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Historic Rodney Street


Column Mastheads and Credit Box.indd
Bob Edwards is the author of the book Liverpool in the 1950s and created the www.Liverpool Picturebook website which currently has in excess of 2.3 million viewers worldwide. In this column Bob aims to bring you some of the wonderful history of our great city along with some photographs that illustrate our past, we hope you enjoy it!

RODNEY STREET in Liverpool is noted for the number of doctors and its Georgian architecture. It is sometimes known as the “Harley Street of the North”, this street provided homes for many of Liverpool’s elite merchants, and the buildings still reflect that wealth.

The street is named in honour of Admiral Lord Rodney, triumphant defender of British interests in the West Indies from 1779 to 1782. Rodney Street was laid out by William Roscoe and others between about 1782 and 1801, and continued to be developed into the 1820s. The beginning of a Georgian residential development built to house the affluent away from the old town centre. The length, width, and straightness of Rodney Street were unprecedented in Liverpool. It was developed piecemeal up to the 1820s with pairs and short runs of substantial houses, mostly three-bay but some, like no. 62, with five bays.

William Gladstone
William Gladstone was born on 29 December 1809, at the house in Rodney Street

62 Rodney St. Gladstone's birthplace
62 Rodney St. Gladsone’s birthplace

which was his home until the family moved in 1818. After attending a small school at Bootle near Liverpool run by an Evangelical connected with the family, William was sent to Eton. John Gladstone was determined to give his son the educational advantage he himself had lacked, and from a young age William was encouraged to follow a career in politics. During a distinguished career at Christ Church, Oxford, William expressed the desire to take holy orders, but this was discouraged. In 1832 William Gladstone was elected MP for Newark, a seat largely controlled by the Tory Duke of Newcastle, with whom John Gladstone is said to have exerted influence. Although Gladstone did not defend the principal of slavery, though he counselled against interceding with foreign powers engaged in its practice, and protected the products of slave labour in the name of free trade. In common with many Liverpool people, Gladstone was a supporter of the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Gladstone’s parliamentary career was one of exceptional distinction. Besides being a great orator, he was active, powerful, and successful in every branch of government; he was Chancellor of the Exchequer three times. His political allegiance changed gradually: in 1846 he became a Liberal-Conservative, and in 1859 joined the Liberal party; it was as a Liberal that he held the post of prime minister (1868-1874; 1880-5; 1886; 1892-4). From 1874 Gladstone lived at Hawarden Castle, the home of his wife’s family, where he became known as an exemplar of the English country gentleman. It was here that he died in 1898.

John CardwellJohn Cardwell
From 1818 to 1831, 62 Rodney Street was home to John Cardwell, merchant, and his family. Cardwell’s son Edward (1813-86), also became a politician, and he and Gladstone were for many years’ political allies. From 1847 to 1852 Cardwell represented Liverpool; thereafter he was MP for Oxford City. An advocate of free trade, his financial expertise was valued by William Gladstone. Cardwell served as Gladstone’s secretary of state for war from 1868 to 1874. The greatest reformer of the British army, Cardwell’s most important legacy was the abolition of the system whereby many officers’ commissions could be bought and sold. When Gladstone resigned in 1874, Cardwell was a strong candidate for the succession but, exhausted by his time at the War Office, he accepted a peerage instead, becoming Viscount Cardwell of Ellerbeck. He continued to be politically active, speaking out against slavery in the late 1870s’

Other Famous Rodney Street residents over the years include:

Henry Booth Merchant, Entrepreneur, Engineer.
Henry Booth was an engineer and part of one of Liverpool’s big merchant families; he had no doubt by 1824 that the railway was the future. Opposition to the railway was fierce, even vicious – surveyors planning a rail route to Manchester had to be protected from the angry locals by hired bruisers, and Liverpool’s pro-railway lobby was mugged at every turn by influential canal owners, road trustees and landowners. A declaration was signed by 150 Liverpool men – including a Rathbone, a Gladstone, and a Ewart, that ‘new means of communication were indispensable’. Booth’s foresight was remarkable, but even he was probably astonished at the speed and spread of the radical changes in society that the railway age was to bring

Arthur Hugh_Clough 1860Arthur Hugh Clough (1 January 1819 – 13 November 1861) was an educationalist and a fine poet whose experiments in extending the range of literary language and subject were ahead of his time, was born the first day of 1819 to James and Ann (Perfect) Clough in Liverpool. One biographer describes his father as an “intermittently unsuccessful cotton merchant from the North Wales landed gentry” and notes that his mother was more solidly middle-class. The family moved to Charleston, S. C., in 1822,

William Henry Duncan first Medical Officer of Health in 1847.
Dr William Duncan was Liverpool’s first Medical Officer of Health. He was born in Seel Street in Liverpool in 1805. Duncan studied medicine at Edinburgh University, graduating as a Doctor of Medicine in 1829. He started his professional career as a General Practitioner (GP) working in two practices in Liverpool. He became interested in the health of the poor and started researching the living conditions of his patients. He was shocked by what he found and started a lifelong campaign for improved sanitation and housing for the poor.

