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The Docks and the Overhead Railway - 1902




In 1902 the book, 'A New Illustrated Guide To Liverpool' was published by Littlebury Brothers. The book included many sketches of the period by Leonard Pattern. It has since been re-produced by Liverpool Libraries and Information Service.



Continuing with our  1902 'Guide to Liverpool' we will today take a trip on the Overhead Railway and view the Docks from the perspective of a visitor to the city at that time.



The visitor who travels from end to end of the seven miles of Liverpool Docks by the Overhead Electric Railway, will realize what a great convenience the existence of this line must be to the business man and dock worker. The Dock system is so vast, and, moreover, increasing so rapidly that this unique Electric Railway is now quite indispensable.




The line, which was opened by Lord Salisbury in 1893, is nearly 7 miles in length, and, with the exception of two short distances, first, where it reaches ground level to enable a siding of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway to pass over it, and secondly, when it passes through the tunnel near Dingle Station, it is built entirely on an iron viaduct which skirts the line of Docks. It is the first Railway of its kind made in Europe. The electric current is generated at the Central Station at Bramley Moore Dock, and transmitted along the conductors between the lines of metals, from which it is taken up by collectors placed under the coaches. The trains are each made up of two roomy carriages, and the modest fares of 3d. (1st class) and 2d. (2nd class) are charged for a part or the whole distance.






As a visit to the Docks will be almost certainly made by the visitor at a comparatively early stage of his sojourn in Liverpool, he cannot do better than take a ticket on this overhead line and make the complete journey. The Docks are each full of interest, and differ greatly, but the visitor will find that by seeing such as the Canada, Canning, and Herculaneum, he will gain a good idea of the entire system. The Overhead Line reaches from the Dingle Station in the south, to Seaforth at the northern (Bootle) end of Liverpool. There are 15 Stations between these points, giving the readiest access to the different Docks. The most important and conveniently situated Station is the one in St. Nicholas Place called the Pier Head.


We will assume that the visitor starts from the northern overhead terminus at Seaforth. At Seaforth Station there is an Electric Stairway on the Reno Elevator principle, which gently and almost imperceptibly conveys the passenger from the entrance to the platform. The Railway cars are provided with many windows, enabling the passenger to get a good view of the various objects of interest past which he journeys. In some of the trains windows are found at the end of the compartment, which enable the occupant to obtain a capital outlook. As we sit facing the direction in which we are going, and leave the Seaforth terminus, we notice, to our right, the long stretch of sands which here mark the shore to the Crosby channel. Straight ahead we get a glimpse of the wall which forms the present limit to the Dock area. At the corner of this wall is the Seaforth Battery, the guns of which, and those of the Rock Fort at New Brighton, opposite, command the entrance to the Mersey Estuary. At a short distance from the Seaforth Battery, to the south, and near the first Hornby Dock, is the North Wall Lighthouse. We are now passing  through the least interesting part of our whole journey, a great space largely taken up by slates, bricks, timber, &c., but the train presently makes a slight curve and enters Alexandra Dock Station. This is the nearest station for the first Hornby Dock and the great Alexandra Dock, and with its 3 branches. The Alexandra was Alexandra opened (with the next Langton Dock) by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1881, when Prince and Princess of Wales. The two Docks are connected by passages, each 90 feet in width. The area of the Alexandra Dock quay space is no less than 3921 yards. On the landward side of the Overhead Railway at this Dock are the fine warehouses and silos of the Liverpool Grain Storage Co. At a short distance from the Alexandra is Langton Station, which faces the great Langton Dock and its branch. The huge 100-ton hydraulic crane is here noticeable. There are two Graving Docks which open out of this Dock, each 948 feet by 60 feet. On the Quay at the side are handsome buildings of Gothic design, with a clock tower 120 feet high. The next station we reach is Brocklebank. Between this and the important Canada Station the space is almost entirely taken up by timber yards. At Canada Dock, with quay space of 2887 yards, and the adjoining Huskisson Dock and branches, we are certain to see, at one time or another, all the largest liners which ply between Liverpool and New York and other parts. Such leviathans as the “ Campania,” “ Oceanic,” “Saxonia,” “ Teutonic,” are to be seen here docked, lying alongside the monster goods sheds. On making application at the offices, permission is readily granted to view these fine vessels. A new branch Dock from the Canada is now under construction, and immediately south of this we come to Dock the Canada Graving Dock, the largest Graving Dock in the world, 925 ft. long by 94 ft. wide. It is said that this Dock can be cleared of water in one hour. The Canada Basin, the entrance to this and other docks, is one of the most interesting to be seen in the whole extent of the Dock frontage. Fine jetties run to north and south, and on the south wall is situated an interesting mediaeval looking Castle and Harbour Master’s buildings.





