Exploring the Liverpool Docks, what remains and what’s been created from them, from Dingle to the centre of the city.
Continuing this week’s Friday walk, then. Descending the Dockers’ Steps from the streets of the Dingle.
A historic photograph this one. Normally coal was exported from Liverpool, but here coal is being unloaded from the ship directly onto the waiting rail wagons at the quayside. The Miner’s Strike is on and will soon lead to the General Strike. So not the proudest episode in Liverpool’s history, this one.
Here we coincide with my earliest memory of the South docks.
It’s the mid-1960s and up in North Liverpool we’ve just got a car.
And at the weekends we go out for drives in it. Not to the seaside like the family in this advert, but more interesting places, closer to home. I remember going to see Skelmersdale New Town being carved out of the countryside. And we’d often go exploring in the North Docks, next to where our Dad was born. We’d always come along the North Dock Road driving into town.
Then one day I noticed the Dock Road didn’t seem to be stopping at the city centre, as I’d always thought it did. And I asked ‘Dad, can you take us down there?’
So we drove on and he showed us the South Docks, all pretty well closed up by then. So, like driving through a ghost town of huge warehouses and some glorious architecture. Most of the warehouses are gone now, but one construction particularly stuck in my memory, at just about where the South Docks Road ended in those days, to enter the Herculaneum Dock. And it’s still here.
‘Yes’ I hope I hear you saying. ‘But what is it?’ Well it’s the Horsfall Street Ramp of course (You can see it clearly in the right centre of the above map). I’ll let it explain itself.
Another set of Dockers’ Steps then really. To enable the mostly casual dock labour force to get from home to the dock gates to queue for work, as they had to every day. And you’ll see on the photo above the sign that the Health Committee have thought of the health of animals too. There’s a horse trough at the centre and two little dog bowls either side for the animals to drink from. And those sentinel shapes either side?
Toxteth Dock was particularly worked by the Elder Dempster Line, trading with West Africa.
A scene fairly familiar to me and Sarah as we did a lot of work in here, in the early days of ‘a sense of place’ around the turn of the 20th century, with the social enterprise Furniture Resource Centre.
A word before I show you these docks now. And the word is ‘miracle.’ Because after the docks were closed in the later 1960s, this from Wikipedia:
“The Brunswick Dock gates, which separated the South Docks system from the River Mersey, were opened allowing tidal movements in and the process of the clogging up the docks with sewage polluted silt began.”
So imagine the immensity of the work that’s gone on in the years since, to create what we see today.
I remember coming to see the works on the Brunswick being done in the early 1980s. The place I worked for then, Liverpool Housing Trust, was involved in some of the works to the pathways on the riverside. I remember many of us objecting on principle as this wasn’t ‘anything to do with housing.’ Well I’m glad it was done now, glad to have been a small part of the miracle.
The first of the new buildings at the Brunswick we were shown that day has gone now.
Walking on, wonderfully, there are ghosts in the pavement.
The craft in the background are on trailers, not in the water. This dock’s been filled in.
Getting close to the city centre now. The docks filling up with their modern day activities. And people living where the warehouses and cranes used to be.
Here passing the Liverpool Watersports Centre where Sarah spent a lot of time a few years back Dragon Boating.
Regardless of its purpose and grateful for the local jobs, I’ve always thought this was a monumentally ugly thing to go and build.
Nearly done now.
Before these were built, here at the mostly filled in King’s Docks (Nos 1 & 2) this was a proposed site for a new ground for Everton FC. Before that, in June 1990, I came here to see Paul and Linda.
I hardly ever come here. And actually, I’ve only come today for a wee.
In fact I’m going to write a special post about what happened here and just next to it, at Duke’s Dock, where we lost one of the most beautiful buildings even Liverpool, a city packed with beautiful buildings, has ever seen. That will be soon.
When the Albert Dock was first regenerated this was home for a time to Granada TV. Empty, by now it was supposed to have been a splendid new entrance to the International Slavery Museum. Before the UK Government decided that austerity was a good idea.
Except for no doubt sound economic reasons it’s, erm, not on the waterfront.
Time to go home. And having walked with the old maps in my head for so much of the day I realise how much I still long to go most of the way back home on the Overhead. Well I can’t. But I know where to find some pieces of it.
They did the ironwork for the Liverpool Overhead Railway.
I make no apologies for this long post. View it as a short book. This was a great walk in a beautiful place that needs celebrating. We might not like everything that’s been built along the miles of the South Docks, but as I’ve said the miracle is that the places we have are there at all. They were all left to rot and could have been filled in and obliterated several times in the 1970s. In fact, it seems possible that only the city’s growing poverty saved them.
Well they’re here and it’s been great to look around. They didn’t all survive though, so I’ll be back soon with the story of one glorious place we lost.
Most of the photographs are by me, but obviously in such a historic piece some aren’t. Those of detailed dock workings are from the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Collection. Aerial photographs are from ‘Liverpool from the air’ by Colin Wilkinson. Maps are from the Ordnance Survey Godfrey Edition. And the other black and white photographs are from one of my most treasured possessions, ‘Seaport’ by Quentin Hughes. More about him in my next post.