has an unpleasant appearance ; that is the worst of its qualities of a cellar being found, from experience, a much more healthful residence than a room in a house where every room is tenanted…

…amid some entire streets are inhabited by tenants of that description. An order passed the Town-Council, for preventing the cellars being inhabited ; but which was not executed…

…A cellar corresponds with a hovel under ground; which in all ages and climates has been found a healthful residence. Kitchens and other offices in cellars, do not seem to be injurious to health ; and they have the effect of keeping the upper part of a house dry.

The Liverpool guide, 1801.

In the same book, Moss gives these shocking mortality rates:

In the burials of 1799 ; there were 57, between 30 and 90 years old: 12, between 90 and 100: and 4 above 100. Of children, 790 under 2 years.

That’s not the whole picture, as elsewhere he gives the total burials for 1799 as 2,349. Above, he omitted the figures for those aged between 3 and 29, (a total of 863). 1,486 people aged between 3 and 29 also died in that one year. The number older than 30 who died was only 73 – only 3.1% of all burials.

Moss had earlier noted this in his ‘Liverpool Guide’ of 1797:-

habitations of the poorest class in this, as in all large towns who depend upon casual support, are of course confined being chiefly in cellars.

Liverpool had more cellars than most towns

In 1773, Liverpool had it’s lowest rate of average house occupancy, yet it still exceeded those of Leeds and Sheffield with an average of 5-8 people per house1. The town’s population had grow rapidly (helped greatly by the slave trade), but the confines of the originally small town could not meet the needs of the incoming workforce. Cellar dwelling then became a necessary evil. Here Liverpool was in a unique position, many large towns in Britain did not have as many because their construction was expensive:-

(cellars) required excavation (unless the builder was fortunate to find an existing ditch running through the property, as had occurred on occasion in Manchester). They also needed more brickwork, access stairs or steps all involving extra cost which was enough apparently to inhibit construction in most towns.

The court and Cellar dwelling : The Eighteenth century origin of the Liverpool Slum, I. C. Taylor M.A, HSLC

The reason for the multitude of cellars in Liverpool was not only because many of the houses began as home/warehouses, but also because even people of a modest income incorporated them into their new houses with the intention of letting them out:-

In Liverpool one can only speculate on the original reasons for cellar building as little direct evidence has survived. However, an important clue is contained in a town description of 1797. The author refers to ‘large and extensive cellaring built to afford warehouse room for merchandise and it appears to have been general for the houses of mediocrity have also cellars which give residence to families and are generally let out by the owners of houses to many people following trades. This is certainly injurious to the health of the inhabitants’.

The court and Cellar dwelling : The Eighteenth century origin of the Liverpool Slum, I. C. Taylor M.A, HSLC

To reduce the cost, and the work involved digging excations for cellars in the bedrock, houses in in the newer streets, including those in Duke Street Duke Street raised the level of the ground floor, this meant that the entrances to the houses were considerably higher than street-level. Some raised so much that in 1795 James Wallace refferred to them as ‘offensively high’. Wallace even gives us contemporary evidence for what the cellars were for – ‘to afford warehouse room for merchandise’:-

the recent rage of modern improvement appear to have been southward, in Paradise-street, Hanover-street, Duke-street, &c. but they present little uniformity, they are principally the residence of merchants, built under their own direction and designed more for internal convenience than external elegance; the houses for the most part in these situations, have their entrances offensively high, being thus raised above the level of the street, for the convenience of having large and extensive cellaring, this method was formerly pursued to afford warehouse room for merchandise, and appears to have been general, for the greater part of the houses of the mediocrity, have also cellars, which give residence to families, and are generally let out by the owners of the houses to many people following trades.

A general and descriptive history of the ancient and present state, of the town of Liverpool, James Wallace, 1795

Some of the houses with ‘offensively high’ entrances still exist in Duke Street:

High entrances on Duke Street.Google Streetview

The real question is ‘Where enslaved people confined in cellars?’

Enslaved people often made a bid to escape, and the merchants who ‘owned’ these ‘Runaways’ placed advertisements to offer rewards for their capture, and threatened legal action to anyone who harboured them. You can search this database for the Liverpool runaways here.

It’s very likely that in some cases enslaved people certainly were locked inside at night.

If any house in Liverpool had enslaved people confined in a cellar, it’s this one below.

A surviving house on Duke Street where an enslaved person lived (possibly 3 of them, and possibly in a cellar)

Our research show that the house on the corner of York Street became the home of an abolitionist, next door was the home of his father-in law, who was a slave merchant. This was William Wallace, from 1768 until his death in 1789.

William Wallace’s house from 1768 until his death in 1789 was the second building from the corner of York Street. The cellar windows for this building can be seen above the street level. The building nest to it (later owned by the Wallace family) features an ‘offensively high’ entrance.

