The Merchants of Liverpool

wantingcaution !! this is an initial draft ... these notes are on my server for safe keeping !!



 In 1700 there was the economic buzz around the town of Liverpool; Flintshire metals & Northwich salt acted as magnets for the local merchants in a formidable mix of water power, water transport, Lancashire coal, big markets overseas, the enterprising nature of the natives and new trusty financial services ... but 'know how' taken for granted today was then just a dream ... there was work to be done ...  

As folk busied themselves with their trading deals a new port emerged in the North West of England ... an important part of an industrial revolution ...

Parkgate PackatsThe Port of Liverpool.

Chester's misfortune was Liverpool's gain. The constant shifting shoals and silting up of the river Dee, together with the ingrained 'gentry culture' of rent seeking were a restraint on trade.

The Dee waters had never been sufficient to scour out an adequate navigation channel through the deep glacial silt. The Dee Mills and the weir at Chester hindered the tidal scour but nevertheless the river was navigable as far as Chester up to the 17th century; from Roman times and before Chester was the premier port handling the North West link to Ireland. But thereafter silt & shift around the 'Chester Water' began to be a major problem, especially as the economic size of ships escalated. This led to an increase in the fortunes of Blacon, Saughall, Shotwick, Puddington, Burton, Neston, Parkgate, Dawpool and Hoylake as the river dispersed into the sinuous channels of the lower estuary.

As early as 1449 the building of a quay at Neston was mooted as the infamous Dee silt was relentlessly building. In 1688 a customs House was established at Parkgate and during the 18th century the use of Parkgate harbour grew rapidly. The size limit of the two masted ships in the estuary, 'Chester Water', was about 200 tons. Chester's commercial trade was never large; lead, cheese & coal went out and flax, hemp, linen, timber & animal products came in ... it was the in & out of Irish bound passengers that dominated proceedings ... although cheese 'by lighter to Parkgate' accounted for nine tenths of Chester's exports; this was the claim made by the Chester Cheesemongers during the River Dee Bill debate in 1732 ...

Eventually in 1737 a new canal, the New Cut, was completed from Chester, taking the course of the river below Chester to the Welsh side rather than English side of the estuary as before.

The justification for the expense cut was variously & vigorously debated -

- the easier availability of coals from the Hawarden collieries to Chester
- the possibility of reclaiming valuable marsh lands for agricultural purposes which impressed certain influential persons in Chester
- or was it a cynical ploy to divert the river to the Welsh shore to open up access to the wharfs at Flint, Bagillt, Greenfield & Mostyn ... at the expense of Parkgate?

The truth was nobody knew the consequences of interfering with the natural flow of the river. In fact diverted river initially flowed across the estuary and reverted to its old course via Parkgate, but then gradually, over the next 50 years, swung to the Welsh side all the way to the sea. Parkgate dominated the Irish trade at this time to its zenith around 1790, first the Royal 'yachts' then the merchant 'brigs' ... a short journey to Parkgate, followed by a long sea voyage or a much longer journey over land to Holyhead, followed by a shorter sea voyage. As the journey to Holyhead was over mountainous tracks unsuitable for wheeled vehicles, Parkgate developed as the most popular choice for the passage to Dublin. Holyhead had the Post Office, Bristol had the Cork traffic and Whitehaven had coal & the Isle of Man but Parkgate had the Dublin prize. Nevertheless sailing along the North Wales coast was no picnic. The 'Boathouse Inn' at the bottom of Boathouse Lane, the 'Yacht Inn' half way along the Chester to Parkgate road and the 'Dublin Packet Inn' in Chester's Town Square are reminders to beer drinkers today of the hegemony of Parkgate ... port services, hospitality (and the natives spoke English), ship repairs and pilotage, were just as important as depth of water. The Parkgate Packet Company was formed in 1785 as trade thrived after the American war, then in 1815 shipwrecks, trouble and new roads took their toll and the switch to Liverpool & Holyhead was decisive, the company ceased trading.

The Dee shoals were always relentlessly hazardous & unpredictable ... scary problems made navigation a nightmare ... if you are of faint seafaring mind avoid reading Henry Denham's detailed instructions for sailing craft in the Dee estuary ... and by the mid nineteenth century the River Dee was no longer viable for ferry services across to Wales nor Ireland never mind the lucrative Atlantic trade ...

Salthouse Dock 1820sLiverpool, on the other hand, had far greater depths of water from the River Mersey, built larger ships and thus developed trans-Atlantic trade. With the advent of steam power, ferries across the Mersey were more reliable and with the improvement in the transport system, Liverpool developed as a much more viable port. Parkgate, which by the mid eighteenth century was also a sea bathing resort, was further eclipsed by the development of New Brighton, which was more conveniently situated for the citizens of the prospering city of Liverpool.

But it was not only the treacherous Dee Estuary that propelled Liverpool forward. By the 18th century the economic system had changed radically from the Chester 'Gentry' culture of capital accumulation from rent seeking to the Liverpool 'Entrepreneur' culture of capital accumulation from trade in technological innovation ... certainly the Liverpool entrepreneurs and lesser landowners had every incentive for hard work, honesty & thrift ...

Liverpool was a free port with its own courts & guilds and folk had been purchasing burgages there, ex nihilo, since 1207 when King John needed the port to access his ambitions in Ireland. Charter after royal charter kept the merchants busy, but their trading more than paid for the privileges, and cannily their customs dues were always lower than Chester & Bristol ... and crucially Liverpool were happy to admit 'foreigners' ... for a fee ...

 After the plague and the fire more and more merchants left London, not for Bristol, but for the new opportunities in Liverpool ...

Parliament eventually held Liverpool during the civil war and the fortunes of the Royalist landowners were eclipsed by the dissenting merchants who started to motor. For years Liverpool had commanded the Irish trade and the Cheshire salt trade and then in 1648 the first cargo of tobacco arrived in Liverpool. And in 1666, the Antelope, financed by Liverpool men, sailed for Barbados and returned the next year with a cargo of sugar. And in 1670 rock salt was discovered at Marbury and the Liverpool men built the Weaver Navigation ... and the Weaver flowed into the Mersey not the Dee.

The port of Liverpool was transformed from a small fishing village in 1660 to a flourishing port by 1720 when the wet dock was built. Cheese and salt were the lucrative trades. And exporting cheese & salt resulted in a flood of imports. Grain came in to feed the locals where the fields were for cows not grain. Cotton, sugar, tobacco ... and then ... 

William WilberforceThe 'Liverpool Merchant' was the first recorded slave ship to sail from Liverpool. She set sail on the 3rd of October 1699 and arrived in Barbados on the 18th of September 1700 with a cargo of 220 enslaved Africans.

As 18th century Liverpool, a free port, expanded rapidly, the Ports of London & Bristol shot themselves in the foot. Parliament established London as a head port not because of any advantage for loading & unloading ships but simply because such activities were only permitted in the presence of the Collector of Royal Customs! And Bristol was stitched up with collusion between the Merchant Adventurers and their mates in Parliament!

Meanwhile from 1768 the Merchants built the Leeds Liverpool canal and opened up Liverpool to Wigan coal ... and Leeds cloth had access to a thriving port ... 127 miles and 91 locks over the Pennines ... it took a long tortuous time; finally completed in 1816.

Did the Liverpool merchants build the industrial revolution? Was it the quality of Manchester textiles? Was it the slave trade? ... or was it just the synergies of trade? ...

Liverpool was on a roll without the slave trade ... after abolition, a comparison of the 1806 and 1807 tonnages & dues confirmed the ever expanding trade had increased yet again ... everything was going at a run ... clearly it was trade that made Liverpool, not the slave trade ... everybody had slaves but Wilberforce was English!

Brass, copper, lead, zinc, salt, sugar, glass, breweries, pottery ... coal & steam ... and raw silk & cotton had to be imported, so manufactures had to be exported ... Liverpool was the essential port in the mix ...

But Bristol & Birmingham were also on a roll ...

Bristol was an established centre for the metal trades in the early days and students of the 'industrial revolution' should ponder why it was that Bristol in the south west, after an initial promising start, did not maintain its dominant position as a trade centre and was usurped by Liverpool and Manchester in the north west and Birmingham in the midlands?

