Albert Dock

Albert Dock

Infobox building
building_name = Albert Dock

caption = Albert Dock viewed from across Canning Dock
location = Liverpool
coordinates =
architect = Jesse Hartley, Phillip Hardwick
building_type =
architectural_style =
structural_system =
cost = £782,265
owner = Albert Dock Company Ltd
current_tenants = The Beatles Story, Merseyside Maritime Museum, Tate Liverpool
start_date = 1841
completion_date = 1846 (official opening), 1847 (structural completion)
floor_area = 1.29m sq ft (warehouse space), 7.75 acres (dock basin area)
main_contractor =

The Albert Dock is a complex of dock buildings and warehouses in Liverpool, England. Designed by Jesse Hartley and Phillip Hardwick, it was opened in 1846, and was the first structure in Britain to built from cast iron, brick and stone, with no structural wood. As a result it was the first non-combustable warehouse system in the world. Jones (2004), p83 ] Today the Albert Dock is a major tourist attraction in the city and is a vital component of the UNESCO World Heritage Maritime Mercantile City. The docking complex and warehouses also comprise the largest single collection of Grade 1 listed buildings anywhere in the UK. [cite web |url=,,950372,00.html |title=Glory of Greece, grandeur of Rome ... and docks of Liverpool |publisher=Guardian Unlimited |date=2003-03-07 |author=Helen Carter |accessdate=2007-03-27]


Grand beginnings and early history

The history of the Albert Dock dates back to 1837, when Jesse Hartley first began the development of plans for a combined dock and warehouse system. Jones (2004), p83 ] The plans drawn up by Hartley and fellow civil engineer Phillip Hardwick for the Albert Dock were at the time considered quite 'radical', as they envisioned the loading and unloading of ships directly from the warehouses. cite web |title=Construction, heyday and decline of the Albert Dock |publisher=National Museums Liverpool |url= |accessdate=2008-09-26 ] However this idea was not new, and as far back as the 1803 Warehousing Act, legislation had been passed to allow this form of development to occur, whilst the concept was first actually used in the construction of St Katherine's Dock in London, which was opened in 1828. Jones (2004), p18 ] As part of the development process, Hartley was eager to test the fire resistance of any particular design by constructing an 18ft by 10ft dummy structure, filling it with timber and tar, and setting it alight. After testing several structural designs he settled on the combination of cast iron, brick, sandstone and granite. The design was submitted for planning permission in 1839 although it wasn't until 1841, when the bill authorising the design of the dock was eventually passed by Parliament, that construction was allowed to begin. Jones (2004), p19 ] cite web |title=Albert Dock History |publisher=Albert Dock Company Ltd |url= |accessdate=2008-09-24 ]

The site chosen for the dock to be built on was an area of land boarded by Salthouse Dock to the east, the entrance channel to Canning Dock to the north and by Dukes Dock to the south. The land earmarked for the site had to be cleared, with 59 tenants being evicted and numerous premises demolished including a pub, several houses and the Dock Trustee's Dockyard. Jones (2004), p20 ] Upon the clearance of this land both the Salthouse and Canning dock's were drained to allow entrance passages into the Albert Dock to be constructed, whilst hundreds of 'Navvies' were employed to dig out the dock basin and construct the new river wall. The dock basin was completed by February 1845, allowing the first ships to enter the Albert Dock, although with the warehouses still under construction this was merely to allow these boats to 'lay-up'. Jones (2004), p23 ]

The dock complex was officially opened in 1846 by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria and the man in honour of whom it was named. This event marked the first occasion in the Liverpool's history in which a member of the Royal Family had made a state visit to the city and as a result the occasion was marked with a major celebrations. Jones (2004), p12 ] Many thousands of people turned out for the Royal visit with the newspaper "The Pictorial Times" noting the reception Prince Albert received:

"His reception was most enthusiastic; balconies were erected along the line of procession, and these and the windows of houses were filled with gay and animated parties. There was a most brilliant display of flags, banners & c. [sic] . All business is suspended. There are 200,000 strangers in town, and all the inhabitants are in the streets. All is gaiety and splendour." (The Pictorial Times, 1846) Jones (2004), p13 ]

