Below A panoramic view of the Albert Dock.
THE ALBERT DOCK The Albert Dock is perhaps the most famous dock in Liverpool, and one which people associate with the main period of Liverpool’s maritime history. It was built as a showpiece, integrating wharf and warehouse, surrounded by purpose-built fire-resistant warehouses with hydraulic cranes. It was opened in high style by Prince Albert in 1846, but soon became obsolete as steam replaced sail, since the entrances to the docks and the dock passages were too restricted to accept the wider steam-powered boats. The
1980s saw the Albert Dock lying empty and abandoned. In 1983 the Merseyside Development Corporation launched the regeneration of the Albert Dock, now gloriously restored, with its freshly painted red Ionic columns, orderly quaysides and quiet, labyrinthine channels and passages, forming one of the most popular visitor centres in Liverpool. Its style has been called ‘cyclopean classicism’ - a fascinating mix caused by the collision of classical design and industrial practicality.
work had to be undertaken in a sea-lake, the coffer-dam for which was constantly hammered by tidal currents and water flowing into the Pool from streams off the high ground. The ground was extremely unstable and the builders had to dig through deep clay deposits to reach bedrock. The walls were initially free-standing on top of terraced bedrock platforms, using a combination of handmade red bricks with large yellow blocks of sandstone on top to form the quayside. The bricks are of irregular size and quality, and were laid with no set pattern, perhaps reflecting the horrendous conditions under which the workmen were operating as they coped with both weather and tide. The lower courses of bricks were under water for more than 100 years, with ships constantly banging into them, and the irregular brickwork on the face of the wall can also be attributed to the constant need to replace and repair sections. At regular intervals, timber fenders had been fixed to the wall to take the brunt of the wear and tear caused by ships.
Excavation beneath the quayside revealed long horizontal timbers, some more than 11m in length, that extended back from the wall and anchored into the Pool clays. These were well preserved, many being little more than the trunks of large oak trees with their branches pruned. They clearly provided support for the wall during the construction process to prevent it collapsing outwards. The area behind the walls was then filled with redeposited Pool clays, making the timbers redundant, yet at the same time preserving them for the future.
The excavation of the dock revealed several exciting and unexpected features. Firstly, the archaeologists discovered that the tops of the walls of the Old Dock varied in height on the northern and southern sides, by up to a metre. A likely explanation is that this allowed for loading and unloading of different sized ships, or at different water levels; the latter reflects that the water level in the dock was dictated by the maximum high tide, which varied from day to day. Such an innovation was not adopted for subsequent docks, which suggests that it was not very successful, possibly because for much of its operating life, the dock was packed full of ships archaeologycurrent