Sunday, 8 May 2011
5: Liverpool's an Altered Town
A broadside ballad of the 1830s, originally printed by Harkness of Preston; I first found this in Roy Palmer's book A Touch on the Times: Songs of Social Change. The tune is "Bow Wow Wow", regularly used for broadsides of this period.
The song is a little too, er, Gilbert and Sullivan? for my tastes. That's what it conjures up for me anyway. And I admit to cutting it down from 9 verses to 6 verses (those who want the full words, do feel free to get in touch with me). Nevertheless, I have personally lamented some aspects of Liverpool's change in recent years, particularly the compulsory purchase and demolition of Victorian homes in Edge Hill, and the enclosure of swathes of the town for the Duke of Westminster's cathedral to consumerism and chain stores, "Liverpool One". It's therefore interesting to hear a song sort of lamenting the rate and scale of change to the town back in the early part of the 19th century.
Over the course of the 19th century, Liverpool's docks expanded along the waterfront, while its population, swollen by movement from rural areas and immigration from Ireland (often en route to America and elsewhere) grew from under 100,000 to closer to 1,000,000 - above I've illustrated Liverpool as an increasingly sprawling mass by using an 1865 engraving by William Morris (whose work I wouldn't want to simplify here, but who certainly disapproved of the cramming of people into rapidly expanding cities to meet the needs of industrialisation). Of course, the emergence of Liverpool as a major city also led to much important civic architecture, and this is commemorated in the song: we hear reference to new church buildings and the grand Custom house, built on the site of Liverpool's old docks, and now itself demolished after suffering world war two damage. Today, you can look down a hole in the Liverpool One development to see the Old Dock (which this song insists was "The theme of many a sonnet") underneath. We also see reference to the expansion of land use for docks and commercial developments (such that the shoreline had receded beyond Jack Langan's, i.e. the pub run by Langan, the Irish Champion boxer, half a mile or more), and the introduction of the new police force in 1836.
It's worth noting that the enterprising people at Harkness of Preston also published very similar broadsides "Manchester's an altered town" and "Preston's an altered town", changing a few words here and there. Waste not, want not!
(I'm posting this one a couple of days late - apologies, hopefully won't become a habit!)
Posted by robotforaday at 14:50