Central Liverpool
The South Docks
Last updated 11th December 2014
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The Albert Dock
The Albert Dock consists of superbly redeveloped warehouse buildings and dockland area. This view of the north-west corner of the dock features, in the centre, Tate Liverpool, the largest modern art gallery in the UK outside London. The warehouses were designed by Jesse Hartley and Phillip Hardwick and opened in 1845. The fireproof design was a reaction to the enormous losses previously sustained in warehouse fires. The design also allowed direct loading and unloading between ships and warehouses for the first time in Liverpool. Built to last at a staggering cost (then) of over £700,000, the buildings were nevertheless threatened with demolition in the 1970s. Their rescue marked a turning point for Liverpool, which seemed then to be locked into a bottomless decline.
The Turning Point for Liverpool, edited from the BBC News Channel
Conservative minister Michael Heseltine highlighted urban deprivation in Liverpool following the Toxteth riots in 1981 and was instrumental in the reversal of the city's fortunes by persuading the private sector it was in their interests to help finance the regeneration of the inner city. Later he recalled of his visit at that time: 'The Mersey, its lifeblood, flowed as majestically as ever down from the hills. Its monumental Georgian and Victorian buildings, created with such pride, still dominated the skyline. The Liver Building itself, the epicentre of a trading system that had reached out to the four corners of the earth, stood defiant and from my perspective very alone [...] everything had gone wrong.' Millions of pounds subsequently poured into the area. The Merseyside Development Corporation, established by Mr. Heseltine, spent more than £200m redeveloping the Albert Dock. Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister at the time, commented in her memoirs: 'For the most part [...] his efforts had only ephemeral results', although, in a somewhat backhanded compliment, she added: 'I would not blame him for that - Liverpool has defeated better men than Michael Heseltine.' [I'll resist the temptation to comment.]
The Albert Dock
The north-east corner of the dock features, on the left, the Merseyside Maritime Museum, which tells the story of Liverpool's seafaring heritage. The museum's collections reflect the international importance of Liverpool as a gateway to the world, including its role in the transatlantic slave trade and emigration, the merchant navy and the RMS Titanic.
The Albert Dock area in Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of England (1848)
For the security of the shipping in the port, and for the greater facility of loading and unloading merchandise, an immense range of docks and warehouses, extending along the bank of the river, has been constructed, on a scale of unparalleled magnificence; forming one of those characteristics of commercial greatness in which this town is unrivalled. The docks are of three kinds, the wet, the dry, and the graving, and there are also half-tide docks. The wet docks are principally for ships of great burthen, employed in the foreign trade, which float in them at all states of the tide, the water being retained by gates: the dry docks, so called because they are left dry when the tide is out, are chiefly appropriated to coasting-vessels; and the graving docks, admitting or excluding the water at pleasure, are adapted to the repair of ships, during which they are kept dry. The Old dock, which was the first of the kind constructed in England, was opened in 1710, and closed in 1826, when its site, being filled up, was appropriated to the erection of the custom-house, and other offices connected with the trade of the port. The Canning dock, which was a dry dock till 1832, was constructed under the authority of an act passed in the 11th of George II, and was deepened nine feet in 1842: it is now capable of receiving the largest vessels frequenting the port, but is chiefly occupied by coasting-vessels, which bring corn, provisions, and slate, and convey back the produce of the West Indies, the Mediterranean, Portugal, and the Baltic; it has a quay 500 yards in length, and communicates with two graving docks. The Salthouse dock, so named from some salt-works formerly contiguous to it, was constructed about the same time as the Canning dock; it was rebuilt and deepened in 1842, and is now used by vessels in the Levant, West India, and Irish trades. The quay is 730 yards in extent, and is provided with convenient warehouses, with arcades for foot passengers on the east side, and extensive sheds on the west side. George's dock, constructed in the 2nd of George III, at an expense of £21,000, was originally only 246 yards in length, and 100 yards in breadth, with a quay 700 yards in extent, but it has been enlarged, and the quay is now 1000 yards in length. On the east side is a range of extensive warehouses, in front of which is an arcade for foot passengers; at the north and south ends of the dock are handsome cast-iron bridges; and a parade is continued westward for a considerable distance. This dock has a communication with the two preceding docks, and also with the Prince's dock, by basins, which preclude the necessity of returning into the river.
