‘Scouse Gothic’ Blog Tour – A brief history of Liverpool.
By: Ian McKinney
Scouse Gothic is set in Liverpool. The city, and its distinct character, plays as much a part in the story as any of the other characters, and like them it appears one thing to the casual observer, but has its own dark secrets.
Liverpool is a large seaport in the North-West of England, which at the end of the nineteenth century was considered to be the second port of the British Empire. However its origins can be traced back to the granting of its Royal Charter by King John in 1207. (This is the evil King John of Robin Hood fame, although whether he was evil or just subject of bad PR is still being debated.) At this time it was a small port trading mainly with Ireland, there were no docks and the ships simply beached on the shore to unload their cargos. The growth of the port began in earnest with the construction of the first ‘wet’ dock in the world in 1715. It had room for a hundred ships and meant that much larger ships could now pass through the port. These larger ships could now trade with Africa, the Far East and the Americas. The first trade with America is recorded in 1648: cloth, coal and salt from Lancashire being traded for sugar and tobacco.
It was these trade links that would lead to Liverpool becoming the major slaving port in the world. It became the centre of what was known as the ‘Triangular trade’: produce from the factories of Lancashire traded for African slaves; then those slaves traded in the Americas for tobacco, sugar and cotton, which returned to the factories and consumers of Britain. Although few slaves ever made it to Liverpool, at one point Liverpool’s merchants controlled 80% of the UK, and 40% of the world’s slave trade. The city grew fat on the proceeds of slavery, but with the abolition of slavery in Britain and its colonies, a new trade took prominence, cotton. In fact, the cotton trade became so important that during the American Civil War, Liverpool merchants sided with the Confederate cause. And although public opinion supported the North, warships and weapons were secretly built in Liverpool and smuggled across the Atlantic in Confederate ‘blockade runners’.
In a bizarre twist of fate Liverpool is actually connected to the start of the American Civil War, and its ending. The first shots that began the conflict, when General Beauregard fired on Fort Sumter on the 12th April 1861, were fired from an artillery piece, called the ‘Galena Cannon’, which had been made in Liverpool. While the final shots were fired by the Confederate raider the CSS Shenandoah, its surrender in Liverpool on 6th November 1865 effectively ending any Confederate resistance.
During the 19th Century Liverpool was very much a global city, and on any given day more than 1500 sailing ships would crowd its docks. The ships and their cargos came from the four corners of the world, and the multiracial crews lived in its boarding houses and mixed freely in the teaming bars and brothels that surrounded the docks. Herman Melville the author of Moby Dick, visited here as a young seaman in 1834 and wrote of the experience in his book, Redburn, ‘… sailors love this Liverpool; and upon voyages to distant parts of the globe will be constantly dilating upon its charms and attractions, and extolling its virtues above all other seaports in the world’. It was a wild and violent city, but also for black or Asian crews a very equal city. There was no colour bar and many of these sailors settled in Liverpool and raised their families there. For example, Liverpool has a thriving Chinese community, the oldest in Western Europe (established 1834), with its own Chinese Arch (the largest outside of China).
However the largest cultural impact on Liverpool itself came not from the Americas, Africa or even the Far East, but from much closer to home, Ireland. In 1845 the disastrous Irish Potato Famine killed a million people and caused millions to leave Ireland. In the space of three years, two million Irish landed in Liverpool seeking passage to a new life, and many of the poorest could go no further. In the census of 1861 a third of the population of the city had been born in Ireland. Liverpool ceased to be an English city, but neither was it an Irish one. The mixing of these two cultures, together with the Scots, Welsh, African, Chinese and even Jews escaping Russian Pogroms, made it what it is today. In fact Carl Jung once called Liverpool, ‘The Pool of Life’, as he thought it represented the whole world in one place.
The inhabitants of Liverpool, whatever their creed or colour are officially called Liverpudlians, but more commonly referred to as ‘Scousers’. This nickname being derived from a local stew called, Scouse, which in turn gives its name to the local dialect. The accent is a distinctive mixture of English and Irish and will be familiar to anyone who remembers the Beatles.
Once I’d written the book, I needed a title, and as it deals with the undead inhabitants of the city, I decided to call it ‘The Pool of Life..and Death’. However, on second thoughts, a book about Vampires should really be a Gothic novel, and so that became the subtitle, and the book became: Scouse Gothic.
You can read our review of ‘Scouse Gothic’ right here!
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