Rivers and oceans provide a wealth of images, from trade winds to tides, to illustrate changing fortunes. The Mersey, with its enormous 30 ft range from high to low tide, its ever-changing channels and sandbanks and the speed of its tidal race, is a rich metaphor for Liverpool.
For more than 300 hundred years, Liverpool has exerted huge influence over the world’s trade, transport and commerce. Inventive, brave, enterprising, visionary, ambitious – this city has bred or attracted people who wanted to make their fortune and change history. There are lists of famous individuals: Laird, Rathbone, Hornby, Gladstone, Vestey, Cunard – world beaters, all of them.
But there are their peers and equals who are almost forgotten – Liverpool entrepreneurs today need to know about these astonishing people and what they achieved. Don’t let’s rest on our historic laurels, but do let’s be inspired by these entrepreneurial role models and breathe the spirit of enterprise back into the city.
Bryan Blundell, mariner, dock master, writer, philanthropist, founded the Bluecoat School in 1709; the remarkable William Hutchinson was a privateer (state-licensed pirate) then became Liverpool’s dockmaster in 1759, inventing tide tables, establishing the world’s first lifeboat station at Formby, writing books on naval architecture, and working out how to resuscitate people who were drowning. Endlessly inventive and enterprising.
The start of the passenger railway here may be well known, and George Stephenson’s name famous, like that of his locomotive Rocket. But who remembers Henry Booth, who pushed the huge railway project through from idea to fruition, inventing things in his spare time? And Thomas Brassey, Birkenhead born in 1805, who was the greatest railway contractor in the world, building railways from Canada to India.
Say ‘cooperative’ and most people think ‘Rochdale Pioneers’; but the Liverpool Cooperative Society was formed 15 years earlier.
The Vestey brothers, sent by their father – owner of Liverpool butcher’s shops – to Argentina to find new opportunities; they founded the Blue Star shipping line.
Sir Alfred Lewis Jones, who owned Elder Dempster, opened up trade on the West African coast, imported the first bananas into Britain, founded the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (world’s first). Alfred and Philip Holt designed and built their Blue Funnel ships which dominated trade in the Far East for decades.
Cotton, rubber, sugar, wheat, palm oil – these built Liverpool fortunes and fed industry throughout Britain.
And of course there were the entrepreneurs that Liverpool sent abroad – none more extraordinary than Robert Morris, financier of the American Revolution. But that’s a story for another day.
• Henry Tate’s global sugar empire – Tate & Lyle – was based in Liverpool for over 100 years
• James Muspratt, John Brunner and Ludwig Mond, all chemists based in Liverpool, were three of the four cornerstones of the chemicals giant ICI
• Sebastian de Ferranti, born in Bold Street, Liverpool, was an electrical engineering genius, taking out 176 patents in his lifetime. Ferranti was the biggest company of its kind in the world, until the 1990s