City (pop., 2001: 439,473), northwestern England, on the estuary of the River Mersey. It forms the nucleus of the metropolitan county of Merseyside in the historic county of Lancashire. King John granted its charter in 1207. Its growth was slow until the 18th century, when it expanded rapidly as a result of trade with the Americas and the West Indies, becoming Britain's most important port after London. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway (opened 1830) was the first in England to link two major cities. Heavily damaged in World War II, Liverpool declined in importance as a port and an industrial centre in the postwar era. The birthplace of the Beatles, it is also the seat of the University of Liverpool (1903). Liverpool's docklands and several areas of the historic centre of the city were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004.