Central Liverpool
The North Docks and Vauxhall
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Last updated 18th May 2017
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Walk: Liverpool Docks and Waterfront
In the text below, whole paragraphs in italic are quotations from original sources, as follows:
ROL   Recollections of Old Liverpool by a Nonagenarian, Anon., 1863.
SOL   The Streets of Liverpool, James Stonehouse, 1869.
TDE   A Topographical Dictionary of England, Samuel Lewis, 1848.
The North Shore and Mile Lane Windmill
Vauxhall and the North Docks
Vauxhall is roughly the area bounded by Leeds Street, Scotland Road, Boundary Street and the docks and is the northern part of the old Borough of Liverpool. The docks adjacent to this area reach from Princes Dock (1821) in the south to Bramley Moore Dock (1848) in the north. The remaining docks further north lie in Kirkdale, Bootle and Seaforth. See also The Waterfront and The South Docks.
In the early 18th century, the area consisted of fields, a few houses and a pleasant shoreline known as the North Shore, popular for recreation. In the early 19th century, major dock development began and along with it expanses of poor quality housing for the dock workers.
The area suffered badly from bombing during World War II and post-war clearances led to the break-up of communities and the worst sort of housing developent. This in turn was cleared and repaced by higher quality suburban development. In 2007, after years of post-war decline and degeneration, the developer Peel launched a masterplan, Liverpool Waters, for a £5.5 billion scheme to transform the northern docklands.
The North Shore Baths
The Yates and Perry Map of 1768
Parts of Vauxhall in 1795
Sherriff's Map of 1823
St. Anthony's Church
A Brief History of Vauxhall
The Yates and Perry Map of 1768 is the earliest detailed map of the area. From the middle of the 18th century, the North Shore was a popular area for sea bathing and a little later there were hot and cold salt water baths towards the southern end. The author of Recollections of Old Liverpool (1863) recalls this period:
  For a mile or more [north of the Pier Head] there was good bathing on the shore. The bathing machines were introduced about the end of the last [18th] century. [...] I recollect all the docks and streets from Bath Street downwards being sand-hills and salt-marshes. [...] Bathers used to be seen in any number on the shore. Decency was so frequently outraged that the authorities were at last compelled to take steps to redress the grievance. [ROL]
The Streets of Liverpool tells this story:
  At that time [mid-18th century], and for a great many years later, the shore was all open (beyond the fort), where people used to bathe from machines, and from the shore also. [...] At the close of the last century, and the beginning of the present [19th], the disgraceful conduct of the 'dowkers', as the bathers were called, was such as to call forth the strenuous interference of the authorities. Men and women might have been seen bathing at one time, indiscriminately, from the north shore, without the least regard for decency, while their acquaintances and strangers, looked on from the strand, with the utmost complacency, at the gambols taking place in the water. [SOL]
The historical boundary of the Borough of Liverpool, separating it from Kirkdale, was marked by a substantial inlet and stream called Beacon Gutter. This was located between present-day Boundary Street and Sandhills Lane and there is a kink in Regent Road that marks the spot. The stream had disappeared by the time of Sherriff's map in 1823.
A fort was built on reclaimed land in 1781, roughly where the northern end of Prince's dock is now. It is shown on the 1795 map. It was demolished in 1820 to make way for the construction of Prince's Dock, the intended new dock on the map, which opened in 1821.
Mile Lane was the continuation of Old Hall Street leading towards Beacon Gutter, where there was a windmill. Also here was Mile Lane House and the 'Wishing Gate'. Love Lane branched off inland. This was all a popular area for city dwellers to go for country walks and other liaisons. Recollections of Old Liverpool records:
  There were several very pleasant country walks which went up to Low-hill [...] and by Love-lane [...].  I recollect going along Love-lane many a time with my dear wife, when we were sweethearting. [ROL]
The 1795 map also shows at lower left Liverpool Borough Jail of 1786, consisting of six radiating cell blocks around central offices and accomodation. This section of Mile Lane was known as Great Howard Street from this time because of the rôle of social reformer John Howard in the planning of the jail. The name was subsequently applied to the whole of Mile Lane. The jail was closed in 1811 and demolished in 1819 following the opening the County House of Correction in Kirkdale in 1818.
