Canada Docks Liverpool, The Graphic 1872

History of Liverpool Docks

History of Liverpool Docks

Northern Daily Times, Mon June 5th 1855

Liverpool Docks 11

In brief

The river Mersey appears to be noticed for the first time in a deed of the old Saxon monarch Ethelred in 1,004. The conjecture of Sir Peter LEYCESTER appears to be correct that it obtained the name in compliment to the ancient kingdom of Mercia, to which it served as one of the boundaries.

Steampower and the energy and enterprise of its merchant princes made the port of Liverpool the first in the world, and not its river.

Its length is only 60 miles from its uprise amidst the Derbyshire Hills to its junction at the sea, The tributary streams, the Irwell and the Weaver, are also but insignificant accessions to its penurious supply.

Its depth in the time of William and Mary, at its entrance were both safe and practicable, and 15 fathoms at Formby go to the town where there are 3 fathoms. The great deficiency of materials for trade and commerce and the lack of a good road or water conveyance into the heart of the country made slow progress for the town and depressed its career.

It is well known King John set the town on its legs and granted it a charter in the early part of the 13th century. It would be of vast service to him in the furtherance of his Irish officers, therefore he built the castle of Liverpool and enclosed Toxteth Park. His favour for the town was liberal and constant. Even while Earl of Morton he designed to serve it, likewise his son Henry continued the patronage. All the privileges of the great ports of London and Bristol were thereby conferred on it, but to the corporation of the Mersey, it turned out for ages to become no better than a dead letter. A century after the charter the Liverpool property was ascertained by the government return, "Nonarium Inquisitiones" to amount to little over 100 pounds a ninth part of the movables belonging to the inhabitants merely 6 pounds. The neighbours of Manchester were much better off. The inhabitants do not appeared to have numbered more than 1,000, the street 6, and the barrages or free dwellings 150.

In the time of Edward 11, Bristol had 26 ships, Hull 16 and Liverpool 1. In the 16th century Liverpool had 12 vessels, and in the succeeding 70yrs to the first quarter of the 17th century only amounted to 24. The real condition of the port and its limited commercial intercourse shows in the payments of "ship's money", to Kling Charles from the different towns, Bristol paid 1,000 pounds, Liverpool 25 pounds.

When the first dock was in contemplation, the Cheese-mongers of Cheshire opposed it, but, were speedily worsted in their efforts and it was no sooner completed in the early part of the last century than the vessels of the London cheese-dealers, anxious for the due supply to the metropolitan marts, arrived in the Mersey and as a matter of course were received in the new basin.

Shortly after 1720 am effort was made to render navigable the Weaver which ran through the saline districts of Cheshire. It succeeded and drew a share of the salt trade at once to the port, the advantages derivable, it drew ships from all quarters of the globe such as America and the European ports.

The scientific improvements in the art of smelting ironstone with coal, rapidly increased the manufacture of iron which became another inexhaustible source of revenue. The then Grand Junction canal was established and others, which added to the wealth destined to the port.

In the middle of the last century the Lancashire coal-pits were thrown open to Liverpool trade with the opening of the Sankey Canal, the first of its kind in the country and later the Leeds and Liverpool Canal completed the connection between the port and the rich coal seams of Lancashire. The great Bridgewater Canal was of corresponding benefit in a commercial point of view.

The commerce of the West Indies gave all their immense growth of cotton to the Liverpool markets, which then supplied Manchester and enabled it to be the first manufacturing town in the world. The manufacturers of glass, machinery, cutlery and earthenware increased so immeasurably that the port immediately felt the mighty extense of its revenue.

But, there was something mightier still in store, the wonderful invention of steam-power, in its application to navigation, which crowned the rising opulence of the port. The construction of the railways which finally laid down the entire surface of the island for the more speedy transmission of products from the banks of the Mersey.

Liverpool Docks 111

The town is built on the eastern bank of the Mersey, 3 miles from the sea upon a low and irregular range of hills which run down close to the water's edge. The long line of docks at the base, although broad, commodious and extensive, make no pretensions in appearance, commensurate in the grandeur in design. The very tallest mast of the ships are overtopped by tier upon tier of houses built up the sides of the elevated ground, by the domes of public structures, the spires of churches, and minaret like chimneys of the different manufactories, which look dwarfed in their position, but still not in inappropriate commercial fringe to the endless sweep of stores and warehouses.

The Mersey is not to be compared to the Thames or Severn, or any other first class river, but it has been made the most of by modern art and science, and has latterly acquired some additional decorative features in the picturesque accessories of Birkenhead and New Brighton. The Cheshire Hills, hamlets and villages sweeping away along the western banks, groups of dwelling houses here and there along the shore, the swell of the river itself, as calm, though not as clear, as a sheet of crystal, beautiful glimpses of scenery, at one moment on the right bank, at another on the left, here it is Aigburth, there it is Eastham, altogether contribute ornamentation to relieve the somewhat stern ruggedness and laborious traffic of a port of world-wide commerce and untiring industry.

