A Short History of the Smallest U.S. State

29 December 1890 - Providence, Rhode Island

American history teaches that the Puritans brought religious freedom to the New World. Pish-posh! That distinction goes to Rhode Island and not Massachusetts. Let me explain.

Cromwell Shilling
In an oversimplified nutshell, the Puritans were a sect of the Church of England who decided King Charles the First wasn’t holy enough to be the head of the Church and Parliament should rule England. They had a civil war, beheaded the king and put Oliver Cromwell in charge. Cromwell was a blood thirsty tyrant, but the English don’t remember that because he was too busy killing the Irish and Scottish to give them too much trouble.

Even so, the Puritans had a lot of silly laws trying to reform the morals of a lot of people who didn’t feel they needed reforming. After five years of rule, Cromwell died before he could be kicked out. King Charles’ son, King Charles II was brought out of exile and given back the throne. He was a silly fop, but he wasn’t a ruthless dictator, so everyone was much happier.

Everyone except the Puritans, who didn’t feel Cromwell went far enough. They decided the Church of England was beyond help and broke away. In fact they decided England was just too unholy and left to establish their own little piece of heaven in Massachusetts.

Puritan punishments for minor offenses
The Puritans were even more strict there and anyone caught celebrating or enjoying themselves were swiftly punished. The worse offense of all was not being a member of their church. If you were a Quaker, they would hang you. Dissenters, those who argued any point, were kicked out of the colony into the wilderness to fend for themselves.

One of these dissenters was a chap named Roger Williams. His argument was that there should be a separation of church and state and that there should be religious freedom. He also believed that Native Americans were people and should be dealt with fairly. For this blasphemy, he was put on trial in 1635 and convicted of sedition and heresy and banished. (This was later repealed by the Massachusetts courts in 1936--a bit too late to do Williams any good.)

Roger Williams with friends
Before Williams could be bodily removed, he slipped away, walking 105 miles through the snow to Narragansett Bay. There he was met by his friends, the Wampanoags, and taken to their winter camp. Williams got permission to set up a settlement on their land. He named it Providence. He helped found America’s first Baptist Church there. However all dissenters, whatever their beliefs, were welcomed, including Quakers and Jews. Probably a good thing the colony wasn’t strictly for Baptists, because Williams broke away to become unaffiliated with any religion.

Perhaps it’s this “dissenter” tradition that made Rhode Island the very first state to declare independence from England on 4 May 1776, two months before the Declaration of Independence. It also was the last state to ratify the Constitution of the United States. Rhode Island only agreed after the other states threatened to declare it a foreign nation and tax it’s exports.

Rhode Island is the smallest state, but it is in fact two even smaller colonies that agreed to merge in 1644. It’s official name is “Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations.” (In 2010, the populace voted 78% in favor to keep the name. Perhaps because Providence is not only the Capital, but the largest city in Rhode Island.)

1895 map of Rhode Island
Rhode Island has been nicknamed the Ocean State since Narragansett Bay takes up much of the state, reaching all the way to Providence in the north. The city has a long maritime tradition, including the slave trade, a fact which would have made Roger Williams and it’s other founders roll over in their graves. Rhode Island controlled 60% to 90% of the American trade in African slaves at one time. They also distilled rum from molasses to trade for more slaves. Rhode Island had the largest New England slave population--6.3%.

Ironically, in 1774, Rhode Island passed the first anti-slavery bill in the United States, making it illegal to import slaves into the state. In 1784 a bill was passed to gradually emancipate the state’s slaves. Many of the freed slaves stayed. Their descendants now are mostly domestics or factory workers, but some are successful merchants and artists.

The economy since mid-century, has shifted from maritime to manufacturing. Providence can boast some of the largest manufacturing plants in the country. The major industries are machinery, tools, silverware, costume jewelry and textiles. This has brought in a wave of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Sweden, England, Italy, Portugal, Cape Verde, French Canada, as well as other countries. The population in 1840 was 23,171. Now in 1890 it is 132,146.

Market Square looking east circa 1890 - Providence, R.I.
Providence is one of the oldest cities in America, but all this sudden growth makes it feel very new. I’m sure Roger Williams meant “God’s care and guidance” when he named his settlement “Providence.” However the other definition “good judgment and foresight in the management of affairs” would certainly fit this booming city.


