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Birkenhead docks

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Birkenhead docks

Post by THE BOSS on Mon Nov 10, 2008 3:28 pm

The City of Liverpool and its people have faced and over come their fair share of problems and disasters in their time. From Hillsborough to the Mersey air raids of World War II, it seems nothing can defeat this city. Disaster after disaster, its Liverpool’s spirit that never gets broken-shining through adversity.

Recent plans to build an ‘eco-town’ on the disused land around Birkenhead docks were scrapped, but it’s little wonder that this damning revelation has made supporters of this venture more determined than ever to continue. Regeneration plans for the area are merely on hold, with Wirral Council confident they will receive financial backing through a new governmental scheme.


Birkenhead Docks are one of Merseyside’s most famous landmarks and are widely celebrated for the industry they brought to Merseyside and history that surrounds them. Since the first brick was laid in 1844 by Sir Philip Edgerton, the docks have lead a long and turbulent existence; a perfect example of this city’s ability to bounce back and never be defeated.

The first two docks on the estate, Morpeth and Egreton, were opened in 1847 but further construction of the site was halted after a severe depression hit the Birkenhead itself. This lead to a mass of residents leaving the area for more affluent parts of the city and the site was transferred to a more suitable location, deemed the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board.

Things began to look up for the docks as a whole when in 1851 the ‘Great Float’ opened, split into ‘East’ and ‘West’, with four miles of quays which lead to increased trading and business. It was from these floats that many emigrants left for Australia in the 1850’s.

With business booming, the Alfred Dock, pictured to the left, was opened in 1866 which increased access to the ‘Great Float’ and helped meet the increased demand for grain from growing North-West industrial towns. Corn warehouses and animal holding pens were also built to suit the growing sheep and cattle trade and due to huge animal deliveries from the America’s arriving on fast steam ships. A network of railway lines was also set up around the dock area, bringing coal from Wales for the ships.

All this was about to change, as hoards of Britain’s sheep and cattle were affected by a sickness, which restricted the importation of the animals and made transport of them illegal, unless they were quarantined or slaughtered. The docks over-came yet another obstacle, building slaughter-houses and meat stores on the two original docks of Morpeth and Egreton.

Over the next twenty years, many set-backs befell Birkenhead docks, but they merely found alternative ways to continue and even increase trading. Birkenhead lost one of its vital links with the Welsh coal industry in the 1880’s, when a separate railway network and docks were built in Wales.

Birkenhead merely found alternative and more contemporary means of trade, adapting to accommodate the growing oil and petrol industry and provided storage tanks and pipes for feeding the supplies directly onto the ships

In 1894, the building of the Manchester Ship Canal was completed. This new waterway was specifically constructed to isolate the docks at Liverpool and aimed to avert trade from the Birkenhead docks. Incredibly, this resulted in a huge increase in trade, with 40-50% of all Britain’s imported animal trade passing through Birkenhead.

The Miners Strike in the 1920’s also lead to increased importation through the port, Bidston dock opens off ‘West Float’ and Birkenhead docks reached its height of activity in 1939, claiming 13% of Liverpool’s trade.

Trade only began to fall during the 1960’s, with importers turning into competitors, European ports taking business from Birkenhead, until most of the docks were dubbed out of use by the 1970’s.


Currently, only the east end of the former ‘Great Float’ is used, transporting goods between Merseyside and Ireland. Two of the docks have been filled in and the Morpeth and Egerton quaysides have been transformed into offices and museums.

Birkenhead docks have fought back when times were hard, adapting well to change in order to survive, but there is one last obstacle to over-come and a decision to be made. For Birkenhead docks, is it regeneration or ruin?
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