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The History of the Ropewalks -Liverpool


The Duke Street area lies to the south of the city centre in an area recently renamed 'RopeWalks'. The area consists of the south west part of the Duke Street Conservation Area plus two warehouses on College Lane and the Bluecoat Chambers on School Lane.


The growth of the Duke Street area commenced following the opening in 1715 of the Old Dock, or Steers Dock, which was located within the original pool and allowed secure moorings and access from the River Mersey.


The opportunity that this afforded to the merchants of the town led to a demand for premises near to the Dock and its Customs House.


An Overview of Duke Street

The Duke Street area, due to its proximity to the Dock, and the nature of its topography, with the land running uphill from the Dock, was at the forefront of the first speculators boom in Liverpool.


Hanover Street was built up first, followed by Duke Street and Bold Street, and the fields that were an earlier feature of the area were also quickly developed.


Although there had been port-related industrial activity in the area, with roperies occupying the site of what is now Bold Street to supply the sailing ships, this intensified along with a demand for residential properties so that the merchants could be located close to their business interests.  The Charles Eyes plan of 1785 illustrates that by this time, the area had been substantially laid out and developed, so that connecting streets such as Seel and Fleet Streets were present, and the plan of the area seen today was in place.


This grain follows a hierarchy of streets, with the broadest streets containing the residual merchants residences and shops, and the interconnecting and narrower streets to the rear containing the warehousing and poorer housing.  The earliest surviving trade directory for Liverpool, produced by J. Gore in 1766, indicates the population mix of the area of the time. In Cleveland Square, the list contains nine sea captains, six traders/merchants as well as artisans and professionals.



Originally the goods brought into the Dock were stored in the merchants houses, but as trade grew, they proved to be inadequate, and private warehouses were constructed adjacent to the houses.


Due to the huge demand for plots in this area, the new industrial and warehouse buildings took the form of deep plans front to rear, with narrow street frontages and they were extended in height to three or four stories with a basement.


The housing consisted of a range of buildings from grand Georgian town houses such as the Parr residence on Colquitt Street, to terraces as seen at 15-25 Duke Street.



Some of these were arranged around squares or gardens, such as Wolstenholme Square and Cleveland Square, and a Ladies Walk was provided along Duke Street. As the warehousing and industrial uses of the area grew, the merchants moved to more salubrious suburbs that were being developed higher up the hill in the Canning Street area and more distant areas such as Mossley Hill.


Some of the former residential properties were adapted to other uses, with ground floors converted to shops as the retail importance of the area grew.


As part of this process, the area also saw an increase in the number of labourers attracted to the port and its trades, and the accommodation for this group was provided in much poorer back-to-back housing such as Dukes Terrace and housing courts. Within the Duke Street area, a number of key buildings remain that help to define its History and character

The Monro/John Bolton



John Bolton Esquire of Liverpool, bachelor, married Elizabeth Littledale, spinster, in St Marylebone, London, 31/05/1797. Witnesses were Johnson Wilkinson, Mary Littledale, Joseph Littledale and Margaret Osborn. Elizabeth Bolton nee Littledale was an awardee with John Bolton's other executors of part of the compensation for the enslaved people on Bostock Park estate in St Vincent.


Obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine, 1837. 'Liverpool has lost by the demise of Mr. Bolton one of its most honourable merchants and bountiful benefactors, one who was the ornament of society, a gentleman in mind and manners, who was held in the highest estimation by his friends, whom the poor blessed, and whose memory will long be cherished by all who appreciate worth and benevolence. Mr. Bolton was a native of Ulverston, in the same county.


He entered early in life into commercial pursuits, resided for some time in the West Indies, and finally settled in Liverpool where he acquired an almost princely fortune.

86-90 Duke Street

In Pictures

Bold Street - 1865 - One of the earliest views of the street.

Bold Street - 1897 - Copyright of

Bold Street - 1910 - Copyright of

Bold Street - 1913 - Copyright of



The following information on The Monro can be found at the official website here. 


John Bolton:


According to George Baillie, Bolton arrived in St Vincent 1773 as apprentice to Messrs Rawlinson & Chorley: 'You carried a bag of potatoes on your back and a cheese under your arm'; then he served as shop assistant in Mr Drinkall's store, which he took over on Drinkall's death shortly afterwards. Bolton became agent for Rawlinson & Chorley, then went to St Lucia 1778 and Barbados 1779. George Baillie took care of Bolton when the latter was sick in Barbados. Bolton returned to Liverpool c. 1782-3 with £10000 and set up with Thomas Gudgeon, Bolton's 'principal correspondent in the West Indies'


Bolton operated as a slave-trader in Liverpool. His business was hit by the collapse of Caldwell & Smyth c. 1793 but he recovered; it was made known that his profits in Liverpool were running at £38,000-40,000 p.a. Baillie and Bolton were intimate in business 1793-1803 and George Baillie acted as a trustee to John Bolton's marriage settlement. Baillie himself ran into difficulty from Dec. 1803 onwards, at which point Bolton and Case and [J.B.] Aspinall set up a committee of billholders in Liverpool. George Baillie cleared £500,000 of debt 01/01/1804- 01/01/1805. A pamphlet hostile to George Baillie by Simon Cock circulated in West Indies and led to a libel suit. George Baillie's partner was John Jaffray. Wolfert Katz (q.v.) paid one of the acceptances drawn on George Baillie.


