Liverpool stockbrokers' 19th Century snowball fight

Lithograph by John R Isaac Lithograph of the infamous snowball fight between brokers in 1854 at Liverpool's Exchange Flags

The stock market has always been a competitive place to work and trading at the height of Liverpool's cotton industry in the 1800s was no different.

But when heavy snow brought trading to a standstill in Liverpool in 1854, brokers settled their differences with a more direct approach - a mass snowball fight.

Three hundred stock and cotton brokers pelted each other with so much snow that a poem and a lithograph were created to commemorate the event.

Archivist Vincent McKernan made the discovery while cataloguing more than 1,300 documents on Liverpool's 213-year cotton trading industry.

He said: "Liverpool's cotton trading at that time was done outdoors in Exchange Flags.

Archivist Vincent McKernan Archivist Vincent McKernan has logged over 1,300 files on Liverpool cotton exchange

"It was a pit of people, like a rugby scrum without the ball - and exchanges could become bitter and personal.

"It was a tourist attraction and people would come along to watch."

But when the railways were forced to stop after heavy snow on 5 January 1854 a different sort of fight broke out. A challenge was passed between share brokers and cotton brokers and snowball warfare ensued.

Local poet John B Pedler described the scene in the Liverpool Mercury in a poem written the following day.

Even a drawing a of the fight was created by Liverpool draughtsman and lithographer John R Isaac, to illustrate the scale of the battle.

Mr McKernan said: "Hats were knocked off and trodden on, windows were broken and when the chief constable was called in, he too was roughly handled and pelted with snowballs.

Put into words

So without more ado, they the matter cut short

And snowballs they threw, at each other for sport

Thus forgetting awhile, both the cotton and grain

To resume the arch smile, of their boyhood again

Extract from poem by John B Pedler, Liverpool 6 January 1854

"A council meeting was interrupted when a stray snowball flew through the building window.

"And when the police chief constable arrived he too was roughly treated and pelted with snowballs until he retreated."

Mr McKernan has logged over 1,300 records from the International Cotton Association (ICA) as the organisation plans to move to new premises.

The collection has been stored in a basement at the ICA building in Edmund Street since it was established in 1841.

He said: "Liverpool is forgotten in terms of what a major financial industry it was. This collection confirms Liverpool was the world's largest cotton market for 100 years.

"When people think of the cotton industry they think of the spinners of Lancashire and Manchester but that cotton was all bought from brokers in Liverpool.

"At one stage Liverpool had literally millions of bales of cotton on stock in the docks to supply the trade. Most of the cotton that was shipped to the UK came through Liverpool."

More than 300 boxes of files which include cotton price lists, committee meeting minutes and trade information have been archived and are now available for public viewing for the first time at the Liverpool Record Office.

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