Tag docks

Liverpool: unique images from the archive of Historic England

Historic England are the government’s adviser on the historic environment, so they have a duty to encourage the enjoyment of England’s history. Part of this remit is to manage the Historic England Archive, from which a new series of books takes its content. The volume I review here is, you’ll be shocked to learn, Liverpool.

The Historic England Archive holds over 12 million photographs, documents, plans and drawings covering the whole country. They run a public service where you can contact them to find out what they have, and get copies made for you.

But you don’t need to do that right now, as Hugh Hollinghurst has put together a neat little collection published by Amberley.

Old photographs of Liverpool

There are literally a billion books containing archive photographs of Liverpool. I’ve reviewed some of the best (and some of the worst) on here. I judge the books by their cover, and also by their content, and most importantly by the captions on the images.

Many books are content to give you about 15 words on the old photo, giving very little context or detail, and often getting things wrong. It’s not that this book is entirely error free (there’s one big blooper in there) but the length of the captions and the lack of nostalgic rose-tinted spectacles mean they’re not an issue.

Photograph of St George's Hall, Liverpool, from the historic England Archive

A ‘salted paper print’ of St George’s Hall, thought to date from 1854. This might be the oldest photographic image of Liverpool

The book is 95 pages long and has photos and also paintings from a wide gamut of Liverpool’s history. The earliest photograph is possibly the earliest photograph of Liverpool – St. George’s Hall, in 1855. (What we would recognise as photography had barely been around for a decade and a half by this point).

The book includes brand new photography, as well as images from the 1980s and 90s to give context. (And because, it pains me to say, those are now decades themselves part of history…)

Landscape history in archive photographs

It’s no secret that old photographs are a great reminder of the layout of the former city. It’s fascinating to see places like the Pier Head without its Three Graces. George’s Dock was divided into three and filled in around the turn of the 20th century, and Liverpool’s three gems erected over the next two decades.

The photos are in batches, so we see a couple charting the development of the Pier Head from the 1990s to today. We also see the Goree Piazzas from different angles, revealing the changing waterfront. There are explicit links between the captions, so this is much more than a scattershot ‘photo album’ approach.

There’s a fascinating panorama in the new book which shows a golden skyline, almost completely uniform in height. The only things that venture above the general roofline are the Customs House and St. Nicholas’s church. The age of the photograph and this uniformity lend it the appearance of Venice.

Photograph of Liverpool waterfront from 1887, from the Historic England Archive

The SS America anchored on the Mersey with the Liverpool skyline beyond

It’s a post-Blitz image which opens the book, and the first section, ‘Docks’. An aerial image, the most surprising thing about it is the neatness of it. It’s much like you’d expect a post-nuclear city to look. No life, no rubble, just clean squares where buildings once stood and the Customs House’s foundations like an I-beam embedded in the Earth.

Changing Liverpool landscape

Both the Customs House and the Sailor’s Home are some of Liverpool’s most famous and regretted losses. Hollinghurst talks about these demolitions with admirable neutrality. The Customs House had been identified as a difficult building to use or re-use as early as 1910, and the ‘prison-like’ interior of the Sailor’s Home condemned it once it required telegraph poles to shore up its frontage (see page 8 for that striking image). No doubt counter-arguments can and will continue to be made, but its interesting to hear the evidence.

Historic England’s Aerofilms archive has a wealth of aerial shots of the docks, and a couple are in this book. Here we’re treated to some of the less well-known docks, like Bramley Moore and Huskisson in the north. We see handsome liners and hefty cargo ships coming and going. We’d do well to remember that it isn’t just the Albert Dock that Liverpool’s wealth rested on.

Historic details

As well as the wide shots of historic landscapes, Liverpool includes interiors and details. There are high quality shots of windows in the Port of Liverpool Building, and carvings on the Cunard Building. Photos show lavish Edwardian interiors of the Cunard and White Star Buildings, including an office in the latter, beautifully neat with gorgeous brass lamps and elaborate ceiling mouldings.

Archive photograph of view over Liverpool from Adelphi Hotel

Looking out from the fifth floor of the second Adelphi Hotel, towards Birkenhead

A favourite of mine was the view out of the fifth floor of the second Adelphi Hotel. It looks south west down Ranelagh Street and you can make out Central Station. There’s the faint outline of the Customs House (that place again!) and, according to the caption, Birkenhead. (Perhaps that’s easier to see on the full size negative.)

Which of the great and good of previous centuries might have looked out on this vista, waiting for their ship to come in?