By using the timeline slider on Google Street View we can see the original features of the house from back in 2008, before it was renovated.

Google Streetview 2008.

This William Wallace, who had three enslaved people escape from him between 1768 and 1772 – the period he was living at that house in Duke Street:

From on Board the HAVANNA,
Five Feet Seven Inches high, of a Yellow Complexion, about 25 Years of Age, speaks French and English; had on when he went away a Strip’d Lindsey Jacket, Furniture Check Trousers, and Check Shirt.
Whoever takes up the above Negro, and delivers him in Liverpool, shall receive Five Guineas reward and all reasonable Charges, from William Wallace.
August 30, 1768.

Liverpool General Advertiser, or the Commercial Register, 2 September 1768

R U N,
FROM the Brig HAVANNA, the 11th of September, a black MAN, named Pembroke
, about five feet six inches high, well made, about 22 years old, speaks good English, had on when he went off a blue jacket and trousers and check shirt, the person or persons that takes up the above Negro and delivers him to William Wallace, shall receive a handsome reward and all reasonable charges.

Liverpool General Advertiser, or the Commercial Register, 14 September 1770

Absented from his Master,
On Monday the 4th of May, 1772,
A Black Man, called Sam, or Boston,
About 40 years of age, low stature, broad shoulders and remarkably strong made; had on when he disappeared a short blue coat, buff waistcoat and buckskin breeches, speaks English better than Blacks generally do. Any person or persons that will deliver him to Wm. Wallace, merchant in Liverpool, shall have Five Guineas reward and all reasonable charges paid.
N.B. Masters of ships &c. are desired not to carry off the said negroe, or they will be made accountable for his value.


William Wallace was the father-in law of Dr. James Currie, the famous biographer of Robert Burns and an early advocate of abolition. Currie lived next to William Wallace in that corner house shown above. Currie’s son was William Wallace Currie, Mayor of Liverpool (1833-36).

Will of William Wallace of Liverpool, merchant. To wife Sarah £100, to son-in-law James Currie and daughter Currie £25 each. To wife house, office, stable in Duke St., with plate, books etc., and house in Portaferry, lease of house in Toxteth Park and £4000 out of real and personal estate. Daughter Lucy Currie already provided for. To daughter Elizabeth W., £3000, but if she die unmarried or a minor, £1500 each to Lucy and Sarah. Remainder of estate if less than £1000 in trust for Lucy; if she die leaving one child then to go to Elizabeth, but if Lucy leave 2 or more children to be divided equally between them. If remainder of estate be more than £1000 the excess to be divided in equal shares between Sarah and Elizabeth, but if they are dead, then to Lucy. Executors: Wife, Richard Heywood, esq., banker, son-in-law Dr. Currie, all of Liverpool, and Mr. John Allen of Waterford.

Will of William Wallace of Liverpool, merchant, 1789. National Archives

We can safely presume that William Wallace must have been a particulary cruel ‘master’.

Enslaved people may have also been confined before the auction took place, but these were individuals or small groups. A Liverpool auction of eleven people from Angola is the highest number recorded, and that was by far higher than any other.

That was certainly not the case for all though, some enslaved people had ‘some’ degree of freedom. Benjamin Franklin had an enslaved person who used to deliver letters for Franklin, by himself across London (he did run away in the end though). You can read more the people Franklin enslaved here, one came with him when Franklin visited Liverpool.

But confined awaiting trans-shipment to the plantations?

Enslaved people ‘living‘ or confined in cellars is not what is proposed by these ‘Slave cell’ stories. They are inferring that enslaved people in numbers were ‘confined there, awaiting trans-shipment’ to the plantations in the West Indies. This is the reason that these imaginary dungeons were equipped with leg irons and rings on the walls.

The numbers of enslaved people that were sold in Liverpool, and other towns across Britain, is small relative to the vast number of people forced to leave Africa for the plantations. Of course these lower numbers do not make the act any less abhorrent. The vast majority of enslaved people sold on Brtain soil had not been brought here directly from Africa, most good speak at least a little English and had learned trades such as hairdressing, looking after horses, as a house servant, or onboard a ship (like Wallace’s York and Pembroke). They could still be shipped off to work on a plantation of course, but more likely is that they would be purchased by someone keeping them in Britain, sometimes merely to be retained as a status symbol.

The suggestion of cellars to accomodate numbers of people waiting to be auctioned off at dedicated slave markets grew out of ignorance of how the slave trade functioned. The large-scale auctions of enslaved happened in Africa when they were originally purchased by the ships’ captains, and then again when sold on in the West Indies.

1 The court and Cellar dwelling : The Eighteenth century origin of the Liverpool Slum,
I. C. Taylor M.A, HSLC

Why these myths were popular

Although these stories had been repeatedly dismissed as myth from the 1920s, they refused to be forgotten. In the mid 1970s it was often discussed (and repeatedly dismissed) in letter pages of the Liverpool Echo or in the columns of local historians.