The Prince was taken on a processional tour through the city, including a visit to the town hall where the royal address was made, before departing aboard the "fairy" across to the Cheshire side of the Mersey and then northwards towards the Albert Dock. Jones (2004), p14 ] Again this stage of the procession route was laden with onlookers with "The Pictorial Times" describing the Prince's entrance into the Albert Dock:

"From the Cheshire side of the river the Fairy crossed to the Liverpool side, and returned along the line of docks amidst the cheers of assembled thousands and the roar of artillery. The sight was really magnificent, all the ships in the docks were decked out in gayest colours and the river was crowded with boats filled with people. At half-past two the fairy entered the dock, where were assembled two thousand ladies and gentlemen, the elite of the town; they cheered enthusiastically, which his Royal Highness returned, and in order to gratify the crowd sailed round the dock." ("The Pictorial Times", 1846)

Despite the official opening occuring in 1846, the construction of the Albert Dock was not fully completed until 1847. In 1848, a new dock office was built and the dock itself was upgraded to feature a hydraulic cargo handling hoist system, the first of its kind in the world. Jones (2004), p46 ] Over the next decade several more buildings where added including houses for the piermaster, his assistant & the warehouse superintendant; and a cooperage. Warehousing in the dock was also expanded to meet the increasing demand by joining together the eastern and western ends of the Southern Stack. [ cite web |title=Historic Facts 1824 - 1854 |publisher=Albert Dock Company Ltd |url= |accessdate=2008-10-02 ]

Changing fortunes and role in World War II

The enclosed design of the Albert Dock and the direct loading and unloading of goods from warehouses meant that the complex was more secure than other docks within Liverpool. As a result it became a popular store for valuable cargoes including brandy, cotton, tea, silk, tobacco, ivory and sugar. At the same time their openness to natural light and well ventilated stores meant natural goods such as hemp or sugar could be kept fresher, for longer. The dock came to dominate Liverpool's far eastern trade, with over 90% of the city's silk imports from China coming through it and more generally half of all the far eastern trade income. Jones (2004), p24 ]

Despite the great prosperity the dock afforded the city, within 20 years of its construction the Albert Dock was beginning to struggle. Designed and constructed to handle sailing ships of up to 1000 tonnes, by the turn of the century only 7% of ships into the Port of Liverpool were sailing vessels. The development of steam ships in the later 19th century meant that soon the dock simply wasn't large enough, as its narrow entrances prevented larger vessels from entering it. Its lack of quayside was also becoming an issue. Generally steamships could be loaded and unloaded far quicker than sailing ships, and in a cruel twist of irony, the dockside warehouses that had once made the Albert Dock so attractive, were now hindering its future development. None the less the Albert Dock remained an integral part of the dock system in Liverpool and in 1878 the pump house was built as part of redevelopment that saw the majority of the cranes converted to hydraulic use, whilst in 1899, part of the north stack was converted to allow for ice production and cold storage. cite web |title=Historic Facts 1860 - 1970 |publisher=Albert Dock Company Ltd |url= |accessdate=2008-10-02 ]

By the 1920s virtually all commercial shipping activity had ceased at the dock, although its warehouses did remain in use for the storage of goods transported by barge, road or rail. Jones (2004), p47 ] The onset of World War II in 1939 saw the Albert Dock being 'requisitioned' by the admiralty and used as base for the British Atlantic fleet including submarines, small warships and landing craft. During the war the dock was struck on several occasions including a bombing raid in 1940 that damaged ships within it, and more destructively during the May Blitz of 1941 when German bombing caused extensive damage to the south west stack. By the end of the war almost 15% of the Albert Dock's floor space was out of use due to bomb damage. Jones (2004), p28 ]

Post War history and decline

By the time World War II had finished the Albert Dock's future looked bleak. The owners of the dock, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board (MDHB) were in financial crisis and chose not to repair any of the wartime bomb damage, adopting an attitude of 'if its not broke don't fix it and if it is broke we still won't fix it'. Jones (2004), p29 ] At the same time a change in geo-political orientation towards Europe, coupled with the advent of containerisation meant the whole docking system in the city of Liverpool suffered as newer, stronger ports emerged elsewhere in the UK. [ cite book |last=Milne |first=G.J |title=Maritime Liverpool. In Belcham, J (eds): Liverpool 800: Culture, Character and History |publisher=Liverpool University Press |date=2006 ] None the less the architectural and technological value of the docks was recognised in 1952 when the Albert Dock was granted Grade 1 listed building status.