In 1860 'A Guide through North Wales, including Anglesey, Caernarvonshire' by William Cathrall & Andrew Crombie Ramsay added some detail -   

Liverpool 19th CenturyLIVERPOOL - Its main streets are wide & convenient, its public buildings rank with the finest in Great Britain, and its docks, in one unbroken line along the shores of the Mersey, command universal admiration. During a hurried visit the stranger will not have time to explore minutely the recesses of the town, and if he could, he would, perhaps, observe scenes far from pleasing, but which too commonly mar the social aspect of large seaports. The Exchange, at high 'change time, when Liverpool brokers and Manchester cotton spinners are anxiously intent on the rise or fall of Boweds or Egyptians, is well worth looking at. The leading thoroughfares proceeding from the Exchange, namely, Castle Street, Church Street, and Bold Street, with their numerous and elegant shops, will show the active character of the people, and indicate, in some degree, the amount of business transacted in the town. The river Mersey and the Docks, approached from the Exchange through Water Street and other thoroughfares, may be deemed the greatest attractions of the port. Here the stranger sees before him a forest of masts, stretching out right and left, to the distance of nearly five miles. The river itself seems instinct with busy life and motion. All kinds of craft are on its surface, from the largest merchant ships to the ferry steamers which ply between Liverpool, at Prince's Quay, and the Cheshire shore, every ten minutes. These boats connect the town with Birkenhead, Woodside, Monk's Ferry (the Chester and Birkenhead Railway Company's landing place), Rock Ferry, Tranmere Ferry, Eastham to the south, and Seacombe, Egremont, and New Brighton to the north.
Landing Stages - the principal landing stage in Liverpool is moored along the Prince's Quay, and is appropriated to the channel steamers. The landing stage alongside St George's Pier is used by the ferry steamers.
The extensive range of Docks can be conveniently viewed by strangers, as omnibuses traverse their entire length from north to south. There are about thirty docks at present opened, and others are in course of formation. The Albert and the Prince's Docks are the finest, the first having cost in its construction £318,000, and the latter £561,059.
St George's Baths are situated on St George's Pier, erected by the Corporation, at a cost of £36,000. The Parish Church, known as St Nicholas's, is in view from the Baths, and to the south may be seen a large square structure, called Tower Buildings, on which is placed the Telegraph for communicating shipping intelligence between Liverpool and Holyhead. The signals pass to Holyhead and back in less than a minute. Amongst the public buildings which the stranger should visit are - the Town Hall, with the Nelson Monument, the Custom House, the Derby Museum, bequeathed to the town by the late Earl of Derby; the Free Public Library, the Royal Institution, founded by the late William Roscoe, the permanent Gallery of Art, the Museum of Applied Science, the Egyptian Museum, the Liverpool Institute and School of Art, the Zoological Gardens, the Necropolis, and St George's Hall, a noble structure, built in the Corinthian style. The Assize Courts form part of this edifice, and an organ has been erected in the great hall, at a cost of £10,000. On the north side of St George's Hall is the site of the New Free Public Library and Museum, recently erected at an outlay of £36,000, the whole cost borne by William Brown Esq, late MP for South Lancashire. Liverpool presents many other objects of interest worthy of a stranger's attention, and the local guide  books will be found to give the additional information which a special survey of the town requires.
The Cheshire side of the Mersey exhibits the enterprising character of the merchants and ship owners of Liverpool. In 1821 the township of Birkenhead comprised scarcely fifty dwellings, and at present the population amounts to 24,285. Birkenhead and Woodside were, some forty years ago, merely ferry stations; but these places are now united into one large town, presenting many of the bustling characteristics of Liverpool, their parent. The foundation of the extensive Docks at Birkenhead was laid in 1844; and a Graving Dock is about to be constructed there without delay, the cost of which will be £200,000. The Great Float, in which the waters of the inlet called Wallasey Pool are impounded for special purposes, is worthy of general examination. Birkenhead Market House is an extensive building, 430 feet long, by 130 feet wide, and was erected at a cost of £37,000. St Aidan's College is a building in the Elizabethan style of architecture, in the form of a square. The Park is an object of attraction, the grounds being admirably laid out. The remains of the ancient Abbey should be seen, and also Claughton Park and the Lighthouse on Bidston Hill. The Railway Station is small and inconvenient for the large traffic on the Chester and Birkenhead line. The entire coast from Eastham to New Brighton, most of which is built upon, presents a striking picture of the commercial spirit of the Port of Liverpool.
Visitors intending to proceed to North Wales by steamer from Liverpool will obtain correct information as to the hours of departure at the following packet offices in that town -
For Holywell - 34, St James's Street. [Fares - Fore Cabin and Deck, 1s. 6d. After Cabin, 2s.]
For Mostyn - Messrs E & R Ellis, 8, Strand Street. [Fares - Fore Cabin and Deck, Is. 6d. After Cabin, 2s.]
For Rhyl, Llandudno, Bangor, Menai, and Caernarvon - Price & Co, and J E Rounthwaite, 20, Water Street.
A Trip from Liverpool to North Wales, by any of the packets from that port, exhibits a fine variety of objects and scenery along the Welsh coast. The boats, according to the state of the tides, take the Victoria Channel or the Rock Channel. Along the former the Crosby and Formby light ships, the Bell Buoy, with countless vessels on the surface of the Mersey, are passed. If the Rock Channel be taken, various objects of interest on the Cheshire side of the river may be noticed. Egremont, New Brighton, the Black Rock and Bidston Lighthouses, Wallasey Church, Leasowe Castle (the seat of Sir Edward Cust), Hoylake and its hotel, with Hilbre Point and island, are all distinctly seen. Holywell and Mostyn steamboat quays at the mouth of the Dee are then passed, and the Point of Air with its lighthouse is soon afterwards observed. Prestatyn, on the Chester and Holyhead railway, is recognised by its tall chimney attached to the chemical works there. Rhyl, now called the Welsh Brighton, soon appears in sight, with the fine opening to the Vale of Clwyd, and Gwrch Castle embosomed in the hills above Abergele, Rhuddlan Marsh and Castle, and if the weather be fair, St Asaph Cathedral may also be seen. Passengers for Rhyl are landed at the Foryd pier, about a mile distant from the town. The steamer having resumed its voyage, Llandudno quickly appears in sight between the two Orme's heads. On reaching Llandudno Bay, boats meet the steamer for the purpose of landing passengers. The bay is of crescent form, about two miles in length, and one in breadth in the widest part. On the left of the entrance to the bay is the Little Orme's head, and on the right the Great Orme's head.

Weaver NavigationThe River Weaver

The roads were not up to much. The Romans could build magnificent roads of course but that was never the English way ... the English never had enough slaves and this 'tragedy of the commons' confronted anyone & everyone. After 1555 parliament proclaimed that roads were the responsibility of the parish, but parishes were large and the regulation 4 days a year labour which everyone contributed to the roads was pitifully inadequate. After 1691 parishes could raise a highway rate and employ some specialised labour, but the problems remained immense. The ruts, pot holes, muds & floods all seemed to be generated by the through traffic not by the amiable local parishioners. 1727 saw the first Turnpike Trust Act which legalised toll collections for road upkeep & repair; the travellers would pay. But this was a bureaucratic muddle; the roads had not been privatised, and all too often toll gates were bypassed and depleted revenues were spent servicing debts leaving little for road maintenance. Transport of salt out of Cheshire and coal into Cheshire became a increasingly critical problem.

The history of the River Weaver Navigation reveals the relentless pressure exerted by the commercial interests of the Liverpool merchants on the vested interests of the land owning Cheshire Gentlemen. The Gentlemen attempted to 'protect' the under exploited salt deposits and river transport assets they owned but their efforts were bound to fail once the economic synergies available from importing Lancashire coal and securing export markets became clear. There was massive additional wealth available for everybody; merchants and Gentlemen.

It was very apparent by the early 18th century that further expansion of the salt trade was hampered by the poor bulk transportation into and out of the salt fields of Cheshire. Agitation from the commercial centre of Liverpool for a navigable short cut gathered pace. The problems of freeing the salt trade from the restrictions of packhorse trains, which moved both salt and the coal needed to refine it, had been relentlessly growing more urgent.

Like many English rivers the Weaver was not naturally navigable for barges apart from the tidal stretches up to Frodsham Bridge.

