Cotton traders

Cotton trader

Cotton trader © Liverpool Record Office, Liverpool Libraries

Liverpool’s cotton traders

Cotton may not grow in Britain, but for 150 years most of the world’s raw cotton came through Liverpool, on its way to Lancashire’s textile mills. The finished goods were then sent back to Liverpool to be shipped all over the world.

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Liverpool was the centre of the raw cotton trade. Millions of bales were unloaded on the city’s quaysides and many people were involved in moving, storing, buying and selling cotton. Today, approximately 60% of the world’s cotton is still traded under rules developed in Liverpool.

Cotton from all over the world was bought and sold in Liverpool. Liverpool’s trading links with America and the nearby cotton mills of Lancashire meant that over 80% of Britain’s cotton imports came through the port. Some of the most famous names in Liverpool made their names and fortunes trading cotton.

Find out more about cotton trading in Liverpool

J Walker Clarke

Listen to American cotton merchant J Walker Clarke from Columbia, South Carolina, talk about the cotton trade and its close links with Liverpool.

Duration: 3 minutes, 19 seconds.

Read a transcript of the audio clip

Cotton towns

While Liverpool was the centre of the raw cotton trade, it was not the bales’ final destination. Lancashire was where the cotton was turned into finished goods, from colourful printed cotton cloth to mopheads.

Lancashire was the main centre for cotton spinning and weaving in Britain. The cotton that was unloaded and traded in Liverpool was sold to Lancashire spinners. It was transported by canal, and later by railway, to the cotton towns of Lancashire. Manchester and its Exchange was the main marketplace for the finished cotton goods, earning it the nickname ‘Cottonopolis’.

Find out more about the cotton industry in Lancashire.