The establishment of an artificial haven or dock, talked about since the accession of Charles 11, was ultimately accomplished in the accession of Anne. The Mersey had no accommodation for ships, there was no shelter, no anchorage. The corporation resolved on the building of a haven, about 1708 it went to work in earnest, encouraged by the fact that its income was increasing and its revenue had risen.

A scientific engineer and architect was wanted for the task, Mr Thomas STEERS was selected as the man.

The application to parliament stated, the currents of the tides, both ebb and flood, were strong and rapid, especially during high winds and freshes in the river. The harbour was open to the westerly winds and the tempestuous weather, so shipping therefore which lay on the ground between the high and low water-mark or else floated in the current of the tide, to their great damage and destruction. They only sought for a dock of 4 acres, such as would accommodate 100 ships, and in 1720 it was completed and opened for commercial use, this was the Marine Charter of the port.

Measures were undertaken to render the Mersey and Irwell navigable from Liverpool to Manchester, and the Weaver from the salt districts of Cheshire to the Mersey estuary, as well as the river Douglas from the coal-fields of Wigan to the mouth of the Ribble. These improvements were of immediate benefit to the town, Liverpool had already become the 3rd seaport of the kingdom at the accession of the House of Hanover.

Liverpool Docks 1V

The formation of the first dock led to mighty results, not only beneficial to the protection of shipping, but it was effective of considerable economy un the loading and landing of merchandise. It brought about the construction of several lines of water carriage, to the various sites of industry and manufacture. It was, in fact, the origin of the canals. The coal-pits of Lancashire, the salt-mines of Cheshire, and the town of Manchester, the northern market of the empire drew closer their connection with the port. The manufactures of the latter place induced commercial relations with Africa, the West Indies and the Colonies. It was the storehouse of the inhabitants of the tropical climates, the woollens of the north of England turned out to be too heavy for these countries, while the mixed cottons, linens and stuff, were the precise articles suitable for consumption in climes subject to the action of intense and continuous heat, and these fabrics were not only light but cheap.

Two of the great rivers, the Ganges and the St Lawrence became in a measure tributaries to the commerce of this port. While Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia welcomed the trade and swelled its profits, the Indian dominions, Madras, Bombay, Calcutta and Bengal, supplied sources of mercantile riches impossible to calculate. At home rapid growth in discoveries of mechanical science and motive power for manufacturing assumed a stationary position in the north western districts making their town famous and Liverpool opulent.

The human hand was relieved, the spinning-wheel discarded altogether, while the stream-engine started up under the genius of Watt and accomplished wonders, the impulse to the manufacture of iron alone is inconceivable as well as a gigantic increase in Liverpool commerce. The Sankey canal may be said to have run gold, at all events did, by way of this commercial chemistry, it made it.

Lancashire had been celebrated for its potteries, but the new improvements achieved by Wedgewood, created such superior articles for general use, as to render it at once a permanent and staple trade. The coal-fields of North Staffordshire were selected as the most suitable and economical sites for the new porcelain and earthenware, which poured a traffic like gold into the town. Another lucrative source of income was found in plate glass, established at Ravenhead.

In the efforts of consummate art and industrial skills some people will turn up as favourites, the genius of Watt, the talent of Arkwright, the art of Wedgewood, the magnificence of Bridgewater, and the daring of Brindley, were no doubt of universal service to the world, but they made the fortunes at once to the Liverpool merchants.

The trade of Africa which produced an annual sum of 300,000 pounds was abolished, externally to the honour of the town. But there are some of the merchant princes of the port, whose names and memories deserve to endure forever on the rolls of virtue and integrity, William Roscoe, stood up for justice to his tropical brethren and received public acknowledgement for his worth and services being chosen as Parliamentary Representative for the borough.

In the commencement of the last century, it took 42 yrs to double the tonnage of the shipping which had entered and cleared from the port, in 1710 there was 16,000 tons, in 1752 it had reached 31,713 tons, commerce advanced so rapidly that in 18yrs it more than doubled, in the latter part of 1770 being 84,000 tons. The next 20yrs show a plenitude of traffic, the returns treble to 260,000 tons.

In 1752 there were 124 ships engaged in trade with the plantations of North American and the West Indies and 88 with Africa. The coasters to Ireland alone were 125, as early as the days of Elizabeth, Ireland had furnished the greater part of the imports and consumed the greater part of the exports of the town, the Irish trade was more to Liverpool than its foreign trade. The linen yarn alone, thence imported for the use of Manchester was enormous. Besides these there were 80 vessels in the salt trade, and 21 in the London cheese trade.