In 1663 & 1670 attempts were made to pass bills through Parliament to improve the navigation of the River Weaver. Both bills failed but little is known about the detail. Perhaps surprisingly the 1663 bill was opposed by the Corporation of Liverpool who employed Captain John Case to defend against.

However in 1670 rock salt was discovered in Marbury and the economics of Cheshire salt production were transformed as cheap bulk transport became competitively essential. Traditionally the evaporation of brine using local wood as fuel suggested the cost advantage was with salt production adjacent to the brine pits and transportation of the salt along the ancient saltways by pack horse. But by the end of the 17th century wood was in short supply and was being replaced by bulky coal from Staffordshire and Lancashire, transport costs were becoming an issue. The refining of rock salt was more economically done closer to coal sources and sea water. Three new refineries sprouted on or near the Mersey; at Frodsham Bridge (1690), Liverpool (1696) and Dungeon (1697), all attempting to benefit from a closer proximity to the Lancashire coalfields ... and Liverpool.

The advantages of river transport for the salt industry were obvious. Adam Smith summarised the position in 1776 -

'by means of water carriage, a more extensive market is opened to every sort of industry than what land carriage alone can afford it, so it is upon the sea coast and along the banks of navigable rivers that industry of every kind naturally begins to subdivide and improve itself ...'

Transport costs and export competition from France & Spain provided the economic imperative for action, the salt industry was up against it. In 1710 a further bill was presented which was sponsored unsurprisingly by Thomas Johnson, as Alderman of Liverpool, and owner of the Dungeon Rock Salt Refinery. Thomas Slyford another rock salt proprietor led the promoters. Sir Willoughby Aston & his son Thomas, led the opposition, largely by refuting Slyford's cost estimates but significantly, not by claiming the proposal was uneconomic. Peter Shakerley MP for Chester also opposed the scheme and gave detailed instructions on how to derail the economic case by political shenanigans focusing on the mischiefs of exploitation of the local poor for foreign profit. (the true value of trade and particularly international trade was not part of the debate, David Ricardo didn't answer his 'difficult question' on comparative advantage until 1836)

Johnson was castigated by the Cheshire interest groups, '... a member for Liverpool who hath not one foot of land either in our county nor our city and whose design in it (obvious to everybody) was only to promote promote his trade of exporting rock salt to Ireland'.

But what a pantomime, why the struggle, why was there such fierce opposition to a scheme which launched the industrial revolution? It was, for sure, the age old resistance to change & fear of the unknown, the old way of life in the Weaver Valley would be disrupted and the land carriers would lose their livelihoods with thousands unemployed, maybe some 3,500 families. The idyllic past of milk & honey would be ravished by the dark satanic mills?

And for sure some of the brine men also opposed the navigation. There was a complex mix of conflicts of interest between; land carriers, land owners, rock salt miners, brine men, Northwich & Winsford proprietors, Staffordshire & St Helens coal men & Liverpool merchants together with a dose of sour gapes from Chester.

But who could decide what was in the 'public interest' which was argued about so vehemently? Who could have anticipated the value of the Navigation to John Brunner and Ludwig Mond when they decided to invest at Winnington in 1873? Was the proviso of work being undertaken by Cheshire men for the financial benefit of Cheshire sensible or bribery & corruption? ... some said 'such public undertakings are impracticable, and have never yet succeeded in the few cases that had been attempted in the like nature'?

It was 1721 before the merchants of Liverpool eventually achieved their goal. Producers & customers of Cheshire cheese & salt were eventually unanimous in their celebrations.

Interestingly there were no records of any mills directly affected on the Weaver between Frodsham & Winsford and no complaints from mill owners ... was the Weaver and environs unsuitable for mills or was Cheshire so full of cows that flour was imported?

The 1721 Act gave legal status to Undertakers (who did the construction work), Subscribers (who provided £9,000 funding at 5%) and Commissioners (from the landed gentry who arbitrated on all disputes). Once subscribers had been repaid reduced tolls would cover maintenance and repair of public bridges within the county and roads leading to the river and then other roads in the county. Riparian landowners were protected from any consequential damage to their property and livelihood.

Trouble commenced immediately.

The Billinham Map 1721Richard Vernon, an attorney with an estate in Middlewich and a salt works at Winsford, was the most active 'undertaker' and also one of the 'subscribers'. First up Vernon commissioned cartographer John Billingham to produce a truly wonderful map of the river and annotated landowners in 1721. A fine example of the cartographer's art ... discovered in a dusty attic in 1998! The giant parchment 15 ft by 3 ft charts the river, which runs from Frodsham Bridge to Winsford Bridge and as far as Witton Bridge, as it was in 1721 before navigation through Vale Royal. This treasure has been placed in the care of the Cheshire Record Office.

Vernon demanded immediate repayment of his £2,000 expenses incurred in procuring the Act. From the start promoter Vernon became an obstacle and it was 1729, after the death of Vernon, before firm proposals were eventually made by Thomas & Jonathan Patten of Warrington, Thomas Eyre of Stockport & John Dickenson, a linen draper from Manchester. All expenses were charged to the Navigation at 6% interest. Work started and legal formalities were post rationalised by the Commissioners. These men were doers and eleven wooden 'pound' locks & associated weirs were built at Pickerings, Dutton Bottoms, Acton Bridge, Saltersford, Winnington, Northwich, Hunts, Hartford, Vale Royal, New Bridge & Butty Meadow. The Navigation opened up to Winsford in 1732.

Tonnages steadily increased, dominated by salt & coal, expenses were low, interest and capital started to be repaid. But maintenance was neglected and the Liverpool merchants demanded action and in 1758 the 'undertakers' were bought out, £18,000 being raised at 5%. The 'commissioners' were now in charge, the county retained its interest and the Liverpool men would have a reliable service, without recourse to a new Act. But the 'commissioners' now had problems, having rejected an offer from Liverpool to improve the Navigation they now had to do the job themselves and satisfy the requirements of the Liverpool merchants. They had to meet the standards set by the new Sankey canal which accommodated 5 ft draught flats.

The 'commissioners' had no chance they were country gentlemen, not engineering undertakers. A new Committee of 5 (with a quorum of 3), comprising local Northwich gentlemen, was appointed to expedite the improvements, then, in 1759, Northwich lock subsided into a rock salt pit ... who was liable? Was the Committee legal? Commissioners had no legal property in the Navigation and couldn't arbitrate in their own disputes and riparian landowners were protected. An Amending Act was necessary.

But the Liverpool men had to be placated, they were in the driving seat, they were making the money. John Blackburne presided over the 'Warrington Treaty' and the wrangling started again. Sir Peter Warburton was the focal point of the interests of Cheshire. Sir Peter was no fool, there was much he disliked but he went with the flow, improvement to the waterway was in interests of everybody. Eventually ownership was vested in Trustees (the old Cheshire gentlemen), and new 'commissioners' (from Lancashire!) would arbitrate in disputes. The Trustees would borrow and organise the improvement to the Navigation to satisfy the Liverpool merchants for 4.5 feet draught and 17 foot locks. Tonnage dues were to be reduced after 15 years of debt repayment, and were to be regulated to suit the Liverpool men. The Amending Act was passed in 1760.

Immediately there was a run on the bank as old subscribers demanded immediate repayment. Whether this was petty intrigue or a lack of confidence in the project is unclear. However new loans were obtained from visionary investors who saw the potential of the project and guessed the Liverpool men were onto something. Significantly most of the funding came from within the county. The financial crisis was over and Sir Peter and the Trustees got on with the job.

Henry Berry, the Liverpool gentlemen's agent who successfully built the Sankey Canal was sacked after the collapse of his work at Pickerings. Work which may have been good for the dead water of Sankey was unsuitable for the fresh flowing Weaver.

New cuts and locks at Pickerings, Saltesford, Northwich were completed relatively quickly and Witton Brook was navigable by 1765. By the year April 1762/3 the Navigation carried 76,951 tons in total, 68,146 tons Northwich, 8,805 Winsford trade. The Northwich trade included 20,255 tons of white salt, 30,391 tons rock salt, 14,567 tons of coal, 1,085 tons of merchants goods, 941 tons of pipe clay, 228 tons of paving, 208 tons of limestone, 207 tons of slate.