The urban myths surrounding Liverpool and the slave trade span from the plausible, to the ridiculous. By far the least credible surfaced when the Echo quoted a letter from a Mrs Shaw on the 3rd October 1974 in an article called ‘The Mystery of the Goree Piazza Slaves’. She had assured the paper that unsold slaves were returned to their cellars using a method that can only be described as absurd:-

slaves were sold off in the Old Harbourmaster’s House which vanished in the Blitz, Those that weren’t bought were returned to the cellars by way of a chute.

‘Mystery of the Goree Piazza Slaves’, Liverpool Echo, 03 October 1974

The poor Echo columnist confessed ‘The research I have been able to do leaves me more confused than ever. Some authorities pooh-pooh the idea that slaves were bought and sold here’. This perfectly demonstrates how little information was available even in the second half of the 20th century. Yes, enslaved people were sold in Liverpool, and other towns across the country – but they were not chained up before being auctioned off at Goree Piazza.

The same article has a letter from Mrs. M. McKibbin of Runcorn that illustrates how some people refused to accept that the grisly folklore they were told as children was actually nonsense:-

And now, a cri de Coeur from Mrs. M. McKibbin, of Greenbridge Close, Castlefields, Runcorn, who tells me she used to swing on the rings at the Goree “and with my vivid kid’s imagination pictured the poor slaves tied up all night”, “please don’t say they weren’t there,” she pleads, “and don’t disillusion me by saying they were there for another reason”

‘Mystery of the Goree Piazza Slaves’, Liverpool Echo, 03 October 1974

The myths about Liverpool’s slave trade links did serve a purpose. Few buildings from the period survived into the 20th century, and the subject wasn’t covered in schools. The main source of information was either word of mouth or the local newspapers. The Liverpool Echo in particular, was responsible for printing stories, articles, and readers’ letters that repeatedly contained these stories.

These stories arose because of a lack of discussion and education about the slave trade. In recent decades with more books, websites and documentaries on the subject, we have a better understating today then ever, but the resurfacing of these stories from time to time shows there is still more progress to be made.

The destructive side of myth
As soon as these stories appeared in the press they usually had a rebuttal from someone keen to dismiss them. This often took the extreme opposite stance of ‘No slaves were sold in Liverpool!’. The stories served as a distraction to the factual records. It is these stories that often reduce a serious discussion of the subject to one of correcting mere conjecture. Refuting this claim is a problem that researchers such as Laurence Westgaph have faced for years – and often still do.

Thankfully, in recent decades the real history of Liverpool’s involvement in the slave trade has been focused on. In 1994 the Transatlantic Slavery Gallery was created in Liverpool to explore Liverpool’s role in the slave trade and in 2007 this became the International Slavery Museum which set out to ‘increase the understanding of transatlantic, chattel and other forms of enslavement’. A visit is well recommended.

Laurence Westgaph has researched Liverpool’s role in Transatlantic Slavery for decades, his regular walking tours of the city are thoroughly recommended.

Amazingly, these are not Professor Reilly’s daftest observations in the booklet

In Reilly’s short contribution to the handbook, he also gave his controversial opinion on the now world-renowned ‘Three Graces’ of Liverpool’s waterfront. He liked the Cunard Building, the other two? Not so much:-

What a good model it makes for a modern business structure the Cunard Building proves with its simple unbroken cliff-like walls. Though its skyline across the river may not compare to that of the Dock Board Building, nor even that of the absurd Liver Building on its other flank, its strength and success as a piece of street architecture is undoubted.

Liverpool, however, never sinned so deliberately and stupidly, against all advice, as it did when having bought the Dock site on which these three buildings are erected, it allowed first the building with a big dome on a raised drum-symbol throughout western civilisation of a building of first rate importance — to be placed out of the centre at one corner and then allowed the childishly gigantic and irregular Liver pile to outstrip it at the opposite.

With this hopelessly unbalanced and indeed ridiculous collection of buildings as seen from the river for its conception of a gateway to Europe it almost deserved to lose, as it has done, the great Atlantic liners.

A Handbook to Liverpool and District Prepared on the Occasion of the Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Liverpool. Charles Reilly. 1923

You’re on your own with that one Charles…

Liverpool Waterfront showing the ‘Three Graces’ and River Mersey Ferry Snowdrop. Image: ©Dave Wood, lovelyliverpool.com

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Copyright notice:
Copyright of original archive images belongs to those named below the images. All original research, photographs taken by ourselves, illustrations, artists impressions, and archive images and maps that have notes added are all ©Bygone Liverpool. Permission to share is only granted if the site is credited and a link provided.

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