I Meet Santa Claus

20 December 1890 - Brockton, Massachusetts

Ad for James Edgar's new 1907 store
Yesterday I visited Edgar’s Department Store here on Main Street in Brockton, Massachusetts. It is one of the first department stores in the world with electric lights and cash registers thanks to Edison’s little experiment I spoke of in my last blog.

However, what Edgar’s Department Store is most famous for is having the world’s first department store Santa Claus. The idea did not come from an accountant with a brilliant promotional idea, but almost accidentally from a man who just liked children and wanted to have some fun. And who was going to tell the chap no--after all, he owned the store.

I had hoped to corner James Edgar yesterday for an interview but the man was besieged by children. In fact, I had to wait in line with them to get a word with “Santa Claus.” I think he mostly agreed to talk to me because I addressed him as Santa Claus, so as not to destroy the illusion for the children.

Mr. Edgar had agreed to meet me at his home today. It is Sunday here in 1890. I was surprised that he looked like Santa even without the suit. No fake beard or pillow had been used. Here are some exerts of our interview.

So tell me something about yourself, Mr. Edgar. Is that a bit of a Scottish brogue I hear?

Edgar as Scottish Chieftain
Yes, I immigrated from Edinburgh back in ‘78 when I was thirty-five. Brockton was a booming town, still is. Do you know the place has doubled in the last ten years? Anyway I worked in a dry goods store, learned the ropes, then saved up enough to start my own store. I tried to make it a place that welcomed families. I started a lay-away program for struggling families and I made children welcome by handing them pennies. I even dressed up as George Washington and a sea captain.

How did you come up with the idea of dressing like Santa Claus?

Edgar as clown
Last year I dressed as a clown and walked around the store. The children loved it! Recently I saw an illustration of Santa Claus by Thomas Nast.

Ah, the one he did for “The Night Before Christmas?”

Yes, that’s the one. I thought, “Ha, Santa looks like me!” Then I thought that would even be better than a clown. The children would love it! I have never been able to understand why the great gentleman lives at the North Pole. He is so far away...only able to see the children one day a year. He should live closer to them.

Thomas Nast's Santa
I tried to find a Santa Claus suit, but couldn’t find one. So I had one special made, based on Nast’s illustration. I was surprised by the reaction. The children had smiled at me when I dressed as a clown, but when I approached them as Santa, their eyes got big. They yelled, “Look! It’s Santa Claus!”

If you couldn’t find a suit, I’m assuming they had never seen anyone dressed as Santa before.

Yes, this fellow who brings children toys every Christmas and none of them had ever got to meet him. I hadn’t considered what that must mean to a child. I just wanted to make them smile. When I took the suit off to handle business, children came in wanting to know where Santa was. I knew I was going to have to spend most of my time in the suit so I didn’t disappoint any of them. In fact, I had another suit made for my brother-in-law, so he could spell me. I try to spend as much time as I can as Santa.

Yes, I noticed the huge crowd yesterday. How many children were there?

I lost count. I like to walk around the store talking to children, but when we get a huge mob I have to sit down and have them line up to see me. I knew Brockton had grown, but I never knew there were this many children. Then parents started telling me they had come by train from Boston so their child could see Santa. Boston is twenty miles away. Some even came from Providence, and that’s more than thirty miles away! Yesterday, being the last Saturday before Christmas, was the busiest day yet!

Oh, my word! You must be exhausted!

A bit. It’s worth it though to see those excited faces. Also sales have sky-rocketed. Apparently while the youngsters are waiting to talk to Santa, parents take the opportunity to shop. Nice added bonus, eh.

So next year you’ll hire someone else to play Santa?

Heavens, no! Why should they have the fun? I love kids, and they seem to love me. More than one calls me “Uncle Jim.”

James Edgar aka Uncle Jim

Uncle Jim indeed. James Edgar will be most remembered for the children he helped. He paid the medical expenses for children from poor families and gave jobs to youths in need. And Fourth-of-July he would rent trolleys to take thousands of children out into the country and meet them dressed as an Amerind, “Big Chief”.

Soon other department stores will hear of James Edgars brilliant idea and hire their own Santa Clauses. They will become a symbol of the crass commercialism of the holidays. But the best of them, like Edgar, will do it because they love kids. If anyone personified Santa Claus, it would be James Edgar.

I can honestly say, I met Santa Claus today.

Brockton’s official website for James Edgar

The Santa Claus Hall of Fame
James Edgar was one of the first inductees.

