1851: Liverpool, by John Tallis & Company

I know very little about this print, except to say that several sellers list it as ‘rare’. That might just be sales and marketing, but this map does have some unique features.

First, and most obvious, is the beautiful watercolour painting at the top (labelled simply ‘From Birkenhead’). The view is of Liverpool from the the River Mersey, centred on the (now Royal) Albert Dock. You can see the dome of the Customs House just poking up behind the warehouses, and to the left of this is the cupola which sits on the dock itself. This was lost during bombing in the Second World War.

Further left we can see other church towers and spires piercing the air. I think some of them might be recognisable as St John’s (where St John’s Gardens now stands), St George’s (where the Victoria Monument now is) and maybe even St Peter’s of Church Street.

To the left is the dome and the spire of St Paul’s Church St Nicholas’ churches respectively.

Ships and boats on the water

The Mersey itself is full of life. Boats are going to and fro, and waves are whipped to white froth by the wind and steam paddles. There’s everything from the tiniest rowing boat to tall ships with dozens of sails. As well as these there are the aforementioned paddle steamers, suggestive of the changing technology, paddles being the older form of propulsion before Brunel pioneered the steam screw.

There are also the little details of mooring rings, the Victoria Tower in the distance, and barrel-shaped buoys floating mid-channel.

In all, this lively header presents a wonderful contrast to the neatly presented streets below it.

Streets of Liverpool

Compared to many old maps of this era, the Tallis map of Liverpool has colours more reminiscent of modern plans. They are brighter, and seem to prioritise ease of reading over accuracy. Other maps simply hatch the built up area or colour them a neutral grey or black. Perhaps this one is just trying to balance the high colour of the top watercolour view.

The docks are coloured and lined, and all are named. All the streets are labelled too, which raises a question that often comes to mind: was this ever used for navigation, or even just to plan a journey? It seems too elaborate for that, though the fact that this comes from Tallis’ An Illustrated Atlas of the World suggests it had a practical use. No doubt there were many Victorians who simply wanted the very best of everything, and would think nothing of paying a premium for a simple atlas that had vignette paintings on every page!

Despite barely reaching the edges of the modern town centre, there is plenty of countryside depicted. The city of Liverpool only stretches as far as Low Hill, Toxteth Park and the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. It’s compact, but its industry is already well into its boom phase.

Team effort

Although John Tallis has his name on the map, he was merely the publisher.

The plan itself was drawn and engraved by John Rapkin, and the paintings were by Henry Winkles (not to be confused, perhaps, with Henry Winkler). John Rapkin was a cartographer, and worked with Tallis on all the images in the Illustrated Atlas, of which this is part. Henry Winkles was an architectural illustrator, engraver and printer who travelled the world and contributed his work to publications ranging from architecture to science.

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