Walking through the places that don’t get valued so much. The places where the working classes live and work, including all of the docks to be included in ‘Liverpool Waters’.
A gloriously sunny November day for a Friday Walk through the past and into the future.
In this walk I want to look at some of the places where the workers lived. Workers in the docks themselves and also the industries clustered around the docks for their supplies and their exporting.
Almost immediately after the tunnel is some of the housing I remember from when I worked around here, in the early to mid-1970s for the City Council Housing Department.
In 1869 Liverpool City Council had built the first council housing in Europe, and by 1911 when they built Summer Seat they were building very high quality houses.
Around the corner, in 1912, the Council did even more to prove that working people deserved splendid places to live. They built Eldon Grove.
The neat pile of bricks looks encouraging, but this doesn’t look like an active site any more. Despite the 3 blocks being Grade II listed buildings there’s not much evidence of regeneration or conservation going on here at what must rate, by any standards, as one of Liverpool’s most beautiful sets of buildings. If Summer Seat, of the same age, can be lived in, can’t these? (More, including internal shots, here.)
Weirdly, much of the new housing has names I recognise. But ‘Burroughs Gardens’ is now a street of bungalows, not the tenement block I remember.
Up on Scotland Road, the main through road, there is just one reminder of the past.
The brick fortress of an office I worked in was next to Woodstock Gardens. It was a brutally ugly place. About 25 of us worked in there managing 14,000 tenancies. I was 18 when I started working there, arriving as a soft suburban child I grew up very quickly and came to love the area and the people, though not of course the brick shed.
I start walking down familiar roads to get from Benledi Street to the docks, but keep getting snarled up in new cul-de-sacs.
With Britain having joined the European ‘Common Market’ in the 1970s, Liverpool found itself facing the wrong way for much of the country’s new trade. And when Tate & Lyle’s refinery subsequently closed in 1981 8,000 local people lost their jobs and the Vauxhall area was further damaged, having already lost so many jobs from the slow failure of the docks we’re about to see.
Some of those local people, from places like Portland Gardens (top right of the picture before demolition) went on to campaign for and create their own new homes on the site of the factory and the warehouses that went, the well known Eldonians and also the Vauxhall Housing Co-Op.
Yes, this isn’t going to be like the South Docks walk, all along the riverside.
This is Bramley Moore dock, just to the north (left) of this map of the rest of the docks on this walk.
So we’re not covering all of the North Docks here. They carry on northwards for another 3 miles until they reach the Port of Liverpool container dock at Seaforth, where most of Liverpool’s dock trade takes place now.
But as it happens this walk covers the whole of what will become ‘Liverpool Waters.’ This is a scheme to regenerate this area by Peel, who now own all this land. Over the next 30 years they aim to create:
“A mixed use development that will include offices/commercial areas, new homes a cultural centre and visitor attractions with supporting uses, local shops and services. Based on a 30 year programme, Peel’s aspiration is that Liverpool Waters will become home to a substantial workforce and population, delivering many thousands of new jobs and homes.
The scheme will:-
Create a visually stunning development on a scale that will attract international and national investment and allow Liverpool to compete with the best waterfront cities in the world; Create new jobs and homes in the heart of the city; Reinforce the role of Liverpool and the wider North West region; Provide sustainable, heritage-based regeneration; Create life and activity in the World Heritage Site; And build on the ongoing transformation of Princes Dock.”
I feel suddenly mortal. About to walk through a long term regeneration scheme I may well not live to see the end of.
Anyway we’ll see how it might all look when we get to Princes Dock towards the end of the walk. But for now we’re in the late days of these docks in their current state.
These docks close to the city centre have been more or less disused for most of my life. Just after trading had stopped, in the mid-1960s, me and my Dad would come and walk around them. Walking around in his own childhood memories. This is where he was born.
Running errands, collecting horse dung to burn on the fire, falling in the canal.
If you’re curious about how it worked, there’s as much as you could ever wish to know at this Urbexforums link.
Next is the mighty Stanley Dock.
These days it’s used as much for films as anything else.
Along with one of the Welsh Streets in Liverpool 8, Stanley Dock became Birmingham for the recent BBC TV drama ‘Peaky Blinders.’
Walking on and arriving at Clarence Dock.
And this is where I came in, my ancestors anyway.
“Through these dock gates passed most of the 1,300,000 Irish migrants who fled the Great Famine and ‘took the ship’ to Liverpool in the years 1845-52.
Remember the Great Famine.”
So I pause and I also remember it was only the potato crop that failed. The other crops they could have eaten were exported to England.
Turning to look towards the Liver Buildings and see how Liverpool Waters is shaping up so far.
Well, there are offices, hotels and a tower block of expensive apartments so far. No feel of community though. I go into the place’s only ‘convenience store’ looking for a sandwich. ‘No, we don’t do them.’ It all feels a bit corporate and lifeless. So there’ll need to be some determined work done if real people and real life is to flourish as Liverpool Waters develops.
And obviously the North Docks can’t carry on being increasingly fragile and forlorn museum pieces. But aren’t they magnificent? Full of ghosts and stories of the people who queued at those gates for their work every day. Stories that need telling. Go and visit their places soon while you still can.
I walk on.
(Incidentally, you might think I’m showing you a lot of photographs here, and I am. But the light on the day was so wonderful that I actually took 238.)
But before the light goes I want to show you one more thing – that isn’t here.
Whatever, I never saw them used for anything.
Then I saw these photographs in ‘Seaport’ – my favourite Liverpool book, written by architect Quentin Hughes in 1963.
And here are the ‘indents’ I’d been wondering about.
The ‘Duke’ was the Duke of Bridgwater. And this was the end destination for his goods which would be brought down the Bridgwater Canal from Manchester. Then across the river on the river craft you see.
I find it achingly beautiful and so did Quentin Hughes, who I met a couple of times later in his life, who campaigned hard for its restoration, like he did for the Albert Dock too. But, having survived the Second World War unscathed, in 1966 it was demolished by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board for some temporary container storage that was briefly there.
Had it survived it might now have looked like this.
A beautiful walk through so many stories, on a gorgeous day.
Again, most of the photographs are by me, but obviously in such a historic piece some aren’t. Working in the Stanley Dock is from the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Collection. Aerial photographs of Duke’s Dock are from ‘Liverpool from the air’ by Colin Wilkinson. Maps are from the Ordnance Survey Godfrey Edition. And the other black and white photographs are from one of my most treasured possessions, ‘Seaport’ by Quentin Hughes.