1849: Society for Diffusion of Useful Knowledge – James Mickleburgh

Buy this map as a High Quality Print

This is one of three maps of Liverpool which have come from the Massachusetts Collections Online website. There they have high quality scans of all sorts of documents and photos, and the collection focusses on items with no known copyright. Therefore they’re free to download and use – like I’ve done here! This is simply titled Liverpool, from the Society for Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.

Like many of the maps on this website, this is extremely detailed. All of the main roads are labelled, and so are some of the smaller roads, like Staley Road in the town centre, Portland Street in Kirkdale and Gloucester Place on Low Hill.

The feature that sets it apart from other maps is the line of precisely-drawn building profiles along the bottom. The ‘New Customs House’ is central, with some of the finest churches (St Nicholas’, St Michael’s) to the left. Flanking these are some of the other interesting buildings, some of which don’t get much attention: the Wellington Rooms, St George’s Baths and the Lyceum are my favourite.

Lines on a map

Although there’s no key attached to this map, the coloured lines are Parliamentary Borough boundaries. Liverpool is in the centre, with, clockwise from the north, Kirkdale, Everton, West Derby and Toxteth.


There are two engraved images at the top of the map. In the top left is the View of Liverpool in the year 1650. It might be familiar to those knowledgeable in Liverpool history, and shows the Tower, the Castle and St Nicholas’s church on the waterfront.

The second image is of the Black Rock Lighthouse, which deters ships from the dangerous waters at the entrance to the Mersey on the Wirral side. The engraving also shows the Perch Rock Fort, which guards this part of the river.

Finally, in the top right is a Plan of Liverpool in the year 1729. That map shows Liverpool 120 years before the main map, with its single dock, the Old Dock (plus graving dock and basin), while Dale Street stretches off into the countryside. These kinds of decoration were intended to show off just how much the city had grown in ‘recent’ years, a sign of a healthy economy and attractive place for business! This is reflected in the large area highlighted in the bottom left corner of the map labelled Intended Docks, which goes to show this trade hub was hungry for more. Even some of the dock outlines are sketched in.

It was a tough job for a cartographer to stay up to date in those days!

Civic Liverpool

Finally, it’s worth pointing out the civic buildings marked in dark rectangles, many surrounding the present-day university campus. This is the area where many public buildings accumulated in the Victoria era, and is why there is still that concentration today. Even in 1849, in the midst of explosive growth on the world stage, the Victorian mindset saw fit to try mitigating the social troubles in its own backyard.

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