Where did Liverpool start?

Liverpool waterfront, c1930. Image: Hulton Archive/Getty.

Continuing our occasional series of working out where major cities actually started.

London started as a river crossing, Birmingham as a village with a market, Manchester as a Roman camp. Liverpool, though – Liverpool started with its docks.

That, at least, is what I’d assumed. After all, a trip to the very fine Museum of Liverpool last autumn had taught me that Liverpool had once been home to the world’s first commercial wet dock, known various as Old Dock (for obvious reasons) or Thomas Steers’ dock (for less obvious ones; he was the engineer responsible). That same trip brought home something fundamental about the city to me: that its historic dependence on its docks explained both why a million people had chosen to move there in the first place, and why it’s no longer the economic powerhouse it once was.

Except on closer inspection it turns out that isn’t the whole story. For more than half of Liverpool’s history, in fact, there weren’t any docks. So – where did Liverpool actually start?

The name Liverpool first appears in the record in around 1190 as “Liuerpul”. The first bit of the name seems to have meant “muddy”, or possibly “full of eels”, but the second is pretty literal: the pool was a real inlet from the River Mersey.

The town itself seems to date from the early 13th century. Unusually, in fact, we have an exact date: 28 August 1207, a Tuesday, when the ever popular King John published letters patent inviting people to join a new settlement besides the pool. Being King John, his motives seem to have been to weaken the local aristocracy. A new port, he thought, would enable him to get troops to and from Ireland without the permission of the Earl of Chester, Ranulf de Blondeville, who had made clear he didn’t like him very much.

King John was dead within a decade, but the settlement he helped found thrived. By the mid 1230s, there was a castle; by 1257, a church, that of St Nicholas.

The church is still there; the castle is gone, though, neglected and demolished during the 18th century, though there’s a placard on the Victoria Monument in Derby Square to mark its site:

The Victoria Monument, Derby Square, Liverpool. Image: Irate/Wikipedia Commons.

What of the pool itself? That’s not there any more, either – but it did provide the city with its first dock.

I said earlier that Old Dock was the world’s first commercial wet dock. That’s true, but the key word there is “commercial”. Man-made docks had been built in India and Egypt as early as 2500BCE, and Howland Great Dock had opened off the River Thames in Rotherhithe, then in Surrey, in 1703. (It’s still there today, better known as Greenland Dock.)


What made Liverpool’s first dock special was that it was relatively high-tech. Howland Great Dock was basically just a man-made pond; Liverpool’s equivalent had quays, warehouses and all the other things industrial shipping lines would need to function.

The idea came from the town council, but the actual engineering was the work of Thomas Steers, a Londoner by birth. His plan was to partially fill in the pool, line it with quay walls, and build a lock to cut it off from tidal changes in the Mersey.

The 3.5 acre dock opened in 1715, with space for 100 ships, and, although the town already existed, it was the opening of the port that made it a city. As the century wore on, Transatlantic trade – including, upsettingly, the slave trade – boomed, and Liverpool boomed with it. In 1790, the new-born United States opened its first oversees consulate in Liverpool.

By then, though, Old Dock was already being left behind. The town needed more, and bigger, docks, capable of serving the newer, bigger ships. Ultimately, it would get 7.5 miles of them, stretching from Brunswick Dock in the south to Seaforth in the North.

So on 31 August 1826 (a Thursday), Old Dock closed, and was swiftly filled in: the original pool was no more. The site was reused: for a while it held Steers House, an office block; later it became a car park.

But part of the dock wall was uncovered during the construction of the Liverpool One shopping centre. The Merseyside Maritime Museum runs free tours; if you can’t make that, there’s a porthole.

The porthole on the aptly named Thomas Streers Way. Image: Mike Peel/creative commons.

So: Liverpool was named for a pool, which became a dock, which hasn’t been there for nearly 200 years. Which is oddly sad.

Anyway: here’s a map of the key sites of early Liverpool, laid onto today’s street plan.

The sights of Ye Old Liverpool. Click to expand.

If I was feeling mischievous, I’d note that the two key figures in Liverpool’s development were a London-born engineer, inspired by a project he’d spotted in the capital, and the worst monarch in English history. But people from Liverpool tend to write letters, so I won’t.

(Thanks to Gary Bainbridge for his help on finding Old Dock.)

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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Here are the seven most extreme plants we’ve so far discovered

Artist's impression of Kepler-47. Image: NASA.

Scientists recently discovered the hottest planet ever found – with a surface temperature greater than some stars.

As the hunt for planets outside our own solar system continues, we have discovered many other worlds with extreme features. And the ongoing exploration of our own solar system has revealed some pretty weird contenders, too. Here are seven of the most extreme.

