Every aspect of the landscape – every building, road, lake, stream and path – has been affected by what came before it. Roads avoid steep slopes and buildings prefer well-drained ground. Ancient field boundaries become fossilised into the pattern of streets. In turn the field boundaries would have been influenced by water courses, contours and vegetation. This process can be further traced back to the bedrock upon which everything has its foundations.
For this reason it’s important to study the anciently prehistoric landscape. How was it formed? What shape did it take? How have humans changed it to suit their needs, and what limitations did they bump up against? More importantly, which natural landscape features did they take advantage of? How is our historic landscape formed from the natural one?
The most obvious and important natural features in Liverpool’s history are of course the River Mersey and the Pool. And even though the Pool no longer exists, the street pattern today – Paradise Street and Whitechapel, and the streets leading up to them – remember the Pool and form a ghost outline of the channel which gave Liverpool its power.
As well as the water courses, hills also played a part in the city’s growth. The high ground on which the Victoria Monument now stands was the perfect spot on which to build Liverpool Castle. It provided firm foundations for the fortified building, and gave panoramic views of the town, the Mersey and across the Wirral and south Lancashire – a perfect lookout for the defence of the town. In addition, sandstone ridges run northwest-southeast across the county, and it was these drier areas (bogs and marshes were otherwise widespread) that attracted the earliest settlement, for example in West Derby, Everton and Childwall.
How the landscape was formed
The River Mersey, the sandstone ridges, and the Rivers Weaver, Alt and Dee and Fender, were all formed by glaciers marching their slow and painstaking way south from the mountainous regions of Scotland and the Lake District, and from the basin of the Irish Sea. This scouring of the landscape laid down the first formations which were to have so much effect on the history of Liverpool.
As the ice retreated and sea levels rose, the Mersey valley and those of the other rivers filled with water, eventually forming the landscape features we are familiar with today. At the same time, water flowed off the ridges and into the rivers, forming the Pool, the Osklesbrook (from where the name Otterspool originates) and myriad other streams used later to power mills on the river front.
From these subtle beginnings, the natural landscape set the scene for the first human settlements, which took advantage of freshwater fish and the game opportunities provided by the forests which grew in place of the glaciers. From there, Liverpool and the surrounding towns developed in tune with the lie of the land, and even today we can see the evidence of this strong influence.