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Liverpool Castle, Liverpool Daily Post Article
David Charters, Liverpool Daily Post   4 May 2007

SOME cowered. Others shook their fists. A few cocked their fingers from the turrets in that traditional gesture of English defiance.

Frightened gulls cawed and dived in the vivid blue sky. But still the cannon balls screamed through the humid air and thudded into soft sandstone walls, powdering the ground.

Red-eyed defenders swept sweat from their brows and cursed into the rising dust, before aiming their muskets at the fleeting figures of the advancing army. A soldier with pale whiskers on his chin lay, still-eyed in the mud, his young body broken. A baby cried.

Shawled mothers grabbed the hands of their children and ran for cover. Horses scuffed the ground, shaking the sacks on their carts.

Drunken minstrels belched in their sleep and a girl with a rosy smile and an easy sway wondered who would be sharing her bed when darkness fell.

And many on that June day in 1644 called on the Mercy of God and the Blessed Virgin.

“The walls were here, right here in Old Hall Street, where we are drinking this coffee,” said the man in the dark suit, whose voice carries authority.

And everyone around the table nods.

“But if you went out and asked the people now, how many would know that Liverpool once had a grand castle? One in 50?” asks another. ‘One in 50?” says a third voice, a sad voice. “It wouldn’t be as many as that, sorry.” Castle Street is only about 200 yards away from the café, where we are sitting in the atrium of the Daily Post/Royal Sun Alliance building.

But the assumption made by Andrew Pearce, chairman of the Liverpool Heritage Forum, is that very few Liverpudlians now know their port had been home to one of England’s grandest castles – in some ways the forerunner of the mighty fortresses built along the Welsh coast in the reign of Edward I (1239-1307).

Liverpool Castle was built as a direct result of King John’s issuing a Letters Patents, popularly known as the Royal Charter, to Liverpool on August 28, 1207.

NOW efforts are being made by the Forum and others to ensure that it has a big role in the 800th anniversary events being planned as a prelude to next year’s European Capital of Culture.

But how did it begin?

John had obtained the hamlet of Liverpool from Henry Fitzwarin in exchange for other land. He was inviting people to settle on burgages (plots of land offered in return for a service). The tenants had to pay a shilling a year to John, who needed a base from which to launch fleets to deal with rebellions in Ireland, over which he claimed sovereignty.

A castle would give substance to these ambitions while providing accommodation for troops. It is likely that building work began before the end of his reign in 1216. Although regarded in popular history as an ignominious scoundrel, an image darkened still further by the entirely fictitious tales of Robin Hood, John was in truth the father of this city.

The original plan, developed by his agents, was an H-shape of seven streets which became Castle, Dale, Bank (now Water), Juggler (High), Chapel, Moor and Whiteacre (Old Hall) streets. Some historians have suggested that there had been a minor fort there and this was rebuilt and extended on the orders of William de Ferrers, 4th Earl of Derby, in the 1230s.

Either way, we are sure that the Victoria Monument, in Derby Square, would have been in the middle of the castle site. The main entrance, in a wall of some 36 yards, faced what is now Castle Street.

The building stood on a constructed plateau over a moat cut from solid rock. It was a commanding structure with a gatehouse flanked by two towers at the north-east corner facing Castle Street. Three round towers dominated the other three corners.

The thick walls were of sandstone hewn from local quarries. It was an excellent defensive position, surrounded on three sides by water. One early description said the water “was not a bow’s shot away”. Appetites of the spirit and the flesh were met within, where there was a chapel, a bakehouse and a brewery.

Beneath the walls on the east side spread an orchard.

Today the wind is keen enough to water the eyes of the stooped business people walking to their offices, speaking messages of the moment into their mobile phones. Once fletchers feathered arrows here so that their flight would be straight and true. Maybe in the distance, these men would have watched a fishing smack approaching the tidal inlet or pool, which would later be filled to make docks.

Liverpool Castle was the outstanding feature of this port for some 500 years – far longer than such totemic structures as the cathedrals, the Three Graces or the football grounds.

For years, the castle matured in a peace which was briefly interrupted in 1315 when some tenants, with a grievance against Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who held the Lordship of Liverpool, launched an abortive attack against the walls.

But all that changed with the English Civil War between supporters of Charles I and the Parliamentarians led by Oliver Cromwell.

Most Liverpudlians sided with this thin-lipped Puritan, known as General Barebones.

