Creating a museum

The Albert Dock in 2006, with the Maritime Museum building on the right

The embryonic Merseyside Maritime Museum collection was begun in 1862 with the gift of a ship model to the Mayer Museum, the forerunner of Liverpool Museum (which later became World Museum in 2005). At the time Liverpool was the second city of empire and public interest was high in all things nautical. However, due to a lack of finance, or possibly a lack of will, the collection developed slowly to the extent that by 1924 the collection was little more than 'an old dug-out canoe and a few model ships'.

Later that year Robert Gladstone (maritime historian and great-nephew of former Prime Minister William Gladstone) began a campaign to create a special shipping gallery. In 1931 the gallery, featuring ship models and paintings, was opened at Liverpool Museum. Gladstone's support was underlined when at his death in 1940 he left a bequest for the construction of a maritime museum.

The May Blitz of 1941 resulted in the destruction a number of exhibits, including more than 60 model ships and boats. Despite these losses the collection grew substantially over the following decades. Most of it was kept in storage as it had outgrown its Liverpool Museum gallery, however the opening of the History of the Ship gallery (1965), the Port of Liverpool gallery (1971) and the New Shipperies Exhibition (1974) helped to maintain public interest in the burgeoning collection.

In the late 1970s, thanks to the support of Merseyside County Council, work began on the creation of a dedicated maritime museum on the Liverpool waterfront. The museum opened for a trial season in 1980, based around the pilotage building and the former salvage shed (which later became home to the Museum of Liverpool Life from 1993 until 2006). Work to revive the dock began in 1982 under the auspices of the Merseyside Development Corporation, which was responsible for undertaking much of the building and infrastructure work. The Maritime Museum had a small presence on the ground floor of the Albert Dock building for the Tall Ships Race in 1984, the same year that the Piermaster's House was opened to the public. The museum we know today moved into block D of the completed Albert Dock Building in 1986.

The Piermaster's House

Since opening collecting has continued and included a wide range of memorabilia relating to seafaring, sea travel and the port of Liverpool. The museum site now comprises:

  • warehouse block D in which the permanent and temporary exhibitions are held
  • the Canning graving docks holding the Edmund Gardner and De Wadden, with historic cargo handling equipment on the dock side
  • the Piermaster's House
  • ships in Canning Half-Tide Dock including the Brocklebank

The opening of the Merseyside Maritime Museum led the way in revitalising the Albert Dock area, including Canning Half Tide and graving docks. In 1983 The Albert Dock Company was created to redevelop the whole site. The dock is now a major tourist attraction and home to many small shops, bars, flats, restaurants, hotels and other businesses. The International Slavery Museum, Tate Liverpool and The Beatles Story are also based there.

Mike Stammers

Sadly Mike Stammers, the original Keeper of Merseyside Maritime Museum, passed away on 30 January 2013 following a battle with cancer.