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Issue:- 31 March/01 April 2010

Liverpool’s Maritime Museum Old Dock Experience
Report and Photos by L Trollope & Dale Robinson

ALL seems on course for the reopening, on 6 May 2010, of Liverpool’s latest special attraction. One cannot say new because
it was built in the early 1700’s.The ‘Old Dock Experience’ is however set to spring back in another incarnation and to become a world beater once again. Ian Murphy, the curator of the Maritime Museum, remarked that Thomas Steer’s dock, commenced in 170 and completed in 1715, was not especially remarkable for its engineering; there were other docks around for ship repairs and similar activities, but for the innovative use those 18C entrepreneurs made of the new facility. Thus making it the world’s first commercial wet dock, which rapidly stole a march on the City’s rivals as ships could easily be loaded and unloaded regardless of the state of the tide!

Cranes were developed to aid the hand unloading. Trade expanded and the City thrived and grew rapidly in population and power. Unfortunately, Liverpool comprised part of the slave route from Africa to America, but the City was by no means unique in the world in this, from our perspective, barbaric trade. Hopefully, the horrors of such an enterprise are something today’s children will learn to deplore. This dock was so successful however that it had to be replaced by an increasing succession of further docks and laid buried until 2001 when excavations for Liverpool One began.

Grosvenor, aware of the existence of this dock, carefully incorporated the Old Wet Dock into its Liverpool One design. The result is a fantastic experience awaiting those interested in the port’s history, and now being run under the auspices of National Museums, Liverpool. Part of the 20 foot brick wall of the dock and the sandstone pool from which Liverpool derived its name, complete with a tunnel hundreds of years older than the dock, which probably connected to Liverpool’s long lost castle, has been carefully exposed for inspection. This is only one small part of the whole dock however. I particularly liked the imaginative use of a screen, onto which is projected a view out to the river, as it would have been seen in the 18th century. Very soon, the image blended in with the dock walls and seemed very real. Along the walls and in the foyer there are informative panels to be perused.

Access is by an easy stairway, and access for the disabled is also possible, although informing the staff on booking is essential to ensure lifts etc are in order before the visit. Numbers are restricted so as not to overcrowd the area. Therefore booking is essential.

Initially, it will be open one day a week for the general public and another for school parties. This Old Dock Experience and the Maritime Museum are valuable resources for native Liverpudlians but also for the expanding tourist trade. Do take the chance to view this unique exhibition!   Ring:- 0151 478 4296 or view the Liverpool Museum's website for more information.

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