I am fascinated by Liverpool’s docks. As well I might be, since there would be no Liverpool without them. The idea of a commercial wet dock controlled by floodgates was invented here in 1715 after all, and all of our subsequent prosperity, for good and ill, flowed from that.
As a boy, growing up in the north of the city and with a father and mother who both came from down by the docks, I saw a good deal of the North Docks as a child. Once I even remember me and my Dad getting into one of them and walking around it one quiet Sunday afternoon. There wasn’t much going on that day but mostly I remember ship’s funnels over the dock wall, busy activity along the dock road and lists of ships coming into and out of port still being printed on the front of the Liverpool Echo every day.
But I didn’t even know there were South Docks too.
I knew there was something called the Albert Dock, next to the Pier Head in town where we’d go to catch the ferry to New Brighton or Seacombe for days out. But it was all locked up behind a high wall and so I managed to completely blank it from my childhood landscape. Other than to assume that’s where the Docks stopped.
‘Til the day came when, sitting beside him as we drove round in our new blue Ford Cortina I said to my Dad, pointing along a road I’d never noticed – “Can you take us down there?”
“To the South Docks?” he replied, beginning what would turn out to be a lifelong fascination for me. “Would you like to see them?”
They were very quiet that day in the mid-sixties, though still a few ship’s funnels visible over the Mersey Wall, but nowhere near as quiet as they’d be ten tears later. As I’ve written in two South Docks posts so far, one about their working history and one about how they are now, there came a grim day, early in the 1970s, when traffic at the docks had slowed to virtually nothing. And the decision was taken to open the great floodgates at the Brunswick Dock and leave them that way, so the whole now deemed useless South Docks system would silt up.
Which it duly did as you may remember from this dramatic aerial photograph of the Albert Dock from then.I did get into the South Docks once in those silted up years, but I had no camera with me and my memories of the dying place were bleak, vague and fading. Until now.
Because in nosing around for that Albert Dock photograph I came across a whole album of images I wish I’d had the wit and skill to take myself, all those years ago. These photographs had been taken by someone just getting going with her photography, Tricia Porter, who it turned out had since spent her life as a working photographer.
So I wrote to her and asked her if I could share her precious photographs on here. And she said yes.
“I photographed the South Docks in the summer of 1975 when my husband David was finishing his degree at the university. I wanted to learn more about how to take photographs and to capture something of that eerie area, as well as any activity there was there. The Albert Docks were all locked up, but one day there had apparently been a fire and the gates were left open. A man was nearby who offered to walk me around these docks and tell me a bit about them. So I went with him and photographed them as well – it wouldn’t have been such a rounded set of images without the Albert Docks!”
In a break with my usual habit I’m not going to say anything about these pictures as we look through them. We will look through them in silence, to see how it looked and feel how it felt in those forty years ago days when the South Docks were dying. Here are Tricia Porter’s photographs.
Some places now very, very familiar, but seen like in a dreamtime. Some now so changed I can’t work out where they were. And some almost returning to nature in their complete abandonment. Yet there are people there. Let in by accident or guided by fascination. To fish, some still to work, some watching, one with a camera. One sunny day in 1975 as the South Docks were dying.
Thank you for letting me share these Tricia. Such a privilege.
The summer these were taken I was 21 and not so far away. Just up the hill in Falkner Square, talking my way into Liverpool Housing Trust in the then crumbling streets of Canning. And Tricia Porter was round there too.
“I got funding from the Arts Council of Great Britain to photograph the community in a housing estate between Windsor Street and Upper Parly Street. The images were exhibited in quite a few places and have been used in various publications. Since putting some of the images on my web site I started having emails from people who knew or were in the pictures. This has resulted in a forthcoming exhibition at the Bluecoat, from 4th April – 4th July this year.”
I’ll be there. Wouldn’t miss that for anything.
And the South Docks? Well they didn’t die, not quite. And they’re having a very different sort of life now. Mostly filled with water again, home for thousands, leisure for millions and there are even boats of a sort.