Great Float

Great Float

The Great Float, is a large dock at Birkenhead, Wirral Peninsula, England. It consists of 110 acres (450,000 m²) of water and more than four miles (6 km) of quays, divided between the East Float and the West Float. citeweb|url=|title=Trading Places: Birkenhead Docks History|work=Liverpool Museums|accessdate=2007-10-10]


Unlike in Liverpool, where the docks were built along the coastline of the River Mersey, Birkenhead Docks were designed as an inland system by enclosing the tidal inlet of Wallasey Pool. This was done by the construction of a coffer dam to enable land reclamation and excavations to take place. After the establishment of the Great Low Water Basin, Morpeth Dock and Egerton Dock, the Great Float was formed between 1851 and 1860 from most of what remained of Wallasey Pool. The plans for its construction were originally shown in 1844 in the "Liverpool Standard" newspaper. [citebook| title=Birkenhead in Times Past|first=Carol E.|last=Bidston|page=pp12-13|date=1978|isbn=0-86157-003-0] Designed by James Meadows Rendel, protege of Thomas Telford, the scheme was managed by the Birkenhead Dock Company until a financial crisis in 1847. By 1858, the rights to dock ownership and revenues were transferred to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, based in Liverpool. citebook|title=Birkenhead: An Illustrated History|page=pp34-36|first=Ralph T.|last=Brocklebank|date=2003|publisher=Breedon Books|isbn=1-85983-350-0 ]

The entrance was originally through the Great Low Water Basin, which was enclosed in 1877 as Wallasey Dock. After this date, access from the river was provided via Alfred Dock and Morpeth Dock.

The "Resurgam", one of the first submarines, was tested in the Great Float in 1879.

In the early 20th century, Birkenhead Docks became an important flour milling centre, with numerous companies, including Joseph Rank Ltd and Spillers, located on the Great Float's quaysides. In the 1990s, long after the industry had gone into decline, most of these buildings were demolished. Two large warehouses remain, which are being converted into residential apartments.

The Great Float was the site of the Warship Preservation Trust's exhibits from 2002 until its closure in February 2006.


The following docks were originally accessible from the Great Float:

In addition, three graving docks existed in the Great Float for ship repairs. One remains in use as part of the facilities of Northwestern Shiprepairers & Shipbuilders Ltd. The other graving docks were filled in during the 1980s.


Three road bridges cross the Great Float:

A red girdered bascule bridge at Tower Road connects the Seacombe district of Wallasey with Birkenhead. Known as the Four Bridges, as originally four movable bridges existed along Tower Road: two between the Great Float and Alfred Dock, one between the Great Float and Wallasey Dock and one between the Great Float and Egerton Dock. When originally built, all four were hydraulic swing bridge types. [citeweb|url='s.htm|title=Tower Road: Four Bridges (1870s)|work=Merseyside Views|accessdate=2007-10-10]

Joining the southern end of the Poulton district of Wallasey with the north end of Birkenhead, Duke Street bridge is also a bascule (see-saw) bridge but with painted green girders. Originally, it was also a swing bridge.

Furthest upstream is the Penny Bridge, which crosses the head of the former Wallasey Pool to connect Poulton with Bidston in Birkenhead. The bridge took its name from the original fare of one penny to cross in one direction. The bridge sported distinctive steel girders for many years, but these were removed during refurbishment in 2000. Although its lifting mechanism survives, it is no longer used, owing to the filling in of Bidston Dock to the north west of the bridge.

Central Hydraulic Tower

Jesse Hartley, who was responsible for many of Liverpool's maritime structures - including the Albert Dock, designed the Central Hydraulic Tower and Engine House. Providing power for the movement of lock gates and bridges at Birkenhead Docks, it was completed in 1863. The design of the building was based on the Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza Della Signoria, Florence, Italy.

The building sustained considerable damage from bombing during the Second World War and was repaired in a practical, rather than architectural style. The large lantern at the top of the tower was not replaced. The building is now disused and in a dilapidated condition.

In March 2008, a planning application was submitted for a £12 million restoration and redevelopment of the building by Peel Holdings to be converted into a bar and restaurant. A ninety-two bed hotel complex is planned to be constructed immediately adjacent to it. [citenews|title=New docklands hotel|date=19 March 2008|pages=p9|work=Wirral Globe|publisher=Newsquest]

Wirral Waters

Peel Holdings announced on 6 September 2006 the Wirral Waters project. This would allow for a £4.5bn of investment in the regeneration of the dockland area. This equates with an investment of over £14,000 for each of the 320,000 population of Wirral. At the East Float and Vittoria Dock, the development would include several 50-storey skyscrapers, convert|5000000|sqft|m2|-3 of new office space and convert|11000000|sqft|m2 for new residential apartments. A retail and leisure quarter at the former Bidston Dock site would encompass another convert|571000|sqft|m2|-2 of space. The whole project is estimated to create over 27,000 permanent new jobs, aside from the employment required for construction and other peripheral employment.citeweb|url=|title=Peel unveil plans for £4.5 billion 'Wirral Waters' scheme|work=Peel Holdings|date=2006-09-05|accessdate=2008-03-01]

An outline planning application was planned to be submitted during the summer of 2007. [citeweb|url=|title=Wirral Waters details & planning application date|accessdate=2007-02-18] The development would be expected to take up to 30 years.


External links

* [ Trading Places - A History of Liverpool Docks]
* [ Timeline History of Birkenhead Docks]
* [ Merseyside Views: 1850 map of Birkenhead Docks]
* [ Aerial Photo]
* [ Photos of the derelict Central Hydraulic Tower]
* [ Wirral Waters official site]
* [ Information on future plans for Birkenhead Docks by Wirral Waters]
* [ Map of Docks]

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