Liverpool’s celebrated history as one of the foremost trading ports not only in Britain but in all of Europe is not without its dark side, and the North Western city is home to several attractions exploring its key role in the slave trade as well as its maritime achievements.
While it seems abhorrent by modern standards, slavery was an incredibly lucrative industry in the 17th and 18th centuries, and ever since the first slave ship, the Liverpool Merchant, set sail from the city’s docks in 1699, the city firmly established itself as a key axis on the global Trade Triangle – the other points being Barbados and Africa’s Gold Coast.
Slavery played such a significant role in Liverpool’s rise to prominence that by the end of the 18th century, 80 per cent of Britain’s Atlantic slave ships set sail from Liverpool Docks, which also accounted for 40 per cent of international figures. After slavery was finally abolished in the early 19th century, Liverpool established its name for other commercial exports and cemented its reputation as Britain’s leading port city with the opening of Albert Dock in 1846, which enjoyed a long period of prosperity before the shipping trade fell into sharp decline in the 1960s and 70s.
While Liverpool’s engineering prowess and development of wet docks are admirable feats, there’s no denying that the slave trade that facilitated this rise to power was regrettable to say the least. That’s why the city’s present-day tourism industry is keen to educate visitors on the truth about the historic trade and the horrendous conditions endured by those condemned to a life of slavery, rather than hiding the facts from view.
If you’re eager to learn more about the slave trade, the best place to visit is the International Slavery Museum at Albert Dock, which is free to enter and open from 10am to 5pm daily, except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Here, visitors young and old can hear accounts of life on board slave ships and see the appalling conditions for themselves.
The International Slavery Museum is just one of many fascinating cultural attractions easily reached with car hire Liverpool Airport that helped the city receive recognition as European Capital of Culture in 2008. Museum operators National Museums Liverpool also organise events across the city for annual Slavery Remembrance Day, to ensure the costly lessons of the past will never be forgotten.