The rivers were improved in the 1st half of the 18th century but the 2nd half belonged to the canal competition. The Bridgewater Canal in 1764 offered little competition but Brindley's Trent & Mersey Canal with the backing of Josiah Wedgwood was another matter. The river v. canal debate raged, the river flats could ship to Liverpool and rivers didn't freeze, but they did meander and the canal routes could go anywhere and there were no currents to inhibit towing. Eventually the 'Staffordshire Schemers' decided to link up with Bridgewater at Preston Brook and access the Mersey through the Bridgewater Canal. It seems the Duke won the battle even though, 'a monopoly in the hands of a peer of the realm, refusing to waive his privilege would be such a monster, as I hope this land of liberty will never suffer to see'.

In 1766 anticipating the competition from the Trent & Mersey, which opened in 1777, the Trustees debated whether to go into the carrying business, the salt business and wharfs & warehouses. But nothing came of these initiatives as the priority became obvious ... further improvements to the existing navigation.

By 1771 a new cut & lock at Barnton was commissioned.

And by 1778 there was a new cut & lock at Acton Bridge. (The original locks from 1732 were thus replaced in 1778 and doubled up in 1857 before final abandonment when Dutton locks were commissioned in 1882.)

Revenues amassed nicely and a milestone was reached in 1775. All the 'subscribers' had been paid off and by 1777 payments had been made to the county to repair bridges as stipulated in the Act. The Weaver Navigation was a success.

Once opened the Trent & Mersey Canal decimated the Winsford tonnage on the Weaver as the Potteries trade moved to the canal. This provoked further improvement projects notably better towpaths for horses and around 1780 quays & warehouses at Broken Cross and a connecting road to Witton. At last this enabled the Trustees to enter the carrying business between Longport, Stoke on Trent and Liverpool. But the canal competition made the operation unprofitable and it was discontinued in 1784. The payments to the county appeared to be premature as 'clear profit' was not being accrued. The books were inadequately accounting for maintaining assets intact, revenue had been high but depreciation charges were neglected as was the repair of locks and weirs ... around 1780 borrowing started again, the salt merchants forked out.

Improvements followed - 

1781 - new cut & locks at Frodsham

1789 - quays at Witton Brook.

1793 - new cut & locks at Vale Royal.

1796 - new cut & locks at Hartford.

- new cut & locks at Newbridge removed the need for the Butty Meadow locks.

1805 - new cut & locks at Hunts.

Clearly as long as the Liverpool, salt & coal triangular trade remained dominant the Weaver Navigation would be a success. But the idea of an effective union between river and canal remained a priority. The Broken Cross / Witton link had largely been an unprofitable duplication of existing feed mechanisms and the carrying company had moved the Trustees into a unknown business area where they had no expertise. 

From 1791-1800 land was acquired at Anderton adjacent to the canal towpath and warehouses, cranes, rails and chutes installed and a river basin excavated to facilitate the transfer of goods. It is important to note that transhipment from narrow boat to flat was required in any case for all shipments to Liverpool.

The Trustees obtained a third Act on 8 August 1807, which authorised the construction of a cut from Frodsham to Weston Point. The trustees insisted that their own engineer, John Johnson, should oversee the work, but the project was too large for him, and ran over time and budget. He was sacked in 1809, after serving the navigation for 29 years, and Thomas Telford was asked to complete the work. He managed the project with Samuel Fowls as engineer. At Weston Point, a new lock connected the cut to a basin, and tide gates connect the basin to the Mersey. This cut was called the Weston Canal and was completed in 1810.

A fourth Act was obtained on 2 May 1825, which altered some of the details of the previous Act, and an Act of 22 May 1829 noted that the Weston Canal had been completed. It stated that the Trustees had built a basin, piers and a lighthouse at Weston Point, that the Weston Canal was officially a branch of the River Weaver, and that the Trustees would make no additional charges for using the section. No tolls had been collected since 1816, once the construction costs had been repaid.

1829 - a new lock down river from Northwich solved the perpetual Witton Brook subsidence problem.

1832/5 - new cuts at Barnton, Crowton and Aston Grange.

In 1839 The Chester Chronicle summarised the legal history of the navigation ... and gives a fascinating insight into the political infighting over shares of the spoils of success ... it seems a privately funded project which led the industrial revolution in the north west was continuously embroiled in the foibles of 'rent seeking' -

 'during 140 years of legislation only one object has been contemplated for the River Weaver; the relief of the ley payers of the county from their county burdens'!

In 1818 The Chester Courant reported on an ambitious scheme to turn the Cheshire and Lancashire rivers of the Mersey into a fishery ... to supply the public at large with fish.

And in 1840 The Chester Chronicle reported on the Weaver Navigation church building project ... and all hell broke loose. There was no shortage of churches for the boatmen ... and the boatmen were no more heinous than the next man ... was it the job of the Navigation Trustees to build churches? ... and if they did would there not be less to spend on other facilities for the rate payers? ... what a pickle!

In 1856 Edward Leader Williams was appointed Engineer and a complete modernisation of the Navigation followed between 1870 and 1900. The 12 locks of the 1830s were replaced by 5 monsters, enabling 1000 ton coasters to use the river. The locks were paired, with two lock chambers, and in most cases the larger lock also has intermediate gates, so that ships of varying length can be accommodated, without undue waste of water. The maximum size of the locks is 196 by 35 feet above the Anderton boat lift, and 213 by 37 feet below it. The lock at Weston Point Docks is slightly narrower, at 213 by 36 feet.

Finally in 1875 the link between canal and river was realised as the Anderton Boat Lift was commissioned accommodating vessels up to 72 by 14 feet with a draught of 4 feet.

Railways and brine pumping & pipelines led to the eventual demise of an important waterway. But the contribution of the Weaver Navigation was immense; salt built the Weaver and the Weaver built Liverpool and Liverpool built the industrial revolution ...?

MossdaleThe history of the navigation was intimately embroiled with the history of the barges, the Weaver Flats. Early River Weaver flats were small, but improvements to the river and the prosperity of the salt trade led to the eventual development of a class of much bigger steam powered flats, the Weaver 'packets'. They could tow one or two dumb flats behind them. These flats were built with the same general hull characteristics, but were unrigged and designed to be pulled by horses or tugs, but still strong and seaworthy enough to navigate the deep water Mersey to the docks at Liverpool.

A Weaver typical flat was the 'Mossdale' built in 1863, carvel construction of oak, elm and pitch pine. 72ft long, 14ft bead & 5ft 6 draught. Built to carry grain between Liverpool, Runcorn, Birkenhead and Manchester, and to the flour mills at Ellesmere Port. Originally named 'Ruby', she was renamed when Abel & Sons of Runcorn, Cheshire, bought her in the 1930s.

The vessel is now preserved in the Boat Museum at Ellesmere Port.

Acton BridgeThe current Acton Swing Bridge majestically spans the River Weaver close to the old site of The Acton Forge, Acton Bridge, north Cheshire, England. It was first operated in 1933 and carries the A49 trunk road from Tarporley to Warrington. The bridge replaced the old swing bridge which had complemented the old stone bridge when the new cut arrived in 1882. The old bridge was restricted to carry only one line of traffic with an axle weight limit of 8 tons. 

This spot on the Weaver was an ancient crossing point. Robert Nixon prophesied about The Vale Royal Abbey and Norton Priory would meet and this point and after the dissolution stones and timber from these houses and oaks from Delamere Forest were used to reconstruct the crossing during the reign of  Henry VIII. The first stone bridge across the Weaver at this point was built in 1751.

The current bridge is approximately 100m north (downstream) of the old bridge's abutments, visible on the river banks from the Leigh Arms car park. The new bridge, 83.5m long 8m high bowstring truss balanced swing bridge, based on a 1893 design by John Arthur Saner. It has two slightly skew spans of 25m each, with the twin riveted steel trusses supported on a mass concrete pontoon chamber. It was constructed by Joseph Parks & Sons Ltd of Northwich between 1931 and 1933 at a cost of £75,000 and opened on 10th of August 1933.

Trent & MerseyThe Trent & Mersey Canal.

The Weaver was navigable to Winsford by 1734 and served the Cheshire salt trade. But as trade burgeoned there were other schemes a foot. Lord Bridgewater built his canal in 1769 to sort out coal transport from his west Lancashire coal fields to Manchester and Liverpool.  His famous canal engineer James Brindley then hatched a scheme to connect the Mersey and thus the Weaver to the Trent.

