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Liverpool's Ghost Streets: Manesty's Lane
This thoroughfare snaking through Liverpool ONE has a murky, dark history that's totally at odds with its sparkling retail facelift.
With the announcement that Marks & Spencer is about to move to the Debenhams site after almost 100 years in Church Street, it’s tempting to think that the geography of the city is moving inexorably away from its historic commercial core (Marks & Spencer’s Compton House home dates back to the 1860s and is one of the world’s first purpose-built department stores, Debenhams dates back to Adele’s 19) into the shiny new streets of Liverpool ONE.
But scratch beneath the cladding of the new and, in this city, the old isn’t buried too far beneath.
The plastic surgery poster child of Liverpool streets, Manesty’s Lane has been surgically enhanced, bent out of whack, and has had so many procedures that even its closest relatives would be hard pressed to name it in a line up.
Yet, despite its sleek new role as Liverpool ONE’s boutique catwalk, no amount of nipping and tucking can airbrush over Manesty’s Lane’s dark and decidedly unglamorous past.
For this sinuous little route has shaped our city’s history more than most - and the Manesty’s Lane that links Flannels (soon to move to the old Owen Owens site) to Paradise Street is a mere perky interloper. In fact, it’s not really Manesty’s Lane at all.
With the arrival of Liverpool ONE, the city’s tectonic plates shifted, and the narrow streets that threaded their way between Paradise Street and Hanover Street were lost beneath the marble cladding and security bollards. But remnants remain.
To find the source of Manesty’s Lane you have to backtrack to Hanover Street. Here, at Hanover Galleries - by Bistro Franc - you’ll find what’s left of its original route, snaking behind the few remaining 18th century warehouses.
But wander just a few metres down its length and the road, squeezed between the steel skeletons of Liverpool ONE’s service buildings, disappears underground like a stream burrowing beneath limestone, to meet the Q Park emergency access route. It springs back to the surface just outside the entrance to Waterstones.
From here on, developers Grosvenor contorted the lane, twisting it through 90 degrees so that shoppers entering Paradise Street would catch a sudden, surprising glimpse of the Liver Building in the distance. The idea was to ‘link the city with the waterfront’, and remind us all where we came from.
Ironically enough, the real Manesty’s Lane is linked to the waterfront in a far more fundamental way. The street was named after John Manesty, owner of a fleet of slave ships, including the notorious African, responsible for transporting thousands of slaves in the ‘triangle trade’ linking our city to Africa and the West Indies.
But this was no random civic gesture - the street was the site of Manesty’s actual home: by all accounts a grand villa, noted for its fine lavender shrubs. A sweet smelling spot for one of the foulest of our city’s ancestors.
The man was the subject of a couple of volumes’ worth of lurid tales, John Manesty, The Liverpool Merchant, published in 1814. You can read them here.
The books were no hagiography. Author William Maggin paints an unflattering portrait of his subject:
Mr. Manesty’s countenance was cold; seldom, if ever, relaxing into a smile. His massive head, rapidly inclining to be bald, was firmly set on a pair of ample shoulders. His dress, which never varied, was of snuff-brown broadcloth and a close-fitting pail of breeches, not reaching much beyond the knee.
He’d no doubt have been a regular at Flannels, then.
Maggin spares no punches when describing our city, either:
Its prosperity had beyond question its origin in the slave-trade, of which Liverpool… became the great emporium. It is undeniable that many honourable and upright men were engaged in this man-traffic, the propriety of which they never doubted; and that few of the most unexceptionable merchants in Liverpool, though closing their eyes to what was called "the horrors of the middle passage," refused to accept the profits which it returned.
The “man-traffic” saw Liverpool grow rich - and one of its chief industries was the refining of sugar. Once a rare and precious commodity, it was the slave trade which created a boon in sugar refining.
At the beginning of the 19th century John Wright & Co ran a small sugar refinery in Manesty’s Lane - one of about a dozen in the city - the warehouses still remain. But it wasn’t until Henry Tate, a successful Liverpool grocer with a grocery store next door to Wright’s, joined the firm in 1859 that the business really took off - Tate developed a more efficient production method allowing for refining on a much larger scale. And we all know what happened next in that particular tale.
The lane was also home to one of Liverpool’s first public schools - the Manesty Lane School opened in 1792 - just 70 years after neighbouring Bluecoat school opened up on College Lane - and closed in the 1930s.
Slaves, sugar, schools and shops - an incident-crammed history, then, for a narrow, hidden and mangled stretch of carriageway.
But if Woolton councillor Barbara Mace had got her way a few years back, the street would have disappeared off the map altogether. Mace was one of the first voices raised in support of ridding the city of any streets with names associated with the slave trade.
"I want the city council to resolve that all streets, squares and public places named after those involved in promoting or profiteering from the slave trade be renamed, and substituted with new names celebrating those who represent diversity and the contemporary challenge of racial harmony,” she said at the time.
Her plan was approved by then head of Liverpool City Council, Joe Anderson, who suggested Exchange Flags could be re-named Independent Square.
It never happened. At least, not yet. Since then, the road might have been twisted and warped, but not as much as some chapters of our city’s history. And if we’re ever to iron that out, maybe it’s time we buried this street for good.
Reconsidering The Adelphi
Imagine my surprise when, on my travels across town the other day, I stumbled upon a massive, palace-like hotel - all 400 rooms of it - that I'd never heard of before. It's called The Adelphi. It's up near Brownlow Hill. Ring any distant bells? Seems like we're all guilty of turning the other way and collectively banishing this once-mighty gem into the file marked: nothing to see here, move on. Is the Adelphi destined to remain Liverpool's dirty secret, or are there other possible futures in store?
I stayed the night. And I wrote a piece about it for The Liverpool Post about it.