A metropolitan county on the River Mersey, with Liverpool as its administrative centre, Merseyside incorporates the towns of Bootle, Birkenhead, St Helena, Wallasey, and Southport. In the 19th century, Liverpool was England’s second greatest port, and the area has been affected by urban deprivation and unemployment.
When the port of Chester silted up in medieval times, Liverpool took up the slack. The first dock was built in 1715 and the port came to prominence with the slave trade. Following abolition, the port grew to a seven-mile stretch of docks, busy with cargoes of cotton, tobacco and sugar and the huge wave of emigration from Europe to the New World in the 19th and 20th centuries. In its turn, immigration brought an influx of people to Merseyside to join its expanding population, including many from Ireland fleeing the potato famines. In the second half of the 20th century, accessible air travel brought an end to the era of the ocean-going liners. Meanwhile, trade with Europe was picked up by the southeastern ports. Merseyside’s population dwindled, but it remains one of Britain’s most vibrant and interesting areas.