In 1720 the town dues were 300 pounds, in 40 yrs, 1760, upwards of 1,000 pounds. The dock dues for the former year, 810 pounds, and in the latter 2,383 pounds.

At the commencement of the 1st American war, the colonial imports were at the value of three million, while the amount of capital that vested in the West Indies exceeded sixty million.

In 1771, 6,000 seamen met employment on the Liverpool ships and coasters. In 1772 the first line of foreign packets were established by Mr Thomas EARLE from this port to Leghorn.

In March 1774 the Leeds and Liverpool canal was opened from Bingley and Bradford at one extremity and in the autumn of the same year from Liverpool to Wigan at the other. This canal communicated with the great Northern one. Later in the century the Rochdale, the Staffordshire and the Ellesmere canals, and that from the Trent to the Mersey more recently which was cut through the heart of some of the richest and productive parts of the British dominions together with the Herculean works of the Duke of Bridgewater, laid the whole Island prostrate at the feet of Liverpool commerce.

The docks had already continued to an area of ground and water space, exceeding 34 acres and extending more than a mile in length.

The American war had been a great blow to the commercial interests of the country, and more particularly to those of Liverpool. America used to make over 500 voyages hither during the year, in vessels whose burthen averaged 123,000 tons. Everyone remotely or directly belonging to the town was interested in the sustentation of this trade as the British manufacturers exported annually over 10 million sterling, as a matter of course, in commercial transactions an equivalent return of goods or money was made. The exports to the East Indies, America and China in silver alone yearly exceeded half a million.

The American ships besides, expended an immense revenue amongst the trades people of Liverpool and neighbouring towns, upwards of 150,000 pounds a year. While the charges on the cargoes could scarcely be less an amount. All these sources of gain dried up during the continuance of the national strife and deficiencies must have been felt on the maritime traffic, yet so numerous were the demands on mercantile speculation, and so steady and abundant the general purpose of trade, that Liverpool looked up, dispirited true, but full of hope.

Liverpool Docks V

The lines of the docks form the lowest extremity and river border of the town. It contains a broad girdle of ships from north to south, the basin in which they lie being somewhat irregular in their arrangement and position. On our tour of the docks we begin at the north end, a basin and steam dock immediately on the margin of the Mersey commences the range.

On the same line runs the Huskisson dock the largest in Liverpool, which was built for the accommodation of paddle-wheel steamers, and appears perfectly filled for the service. When the mail steamers were first in contemplation between New York and Liverpool, the dock committee ordered both a wet dock and graving dock to be made, sufficiently capacious to receive these modern day leviathans of the ocean. It was readily done, and dug 80 ft in width, and turned out perfectly suitable in every way. The depth of water is 27 ft and the area of water space covered more than 15 acres. It has spacious and commodious quays, and two entrances one at the north from the steam dock and basin, the other from the south from the Sandon basin. The dock gates themselves are a stupendous wonder, the entrances exceed in breadth any others of the English seaports, 70 ft is the widest at Portsmouth, these are 80 ft, and were erected by Mr Jesse Hartley, the dock engineer, who over the last 28 yrs has built the majority of the docks, and raised a monument to himself more durable than the conqueror's column, more honourable to his name. The expenditure in these structures exceeded five million and was opened in 1851.

Next in line with the Huskisson dock runs another basin, inside of which appears the Sandon Dock, with a half dozen graving docks abutting from it. They have 25 ft of water, are 50 ft long and 80 ft wide. They are faced with granite. The gate of the Sandon Dock is 70 ft wide and the area of water space is over 10 acres together with standing quays. Sandon Dock is named after Lord Sandon, now Earl of Harrowby, who represented the town for 16 yrs.

Another basin occupies the margin line, and to the rear again and parallel with the Sandon lies the Wellington Dock. It covers an area of over 7 acres and has some fine quays. The Sandon basin in front contains better than 6 acres and is filled with passages to the Huskisson, Wellington and Bramley Moore Docks, which communicate with the river by an open entrance of 200 ft in breadth. The Wellington half-tide dock on the outside covers a water space of 3 acres and possesses convenient quays.

The Bramley Moore Dock has an area of water space that exceeds 9 acres and its gates are 60 ft wide. The name was obtained from a dock trustee and late mayor, one of the ports merchant princes. It possesses likewise the convenience of a double communication.

The Nelson Dock also has double passages, its gates are 60ft span and contains an area exceeding 7 acres, and has several commodious quays. The Stanley Dock covers an area of 7 acres but is more inland than the Salisbury and Collingwood which lie near to the river. It has a new range of stores and a railway in the arches. The Regents Rd passes between it and the Salisbury.