The Albert dock, between the Salthouse dock and the river, was commenced in 1842, and opened with much ceremony by his Royal Highness Prince Albert, on the 31st of July, 1846. The water space is 7¾ acres; the quay length, 885 yards. The warehouses erected upon the margin, five stories in height, are entirely constructed of stone, brick, and iron, are vaulted throughout, and are perfectly fire-proof; they occupy an area of 4½ acres, and have an aggregate area of floor accommodation equal to 21½ acres. The dock has a commodious halftide basin, with double entrance gates, which allow vessels arriving, and vessels departing, to pass at the same time. The total cost was £800,000. The Duke's dock, between Salthouse and the King's docks, is a small one belonging to the trustees of the late Duke of Bridgewater, for the use of flats, with commodious warehouses. The several carriers by water have also convenient basins on the river, for their barges, with quays for loading and unloading goods.
Canning Half Tide Dock
In the foreground here is the Canning Half Tide Dock (Hartley 1842-4) with the entrance to the Albert Dock on the right, the Pump House in the middle and the Radio City Tower to the left.
The Albert Dock Gates
A glimpse of Wallasey Town Hall above the Albert Dock gates. My thanks to Don Garton for this picture.
The Yellow Duckmarine
The amphibious Yellow Duckmarines, named with a nod in the direction of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine, once provided one of the best guided tours of central Liverpool and the South Docks. Unfortunately they were withdrawn in 2013 following two separate sinking incidents. The 'Ducks' (known originally as DUKWs: D = 1942, U = utility or amphibious, K = 6 wheel drive and W = twin rear axles) were built in the USA during World War II to move men and materials ashore where no port facilities existed. They saw action in 1943 during the invasion of Sicily and then during the D-Day landings and the Normandy campaign. They continued in service after the war with many armies, the British finally retiring theirs in 1974.
Canning Half Tide Dock
Canning Half Tide Dock is located by the mouth of the former tidal creek known as The Pool , which had an important role in the history of Liverpool. In 1207, King John chose to establish the borough of Livpul here on the neck of land between The Pool and the main river, where earlier there had been only a few scattered communites. It was a location sheltered from the worst of the Irish Sea weather and easy to defend by virtue of the water boundary and the convenient hill upon which a castle made its appearance in about 1235. It was also handy for launching ships destined for Ireland. The Pool, of course, also contributes in part to the name of the city, the remainder possibly coming from the Anglo-Saxon implying thick and muddy (presumably not intended to refer to the local inhabitants). At the middle of the 16th century, there was a ferry crossing approximately along the line of present day Lord Street and Church Street at Whitechapel, and a bridge, the Townsend Bridge, at the end of Dale Street. By the early 17th century, a flood gate had been constructed at the narrower neck of water near the current junction of College Lane and Paradise Street, dividing the Sea Lake from The Pool upstream; the creek was still about 100 yds (90 m) across at this point. The first commercial enclosed wet dock in the world, the Old Dock, was completed in 1715 on the north bank of The Pool near the outlet into the Mersey. At this time the shore lay along the line of the modern Strand Street. This photo was taken in 2005, before the Liverpool One development
Canning Half Tide Dock
Canning Half Tide Dock in 2017 with the new building developments.
The Pool and environs in the Victoria History of the County of Lancaster (1907)
The first of [the] docks, opened in 1715, was made out of the mouth of a tidal creek re-entering from the estuary, the upper reaches of which were at the same time filled in. This creek, known as the Pool, curved inland in a north-easterly direction along the line of the modern Paradise Street, Whitechapel, and the Old Haymarket for a distance of nearly half a mile. It was fed by two streamlets, one coming from Everton at the northern end of the ridge, while the other ran a more rapid course from a marshy expanse, called the Mosslake, which lay halfway up the slope to the south-east, between the modern Hope Street and Crown Street. The latter stream fed the chief water-mill of mediaeval Liverpool. At the inner or north-eastern end of the Pool there was a stretch of wet ground known as the Moor Green; the path which led to it from the village (the modern Tithebarn Street) was known as Moor Street until the 16th century. This 'moor' may have given its name to the great Liverpool family of Moore, More, or de la More. Between the Pool and the Mersey a small peninsula was thus inclosed, roughly triangular in shape, with its base to the north and its apex overlooking the mouth of the Pool. The peninsula sloped gently from each side and from the level ground on the north, reaching its highest point, about 50 ft. above sea level, near the apex of the triangle, at the top of the modern Lord Street. This point was the obvious site for the erection of the castle; while the whole peninsula formed a natural fortress, easily defensible except on the north until the age of artillery, when it was commanded from the ridge behind. The Pool divided into nearly equal halves the total area of the township, which amounted to 1,858 acres, and almost exactly corresponded to the modern parish. Until the middle of the 17th century all the houses and all the cultivated lands lay to the north of the Pool and of the stream which ran into it from the Mosslake, while the southern half of the township as far as the wall of Toxteth Park (marked by the modern Parliament Street) lay waste.
