The History of the Ropewalks, Liverpool
The Ropewalks area is situated within the Riverside Ward of Liverpool, slightly to the south of the main city centre. The land rises from the Liverpool 1 complex at Hanover Street up towards Berry Street and towards Liverpool’s China Town.
These are roads that have taken their history and form from the ‘roperies’ that were founded to service the shipping industry following the building of the world’s first commercial ‘Wet Dock’, which was designed by Thomas Steers on land that was reclaimed from the former ‘Pool’ in 1715. This is by no means a complete and full historical write up of the Ropewalks but touches on a good amount of history - past and present views - and historical information.
The Ropewalks is something that its name is more of a mystery, and we hope to uncover this history for you so that you can understand the history and background of the Ropewalks, Liverpool. The name ‘Ropewalks’ goes hand in hand with the Duke Street Conservation Area, which is part of Liverpool’s Merchant’s Quarter. This conservation area was designated in 1988 and has entrusted Liverpool City Council to look after, protect and watch over this part of the city. Its history that has origins from the 18th Century growth of Liverpool associated with the expansion as a trading port and the starting of the industrial revolution.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, the first ‘Old Dock’ had been reclaimed and the city’s growth had expanded elsewhere. Resulting in the fact that Liverpool’s heritage and history will always move from central positions, here, the area of Ropewalks is a historical area that needs to be promoted far more than it is to provide a greater in-depth history on an area that is ever changing.
Writing in 2017, the ropewalks area today contain a mixture of late 18th and early 19th century merchants' houses, counting houses and warehouses. However, the area also has later 19th century and early 20th century commercial and new building developments. It is an ever-changing area. The history of the ropewalks groups many outstanding areas of interest, from the Bombed-Out Church, to St Peter’s Church Seel Street (now Alma De Cuba), to a fantastic nightlife, a historical China-town and ever changing buildings within the area.
Rewind back to the start of the 18th Century in Liverpool and the City was growing as an important commercial port. The City and Liverpool Bay became the place to trade for the navigational routes to settlements in North America. The ‘old dock’, the world’s first commercial ‘wet dock’ was established in 1715 on the basis that there was discontent from ship owners that there was nowhere safe to dock ships that arrived in Liverpool to trade their valuable cargoes.
The Old Dock was built at a cost of £11,000 and opened on 31 August 1715. The dock accommodated up to 100 ships. Originally a tidal basin was accessed directly from the river, and from 1737 access was via Canning Dock. The dock was built with one graving dock; a second and third graving dock where added in 1746 and the 1750s. The dock walls were constructed from brick laid directly on to sandstone bedrock. The dock gates would have allowed as much as 10% of the water out between high tides, resulting in a water level drop of several feet. This may have been offset by water entering the dock from a stream.
Although Liverpool vessels were involved in the slave trade before the dock opened, it would have served ships involved in the Africa-America trade, propelling Liverpool to world leader of this trade. The dock led to Liverpool's establishment as the leading European port and subsequent world trading port.
The Duke Street and Bold Street area developed during the 18th Century as local industry began to spring up in the area. Many of these included, ship building, iron works, breweries, and of course rope-making. Hence the name ‘Ropewalks’ takes its name due to the prevalence of ‘roperies’ that were established within the area to service the shipping companies of the 18th Century after the construction of the ‘safe’ Old Dock. The sites of the roperies that were then established on the fields have governed the pattern of roads that exist to this day.
Sourced from J. Sharples; Liverpool – Pevsner Architectural Guides, Yale University Press and J. Stonehouse – The Streets of Liverpool:
“The work required a straight, narrow stretch of ground, somewhat longer than the rope to be made. – the roperies that occupied the site of Bold Street were over 300 yards (274 metres) long.”
Roperies in and around the area were to be found on the sites of Bold Street, Renshaw Street, Ranelagh Street, Duke Street, Parr Street & Berry Street (formerly Colquitt Street).
(The street names have derived from connections to important and influential landowners, tenants and merchants in the area on whose land the roperies, cooperages, timber yards and foundries operated). “The Ropers were great men in election times and placed a high value on their votes”
The ropewalks area lay within a large area owned by the corporation and was leased to numerous tenants. There seemed to be no major overall plan for the development of the area and the street grid was laid out in a speculative manner.
The only regulations by the corporation being on the height and elevations of the buildings themselves.
Between the main streets, the area was developed as and when needed, so that by about 1785, all the connecting streets had emerged. The larger streets show the former residential streets which the trade would take place and behind them would be the narrower streets of warehouses and poorer people’s houses.
In the 19th Century, while trade in Liverpool was at its peak, obviously aided by the railway on our doorstep, the area now known as the ‘ropewalks’ fell from grace. The railways helped itself to the wealthier classes, often earning a living from the Docks in Liverpool but no longer had to live in the city centre and could move out to more affluent area’s such as Mossley Hill. The railways were also able to move their products away quickly and increased the good fortune of the city. At the start of the 1800’s, a modern network of streets and roads had appeared, and smaller squares and areas had sprung up and were becoming more established.
These grand houses built for merchants and counting houses were almost back-to-back with more modest terrace housing and many buildings in the area reflected the dual residency and business need. Probably the most famous example being that of the Grade 2 listed Thomas Parr’s House on Colquitt Street.
While the upper classes of the city that once lived in the ropewalks area were now moving of the city, the city did not stand still. Bold Street began to take shape as ‘the’ place to shop and the ground floor of many old houses were converted for such use. Poor people were still confined to a number of courts with back-to-back housing, and the Duke Street/Bold Street area at this time experienced a population explosion with an influx of Irish people seeking fortune in the city.
1725 MAP OF LIVERPOOL
Moving forward to the 20th Century, the area saw a physical decline. The effects from the bombing in World Was 2 caused great destruction, especially in the Wolstenholme Square area. But it’s greatest impact was the moving away of the maritime activity from the area.
This resulted in a decline of the condition of the buildings and warehouses and as recently seen on Duke Street, original warehouses demolished to be replaced by lesser quality developments. The ropewalks area will never serve its original purpose again.