The hottest

How hot a planet gets depends primarily on how close it is to its host star – and on how hot that star burns. In our own solar system, Mercury is the closest planet to the sun at a mean distance of 57,910,000km. Temperatures on its dayside reach about 430°C, while the sun itself has a surface temperature of 5,500°C.

But stars more massive than the sun burn hotter. The star HD 195689 – also known as KELT-9 – is 2.5 times more massive than the sun and has a surface temperature of almost 10,000°C. Its planet, KELT-9b, is much closer to its host star than Mercury is to the sun.

Though we cannot measure the exact distance from afar, it circles its host star every 1.5 days (Mercury’s orbit takes 88 days). This results in a whopping 4300°C – which is hotter than many of the stars with a lower mass than our sun. The rocky planet Mercury would be a molten droplet of lava at this temperature. KELT-9b, however, is a Jupiter-type gas giant. It is shrivelling away as the molecules in its atmosphere are breaking down to their constituent atoms – and burning off.

The coldest

At a temperature of just 50 degrees above absolute zero – -223°C – OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb snatches the title of the coldest planet. At about 5.5 times the Earth’s mass it is likely to be a rocky planet too. Though not too distant from its host star, at an orbit that would put it somewhere between Mars and Jupiter in our solar system, its host star is a low mass, cool star known as a red dwarf.

Freezing but Earth-like: ESO OGLE BLG Lb. Image: ESO/creative commons.

The planet is popularly referred to as Hoth in reference to an icy planet in the Star Wars franchise. Contrary to its fictional counterpart, however, it won’t be able to sustain much of an atmosphere (nor life, for that matter). This because most of its gases will be frozen solid – adding to the snow on the surface.

The biggest

If a planet can be as hot as a star, what then makes the difference between stars and planets? Stars are so much more massive than planets that they are ignited by fusion processes as a result of the huge gravitational forces in their cores. Common stars like our sun burn by fusing hydrogen into helium.

But there is a form of star called a brown dwarf, which are big enough to start some fusion processes but not large enough to sustain them. Planet DENIS-P J082303.1-491201 b with the equally unpronounceable alias 2MASS J08230313-4912012 b has 28.5 times the mass of Jupiter – making it the most massive planet listed in NASA’s exoplanet archive. It is so massive that it is debated whether it still is a planet (it would be a Jupiter-class gas giant) or whether it should actually be classified as a brown dwarf star. Ironically, its host star is a confirmed brown dwarf itself.

The smallest

Just slightly larger than our moon and smaller than Mercury, Kepler-37b is the smallest exoplanet yet discovered. A rocky world, it is closer to its host star than Mercury is to the sun. That means the planet is too hot to support liquid water and hence life on its surface.

The oldest

PSR B1620-26 b, at 12.7bn years, is the oldest known planet. A gas giant 2.5 times the mass of Jupiter it has been seemingly around forever. Our universe at 13.8bn years is only a billion years older.

Artist’s impression of the biggest planet known. Image: NASA and G. Bacon (STScI).

PSR B1620-26 b has two host stars rotating around each other – and it has outseen the lives of both. These are a neutron star and a white dwarf, which are what is left when a star has burned all its fuel and exploded in a supernova. However, as it formed so early in the universe’s history, it probably doesn’t have enough of the heavy elements such as carbon and oxygen (which formed later) needed for life to evolve.


The youngest

The planetary system V830 Tauri is only 2m years old. The host star has the same mass as our sun but twice the radius, which means it has not fully contracted into its final shape yet. The planet – a gas giant with three quarters the mass of Jupiter – is likewise probably still growing. That means it is acquiring more mass by frequently colliding with other planetary bodies like asteroids in its path – making it an unsafe place to be.

The worst weather

Because exoplanets are too far away for us to be able to observe any weather patterns we have to turn our eyes back to our solar system. If you have seen the giant swirling hurricanes photographed by the Juno spacecraft flying over Jupiter’s poles, the largest planet in our solar system is certainly a good contender.

However, the title goes to Venus. A planet the same size of Earth, it is shrouded in clouds of sulfuric acid.

The ConversationThe atmosphere moves around the planet much faster than the planet rotates, with winds reaching hurricane speeds of 360km/h. Double-eyed cyclones are sustained above each pole. Its atmosphere is almost 100 times denser than Earth’s and made up of over 95 per cent carbon dioxide.

The resulting greenhouse effect creates hellish temperatures of at least 462°C on the surface, which is actually hotter than Mercury. Though bone-dry and hostile to life, the heat may explain why Venus has fewer volcanoes than Earth.

Christian Schroeder is a lecturer in environmental science and planetary exploration at the University of Stirling.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.