Now you have read about Liverpool docks and their trades you may want to explore some of them yourself. This trail covers Liverpool's oldest docks just north of the Albert Dock. Just print these sheets and prepare to explore.
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Start: outside the Merseyside Maritime Museum.
The huge anchor in front of you is from HMS Conway. This was a wooden battleship built for the Navy in 1839. In 1876 she became a school ship, training boys for a life at sea. She remained in the Mersey until she was wrecked in 1953.
On the warehouse wall is a spiral metal chute. Part of the Albert Dock warehouse was converted into a cold store in 1899. The chute was used to slide blocks of ice down from the ice-making plant on the top floor.
You can learn more about the warehouses themselves by following the Albert Dock Warehouse trail also on this website.
Go right towards the Pumphouse Inn, stopping at the capstan just past the pub.
The Pumphouse Inn (1878) was once the building where steam engines put water under pressure to operate cargo handling equipment in the Albert Dock warehouses. You can still see the chimney and hydraulic tower. When the warehouses opened they were the first in the country to use hydraulic power for cranes, hoists and lifts.
Canning Dock is in front of you.
If you look in the far right-hand corner of Canning Dock you can just see the blocked-up entrance to the town's first dock of 1715. Known as the Old Dock it ran across what is now the main road and under the fire station beyond. Canning Dock was originally its entrance basin (1737) but became a dock with river gates in 1829. Like most of Liverpool's docks, Canning Dock was built on reclaimed land.
The blocked-up water passage (between you and the gates - it runs under the road) linked Canning Dock to Salthouse Dock on your right. This dock took its name from the salt works that were once on the site. The works were founded in 1696 to process Cheshire salt: the dock began life as the South Dock in 1753.
Turn round and look at Albert Dock Warehouses.
The vast scale of these Victorian warehouses is obvious - you can only see about 25% from where you stand. They were designed by Jesse Hartley, Liverpool's Dock Engineer, and opened in 1846. They were a safe, fire proof, tax-free place to store imported goods before they were sold on.
Retrace your steps, passing the Merseyside Maritime Museum and stopping at the bridge.
This is Hartley Bridge, built in 1843. It is a swing-bridge over the passage connecting Albert Dock (left) to Canning Half Tide Dock (right). It is named after the designer of the Albert Dock complex, Jesse Hartley. Beneath it is the lock gate used to control the water levels in the docks.
To your left is the Albert Dock itself and its warehouses. Imagine it in its heyday - sailing vessels everywhere, cargo being unloaded, the noise and bustle of activity.
In Canning Half Tide Dock to your right you will see the motor tug Brocklebank (1965), which is owned by the Merseyside Maritime Museum.
Ahead is the Pier Master's House. The Pier Master needed to live close to his work so he could be available when high tide occurred in the middle of the night and the river gates were opened. This 3-storey Victorian house is part of the Maritime Museum and gives a realistic insight into how the Pier Master and his family lived. To the left of the house are the Pier Master's office and the cooperage where wooden barrels used to be repaired.
Follow the path around to the right and stop on the next bridge.
This bridge spans the present river entrance. The entrance has been considerably modernised but you can still see the work of Jesse Hartley, the dock engineer, in the granite masonry of the dock walls and the detail of the three gatekeepers' huts. If you look over the side of the blocked north entrance you will see Roman numerals that show the depth of water in feet.
You get a good view of the river Mersey from this point. It runs down to the sea five miles to your right. The tidal range is 30 feet (10 metres). This means that at low water you can see the mud and at high water the waves will be lapping the top of the quays. This was the reason for the river gate beneath you.
Across the river is Birkenhead with its own docks, Cammell Laird's shipyard, and the new landing stage for the Irish ferries. You may also see one of the Mersey river ferries cruising on the river.
Follow the path to stop at the large propeller.
This quayside is now the site of several pieces of dock machinery and shipping equipment. The propeller in front of you was recovered from the Cunard liner, Lusitania. She was sunk by a World War I U-boat off the coast of Ireland in 1915. She was carrying passengers from USA to Britain when she was attacked. Soon after, the USA joined the Allies in the war. The propeller itself rotated three times a second, giving that 'floating palace' a speed of over 26 knots and the Blue Riband prize for the fastest transatlantic crossing.
The red and green buoys mark the entrance gate to the quayside: before they marked the entrance to the river. The Mersey has shifting sand banks and the deep water has to be clearly marked to avoid accidents.
N. B. The quayside here is open to the public during the summer season. Further along you should be able to see the tallest piece of metal here; a Gwynne vertical steam pump, which came from the Huskisson Dock impounding station. It was used to ensure the water level in the dock did not fall too low. Pumps like this were also used to empty the huge graving docks needed in the late 19th century to cope with the massive ships using them. There are also cranes, anchors and other fascinating heavy items of dock equipment to be seen.
Continue on your path to stop at the bright metal gates. The Quaysides are part of the Maritime Museum and you can visit during the summer months.
The two docks in front of you were graving or dry docks used for ship repair. These are Liverpool's oldest surviving docks, built on an area of land known as Mann Island in 1756; forty-one years after the town's first dock had opened. Slave ships were repaired here, then small vessels right up until the 1960s. The ships were rope-hauled into the docks using capstans like the one next to you. The gates were shut and the water run off into the river at low tide so that the men could work underneath the ships.
In the graving dock to your right is the De Wadden (1917). It is a Dutch built coastal motor schooner that spent its life working around the Irish Sea carrying coal, pit-props and other bulk cargoes. It is under restoration.
In the graving dock on your left is the pilot ship, Edmund Gardner, built in 1953. Notice how she sits on a row of wedge shaped 'keel blocks' and is propped up against the side by 'shores'. This is the traditional way of securing vessels in dry dock. Edmund Gardner was one of four vessels that spent much of their lives off Point Lynas or the Liverpool Bar as floating hotels for pilots waiting for vessels to guide into port.
Next to the docks are large black iron pots that were used for boiling pitch. When these docks were built, ships were built of wood. The gaps between the planks were filled with oakum, (untwisted hemp rope). This was then painted with hot pitch or tar to make the joint watertight. The nearby 'runways' in the dock walls were used for sliding down the cast-iron 'kettles' of hot pitch, timber and other materials to the men at the bottom.
Across the dock you can see the Great Western Railway Goods Shed. Behind it, where the car park is, was once Manchester Dock. Here in 1872 the GWR, which did not have rail access into Liverpool, hired a building to receive goods from ships and the town's merchants. The goods were sent across the river by barge to Birkenhead to be sent on by train. After a fire in 1890 the GWR built this shed, which remained in use until 1960. It now houses museum offices and (during the summer) a display of transport items.
Behind you is the Museum of Liverpool Life in the restored Pilotage Building. Built in 1883 this was the headquarters of the Liverpool pilots, responsible for guiding all vessels into and out of the port. The low level part of the museum to the right was formerly the Liverpool and Glasgow Salvage Association workshop.
Beyond the car park is Liverpool's Pier Head, dominated as it is by the three Graces. Nearest you are the former Mersey Docks and Harbour Board offices, in the middle are the former offices of the Cunard Steamship Line, and furthest away are the Royal Liver Building offices. They were built during the first years of the 20th century when Liverpool was at the height of its prosperity. By the river is the landing stage, home of the historic Mersey ferries.
This is the end of the Ships and Quaysides walk.
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