For all of my life I’ve regretted the fact that we couldn’t get to most of our river, the river that caused Liverpool to exist in the first place. So this is a walk into somewhere I can only remember going once before, one docks-quiet Sunday when I was very small. My Dad showing me the neighbourhood he came from. Since when I’d never been back, until this just before Christmas day walk at the end of 2020.
The walk I’m about to show you happened with my university friend Abi, as part of her working on the history chapter of her Liverpool PhD. So we’d brought this essential guide to the North Docks with us, never expecting it would turn out to be of so much use.
Also being guided in what you’re about to see by a beautiful book from the 1960s I’ve mentioned on here before, “Seaport.”
We spent the whole of a December day on this. From me walking off across The Mystery in the early morning to meet Abi, then us walking along together to the Lodge Lane crossroads to get the 27 bus round the city to just by the Rotunda. Beginning our walk proper as if in 1774 by dropping down onto the just opened then Leeds Liverpool Canal, walking along its towpath to where Tate&Lyle would be until the 1980s. Then through to the Princes Half Tide Dock you can see on the 1906 map up there.
At which point, here at the Princes Half Tide we began walking through time.
From 1825 when this was as far as Liverpool’s developing dock system stretched, north of here being all sand and fields, through to a future that mostly hasn’t happened yet but is known as ‘Liverpool Waters’ on this imagined photograph.
This being part of a temporary site wall along the side of a new road we hadn’t known would be here yet. Which will lead to a new Isle of Man ferry terminal when it gets built. But as of today our walk leads us to the river.
Looking left you can see back towards the city centre. And to the right, the left open gate we’re about to walk through.
To the right of Abi and the dock railway tracks there are the Victoria and Trafalgar Docks. That aren’t there any more. Just this surprisingly surviving toilet wall.
Other dock furniture special enough to have been photographed for “Seaport” in 1964 is next.
And we walked on, through time.
Towards Clarence Dock from 1830, past Victoria and Trafalgar from 1836, then Salisbury, Collingwood, Nelson, Stanley and Bramley Moore to come, from 1840 and beyond. At each dock expecting to get no further, yet spending all of the morning and the early afternoon finding we could keep going further. Aware the whole time that this was almost certainly the only day we might ever do this. The day of the left open gate.
This dock is where the people we come from came in. From late in the 1840s the Clarence Dock was where 1,300,000 Irish migrants arrived in Liverpool. Abi’s O’Connors amongst them.
Also threading its way through here is the recently made channel that takes an extension of the Leeds Liverpool Canal from the Stanley Dock, through the landscaping in front of the Liver Buildings and then into the Albert and Salthouse Docks.
We’re approaching what will turn out to have been the centrepiece of our walk. Long gazed at by me from the Bascule Bridge by the Stanley Dock but seeming forever out of reach, until this walk. The Victoria Tower.
Until you get really close it looks inaccessible. As if it’s on an island and there will be no bridge across to it. Except there is. So I’ll now shut up while you watch us get across to, and then inside of the Victoria Tower. Just like it’s August 1848.
“Well” we both said when we came out of there. Lost, for once, for any other words.
Then crossing over to Bramley Moor Dock. Also from the busy year of 1848 and soon to be the new Everton FC stadium, which Google Maps maintains it already is.
And finally, the Sandon Half Tide Dock from 1851. Because crossing to get into this is where our luck and unexpected access ran out at a locked gate. Locked by PeelPorts Group, our unknowing hosts until now.
So we walked back the way we came. Grateful and, to correctly use an often over-used word, truly excited to have got as far as we did. On the way back encountering a builder and surveyor carrying out works for Peel and for Laing-O’Rourke, who will be building the Everton stadium. Wondering whether they might have been the reasons for the open gate? Who knows.
But wouldn’t it be great if anyone could come here? If anyone who wanted could have access to the long enclosed lands of the Liverpool North Docks? And to our river. These places without which there would never have been a Liverpool at all.
And back up onto the Dock Road we’d expected to be all we could have walked along, except for peering through the occasional locked gate.
And then a visit to Make Liverpool, to sit and talk Liverpool, the future and what they’re making of it with Kirsten and Liam there. The point of our nosing around all day having been part of mine and Abi’s thinking and contributions to “What’s next then for Liverpool?” Well certainly Make Liverpool will be part of the Liverpool we make for ourselves.
And then it was time to go home. Back along the canal and up past the Rotunda to get on the 26 bus. Pausing on the way, in here, for a final few words from “Seaport.”
A wonderful day in a staggeringly wonderful place.
All photographs by myself and Abi O’Connor. Except for some pages from “Seaport” by Quentin Hughes.
More about the docks here at “Liverpool Docks.”