He built the Trent and Mersey canal to link the River Trent at Derwent Mouth, Derbyshire to the River Mersey at Weston. It was authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1766 and the first sod was cut by sponsor Josiah Wedgwood in July 1776.

Wedgewood wanted safe unbroken passage for his pots to the Liverpool Port.

The River Weaver Navigation trustees were unhappy as the route ran almost parallel to the river in part and salt freight was threatened.

In 1777 the canal was opened with more than 70 locks and five tunnels, with the company headquarters in Stone. It was a narrow canal for the most part accommodating boats 7 ft wide × 72 ft long, wide locks were built at the extremities at Middlewich & Burton and could accommodate boats 14 ft wide.

The canal made the Stoke an industrial centre for potteries and Burton the centre for brewing.

Wool, coal, lead, corn, stone, beer, salt, cheese, earthenware and iron goods were shipped downriver, and boats returned laden with groceries, consumer goods, furs, timber and pig iron.

The Grand Trunk was a part of a larger scheme of Brindley's to link the four main rivers of England (Trent, Mersey, Severn and Thames) in a project known as the Grand Cross. The Trent and Mersey Canal provided the northern arm of the cross (to the Mersey), and the eastern arm (to the Trent). The central hub of the cross was between Great Haywood and Fradley Junctions. The western arm, to the Severn, was built as the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, whilst the southern arm (to the Thames) was the Coventry and Oxford Canals.

Water connection directly from the Weaver to the Trent & Mersey 50 ft higher, was via the Anderton Boat Lift built in 1875.

Salt Transport SystemThe triangular trade

The Weaver Navigation into the salt fields, opened in 1732, was only a partial solution to the logistical problems of the area.

To the Liverpool Council it became obvious by the early 1750's that the full potential of the salt industry would not be realised until the problems of fuel supply were solved swiftly and successfully. The logical solution was found by complementing the Weaver Navigation supply route with a similar operation into the coalfields; the navigation of Sankey Brook. This scheme eventually involved an artificial canal and not merely a river improvement. After preliminary surveys, Liverpool Council petitioned Parliament for the necessary Act. Support came from two areas; the merchants and industrialists of Liverpool; and the proprietors of the
salt works of Northwich and Winsford. Often these were one and the same people.

The additional benefits to the industrial economy of south west Lancashire & north Cheshire in general were nothing more than a glimmer of hope. Nobody could have foreseen the dramatic effects that industrialisation was to have on the region ... 

It is notable that the chief petitioners were John Blackburne, owner of the Liverpool salt refinery, and John Ashton, now the owner of the Dungeon refinery. Ashton, in fact, provided just under half of the capital for the Sankey Canal, he was to own 51 of the 120 shares in the project, and its completion was mainly thanks to him. The canal opened in November 1757 and its effect on the production of salt was quite remarkable; 14,000 tons in 1752, 40,000 by 1783, 100,000 by 1796 and 186,000 in 1820.

The trade between Northwich, St Helens and Liverpool was central to the industrial revolution in the North West and it was the merchants of Liverpool who were amongst the first to make things happen. A proposition confirmed by T C Barker in an article from 1951 'Lancashire Coal, Cheshire Salt & the Rise of Liverpool'. His conclusions are worth repeating -

'by 1830 every coal proprietor in and about St Helens owned salt works in Cheshire. The process which started during the 17th century had reached completion. Liverpool men had brought new life to the Cheshire salt industry by intervening in the rock salt trade. Then they had stimulated production by cutting out the land carriage between the wiches and Frodsham Bridge and, when this was so successful that it caused an acute shortage of coal, they created a waterway up to the coalfield to connect with the Weaver Navigation. When the salt boilers of Cheshire set limits to their production, they went into the salt industry and when the coal proprietors attempted to do the same thing, they became coal proprietors as well. Thus over a period of a century and a half, relentless pressure from the men of Liverpool had brought the coal and salt trade to a high degree of economic organisation with Liverpool as its focal point'. 

Sankey CanalSt Helens sat smack on the Lancashire Coalfield and the town was built both physically and metaphorically on coal. From 1750 the industrial development of St Helens burgeoned through a symbiotic relationship shared with coal mining and dependent copper smelting and glass industries. Commercial and industrial developments, in turn drove demand for the expeditious movement of raw goods not simply out of the town (coal to Liverpool for shipping, steel, and salt works) but also in promoting an influx of raw materials for processing. The symbiotic relationship of St Helens to its transport links is made evident through claims made to Parliament in 1746 for maintenance, and extension of the Turnpike road to Liverpool and in 1757 the Sankey Brook Canal to the Mersey.

St Helens became a key hub for the growth of Liverpool. Owing primarily to the abundance of coal reserves, the quality of local sand, the near availability of Cheshire salt, glass making became a dominant industry.

Another major industry, copper smelting, grew out of the transport innovations in the region. The Parys Mining company, leased land close to the newly constructed Sankey Canal at Ravenhead. This allowed copper ore carried from Amlwch in North Wales to arrive in the St Helens region via the Mersey directly to the point where coal was being excavated to fire the forges of industry. The siting of the smelting works close to coal was not an accident. Maybe 30 tons of coal were needed to smelt 10 tons of copper ore yielding say, 1.3 tons of copper. All tons passed along the Sankey route.

At the same time the land owning Gerard family were renting out land in Blackbrook to Patten & Co company from nearby Warrington. The company smelted using the Gerards own coal, and also moved the coal downstream from a private wharf on the navigable brook.

The Entrepreneurs.

The Pattens, Parrs, Eyres, Barrows and the established Leicester of Tabley, Cholmodeleys of Vale Royal ... were followed by the young Turks, John Blackburne, Nicholas Ashton and Thomas Marshall were amongst the richest entrepreneurs in the North West.

Sir Thomas Johnson (1664–1728) was born in Liverpool, a merchant and MP, he was largely responsible for the foundation of the modern city, turning the country market town into a sea port.

Thomas was left a considerable fortune by his father who traded with the colonies in North America, particularly in tobacco and sugar. In 1715, he transported 130 Jacobite prisoners to the American plantations. He was the chief promoter of the first dock which was opened in 1715 and he also played an important role in the emergence of the rock salt industry in Cheshire.

Thomas was the founder and original owner of the Dungeon works and the earliest documentary evidence regarding the works was in a letter written in 1697 by Thomas to Richard Norris of Speke Hall, 'the Customs are to settle an officer on the Establishment at Dungeon. It's a great charge and trouble to us as the matter now is'. The letter concerned the problems of Customs Duty, a temporary tax had been imposed on salt in 1694 to help fund the French wars.

But taxes were not the only problem, there was also the thorny issue of the river Weaver ...

John Ashton (-1759) & his son Nicholas Ashton (1742-1833)

Land ownership by the River Weaver at Acton Bridge can be traced through to the Ashton family, and the Ashtons were big in Liverpool, salt, coal and the Weaver & Sankey navigations. Ormerod recalled -

'Peter, Lord of Thornton, did homage to the abbot of Vale Royal for his manor at Acton in 1307. By 1377 the Duttons held the land via marriage to Ellen. The Abbots of Vale Royal, the Actons, the Duttons, the Gerrards and the Fleetwoods held Acton. In 1253 the tenure of Acton is recorded in the Red Book of the Exchequer as having the Lords of Hellesby as paramount Lords. In the reign of Edward I, Alan de Acton did homage at Vale Royal for the lands at Acton. Also around this time William de Acton and Hugh de Acton. 'entered into recognizances with Richard de Mascy and other Lords of Legh or Leigh near Acton, to settle boundaries of the townships of Legh and Acton by perambulation'. In the year 1284 the Abbot of Vale Royal complained that Sir Hugh Dutton rendered his fisheries in the Weaver useless by erecting a mill and digging a pool. In 1308 Sir Peter Dutton offended having raised a fishery in the Weaver to the King's damage (Vale Royal Ledger Book). In 1337 Adam de Acton fought in France with the Black Prince, and in 1408 John de Acton was appointed Governor and Admiral of the Fleet.

