Liverpool–Maritime Mercantile City

The Liverpool Landing Stage (1893) William F. Preston © NMGM Image Source:

The Liverpool Landing Stage (1893) William F. Preston © NMGM Image Source:


The Mercantile City of Liverpool was considered the top point on what was called “the slave triangle” (UNESCO/NHK 2013). It was placed on the United Nations Education Science and Culture Organization’s “World Heritage List” (UNESCO; World 2016) primarily for this reason. Nominations to this list require the site in question exhibit one out of ten criteria of selection (UNESCO; The Criteria 2016). Six of these criteria are designated “cultural criteria” and 4 others are designated “natural criteria”.

The historic shipping and merchant areas of Liverpool were agreed to have exhibited three out of six cultural criteria for selection as a World Heritage Site (World Heritage Scanned Nomination 2004). Specifically, this site fulfilled cultural criteria two, three, and four. Criteria two states that the site must be designated as cultural heritage

Criteria three states that the site must be immortalized and maintained for future generations

While criteria four maintains historic landscapes so that they may remain as snapshots in history


The “Maritime Mercantile City” was one of Britain’s most massive international trade posts for 200 years in the 18th and 19th centuries. It displays the first criteria of selection, the interchange of human values and technical ideas, because it was a place of such traffic that humanity needed to invent more efficient dock construction and were forced to create of more efficient methods of regulating ports to deal with the sheer volume of human movement and product movement (World Heritage Scanned Nomination 2004).

Sadly, the site fulfills the second requirement of displaying a cultural tradition and living civilization because it was one of the three most major ports that aided the traffic of human beings as product. Though the nomination document doesn’t say it, the civilization created by this trade is still living in the cultural constructs of race and racism (Irwin, et. al. 2014), and it lives in police brutality against people of color (Wikipedia 2016) (Netflix 2016), among just a minute portion of possible examples. Liverpool helped facilitate hierarchies of humanity that still haunt us today. In addition to facilitating the buying and selling of human beings, Liverpool served as the site of another human movement pattern. It was major site of emigration abroad, sending many off to the shores of the Americas (World Heritage Scanned Nomination 2004). In other words, this site was where many people saw the last of their homeland. Simultaneously, the site served as the first glimpse of land for countless people leaving their 4 x 4 foot cubby spaces for the first time after months on Slaver ships. If you’d like to see what a 4 x 4 foot space looks like when a grown man stands next to it, and learn about this disgusting institution of human social life, the following video delivers the stomach churning information in fashion that makes listening somewhat tolerable.

This site should serve first and foremost as a demonstration of the deep well of greed and evil potential to humanity. Countless human beings were bought and sold so that the British Empire could maintain it’s luxury crops (which could, in turn, only be afforded by wealthy people like the slavers involve in the trade) and so that the borders of this Empire could spread faster through the aid of free labor.

Nominators argued further that the site fulfilled the criteria of four because the physical landscape in this historic part of the city represents a glimpse of early international trade and European empire building (World Heritage Scanned Nomination 2004). The beautiful buildings dotting this important cultural landscape were, however, created through revenue from the Slave Trade (UNESCO/NHK 2013). The boundaries of this historically significant area now protected by World Heritage status is outlined in orange, while conservation outlines are shown in green and the buffer zone is outlined in blue.

Heritage Sites, Conservation Areas, and Buffer Zone. Image Source:

Heritage Sites, Conservation Areas, and Buffer Zone. Image Source:

The Nomination document describes six areas, listed below, which combine to make up a site categorized as a “historic town” (World Heritage Scanned Nomination 2003: 127).

  1. Pier Head with the three main buildings: Royal Liver Dock, Cunard Building, and Dock Office, is the heart of the early 20th century Liverpool;

  2. Albert Dock Conservation Area, to the south of the Pier Head, comprises a series of warehouses and other facilities related to harbour activities;

  3. Stanley Dock Conservation Area to the north of the Pier Head, comprises Dock Boundary Walls and several warehouses;

  4. The historic centre around the Castle Street/Dale Street/Old Hall Street Commercial Area, extends to the east of the Pier Head. The area includes outstanding buildings from the 18th and early 19th centuries, in various architectural styles.

  5. William Brown Street Cultural Quarter, to the east of the previous, includes St. George’s Plateau, St. John’s Gardens, and other public buildings;

  6. Lower Duke Street, to the east of the Stanley Dock, comprises old warehouses and merchants’ Offices.

The site was placed on the UNESCO “World Heritage in Danger” list–one of only two endangered world heritage sites in Europe–through Decision 36 COM 7B.93 (UNESCO; List 2016). Endangering the site’s placement on the World Heritage List is a development project entitled “Liverpool Waters”. This project, headed by the private company Peel Holdings, would encroach on 60 out of 136 hectares (.23 of .53 square miles) of the World Heritage Sites zone and 170 out of 750 hectares (.66 of 2.9 square miles) of the Buffer zone (World Heritage Scanned Nomination 2004: 22) (Heritage Team 2016) (Liverpool Waters). It has been on the list due to this project since 2012 (The World Heritage Committee 2012).


