How Time has Changed Liverpool’s Association with the Padlock

How Time has Changed Liverpool’s Association with the Padlock

Our tremendous UK holiday has recently brought Brenda and me through Liverpool to meet up with family. Now relaxing in western Scotland, we’ve had the opportunity to reflect and also put a few words together about our visit. The city has changed much – indeed, some areas beyond recognition – in the now 15 years since I lived there. Its vibrance however continues, its quirky and technicolor people offering friendship and a different perspective and insight at every turn. The city’s history also presents a rich tapestry of industry and commerce, architecture, music, sport and education, to list but a few of its qualities. For those uninitiated in Liverpool’s history, it may be a shock to hear about its darker past in the 1700s, when it was the epicenter of Great Britain’s slave trade. Liverpool’s first recorded slave ship, the Liverpool Merchant, docked in Barbados in early 1700, delivering 220 African slaves; by the close of the seventeenth century, 40% of the worldwide slave activity transited the city. In its peak year of 1799, ships sailing from Liverpool carried some 45,000 slaves from Africa. Undoubtedly, the city’s industrial development was catalyzed tremendously by this, the activity which we now all regard as repugnant today. And, even though slave trading in British colonies was made illegal in 1807 and abolished completely in 1833, we continue to hear about its presence today, albeit hidden from public view.

How thought provoking it was then to see padlocks at Liverpool’s Albert Dock – the same dock that slaves will have passed through centuries ago – now being used as an artistic embellishment and ‘locks of love’. Once used to prevent slaves escaping and symbolizing restraint, there is now encouragement for them to be left on dock railings by lovers. The sign reads that you will never lose your true love if you interlock padlocks and throw the keys into the River Mersey.

Change is all around us, the contextual change of the padlock at Liverpool’s Albert Dock is an interesting example of this. The move to ethically sourced and produced products, which is now capturing the western world is but another example. Reinforce this change for the better across society – buy ethically and continue to support anti-slavery and human trafficking.

Stuart MacCrimmon


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