The Santa Claus Oath
Although this was not written until 2008, James Edgar lived up to the oath.

Santa Is Real
A short video of the dedicated men who carry on James Edgar's legacy.


I Get the Boot...And the Shoes

16 December 1890 - Brockton, Massachusetts

You may have never heard of Brockton, Massachusetts, but if you sold shoes in 1890 you would certainly know of this place. One sixth of all the shoes made in 1890 America come from Brockton--nearly ten million pairs a year. Almost all of the residence (27,294) are involved in shoe making or supporting all those shoemakers.

W.L. Douglas Shoe Co. Factories in Brockton
The industry started out with cobblers and their apprentices making shoes and shipping them out to the surrounding rural communities. Mr. Micah Faxon was the first person in Brockton to begin wholesale shoe manufacturing in 1811. Then in the 1840s the railway between Boston and New York City went right through North Bridgetown as it was then called. Their market expanded tremendously.

It was in the 1860s two things happened that made the industry boom. The steam powered McKay Sewing Machine allowed one to stitch up a shoe in minutes instead of hours. And with the marching armies of the Civil War, there was a huge market for boots. North Bridgetown exploded.

By 1874 North Bridgetown decided they needed another name to set them apart from the local communities of West Bridgetown and East Bridgetown. One of the locals, coming back from Niagara Falls, told of a town he heard of in Ontario called Brockville. Everyone liked the name “Brock” and decided to add to equally strong sounding “ton” to it.

Unfortunately no one looked into who Brockville had been named after. Sir Isaac Brock was the British General who captured Detroit in the War of 1812. (Erm...that will just be our little secret, eh?)

W.L. Douglas Shoe Ad
Brockton is not the only small town in America which became an industrial giant almost overnight. It is however unusual in how workers are treated. So many industrialists of this era take advantage of their poor immigrant work force, treating them worse than slaves. (You have to at least keep slaves alive to protect your investment.) Here there is no squalor, no families shoved into tiny airless rooms. Conditions are not perfect, but compared to other factory towns, Brockton is a veritable Utopia.

Brockton’s “Shoe Barons” decided a healthy, educated and happy working class made more productive workers. The city opened a public high school in 1864 and a public library in 1867. The Brockton Street Railway Company started a horse-powered trolley service in 1881 so workers no longer had to walk to work. By 1880 Brockton was part of the first interstate telephone system in the country.

Which brings us to Thomas Edison. He had improved the light bulb to something more practical, but what good is it without electricity? He had managed to light up a few blocks in New York City, but he needed a system that could send electricity more than just a mile. He came up with the three-wire underground system, and chose the progressive city of Brockton as his experimental laboratory. So 1 October 1883, Edison threw the switch and Brockton became the second city in the world to have electric street lights. It also became the first city in the world with a theatre and fire station with electric lights. In 1888 it would become the second city in the country to have electric street cars. Currently Brockton is one of the most modern communities in the world. (Locals would argue, THE most modern community in the world.) Other cities from around the country and even Europe are visiting Brockton, wanting to copy them. 27th century Harvard has sent me to study it, too.

Brockton Electric Streetcar
I was also asked to visit all the shoe factories of Brockton. After looking them up I discovered that will be impossible. I found a list of the thirty-four most prominent shoe manufacturers. I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t close to one hundred factories.

President Benjamin Harrison
The real reason though that I picked December 1890 is because of another great first that Brockton is probably now most proud of, but I will talk about that in my next blog. A hint? He’s fat and jolly and has a white beard. (No, it’s not current President Benjamin Harrison.)

collection of postcards from Brockton’s heyday

And in case it ever comes up in a quiz show, here are Brockton's thirty-four most prominent shoe and boot manufacturers in 1890:
Church & Alden; Packard and Field; W. L. Douglas Shoe Co.; The Frank E. White Co.; George G. Snow; George E. Keith; Preston B. Keith; R. B. Grover & Co.; M.A. Packard & Co.; Stacy, Adams & Co.; Lilly, Bracket & Co.; Henry M. Kingman; S. Gardner Jones; Daniel Waldo Field; Thompson Brothers; Enos H. Reynolds; Emerson, Weeks & Co.; Perkins & Joyce; N.R. Packard & Co.; Howard T. Marshall; Bittenbender & Caverly; Ellis F. Coopeland; Myron F. Thomas; Terry, Ware & Alley; L.C. Bliss & Co.; T.D. Barry & Co.; Montello Shoe Company; Whitman & Keith; Walker & Whitman; James Means & Co.; L.M. Reynolds; McCarty, Sheehy & Kendrick Co.; Walker, Taylor & Co.; Bowe, Crawford & Co.


