The RopeWalks is steeped in history from ages past. Every street corner and building seemingly has a story to tell. Now a Conservation Area in its own right, some of which forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, but originally fields on the outskirts of Liverpool, the development of RopeWalks evolved from the opening of the world’s first commercial enclosed wet dock in 1715. The RopeWalks area was initially built up by wealthy landowners to provide merchants’ homes and warehousing for the Old Dock trade.
From the merchants’ houses along Hanover Street, long narrow fields ran up the hill, originally cultivated as gardens but also used for the storage of goods. The lines of these fields later became roads and lanes for access. By 1785, much of today’s street plan was in place, defined by its long and narrow pattern with streets running parallel to one another down to the Docks.
Picture the scene in Duke Street during a typical day in 1800. The hustle and bustle of the quayside can be heard echoing along narrow back streets where goods are being carted. The clatter of wheels and hooves on granite cobbles is ever present as counting house clerks come and go throughout the day. The warm aroma of roasted coffee beans masks the stench of the foul sewer and lowly tenements. Hessian sacks fat with tobacco, coffee, sugar and cotton are winched high above the streets and swung into warehouse lofts for safekeeping. Caddies of dried tea leaves are unloaded and casks of rum are skilfully rolled along planks into countless cellars. Fashionably dressed women promenade between elegant Georgian townhouses exchanging tales of adventure in far-off lands, brought home from the West Indies and Africa by their wealthy merchant husbands. Gangs of rope makers apply their trade in lines up and down the street; coopers can be heard hammering timber staves and rolling fresh barrels onto wagons. Returning sailors celebrate with old friends outside corner taverns filled with laughter and the occasional drunken brawl. The low din of everyday life for poor folk and immigrant families packed into dingy cellar dwellings serves a constant reminder of the area’s inherent inequalities…
RopeWalks Liverpool - Part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site
In the Victorian era those who could afford to moved out to more spacious suburbs. The number of tenements, courts and back-to-back houses increased and the area took on a more industrial character as iron foundries, mills and even cigar manufacturers set up shop. The mills processed all manner of raw produce; spice, wheat, corn and timber. There were distilleries, soaperies and watch factories, printworks, apothecary works and liveried stables. Cultural innovations such as the Union News Room (later Liverpool’s first public library and Museum) and William Roscoe’s Royal Institution also grew up in the RopeWalks. The rich gene pool of life in this part of Liverpool even prompted Charles Dickens to conduct some research here in the 1860s for his sketch journal ‘The Uncommercial Traveller’. He was sworn in as a bobby for one evening at the Bridewell in Campbell Square. The experience lead him to conclude that bobbies spent too much time harassing poor citizens out to enjoy themselves and not enough time chasing after the real criminals!
The 20th Century decline of the British Empire as a global trading power and Liverpool as its principal gateway, meant that much of the RopeWalks had become derelict by the 1970s. Fortunately a great deal of its wonderfully rich past survives in the form of buildings which still stand and which you can walk through today and touch. Their survival allows us to savour the history of a great world port.
Over the past 20 years the area has undergone massive Regeneration. An intitaive that put heritage and the old buildings at its heart, making the most of the old and combining it with a dose of the new. The Concert Square development in particular succeeded in putting RopeWalks on the modern day map. The new square, with lively, creative, fresh uses created a buzz of excitement and energy that sparked the redevelopment of the rest of the area. RopeWalks has now turned itself into a hub for creative companies, independents and entertainment facilitates as well as being home to a number of city centre residents all set against the back drop of inspiring historic buildings and cobbled streets that make the area unique.
To find out more about conservation and heritage in RopeWalks click the read more link below.