1846: Plan of the Liverpool Docks, by Jesse Hartley, Dock Surveyor

Liverpool’s history is so intertwined with its docks that we often forget to take a closer look at the mechanics of those features of the landscape.

This map is a little different to most, as it’s a special plan of Liverpool’s docks as they looked in 1846. The plan is artificially limited in a way, in that it removes the town itself (the other key element in the success of trade!), but this very limitation helps us focus in a different way.

The other fascinating feature of this plan is that it was made by Mr. Jesse Hartley, perhaps the most well known name in relation to the docklands. I wrote about Hartley the dock engineer back in 2011, and that article’s a good starting point for understanding his colossal contribution to Liverpool’s key industry, trade.

This plan shows his most famous construction: the Albert Dock, right in the centre. To the north the docks stretch to the Sandon dock (not named on the plan) and in the south we see the Toxteth Dock. Though if we compare this map to the 1951 Geographia map, we can see that shapes have been changed. Sometimes this was in the planning stage, and other times it was in later years once the use of docks altered and new needs were met.

Jesse Hartley’s Docks of Liverpool

Having left such a great legacy to the city, it’s a nice thing to see a plan like this come from the same pen. The plan of the docks also has a great deal of information around the edge, showing that this was probably a form of business document as well as a record of geography.

A large chunk are statistics of the docks, such as their surface area and quay length. Entance widths (where appropriate) and sill height are also there. There’s a separate table for ‘New docks etc in course of formation’.

Finally, there is a table of tides for the early 19th century. All useful information for the management of the dock estate! I wonder whether this was prepared as a report for the Corporation or the Liverpool Dock Trustees. The key in the bottom right might give some clue. Colours are given over to different classifications of dock, and one of these is The Proposed Docks as applied for by the present Bill. The colour for this category is hard to discern on the map (especially for a colour blind chap like myself) but I think they will be those numbered, yet unnamed, north docks.


This map was downloaded from the good folks at the Boston Public Library, who uploaded it to the Digital Commonwealth website with no copyright restrictions.

You can do the same, and find other Liverpool maps, here: https://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/ht250505g.