Pinfold Lane became Vauxhall Road/Commercial Road (a pinfold was an enclosure for stray animals). Further inland was a continuation of Tithebarn Street called Bevington Bush, the main road to Kirkdale. This was also the name of a village, with three windmills indicated on the map, named after a local area of woodland. Recollections of Old Liverpool records:
  The inn called the 'Bush' had a bough hanging out with the motto 'Good Wine Needs no Bush'. [meaning that something of good quality does not need to be advertised, e.g., by hanging the customary bough of a tree outside.] The sailors were very fond of going up to Bevington-Bush on Sundays with their sweethearts, and many a boisterous scene have I witnessed there.  The view was really beautiful from the gardens.  Where the market stands in Scotland-road there used to be a large stone quarry.  [...] The Everton range looked very pretty from the Kirkdale-road, especially when handsome mansions began to dot its crest.  I recollect along this road cornfields, meadows and gardens. [ROL]
Bevington Bush was built over in the 1770s by Scotland Road, though a fragment survives at the south end. It became the stagecoach route to the north and Scotland and was partly widened in 1803. The impressive St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church was opened in 1833. Expansion of low standard housing on either side was already well advanced by the time of Gage's 1836 Map. The Clarence Dock system of 1830 became the landing point for the Irish ferries and, in particular, 1.3 million people, my great-great-grandfather included, fleeing the Potato Famine of the 1840s. Although many moved on from here to other British cities and to the USA, it was the start of a huge demographic change for north Liverpool.
By the mid-19th century the area had become densely overcrowded, with people living in courts and cellars in appalling conditions and with poverty and sickness worse than anywhere in the country, but with over 200 pubs. Bacon's 1890 Map shows the expansion of this dismal insanitary housing. In 1912 Eldon Grove was built as an extraordinary social housing project reminiscent of Port Sunlight. It became derelict but is now up for a £6.6 million redevelopment.
Much of the area was demolished as slums in the 1930s. Further urban clearance and the construction of the Wallasey Tunnel in the 1960s and 1970s led to the evacuation of much of the population to new housing developments on the outskirts of the city. Apart from industry near the docks, the most remakable feature of the area today is the appearance of smart new housing estates such as the Eldonian Village.
The Old Fort
The Wishing Gate
Liverpool Borough Jail
Windmill at Bevington Bush
Everton from Bevington Bush in 1817
Eldon Grove
Gage's 1836 Map of Vauxhall and the North Docks
Prince's Dock c.1830
Bacon's 1890 Map of Vauxhall and the North Docks
Prince's Dock, Half Tide Dock and the Waterloo Docks
The Waterloo Grain Warehouse
The Victoria Clock Tower and Stanley Dock Lift Bridge
Stanley Dock Warehouse
The Salisbury Dockmaster's Office
Pneumonia Alley
The Entrance Gates to Bramley-Moore Dock
The Development of the North Docks
Construction of Prince's Dock (named after the Prince Regent) by John Foster began in 1810 but was only completed in 1821. It is shown on Sherriff's map along with the adjacent Prince's Half Tide Dock. The latter, with its lock gate to the Mersey, opened in 1810 but was rebuilt in 1868. Prince's Dock was closed to shipping in the 1980s.
There has been sporadic redevelopment of the dockside areas since 1988, but according to the Pevsner Guide, 'The architecture is both bland and overly fussy, and the lifeless monoculture could be a business park anywhere. Adjoining the Pier Head, architectural standards should be far higher'. However, 2017 should see the start of the ambitious £300 million next phase of the Liverpool Waters project in this area.
Next along, Waterloo Dock opened in 1834, and was redeveloped into east and west branches in 1868 (compare the 1836 and 1890 maps). It was designed, like the rest of the docks discussed here, by Jesse Hartley and named after the Battle of Waterloo. The Waterloo Grain Warehouse of 1866-8 was designed by G.F. Lyster and the overall facility constituted the world's first bulk American grain handling facility. The surviving warehouse, originally the easternmost of three such, has been converted to apartments. The Waterloo Dock system closed to shipping in 1988.
Next up were Victoria Dock (after Princess, soon Queen, Victoria) and its neighbour Trafalgar Dock (after the Battle of Trafalgar), which opened together in 1836. The former was altered in 1848 to remove its river entrance. It was partly filled in in 1972 and the remainder followed in 1988. The latter was used as a landfill site in the early 1990s.
Clarence Half Tide Dock was connected by a lock system to Trafalgar Dock and on to Clarence Dock, Clarence Graving Basin and two graving docks. They were named after the Duke of Clarence, later William IV. They opened in 1830 and were enlarged in 1853. They were purpose-built steamship docks as a fire prevention measure given that so many wooden ships were using the docks to the south. The docks closed in 1929 and, except for the graving basin and graving docks, were filled in the following year. The site was subsequently used for the Clarence Dock Power Station, demolished in 1994, whose three huge chimneys were a Liverpool landmark.