E. Chambré Hardman, photographer, studio at no 59.
When he died in 1988 his photographic studio and house, number 59, Rodney Street, contained his entire life’s work; photographs, business records, professional and personal correspondence, photographic equipment and personal belongings.

It is the only known British photographic studio of the mid-20th century where the photographer’s entire output has been preserved intact. Today this truly unique collection is open to the public as a museum with some gallery space created for his wonderful photographs:

Commander Nicholas John Turney Monsarrat RNVRNicholas Monsarrat, novelist, was born on the street.
Nicholas John Turney Monsarrat, son of a distinguished surgeon, was born in Liverpool in 1910. Gaining a law degree from Cambridge he decided that the solicitor’s career for which he was being trained did not suit him. He went to London where he tried to make a living writing novels and journalistic pieces such as a regular restaurant review that supplied him with one good meal a week. Although he was a pacifist, Monsarrat decided to join the Royal Naval Voluntary Reserve. He was to write later that “I decided to help win the battle first, and deal with my moral principles later.” He experienced constant exposure to danger aboard the “Compass Rose’ Corvette vessel escorting convoys, described so graphically in The Cruel Sea and his other war books. His distinguished war service and his magnificent narratives about Britain’s sailors were recognised by the nation when he died, and he was buried at sea with full Military honours from a ship of the Royal Navy.

James Maury
James Maury the first United States consul from 1790 to 1829 lived at 4 Rodney Street The son of a famous father, the Reverend James Maury (1719-1769) who was born in Dublin, Ireland.  He was the grandfather of Matthew Fontaine Maury, the young Thomas Jefferson’s teacher in his Classical School for Boys, teacher of three future US Presidents and five future signers of the Declaration of Independence including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe…

The Reverend Maury fathered 11 children. One of these was James Maury, Jr.  Thomas Jefferson asked US President George Washington for an appointment for him and the President appointed him as America’s first consul to Liverpool, England a position that he held from 1790 to 1829. It was the earliest consular appointment in this country and one of the earliest in the world. He left the post over disagreement with President Jackson’s policies.

William MacKenzie’s Tomb
Interred in 1851, William MacKenzie’s name is mentioned in many Liverpool guidebooks owing to the fact that his grave is marked with an impressive fifteen foot (4.57 metre) pyramid shaped tombstone.

The story, often told as a sworn truth, goes that MacKenzie was a keen gambler and left instructions that he should be entombed above ground within the pyramid, sitting upright at a card table and clutching a winning hand of cards. Some tellers go one step further, asserting that McKenzie ensured that his body was never committed to the earth as a means of cheating Satan out of claiming his immortal soul. It follows almost naturally that tales of MacKenzie’s ghost roaming the overgrown churchyard and surrounding area are told today.

Is William McKenzie sitting inside this tomb on Rodney Street clutching a winning hand of cards

The inscription on MacKenzie’s Pyramid door reads:

“In the vault beneath lie the remains of William MacKenzie of Newbie Dumfrishire, Esquire who died 29th October 1851 aged 57 years. Also, Mary his wife, who died 19th December 1838 aged 48 years and Sarah, his second wife who died 9th December 1867 aged 60 years. This monument was erected by his Brother Edward as a token of love and affection A.D. 1868. The memory of the just is blessed”.

However, there are two completely different stories about how MacKenzie came to be involved with the Devil in the first place. One says that he asked for the Devil’s help to win a high-stakes poker game; the Devil agreed, but only in return for his soul. The other version has MacKenzie becoming an atheist on the premature death of his sweetheart and leading a life of drinking and (successful) gambling. One night, he meets his match playing poker, in the form of the mysterious Mr Madison. MacKenzie loses literally all of his money, and Madison invites him to play one last hand. MacKenzie protests that he has nothing left to gamble with, but Madison asks “What about your soul?” MacKenzie initially refuses, now suspecting who ‘Mr Madison’ really is. Madison chall­enges him that if he is an atheist then he cannot believe in the reality of the soul, and therefore has nothing to lose. MacKenzie finally agrees, and of course loses the game. Madison says that he will take MacKenzie’s soul after he is buried, and immediately vanishes.

But is there any foundation for the ghost story? Certainly, there are enough different versions to please a sceptic, but William MacKenzie did exist and was a successful railway contractor described as “one of the most important figures in the civil engineering world of the second quarter of the nineteenth century”. When he died, after an extended period of ill health, he was certainly not penniless, as he left a £383,500 estate and a widow called Sarah. But there is no evidence that he was a gambler – so how did the legend develop? Well, any unusual edifice – such as a pyramid-shaped tomb – is bound to attract speculation and folklore, and there’s nothing Scousers like better than a good yarn; so, why let facts get in the way of one?

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