St. George's Hall

Saturday, 21 October 1871 - Liverpool, England

St. George's Hall
Door plaque of Mercury,
Roman god of commerce
The most impressive structure in Liverpool is St. George’s Hall. It is possibly the finest neo-classical buildings in the world and one of the greatest buildings of the Victorian Age. It looks like a Greek temple. Perhaps it is a temple--to the God of Commerce who has smiled upon Liverpool. The city certainly used this edifice all to show off their wealth.

As impressive as St. George’s looks on the outside, the inside is breathtaking. There are mosaics on the walls, ceilings and floors. Sculptures in marble and bronze are everywhere. And all this for a meeting hall.

Liverpool had a music festival every three years, but no hall large enough to accommodate it. So in 1836 a group of civic minded citizens got together to raise money and draw up plans for a building to be used not only for the festivals but for meetings, dinners and concerts. They also decided to show the world how prosperous Liverpool had become. Construction started in 1841 and the hall was opened in 1854.

The Great Hall
The great hall is 169 feet long by 76 feet wide and 87 feet high. The floor holds 1400 spectators, while the galleries hold 600. Around the hall in niches are statues of local heroes: George Stephenson, who built the first railway; Sir William Brown, the banker who paid for the Brown Free Library and Museum; Joseph Mayer, the goldsmith that filled said museum; Rev. Hugh McNeile; Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby; Rev. Archdeacon Brooks, the late rector of Liverpool; Sir Robert Peel, former Prime Minister; and William Ewart Gladstone, the current Prime Minister. There will be more statues added in time, but those are the gentlemen that are here now.

Among all this opulence is St. George’s greatest attraction--their giant organ. It was built by Henry Willis, the greatest organ builder of the Victorian Era. The organ has 7,737 pipes ranging from one-half inch to thirty-two feet. The wind is supplied by a steam engine. The sound is amazing. It is the largest organ in Britain--well, it was until Albert Hall got a larger one just this year. (Not to worry. In 1910 Liverpool will beat London again when the Anglican Cathedral will have the largest organ in Britain.)

St. George's Hall's organ
W.T. Best gives organ concerts in the Great Hall every Thursday at 8:00 pm and Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00 pm. The admission is 6d. You can rent the hall for thirty-one pounds, ten shillings. The smaller concert room (which is 75 feet square) can be had for sixteen pounds. That is a lot of money in 1871, so there aren’t many performances here.

St. George's Hall is open free to the public to come an admire, or to show off to visiting relatives. This after all belongs to the citizens of Liverpool.

ceiling in the Great Hall



Listen to Ian Tracey play the Great Organ of St. George's Hall


William Brown Free Library and Museum

Wednesday, 18 October 1871 - Liverpool, England

William Brown Free Library and Museum
Today I visited the William Brown Free Library and Museum. It was named for a local merchant who made a fortune in American trade and paid for this handsome building. Indeed Liverpool was so grateful they even renamed the road out front William Brown Street. (Formerly Shaw’s Brow for the owner of a nearby pottery factory.)

Liverpool is full of wealthy men leaving their rare collections of books, paintings and objects to the city. Indeed it had become so extensive that the city couldn’t afford to make a facility large enough. That’s when William Brown came to the rescue. He laid the corner stone himself in the spring of 1857. Three and half years later the Library and Museum opened, free to the public.

Newspaper clipping of opening in 1860
The library’s collection in 1871 is over 6,000 volumes of rare and costly works. None of these can be lent out, but anyone can borrow one book at a time to peruse if it stays in the library. Each book is to be checked out on a slip of paper, then returned before leaving the reading room. No one can hand over the book to another reader; they must check out the book for themselves. No one complains about the rules, for while they are strict, they are fair. Besides, there are two lending libraries connected with this library over on Great Nelson Street and on Parliament Street

Walking through the reading room I noticed not only the students I expected, but quite a few chaps that looked to be working class. This public library belongs to them as much as to the wealthy merchants. I also observed a section set aside just for the ladies. This might seem like segregation, but Victorian ladies are ill at ease sitting with strange men. Except for a bit of whispering, everyone is well behaved, whatever their social class.

