Over these quiet couple of weeks that happen at the end of years, even this one, my friend Abi and I have been walking through the history of Liverpool. Partly to gather ideas and perspectives for her history chapter in the Liverpool PhD she’s writing. But also because why wouldn’t we? The history of here fascinates us both.
Yesterday our history walking brought us to the city’s South Docks. The obvious walk to take, really, after last week’s surprise of getting inside the long enclosed North Docks. But whereas for that walk we were able to imagine ourselves walking through the nineteenth century, for this one our walking was mostly through the effects and politics of this last forty years. As you’ll see.
After walking through the Victorian villas that have become the rental apartments market between Ullet Road and Lark Lane, to the once densely crowded streets of the Dingle, our South Docks walk proper began along the front edge of the Bread Streets, from where we started walking down the Dockers’ Steps to see what time and, indeed, the city have done there.
The Dockers’ Steps were built in 1866, so the queueing-at-the-gates workforce could get from the Dingle down to just opened Herculaneum Dock to see if they’d be taken on each day. What’s left of the Herculaneum now, with water features, is what you can see surrounded by apartments in the photograph above. The Steps would get locked each night back in the dock days, keeping the Dock Estate secure from its not trusted workers. And are only open now due to having been restored as a local heritage feature for the 1984 Garden Festival. A nearly forty years ago regeneration event that began the turning of this end of the dock system into what we saw. Pausing on our way through, as I always do, to look at Allan Murray’s beautiful wall painting of a people’s history of round here, at the edge of the big wide river that has ebbed and flowed through it all.
Like last week in the North Docks we used my old OS maps to guide us. Godfrey Editions from around the turn of the nineteenth to twentieth centuries that, as well as being the beautiful maps you can see, also contain their own short histories of these Liverpool dock neighbourhoods. Telling us for one thing that these South Docks didn’t follow the chronological pattern of the North ones. And that we’d be walking through a mish-mash of times, purposes, rebuildings, workplaces, homes and ownerships at this end. From the eighteenth century early docks, through the abandonment of the whole south end system in the 1970s, to the various repurposings of now. Pieces of surviving dock architecture currently carrying collections of 1980s and afterwards homes, offices, a restaurant and even that decades in the building, and not quite finished yet, tower block. For now.
The gated riverside walkway along here didn’t provide us with much access to several of the docks. Though at least it does let us walk by the river. And anyway docks like the Harrington and the Toxteth are filled-in car parks now, so not much to look at any more. Home to some warehouses and workplaces though still, and a Royal Mail sorting office. As we walked along we speculated whether we were in a version of what the Liverpool Waters scheme up at the North Docks could end up looking and feeling like? With little bits of disused edgeland and suburban waterside housing, like there at at the Brunswick, complete with that of-its-time UPS delivery van doing its round? Only time will tell.
Those dock gates at the Brunswick, by the way, were the ones deliberately left open in 1973, as all these south docks were short-sightedly left to silt up. Only to have to be civil-engineered back from the dead barely ten years later.
The building above is the former 1990s era VAT headquarters, currently yet another Liverpool apartments block, sitting on top of the Brunswick Graving Dock as was. The whole pile decorated with heritage art in a lumpy collage of the place’s history. Walking past, we both comment this would still have to be there or thereabouts in any list of Liverpool’s ugliest buildings.
Walking on. Past more homes, leisure docks and the big shed conference and exhibition centres of the current century, we got to the Albert Dock part of the south docks system that gets seen by most visitors to Liverpool. Including the views that follow, across to Liverpool One and John Lewis, by the now submerged original town dock. Followed by the extension of the Leeds Liverpool Canal, flowing in from the North Docks to the front of the city’s twentieth century statements of confidence.
And, almost finally, through the gates of what’s now Peel Port’s ‘Liverpool Waters.’ Approaching where we’d begun last week’s surprise getting inside of the next section of the North Docks. This completed section resembling a grander and more corporate version of what’s happened to the South Docks over the past forty years. And producing these photographs of current reality that could easily be mistaken for idealised photoshopped projections. Time getting all mixed up with itself, like it did all the way along today’s walk.
Then we ended our winter’s day walk by leaving through a gap in the Dock Estate wall, next to a still-there stanchion of the lamented since the 1950s Overhead Railway. Walking to our bus past the still-there name of this part of the Dock Road. The name ‘Goree’ which remembers where the eighteenth into nineteenth centuries trade of the City and its docks originally came from. A little island off the coast of Senegal in West Africa where the captured slaves were kept, while waiting for the ships from here.
And, by the way, if you think I’ve missed out on lots of historical and local detail in favour of overviews and opinions here, which I have, it’s because this walk and the South Docks have been featured on this blog several times before. So you can read through those other times and their photographs here.
This time we were walking through time.
See also last week’s companion walk to this one “Seaport: Inside the North Docks”