Liverpool’s Bad Old Days

Lonely Planet England, 10th edition

LIVERPOOL, 290 kilometres northwest of London, is best-known these days as the home of the Beatles. But it was once England’s second-largest city, thanks to the importance of its port at the mouth of the Mersey River. Part of that port is preserved as Albert Dock, 2.75 hectares of warehouses “that make up the country’s largest collection of protected buildings and are a World Heritage Site,” says the 10th edition of Lonely Planet England.

The Dock is home to “several outstanding museums,” including one that takes an unflinching look at what helped make the city so dominant. The International Slavery Museum (www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk) “reveals slavery’s unimaginable horrors…in a clear and uncompromising manner,” says the guidebook. “It does this through a remarkable series of multimedia and other displays, and it doesn’t baulk at confronting racism.”

Liverpool was one of the three stops on the lucrative slave-trade triangle. From 1700, finished goods—spun cotton and hardware—were shipped from here to West Africa. There, “the ship purchased or captured as many slaves as it could carry,” transporting them to Virginia or the West Indies to be exchanged for raw products—sugar, rum, tobacco and cotton—which were then carried to Liverpool for processing.

“The history of slavery is made real through a series of personal experiences, including a carefully kept ship’s log and captain’s diary… Exhibits include original shackles, chains and instruments used to punish rebellious slaves—each piece of metal is more horrendous than the [last].”