The Old Dock - where it all began for Liverpool

Danny is one of the tour guides at Liverpool's historic Old Dock. He explains why the site is so important.

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Since May 2010 I have had the privilege of leading tours of Liverpool’s first enclosed commercial wet dock. I like to think of the Old Dock as a huge 300 year old time capsule located directly under Liverpool One. As a local, born and bred, I am extremely proud to represent where it all began for Liverpool.

Since it opened its gates for trade in 1715, the site has always been known as ‘The Old Dock’. With our tours, for the first time in 100 years visitors can see the original inlet of the creek that made the site perfect for such a pioneering engineering project.

When the site was excavated, the contents of the Old Dock were extremely well preserved, providing invaluable primary archaeological evidence that reveals fascinating insights of 18th century life around the waterfront. A particular highlight was the complete skeleton of a pony that used to work on the docks, and a clay smoking pipe with ‘Liverpool 1’ etched into it.

The Old Dock could accommodate 100 ships within its 3.5 acres. Designed by Thomas Steers it took five years to construct and cost a whopping £12,000 (the average labourer would have earned about £20 a year at the time!) The undertaking was a high risk commission for Liverpool as it would have led to bankruptcy if the dock was not successful.

people on a viewing platform over an old brick structure

Danny leading a tour of Liverpool's Old Dock © Paula Parker

The Corporation of Liverpool threw the proverbial dice of fate, and what transpired next put Liverpool firmly into the spotlight of the world stage. The Old Dock became a beacon of trade and commerce, achieving almost overnight success.

As a result, Liverpool began to quickly expand and businesses were established in the surrounding areas. Pubs, brothels and pawn shops were extremely successful and provided an avenue for the sailors to spend their hard earned wages.

Over time Liverpool required more docks to keep up with the increased demand for trade. By the 19th century Liverpool was receiving 9% of the entire world trade through its many docks. This was only achieved due to the success and innovation that the 'Old Dock’ provided the city.

The site may also have influenced the name of the city, as it was constructed upon the bedrock of the inlet of the Old Sea Pool. Various theories have been put forward as to how Liverpool got its name, yet I believe the link with the creek and inlet the Dock is built on, is the most likely. Thus the Old Dock is quite literally the heart of the city!

For more information and how you can book a tour see the Old Dock page on the website.