Having journeyed from Canada Station and passed Huskisson, we see great changes in progress near the Sandon Dock. Sandon The new Half-Tide Dock, now being constructed, is to receive at its chief entrance, 100 feet across, gates each weighing no less than 180 tons. On the journey to the next Nelson Station, our line dips to the ground, allowing a branch line of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway to pass over it. Here, in Bramley Moore Dock, the Station for supplying electric power to the trains is situated. n passing to Clarence Station, the line crosses between the Collingwood and Stanley Docks. The latter, which connects with the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, is the only Dock which lies to the left on our whole journey. Here is seen the enormous Tobacco Warehouse, said to be the largest commercial building in the world. It is 14 storeys high, and if all the floors were laid out on one surface they would cover an area of 36 acres, capable of  storing about 65,000 hogsheads of tobacco. On the Mersey side of the Collingwood is the Salisbury Dock with its picturesque battlemented clock tower, centrally placed at the Dock gates.

Notice during the journey the huge Waterloo Goods Depot of the L. & N. W. Railway, covering about ten acres of ground; also the large depot of the Midland Railway. Between the Clarence and Prince’s Stations, there are smaller Docks used by the steam packets plying between Scotland, Ireland, and Liverpool. The Trafalgar, Trafalgar and Victoria Docks are each Victoria, about six acres in extent, and entered from West Waterloo or Clarence Docks, they date from 1836.




The East Waterloo is almost hidden on three sides by the enormous Waterloo Granaries. These buildings are capable of holding 165,000 quarters of corn, and occupy an area of 11,550 square yards, and it is almost unnecessary to add, the cellars are quite rat proof and water tight. The Dock was specially made in 1868 for the corn trade. Every visitor to Liverpool should make a special effort to see the grain elevators at work. In Prince’s Station we are abreast of the Prince’s Half-Tide Dock, and in making the journey to the next, Pier Head Station, we run by the side of the Prince’s Dock. This Dock, which was made in 1821 and cost £561,060, is chiefly used by the Irish boats. The Prince’s Half-Tide Dock entrance and buildings are about as well known as any feature in the whole Dock frontage. The Clock Tower is a most prominent mark to the north of the great Landing Stage, The large Dock Gates are worked by hydraulic power, and the splendid wall is considered to be as fine a specimen of masonry as can be seen in the kingdom. In continuing our journey towards the Pier Head Station, the ground will look familiar to us, for we are again brought facing the busy St. Nicholas Place and George’s Pier Head. We leave the Pier Head Station, and to the left we get a peep up Water Street. The Georges George’s Dock lying to our right is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Just before entering the next station, we notice James Street to the left, in which the White Star Office and Mersey Railway Tower are prominent. Beneath us about this spot the Mersey Tunnel Railway Line makes its course under the river to Birkenhead. Between the Stations of James Street, Custom House, and Wapping, we are in the oldest Dock district. On this south side of the Dock System we notice more sailing craft, and everything is on a smaller scale.



We next pass the Canning, the oldest existing Dock, constructed in 1717, and originally known as the Dry Dock. The Custom House Station stands exactly opposite the great Custom House, in Canning Place. On leaving this we pass by the side of the Salthouse, to the west of which lies the Albert Dock, opened by Prince Albert in 1845. The imports from East Indies, China, and South America are here landed. The Salthouse occupies the site of some old salt works, whence its name is derived. Just before reaching Wapping Station, we pass the huge Railway Goods Depot belonging to the L. & N.W. Railway. Company, and the Tobacco Warehouse of Messrs. Ogden, opposite which are the Wapping and King’s Docks. The journey now takes us by the side of the Queen’s Dock and Basin, and to the foot of the narrow Coburg Dock, which has an outlet to the river 70 feet in width. The trade with Spain and West Africa is chiefly carried on here.





Presently we enter the Brunswick Station, which lies off the Dock of the same name. It has a small Half-Tide Dock leading to the Mersey, on either side of which are shipbuilding and repairing yards. This important Dock was for years the chief centre of the timber trade, now carried on in the Northern Docks. Nearby the red brick tower of Cain’s Brewery and the African Oil Mills building form prominent landmarks. In nearing the Toxteth Dock Station, we cannot fail to notice yet another monster Goods Depot on our left, the joint property of the different companies running as the Cheshire Lines. The Toxteth Dock has an area of 112 acres, and in this and the neighbouring Dock is centred the cotton trade. The sills of these last three, the Toxteth, Toxteth, Harrington, and Herculaneum Harrington, Docks are at a much lower level than those of the older ones.  We pass alongside the double-storeyed sheds which line the Toxteth and Harrington Docks, and enter Herculaneum Station. Herculaneum Dock lies ahead of us. The Herculaneum Dock has communication with the river by two entrances which measure 80 and 60 feet respectively. It possesses a Branch and three large Graving Docks. Petroleum oil is here stored in magazines excavated out of the solid rock. The visitor will notice the two powerful 25-ton hydraulic coaling cranes, which lift up and tip a full railway wagon into the ship’s hold or bunkers. This is the last of the series of Docks, and the train, making a sharp turn, crosses an iron bridge, which spans the intricate system of lines running through a deep cutting to the Liverpool Central Station in Ranelagh Street, and disappears through a tunnel which brings it to Dingle Station, the southern terminus. The whole journey from Seaforth is accomplished in a little over the half-hour.




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