The building at 86-90 Duke Street, Liverpool, was a row of merchants’ terraced townhouses built from the 1770’s. However the council recently gave planning permission to demolish this building to build an office block.


The building was also the Royal Mersey Yacht Club HQ from 1852 until 1862.


More information on this building can be found on the official website here.


duke street

8 Duke Street / Sarah Biffin


Sarah Biffen (October 1784 – 2 October 1850) was a Victorian English painter born with no arms. She was 94 cm (37 in) tall.


She was born in October 1784 to a family of farmers in East Quantoxhead, Somerset, with no arms and only vestigial legs. Despite her handicap, Biffen learned to read, and later was able to write using her mouth. She could also do needlework and use scissors.


When Biffen was twelve, her family apprenticed her to a man named Emmanuel Dukes, who exhibited her in fairs and sideshows throughout England.According to some accounts, it was Dukes who taught her to paint, holding the paint-brush in her mouth, in order to increase her value as an attraction.


In any case, during this period, she held exhibitions, sold her paintings and autographs, and took admission fees to let others see her sew, paint and draw.




In the St. Bartholomew's Fair of 1808, the Earl of Morton wanted to see if Biffen could really paint unaided. Once he was convinced, he sponsored her to receive lessons from a Royal Academy of Arts painter, William Craig.


The Earl of Morton died in 1827. Without the support of a noble sponsor, Biffen ran into financial trouble when her manager used most of her money. Queen Victoria awarded her a Civil List pension and she retired to a private life in Liverpool at 8 Duke Street. Sarah Biffen died on 2 October 1850 at the age of 66. She is buried in St James Cemetery in Liverpool.




10-12 Duke Street / Frank Hornby


Frank Hornby (15 May 1863 – 21 September 1936) was an English inventor, businessman and politician.


He was a visionary in toy development and manufacture, and although he had no formal engineering training, he was responsible for the invention and production of three of the most popular lines of toys based on engineering principles in the 20th century: Meccano, Hornby Model Railways and Dinky Toys. He also founded the British toy company Meccano Ltd in 1908, and launched a monthly publication, Meccano Magazine in 1916.


After experimenting with new ideas in his home workshop, Hornby began making toys for his sons in 1899 with pieces he cut from sheet metal. He built models of bridges, trucks and cranes, although the pieces they were made from were not interchangeable. The breakthrough came when Hornby realised that if he could make separate, interchangeable parts that could be bolted together, any model could be built from the same components.





The key inventive step was the realisation that regular perforations in the structural pieces could be used, not only to join them together with nuts and bolts, but also to journal – act as a bearing for – axles and shafts. This made the construction of complex mechanisms relatively simple. He started making metal strips by hand from copper sheets. The strips were half an inch wide with holes for bolts spaced at half inch intervals. Initially he made the nuts and bolts himself, but he soon found an alternate source of supply.


By 1907 Hornby's part suppliers could not meet the demand. This prompted Hornby to quit his job with Elliot and find suitable premises to begin manufacturing his own parts. He secured a three-year lease on a workshop in Duke Street, Liverpool, and with the help of a loan granted to Hornby and Elliot for machinery and wages, they were manufacturing their own parts by June 1907.




LOCK & KEY HOTEL - 15/17 Duke Street

A Grade II-listed building in Duke Street is set to be transformed into a hotel, café an bar.


The proposals would breathe new life into the Ropewalks building which has been empty for around 12 years.


17 Duke Street site was originally built as an early merchant house in the late 18th Century and will add to the street’s growing restaurant, bar and café scene.


The ground floor of the property which had been previously home to a cafe will make way for a new food and drink establishment for both the public and guests of the building's proposed hotel.

visual impact on the streetscape.”




Designed by architects Falconer Chester Hall, the café and bar would “look to retain as many of the original features as possible, in particular the shop front windows”. The upper floors of the building, which have previously had a residential use, would be turned into a small hotel. A zinc rooftop extension at the rear of the building would also create space for three additional hotel rooms.


View their website and see the progress of the work at:

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Selected Images of Duke Street