Dating from 1800,
this plain but dignified building was designed by John Foster senior.
Originally the Union Newsroom, it housed the Free Public Library and
held the important natural history collection bequeathed by the 13th
Earl of Derby. All the collections were donated to The William Brown
Library on its opening in 1860. Redeveloped in 1990, a modern building
occupied by Bibby Distribution lies behind the retained facade.
Duke Street is only now recovering its poise after a decline which
started in the early 19th century. At one time it would have housed
wealthy merchants but in the Liverpool tradition its former decorum was
summarily swept away to make way for contemporary needs, in this case
mercantile warehousing. In its own way Duke Street is just as historic
as Rodney Street. It was named after The Duke of Cumberland who defeated
Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Highlanders at Culloden Field in 1746. The
celebrated portrait artist Sarah Biffen (1784-1850) lived at number 8.
She was born with no arms and was a little over three feet tall as an
adult. Her parents sold her into a freak show at the age of 12 from
which she was rescued by the Earl of Morton. Under his patronage she
received formal training and became both famous and much honoured. When
Morton died she sank into penury but was rescued by William Rathbone and
resettled in Liverpool. Frank Hornby, inventor of Meccano, had his first
factory at number 12. At number 87, William Roscoe and William Rathbone
entertained the American naturalist and wildlife painter James Audubon
as he was seeking sponsorship. Felicia Hemans, the Victorian poet was
born at No.118. She was the granddaughter of the Venetian Consul in
Liverpool and became a published poet at the age of 15. She wrote
(amongst much else) The Stately Homes Of England which was
parodied more famously by Noel Coward in the 20th Century. Having long
ago become unfashionable she is remembered however as the writer of the
immortal line 'the boy stood on the burning deck' from Casabianca.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, writer of the classic novel The Scarlet Letter
was once The American Consul, living at number 186. Also credited with
living in Duke Street, at numbers unknown, were Doctor Duncan, the city
and the country's first Medical Officer Of Health and briefly, John
Bellingham, the man who assassinated the British Prime Minister, Spencer
Percival in 1812.
Walks Through History; Liverpool by David Lewis
Alan Maycock ©
Walk 003 |