The Collingwood Dock which preserves the line with the Nelson Dock is supposed to cover more than 5 acres, while the Salisbury only contains 3 acres. These are the Northern Docks next in line are two graving docks. Then comes a basin and to the rear of it lies the Clarence Dock, the gate of which are 47 ft in breadth and are 5 acres.

The Trafalgar, Victoria and Waterloo Docks succeed in regular order along the bank, their gates are 45 ft wide and are 5 acres. The Trafalgar and Victoria Docks were opened in 1836, the Waterloo in 1834, the Clarence Dock was finished in 1830 and the Collingwood in 1848. The Princes Dock was opened in 1822 and in its area of water space and quays contains 15 acres. It is situated at the foot of Bath St and runs parallel with Oldhall St, and bids fair to become a favourite with the public. Another magnificent float and platform is being built at Birkenhead to serve as a landing place in front of the Princes Dock for greater accommodation of the premier port. Outside to the water's edge is a beautiful quay called the Prince's Terrace.

In 1762 an act passed for the construction of the George's Dock excavated in the river bank between Chapel St and James St, where a splendid landing stage was built in front for the convenience of ferry-steamers and the public. It was opened in 1771 but altered and reopened in 1825. The town used to suffer in the early days from the caprices of the tide during bad weather and various traditional stories are still current of the accidents which were frequent during the angry elements in the harbour, whereby the Stanley Tower and St Nicholas Church were sure to have suffered. The strand of this portion of the river was anciently called, "Townside," being frequented as the common and used as the property of the people. Then it grew as a watchword and gathering cry and "Townside for ever," served as a tocsin to rouse many a bold and fiery spirit in the purliens of Water St, the town hall and castle. It runs parallel with Castle St and St Georges Church.

The Canning Dock is next in order built somewhat further back from the river than its associate basins and is entered through a half-tide one of smaller dimensions. It was opened in 1813 and contains more than 4 acres of water space, the gate is 45 ft wide, and it runs in line with South Castle St. The southern front of its customs house is well seen on the open space between Canning St and the Salthouse Docks.

The Salthouse Dock derives its name from an establishment of that kind in the neighbourhood, a relic of an early industry. The act passed for its construction in 1737 and it was opened in 1753, but was recently altered and rebuilt. It covers an area of more than 4 acres and possesses some fine quays in everyway available for merchandise. The original dock was built by Mr Steers, the present by his successor Mr Hartley, Surveyor of the dock estate.

The Albert Dock lies in front of the Salthouse Dock and is one of the most perfect and beautiful constructions of its kind in the world and likewise one of the best arranged of these colossal havens. It is set off by well built and spacious warehouses, which could only require slight modification to pass for more imposing architectural structures.

This Dock was opened in 1846 under the auspices and in the presence of his royal highness Prince Albert, hence the name. The Union Dock has little more than 2 acres, but some good quays.

The Coburg Dock was the first construction for the reception of the great Steam Navy, and its 1st class vessels in 1840, so the Watergates have been made over 70 ft in breadth. It has water space over 4 acres and quays of some extent.

The Brunswick Dock is one assigned for the timber trade and its quays are sometimes laden with gigantic produce of the Canadian forests. Its area covers 12 acres and its Watergate is 42 ft wide. It was opened in 1832, all facilities which the arts and sciences of man can discover have been combined in these quays for the service of the trade. The townside runs along a stretch of quay built on an inclined plane for the purposes of the timber merchants. It was constructed on the old site of the old dam of the tide mill, well known as "Jackson's Dam" in former days.

Another dock has only just been opened at the extremity of that part of the town called "Wapping," which runs in line between the Salthouse and Queens Dock and to the rear of Kings Dock. There are besides more to the south the Harrington Dock, further south the Herculaneum Dock and if there should not be a buried city there, buried stories will be found in abundance regarding its purchase and that of the entire Harrington estate.

At the end of 1792 Liverpool had acquired an ascendancy in Maritime commerce that the clearance tonnage of the port amounted to one fifth of that of all other ports in the empire. In 1801 the dock dues were 28,000 pounds, in 1811 55,000 pounds, in 1821 94,000 pounds, in 1831 183,000 pounds, in 1841 175,000, pounds and in 1851 283,000 pounds, thus in the first half of the present century they had nearly doubled, over the next 10 yrs doubled again, and down to 1831 nearly doubled for a third time. They decreased slightly to 1841, while to 1851 there appears an ample additional 100,000 pounds, in annual receipts.

The Manchester Dock Lock
The Manchester Dock Lock, constructed about 1810-1815, was excavated during preparations for the foundations of the new Liverpool Museum, on the site that was the car park at Mann Island. The dock was originally used as a depot for barges belonging to the Shropshire Union Canal Co, later the Great Western Railway.

Copyright 2002 / To date

The life of a Dock Labourer, by a Dock Labourer 1882

A walk around the Docks 1849