Records of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board (MDHB), its antecedents and successor



From the Maritime Archives & Library Guide to Collections, volume 1: The MDHB, its antecedent's and successor's collection is the Maritime Museum's largest and most important Archives. It covers the history of the port of Liverpool from the eighteenth to the late twentieth century. The Liverpool Town Council was the original port authority. In 1709, it was involved in the promotion of an Act to build the first enclosed dock on the site of the original "Pool" and acted as trustee of the dock estate until 1858. As the port expanded and its management became more complex its affairs were delegated to a committee. This was first mentioned in 1761 and made permanent in 1793, which is the starting date of the minute books. Its powers were enhanced in 1811, but it remained under the control of the Liverpool Corporation. Dock users were first represented on the Committee in 1825. Between 1845 and 1847, permanent sub committees were set up to cope with the major aspects of port business such as finance, harbour administration and building works. From about 1850 the Liverpool Corporation came under increasing outside pressure from Parliament, Manchester interests and dock users to relinquish control of the port to a separate public body. This resulted in the establishment of the MDHB in 1858. The Board became the overall port authority for the lower Mersey. It took over the incomplete docks at Birkenhead but not the London and North Western Railway Co.'s dock at Garston. The Board comprised twenty four elected members and four nominated by the Mersey Conservancy Commissioners. The Board was served by paid officials, of which the Secretary (re titled Secretary and General Manager between 1894 and 1963), Treasurer, Solicitor, Harbour Master, Marine Surveyor and Water Bailiff, and Engineer in Chief were the most important. An elaborate administrative system developed, including nine standing committees to oversee the work of each major department. The system survived with some changes until 1972 when the Board was transformed into the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, the present port authority. The minutes of the Board (proceedings) are continuous from 1858 to 1965. Most of its committees met weekly and their minutes exist in near continuous series until 1958 or 1965, except for the pilotage committee which covers the years 1851-1963. Some meetings of the Board were recorded verbatim between 1867 and 1912. With the addition of records from the departments responsible for legal matters, engineering and estates management, the volume of material exceeds 2300 linear feet. The MDHB collection incorporates not only written records but also thousands of plans of docks, buildings and ships, and hundreds of photographs. The work of the Mersey Docks & Harbour Co. after 1972 is documented in its annual reports, accounts, guides to the port operations and its Port News newspaper. Much of the collection is uncatalogued. See the Maritime Archives & Library Guide to Collections, volume 1, for more details of the various sections. Only those sections with an adequate list have been included in this catalogue.