The ancient inheritance of the Duttons was passed by marriage to the Gerrards and the Fleetwoods. It was sold to a Mr Scrace from whom it was purchased by the Ashtons. In 1640 the land was sold, and became part of the Milner estate until 1918, when these properties were sold to individual householders.

 Nicholas Ashton of Woolton in the county of Lancaster also owned Hefferston Grange in the parish of Whitegate. Hefferston Grange lies west of the town of Weaverham by which parish it is completely separated from the rest of Whitegate; the present house is a large and handsome brick mansion, situated in well timbered grounds. The grange of Hefferston, which was originally valued at the dissolution of Vale Royal Abbey at 4l 14s per annum, was granted, along with the site of the Abbey to Thomas Holcroft and then together with lands in Weaverham, to Peter Warburton of Arley.

Nicholas Ashton, John's dad was a considerable man, his will proved in Chester in 1728, declared, a Yeoman of Ashton, Parr & Eccleston. John's will in 1753 declared, a Merchant & Cheesemonger.

John Ashton probably acquired the Dungeon salt works in, or shortly after, 1746, as the refinery was put up for auction on 29 December of that year. An advert regarding the Auction appeared in Adam's Weekly Courant on 9th December 1746, 'To be sold by auction to the highest bidder at the Merchants' Coffee House in Liverpool on Monday the twenty ninth of this Instant December at Six o'clock that Evening -

A salt works called the Dungeon, consists of four Pans, situated in Hale in the County of Lancaster on the River Mersey about Six Miles above Liverpool near opposite the Mouth of the River Weaver, which hath very good Navigation up to Northwich in Cheshire from whence the said Works is easily supplied with Rock Salt and with Salt Water to work it from the River Mersey. The building is mostly new and all in good Repair, and convenient for carrying on the trade of making and refining Salt. The premises are in possession of Mr Ford who hath a Term of Four Years in them under the clear yearly Rental of Fifty Pounds Annum. There are about two acres of Land of Inheritance belonging to it and a convenient House for the King's Officers, together with about eight acres of tenement held by Lease for one Life.
Particulars may be had and a Plan of the work from Mr Jonathan Case at Wills Coffee House opposite to Lincoln's Inn Gate, London, or from Mr Richard Eccleston, attorney in law at Liverpool'.

Johnathan Case was a refiner, and may have had an interest since the Dungeon's earliest days, and a Robert Gill was also known to have had ownership.

After the death of John Ashton in August 1759, the Dungeon works was inherited by his son Nicholas, who was keen to ensure a regular and economic supply of coal and leased coalmines at Parr, near St. Helens, (close to the new Sankey Canal) at the end of the 18th century. Nicholas, owner of the Dungeon works in 18th century, bought Woolston Hall in 1772 and commissioned Robert Adam to redesign the interior, which was thought to be his only completed work in Lancashire. Ashton was still only 30 years old and had already held the office of High Sheriff of Lancashire. He had previously lived over his business office in Hanover Street and no doubt found Woolston much more salubrious. The house was erected in the early years of the 18th century and was owned by Richard Molyneux (of the Croxteth Molyneux's) by 1704. More detail on the house can be found in History of Much Woolton by Lally & Gnosspelious.

The salt works appeared to have been discontinued during the late 1840's. The reason was not clear, although communications to the site, which saw little improvement over a century, combined with the silting up of the Mersey and the resultant tidal problems may have been contributory factors. Indeed, Matthew Gregson was reporting a project under consideration in 1817 to construct embankments on the Mersey from the marsh at Ditton to Garston or even Knott's Hole at the Dingle, 'opposite the Dungeon, two miles of land in breadth might be enclosed before the present salt works, where the river is fordable at low water'.

The Dungeon works simply may not have been able to compete any longer with Blackburne's new refinery, which had relocated from Liverpool to Garston in 1798.

By 1841, Nicholas Ashton was dead and ownership of part of the land had passed into Henry Ashton's hands, namely the Salt-works and the cottages nearby. However, John Ireland-Blackburne was still the major land owner in Hale and held the surrounding Dungeon Fields, the two reservoirs and the Marsh. In 1841 this land was tenanted by the legal representatives of Nicholas Ashton. Was there a conflict of interests?

Henry Ashton may have found too many legal problems before him to continue a viable business. He may have simply lacked the business acumen of Nicholas to maintain the works successfully. Numerous salt workers were still resident in Hale in 1841, although it is quite possible that the site was closed shortly after Nicholas Ashton's death; they may have recently become unemployed and were travelling to the Garston works.

Mary wife of Nicholas Atherton of Woolton and daughter of John Philpot died 1777 aged 37.

1721 Weaver Navigation approved.

1746 John Ashton purchased Dungeon.

1757 Ashton promotes the Sankey Canal.

1770 Ashton's rock pit in Twambrook sank.

1789 Ashton's top mine with a pillar to excavation ratio of 1:9 was considered more than adequate ... !

1838 Ashton's mine fell in, the most alarming instance of subsidence in Northwich, seven lives were lost.

1840 Ashton's mine filled with brine 5.26 + 2.22 acres. Brine pumping replaces rock salt mining.

1893 Ashton's flash forms. Vividly described by Calvert.

John Blackburne (1693–1786)

The family’s wealth came from salt.

Thomas Blackburne (-1724) was a wealthy Cheshire salt merchant who purchased Orford Hall, Warrington, Lancashire (now Cheshire) in 1638. Orford Hall was inherited by his son Jonathan (1646–1724), High Sheriff of Lancashire for 1715, It was afterwards occupied by Jonathan's son John Blackburne (1693–1786) on the death of his father in 1724.  

Thomas Blackburne helped to build the Weaver navigation. The Liverpool salt refinery, owned by Jonathan and John Blackburne, was situated close to the Town's second wet dock, the Salthouse Dock, which opened in 1753.

John was Mayor of Liverpool in 1760 and lived in Hanover Street, in the centre of Liverpool, where he was a neighbour of John Ashton.

John Blackburne and John Ashton were not only two fellow Liverpool salt merchants they also both had slave trading interests which involved another 'triangular trade'. Blackburne’s son, John Junior, was also an investor in slave ships ... he built the listed Blackburne House as his country residence in 1790. The building went on to become Liverpool’s first high school for girls in 1844.

John Blackburne was the father of two children - Anna and Ashton, and had studied natural history. Inspired by her father, Anna also studied natural history, Ashton moved to America and sent back to Anna many bird skins from New York and Connecticut. Orford Hall was demolished in the 1930’s.

John Blackburne (1754–1833) was an English landowner, Member of Parliament and High Sheriff of Lancashire.
He was born the eldest son of Thomas Blackburne (-) of Hale Hall, Liverpool and educated at Harrow School and Queen's College, Oxford. He succeeded his father to Hale Hall in 1768 and his grandfather John Blackburne (-) to Orford Hall, Warrington in 1786.

He was appointed High Sheriff of Lancashire for 1781–82 and elected MP for Lancashire in 1784, holding the seat until 1830. In Parliament he was an Independent but generally supported William Pitt. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1794.

Thomas Blackburne purchased Orford Hall from Robert Tilesdley in 1639 and by 1716 it was greatly enhanced and housed an outstanding collection of rare plants. In later years the family moved into the Liverpool scene with one member becoming Lord Mayor of Liverpool and another an MP. Various street names in the Liverpool/Manchester area commemorate their name. John Blackburne was Lord of the Manor in Warrington and High Sheriff of Manchester.

John Ireland Blackburne (1817-93)

Janine Lever has been researching Emma Jemima Ravenscroft, wife of John Ireland Blackburne, the grandson of John Blackburne (1754–1833). John Ireland was a Lieut Colonel, an MP and a very political man. His name maybe derived from links with the town of Blackburn where he may have owned mills. He was wealthy born in Hale Hall and family had a grand house in Orford. He was also connected with the East India Company.

Emma Jemima was a mystery no portraits and little information has been found. She was born in India, Fort William, around 1810/17 and she married Robert Devereaux in 1841 and became Viscountess Hereford, on Robert's inheritance. She married again later to John Ireland Blackburne, and died in 1870. Nothing about where she married, when she died or her life. There are portraits of the previous Viscountess and the following ones but none of her. There were no portraits of her when she was married to John Ireland Blackburne?