Despite this recognition, the increasing debts of the MDHB meant that by the 1960s the company was eager to get rid of the Albert Dock. Having considered demolishing the buildings and redeveloping the land, the MDHB soon entered negotiations to sell the land to Oldham Estates, a property developer owned by Harry Hyams. Many plans for the site were developed including one that envisioned the development of a mini city that would provide 10m sq feet of letting space, hotels, restaurants, bars and underground parking in the drained dock basin. [Citation |title=City's Reputation Will Depend Upon Waterfront Plan |newspaper=Liverpool Echo |date=1966-05-30| ] With the council reluctant to allow such a "grandiose" development to occur and with the huge public opposition to it, Oldham Estates were forced into scaling-down the plan and so in 1970 returned with a new vision known as 'Aquarius City', which had as its centrepiece a 44-storey skyscraper. Once again the plan failed to develop and no sooner had it been announced, than the MDHB's financial problems reached crisis point, Oldham Estates withdrew their deposit and the whole scheme fell through.

With the MDHB on the verge of bankruptcy a decision was taken to shut down and sell off the whole of the south docks system. The warehouses were emptied and in 1972 the Albert Dock finally closed down. The Brunswick Dock gates, which separated the South Docks system from the River Mersey, were opened allowing tidal movements in and the process of the clogging up the docks with sewage polluted silt began. Jones (2004), p48 ] Jones (2004), p30 ] In many senses just as the Albert Dock's development had symbolised the prosperity in the Liverpool at the time of its construction, its subsequent decline after World War II symbolised the collapse of the local economy as a whole. cite book |last=Murden |first=John |title=City of Change and Challenge: Liverpool Since 1945. In Belcham, John (eds) Liverpool 800: Culture, Character and History |publisher=Liverpool University Press |date=2006 ]

Throughout the early 1970s plans continued to emerge for the redevelopment of the Albert Dock site and the whole of the south docks system in general. Many of these plans were quite extreme including Liverpool City Council's suggestion to use the dock basin as a landfill site. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Company (MDHC), the reincarnation of the now defunct Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, however felt it could get more money by filling in the dock basin with sand and selling it as developable land and not derelict land. One plan for the Albert Dock that was taken more seriously was the idea that it become the new home of Liverpool Polytechnic (now John Moore's University). The government was even willing to provide £3m in funding but like so many other plans this too fell by the wayside. Jones (2004), p31 ]

The creation of Merseyside County Council (MCC) in 1974 brought new hope that the Albert Dock could be redeveloped, with the MCC placing a high priority on its development. They soon entered negotiations with the MDHC and in 1979 eventually negotiated a deal to take over the running of the south docks. cite web |title=Historic Facts Historic Facts 1972 - 2002 |publisher=Albert Dock Company Ltd |url= |accessdate=2008-10-02 ] Despite this seeming step forward political wrangling between the MDHC (the dock owners), Liverpool City Council (the local planning authority) and Merseyside County Council (the group now responsible for redeveloping the docks) continued to hinder any development plans. Jones (2004), p31 ] Fed up with the in fighting the newly elected Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher decided that the city was incapable of handling regeneration initiatives itself and under the guidance of the 'Minister for Merseyside' Michael Heseltine, set up the Merseyside Development Corporation in 1981 to take over the responsibility of regenerating and redeveloping Liverpool's south docks. Jones (2004), p32 ]

The MDC and regeneration of the Albert Dock

:"See also: Merseyside Development Corporation"