The Mersey Bar Lightship
The Mersey Bar Lightship called Planet was ordered by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board in 1958. When in service from 1960 to 1972, it marked the start of the shipping lane into the River Mersey at the notorious Mersey Bar sandbanks off Formby Point. It had a crew of seven on two week shifts and was the first indication that returning sailors had of their approach to Liverpool. In 1972 it was moved and in 1979 began service in the English Channel off Guernsey. When it was decommissioned in 1989, it was the last manned lightship in UK waters. It was then sold and moved several times, appearing in Liverpool's Canning Half Tide Dock in 2006. It now resides in Canning Dock and functions as a museum and caf‚ bar.
The Mersey Bar Lightship
The Mersey Bar lightship in Canning Dock, now a museum and café bar. I couldn't resist this view (now much modified) with the Pier Head buildings behind.
The Museum of Liverpool across Canning Dock
Salthouse Dock
The view of the waterfront buildings seen across Salthouse Dock was, until recently, one of the most famous in Liverpool (this photo was taken in 2005). The dock took its name from a nearby salt refinery that processed rock salt from Cheshire. It was Liverpool's second dock, completed in 1753, and is the oldest still in existence. Some of the masonry at the south west corner is original; elsewhere there are mid-19th century improvements. The salt industry was of considerable importance in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Coal from Lancashire was brought to Liverpool to refine rock salt from Cheshire, and manufactured salt was brought down from Northwich. There was an extensive business community buying, selling and exporting salt to such places as the Isle of Man and Newfoundland for salting fish.
Salthouse Dock
Salthouse Dock in 2017. Recent construction work has modified the aspect considerably.
The Pumphouse
The Pumphouse, formerly the Albert Hydraulic Power Centre, was built in 1878 to provide high pressure water for hydraulic dock gates, bridges, lifts and cranes. Hydraulic systems were introduced by Jesse Hartley, who had observed William Armstrong's hydraulic crane at Newcastle upon Tyne in 1847. The building has now been restored somewhat unsympathetically as a pub, but the exterior provides a great dockside location to sit with a drink.
Canning Dock, the Pumphouse and the Dock Traffic Office
The north-east corner of the Albert Dock buildings with the Dock Traffic Office to the left and the Pumphouse to the right. Canning Dock was originally constructed around 1737 as a dry, tidal dock. The north west wall is believed to have been built then as part of a pier and is probably oldest visible dock retaining wall in the dock system. Along the west dock wall is a 1930s transit shed that replaced a 19th century one. In the 18th century this area was known as Nova Scotia and was crowded with public houses, shops and warehouses.
The Dock Traffic Office
The Dock Traffic Office, with its Greek temple-like frontage, was built in 1848 by Philip Hardwick. The portico is actually made of cast iron, the pillars being in two sections each and the architrave above a single casting.
The Piermaster's House
This house, completed in 1853, is situated by the entrance to the Albert Dock, where the piermaster could keep his eye on the comings and goings. Residences such as this were built all over the Dock Estate from 1801 onwards to house essential workers and by 1846 there were 40 of them. This is the only one that survives, many having been destroyed in the 1941 Blitz..
