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Liverpool Docks Development

Under the first Dock Act, 1708, the Mayor, aldermen, bailiffs, and Common Council became the trustees of the proposed docks in Liverpool, and were empowered to construct the dock and to levy dues. By an Act of 1811, however, they were separately incorporated and the finances of the docks were separately administered from those of the corporation, by a statutory committee of twenty-one members appointed by the trustees. The control of the docks by a corporation, which was in no way representative of the ratepayers or of those who used the docks, led to much discontent and discussion, and in the end produced a new Act, that of 1825, whereby, though the trust remained unaltered, the committee was changed to include eight members elected by dock ratepayers. The council still retained a majority, thirteen of the committee being councillors, while the chairman was also selected from among the members of the committee by the council.

View of Liverpool in the year 1813

Salthouse Dock 1753
1. Old Dock, opened 31 August 1715; closed 31 August 1826.

2. Salthouse Dock, opened 1753; altered 1842; enlarged 1855.

3. George's Dock, opened 1771; enlarged 1825; closed 1900.

4. King's Dock, opened 1788; closed 1906, the name being preserved for two new branches of the Wapping Dock.

5. Queen's Dock, opened 1796; enlarged 1816; deepened and half-tide dock added 1856, and closed 1905; enlarged 1901; branches added 1901, 1905; altered 1906.

6. Union Dock, opened 1816; thrown into Coburg Dock 1858.

7. Prince's Dock, opened 1821; half-tide dock added 1868.

The total area of wet docks in 1825 amounted to 46 acres 3,179 sq. yds, a little over 2 miles. The dock dues paid in the same year amounted to £130,911. It is also worth mentioning that the first London Dock was not opened until 1802.

Canning Dock

Period Two: Between 1825 and 1857, when the docks were under the control of the Dock Committee, the Old Dock was closed (1826), and the following new docks were opened:—

1. Canning Dock, opened 1829; previously a basin known as the Dry Dock, opened 1753; enlarged 1842.

2. Clarence Docks, opened 1830; enlarged 1853.

Brunswick Dock
3. Brunswick Docks, opened 1832; enlarged 1848, 1858, 1889; branch dock added 1878; altered 1900.

4. Waterloo Dock, opened 1834; reconstructed as E. and W. Waterloo Docks, 1868.

5. Victoria Dock, opened 1836; altered 1848.

6. Trafalgar Dock, opened 1836.

7. Coburg Dock, opened 1840; altered from Brunswick Basin; enlarged 1858; altered 1900.

8. Toxteth Dock, opened 1842; closed to make way for new works, 1884.

9. Canning Half-tide Dock, opened 1844.

10. Harrington Dock (bought), opened 1844; closed to make way for new works 1879.

11. Albert Dock, opened 1845.

12. Salisbury Dock, opened 1848.

13. Collingwood Dock, opened 1848.

14. Stanley Dock, opened 1848; partly filled in 1897.

15. Nelson Dock, opened 1848.

16. Bramley Moore Dock, opened 1848.

17. Wellington Docks, opened 1850; half-tide dock closed 1901.

18. Sandon Dock, opened 1851; half-tide dock added 1901; altered 1906.

Sandon Half-Tide Dock

19. Manchester Dock (bought), opened 1851.

20. Huskisson Dock, opened 1852; branch docks added 1861, 1872, 1902; altered 1896, 1897; enlarged 1900.

21. Wapping Dock and Basin, opened 1855; two King's Dock branches added 1906.

The water area in 1857 amounted to 192 acres 129 sq. yds., or an increase of over 82 acres in twenty-five years, about 15 miles. The river-wall, when the Dock Board came into existence, already extended for just over 5 miles. At the same time the Dock Committee and the Corporation had acquired the Birkenhead Docks, so it is clear that the old Dock Committee did not lack energy. For the ten years preceding the establishment of the Dock Board the dock dues averaged nearly £250,000. It was on the security of these that the capital for the construction of the docks was raised; and no profits were used for purposes other than the service of the port.

Langton, Brocklebank and Canada Docks

Period Three:  During the fifty years of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board more time and money have been spent on the enlargement and reconstruction of the existing system than on the creation of new docks. The new docks of this period were:

1. Canada Dock, opened 1858; enlarged 1896; altered 1903; branches opened 1896, 1903, 1906.

2. Brocklebank Dock, opened 1862; known until 1879 as Canada Half-tide Dock; enlarged 1871.
Herculaneum Docks
3. Herculaneum Dock, opened 1866; enlarged and branch dock added 1881.

4. Langton Docks, opened 1879.

5. Alexandra Dock (and three branches), opened 1880.

6. Harrington Dock, opened 1883.

7. Hornby Dock (and branch), opened 1884.

8. Toxteth Dock, opened 1888.

9. Union Dock, opened 1889.

The new type of gigantic steamships demanded a wholesale reconstruction of the docks which was done. The docks were grouped in systems, each adapted to the needs of different kinds of trade, and each equipped with its appropriate warehouses, sheds, cranes and graving-docks. The southern system, including the Herculaneum, Toxteth, and Harrington docks, was vastly enlarged between 1881 and 1888; the Canada-Huskisson system, at the north end, was radically reconstructed between 1890 and 1906, with the result that the largest American liners could use it in place of the Alexandra-Hornby system, which at the time of its construction represented the last word in dock engineering. The Brunswick Wapping system, in the south-central region, which includes some of the oldest of the docks, was completely rearranged, enlarged, and deepened so as to admit the biggest vessels, between 1900 and 1906. That accommodation, still being inadequate, a large new system of docks was constructed in 1908 at the extreme north end of the line.

Georges Dock 1901, prior to the construction of the Liver Buildings.

In 1900 the George's Dock, one of the oldest of the series, which lay between the city and the Pier Head, was closed by arrangement between the Dock Board and the Corporation. Part of its site was utilised for the magnificent Liver building. In addition to the docks controlled by the Dock Board, the London and North-Western Railway had three docks at Garston, which had a water area of 14 acres 2,494 yds. The Docks were served by the Liverpool Overhead Railway which ran the length of the dock system.

The Overhead Railway Princes Dock

The interconnected dock system was the most advanced port system in the world. The docks enabled ship movements within the dock system 24 hours a day, isolated from the high River Mersey tides. Parts of the system are now a World Heritage Site. From 1885 the dock system was the hub of a hydraulic power network that stretched beyond the docks. Sadly, with the advent of containerisation most of the smaller south end docks were closed in 1971 with Brunswick Dock remaining until closure in 1975. Many docks have been filled in to create land for buildings at the Pier Head, and now an arena at Kings Dock, commercial estates at Toxteth and Harrington Docks and housing at Herculaneum Dock. In the north, some branch docks have been filled in and Sandon and Wellington Docks have been filled in and are now the location of a sewage works. Most of Hornby Dock was filled in to allow Gladstone Dock's coal terminal to expand. However, the largest dock on the dock network, Seaforth Dock, was opened in 1972 and deals with grain and containers, accommodating what were the largest containers ships at that time.

Footage of Liverpool Pier Head, docks,
Council film from 1941


British History Online
Liverpool Central Library
Liverpool Records Office
British Museum
National Archives

By Robert F Edwards

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