The creation of the Merseyside Development Corporation (MDC) in 1981 was part of a new initiative launched by the then Conservative government that earmarked the regeneration of some 800 acres of Liverpool's south docks, by using public sector investment to create infrastructure within an area that could then in turn be used to attract private sector investment. Thus the MDC was not directly responsible for regeneration programmes but rather acted as a spearhead, guiding the development process. Upon its formation it immediately created an initial strategy for the area placing a high priority on restoring those buildings that could be restored & demolishing the rest, restoring a water regime within the dock system (including the removal of up to 40ft of silt) and general environmental landscaping. As part of the strategy two flagship schemes were set up: the redevelopment of a site in Otterspool for the International Garden Festival and the regeneration of the Albert Dock. Jones (2004), p32 ]

In 1982 the MDC entered into negotiations with London-based developers Arrowcroft in order to secure much needed private sector investment. On a visit to the site, Arrowcroft's chairman Leonard Eppel spoke of how the buildings "talked to him" and upon his return to London set about persuading the company's board to take on the project. Jones (2004), p33 ] In September 1983 a deal was signed between Arrowcroft plc and the MDC leading to the creation of the Albert Dock Company, which could now start the process of regenerating the Albert Dock. cite web |title=Creating a museum |publisher=National Museums Liverpool |url= |accessdate=2008-10-06 ]

One of the first priorities of the regeneration was the restoration of the dock system, which had deteriated rapidly since the Brunswick Dock gates had been left open. Contaminated silt was removed from the dock basin, dock gates were replaced & bridges restored, whilst the dock walls were repaired. Jones (2004), p34 ] The Albert Dock company appointed Tarmac to renovate the dock's vast warehouses and repair war time bomb damage. [cite book |last=Ritchie |first=Berry |title=The Story of Tarmac |publisher=James & James (Publishers) Ltd |date=1999 |pages=p99] Structural surveys carried out by the MDC found the brickwork and foundations to be in very good condition and it was considered a testiment to the the strict build quality of Hartley's design that a building almost 150 years old was still in such good condition.

Development within the Albert Dock was rapid and the newly renovated Edward Pavillion (formally north east stack) was ready in time for the 1984 Cutty Sark tall ships race. The race was a big success for the city with over one million visitors into Liverpool over a period of four days, of which 160,000 visited the Albert Dock. In total it is estimated that the two flagship regeneration schemes of the MDC, the tall ships race and International Garden Festival, attacted over 3.5 million vistors to Liverpool in 1984. Also completed in 1984 was the the renovation of the dock traffic office, which was fitted out and leased to Granada Television. Jones (2004), p35 ]

Spured by the success of the tall ships race and the International Garden Festival, Arrowcroft pushed on with the Albert Dock's renovation. With the Edward Pavillion refurbishment a success soon the company started on the Britannia and Atlantic pavillions (formally the south and south east stacks), the latter of which required major structural repairs due to bomb damage it received during World War II. In 1986 the Merseyside Maritime Museum completed its move into the Albert Dock, having moved some exibitions into the building in 1984. The museum, developed by Merseyside County Council had previously been located in the pilotage building and a salvage shed nearby. Also in 1986 work began on the largest of the dock warehouses, the Colonnades (formally west stack). Ground floor shops were created with office space on the mezzanine level and apartments on the remaining floors. The first 37 of these apartments were completed by 1988 and the speed with which they sold was likened to 'sales day at Harrods'. Jones (2004), p36 ]

The Albert Dock was officially re-opened in 1988 by Prince Charles, Jones (2004), p37 ] the great, great, great grandson of Prince Albert, the man who had originally opened the docks. [ cite web |title=Royal Family Tree | |url= |accessdate=2008-09-25 ] It was timed to coincide with the opening of the newly finished Tate Liverpool, which was dubbed the 'Tate of the north' and at the time the only one outside of London. Jones (2004), p49 ] The decision to locate a Tate gallery in Liverpool was seen as a major success for the city, as it made Liverpool home to the National Collection of modern art in the North of England. [ cite web |title=About Tate Liverpool |publisher=Tate Online |url= |accessdate=2008-10-10 ]

In 1988 ITV's new morning television show "This Morning", hosted by Richard and Judy, began broadcasting from a studio inside the Albert Dock. As part of the show weather presenter Fred Talbot used a floating map of the British Isles to report the forecast. [ cite web |last=Warwick |first=Dave |title=Fred Talbot |url= |accessdate=2008-10-10 ] Two years later in 1990 The Beatles Story museum opened, the only Beatles themed visitor attraction in the world, providing yet another draw to the Albert Dock.

