look at Liverpool Docks
Report by Callum Pritchard
MANY of our readers have
heard of, if not already visited, The Albert Dock, situated by the
River Mersey. Its choice of restaurants, bars and tourist
attractions has propelled it to become one of Liverpool's best known
City landmarks. However, despite the current glitz and glamour of
the Dock, it was not always like this. Southport Reporter decided to
go back to 1846 to give you a full history of the Albert Dock.
The Albert Dock was opened on the 30 July 1846, it was constructed
within Liverpool's South Docks, in the heart of Liverpool, close to
the pier heads. The Dock was named after Prince Albert, who himself
actually opened the Dock, sailing in to Liverpool along the River
Mersey on the Royal Yacht Fairy. Prince Albert enjoyed a rapturous
reception upon his arrival, with 10,000 invited guests waiting
inside the Dock for his arrival, along with thousands of onlookers
outside. Incidentally, a mere ten days before, the town played host
to the Viceroy of Egypt, Ibrahim Pasha. Along with all the other
Docks, The Albert Dock had been constructed in order to be able to
cater for a whole host of sail powered ships, coming both in and out
of the Dock.
In these times, visitors to the Docks may have unwittingly found
themselves in the small streets that ran parallel to The Docks,
where beggars and thieves were constantly on the prowl. Salubrious
places, such as beer shops and sailors' lodging houses, which were
marked with their 'Cooking for shipping' signs. The wealthy
citizens, who were permitted entrance into the Docks, could walk
around happy in the knowledge that they had frustrated these common
thieves, who had openly taken advantage of the Docks' lax security
beforehand to pilfer goods.
In the years after the inauguration of the Dock, there were a number
of fires in the warehouse that stored the goods. Some of these fires
were caused accidentally, however, some of them were fully
deliberate, with fires caused by Liverpool incendiaries burning the
warehouses, and the product inside. Between 1838 and 1842 were the
peak arsons years, when it came to the warehouses on the Dock. This
caused so much damage to merchants' investments, that they opted to
contact the City Councillors, and called for architects to improve
their designs for the Dock, for builders to hone their techniques,
and firemen to become more vigilant.
By 1843, the decision was made to add an additional 50 constables to
the police force, in order to try and reduce the arson crimes.
Between 1841 and 1843, the Liverpool Dock engineer, Jesse Hartley,
constructed 6 different designs of warehouse for use at the Dock,
and in these 2 years tested all 6 to check how they all held up
However, this came at a price.
Whilst the port became the 2nd most important major exporter in
Great Britain, the number of thieves again began to grow, as
construction on the warehouses continued. In addition to the newly
constructed, fireproof warehouses, there was yet another step in the
right direction for the Dock come the mid-40's; with railway owners
beginning to offer free travel. This resulted in a huge increase in
visitors! One day in particular, 2 July 1845, was a prone example of
the attention this brought to the City¸ with over 7,000 people
coming to Liverpool that day, and overcrowding every single train
terminal, from Edge Hill to the actual Docks themselves.
Another railway system which ran by the Docks was the Liverpool
Overhead Railway, opened in 1893, that ran between Herculaneum and
Alexandra Dock. It was an extended passenger transportation system
that the locals came to know as the Docker's Umbrella. In 1894 it
was extended to Seaforth, Waterloo and Dingle, it ran along the Dock
Road and gave passengers a full view of the Docks and vessels.
There was a lot of animosity within the figures of authority on the
Docks, who could not co-exist whatsoever, and considered each other
The first ever Superintendent of the Dock Police was a man, by the
name of Maurice Dowling, who was appointed by the Dock Watchmen.
During his time as Dock Superintendent, Dowling and his policing
team saved more than 300 people after they toppled into the water.
Security in the Dock was absolutely abysmal up until 1838, with the
Dock being watched by people openly who accepted bribes and just
showed a complete dereliction of duty. A band of 38 men were, the
same year (in November,) officially sworn is as Borough Constables.
This official act seemed to kick this band of men into gear, as they
finally started to properly oversee the comings and goings of the
daily ton of goods that was being transported in and around the Dock
at the time. In addition to this new official title, and newfound
responsibility, these men also had the full permission to stop,
search and question anybody they suspected to be stealing from the
Now, we're going to fast forward to the latter stages
of the 19th century, where the Dock was in a state of disrepair. It
was more or less deserted, having suffered a serious decline. At
this point, the only cargo that was being transported through
Liverpool was salt, there was absolutely nothing else passing
through the Docks. Following Queen Victoria's death, the initial
plan was to have the warehouses demolished, and to merge both Albert
and Salthouse Docks to form a 'branch' dock system, that would
handle cargo liners. However, following the initial idea, nothing
was made of it, and it was pursued no further.