Endangering Factors

Currently, the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Maritime Mercantile City of Liverpool fits the cultural criteria for potential danger. Specifically, the site fulfills the criteria for threatening effects of town planning, or “urban development projects”. The spatial “townscape” arrangement of buildings and docs in this historic portion of Liverpool is primarily what led to its inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage Heritage. The project will separate the 6 areas which were collectively designated as culturally significant due to the example they collectively provided of the 18th and 19th century British Empire (UNESCO; State 2012: 182). 


Insight into Global Issues

As human population continues to increase exponentially development projects such as the Liverpool Docks will pop up to threaten world heritage sites across the globe. The Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, welcomes the project by Peel Holdings in order to stimulate growth in the city (Parveen 2016). At the command of “progress” and “economic development”, or even just from sheer need to make space for more human beings, our collective cultural heritage will be put in danger. 
The site itself provides us with important insight into a point in human culture which must never be forgotten. Archaeologists are using their science to right past wrongs across the globe. Across the pond, at another northern point of the “slave trade triangle” (in New England) (CrashCourse), another memorial has been made in order to maintain a historical record for this practice. Following the uncovering of an 18th century mass burial of Africans transported in the slave trade and in response to pressure from the public, the African Burial Project began (Sabloff 96). The team was replaced with a new one which included African American academics who used the project as an opportunity to raise public awareness about the cruelty of the slave trade and its presence in the North. After identifying the remains through a demographic and epidemiological perspective, which included identifying the birthplace of each of the 419 people (ABG) but there are approx. 20,000 people buried in and around the site which spans 5 acres (ABG) (Lecture 18). Following this illuminating archaeological work, the 419 individuals were re-buried at the site (this time in caskets and with respect), and a memorial stands above their resting place (ABG) (Lecture 18). Archaeologists, like every scientist which studies humanity, have the chance to use their work to create a more just world.


2013 Liverpool — Maritime Mercantile City. Video,, accessed December 5th, 2016

2016 World Heritage List. Electronic Document,, accessed December 5th, 2016

2016 The Criteria for Selection. Electronic document,, accessed December 5th, 2016

World Heritage Scanned Nomination.
2004 Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City. Electronic document,, accessed December 5th, 2016

Irwin, Neil, Claire Cain Miller and Margot Sanger-Katz.
2014 America’s Racial Divide, Charted. The New York Times. Electronic document,

2016 Black Lives Matter. Electronic document,

2016 13TH | Official Trailer [HD]. Video,

2016 List of World Heritage in Danger. Electronic document,

The World Heritage Committee.
2012 Decision : 36 COM 7B.93. Electronic document, 

Heritage Team.
2016 State of conservation report by the State Party. Electronic document,

Liverpool Waters.
Development overview. Electronic document,

State of conservation of World Heritage properties inscribed on the World Heritage List. Electronic document,

Parveen, Nazia.
Liverpool waterfront heritage status at risk as mayor rejects UN plea. The Guardian. Electronic document,

ABG. The New York African Burial Ground.

Sabloff, Jeremy A.
2008 Archaeology Matters: Action Archaeology in the Modern World. Left Coast Press Inc, Walnut Creek, CA.

The Atlantic Slave Trade: Crash Course World History #24. Electronic document (video), 

6 thoughts on Liverpool–Maritime Mercantile City

  1. Good job, this site was very informative! I think it is pretty interesting that the site has a painful past of slavery and trafficking yet it still sought to be protected. I wonder if UNESCO hopes that by protecting the heritage of this site that the modern world will use this to stop the racism existing today. What good do you think this “demonstration” is doing?

    1. I think it’s important to preserve these terrible parts of human history to serve as examples for the future. If we loose evidence of these this practice we may loose our understanding of it’s consequences. It’s kind of like how, in order to get better when we’re seriously ill, we must first talk about our illness with our doctor. Eliminating the illness of racism (the foundation of which was greatly contributed to by the institution of slavery) requires that we first discuss this illness.

  2. This looks really good and I actually like the videos I found them pretty informative and interesting. Nice job including the interactive map as well. This site is pretty interesting since I never really though of more urban archaeology in places such as this. Do you think that at some point the site will be built on? Will they have a choice with the growing population?

    1. I definitely think the development project will happen, it’s been up in the air for years but the mayor is really pushing economic growth. Hopefully something will happen since they’ve paused construction of the project for a bit longer.

  3. I found it quite interesting the significance and the role Liverpool played in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Its amazing to think of variety of architectural advances that can be made because of trade, unfortunately it was for human trafficking. I never would have thought something as North as of the Northern Ireland and Liverpool would be more heavily involved with Africa and America as Southerns and Western Europe.

    1. Yeah, it’s really fascinating how far Britain’s influence reached given their actual size and location in the world. Empire building is crazy!

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