site unseen

Liverpool: the Titanic memorial
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
For centuries, the prosperity of towns and cities depended on convenient access to water. The Romans chose London rather than inland Colchester as their capital precisely for this reason. The rivers Severn and Wensum gave Bristol and Norwich a flying start. The same was true of Liverpool. Originally a fishing village granted a charter by King John in 1207, the city and its fortunes were shaped by the river Mersey. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was trade with the West Indies which brought prosperity. Inthe early 19th century, the great engineer Jesse Hartley expanded the docks in solid granite and allowed the cotton trade to triumph.

Those hoping to find a new life and opportunities in the New World also embarked from here. Estimates say that of the 5.5 million people who left Britain between 1860 and 1900, no fewer than 80 per cent could claim their last view of England was Liverpool. Scratch an American and you will find a little bit of Scouse.

The cramped conditions in which these emigrants travelled were rather different from the luxury transatlantic trade which Liverpool companies such as Cunard and White Star pioneered early this century.

Their suitably imposing buildings are still very much in evidence today. Both, however, had their tragedies. Cunard owned the Lusitania, torpedoed off Ireland by a German submarine in May 1915 with the loss of nearly 1,200 lives.

The White Star buildings, constructed in a memorable "streaky bacon" style by the architect Norman Shaw and a dead ringer for his Scotland Yard creation in London, saw even more heart-rending scenes. White Star was responsible for the Titanic, which set off on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on 10 April, 1912. Four days later, it hit an iceberg and sank with the loss of more than 1,600 lives.

Initially it was claimed that the Titanic had indeed been damaged in an accident, but everyone on board was safe. As more accurate news filtered through, anxious crowds besieged the White Star offices in Liverpool and the directors had to shout down the latest tragic information.

Liverpool does have a Titanic memorial. But whisper this quietly - few guidebooks mention the fact. Worried that too blatant a monument might deter nervous passengers embarking on the transatlantic liners, any mention of the Titanic was not permitted. Instead the memorial, which was not erected until 1916, is dedicated simply to the "Heroes of the marine engine room". Unless you know, it is impossible to guess by looking at the sculpture precisely which tragedy is being remembered.

In other words, if you are unfortunate enough to perish in a major tragedy, do not expect to be remembered by name if this threatens shareholders' dividends.

The Titanic memorial is in St Nicholas Place, Liverpool.

Comments