Entrance Hall
The attached Museum has an impressive selection. The present Lord of Derby donated his late father’s countless natural history specimens. Here too is the “Jackson Collection” of rare British coins. There are several aquariums, an art gallery and plaster casts of famous statues.

The greatest contributor to date though has been Joseph Mayer, a very successful goldsmith. He was quite the collector of Ancient and Medieval Art. There are numerous ceramic pieces, from Wedgewood’s ware to Vauxhall, Staffordshire and Liverpool pottery. Also among the collection are medieval manuscripts, ivories and enamels; Egyptian, Roman and Etruscan artifacts; as well as jewelry, clocks, watches, bronze medals and armour.

Kingston Brooch
I was especially impressed by the Kingston Brooch. Dating from about 630 A.D. it was found last century by Reverend Bryan Faussett in a Saxon grave. It’s made of gold and set with red garnets, shells and blue glass--830 tiny pieces in all, carefully placed by an unknown master craftsman. This is one of the most valuable treasures of Anglo-Saxon England ever found. Thank heavens it finally fell into the hands of the generous Mr. Mayer.

Mayer’s entire collection is appraised at $100,000--a fortune in this day and age. His treasures could fill a museum and indeed did. In 1852 Mayer opened a museum in Colquitt Street. His aim wasn’t to make money, but to show off his collection. After all, what good was it if he was the only one who got to admire it? He freely gave it all to the Liverpool Museum here at Brown’s library in 1867. His dream was for Liverpool to have a great museum like London's British Museum.

Egyptian Hall after Blitz
As for the future of the Brown Free Library and Museum, in 1875-79 the Picton Reading Room will be added and in 1901 the College of Technology and Museum Extension will be opened. Sadly the building will not escape the Blitz. A German firebomb in World War II will gut the building. Luckily most of the collection will be hidden in a safer location and will survive. The Museum will be rebuilt and at the beginning of the 21st century it will be expanded and renamed the World Museum Liverpool.

Even in 1871 it is very impressive. Just don’t come on Tuesdays and Fridays because they close the museum for cleaning. That’s a lot of work for a custodian with a feather duster. (No janitor-bots in the Victorian Age, you know.) I came here when they opened at ten this morning and plan to stay until they close at ten tonight. So much to see.

Picton Reading Room (1879)
College of Technology and Museum Extension (1901)

Lord Derby's Natural History collection with additions

Video of dinosaur roaming future World Museum
(No children were eaten in the filming of this.)

free book: Liverpool’s Museum: First 150 Years
(takes a moment to download)


Edward Rushton's School

Wednesday, 11 October 1871 - Liverpool, England

Today I visited the Liverpool School for the Blind on Hope Street. This building was built in 1851, but the school itself dates back to 1791.

Liverpool School for the Blind built in 1851
This is the very first school for the blind in Great Britain and in the English speaking world. The only one older is the Institute for Blind Youth in Paris founded in 1784. However, Liverpool’s School for the blind is the first in the world to accept students of all ages.

Edward Rushton
The Liverpool school was founded by Edward Rushton, writer, poet and fighter for abolition. He knew that blind people could learn to work around their disability and become more than just beggars. After all, Rushton had.

Born in Liverpool in 1756, Edward Rushton enrolled in the Liverpool Free School when six years-old, until he was nine. At eleven he became a sailor with a local shipping firm. At 17 he found himself on a ship with a shocking cargo--slaves. Rushton was appalled at the conditions the poor captives were shackled in. He would sneak them down food and water. Unfortunately, opthalmia was running rampant through the prisoners. He caught it too and became blind.

Despite his disability, Rushton became a successful writer. Despite his abolitionist politics in a town that made money in the slave trade, he was able to collect enough to start the school for the blind.

Liverpool School for the Blind in 1812
The school now teaches everything from basic marketable skills like knitting, basket weaving and rope making, to classes on music, Braille and liberal arts. Many of the teachers are blind themselves. Perhaps the greatest thing taught here is confidence.

In 1807, a surgeon was able to return Edward Rushton’s sight to one eye. He was able to see Isabelle, his wife of twenty-three years, for the first time. She would die four years later. He would follow her three years later at the age of fifty-eight. Rushton’s school however outlived him and continued on for as long as it was needed, educating generations of blind people.

