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LIVERPOOL DOCK ROAD WALK
The Albert dock complex is probably well known to many users of the ephotozine website, as it is a major tourist site now, attracting some millions of visitors since it was renovated. The site is currently undergoing further development, with a new conference centre under construction. The open expanse of the river Mersey is particularly appealing to the photographer as the changing light interacts with the tidal waters or the shining mud left by the retreating flood. The red brick of the warehouses and the still waters of the various docks themselves also have great visual appeal, often being occupied by a range of interesting sailing ships. The fall of shadow and light is especially attractive towards the end of the day, with the position of the setting sun making for many arresting effects, enhancing the red brickwork of the warehouses and filling the ruffled dock waters with fragmented, liquid fires.
The pierhead, where the river ferry once regularly departed and arrived, now lies in ruins, having collapsed during a storm some time ago. This can provide a dramatic picture or two, especially when the tide is out and the full wreck can be seen. A temporary floating landing stage has been established further along the river wall, past the Liver Building and the Isle of Man ferry terminal, and from this new departure point the river ferries now make their trips across to Birkenhead and other exotic destinations.
The more adventurous and active photographer can continue to walk in this direction, past the row of new, riverfront buildings and building sites, and can follow the riverside road onto the linking walk between the pierhead/Albert dock site to the old Stanley dock. A distance of between 2 and 3 miles, approximately.
Following the road, one leaves the riverside and arrives on Waterloo Road. Waterloo Road links the two most visually accessible of Liverpool’s many docks, Albert Dock and Stanley Dock. Locally, this stretch is known as “The Dock Road” and it passes many sets of Victorian dock gates as one progresses along it, although most of the docks behind the wall have been levelled and cleared in preparation for future development, especially those closest to the busy pierhead, where major new building projects have been completed over the last few years, with many more in progress or about to start.
Further along, the ubiquitous high dock wall prevents physical access and visual observation and runs for miles, occasional punctuated by dated and named gates identifying the various docks as you pass them. On the opposite side of the road, a run of shops and warehouses show the former business of the area. Chandlers, pubs, marine suppliers, engine works and mighty Victorian storage for the arriving goods, fill what remains of the old side streets running off from the main artery, most in a state of disrepair or advanced decay. The occasional pub, restaurant or goods depot on the dock road itself survives, but mostly it is the same story the whole length of the run to Stanley. Some of the old buildings fulfil new purposes, but their adaptation often does not include a spruce up, leaving them in much their original state of dilapidation, even where a new use has been found for them. Often recent activity and use is indicated by no more than a new sign or an unrusted padlock.
The further one walks from the pierhead and the city centre, the more this ribbon of dock-dependant shops and business premises has been left to itself and to the fly-tippers. Some of the buildings have become mere shells, burnt out by fires or ruined by years of weather working on collapsed and open roofs. Many of the side streets which once contained huge warehouses, now show little more than waste ground, with most of the street disappearing when the warehouses where demolished during the 60’s and 70’s of the last century and only the occasion replacement building as a half-hearted nod towards redevelopment.
Stanley dock is visible well before one reaches it, due to the massive tobacco warehouse, the largest brick-built building in the world, which dominates its surroundings. Gradually, one catches sight of the tall chimney stack and the distinctive grey granite castle-like tower which make the dock so architecturally distinctive and striking.
A tilt bridge carries the road traffic across the single, riverward entrance to the dock and opens the view to the complex of warehouses which surround the dock waters beyond the high walls. It is the only dock of the entire Liverpool complex to be excavated inland from scratch, with a single, narrow canal tunnel to carry goods under the road behind the dock, inland, up a series of locks to meet the Leeds Liverpool canal. Tobacco was the main traffic of the place, and a strange squat chimney at the rear is known as “The King’s Pipe” due to its former use as a furnace for tobacco waste.
The original architecture echoes the Albert dock as regards design, with cast iron pillars supporting over-hanging floors for storage. Unused since the 1980’s, save for a Sunday market in the great tobacco warehouse, the dock still shows signs of war damage and the sense of massive architecture, made for activity and bustle and transportation, all forgotten and left to idle ruin, generates an awe in the viewer which the renovated Albert dock cannot produce.
The canal lock system to the rear of the dock climbs in a series of steps up the hill, passing under a railway viaduct of over a hundred arches, with everywhere the signs of past additions and repairs and alterations, patching the brickwork and showing the painted gable ends of long-gone buildings that abutted the great rail artery that carried the goods when the canal became redundant. Dragon flies, swans and ducks and a host of bird and insect life have reclaimed much of the area.
This is a walk I have taken many times and it has never failed to offer me a host of photographic opportunities as it fits in well with my photographic project. It offers texture, the effects of time, the everyday made strange by the passing of time and the products of decay. It is a walk which changes from week to week as the new building progresses and the old is demolished. To capture a little of so much that has marked and shaped the life of Liverpool, is a privilege and a pleasure.
October 14th 2006
More of Erics work can be seen at chapterthirteen.com