The Dock's mediocrity was not helped at all by the 2nd World War,
with the May Blitz of 1941 annihilating in excess of 14% of the
Dock's main floor space, and putting it out of action. This damage
also proved, after the War, how low the Dock's importance has sunk
in the eyes of the Dock Board, who actually opted against repairing
the worst of the bomb damage, instead leaving the Dock looking even
Come the mid 1960's, the Dock's owners were completely out of
pocket, and were looking to get rid of the Dock's to get it off
their hands, because they saw no future in it. A few years later,
things got even worse for the Dock, as things became so bad, that
the Dock Board made the decision to shut down the entire South
Docks, and sell off the land there. Of course, by the time this
decision was made, there was absolutely nothing left.
In September 1972, the Albert Dock was officially closed.
The early 1970's, following the Dock's closure, brought about a
plethora of money making schemes, with people wanting to use the
land to peruse these ideas… as well as Liverpool City Council; who
wanted to use the land for landfill! One such idea came from a
company called Pavilion Recreation Ltd, that's' proposal, as leisure
and retail development, including a Tesco superstore, was taken into
consideration. The new Merseyside County Council came along in 1974,
and entered into years of negotiation regarding the Docks with the
Dock Board, who seemingly relinquished ownership 5 years later, in
Things, however, were not as they seemed. It turned out that the
Dock Company were also holding talks with another company. If this
wasn't enough of a snag, Liverpool City Council was trying its
hardest to scupper Merseyside County Council's bid for the land, as
they did not like them at all. To add to the chaos, a man called
Michael Heseltine announced on 14 September 1979, that his new
group, Merseyside Development Corporation (MDC,) were going to take
over the 865 derelict areas of the Dock, and beyond. In 1981, the
Docks were finally starting to crawl out of the sludge filled
cesspit it had become over its' period of neglect, with MDC planning
to get rid of the astonishing 40 feet of sludge that had accumulated
over time. The older buildings were being either refurbished or
removed; none of the old dereliction of the Dock was to be left by
MDC. Half of the 200 buildings in the area were, indeed, removed.
With Merseyside County Council having already staked their claim,
having introduced its' Maritime Museum in 1980 (which, to this day,
is still available to see for visitors to the Docks!) and Arrowcroft,
a London based property developers, showing a keen interest in the
Docks, things were finally moving in the right direction. Things got
even better in 1982, when talks between both MDC and Arrowcroft
commenced, and by September 1983, an agreement between the two was
finally in place.
When work was started on the Docks, it was a race to have it ready
in time for the Summer's International Garden Festival. Over the
course of 4 days in August 1984, a huge crowd of over 160,000 people
flooded into the Docks for the International Tall Ships Race, and
were able to enjoy the new shops, stroll around the Maritime Museum,
and marvel at the ships which adorned the Albert Dock! This drastic
boost in popularity spurred MDC on, to make the Docks a very
tourism-based area; an idea that proved very popular to this day.
March 1985 brought along the idea of Tate Liverpool, the very start
of the magnificent Albert Dock that thousands of people see today.
In 1988, it was officially opened by Prince Charles and, by the time
its' multi-million pound extension was opened a decade later, had
exceeded all expectation, by garnering over 5 million visitors.
Since then, there have been some other tourist hotspots that have
been opened, including The Beatles Story Museum in 1990, and a
steady stream of food and drink establishments over the years.
Today's Albert Dock is currently worth more than £230 million.
For more information on the Albert Dock and its attractions, visit:-
The Albert Dock And Liverpool's Historic Waterfront, W.R Cockcroft,
Print Organisation, 1994, ISBN:- 0 903348 48 9
The Albert Dock Liverpool, Ron Jones, Ron Jones Associates Limited,
2004, ISBN:- 0-9511703-4-1
Mersey Ports Liverpool and Birkenhead, Ian Collard, Tempus
Publishing Limited, 2001, ISBN:- 0 7524 21107
Check out our History
Pages on our hub website Mersey
reporter for lots more information about our regions historical