Trams and railways in old Liverpool

As well as buildings and docks, the old photos take in stations and rails. The Overhead Railway features on an impressive aerial shot, snaking like a giant Scalextric past Herculaneum and the other northern docks.

Other photos show ground-based scenes. There’s a busy intersection on the Strand in one. Little more than the stanchions which held the rails up remaining in another. (This allows Hollinghurst to date that particular image to 1957).

History of Liverpool in eight chapters

Hollinghurst divides the book into eight chapters (amongst them Transport, Docks, Leisure and Homes), but it’s clear to see the connections between them. Even the Homes chapter includes archive images of Goodison Park and the industrial landscape of Aintree (with its Hartley’s Village).

The book brilliantly captures the intertwining elements of Liverpool’s history. The amount of information in the captions makes them almost more than mere captions. Some of the photos are rarities or otherwise unusual.

As someone who has seen hundreds of old images of the city over the years it’s getting harder to find something new. I think the depths of the Historic England Archive have yet to be fully plumbed! My only real gripe is that it’s not easy to cross-reference this book with the archive itself. The images from Historic England are labelled as such, but the reference numbers are not here. You’ll have to do an intelligent search on the Historic England Archive website to find them.

Get the book

Book cover of Liverpool, by Hugh HollinghurstLiverpool: unique images from the archives of Historic England is written by Hugh Hollinghurst with Historic England. It was published in 2018 by Amberley Press.

You can get it from Amazon UK (affiliate link) or direct from Amberley’s website.

Two disclaimers: I used to work for the Historic England Archive (when it was the National Monuments Record, part of the then English Heritage), and also I was honoured to see my own book, Liverpool: a landscape history recommended in its opening pages, next to my favourite Liverpool volumes. Still, I think this book is worth checking out, even if you think you’ve see every old photograph of Liverpool.

A traveller to the Pool

The town grew up around a ‘dark pool’, from which is took its name. The pool flowed into a wide river which would one day be famous across the globe, almost synonymous with the town. The river in turn empties into the Irish Sea, for a long time an important trading route both east-west and north-south.

As technology moved on, the river’s banks became crowded with masts, and docks to hold those masts. Eventually, the ancient pool was lost beneath the city’s streets – the land was simply more valuable – but it is known that the stream which fed the pool still flows underground, buried not lost, along with remains of the medieval castle.

To the east and south of the city centre, a gridiron of Georgian streets with smartly coloured front doors attest to one of the city’s most affluent periods. These days, their neat uniformity is face to solicitors, dentists and ‘aesthetic’ clinics.

The Victorian parks – gifts from the city’s richest sons and daughters – throng with the distinctive accent of the locals, along with a host of dialects and languages brought here from all over the globe by students and others. This is the legacy of a time when the place claimed to be ‘Second City of Empire’.

The Vikings once landed here too, but the evidence of their stay is as ephemeral as King John’s castle. A placename here and there; something in the genes perhaps.

A greater impact came out of the generations of writers, musicians and actors who grew up here, exporting portraits of the locals, and changing the face of global culture permanently. It is to find the home of these portraits that the tourists flock.

There has been trouble along the way, to be sure, and no little violent upheaval. National headlines have been written in the streets of this fiercely independent town.

But you can’t keep this place down (there are more cathedrals, and more universities, than the average), and now the city, once again, finds itself resurgent. Cranes march across the skyline, and the old is – almost carelessly – cleared to make way for the brand new, for the future. Only time will tell if that future belongs to the people who call this place home, or to the people who bring their business here from elsewhere.

This is a city which won’t be held back. This a city of music, of poets, of sport, of life. Your forebears may have trodden the docks and piers here, on their way out, to a new life across the water, to America, or Britain.

This is Dublin, your long lost twin, your neighbour across the sea.

Image: The corner of Fitzwilliam Street Upper and Baggot Street, Dublin, by the author.

This post was inspired by a recent visit to Dublin, and the amazing city I found there.

Hartley Quay Dock Railway

The dock railway was built in Liverpool to solve a challenge which other cities did not face. With dock expansion, ships were docking further and further from the central business district. Places like Manchester and Bristol stood astride their rivers, and twice the mileage of docks fit in each mile of river than in Liverpool.

Therefore, much more than other places, railway transport became important to transporting goods. This could be from the outlying docks into town. Some went further, carrying on their journeys further into Britain, or onto new ships going elsewhere.

Dock railway remains

The remains of the dock railway are still embedded in parts of the docklands, even though the roads are now dedicated to other vehicles. It’s interesting to note that at one time the roads would have been shared between the locomotives on the one hand, and vehicles like trucks and horse-drawn carts on the other.