Throughout the 1990's development continued including a new hotel and the conversion of vacant space for use by larger companies such as Telewest (Now Virgin Media). [ cite web |last=Hodgson |first=Neil |title=Telewest jobs announcement |publisher=icLiverpool |date=2002-06-14 |url= |accessdate=2008-10-10 ] Finally in 2003, some 22 years after the renovation of the Albert Dock started, the last remaining undeveloped space was brought into use with the opening of a new Premier Lodge hotel in the Britannia Pavilion.

tructural design and construction

At the time of its construction the Albert Dock was a state of the art docking system , primarily due to the complete lack of any combustable materials in its structure. Jones (2004), p24 ] Constructed entirely from cast iron, stone and brick, the Albert Dock cost a total of £782,265 to build (approximately £41m today), and covered a space of some 1.29m sq feet. Over 23 million bricks were used in construction as well as 47,000 tons of mortar.

One of the most notable features of the Albert Dock are the huge cast iron columns that line the quayside. Jones (2004), p21 ] At 15 feet high and almost 13 feet in circumference, the columns are based upon the Greek Doric style of architecture. cite book |last=Hughes |first=Quentin |title=Liverpool: City of Architecture |publisher=The Bluecoat Press |date=1999 |pages=p57 ] Hartley's decision to use cast iron was an economic one as at the time it was cheaper than granite, however the Albert Dock's construction still required so much granite that the dock trustee's had to open their own mine in Kirkcudbrightshire in Scotland. The quality of the build materials used as well as the docks sheer size are considered a strong illustration of the great prosperity that the Port of Liverpool afforded the city at the time and the building's style was described as cyclopean classicism.

The Albert Dock today

Today the Albert Dock is one of Liverpool's most important tourist attractions and a vital component of the city's UNESCO world heritage Maritime Mercantile City. As well as being the number one tourist attraction in Liverpool, [ cite web |title=Albert Dock | |url= |accessdate=2008-09-24 ] the Albert Dock is also the most visited multi-use attraction in the United Kingdom outside of London, with in excess of four million visitors per year. [ cite web |title=Albert Dock: The Present Day |publisher=Albert Dock Company Ltd |url= |accessdate=2008-09-24 ] Amoungst the many attractions at the Albert Dock are the Merseyside Maritime Museum, the Beatles Story and the Tate Liverpool. There are also two hotels within the Albert Dock: a Holiday Inn and Premier Lodge both located in the Britannia Pavilion. Jones (2004), p82 ]

In the aftermath of the dock's regeneration in the 1980s a policy had been adopted to try and attract retailers into the newly created premises within. However after many years of struggling to compete with other major shopping areas in the city, the Albert Dock Company Ltd announced in 2007 a shift into attracting more bars and restaurants. [ cite web |last=Gleeson |first=Bill |title= Albert Dock primed for ‘colossal tourism’|publisher=Liverpool Daily Post |date=2007-08-06 |url= |accessdate=2008-09-24 ] As of 2008, bars and restaurants resident in the Albert Dock include Babycream, Blue Bar & Grill, Ha! Ha! Bar & Canteen, Spice Lounge, Circo and Raven. [ cite web |title=Albert Dock: Food and Drink |publisher=Albert Dock Company Ltd |url= |accessdate=2008-09-24 ]


ee also

*Pier Head
*Port of Liverpool
*Merseyside Development Corporation




External links

* [ Liverpool World Heritage: The Albert Dock Conservation Area]
* [ Albert Dock: Homepage]
* [ Albert Dock Virtual Tours]

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