So preparations were made to defend the town when it was learnt that the dashing Prince Rupert was advancing with an army of cavaliers.

Cannons were strategically placed, ramparts were built and locals dug a ditch, 12 yards wide and nine feet deep.

Rupert bombarded the castle from a site near what is now Lime Street station and on June 10 his troops made a flank attack in the direction of Old Hall Street, fighting their way to the castle gates, where a truce was arranged and the town and castle surrendered.

It was regained for Parliament by Sir John Moore.

Soon after the Restoration in 1660, Charles II had the garrison removed and the castle partly dismantled. However, it was still important enough to be used by soldiers of William III during an Irish campaign in 1688.

By 1700, it had become a shelter for the homeless and, in 1714, George I authorised its removal. The site was given to the Mayor and Corporation of Liverpool at an annual rent of £6 13s and 4d (£6.67p). St George’s Church was built there and then rebuilt, before work started on the Victoria Monument in 1902.

Andrew Pearce, MEP for Cheshire West between 1979 and 1989, is talking to local historians Rob Ainsworth and Mike Kelly, with Patrick Neal, of the Friends of Liverpool Monuments, which is featuring Liverpool Castle on its website.

“We want to show to the world that this was a medieval town with a huge castle,” he says. “We are not just some Johnny-come-lately town, but we are an ancient town with the underground remains of the castle. We hope that the design of the castle can be shown on publicity material about Liverpool as a whole.”

Mr Pearce adds that the vaults of the old Trials Hotel (now 62 Castle Street) are set in the area where the castle’s moat had been.

“The moat was filled in with loose rubble in the 18th century,” he says.

“The shape of it is there and we want to tell people about this. The footprint of Liverpool Castle is about the same size as that of Harlech Castle in Wales (built by Edward I).

“Where we are now would have been the walls of Liverpool Castle. You wouldn’t find one in 50 people on the street who have any idea that Liverpool had a castle.”

“Nothing like that,” adds Patrick.

“This is very sad,“ Edward continues. “Our history seems to have been forgotten. This is the time to put that right.

“If you want to know what kind of a person you are now, you have to know what your ancestors were. We are the product of our heritage. Liverpool people are intensely proud of their heritage.

“But we have to get it across that this town had a medieval origin long before the slave trade, and ages before The Beatles.”

AN 08-GUIDED walk from the site of the castle takes place at 2pm on Monday, starting at the Queen Vic- toria Monument. The £3 fee is pay- able at the start of the walk, which will also take in medieval and Vic- torian streets. There will be further walks on April 7 and 22. Contact Julie Kershaw on 07944 617477.

A grand gesture

BIG businessmen have always loved the grand gesture - none more so than soap magnate William Hesketh Lever, the first Lord Leverhulme, who built Port Sunlight village for his workers on the Mersey banks, near Birkenhead.

After studying the history of Liverpool Castle, he decided on a much stranger venture. He ordered a replica of Liverpool Castle to be built on his land, now owned by United Utilities, at Rivington, near Bolton. But this would not be a model of the castle in all its glory. Instead, his idea was to recreate the castle as it had been after the Civil War battles. He was in fact building a ruin - or "Lever's folly" as it was called, less charitably.
His Liverpool Castle, as it is still called, was "an experiment in landscape design", a subject which fascinated him.
Work began in 1912, but hadn't finished when Lord Leverhulme died in 1925. People still visit the "new" ruin, which is now growing old in its own right.

Magical History Tour exhibition
AFTER talks with Liverpool History Society and the Liverpool Heritage Forum, the Liverpool Culture Company has decided to put an information plaque at the end of each of the seven original streets with the 07 logo.

There will be a "hub panel" on Castle Street on the pavement near the Sanctuary Stone. On one side, the panel will have tourist information and on the other a brief history of medieval Liverpool, an image of the castle and a map of the seven streets. Engraved paving stones are also being considered.

"We want to reflect the importance of medieval Liverpool," said Graham Boxer, the culture company’s head of heritage development.

A large model of the castle was built for the pageant held in Liverpool on August 28, 1907, to mark the 700th anniversary of the Royal Charter being granted. A much smaller model, which was first shown at a "diorama" held at Croxteth Hall in the 1980s, is being restored at the Liverpool Conservation Centre.

It was built by Bill Sillitoe, then a member of Merseyside County Council’s technical services department, who now works at the conservation centre. This model will be part of the Magical History Tour exhibition, which opens at the Liverpool Maritime Museum in July.