Mike Royden's Local History Pages

Liverpool Castle

[Liverpool Castle]

Liverpool Castle

This short article documents the history of Liverpool Castle from its medieval foundation to its 18th century demise, with a brief study of the how the site has been reused since. A full chronology is included.

Liverpool castle, which occupied a prominent site overlooking the Mersey and pool of Liverpool, was probably erected under the orders of William de Ferrers, Earl of Derby, between 1232 and 1237. The most detailed medieval account was made in 1347 which described the castle as having 'four towers, a hall, chamber, chapel, brewhouse and bakehouse, with a well therein, a certain orchard and a dovecot'. It was surrounded by a fosse or a dry moat.

On only two known occasions did the Castle come under attack, once when a band of rebellious tenants of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, mounted an unsuccessful assault in 1315, and secondly during the Civil War, when the Royalists and Parliamentarians vied for control. After the surrender of Royalists to Parliamentarian forces in 1653, Parliament instructed the Corporation to remove all Civil war defences throughout the town, which was followed by a further order in 1659 directing that the castle should also be removed. This order was never carried out to completion, only the gatehouse and part of walls being destroyed.

By the early 1700's the castle had become an eyesore and clearly a thorn in the side of the Corporation. Through most of its existence it was under the control of the Crown and was always outside of the jurisdiction and liberties of the town. Consequently, its occupants were never subjected to local laws and customs, nor to the control of the town authorities. The hereditary Constableship of the Castle, awarded to the Molyneux family in 1446, had been lost to them in 1672 and once the last Constable had died in 1701, the Corporation felt the opportunity was ripe to be rid of it for good.

Soon afterwards, they petitioned Queen Anne for the lease, with a request to use the site for a church (originally, when Liverpool broke away from Walton Parish in 1699, the site was intended to be used for the Parish Church. Matters clearly couldn't wait and St.Peters was erected in Church Street in 1704). Lord Molyneux, still claiming hereditary right, contested the application and under his influence a number of squatters, traders and vagrants occupied the castle refusing to move. Eventually, the Mayor and his bailiffs succeeded in forcibly evicting them, but the matter dragged on in the courts. By 1715, the case had been settled in favour of the town and three years later the Corporation secured the deed for the site.

Work began to level the area and the last vestiges of the Castle had disappeared by 1726. The new church of St.George, designed by Thomas Steers, engineer of the first dock, was constructed on the site and consecrated in 1734.

Within twenty-five years however, the Spire developed major structural problems although it was not demolished until the early 1800's. In 1819 a new foundation stone was laid, but as work progressed further defects in the church structure were discovered and it proved necessary to rebuild the whole church. The second St.George's was designed by John Foster jnr. and completed in 1825. Foster also designed St.George's Crescent, erected around the perimeter of the Square four years later (demolished 1941).

Dwindling congregations, resulting from inhabitants moving away from the town centre, led to the demolition of St.George's in 1899. The present Victoria Monument was erected in 1902.

Two excavations of the site have taken place this century. The first, by F.Charles Larkin in 1927, was of the castle moat site by prior to construction of underground public conveniences in front of the Monument. This work enabled the course of the moat to be determined more accurately. The second in 1976 was led by Peter Davey in anticipation of the construction of the Crown Courts in the late seventies. A ditch was uncovered which is likely to have formed part of the Civil War defences mentioned earlier.

In 1941 the site experienced warfare to an extent never witnessed, nor imagined, in the days of the Castle, when almost the entire area was devastated by blanket bombing during the Blitz. The site, of course, was redeveloped after the war and has changed so much that it is difficult to picture there the feudal structure that once dominated the borough and the pool below.