On Gage's 1836, the docks terminate here with landfill and a sea wall. Regent Road petered out by the North Shore Mill, where there were bowling greens. Between there and Clarence dock was a Napoleonic fortress, presumably built in the 1820s about the same time as Fort Perch Rock at New Brighton, but little spoken of. It was demolished in the next phase of dock building.
The Salisbury, Collingwood and Stanley Dock system of 1848 was the next to be constructed. Salisbury Dock was a half-tide dock connected to the river by two locks and on to Collingwood Dock, named after Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood. The hexagonal, castellated Victoria Tower, designed by Jesse Hartley and completed in 1848, is a clock (one per face) and bell tower that used to give time to neighbouring docks and passing ships and ring out high tide and warnings. It also provided a flat for the piermaster. Here also is the former Dock Master's Office, also built by Hartley using masonry in his trademark Cyclopean style (see below).
Collingwood Dock in turn connects under a lift bridge to Stanley Dock, named after the local family and the only one of Liverpool's docks to be built inland, and on to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, thereby providing a link from the canal to the river. An octagonal hydraulic tower and pumphouse was used to provide power for lifting devices, capstans, locks, bridges and tobacco presses. Hartley's frequent use of turrets, arrow slits and other trappings of the mediaeval castle for such buildings was intended to reinforce the impression of impregnability.
The Stanley Dock warehouses, designed, like the Albert Dock warehouses, by Jesse Hartley, were opened in 1856. The warehouse on the south side of the dock was demolished and the dock partly filled in in 1901 to make way for the huge Tobacco Bonded Warehouse. This vast building of 1901 designed by A.G. Lyster is 12 storeys high and, with 27 million bricks, it is reputed to be the largest brick building in the world. The narrow passageway between it and the adjacent warehouse, where the wind howls and the sun rarely shines, was nicknamed Pneumonia Alley. At the back, the Bonded Tea Warehouse, originally the Clarence Warehouse, was Liverpool's largest warehouse when constructed in 1844. These warehouses form the last significant remnant of what was once the characteristic landscape of the dock hinterland.
Until recently the whole area was derelict: 'easily the most impressive and the most evocatively derelict dock in Liverpool', according to the Pevsner Guide. However it has been subject to a £130m redevelopment with the north Stanley Dock warehouse becoming a 4-star hotel. The next phase, now (2017) under way, includes renovating the Tobacco Bonded Warehouse, creating apartments, bars and shops, and removing the centre of the building to create a garden courtyard. There are plans to redevelop the whole area, as has happened so successfully in the south docks.
Next to the north and connected to Collingwood Dock are Nelson Dock and Bramley Moore Dock, both of 1848. The latter was named after John Bramley-Moore, chairman of the dock committee, and brings us to the northern edge of the Liverpool Borough. The dock walls and entrance gates here are good places to examine Hartley's Cyclopean style, extraordinarily intricate stone construction reminiscent of dry stone walling in its dovetailing of irregular blocks. The periodic dock gates with their castellated gatepiers were intended to give the impression of impregnability and hence, not always successfully, deter pilferers. Bramley Moore Dock also has a large surviving Hydraulic Accumulator Tower, once used to provide hydraulic power to drive machinery. A heavy atmosphere of decay still broods over much of the northern dock area.
The Prince's dock, constructed under an act passed in the 51st of George III, was opened with great ceremony on the 19th of July, 1821, the day of the coronation of George IV.; it is 500 yards in length, and 106 in breadth. On the north is a spacious basin belonging to it, and on the south it communicates with the basin of George's dock: at the north end is a handsome dwelling-house for the dock-master, with suitable offices; and at the south end a house in which the master of George's dock resides. Spacious sheds called 'transit sheds' have been recently built on the west quay, into which a ship may discharge her cargo immediately on her arrival, under the surveillance of the custom-house officers, the goods to be afterwards distributed to the different owners: by this convenience, much delay is avoided.
