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Liverpool Docks

The building of Liverpool Docks was spread nearly over two and a half centuries if we consider that Royal Seaforth Dock (to the left of Gladstone Dock) was not completed until 1974.   From 1720 and all along the eighteenth century, Liverpool played a leading role on a national and international scale: as a link with the hinterland in order to facilitate the transport of the goods (Cheshire salt, Lancashire coal and textiles, Staffordshire pottery, Birmingham metal) and as an exporter to the whole of the known world.


Salthouse  Dock 1897


Albert Dock



In 1753, the second dock, Salthouse was opened. The tonnage had grown to 29,100 inward and 31,800 outward. Along with the Canning Dock, they received some rebuilding in the 1840s to  enable them to match the facilities in  the new Albert Dock but they retained some of their eighteenth century original character.
The Georges Dock opened in 1771. At the start of the twentieth century, he site has been used to build the three office buildings at the Pier Head (the Liver, Cunard and Dock Office buildings).
By 1800 Liverpool was the second port of the kingdom and its docks were a tourist attraction. The closeness, both physically and administratively, of the docks to the town greatly contributed to their success.


19th century

This century saw radical developments, which implied an even more quick growth in the port. Trade traffic inwards reached 1,2 million tons in 1825, 4,7 million in 1865 and by 1900 it had risen to 12,4 million.  Princes Dock opened in 1821 and Clarence Dock, intended only for steamers, in 1830. The Docks in between-Waterloo, Victoria, Trafalgar- were all opened between 1834 and 1836.

Around the mid-century, the docks from Canada Dock to Collingwood Dock were built by Liverpool's most eminent dock engineer, Jesse Hartley (1780-1860), who was responsible for more than doubling the dock accommodation between 1824 and 1860. Since, this block of docks has been rebuilt: this process led to the merger of the Langton and Canada entrances into one large lock and the rebuilding of Canada and Huskisson Docks with three branch docks.

The docks from Hormby to Langton Docks were part of a large extension opening in stages between 1879 and 1884.  
Rapidly, the need to protect the valuable cargoes of the ships was felt and high walls were built, giving the appearance of fortification. 






Liverpool Customs House and the Salthouse dock. The  Customs House was destroyed in the blitz




Two Liverpool Dockers

Looking towards the Royal  Liver Building
Early heavy lifting gear


20th century
This century is really the one of the decline. The competition of other developing ports such as Birkenhead, Manchester, the change of the trade market and the improvement of the technology affected the port's activities and traffic. It was heavily involved during both World War and, as being a strategic point of food and war supplies, suffered important damages, especially during the Blitz (1941) and the Battle of the Atlantic . Merseyside and Liverpool were bombed every night of the first week of May 1941 with over 1750 people being killed. The worst single night was the 3rd/4th when an estimated 850 people were killed. The ammunition ship Malakand, being loaded with 1,000 tons of munitions caught the flames from nearby burning warehouses. Desperate attempts were made to control the fire but she blew up hours after the ‘All Clear’ was sounded on the 4th, killing four fire fighters. The fire continued for another 72 hours.






The aftermath of the Malakand Explosion at Huskison Branch Number 2 Dock on 3 May 1941



As well as the docks being a vital cargo handling port Liverpool also played host to  great liners and cruise ships  and was the parting place for many an emigrant to  foreign shores


The  Lusitania in Liverpool
The tradition of liners visiting the port to collect and deliver passengers continued for many years and is hopefully about to return

Elder Dempster Lines Aureol at the Landing Stage in Liverpool

Alongside all of this activity the Liverpool Ferry Boats operated


And the entire dock complex was served by the Liverpool Overhead Railway

Liverpool Overhead Railway


Today, a lot of the old docks have been transformed and redeveloped for new uses, such as tourism, shopping, housing, and industry. The main changes started in 1981, when Merseyside Development Corporation was charged to create a new centre of activities in all the Liverpool's area along the river Mersey, made up of derelict buildings and wasteland.  


Albert Dock 2011 showing the new Liverpool Museum



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