View Images of the Castle and the Site

Liverpool Castle - A Chronology of the Site

c.1232 Probable commencement of Castle building ordered by William de Ferrers.
1235 First documented reference to Castle at Liverpool. Strengthening of defences ordered. (Calendar of Patent Rolls p.89, 19 Henry III, Jan 1235).
1237 A witness to an unrelated document is described as castellanus - 'of the fortress', inferring castle now completed.
1247 Death of William de Ferrers. Succeeded by his son who inherits the castles of West Derby and Liverpool.
1315 A band of rebellious tenants of Earl Thomas march on castle and mount an unsuccessful attack.
1315-23 Borough returns to control of Crown and Edward II stays at the Castle in 1323.
1323 20d. spent on repairing the roof of the large hall in preparation of the kings visit. (Pipe Rolls 1323). Castle may have been in poor upkeep as at that time in the custody of a doorkeeper and one watchman (each being paid 1d per day wages and food). 14th C. Inventory exists (1323 Pipe Rolls) describing size and contents of castle: 186 pallet beds, 107 spears, 39 lances, 15 great catapults for hurling stones and several other defence engines. A vat for brewing, two tables, one large and two small brass pots, and one ewer with a basin for washing.
1326-7 Inquisition in first year of Edward III 'Robert de Holland, about the time of seven years before the death of Thomas, late Earl of Lancaster, entered into the Castle and Borough of Liverpool, which are worth by the year in all issues 30.10s.0d'
1327 Constable ordered to give shelter to men fleeing from Scots
1347 Most detailed medieval description: 'four towers, a hall, chamber, chapel, brewhouse and bakehouse, a wall therein, also the herbage of the fosse, a certain orchard, dovecot etc.' (Inspeximus Roll of Edward III of 1347 - Picton, Memorials II p.3-4)
1367 Inquisition at Lancaster; 'there is at Liverpull a certain Castle, the foss whereof and the herbage are worth by the year 2s., and there is a dovehouse under the Castle which is worth by the year 6s.8d.'
1441 New tower constructed on south east side
1446 Sir Richard Molyneux and his son Richard appointed to office of Constable of the Castle. From this time onward their successors claimed hereditary office. (Retained until approx 1672).
1455 Act of Redemption mentions this appointment which also comprised; Stewardship of West Derbyshire and Salfordshire, Mastership of the Forest of Simmonswood, together with the Parks of Croxteth and Toxteth.
1476 Repairs required to the fabric of the Castle. Very detailed specification drawn up.
1559 Castle in state of ruin. No slate on roofs, except for Great Tower which was proposed to be used as a Record Office for the storage of court rolls and that 150 should be spent on repairs to Castle fabric.
1587 Plan made show dimensions of the castle (Touzeau)
1642 Castle seized and garrisoned by Lord Derby for Charles I
1643 May: routed by John Moore for Parliament who assumed control Royalist casualties: 80 dead and 300 prisoners, 7 Parliamentarians killed
1644 Prince Rupert's forces take castle. Plan of Castle and Civil War fortifications drawn by Gomme, engineer of King Charles I, walls and batteries erected from castle enclosing town, although probably not as elaborate as on plan.
1644 Retaken by Sir John Moore for Parliamentarians and remained at peace until end of war
1653 Royalists surrender to Parliamentarian forces
1654 Parliament order all gates and street ends to be taken away and mud walls pulled down and levelled
1659 Parliament order that castle and related earthworks should be pulled down (only partially carried out - only gatehouse and part of walls destroyed)
1672 Molyneux no longer constable
1680 H.Magenis painting
1689 Castle seized by supporters of William of Orange (Chandler p.53)
1701 Jan. Earl of Macclesfield made Constable (dies in November)
1705 Corporation petition Queen Anne for lease of castle Commission set up to survey site of 'late' castle Jan 11; report submitted to Chancellor of th Duchy 29th Jan; Warrant issued by Queen Anne to receiver of Duchy revenues to survey and value the site with a view to granting a Lease to the Corporation for 50 years for building purposes. but: corp must maintain some convenient place within or upon site of castle to keep arm, ammunition for public use and County Militia
1705 March 5th: Lease granted to council for 50 years Tenants (traders) and vagrants occupied castle and contested right of Crown to grant lease to Corp. They said they were Lord Molyneux's tenants and not the Corporations and refused to leave. Mayor obtained orders to evict the remaining families. Molyneux behind the action of squatters. Molyneux now claimed ancient right to castle (petition describes castle as 'Which is long since demolished and only one ruinous tower remains standing'. Such actions prevented demolition and may have proved too costly anyway, especially on such a short term lease.
1715 Act passed to demolish castle and erect church on site, plus development of remaining area. Now becomes worthwhile and plans put in motion.
1715-20 new houses built on the west side of Derby Square
1718 Lease of site surrendered and deed issued to Corporation Original intention of Corp when they broke away from Walton Parish in
1699, was to erect the Parish Church of Liverpool on site of castle. Not carried out - most likely because of delay over wranglings over castle site.
1725 Plans for a new Church to be erected on the site of the old Great Tower. New church of St.George designed by Thomas Steers engineer of first dock.
1726 Ordered that the old castle wall at the top of Lord Street be immediately pulled down and the ground cleared for contractors to build. Last vestiges of Castle disappeared.
1734 Consecration of St.George's.
1750's Spire began to lean - frequent repairs
1789 Now 3'2" out of perpendicular, although seven architects reported no danger.
1809 rent appears between the tower and body of the church. Mayor has steeple examined by two London architects and Corporation surveyor - agreed it was beyond repair and was pulled down
1819 9 march; foundation stone of new tower laid. However further defects found and it proved necessary to rebuild whole church. Designed by John Foster jnr.
1825 New church of St.George's completed
1829 St.George's Crescent erected designed by John Foster jnr.
1899 St. George's pulled down
1902 Victoria Monument erected.
1927 Excavation of Castle moat site by F.Charles Larkin prior to construction of underground public conveniences in front of Memorial. Course of moat determined.
1941 almost complete devastation of area during Blitz
1976 Excavation of South Castle Street by P.J.Davey, prior to construction of Crown Courts Building.

Mike Royden (1995)


Most general works on the History of Liverpool refer to the Castle, below is a list of the most useful specific studies.

Hand,C.R. Liverpool Castle and its Builders (1909)
Hand,C.R. Notes respecting the Annals of Liverpool Castle (1910)
Touzeau,J. 'The Castle of Liverpool' in The Rise and Progress of Liverpool Vol.1 (1910) p.349-358.
Larkin, F.C. 'Excavations on the Site of Liverpool Castle, 1927' in T.H.S.L.C. vol.79, p.175-197.
Cox,E.W. 'An Attempt to Recover the Plans of the Castle of Liverpool from Authentic records; Considered in Connection with Medieval Principles of Defence and Construction' in T.H.S.L.C. vol 42 (1892) p.195-254.
Davey,P. 'South Castle Street 1976: Interim Report' J.M.A.S. Vol 1 (1977) p13-15.
Davey,P.J. & McNeil,R. 'Excavations in South Castle Street,Liverpool 1976 and 1977' in J.M.A.S. Vol 4 for 1980-81 (1985).

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