You have read about the Albert Dock and its warehouses in the Trading Places unit. Now it is time for you to explore it yourself. Simply print out these sheets, take them to the entrance of the Merseyside Maritime Museum and your exploration begins.
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Start in the foyer on the Ground Floor.
1. Go out through the revolving doors, and look at the front of the Albert Dock warehouse. It was built in 1846 by Jesse Hartley, the surveyor to the Liverpool Dock Trustees. He was not particularly famous in his own time, and is not much more famous now, but was by far the highest-paid engineer in the country. He built more docks than anyone else had up to then and most of his work is still standing today. At the far end of the dock is a plaque in his honour, placed by the Institution of Civil Engineers.
2. Now look at any part of the wall, and you will see that there are four building materials:
3. Now go back, straight through the museum foyer, and turn right, along the dockside to reach the dock gates. From the end of the quayside you can see the entrance passage connecting Albert Dock to the next dock (Canning Half Tide Basin). It is 44ft 9in (13.6 metres) wide - not wide enough for a Mersey Ferry. Sailing ships had to be pulled through this passage with capstans (a revolving cylinder for winding rope and chain), so bollards are provided for attaching the 'warps' or ropes from the capstans. When the Dock was built, nearly all goods were carried by sailing ships, steamers being mostly for passenger and 'packet' carrying. ('Packets' included mail, parcels and small consignments of urgent or valuable goods).
4. In the water, notice the old wooden gates, which were to keep the water level constant in Albert when the river gates at Canning Entrance were open. (The new steel gate beyond the bridge still does the same job). At the corner of the passage are Roman numerals cut into the stone, which show the depth of water in feet. The double-leaf swing bridge is of a design Hartley used for many years.
5. Go back the way you came, along the quayside. Goods were unloaded from ships here, some by lifting appliances like those you can see at various points around the dock, some by 'ship's tackle' rigged from the masts. The area now occupied by the Merseyside Maritime Museum foyer and part of the Customs & Excise Museum used to be open to the quayside and was used for sorting and inspecting goods before they were either warehoused or sent out.
6. The black crane has no visible motors or handles. It was worked by hydraulic power: high-pressure water from the Pump House (see no. 17 below) acted on a ram hidden in the hollow column to pull on the lifting chain. The hydraulic lifts and hoists were for taking goods up the building. Albert warehouses were the first in the world to have hydraulic machines for lifting goods built into them.
7. Notice the massive quayside columns. They are made of hollow cast iron. You can imagine the weight they support by looking at the thickness of the walls above them. They are close to the edge because the walls below them taper outwards, and the columns are actually over the centre of the foundations - the safest place to put them.
8. Now go back into the Foyer. Look at the iron columns there. Notice the square flanges half way up. These were to allow the building to have a mezzanine (a floor between two other floors) added if the need arose.
9. Pass through the entrance barriers on your left and go down (via stairs or lift) to the Transatlantic Slavery Exhibition in the vaults. You are now at about water level, and will be able to find iron columns throughout the exhibition (some have been cased in and cannot be seen). These have other iron columns stacked on top of them (including the ones you saw in the foyer), right to the top of the building. This allows them to feed the weight of the building down into piles (supporting beams in the ground) that extend about 30ft (9 metres) below the floor. If the dock walls have good foundations, the next most likely thing to make them fall is the pressure of the earth behind them: the hole you are standing in was not only dug to hold goods, it reduces the pressure on the dock wall as well. Some of the columns have a lumpy finish; this is a protective paint that foams up to insulate them in case of fire.
10. Either walk through the exhibitions or go straight back upstairs to the foot of the stairs leading to the first floor. Up the stairs, towards the 'Lifelines' gallery, you can see the cast iron floor beams that support the first floor. Seen from the end, they are shaped like an upside-down letter Y, and shallow brick arches spring from their 'legs'. Because the beams are tied to each other with wrought iron bars, the arches cannot spread, so the weight on the floors above acts straight down the columns, all the way down to the piles. The beams are also slightly arched along their length, and their ends are bedded against the columns. It is a clever structure, designed to allow adaptation if needs changed. We have adapted it by cutting a staircase through.
11. Now go to the top floor (lift or stairs) and find the deep window in the temporary exhibition area overlooking the river. All around the Dock, Hartley left panels of brickwork that were not bonded into the main structure (they were not built in a particular pattern to ensure strength), to make it easy to form extra hoist doorways for lowering goods. This is one that we have converted into a window, but when you leave the building you will be able to see others that are still 'blind' as Hartley left them. Goods left the warehouses via these doors. The delivery 'hoists' were not power-driven - a arge brake controlled the load on the way down, and the hook was wound back up by hand. They were not intended for bringing goods into the warehouse.
12. Go to the other side of the building and look through any of the windows overlooking the dock. Notice that the walls, which were about a metre thick at ground level are only half that up here - they do not have to support further storeys above. The window frames are modern copies of the original cast iron ones. Large sheets of flat glass were difficult and expensive to make in the 1840's, and were not very strong, which is why these windows are made up of many small panes.
13. Look around the Dock, and notice the high parapets (the low wall along the edge of the roof) extending beyond the roofline. Fire was a terrible hazard in docks like this (much of the Port of Hamburg was burned to the ground in 1842) and the parapets were required by law. They were to protect fire fighters, or people trying to get ships or goods to safety, from falling slates or molten lead. Hartley's roof used no slates, but still had to comply with this law.
14. Now look above you. The Roof is a remarkable structure: its trusses (supports) are made of wrought iron only 15mm in diameter, and their job is to stop the sides of the roof spreading outwards. Almost all the strength of the roof is in its riveted iron 'skin': consider the weight it supports when there is a heavy fall of snow. Some people think that stressed-skin structures like this are quite a recent invention, but this one is very nearly 150 years old.
15. Go back to the ground floor. High up on the wall in the foyer, close to the revolving doors, you will find two large pairs of fastenings. These used to secure a hydraulic jigger (a water-powered winch - you can find one in its original position by the entrance to Edward Pavilion). Jiggers were added later, to speed up goods handling and make the working arrangements more flexible.
16. Leave the building by the revolving doors. The area in which you are standing was a wagon dock, where goods were taken from the warehouses by horse-drawn carts and wagons. It used to be at the level of the roadway, and the ground floor was at the height of the beds of the wagons. Goods from the upper floors were lowered by 'gravity hoists' (using weight to move goods) or hydraulic jiggers. Notice that the lower quoins (cornerstones) on the outside corners are granite, while all the others are sandstone: this was to reduce damage from the protruding hubs of the wagons.
17. Part of the building was converted into a cold store in 1899, and a corrugated iron extension was built over the entire wagon dock. The spiral chute was for sliding blocks of ice down from the ice-making plant on the top floor, though similar chutes were also used for bagged goods.
18. To your right is The Pumphouse Inn, now a pub, which held steam engines to supply the high-pressure water for the hydraulic hoists. Originally, the pumps were at the opposite corner of the dock; this is the 'new' pump house built in 1878.
19. The railway lines connected with Hartley's dock railway, begun in 1850, which eventually ran the full length of the dock estate and connected with several railway depots on the opposite side of the dock road. They became particularly important at Albert Dock after the cold store opened, handling 'express' trains of perishable goods, including fish landed in Canning Dock.
This is the end of the Albert Dock Warehouse tour.
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