The Pool is arguably one of the major reasons for Liverpool’s existence. Although King John was looking for a suitable place from which to launch ships to Ireland, not just any location on the west coast of England would do.
Although the Pool is completely invisible today it played a major part in the whole of Liverpool’s history, from the castle built in the 13th Century, through the completion of the first commercial wet dock right up to the modern Liverpool One development on Paradise Street.
How The Pool made Liverpool
The Romans left little trace of their presence in the area, and the Norman Domesday Book mentions only the surrounding manors like West Derby and Toxteth. Place names suggest that there were Norse and Saxon settlements in the area in the period between, but the fact remains that there was next to nothing on the future site of Liverpool before King John decided to lay out a new town and grant privileges to enterprising settlers.
We therefore have to ask why John went to such, when Chester was already well established as a port, and other locations on the north west coast could have provided him with a suitable launch.
A sheltered harbour
There are two reasons why this feature of the landscape was so attractive. Firstly, the Pool provided a sheltered harbour on the edge of a river with access to the open sea. Ships were protected from the worst gales, and were much less exposed to the eyes and weapons of enemies sailing the Irish Sea.
A Defensible Promontory
The Pool carved out a shallow valley through the march into the Mersey, and so left the harder sandstone cliffs to the north untouched and rising above it.
Although Liverpool Castle was not built until some time after 1207, it would hardly have escaped the attentions of John’s surveyors that such a hump would be easily defensible against those enemies coming down the river.
The Pool in Liverpool’s early years
Once Liverpool had become a small town of seven streets, the Pool became the defining feature of its southern boundary. The castle, built in the 1230s, watched over the ships in the sheltered harbour from the site now occupied by the Victoria Monument in Lord Street, while Pool Lane ran from the castle down to the water’s edge.
A bridge crossed the Pool at the end of Dale Street (near the present Queensway Tunnel entrance), just beyond which was the Fall Well, an important water source for the growing town.
Another bridge was built across the Pool at the present junction of Lord Street and Church Street by the unpopular Lord Caryl Molyneux. Although Molyneux had asked permission to lay out Church Street and build a bridge to it over the Pool, he went ahead with the construction before being granted it. In one of many examples of rivalry between the merchants (the Council) and royalty, the Council deemed the bridge’s construction illegal, and it was pulled down again soon after.
The Pool remained a source of controversy for decades as locals often dumped waste into it. Such people were often fined as this water fed the wells which gave Liverpool its drinking water.
The Pool is filled in
The end of the Pool came in 1709 when work began on Thomas Steers’ pioneering dock (now known as the Old Dock). The dock opened in 1715, and was the first commercial wet dock, complete with gates at the entrance to protect ships from the huge tidal ranges. Thus the Pool was the very birthplace of Liverpool’s later commercial successes.
Today, the Old Dock is preserved beneath the Liverpool One development, and to study a map of the city centre is to trace the course of the old waterway up Paradise Street, up Whitechapel and Byrom Street, where it began.