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Liverpool and Manchester

Liverpool was, and is, the ocean port for Manchester, an inland city of similar size less than 40 miles away to the east. Manchester was a great manufacturing city and was especially involved with the cotton trade. In common with many of the roads in England in the late 18th and early 19th century, the roads between Liverpool and Manchester were atrocious. Indeed, English roads always had a reputation for being appalling: Julius Ceasar and William the Conqueror both complained about how poor they were.

Eventually, the Government passed legislation that allowed turnpike trusts to be set up to maintain the roads as turnpikes (that is to say, privately maintained roads) and charge a toll to users. Normally, local inhabitants could use the roads for free but people from outside the immediate district had to pay.

In time, some turnpike trusts started to abuse their position, charging unreasonably high tolls, which were then passed onto the privately owned maintenance contractors who inflated their maintenance charges – some things never change! So it was with the trusts between Liverpool and Manchester and they began to take a real strangle-hold on Manchester’s prosperity.

For example, raw cotton was shipped from India, the United States and Egypt, landed at Liverpool, transported to Manchester for processing and manufacturing into finished goods, returned to Liverpool and shipped back around the world as finished goods. Two-thirds of the final retail selling price of the finished goods was paid as turnpike tolls for the 80 miles return journey from Liverpool to Manchester and back again. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was set up as the first public railway in the world to specifically bypass the turnpikes.

What is interesting is that history then went on to repeat itself. Another 60 years went by and a similar situation arose, this time is was the Liverpool docks and the railways holding the stranglehold on Manchester. Eventually the manufacturers of Manchester promoted the Manchester Ship Canal to bypass Liverpool entirely and the canal opened in 1894. Although Liverpool was dealt a severe blow it took some decades to completely manifest itself and it was not until the run-up to the Great Depression in the 1920s that the full extent was realised. Liverpool has not been the same since.

If you do not learn from history, you are bound to repeat it.

The operators of the ferries across the English Channel never believed their world would change. Consequently, the 23 mile journey between England and France became the most expensive ferry journey in the world with the operators continually explaining that the special circumstances of the English Channel meant they were forced to maintain high prices. Then along came the Channel Tunnel and the ferry operators, threatened with the loss of their business to the newcomer, suddenly found – most surprisingly considering their previous opinion – they were able to dramatically reduce their tariffs after all.

If they had earlier reduced their tariffs by a fraction of what they were ultimately forced to reduce by, the Channel Tunnel would never have been built.

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