Two hundred years ago the dockside area was very different to what it is now. Behind you would have been shipbuilders yards, and in front not a dock but a channel that ships would enter to unload their cargo.
Liverpool’s growth as a port really began in Elizabethan times when Liverpool sailors were awarded privateer status by Queen Elizabeth I. Privateers were basically licensed pirates, some of Liverpool’s most famous were Humphrey Brooke and Fortunatus Wright. One ship the Mentor captured a French East Indiaman the Carnatic, the £400,000 windfall allowed the Mentor’s owner Peter Baker to build a magnificent house called Mossley Hall, however the locals name for the house Carnatic Hall is the one that survived to this day.
A changing coastline
|Dockers loading stores|
The coastline of Liverpool as we know it is all man made, the original coastline included an inlet of water known as the ‘Pool’ which ran along Paradise Street up to the entrance of the Birkenhead tunnel. When ships sheltered in the ‘Pool’ they would be left high and dry when the tide went out. In 1635 a bridge was built over the ‘Pool’ and a key and harbour added. Gates were added to keep the water in and in turn this led to the building of the first dock. In 1715 Steer’s Old Dock in Canning Place became the first wet dock to be controlled by floodgates. Remnants of Liverpool’s original dock, which was buried under Chavasse Park opposite the Merseyside Police Headquarters, have recently been uncovered during construction work for the Paradise Street redevelopment.
The Albert Dock
As ships became larger so more modern docks were needed, the Albert Dock was opened in 1846. Designed by Jesse Hartley who was the city’s dock engineer from 1824 to 1860, the dock was named after and opened by Prince Albert. It was the world’s first enclosed dock system and the world’s first fire-proof dock. The Pump House, built two years later to open and close the heavy dock gates housed the first hydraulic power ever used in the world.
Before the Albert Dock ships containing split cargoes needing to be unloaded in different places would move from dock to dock by locking in and out of the river, a long and expensive process. Hartley’s genius was to build a system of docks with connecting passages through which ships could move freely unconstrained by the tide.
|Ships in Albert Dock|
The docks became the lifeblood of Liverpool, and the expansion of trade with America saw the town booming. An inscription under the statue of Christopher Colombus in Sefton Park reads “The discoverer of America was the maker of Liverpool’. By 1750 Liverpool’s population had reached 20,000 by 1801 it was 77,000.
By the 1960’s Liverpool’s docks were declining and by the late 1970’s the Albert Dock was abandoned and derelict. The largest group of Grade I listed buildings in the country no longer had a purpose in the late twentieth century, a plan to convert the warehouses into the home of the then Liverpool Polytechnic had come to nothing.
The newly formed Merseyside Development Corporation took control of the Albert Dock complex and with considerable government funding set about transforming the old buildings into their present use housing shops, cafes, the Maritime Museum and a northern outpost of the Tate Gallery.