Even in the early 1960s steam engines could still be seen following a man with a flag near the Pier Head. But by then the increasing pressure from the motorcar was becoming too much. The main roads along the docklands – e.g. the Strand – were in need of modernisation to deal with the increased traffic.

Today, you can see the rails outside the Maritime Museum entrance, bounded by two sets of buffers. The rails run into a large iron-banded door to the north east side.

More information

The Dock Railway, 1962, Streets of Liverpool, Colin Wilkinson

George’s Dock Gates road sign

Liverpool, as a city, is master of reinventing itself. It re-uses parts of its landscape when priorities (and economics) change. The Pier Head area in general has seen many, many changes. The filling of the Pool, and the creation of the first wet dock, is perhaps the most significant. The road sign declaring George’s Dock Gates is another clue to these changes.

The disappearing George’s Dock Gates

Old Ordnance Survey maps (like the 1893 edition below) show a large open square area just to the river side of St Nicholas’s Church. This is labelled as George’s Dock Gates. It lay over the filled in form of George’s Dock Basin (which led into both George’s Dock and Prince’s Dock).

Map showing George's Dock Gates in 1893

George’s Dock Gates 1893

The street sign is not attached to an old section of the wall of George’s Dock Basin, contrary to what some other websites will tell you. Rather, it refers to this area, which acted as a sort of entry way into the central dock system. George’s Dock still held water when the walls of the churchyard were erected. The George’s Dock Gates name was already in use.

The name is marked on maps right through until the Three Graces replaced the dock basins behind the Pier Head. This map from the middle of the 20th Century still displays the name.

Map of George's Dock Gates in the 20th century

George’s Dock Gates 1959-72

For the city today, it’s a reminder that the busy dual carriageway area of the waterfront was once central to Liverpool’s central activity: trade and exchange.

We’re all living future memories of historic Liverpool

Memories are liberally scattered around this week’s links. Photos of life in Liverpool, plus revealing the hidden corners of the city, and life on the Home Front. Read more

Bootle: seaside village

Today’s map is taken from a detailed one that I picked up recently, from the Illustrated Globe Encyclopedia printed in 1878.

The point of interest I’m drawing your attention to is Bootle. In 1878, and also visible on the First Edition Ordnance Survey map of the area, the village of Bootle sits alone to the north of Liverpool. The docks to the west have stretched this far north, but Bootle’s strong links with the port were still a little way in the future. Read more

Liverpool at the forefront of dock technology: Waterloo, Victoria and Trafalgar Docks

I’ve been obsessed with Liverpool’s docklands this week. I’ve been reading a lot about them while writing the 19th century chapter of my book. Although the book’s focus will be on the changing historic landscape of Liverpool and its docks, you can’t help but be drawn into the technological advances. These too helped create the dock landscape we see today. Read more

Liverpool Heroes 4: Jesse Hartley

Continuing our look at the men and women who have had the greatest impact on the Liverpool landscape, this time we examine the work of Jesse Hartley, dock engineer.

Jesse Hartley (1780-1860) is best known as the architect of the Albert Dock. But this was just one of his achievements as Civil Engineer and Superintendent of the Concerns of the Dock Estate in Liverpool from 1824 to 1860, and his career was one which changed the face of Liverpool. It’s a landscape we can still see today, and his buildings continue to affect how we move through and how we deal with the built environment of the city.

Read more

History of Bootle: a seaside resort, the docker’s suburb, and industry

Bootle began its history as a large, well-defined village completely separate from Liverpool. But as the city expanded, Bootle found itself well-placed during the expansion in the Industrial Revolution. Read more

History of Garston: Liverpool’s other docks and the industrial south

Garston lies on the banks of the Mersey, to the south of Liverpool city centre, and Toxteth. The history of Garston is closely related to the docks and railway, and grew into an important industrial suburb of Liverpool. The Otterspool separates Garston from Toxteth. Two other brooks once flowed through the area, one of which Read more

Mapping the History of Liverpool

Interactive old maps of Liverpool's suburbs, old maps of Merseyside, and details of our protected, listed heritage.

And don't forget the book, Liverpool: a Landscape History

Recommended Reading

These are some of my favourite books on Liverpool history. They're what I'd recommend to someone who wants great coverage of the whole history of the port and city.

All these books are available via Amazon UK, and buying from through the links above will help fund the web hosting costs of Historic Liverpool.

Old maps from Cassini

Buy old maps from Cassini

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