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.

And now.

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.

The memorial to the people of Ireland on the Clarence Dock wall
Brief access to the top end of the Clarence Graving Docks
As close as we’d usually have got to the Victoria Tower
The Bascule Bridge
Stanley Dock, on site

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.

Goodnight Liverpool

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.”

Published by Ronnie

Writing about life, Liverpool and anything else that interests me. As well as working with others to make the world a fairer and kinder place:

Join the Conversation


  1. Loved your journey it’s a fascinating area. I wandered around the inside of the Tate&Lyle when the door was open. Massive space. Enjoy your Festivities Janet Johnstone.

  2. Wonderful photos and interesting story.

    My dear late Dad, Mr. Mamadou Sakho, worked as a dock labourer on the Seaforth Docks, where the five huge wind turbines are now located. I think that’s a bit further north than where you both got to. He worked there from 1953 to 1970.

    He used to go to work in a trilby, long overcoat, and a pair of Wellingtons, with a canvas haversack on his back. there were no high vis jackets, helmets or health and safety as we know it today. He nearly fell off the roof of a dock shed once and would have been killed or badly injured.

    He would leave our house in Grove Street, Liverpool 7, every Monday to Friday morning and begin his long journey by getting a bus from just across the road, Mum and I would go into the street and see him off, not going back in until he had caught his bus.

    I still have one of his old pay slips from 1968, he was taking home £12.00 a week, which with inflation taken into account would be about £179.00 today.

    He retired in 1970, a year before his 65th, and received a redundancy payment of £600.00.

    David Sakho

    1. Thank you David. Your story about your dad is at least as wonderful as our own day on the docks. I love the image of him setting off from Grove Street every day in his trilby and long overcoat

      1. Ronnie, there is a Facebook group Over the bridge Liverpool 5. There may be photos of the streets where your dad lived.

  3. Thank you for this – your words and pictures help me remain connected to the city of my birth but this entry is especially wonderful to read in this appalling year of 2020 – looking back in time (my late father worked for Harrison Line and visits to ‘his’ ships in Canada Dock were part of the reason I’m a Chartered Engineer) and looking to the future (I’m an Evertonian).

  4. Thank you for this, really interesting! I’ve never really thought about the lack of access to the river in the north of the city. I was born in Liverpool but moved over the water for school in New Brighton so was lucky enough to live right along the mersey. Loved it so much! I’ve always wanted to explore the old docks, I remember going to the heritage market at Stanley Dock as a kid, getting lost in that huge building!

  5. Thank you for this, really interesting! I’ve never really thought about the lack of access to the river in the north of the city. I was born in Liverpool but moved over the water for school in New Brighton so was lucky enough to live right
    along the mersey. Loved it so much! I’ve always wanted to explore the old docks, I remember going to the heritage market at Stanley Dock as a kid, getting lost in that huge building!

    1. Thinking of how much being by the river means to life in New Brighton then you’ll realise what a loss it is for so much of Liverpool to be denied access to something so elemental. No river access whatsoever from Waterloo Dock to Waterloo next to Crosby.

  6. Thank you for bringing back a memory from the very early 60’s when my grandfather William Whittingham took me, my sister and father to the docks to collect a watch. The only time I have ever entered the docks.
    As someone who has not been to Liverpool for a few years I am surprised and pleased to see the Tobacco Warehouse is being developed. It is a building that I have watched decline over the decades whenever I have travelled from Waterloo the place of my birth to the city centre.

  7. What an exciting trip! And beautiful floral graffiti in the hut. I love the patches of cobbles and abandoned wooden frameworks standing around – like a dozen jigsaws all half completed exposing the partial layers underneath. The best thing about the Everton development would be if it increases access and use to the area, and the worst thing if the opposite happens, as it might. It would be great for scousers to be able to engage with the docks again, in a new way.

  8. I used to go out with an architecture student in the 1980’s and ‘Seaport’ was one of the books she was advised to buy. The photos are great. I do hope that the docks and the area’s amazing bridges and towers can somehow be renovated or preserved. These are beautiful and unique, whereas you can see glass and concrete blocks anywhere.

  9. I was born in my granny’s house in Blackstone street across the road from Bramley Moore dock; spent my childhood there (rehoused in 1956.) On Sundays and bank holidays (with permission from the bobby on the gate) Dad took my sister and me for walks around the Nelson and Bramley Moore dockside; the water tower was just across the road from where we played and overhead rail running past. We go back from time to time and take photographs; old Victorian house gone, a small flagged space where once it stood along with 2 others and the corner pub ‘The America’ locally known as Bates’s. I hope they renovate the Water pump tower. Happy memories.

  10. I have just found this account and have found it very interesting.. You appear to have been very lucky to have gained access to the area in the first place and even luckier not to have been confronted by a number of very angry “Hi-Viz” jackets and helmets, demanding all your details back to your great, great grannies maiden name.

    As a teenager in the 1950s, even though that term had not really been invented then, it was possible to walk from Herculaneum Dock to Canning Dock in the south dock system, cross the Pierhead to Princes Dock and then proceed all the way to Gladstone Dock at the end of the north dock system, and see ships ,cargoes, crews and hear languages, from every part of the world.

    I believe this ability to walk through the docks was because all but one of Liverpool-Bootle docks were built on the foreshore and not in Liverpool-Bootle, thus giving people the right to “Promenade along the seawall”. I also believe that that right was rescinded by the Public Enquiry that allowed Peel Ports to build their river berth at Seaforth, with the proviso that they build a public viewing area in the vicinity of the old radar station at Seaforth, which I believe would have proved a valuable asset to the community, especially old dodderers who like a bit of fresh air, somewhere to sit, and the sight of a ship approaching or leaving the Port.

    But like most agreements only parts of it were enacted, public access, apart from some very restrictive fishing and photography privileges, was completely banned and the public viewing area appears to have been completely forgotten about.

    And just as matter of interest another childhood memory is of being on the floating landing stage, and standing like a “real sailor” when it was bouncing around in bit of wind or at high water, especially when one the many ferries ” landed a bit hard”. I believe you must now have a ferry ticket and are only allowed onto the stage when the ferry is ready to let you board.

    Its a funny old world, you are only seeing the ruins and we never really appreciated the reality.

    But keep up the good work and try for a proper Liverpool seafront promenade.

    Best Wishes

    1. Thank you Dave for all this. We did realise as we got in there how lucky we were and that, as things stand, this was a one-off sort of day. But it shouldn’t be. I think we should have the right to walk along our own river banks. It doesn’t seem too much to ask, or demand.

  11. Smashing pictures i worked in the Clarence graving docks in the early 1980’s it was busy then many ships in and out of the dry docks shame to see them left to decay.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: