Situated in the middle of Liverpool’s beautiful Georgian Quarter is Knight Street. It is quite easy to miss this little side street, especially when distracted by the larger, grander properties on Rodney Street. However, a surviving ‘ghost sign’ caught my eye and here are the of three terraced properties.
Eighteenth Century Origins
Knight Street was named after its developers; John and James Knight. Who were these men? It’s rather hard to tell; John Knight, a glass-maker was living at 44 Queen Street in 1781 but he does not reappear in the 1790 edition of Gore’s Directory. Likewise, a James Knight does not appear in either the 1781 or 1790 directories.
Knight Street itself was laid out in 1785 and it was a small, but respectable street between Great George Street and Rodney Street. The latter street was on the cusp of becoming one of the most fashionable residential locations in the town. By 1796 Knight Street had extended as far as Roscoe Street and it contained 55 houses and 246 inhabitants.
The three houses examined here, numbers 39, 41 and 43 Knight Street were built later, around 1815. It must be noted here that their numbering changes over time, as the buildings on the street were demolished and replaced. When the houses were first built, they were numbers 19, 21 and 23 Knight Street (they changed to their current numbering in the 1840s).
The houses were owned by John Gladstone and its likely he commissioned the building of these three properties, which were just round the corner from his own townhouse on Rodney Street. John Gladstone was a prominent merchant in Liverpool arriving in the town from his native Scotland in the 1780s. By the time the three houses were built on Knight Street, Gladstone and his family had left Rodney Street for their country property, Seaforth House. John Gladstone’s subsequent career in politics and public service earned him a baronetcy in 1846 and his son, William Ewart Gladstone would go on to become Prime Minister four times. It must also be noted here that John Gladstone’s wealth was not only drawn from his mercantile activities but also from his plantations in the West Indies. When the government paid reparations to slave owners following the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, Gladstone’s claim was the largest awarded by the government. This reveals the extent to which the family profited from enslaved people and indeed, how this was reflected in the bricks and mortar of Liverpool.
The first traceable residents of the houses come from Gore’s Directory of 1816. In number 19 was James Leckie, a bookeper and in number 23 was George Alexander Blennerhasset, a musician. Blennerhasset was the third generation of the musical family in Liverpool. The residents changed fairly routinely over the next decade, as little as 10% of the population owned their own home during the nineteenth century. This meant in a ever expanding town like Liverpool there was much more mobility and fluidity among the its residents.
By 1823, John Draine, a rope maker was living at number 19 and Mrs P. Green was living at number 21. George Alexander Blennerhasset moved to 24 Knight Street where he stayed until his death until 1842. He was described in his obituary as a professor of music whose “skill on a wide variety of instruments…combined with the goodness of his heart, will continue to live in the memory of his numerous and attached friends.”
Spotlight on Number 39: The Lloyds (1827-1855)
John and Mary Lloyd were first recorded at their Knight Street property in 1827. They would remain there until the 1850s. John Lloyd was born in 1791 in Denbigshire, Wales. He was a merchant and a sworn port guager and his office was based at 26 Canning Place.
In 1813 he married Mary Jones (b.1795) at Oswestry. Mary, the daughter of James Jones, was born in London. In 1799, her father was sent on the ship Duff as pat of London Missionary Society when it was captured by Napoleon. James Jones died at the home of his daughter and son-in-law on Knight Street in 1848. Mary was a member of the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel and her name appeared in local newspapers in connection with charitable events connected to the chapel.
It appears as though the couple had no children of their own, but they did have nieces from both sides of the family living with them at 39 Knight Street. In 1851 these nieces were; Mary Ann Lloyd, a governess, Sarah Lloyd, a teacher and Ann Jones, a scholar. During the 1840s the Lloyds also had two domestic servants; Hannah Davis and Matilda Rodgers.
A Street in Transition
During the Lloyds residency, Knight Street was a respectable, middle-class street. This was particularly true of their end of the street which boarded Rodney Street. Amongst the neighbours of the Lloyds were William and Anne Groom at number 41. William was a stationer by profession and they employed a live-in maid. Across the road were the Worthingtons, a family of surgeons. In 1840 the Grooms paid slightly more rent on their property than the Lloyds did. The Grooms’ rent was £28 per year, whereas the Lloyds’ rent was £26.
However, by the 1850s Knight Street was in transition, this is evident more-so in the residents of our smaller terraced properties, which became more crowded. In 1851, the Grooms had left number 41 and James Wells, a blacksmith moved in. The household was completed by his wife and child, his father, his brother, sister-in-law and two nieces and also two cousins.
By 1861 the occupants of the three houses were completely different again and they would have been unrecognisable to the former residents who had lived there just twenty years before. Both number 41 and number 43 were split into multi-residency properties. This was a common use for larger, older houses which perhaps were no longer desirable for single families. Number 41 had two households: one was widower and master tailor, Joseph Jones and his 18 year old daughter, Margaret. The other occupants were James and Margaret Sheldon, a young married couple. James was a “salesman in the spirit trade“.
Next door, number 43 had likewise been split. This house was divided into three households, presumably each family unit occupied a floor or a set of rooms agreed amongst the occupants. There was Mary Ann Pombury and her nine year old son, George ; James and Sarah Keevil and their two sons and finally, Eliza Keogh, a widowed 59 year old dressmaker and her three adult children, Thomas, Harriet and Arthur. It would certainly have been a congested house. The contrast between the rich and poor in Liverpool at this time is made even more stark by the fact that just a few feet away from these houses on Knight Street were the properties on Rodney Street occupied by the extremely wealthy. Among the residents of the houses on Rodney Street which overlooked Knight Street were: a lady, a stock broker, a surgeon and a merchant.
Spotlight on Number 43: The Keogh Family (1861)
Eliza Keogh had a varied life. She was born in Cork, Ireland around 1802 and she had moved to Liverpool sometime in the late 1820s or early 1830s. Her husband, Samuel Keogh was a labourer and in the 1841 they were living in a cellar on Rushton Place along with two of their sons; James and John. Eliza’s husband must have been a sailor as the family moved around frequently. Their son, Thomas was born in Tuscany in 1835, Harriet was born in London in 1839 and Arthur Henry was born in Dublin in 1845. They then settled back in Liverpool and it appears Eliza died in 1879.
Initially it seemed as though her children had a better standard of life. Her son Thomas was a successful hide dealer. Her youngest son, Arthur Henry Keogh was a musician and teacher of music and he appeared to be widely travelled and well-known. His life seems to have spiralled downwards after the death of his wife, Leah in 1876, although he did marry a second time. In 1880 he was imprisoned for stealing a bust, in 1885 he stole a sheet. In 1884 he was sent to Rainhill Lunatic Asylum. In 1886 he was imprisoned for committing rape. In 1890 he was imprisoned for stealing a shawl, an apron and a towel. In 1893, he stole three pairs of boots. In June 1894 he stole a spade and then in October 1894 he stole a ham. He was in and out of Liverpool and London workhouses in the early 1890s and he died in 1895.
The Late-Nineteenth Century
In 1880 Liverpool received city status. By the 1890s, huge housing projects were springing up in places such as Everton and Toxteth Park, which drew the large working-class community away from the city centre and out towards the suburbs.
This has a significant impact on the houses of Knight Street. It meant that for the first time in decades, each house reverted back to a single-family property as there was less of a demand for inner-city housing.
Unlike its neighbours, 39 Knight Street appeared to be more consistent as a single house. The Lloyd family left there in 1855, after some thirty years at the property. It was occupied for the next three decades by John and Harriet Blevin. John Blevin was a master plumber and painter and he employed 8 men under him. John and Harriet had two daughters; Harriet and Catherine.
The Blevins were wealthy enough to employ Elizabeth Catterall as a live-in maid. They also held enough prestige to announce their family occasions, such as births, marriages and deaths in the local newspaper. John Blevin died at Knight Street on 23rd December 1882. As a widower by this point, he left his assets worth £272 to his unmarried daughter, Catherine.
Joseph Glover (b. 1861), his wife Mary Jane (b.1859) moved into Number 39 Knight Street in 1885. Joseph started off a plumber and rose through the ranks to form his own company, which was evidently successful. Like the Blevins before them, the Glovers employed a live-in domestic servant; in 1891 it was Rose Renson, in 1901 it was Susan Rankin.
Joseph’s advertisement board for his company “Plumbers, Painters and General Contractors” still survives on the side of 43 Knight Street. It predates 1911, as the Glovers had left Knight Street by then. It is also telling the sign was positioned to face Rodney Street, which would attract more attention.
Spotlight on Number 43: The Neiman Families (1891 – 1925)
In the late 1880s, the Neiman (also spelt Nieman) family moved into number 43 Knight Street. In 1891 the census recorded Morris Neiman, his wife Leah and their children: Abraham, Sarah, Rebecca, Esther, Rachel and Reuben. This family only stayed a short while at the property.
The next family to occupy the property was also the Neiman family, perhaps they were related or it could just be a coincidence. Moses Neiman (1851-1916) was the head of the family. He was tailor originally born in Poland. His wife, Julia (1849-1925) was also born in Poland. Their eldest children; Emanuel (b.1874), Israel (b.1879), Luezens (b.1880), Rachel (b.1882) and Leah (b. 1884) were all also born in Poland. The family arrived in England around 1885, fleeing anti-Semitic persecution in the former Russian Empire the late-nineteenth century.
In February 1882, The Sheffield Daily Telegraph recorded some of the horrors the Neimans may have witnessed:
“Upwards of 200 Russian Jews arrived in Liverpool yesterday on their way to the Americas…They have been subjected to protracted and terrible hardships in Russia, and most of them have had their homes burned and goods stolen by fanatical Russian mobs…these murders, which were of the most brutal character and frequently accompanied by outrages on women, neither age nor sex being respected…[one man] saw a number of Jewish maidens being stripped naked and flogged through the town.”
Their son Abraham (b.1886) was born in London, where the family first settled but Jacob (b.1889), Hyman (b.1891) and Layarus (b.1895) were born in Liverpool. The 1911 census was filled out by the householder themselves, rather than written up by an enumerator. In the section Nationality of every person born in a foreign country, Moses recorded his nationality as “Jew”. It must be remembered that at this point in history, Jewish people were seen by many as a separate race, which explains why he classified his religion as his nationality.
The Neiman family, like many immigrant families, attempted to Anglicise themselves to fit in with their surroundings. This is evident in their names. So Moses also appears as ‘Morris’ in some records and Julia Neiman was sometimes recorded in censuses as ‘Golda Neiman’ and in another as ‘Janet Neiman’. Their children also changed their names as they grew older; Israel became Isaac, Hyman became Henry, Layarus became Leslie and one son even changed his surname from Neiman to Newman.
It is little wonder why they felt the need to conform. Jews were not always seen as welcome in the countries they fled to. In April 1882, a Russian Jewish man named Maurice Louis was told of work in a stables on Hope Street in Liverpool. Once in the stables, he fell victim to an unprovoked attack by two men. He was beaten up, shaken by his beard, called “an old Jew”, thrown to the floor, had horse manure shoved in his mouth and then thrown into a horse box, where he was kicked by a horse. Both his attackers were sent for trial at Manchester Assizes Court but were discharged on sureties. This even occurred just two months after the Jewish people at Liverpool had spoken of the horrors they had witnessed.
Again it gives us an idea of what the Neiman family had to face. For the most part though Liverpool has always been culturally diverse given its figure as a global port. The Jewish community in Liverpool stretches back to the mid-eighteenth century. The Board of Guardians for the Relief of the Jewish Poor in Liverpool deliberately offered higher funds to prompt emigration rather than settlement in the 1880s, as the port was the last stop between England and America. However, as immigration figures steadied and Jewish settlements in Manchester became more popular, the Board actually spent more per head on relief than seen in other places. The Neiman family stayed at 43 Knight Street for several decades, the house was very important to them as it’s where Moses and his sons worked from in their tailoring business. The family were well assimilated with the local community. At least two of the children married non-Jewish partners. Emanuel Neiman fought in the First World War. Moses Neiman died in 1916 and Julia died just under a decade later in 1925, after this the property was sold.
The Twentieth Century
At the outbreak of World War One, the three properties were occupied by the Wilsons, the Warringtons and the Neimans. By the outbreak of World War Two in 1939 the occupants had changed again. Number 39 Knight Street was the home of an elderly couple; Charles and Janet Hall. Charles was a retired plumber, the third plumber to live at this property. The Halls employed Jennett Alban as a companion and help around the home. Also living there was Wilfred Jones, Elizabeth Williams and Sarah Ross, presumably in rented rooms.
Next door at number 41 was 77 year old Margaret Mitchell and her unmarried daughter, Ivy and her married son and daughter-in-law. At number 43 was the Stalkers. Thomas Stalker was a dock labourer, his wife Florence was a housewife. Also living with them were several of their children and their baby granddaughter, Mary.
In the post-war period the houses were still lived used as domestic properties. David John Passe lived at number 39 in 1949, the Stalkers were still recorded at number 43 in 1958 and the Mitchells at number 41 in 1966.
The three buildings were given Grade II listed building status in June 1985. The significant legislation meant they were protected from any of the major developments which were occurring in Liverpool at the time. At some point doorways were cut in the dividing walls between numbers 39 and 41 to create a larger open space, perhaps for office or retail space.
In a strange twist of fate, number 43 received planning permission to convert it into apartments in the early 2000s. Unlike its nineteenth century counterpart, which had multiple families per floor, these new apartments were classified as luxury accommodation. As such, when the property was sold in 2015, it fetched £270,000. Number 43 Knight Street Apartments is currently available as a hotel, so visitors can now stay in the Mr and Mrs Stalker’s living room or Moses and Julia Neiman’s bedroom. These three terraced houses have some stories to tell!
Written and Researched by Thomas McGrath
- John Belchem and Donald M. MacRaid, Cosmopolitan Liverpool in Belchem, J. (ed.) Liverpool 800: Culture, Character and History (Liverpool University Press, 2006) pp. 311-393
- Lewis’s directory 1796
- Gore’s Directories: 1781, 1790, 1813, 1816, 1823, 1827
- Bolton Chronicle, 3 December 1842, p.3
- Monmouthshire Merlin, 22 January 1848, p.3
- Liverpool Mail, 23 December 1848, p.8
- Liverpool Mail, 19 May 1849, p.1
- Liverpool Mercury, 24 March 1864, p.3
- Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 11 February 1882, p.3
- Manchester Courier, 29 April 1882, p.15
- Liverpool Mercury, 9 January 1885, p.3
- Liverpool Echo, 14 March 1936, p.12
- fotolore.com // https://signaturesliverpool.co.uk/18-historic-photos-of-the-liverpool-waterfront/