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1768: John Eyes' Plan of Liverpool

1768: John Eyes’ Plan of Liverpool

This old map captures Liverpool at a very interesting time in its history. The port is established, and there are four large docks, plus a handful of smaller basins (or ‘basons’). The natural coastline is already buried below reclaimed land. For Liverpool to have had this map made suggests a town on the up, an important place that needs to be documented. For Liverpool the map itself is a badge of honour.

The cartouche – the inscription – in the top left hand corner includes a history of the town. This is a town with History! And the surveyor, John Eyes, has presented it ‘most humbly’ to the leading people of the Corporation, including the mayor, John Tarleton.

But at the same time Liverpool is a compact town, barely stretching up the hill to Lime Street (‘Lime Kiln Lane‘). Clayton’s Square opens up nearly straight onto rural fields and St John’s Gardens – perhaps the epicentre of our city – is ‘The Great Heath’ soon to become the burial ground for St John’s Church. There’s a bowling green at the end of Hurst Street.

Small town port

It’s about 800 metres from the Old Dock to St George’s Hall – Liverpool in 1768 is about 200m shorter than Southport Pier! It probably had a population of little over 20,000, but would grow to 77,000 by 1801.

That’s why I find this period so interesting: Liverpool is already a smart town with a thriving maritime business – just look at all those roperies! – but it’s on the cusp of exploding into its heyday.

You can imagine wandering around this airy, neat settlement and taking in the air up the hill near the Fall Well. Perhaps you would promenade around Ranelagh Gardens on the site of the present Adelphi Hotel. Or wander the business district around the Town Hall, so lovingly depicted in the top right of the map.

Lost in the detail

But there are some things not depicted. This is one side of the story. Out of the 20,000 people who lived here, only a few were the audience for this map. As you can see, large areas of the map are almost blank. The streets between Pool Lane and Paradise Street have no detail to them, and nor do the areas of Old Hall street.

These would be the residences of the sailors, rope makers and countless other working people who made Liverpool as successful as it was. While their homes were nothing like as bad as the slums which were to sweep the town in the next 50 to 100 years, it’s much harder to find direct evidence of the sorts of houses they lived in.

Nevertheless, this is an incredibly detailed map, and one which gives us an essential insight into the layout of the town just before it ballooned in size. The romance of this map is just one element that makes it so interesting as a source.