Her father George was born in India, Fort William, was a merchant of the East India Company and classed as a gentry. The first husband was a reverend Robert Devereaux in Tregoyd, Hereford, Wales before he inherited the title of Viscount Hereford. Emma had 6 children with him.

Emma Jemima Ravenscroft is a mysterious aristocrat who lies hidden away ... why?

Thomas Marshall (1700-72) and his son Thomas Marshall (1735-97) 

The Marshalls were shoemakers from Nantwich, a family which invested in cotton and were naturally drawn into the salt, first as brine boilers and then moved to Northwich to seek their fortune in rock salt. Read D A Iredale's compelling history of the ambitious entrepreneurs ... and a neat and informative chronological summary of Northwich history. Involved in every thing turnpikes, Weaver Navigation, canals, Anderton canal / river link, control of salt, coal & boats, Liverpool trade, water supply to the Northwich cotton mill, Hartford Greenbank Manor house, Broken Cross port ... defeated only by bureaucracy & taxes ... the Salt Traders Association & price fixing proved impotent. The 3rd generation lived the life of Reilly. the 4th generation lost interest. Sir Thomas Horatio Marshall exited the salt business for the military ... just at the time Brunner Mond started up.

Cornelius Bourne (1747-1806) was the fourth son of John Bourne (1706-83) of Fernhill and Stalamine in rural Lancashire. The Bournes were intimately involved in the coal/salt/Liverpool triangular trade and the Marston forge.

Nigel watts has been researching the Bourne family and uncovered a fascinating story of the merchant business in Liverpool -

'John Bourne added to the family’s estates through his marriage in 1740 to Jane Fox (1714-1791), daughter and heiress of Cornelius Fox, yeoman of Fernhill and Preesall. The Fox family had held land in Fernhill, part of the manor of Hackensall, since at least the seventeenth century and in 1717 Cornelius bought part of the manor of Stalmine, including Stalmine Hall. Since the sixteenth century this estate had formed part of the holding of the Butler family of Out Rawcliffe, but all their lands were forfeited and sold off by the Crown for their support of the Old Pretender in the Jacobite uprising of 1715.

 Cornelius, John’s fourth son, born 2 April 1747 at Stalmine Hall, laid the foundations of the family’s transition from yeomen in remote rural Lancashire to the ranks of the baronetage two generations later. The key to this transformation was Liverpool trade. Although the family’s entry in Burke’s Landed Gentry makes no mention of the fact, Cornelius and his sons were first and foremost Liverpool merchants.

In the absence of comprehensive records, it is not possible to give a full description of the family’s business affairs. Fortunately some papers were deposited in the Lancashire Record Office in the 1950s by Basil Bourne. Although relatively few items relate to the family’s business affairs, there are some which are of interest and, together with material from other sources, it is possible to sketch an outline.

Sometime before 1769 Cornelius moved to Liverpool and started merchanting businesses in timber, shipping, Swedish iron, Worsley coal and Marston salt. The Bournes were intimately involved in the coal/salt/Liverpool triangular trade and the Marston Forge.

The earliest record I have found to connect Cornelius with Liverpool is an entry in a trade directory of 1769 which shows 'Mason & Bourne, merchants' in Hurst street, a partnership that was to continue until about 1790. In 1769 Cornelius would just have come of age. It was not uncommon at the time for younger sons of yeomen and even gentry to be apprenticed to merchants in major towns, and Cornelius could have been apprenticed to Edward Mason some years before. Cornelius’s paternal grandmother was a Mason, and there may have been a family connection. If Cornelius’s business partner was the same Edward, son of William Mason, baptised in Liverpool on 11 January 1736, he would have been eleven years his senior.

Mason and Bourne were involved in the timber trade (a 1774 directory entry describes them as timber merchants, and a document in the family papers deposited at the Lancashire Record Office by Basil Bourne refers to a timber yard in Tabley Street), but like other merchants of the time they may well have had other interests and have done business outside the partnership. In 1772 and 1774, the directories show Mason & Bourne and Cornelius himself in Mason Street. From 1777 to 1790 Mason & Bourne were in Shaw’s alley, and Cornelius was in Kent Street.

In 1786 parliament passed an act requiring the drawing up a comprehensive register of merchant ships. Although many of these are now lost, the Liverpool registers survived largely intact. In a review of the entries made in respect of vessels registered in the three years following the act Cornelius appeared as owner, or part owner, of no fewer than ten.

The 1786 register shows four cutters owned jointly by William White, Edward Mason and Cornelius Bourne: Kite, 50 tons; Gannat, 36 tons; Lively, 30 tons; and Dolphin, 5 tons. The oldest of these vessels was built in 1786 and the most recent in 1780, but the register does not state whether they had been owned from new. The next year’s register includes William, a 76 ton brigantine, owned by the same three. The register notes that the William had been 'taken by the enemy, retaken by Lightning (a successful privateer) of Liverpool, and one eighth part thereof condemned for salvage by the High Court of Admiralty, 26 June 1782. Now registered by order of the Board of Customs of 31 October 1786' – an indication of the hazards and the costs of the shipping business in those days.

The Whale, a 236 ton three masted ship, had been a prize from the French in 1778. She was registered in 1786 and the owners given as Edward Mason, Cornelius Bourne, William Beckwith, George Johnston, Richard Wicksted and John Pilkington, all merchants, and John Burrow, mariner. The Mary and Ann, a 195 ton ship was registered in the same year, with the owners given as Edward Mason, Cornelius Bourne (both described as merchants) and William Priestman, mariner, who was also listed as the master of the vessel.

The register contains details of changes of ownership, and from this we can see that Cornelius subsequently acquired shares in three more vessels. A quarter share of the the Amphitrite, a 200 ton ship taken as a prize from the French in 1782, was acquired and Cornelius Bourne and Edward Mason in March 1788, the Hannah, a 345 ton Swedish built ship was acquired by Cornelius Bourne and Joseph Matthews, sailmaker on 12 January 1791 and a share of the Recovery, a 210 ton ship was sold to Cornelius in 1792.

Of the four cutters, one was sold by Mason and Bourne in 1787, one in June 1790 and the last two on 26 March 1791. The Mary and Ann was sold in 1789, Mason and Bourne’s share of the William in 1791, and on 4 March 1791, Cornelius sold his share of the Whale to Edward Mason. March 1791 was also the month in which Edward Mason sold his share of the Amphitrite to Cornelius. The Hannah is recorded as having been lost.

The changes of ownership in March 1791 suggest that Cornelius and Edward Mason may have dissolved their partnership or gone into a different line of business at about this time. This is supported by evidence from the trade directories. The last one in which 'Mason & Bourne, merchants' is mentioned is dated 1790.

The Bournes seem to have had a close link with Sweden. Thomas Bourne, Cornelius’s second son, was listed in directories as the Swedish consul in Liverpool from 1807 to 1813. Cornelius, or possibly his elder bother James, is probably the Mr Bourne referred to by Eric Svedenstirna in his account of his travels in Britain in 1803. The Jernkontor, the Swedish Iron Bureau, commissioned Svedenstirna to investigate developments in iron production in France and England. Sweden had been the main source of European iron until the mid eighteenth century, but her position was under threat, especially from developments in Britain. His was a very gentlemanly form of industrial espionage; he made sure he had letters of introduction, and did not resort to underhand methods. After touring the South West, the Midlands, the North East and Scotland he travelled into Lancashire from the North, and may well have prearranged his meeting with 'Mr Bourne' on his way down past the Bourne estates near Stalmine -

'On the way from here down into Lancashire the land maintains the same appearance over a distance of some miles but gradually descends when one comes into Westmoreland, and after that up to Liverpool is for the most part flat. In proportion to this the district becomes also more populous and cultivated, traversed by canals, and has several manufacturing towns, amongst which Lancaster and Preston are the most considerable. Between the later place and Liverpool one passes several fine estates with the cottagers belonging to them, which latter consist of day-labourers of all kinds, who pay the landlord only an insignificant rent. These cottages usually consist of a little house with kitchen and bedroom, of just the same kind as our smaller day labourers’ cottages, and are all built of wattle daubing with or without timbering. The former are considered to be more durable, if they are erected at a suitable time of year, properly plastered, and kept in repair. The method of construction is almost the same as has been introduced for such in recent times in Sweden; the walls are made 21 inches thick at the foot and 12 to 13 at the roof. A Mr Bourne, a business man in Liverpool, who has had substantial estates here and in Cheshire, assured me that he had in both places mud houses which stood for 60 to 70 years, without noticeable damage. He added that this method of construction has been tried out on a large scale in several places, which however, was not a success, because the thick walls which were found necessary for a larger building could not be dried in the first summer'.

