Let us give you a short glimpse into the Heritage of Albert Dock, beginning with its size, which was and is quite staggering…
Five blocks of five storey warehouses provide a vast 1.25 million square feet of floor space; not to mention the quadrangle of water it surrounds is the size of Trafalgar Square.
When it first opened in 1846, the Dock was filled to overflowing with valuable cargoes from all over the world: including rum, tobacco and spirits and cotton for the booming Lancashire mills.
The Dock rose from an unpromising stretch of the Mersey shore that had been primarily used for shipbuilding and timber storage.
The Dock Act was passed in November 1841, which granted permission for its construction. From there, hundreds of ‘navvies’ toiled to drive foundations, and build walls to provide the port with secure, fireproof warehouses to hold the rising tonnage of valuable cargo.
Jesse Hartley – whose name is commemorated by the swing bridge between Tate Liverpool and Merseyside Maritime Museum – was responsible for the design and construction of the Dock.
As the port’s Chief Engineer between 1824 and 1860, Hartley doubled the port’s dock space and quays. He improved many of the cargo handling facilities to make Liverpool the most efficient port of its time.
Albert Dock is undoubtedly Hartley’s masterpiece and its warehouses are supreme examples of industrial architecture.
Traditionally, the port had relied on privately-owned warehousing in the town, but cargoes landing on open quays were often pillaged. The wooden floored warehouses with their oil lamps were also a serious fire risk.
Albert Dock set to change all that: cargoes could be unloaded quickly, by cranes onto the quays of the warehouses. They could be sorted and weighed, and then either dispatched to their destination or taken by lift to the upper floors. Often, cargoes were also taken down to the basement vaults for longer-term storage.
As much of the Dock was ‘bonded storage’; imported goods did not have to pay the customs duties whilst in store. Security was good; high walls surrounded the warehouses and every entrance had its own policeman’s lodge.
Steamers steal a march…
Larger steamships became the favoured way of carrying cargo as the 19th century wore on, but the Dock had been designed for sailing ships of up to 1,000 tons.
Smaller steamers such as the Harrison ‘brandy boats’ from Bordeaux continued to dock here, and it provided a useful place to ‘lay up’ ships waiting for work.
However, fewer cargoes were received directly by the Dock and they came instead by barge or road from the larger, more modern docks of the port.
Liverpool played a huge role in Second World War: it’s west coast location offered vital supply lines and safe passage to the US.
The corvettes, who were the brave escorts of merchant ship convoys, were also based here during WWII. But, after 1945 there was a steady decline and at its worst, only 68 ships called in to the Dock in 1955.
Though the warehouses continued to be used as bonded stores for several years, they became obsolete in the age of mechanical handling and containers.
Sadly, this lead to the Dock’s eventual closure in 1972.