Trade, population and geographical growth


Victoria County History



William Farrer & J. Brownbill (editors)

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'Liverpool: Trade, population and geographical growth', A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 4 (1911), pp. 37-38. URL: Date accessed: 16 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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The following table shows the growth of the foreign trade of the port, as measured by the entrances and clearances of vessels from or to foreign or colonial ports (fn. 1) at intervals of five years:—

Foreign Trade: Entrances and Clearances, 1835–1906

1900 (fn. 2) 3,5166,050,5263,1405,678,1146,65611,728,640

Two periods only show an actual decline in this table. The first is the quinquennium 1860–65, the period of the American Civil War, when the blockade of the southern ports caused the Lancashire cotton famine and for a brief time brought about a revival, in blockade-running expeditions, of the adventurous spirit of the age of privateering. (fn. 3) The other is the quinquennium 1890–95, a period of general bad trade. The periods of most rapid growth are those from 1850 to 1860, from 1865 to 1880, and again from 1900 onwards. The period from 1880 to 1900 is one in which Liverpool was feeling for the first time seriously the competition of the European nations which from 1815 to 1870 had left to England almost a monopoly of oversea trade. This competition may be said to have begun about 1870, and though the gross increase since that date has been twice as great as the increase in the preceding period of the same length, its effects have been shown in a tendency to more violent fluctuation, which will perhaps better be illustrated by the value of imports and exports than by the record of the actual sailings of vessels that might be either full or empty.

Table of Imports and Exports, 1875–1906

YearValue of ImportsValue of ExportsTotal

Space does not permit of any detailed analysis of the character and direction of Liverpool trade during this period, but some idea of its principal features may be derived from the following summary of the ten leading articles of import and the ten leading articles of export, with their approximate value, as in the year 1906:—

ImportsValue in MillionsExportsValue in Millions
Raw Cotton42.56Cotton Manufactures46.24
Dead Meat17.15Iron and Steel Manufacturers.13.98
Corn and Cereals14.65
India-rubber8.42Woollen Manufactures8.87
Live Animals4.84Linen Manufactures3.88
Copper4.23Cotton Yarn3.61
Tobacco3.18Carriages (chiefly railway)2.86
Sugar3.16China and Earthenware1.54

A further striking feature of the first table above, which indicates a characteristic of Liverpool's development, is the fact that, especially from 1850 onwards, the number of vessels employed tends to increase slowly, or even to diminish, while the tonnage rapidly grows. Thus in 1906 almost the same number of vessels entered and cleared as in 1835, but their tonnage is ten times as great. This remarkable increase of the tonnage of vessels is due above all to the replacement of sailing vessels by steamships, and to the increasing employment of large 'liners' sailing at regular intervals in place of the irregular sailings of an earlier period. The first regular liners begin with the institution of the Cunard line in 1842. The figures of the shipping registered in the port of Liverpool since 1850 bring out this point still more clearly.

Shipping Registered in Liverpool

No. of ShipsTonnageNo. of ShipsTonnageNo. of ShipsTonnage

Though steamboats had appeared in the Mersey as early as 1815, they were for long used purely for river or at most coasting traffic; (fn. 4) it was not until the forties that they began to be employed for the ocean trade in which Liverpool is mainly concerned. But as soon as this happened, the size of the vessels in the port rose with great rapidity, from an average of 280 tons in 1850 to an average of 1,270 tons in 1906. Liverpool has indeed become peculiarly the home of large vessels. While the number of her vessels is only two-thirds of that of London, their total tonnage is one-third greater; (fn. 5) that is to say, the average Liverpool ship is twice as big as the average London ship. Of 271 British vessels which in 1906 measured over 4,000 tons, no less than 146 belonged to Liverpool; and while in number Liverpool possesses not much more than one-tenth of the British mercantile marine, in tonnage she possesses considerably more than one-fifth.

In regard to the position of Liverpool among the ports of the world, the following comparative statement of the value of the trade of the first six ports of the world may be quoted. (fn. 6) In 1905 the trade of London was estimated to be worth £261,000,000; of Liverpool, £237,000,000; of New York, £221,000,000; of Hamburg, £196,000,000; of Antwerp, £147,000,000; of Marseilles, £86,000,000.


The following are the census returns during the period, including for the earlier dates the suburban districts later added to the town:—

1907 (fn. 7) 746,144 (fn. 8)

These figures, however, do not adequately represent the growth which has taken place, since they omit notice of the growth of Bootle, of the northern suburbs of Seaforth, Waterloo, and Crosby and other outlying districts outside of the municipal boundary, as well as of the population of about 200,000 in Wirral, which almost wholly depends economically upon Liverpool. The whole of this population has been created during the period under notice, and the urban population dependent upon Liverpool now exceeds 1,000,000.

It should be noticed that the Irish population of Liverpool, always large, was enormously increased by the inrush of immigrants after the Potato Famine of 1845–6; over 90,000 entered the town in the first three months of 1846, and nearly 300,000 in the twelve months following July 1847. Most of these subsequently emigrated to America, but many thousands, unable to find the passage money, remained to swell the misery of the Liverpool slums.


No account can here be given of the rapid expansion of the street-covered area, but it is necessary to note the stages of the expansion of municipal control over this area. After the enlargement of the boundaries in 1835 nearly sixty years passed without any further enlargement; in the meantime the borough of Bootle, which was essentially an expansion of Liverpool, had grown up and obtained its incorporation without opposition in 1869; beyond it the populous areas of Seaforth and Crosby lay separated from the town; the borough of Birkenhead was similarly incorporated in 1877. At the end of the century, however, the city awoke to the danger of allowing the wealthy residential suburbs which derived their prosperity from the city to escape from their share of the costs of government. In 1895 the township of Walton, a second large section of the extensive township of West Derby, the township of Wavertree, and the remaining southern half of the township of Toxteth, were added to the city. (fn. 9) In 1901 the township of Garston, on the eve of applying for an incorporation which would have shut in the city on the south as it was inclosed by Bootle on the north, was also taken in. In 1903 an attempt was made to incorporate Bootle in the city; but though the approval of the Local Government Board was obtained, the vigorous opposition of Bootle prevented the passage of the bill through Parliament. In 1904 the township of Fazakerley was incorporated. The increase of the city's area involved in these successive enlargements may be briefly shown:—



1 The figures for coasting trade are omitted. This table is compiled from the Annual Reports on Trade and on Shipping and Navigation laid before the Houses of Parliament.
2 Including transports for the South African War.
3 Running the Blockade.
4 Smithers, Liverpool, 186.
5 In 1906 London had 3,300 vessels of 2,100,000 tons; Liverpool 2,200 vessels of 2,800,000 tons.
6 Annual statement of the Chairman of the Dock Board, quoting American official estimates.
7 From the Medical Officer's Report (estimated).
8 The birth-rate, which shows a slow but steady decline throughout the later half of the period, was in 1907 estimated at 31.7 per 1,000, as compared with 26.3 per 1,000 for England and Wales. On the other hand the death-rate has sunk from an average of 32.5 per 1,000 in 1861–70 to 20.4 in 1901–7.
9 59 Vict. cap. 7.