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Maritime Tales – from pool to port

8 January 2007 by stepheng

Liverpool has seen remarkable times and for me, Stephen Guy, there is added interest because I or my family and ancestors lived through most of them.

A small seaside town is clustered around a romantic-looking castle while more than 20 sailing ships of all sizes criss-cross the choppy waters. This is Liverpool in 1680 painted by an unknown artist. It is one of the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s fascinating series of paintings portraying Liverpool over more than 300 years of phenomenal growth.

oil painting of a medieval castle and small town overlooking a busy river

Liverpool in 1680 by an unknown artist

This early painting also interests me because it was about the time my Guy ancestors moved, probably from the Melling area, to live and work in the growing town of Liverpool. Many other families were being drawn from the surrounding countryside as the port grew.

Liverpool in 1680 is the earliest known painting of Liverpool with the medieval castle dominating the town named after the Pool, a creek that was later filled in. The castle, demolished in the early 1700s, stood on the site of the Victoria Monument in Derby Square.

In the centre is Water Street and to the left is the Tower built about 1540, the former town house of the Earls of Derby. The only building still recognisable is St Nicholas’s parish church which has been altered and rebuilt over the centuries.

Trade was expanding rapidly and the estuary is full of local river and coastal craft as well as large sea-going vessels. These larger vessels were probably preparing to depart for north America.

Forty-five years later Liverpool has changed almost beyond recognition. A Prospect of Liverpool 1725 (you can see it on our main site) by an unknown artist is an imaginary aerial view. The main feature is the town’s first dock built in 1715 which can be seen on the right of the picture.  A large brick building at the head of the dock is the Customs House of 1722. Further back a big flag is flying over the Town Hall and Exchange. St Nicholas’s also features. In the river a group of vessels fires a salute, a common practice at this period.

It is likely that this remarkable view was commissioned by a wealthy Liverpool citizen. The painting oozes confidence and optimism – even the masts and spars of the ships in dock are at jaunty angles.

Next week we look at the growth of Liverpool from the end of the Napoleonic wars to the late Victorian era.

There is more on the painting, Liverpool in 1680 on our main site, as well as desktop wallpaper of this fascinating piece. There are also many other maritime views of Liverpool to examine, with dates ranging from 1680-1893.

A new Maritime Tale appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo.

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