Wapping Dock and Warehouses
Wapping Basin and Wapping Dock were built in 1855-6 by Jesse Hartley, principally to connect Salthouse Dock and others to the north with King's Dock and others to the south and Duke's Dock to the west. The warehouses are similar to those at Albert and Stanley Docks. The building was originally 232m long, with forty bays divided into five fireproof sections. It was reduced in length following damage suffered in the Blitz of 1941, as can be seen from the colonnade of iron columns on the quayside. The building has now been converted into apartments
The Wapping Dock area in Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of England (1848)
The King's dock, constructed in the 25th of George III., is 270 yards in length and 95 in breadth, and is partly appropriated to vessels from Virginia and other parts, laden with tobacco, which is exclusively landed here. The new tobacco warehouses extend the whole length of the quay, on the west side, and cover an area of more than four acres; the old warehouses, on the opposite side, have been converted into sheds for the security of merchandise. Across the entrance is a handsome swivel bridge of cast-iron. This dock has a communication on the south with a dry dock and two graving docks, one of which has gates 70 feet wide for the accommodation of steamers of the largest class. The Queen's dock, constructed at the same time, is 470 yards long and 227 in breadth, with a spacious quay, and is chiefly occupied by vessels employed in the Dutch and Baltic trades; at the south end it communicates with a small dock called the Union dock, which is also connected with the Coburg dock. This last was made by placing gates 70 feet wide, on to the entrance to an old dry basin; these gates are wider than those at any other port, and are adapted for steamers of the largest size. On the south of the Union dock is a dock of greater dimensions than any of the preceding, named the Brunswick dock, which is peculiarly fitted for vessels laden with timber, having a half-tide basin on the west. It is also furnished with two spacious graving docks, into which vessels can enter at any. state of the tide; each graving dock is capable of containing three large ships. To the south of the Brunswick dock, which was completed in 1832, is the Toxteth dock, chiefly used by vessels with cargoes of mahogany: this small dock, and the land for 600 yards further to the south, including the new Harrington docks, are proposed to be formed into a dock for the further accommodation of the timber trade, under an act obtained in the year 1846. Under this act, likewise, it is intended to form a dock at Wapping, having a water area of 5 acres 235 yards, and a basin adjoining, having a water area of 1 acre 1671 yards; and to make an addition of 1 acre 3412 yards to the water area of the Salthouse dock. These works will connect the King's dock, Queen's dock, and other docks on the south, with the docks north of the Salthouse; in other words, will form a link uniting the whole south range of docks with the north range, and thus prevent the necessity of a vessel's passing out into the river in order to remove from one division to the other. The same act authorizes the formation of a dock with a water space of more than 3½ acres, at Nova Scotia, between the Canning and George's docks.
Wapping Hydraulic Tower and Policeman's Lodge
Hartley's fanciful Wapping Hydraulic Tower (left) and Policeman's Lodge (right). The tower (of 1856) provided power to operate the hydraulic lifts in Wapping Warehouse (centre). The Policeman's Lodge is constructed of intricate granite masonry recalling dry stone walling and is like a giant surreal chess piece.
The Echo Arena and Convention Centre
This complex, opened in 2008, features the Echo Arena with a capacity of up to 11,000 and the BT Convention Centre including a 1,350 capacity auditorium. In the foreground is the tiny Duke's Dock, built for the Duke of Bridgewater by 1773. It was extended with a half-tide dock in 1841-5, but no investment was made there and it remained largely unused except for its warehousing. It has the most complete 18th century dock retaining walls in Liverpool.
The Echo Arena and Convention Centre
The view from the south-east. The complex is one of the most sustainable venues in Europe. Features control light, temperature and electricity usage and harvest rainwater for toilet flushing, while a crop of tidal turbines on the river generate the electricity supply. The design, by architects Wilkinson Eyre, has been awarded a string of environmental and architectural accolades.
The Anglican Cathedral and Wapping Warehouses
The view of the Anglican Cathedral from the Mersey Ferry shows just how much it dominates the skyline of the city. It quite dwarfs the huge Wapping Dock warehouses in the foreground.
The Albert Dock Conservation Area and its architecture at liverpoolworldheritage.com
History of the Albert Dock at the Maritime Museum Archives
The Albert Dock
Tate Liverpool
Tate Liverpool at Open Buildings
The Merseyside Maritime Museum at National Museums Liverpool
Merseyside Maritime Museum at Open Buildings
The International Slavery Museum at National Museums Liverpool
The Mersey Planet
Life on the Mersey Lightships at Old Mersey Times (old newspaper articles)
A Walk around the Docks in 1849 at Old Mersey Times (old newspaper articles)
Embryo of a Port 1715 at Mike Royden's Local History Pages
The Rise of the Port at Mike Royden's Local History Pages
The Port of Liverpool at the Maritime Museum Archives
The Port of Liverpool at War at the Maritime Museum Archives
The Modern Port of Liverpool at Peel Ports
Old photos at Liverpool Picturebook