Before blind schools, the blind had to try to figure out how to manage in a sighted world all on their own. These schools taught them the skills they needed to make their own lives. I’m happy to say the Victorians have set up many more of these schools for both the blind and deaf, and are continually improving their teaching methods.

Victorian doctors are making strides in medicine to find cures to prevent these disabilities. It is thanks to the groundwork laid down by our 19th century ancestors, that blindness and deafness no longer exist in the 27th century. Just one more reason to love the Victorians.

Poems by Edward Rushton

Rushton’s letter to George Washington
criticizing him for owning slaves.

The Liverpool Royal School for the Blind


The Wandering Botanical Gardens of Liverpool

Saturday, 2 October 1871

Wavetree Park with wall around the Botanical Gardens
Today I visited Wavetree Botanical Gardens and Park in what was once the village of Wavetree and is now a suburb in southeast Liverpool. Until recently, with the opening of Stanley Park and the near opening of Sefton, Wavetree was one of the few parks in an urban area desperate for open spaces.

William Roscoe
The Botanical Gardens themselves date way back to 1802 and another part of town. William Roscoe created the Liverpool Botanical Garden near Mount Pleasant on the then edge of town. This was not Britain’s first botanical garden but it was the first subscription one. Wealthy patrons not only contributed money, but more importantly many contributed new plants. Those that owned shipping firms instructed their captains to bring back interesting specimens they ran across from all around the world. Liverpool soon had a Botanical Garden envied by the rest of Europe.

Roscoea Purpurea
William Roscoe is an interesting chap in himself. Lawyer, banker, historian, writer, poet and philanthropist, he was elected Member of Parliament, despite his controversial abolitionist stand. After all, the slave trade was a huge chunk of the local economy. Roscoe collected Renaissance art, rare books and plants. Perhaps it was in his blood, being the son of a market gardener, but Roscoe’s biggest passion was botany. He was so well respected by other botanists that his great friend, Sir James Smith, the founder of The Linnean Society, didn’t just name a flower after him, but an entire genus--the Roscoea, from the ginger family.

Layout of new Garden
By 1836 the city had encroached, and the pollution was effecting the plants. Roscoe had already passed away five years earlier, so his friends, dug up every plant and moved them to the new edge of town at Edge Lane in Wavetree. The eleven acre garden, that included a large greenhouse, was enclosed by a brick wall.

By 1841 most of the subscribers had their own greenhouses. The Botanical Gardens were threatened with extinction when the Corporation of Liverpool bought it to make it a public garden. A large piece of land was bought next door and turned into Wavetree Park.

Wavetree Botanical Garden Greenhouse
Sadly the greenhouse was destroyed in the Blitz in 1941. It wasn’t that Hitler hated orchids, but the Luftwaffe missed the nearby railway. The remains of the Botanical Gardens will be moved again in 1964 to Harthill at Calderstone Park only to be closed twenty years later.

Gardens look tough, but they are delicate things that can disappear when forgotten. I recorded these down to the last orchid and Roscoea. With my data, Liverpool will be able to reproduce a virtual Botanical Gardens. Or if the city gets really energetic, they could reproduce an exact replica with real flowers. That would be fantastic. Gardens are works of art that should be preserved.


Liverpool Sailors' Home

Friday, 22 September 1871 - Liverpool, England

Liverpool Sailor's Home
Liverpool’s fortune is built on the back of sailors. It’s a dangerous life. Storms can sweep you overboard, accidents are common, disease and malnutrition a constant threat. However the perils of the sea are nothing compared to the hazards in port.

Everyone knows sailors get paid when they come into port, and everyone is ready to cheat them out of their money--or kill them for it. Alcohol is watered down with water if they are lucky, toxins if they are not. “Drunk for a penny, blind for two” as the old saying goes. “Judies” are there to take a lonely sailor home...or to an alley to get him rolled by her friends. Inns are dirty, expensive and often unsafe.

sailors near the docks
Authorities shrug their shoulders--they are sailors after all and we all know their reputation. Sailors often come from the desperate lower classes and therefore have no political clout and get no respect. Sailors are usually from somewhere else and don’t know anyone in town.

Inside of the Sailor's Home
Liverpool however knows what she owes these drudges of the sea. And so in 1844 the Mayor of Liverpool called a public meeting to help these exploited fellows. It was decided that a hostel should be built to help sailors. In 1846 Prince Albert himself laid the foundation stone and in 1852 the Liverpool Sailors Home was opened for business.

