The Joan Rivers of Liverpool streets, Manesty’s Lane has been surgically enhanced, bent out of whack, and plastered in so much cover-up that even its closest relatives would be hard pressed to name it in a line up.

Yet, despite its shiny new role as Liverpool ONE’s boutique catwalk no amount of nipping and tucking can airbrush over Manesty’s Lane’s dark and decidedly unglamorous past.

For this sinuous little route has shaped our city’s history more than most – and the Manesty’s Lane that links Flannels to Paradise Street is a mere perky interloper. In fact, it’s not Manesty’s Lane at all.

With the arrival of Liverpool ONE, the city’s tectonic plates shifted the narrow streets that burrowed their way between Paradise Street and Hanover Street. But remnants remain.

To find the source of Manesty’s Lane you have to backtrack to Hanover Street. Here, at Hanover Galleries (current home of the Chocolate Cellar) you’ll find what’s left of its original route, snaking behind the 18th century warehouses.

But wander just a few meters down its length and the road, squeezed between the steel skeletons of Liverpool ONE’s service buildings, disappears underground to meet the Q Park emergency access route. It springs back to the surface, like some subterranean water course, just outside the entrance to Waterstones.

From here on, developers Grosvenor contorted the lane, twisting it through 90 degrees so that shoppers entering Paradise Street would catch a sudden, surprising glimpse of the Liver Buildings in the distance. The idea was to ‘link the city with the waterfront’.

Ironically enough, the real Manesty’s Lane is linked to the waterfront in a far more fundamental way. The Street was named after John Manesty, owner of a fleet of slave ships, including the notorious African, responsible for transporting thousands of slaves in the ‘triangle trade’ linking our city to Africa and the West Indies.

But this was no random civic gesture – the street was the site of Manesty’s actual home: by all accounts a grand villa, noted for its fine lavender shrubs. Nice.

The man was the subject of a couple of volumes’ worth of lurid tales, John Manesty, The Liverpool Merchant, published in 1814. You can read them here if you’ve no paint drying.

The books were no hagiography. Author William Maggin, paints an unflattering portrait of his subject:

Mr. Manesty’s countenance was cold; seldom, if ever, relaxing into a smile. His massive head, rapidly inclining to be bald, was firmly set on a pair of ample shoulders. His dress, which never varied, was of snuff-brown broadcloth and a close-fitting pail of breeches, not reaching much beyond the knee.

He’d no doubt have been a regular at Flannels, then.

Maggin spares no punches when describing our city, either:

“However it may shock the fine feelings of the existing race of the men philosophizing by the side of the Mersey, its prosperity had beyond question its origin in the slave-trade, of which Liverpool, having filched that commerce from Bristol, became the great emporium. It is undeniable that many honourable and upright men were engaged in this man-traffic, the propriety of which they never doubted; and that few of the most unexceptionable merchants in Liverpool, though closing their eyes to what was called ” the horrors of the middle passage,” refused to accept the profits which it returned.

The ‘man-traffic’ saw Liverpool grow rich – and one of its chief industries was the refining of sugar. Once a rare and precious commodity it was the slave trade which created a boon in sugar refining.

At the beginning of the 19th century John Wright & Co ran a small sugar refinery in Manesty’s Lane – one of about a dozen in the city – the warehouses still remain (pic above). But it wasn’t until Henry Tate, a successful Liverpool grocer with a store next door to Wright’s, joined the firm in 1859 that the business really took off – Tate developed a more efficient production method allowing for refining on a much larger scale. And we all know what happened next in that particular tale.

The lane was also home to one of Liverpool’s first public schools – the Manesty Lane School opened in 1792 – just 70 years after neighbouring Bluecoat school opened up on College Lane – and closed sometime in the 1930s.

Slaves, sugar, schools and shops – an incident-crammed history, then, for a narrow, hidden and mangled stretch of carriageway.

But if Woolton councillor Barbara Mace had got her way a few years back, the street would have disappeared off the map altogether. Mace’s big idea was to rid the city of any streets with names associated with the slave trade.

“I want the city council to resolve that all streets, squares and public places named after those involved in promoting or profiteering from the slave trade be renamed, and substituted with new names celebrating those who represent diversity and the contemporary challenge of racial harmony,” she said at the time.

Her plan was approved by head of Liverpool City Council, Joe Anderson, who suggested Exchange Flags could be re-named Independent Square.

It never happened. Wisely, we think. For behind the coffee shop fascias and the Fred Perry window displays this curious street – and its name – will always link us to our past. And you know what they say about those who forget their history.

  • KT

    Nice piece. And I agree, re-naming the streets connected with the slave trade is a bad idea. It covers up history, you should ackowledge your past, even if it’s a dark one, although I appreciate the sentiment behind what they were trying to do.

    Here’s a bit of Manestys Lane info that you missed off, it also played and interesting role in our pharmacutical industry, which, like sugar started in that area, and here’s a firm that still bears its name:
    http://www.oystar.manesty.com/3335.html

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    Cheers KT. Just shows you, you only gotta scratch the surface and all that history stuff oozes all over your fingers.

  • Ronnie de Ramper

    Yes indeed. A nicely written piece. And spare us Councillors meaning well but meddling in matters they barely understand.

  • George

    I assume this is the same Cllr. Barbara Mace who, with her apparent disregard for the city’s heritage you have so bemoaned her for, actually brought forward a motion to the city council to recognise the city’s very distinct history?

    The details of which you can read here: http://www.liverlibdems.org.uk/liverpoollibdems/?p=1681

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin

    We said Barbara Mace wanted to rename streets that were named after slavers, which she did. A very silly idea for which she was – rightly in my opinion – bemoaned.

  • George

    Shame on you then, Robin.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin

    What a thoroughly idiotic reply.

    Also, please don’t post again on the site under other people’s names – it smacks of desperate party politicking.

  • George

    I was searching on the net for history articles on Liverpool when I came across the above article. I thought it wonderful. Truely facinating how the history of one street can convey the moving and changing history of a city.

  • http://www.lfc4ever.co.uk Paul Austin

    Not a celebrated Street this one, and fairy ordinary apart from the property prices. It has some history though. When I used to stay at my Nan’s as a kid, which was a two storey basement flat at 13 Beach Lawn in Waterloo, we heard many wonderful stories about various goings on at Beach Lawn; from the days in the early 50’s when my Nan used to do the laundry for visiting football teams, like Newcastle UTD. How much of this was true is hard to say, but she convinced us that she used to be found pegging out shirts on her washing line for stars like Jackie Milburn when visiting to play Liverpool FC and Everton FC.

    The house itself had a deeper history associated with another more famous ‘Line’ – the White Star Line which is definitely more factual than my Nan’s Football stories, however romantic they seemed.

    The history of this house lies with the fact that one Bruce Ismay lived there with his parents for around 20 years in the late 1800’s before he obtained his infamous reputation for being the highest ranking official of the company to survive the Titanic disaster. I stayed in the house many times, and although I did hear noises and some very audible knocking and banging, I don’t really believe my Nan’s stories about the house being haunted by the restless spirit of Mr Ismay.. but then again.. who knows?

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    Nice comment, cheers!

  • Fenton Bell

    Thanks David!

  • Pat Oneill

    I like that you keep us in the know..Thanks…