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Back in the 18th century, when the canal was first cut, Bootle was a bucolic bathing resort surrounded by dairy farming land. Linacre, the area where the gas works stands now, was a separate village, known for its healthy spring waters, which flowed into Rimrose Brook, which emptied into the Mersey estuary where Gladstone Dock is now.

There was a mill with a dam and reservoir just about where the Little Merton pub is now. According to the Liverpool Advertiser (August 1793), Rimrose Brook was capable of supplying "3 cubic feet of water every second for 12 hours out of 24, even in the driest season".

The canal brought prosperity to the area.  This 1833 map of NW Liverpool shows a spur of land just North (Left is North on this map) of the Clarence Dock. That spur directed the flow of muddy silt away from the shore at Bootle, so when the gentlefolk of Liverpool wanted a day at the beach they would catch the packet boat, and head out to Bootle for a nice day on the golden sands.  During winter, people came to skate on the mill pond, which was where SAFE productions is now.

Soon, Bootle boasted a promenade called "Strand Promenade", which led up from the beach to Coffee House Lane, which in turn connected to Coffee House Bridge on Irlam Road. A "pinfold" stood next to the bridge, to hold cattle before shipping off for slaughter because Linacre was still primarily a farming community.

The narrow strip between the canal and the river estuary was filled with rows of mansions and villas, and exquisite formal public gardens. The Bootle bathing industry centred on [William] Miller's Castle, with a bridge over the canal leading up to Linacre, where a fresh water spring was a tourist attraction. William Miler was a Liverpool solicitor.

Life was good, but things were about to change…

The canal had connected the port of Liverpool to a lot of villages, towns and cities along its length. Trade was booming, and Liverpool was booming too. It needed more docks!  The actions of the Liverpool Water Company heralded the winds of change. When the canal was cut, it brought fresh water to Liverpool, but decades of carrying coal into Liverpool and Night Soil out to West Lancashire had polluted it. The company bought the spring that fed Rimrose Brook, and diverted it into Liverpool! This was not a problem for the mill because, as part of the deal, the canal company agreed to supply the mill with water, but Liverpool needed water because it was growing, and soon it would reach Bootle. The events between 1830 - 1892 transformed Bootle into the busy, dirty, industrial town it was at the start of WW2.

Industrial Bootle

There were three major events that changed Bootle from a seaside resort into an industrial town.

1. The Railways.   The first regular passenger rail service left Edge Hill in Liverpool on 15th September 1830 carrying the rich and famous, including the prime minister, Lord Wolsley (Duke of Wellington), and William Huskisson, MP for Liverpool. Huskinson was the driving force behind the railway venture, and he was cock-a-hoop.  In his excitement, he rushed to speak to the Duke during a water stop, and was killed by the Rocket , another train on that journey.  Despite this accident, the railways were a hit, and fairly soon lines were opening all over the country and the world.  Bootle, being so close to Liverpool, soon had a passenger railway.  The first trains weren’t very good at pulling heavy things uphill, but they were about 10 times as fast as the canal packets, so people preferred to travel on them. The packet boats stopped running in 1840.

2. The Irish Potato Famine (1845-1852).   Between 1845 and 1852, the potato crop in Ireland failed because of potato blight. It is estimated that a million people died of starvation and another million emigrated in desperation. Most of those people were bound for America, but ships to America sailed from Liverpool so the emigrants travelled there first, and about 40,000 stayed. At first, they squeezed into the basements of the overcrowded houses in Vauxhall, but after several epidemics, new houses were built for them. So even more itinerant workers come to look for work in Liverpool and Bootle because they could find a decent house to live in, and they stayed.

3. The March of Jesse Hartley's Docks.   

Most of Liverpool's "North Dock System" was designed by Jesse Hartley and built between 1848 and 1892. The first part of the new dock system opened in 1848 and included the Nelson, Wellington, Collingwood, and Stanley docks along with the lock flight connecting to the Leeds and Liverpool canal. The lock flight was very important because it meant barges could load coal for fuel directly onto ocean going ships at the same time as off-loading and loading cargo at the wharf.  So each ship spent less time in the docks, so more ships could use the same dock in a year.  Also, the coal didn’t have to go on the wharf, so there was more room for cargo.  This made Liverpool docks very efficient and they expanded even faster.  The next dock to be built was the Sandon half tide dock in 1851, then the Huskisson dock in 1852. Building the Canada dock in 1859 destroyed Bootle's bathing resort because its half tide dock was built on the site of the Miller’s Castle and Bootle's bathing beach.  It opened in 1862 as the Canada half tide dock and was renamed "Brocklebank" in 1879 when it was redesigned with a ship lock.  The rest of Bootle's shoreline was taken up with the Langton (1881), Alexander (1881) and Hornby docks (1884).  

Opens the full size map in a new windowBootle’s beautiful bathing beach was gone, so Bootle turned to industry. It was ideally placed for that because it had coal from Wigan and leather hide from Sefton (both arriving via the Leeds and Liverpool canal), and all sorts of imports and exports through Liverpool and Bootle docks.  This led to lots of very different factories along the canal.

Click on the map on the left to see a larger version. I’ve removed roads and buildings from the map to show just the variety of industry bordering the canal in 1908.  I've chosen 1908 because the peak of this industry was sometime in the early 20th century, and the most complete record from that period is 1908.

Miller's Castle with Landmarks in the background. The landmarks were the first sight of Liverpool for approaching ships.

18th & 19th Century Bootle