Railing inside
Now sailors have a clean, safe, and inexpensive place to stay and eat. Liverpool is not the only port to build a Sailors Home, but this city may have the grandest one. The outside is very palatial, but it is even fancier on the inside. The five stories of rooms are arranged around a courtyard under a skylight and ringed by cast iron columns and rails done in nautical themes of dolphins, mermaids and anchors.

There is also a very ornate iron gate out front. It closes promptly at ten every night and is meant to reinforce the curfew. No unruly behavior allowed. Gentlemen only--and that status is determined by conduct rather than social class. Despite the restrictions the sailors are only too happy to comply. There are often 200 guests here every night from all over the world.

Sailor's Home Gate out front
Another accidental service the Home provides is connections. Sober seamen can meet reputable ship captains and secure better and safer employment on seaworthy ships. The Home also offers sick sailors medical attention. And it has a bank for seaman to keep their money safe while in port.

Most importantly though the Sailors Home is just that--a home away from home--a safe port while in port.

A Picture Gallery of the Liverpool Sailors' Home


The Spirit of an Unconquered People

Friday, 15 September 1871 - Liverpool, England

Liverpool Customs House
Today I visited largest building in Liverpool. In most cities that would be a cathedral or a castle or a palace. Here in Liverpool, a city that lives by trade, it’s the Customs House.

A Customs House is where the offices are located for the folks who handle all the paperwork for the goods coming in and going out of the country. The officials also collect taxes and regulate commerce. In most cities the customs house just an office building, but here in Liverpool it looks like a Greek temple to the god of commerce.

Built between 1828 and 1839 on the site of the original old dock, the Custom House overlooks the bay, greeting foreign ships coming in. She is one of the city’s great landmarks. The University of Liverpool especially wanted me to record as much of her as I could. In seventy years she will be gone.

We have all heard of the London Blitz in World War II, but London was not the only target. Glasgow, Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Manchester, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Southampton, and Swansea were all hit. However the Luftwaffe’s second biggest target was the Liverpool area. If the London Blitz was a strike at the heart of Britain, then the Liverpool Blitz was a kidney punch. This was her major port for supplies from America and Canada. This was also where Britain’s Atlantic fleet was headquartered.

Liverpool after the Blitz
From 1940 and 1942, the folks of Liverpool slept lightly, poised to run for air-raid shelters. Even those were not safe in a direct hit. Between August and December of 1940 alone, .the Germans attacked fifty times. Most raids were only a few planes, but some had as many as 300 bombers. The RAF valiantly tried to stop the Luftwaffe, but could only slow them down. Thousands of homes were destroyed in Liverpool and the suburb towns of Bootle, Wirral and Birkenhead. 4,000 people lost their lives.

The docks were Germany’s main target, so was only a matter of time before the Customs House would be hit. It was completely gutted and the dome destroyed. What remains of the shell was demolished six years later. To this day there is still a debate as to whether or not the Customs Building could have been repaired or if it was a lost cause. No one wanted to see it go.

Bombed Out Customs House
The Customs House will by no means the only building destroyed in the Liverpool Blitz. I have been given a list of ones that are now here in 1871. This is my chance to save their memory for the folks back home.

Despite the great blow from the Blitz, Liverpool will carry on. When Prime Minister Winston Churchill came to survey the damage, he summed it up well: "I see the damage done by the enemy attacks, but I also see ... the spirit of an unconquered people."

Scousers Carrying On
(Like that twit Hitler could slow them down)


A Very Short History of Liverpool

Monday, 11 September 1871 - Liverpool, England

future Seaman's Orphan Institute
Today I was present for the laying of the foundation stone for the Liverpool Seaman's Orphan Institution by Ralph Brocklebank. The Brocklebank family owns one of the oldest and largest shipping firms in Liverpool. Since the Seaman’s Orphan Institute’s founding in 1869, the orphans have been living in temporary quarters. Their permanent home won’t be finished until 1874.

You may wonder why the University of Liverpool wanted me to cover such a trivial event as the laying of a foundation stone for an orphange, but it is not trivial. This organization was more than overdue. The life of a sailor is a dangerous one and they have left plenty of orphans. Liverpool realized it had better do something to repay the sacrifices of these brave seaman. Without sailors and ships there would be no Liverpool. Well, maybe a tiny village with a couple of farms, but it would not be a city by any stretch of the imagination.

