The Hartley huts are three squat buildings at the entrance to Canning Dock. They were built in 1844 for the ‘gatemen’, those charged with operating the gates to allow ships to enter and leave the docks, some of which would be on their way to the graving docks nearby.
The working life of a gateman was not glamorous, with the gates having to be operated whenever the tide was right – even if this was in the middle of the night. On the plus side, these substantial buildings were heated, and had gas lighting. They might even have been cosy! The position of these huts gave the team a panoramic view of boats approaching.
Standing on the quay of the dock
The architectural style used for the buildings was ‘cyclopean’, which was similar to that used in the construction of other parts of the dock quays. The most obvious place to look is in the wall of the very dock in which the huts stand. The technique uses large blocks interspersed with smaller ones, expertly cut so that they make an impressively smooth surface, each block keying tightly into the next. This is a key characteristic of Jesse Hartley’s architectural style.
Dock huts after their heyday
Along with much of Liverpool’s dock estate, the huts became surplus to requirements. They were empty for many years, though they were adopted as part of Liverpool Museum’s security team. In recent years they are again empty, but Liz Stewart, Lead Curator of Archaeology & Historic Environment at the Museum of Liverpool and currently Head of Liverpool Museum (interim, though congrats to Liz!) wants to see them put to better use.
Liz told Radio Merseyside’s Paul Salt that she hoped they could be used, for instance, as refreshment stalls. Not only would this add new services to visitors, it would also go some way towards making these inegral parts of the dock estate more accessible to the general public. This will be just part of a wider project to improve the whole area around the Museum of Liverpool.
This post takes its information from an interview with Liz Stewart, on the BBC Sounds website (accessed 4th april 2022): https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0bn9zyv