In Liverpool, Svedenstirna remarked on the volume of trade, expressed the view that, so long as the trade continued to be allowed, slaves were better off in English ships than Dutch or French ones, showed an interest in the literary society, and noted the excellence of the town’s communications, concluding that 'the situation of the town is therefore one of the most favourable for inland and foreign trade that can be imagined, and when one adds to that the already circulating capital of the inhabitants, it is easy to guess what has so far happened in business, and what may yet happen in future'. After a few days, he travelled to Manchester 'in company with Mr Bourne', suggesting that he may have been the Bournes’ guests during his visit. After seeing Manchester he paid a visit to The Duke of Bridgewater’s mines at Worsley, then -

'on returning to Manchester, I made, in company with Mr Bourne, another excursion of 5 or 6 Swedish quarter-miles to Rochdale, a little town on the way to Leeds, in order to see a canal construction which was being carried out there, and to be present at a meeting of the shareholders'.

Cornelius was a shareholder in the Rochdale canal, so it seems highly probable that it was he who had suggested and arranged the visit.

If it was Cornelius, Svedenstirna’s choice of travelling companion and the hospitality he was given in return seems likely to have been fuelled by mutual interest. Sweden was a major exporter of timber to Britain, and doubtless a major source of supply for the Bournes. It is also not improbable that one of the cargoes sent to Sweden on return voyages was salt, a commodity in which the Bournes were to acquire a substantial interest.

Like many successful merchants, Cornelius became involved in the administration of Liverpool and its institutions. In 1796 he was auditor to the Infirmary and in 1802 the Vestry Books record his name as a member of a parish committee. In 1798 a voluntary subscription was raised to assist the war with France; Cornelius gave £100, and Edward Mason gave £300.

Cornelius married on 31 July 1774 Anne, widow of Edward Glover and daughter of Thomas Reymer. I have so far discovered little about Ann’s father or first husband. A Captain Thomas Rymer appeared in the subscribers’ list to a plan of Liverpool harbour in 1748, but I have no proof of a link. The IGI records a marriage between Elias Glover and Ann Rymer on 11 July 1768 at St Peter’s, Liverpool, which could be her first marriage, with an abbreviation of Edward perhaps being confused in transcription with Elias.

Cornelius and Ann had nine children, of whom four sons and one daughter survived into adulthood. The daughter, Mary Anne, born in 1785, married James Molyneux of Sandfield, Lancs, son of William Molyneux the Liverpool merchant and nephew of the slave trader Thomas Molyneux, whose family is dealt with elsewhere on this site. The four sons, John (1777-), Thomas (1779-), James (1782-) and Peter (1783-) all went into the family business.

By 1796 Cornelius had moved to Duke Street, and had his 'compting house' in Tabley street. The style 'Cornelius Bourne & Sons' appears in 1800, and in the same year his son John is listed as a merchant in his own right. Thomas appears in his own right in the 1803 directory, and Peter in 1805. In the latter year a William Bourne, merchant is also listed at the same address as Cornelius, but I have yet to identify who this was.

In the same 1805 directory, Cornelius, still at Duke Street, describes himself as 'gentleman for the first time, rather than 'merchant', and 'Cornelius Bourne & Sons' is replaced by 'John & Thomas Bourne' and 'John, Thomas & Peter Bourne'. Cornelius would then have been about 58, and the directory entries may indicate that had retired. He died in 1806.

Cornelius’s eldest brother John died unmarried in 1790. The second oldest, James, had two daughters, but both were dead without issue by 1810, and James himself died in 1819. Cornelius’s third older brother died without issue in 1784. As a result, all the Bourne properties in Stalmine and elsewhere were inherited by Cornelius’s sons. I have not yet studied the Bourne wills to establish how and when the properties were inherited, but it seems unlikely that Cornelius would have inherited any in his lifetime because he was outlived by his older brother James.

An inventory of Cornelius’s personal estate for legacy duty has survived in the Bourne papers at the Lancashire record office, which gives us a glimpse of his commercial activities.

Description of Property Value per Will Real Value
Moity of upper warehouse & yard in Tabley Steet 4,000 4,000
3 Shares in Rochdale Canal 1,500 450
3 Shares in Grand Junction Canal 1,500 3,450
One eighth Marston Salt Works & c. 6,000 4,520
Money 2,880 2,880
Lower warehouse & timber yard in Tabley Street 2,550 2,550
Impl. 3% Stock (£1,200) 1,200 1,240
A moity of a Flat 700 550
Bank Stock 990 1,380
£2,350 Corpn. Bond 2,350 2,350
Mortgage on Cusm. House 2,000 2,000
Loyalty Loan 1,185 1,185
House Jordan Street 420 420
House in Duke Street 1,500 1,500
5 per cents 4,630 4,630
Balance of Debts & Credits 4,989 4,989
  38,394 38,094

It is quite possible that some or even most of Cornelius’s business assets had already been passed onto his sons, but the above inventory is of particular interest in showing the connection with the salt works at Marston in Cheshire and the shareholdings in canals.

Salt had been produced in Cheshire since Roman times. Until the rock salt deposits were discovered in 1690, the process involved boiling brine from natural salt springs. Originally wood was used as the fuel, but this was later replaced by coal. As brine was not easily portable, the coal had to be brought to the sites of the springs and in the days before canals and railways this had to be done by pack horse with the result that the cost of carriage usually exceeded the cost of production by a significant margin. One ton of coal was needed to make one and a half tons of salt, so the economics of salt production were inextricably bound up with those of coal and transport.

As the South Lancashire coalfield developed, salt boilers found that they could get coal marginally more cheaply from Lancashire than from their traditional source in Staffordshire, and so the link was established between Cheshire salt and Lancashire coal. The discovery of rock salt (by accident, in an attempt to find a source of coal nearer to the salt springs) opened up new possibilities. Rock salt still needed refining by dissolving in water and then boiling, but unlike brine it was easily portable, so the refining did not have to be carried out at source. Salt works were set up at Liverpool and the Dungeon, near Speke Hall, transport links to the Mersey were improved, export markets were opened up and the Liverpool merchants came to dominate the industry. The Bournes were one of these families.

I do not know exactly how or when Cornelius entered the salt trade, but it is clear that he did so while still working with his partner Edward Mason. According to the biographer of the Gilbert family, Edward Mason and Cornelius Bourne owned seven boats in partnership with John Gilbert to take salt from Gilbert’s mine at Marston along the Trent and Mersey canal to Runcorn, presumably to be transferred to other vessels for further shipment to Liverpool. John Gilbert’s father, also John, is one of the unsung heros of the industrial revolution. He was agent to the third Duke of Bridgewater, and largely responsible for the engineering work involved in the Duke’s pioneering canal schemes. (The elder John Gilbert’s sister Ann married John Royds, and their great grandson Henry Royds was later to marry Cornelius’s granddaughter Margaret Bourne.) Edward Mason is believed to have retired from business in about 1802, when he moved to a large house he had built in Edge Hill (it was later acquired by the eccentric tunnel builder Joseph Williamson), so the association with Gilbert is likely to have been no later than the 1790s'.

John Gladstone (1764–1851) arrived in Liverpool from Leith with some savings and bought into a merchant partnership. He prospered and traded in the West Indies in corn, cotton and sugar. And significantly when the East India Company monopoly ended he opened up trade with the East. But his trading and pious endeavours were eclipsed by his achievement in siring his fourth son, William Ewart Gladstone, and nurturing him in the halcyon days of Liverpool, trade and intellectual pursuit ...

John Bibby (1775-1840) founded The Bibby Line in 1807.

Other Liverpool Merchants had a more direct impact on the factory site at Acton Bridge -

John Budd

William Edward Maude

James Evans Grimditch

Port trades in 1905 - London £261m, Liverpool £237m, New York £221m, Hamburg £196m, Antwerp £147m, Marseilles £86 ...

Mike Royden - has some wonderful local history pages ...


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