Liverpool was founded in 1207 with a Royal Charter from King John. Yes, that King John, villainized in all the Robin Hood movies. However King John was not the total idiot he is often portrayed as. He could see this spot would make an excellent port. Problem was it would take nearly five centuries for anyone else to see that.

map of Liverpool 1600
For a long time Liverpool was just a small fishing village. By the middle of the 16th century she had 600 souls. Then in 1648 Liverpool received it’s first cargo from America, starting a trans-Atlantic highway. By 1700 the city’s population was 7,000. She will swell to 75,000 by the end of the century, increasing more than ten fold.

map of Liverpool 1769
In the early eighteen century two things happened that would make Liverpool one of the biggest ports in the world. First she built the world’s first commercial enclosed wet dock, capable of holding 100 ships. Secondly she sent out her first slave ship. By the end of the century 40% of the world’s and 80% of Great Britain’s slave ships sailed from Liverpool. Slavery made a lot of people rich, and made a lot more people miserable. (To be fair to Liverpool, in 2007 she opened the International Slavery Museum, in the memory of all those victims, rather than pretending it never happened.)

Slavery was not the only commerce. From Liverpool products from Great Britain went over seas to the Americas. Returning ships were loaded down with products from the New World--sugar, tobacco, wheat, and most importantly, cotton. Cotton mills were opened in Liverpool but most of the cargo was shipped to Manchester. At first they went there by canal, but in 1830 Liverpool was linked to Manchester by way of the world’s very first commercial railway. Soon Britain would be crisscrossed with rail.

original Liverpool and Manchester Railway
Liverpool’s shipping industry just got bigger. Between 1824 and 1858 over 140 acres of new docks were built. Currently (1871), it’s estimated that 40% of all the shipping in the world goes through Liverpool. It is bringing sailors, merchants and workers from all over the world to this city.

During the Potato Famine, thousands of Irish migrated here--300,000 in 1847 alone. In the 1851 census, one in four people in Liverpool put down Ireland as their birthplace. In the second half of the 1800s, at least 120,000 Welsh also came. The two Celtic groups gave Liverpool it’s unique “Souser” accent.

Scandinavian Church
The name Souser comes from a Norwegian dish lapskaus. The Norwegian sailors introduced the stew to the locals and it has become a local favorite. Since the 1850s many Scandinavians have immigrated to Liverpool. By 1888 the community will be large and wealthy enough to build a huge church, the Gustaf Adolfs Kyrka.

The slave trade also gave Liverpool Britain’s first Black community. Freed slaves, runaway sailors from America and servants brought by captains, made the Black population 10,000 by 1720. They had to deal with racism, but they survived and flourished.

Liverpool has Europe’s oldest Chinatown. They have been coming in since the East India Company lost their monopoly on eastern trade. The massacre of Greeks by the Turks in 1821 will send a wave of Greek immigrants here. Italians have come here recently to escape poverty. There are some tradesmen and sailors from India. If you look hard enough you can find people from all over the world.

By 1871 all this immigration will make Liverpool’s population 493, 405. Apparently immigrants are also a great export for the city. Two-thirds of the immigrants to the United States and Canada will pass through Liverpool. (Remember my trip to Ellis Island in 1893 last year? I had to start in Liverpool.)

Dr. William Duncan
Unfortunately this rapid, unplanned growth made Liverpool Britain’s filthiest city in the first half of the century. This led to cholera, small pox, typhus and other outbreaks in the slums. Those outbreaks would spill into nicer neighborhoods. When other ports began to ban ships from Liverpool from docking, the city fathers decided to do something about it. The appointed Dr. William Duncan as the UK’s very first Medical Officer of Health in 1847. He seemed the perfect man since he had long been nagging them about the problem. And Liverpool listened. By 1871, one can already see a drastic change.

Besides having some of the worst slums, Liverpool also has some of the nicest neighborhoods in Great Britain. The only town with more millionaires is London. Most made their money in shipping.

Victorian Liverpool
There is almost nothing left of the medieval village that was Liverpool. It is a growing, modern city. All right, they are having problems with gangs of hoodlums in the slums now (that will get national attention in three years,) but Liverpool is working hard to solve her problems. She will just get better and better. Or in the words of her future poet laureates, the Beatles: “Getting so much better all the time.”

Liverpool's The Quarrymen in 1958 (future Beatles)