Northward of the basin belonging to this dock are three docks called the Waterloo, the Victoria, and the Trafalgar; the first was opened in 1834, and the two others in 1836: the Trafalgar dock is principally used for steam-vessels. Still further in the same direction are the Clarence dock and half-tide basin, completed in 1830, and appropriated solely to steam-vessels frequenting the port; also two capacious graving docks. Beyond these graving docks, a vast accession of accommodation is now in course of construction, under the provisions of an act passed in the 8th Victoria, consisting of eight separate docks and six graving docks, the former having an aggregate water area of above 60 acres, and quay space measuring 3 miles and 257 yards in length. These splendid docks will be capable of admitting steamers of the largest class, and will communicate, by a series of locks, with the Leeds canal, an improvement of the greatest importance. [TDE]
The Waterloo Docks and Grain Warehouse
The Stanley Dock Area and Tobacco Warehouse
Stanley Dock Entrance and Policemen's Lodges c.1860
The Victoria Clock Tower and Salisbury Dock
Stanley Dock Lift Bridge and Hydraulic Tower
The Bonded Tea Warehouse
Hydraulic Accumulator Tower at Bramley-Moore Dock
The Stanley Dock Area
Stanley Dock Gatepiers
The Tobacco Warehouse from the River
The Dockmaster's Office across Salisbury Dock
The Clarence Graving Docks
Prince's Half-Tide Dock
Leeds and Liverpool Canal Locks by Stanley Dock
The Leeds and Liverpool Canal
Construction of the canal began in Halsall, south-west Lancashire, in 1770. At 126 miles (203 km), it is the longest canal in northern England. The Liverpool section, running down to a basin on Great Howard Street serving a coal yard, followed soon after (see the 1795 map). It entered Liverpool at Boundary Street, where a bridge was built in 1835. Gage's 1836 Map shows an extension running down to Prince's Dock, which was presumably built when the dock was opened in 1821.
In 1848, the canal was extended by Jesse Hartley in series of four locks descending 44 ft (13.5 m) to Stanley Dock. The railway bridge dates from the same time. This extension provided a link to his new dock complex and on to the remaining docks to the south. When George's Dock was closed in 1990, this link was broken and boats had to use the River Mersey. A £20 million Liverpool Canal Link was completed in 2009, involving new locks, tunnels and bridges, that reconnects the north and south docks via the Liverpool waterfront.
The Boundary Bridge of 1835
Tourist Poster c.1932
The Dingle Tunnel Entrance
The Overhead Railway
Liverpool Overhead Railway opened in 1893 and originaly ran from Alexandra Dock in the north to Herculaneum Dock in the south. It was extened to Seaforth Sands in 1894 and to Seaforth and Litherland in 1905 to provide access to a large residendial area. This resulted in a substantial increase in passenger numbers (me included in the first half of the 1950s). A southern extension to Dingle opened in 1896.
It was the first elevated electric railway and the first to use electric automated signalling. Steam was seen as being a fire risk and up to the time of the railway, horses were still extensively used on the docks. The structure was made of wrought iron girders and the rails were supported on 567 spans about 16 ft (5 m ) above the road level.
In the early 1900s the railway started to become a tourist attraction as the best way to see the famous docks. In 1932, during the depression, tourist tickets included visits to ocean liners in an attempt to boost passenger numbers and there was an extensive advertising campaign. Then bomb damage took its toll during World War II.
Corrosion began to set in and maintenance costs escalated. By 1955 it was estimated that £2 million would be required for repairs in the coming years. Falling passenger numbers and alternative modes of transport meant that these costs could not be met and the railway was finally closed at the end of 1956.
Demolition was complete by early 1958 and today little survives of the railway. The entrance of the tunnel to Dingle Station is the most conspicuous remnant. One of the carriages is on display in the Museum of Liverpool.
The Overhead Railway at Seaforth Sands ...
..and near Canning Station
Acknowledgements and Further Reading
The definitive online history of Liverpool up to the turn of the 20th century is the Victoria History of the County of Lancaster, Vol.4, edited by W. Farrer and J. Brownbill, 1907. I have as usual drawn on the indispensible Liverpool (Pevsner Architectural Guides), by Joseph Sharples, which has much more on the architecture and from where Stanley Dock Entrance and Policemen's Lodges comes, with thanks. The North Shore and Mile Lane Windmill, The North Shore Baths, The Old Fort, The Wishing Gate and Liverpool Borough Jail are by W.G.Herdman, published in Pictorial Relics of Ancient Liverpool, 1843. These were sourced from Ancestry Images. The Windmill at Bevington Bush and Everton from Bevington Bush are from YO! Liverpool. Eldon Grove is from the Liverpool Echo. St. Anthony's Church Scotland Road and The Overhead Railway at Seaforth Sands are freely licensed images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. The Boundary Bridge is from CanalPlan. The Overhead Railway near Canning Station is from A Sense of Place. The Salisbury Dockmaster's Office is from Liverpool Museums. The tourist poster is in my own possession. I am most grateful to all of the above. All other modern colour photographs are by the author.
This is a non-commercial website that is intended entirely for research and educational purposes. If I have unintentionally breached copyright with any images, I hope that the copyright owner will tolerate my usage in the present context, otherwise I will remove the material.