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Parts 2 & 3: Slavery Collections from the Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool


The Cropper family and their residence, Dingle Bank, were well known in Liverpool throughout most of the nineteenth century. Their philanthropic works provided a source of inspiration to all citizens of Liverpool, rich and poor alike.

James Cropper (1773-1840) was the first member of the family to settle in Liverpool, according to the family pedigree. He had been brought up near Ormskirk, his father being known as "honest Thomas Cropper", a local yeoman farmer. It was assumed that James would follow his father into farming but by the time he reached his late teenage years he decided that he would be better suited to a career using his head rather than his hands. As a result he took up an apprenticeship with Rathbone and Benson, a mercantile company, in 1790. Here, he showed great diligence and a keen business sense which earned him consistent promotion and respect. Eventually he joined Robert Benson as a shipowner, and the firm Cropper and Benson was formed in 1799, later becoming Cropper, Benson & Co. The firm claims the credit for originating the first line of packets sailing on specific days between England and America. They carried mail and passengers as well as cargo. Soon the company was making £1,000 per day profit.

During his early days in Liverpool, James lodged with a certain Mary Brinsden, fourteen years his senior. After she nursed him back to health, following a serious illness, he married her in 1796.

Around 1823 they managed to secure the lease of the Dingle Bank estate from the Yates family and proceeded to build three houses, one for themselves and one each for their sons, Edward and John. The site was of outstanding natural beauty. It is about two miles south of Liverpool and encompassed an area of about thirty acres. The land sloped down to the River Mersey, looking south away from the docks up the River where it broadened out into a great lake with shining islands of sand at low tide. The magnificent views of the Welsh hills and Beeston Castle were also obtainable. The position of the estate was the subject of much envy and as one tenant reminisced it was "like living in the country and at a very interesting seaside place at the time, with the shipping and yacht racing and yet within a couple of miles of the centre of a huge town."

Isabella Wakefield, an amateur landscape gardener, Edward Cropper's first wife, was successful in making Dingle Bank's ground even more exquisite. She created a one mile walk around the property which was lined with Japanese-looking plants and trees and included winding paths and a wooden bridge. Several arbours with seats were placed along the walk overlooking the sandstone beach of the River Mersey, where peace and tranquillity could be found in the beauty of the surroundings. Some of the seating places were sheltered from the wind and rain, being dug out of the grassy bank behind. The most popular arbour was one that faced south so as to catch every ray of sun. It was lined with sticks of bamboo and its entrance was bordered with sandstone rocks. This proved to be a favourite haunt of the residents of Dingle Bank throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The Cropper family increased considerably during the nineteenth century despite its experience of several sad losses. Eliza, James' daughter died in 1835 shortly after her marriage to Joseph Sturge. Edward's first wife Isabella Wakefield died tragically as did his second wife and their son Charles. Fortunately, his third marriage to Margaret Macaulay, a poor widow, sister-in-law of Lord Macaulay, but still poor, lasted a good deal longer and produced a number of children, the survivors enjoying a healthy and happy life at Dingle Bank, a children's paradise with abundant open space, a sea shore, sandstone rocks and cliffs and a large assortment of trees.

In the early days at Dingle Bank, the Croppers tended to marry into families with similar beliefs to their own. Isabella and Anne Wakefield who married Edward and John respectively were from an ardent Quaker family, Eliza's husband and his family, the Sturges, were associated with the Croppers in the anti-slavery campaign and remained old friends even after their victory against slavery. However, much to Ann Cropper's disfavour, four of her daughters married ministers of the Church of England, and although she accepted the situation, she did warn one of her sons who became a churchman against entering the Roman Catholic Church, "thou wilt know what I feel if one of my sons becomes a Roman Catholic." The family was very close, the Cropper children and grandchildren always visiting Dingle Bank to see their relatives.

Though the family were very rich, they attached little importance to material goods and followed a relatively simple way of life. Indeed, the subject of money never arose in the Cropper family. Their chief interest lay in leading a good Christian life which involved sharing their good fortune with their poorer brethren. They became widely known as a major charitable force in Liverpool. Once a begging letter was addressed to "the most generous man in Liverpool, c/o the General Post Office". It was sent without hesitation to John Cropper. Every year the family would entertain the boys from the training ship Akbar at Dingle Bank where games were organised and treats provided. They also set up a ragged school which provided teaching in moral and elementary education to pauper children. The urchins attending the school often referred to the school as "St Cropper's". Their good works spread to the setting up of a benevolent home for fallen girls where John Cropper would hold a bible class every Sunday afternoon.

The Cropper family's social conscience ran into the world of politics too, in particular their campaign against slavery. James Cropper, for example, made up parcels of sugar and coffee from the East Indies and sent them to every MP to show that slave labour was not essential to their cultivation. The crockery used in the Cropper household constantly reminded the family of the evils of slave labour by bearing the picture of a slave in irons and around him the mottoes, "Alas my poor brother" and "Am I not a man and brother". They rallied around them the supporters of the anti-slavery movement. Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" visited Dingle Bank on her tour of England. she was overwhelmed by the welcome she received there and from other dignitaries of Liverpool. she found the beauty of Dingle Bank captivating, "the green of the turf on April 10th dazzled her and the lawns were enclosed by banks of washed gravel to an ivied porch, where deft servants took charge of the visitors, leading Harriet to the most delightful bedchamber she had ever seen."

James Cropper held strong political views regarding the Irish situation. In 1824, he had paid a visit to Ireland accompanied by his daughter Eliza. To his horror he found the Irish peasantry on the brink of starvation with employment scarce and wages a mere pittance. He fully realised the evils of absentee landlordism was undeveloped. James was convinced that the British Government was largely responsible for the unfortunate state of affairs because of the implementation of selfish and unreasonable trade restrictions which discouraged Ireland from developing her resources. He did not hesitate to make his feelings plain to the responsible parties involved.

These last few members of the Cropper family eventually left Dingle Bank about 1920 when the Dock Board terminated the lease on the property (which it had first acquired in 1872). However, a legacy of love and generosity remains associated with the name of Cropper and Dingle Bank.

Conybeare, F. Dingle Bank
Cropper, A. Extracts from letters of the late James Cropper transcribed for his grandchildren by their very affectionate mother and aunt.
Wilson, F. Crusader in Crinoline

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