Why Liverpool's docks are needed

Clarence Graving Dock, designed by Jesse Hartley, with Stanley Dock in the background

Liverpool's docks are needed because the Mersey is a tidal river. There is a big difference between the height of the river at low tide and at high tide - as much as 11 metres (33 feet). When boats and ships were small and light this was not a problem as they could simply rest on the mud until the tide came in, and could easily be unloaded in the meantime. But as ships got bigger and heavier resting on the mud led to damaged hulls.

Those vessels that anchored in the river could be unloaded by smaller craft running to and from the shore, but this was an expensive and time consuming method that sometimes damaged or lost cargo. Add to these problems strong winds, swift currents and over 20,000 acres of shifting sandbanks, and you can see that the Mersey was not the ideal place for large ships to visit.

Docks that could keep the vessels permanently afloat and safe from the wind and currents were required. The first enclosed commercial maritime dock in the world was opened in Liverpool in 1715 (we now call this long-filled dock Old Dock). Over the next 200 years Liverpool built over 50 docks, stretching seven miles from Seaforth in the north to Dingle oil terminal in the south.

Huskisson branch dock number 1 south shed 22.05.1902. This dock was also designed and built by Hartley.