Under the first Dock Act, 1708, (fn. 1) the
mayor, aldermen, bailiffs, and Common
Council became the trustees of the proposed
dock, and were empowered to construct the dock and to
levy dues. They were not incorporated, but used the
corporation seal; managing the first and successive
docks through committees, which were as completely
under their control as any other council committees.
By an Act of 1811, (fn. 2) however, they were separately incorporated and given a seal of their own; the finances
of the docks were separately administered from those
of the corporation, by a statutory committee of
twenty-one members appointed by the trustees (i.e. the
Town Council), but the Town Council still claimed
and exercised the right of voting sums from the dock
funds, and of overriding the actions of the committee. The control of the docks by a close corporation, which was in no way representative of the ratepayers or of those who used the docks, led to much
discontent and discussion, and in the end produced
a new Act, that of 1825, (fn. 3) whereby, though the
trust remained unaltered, the committee was changed
by the inclusion of eight members elected by dock
ratepayers. The council still retained a majority,
thirteen of the committee being councillors, while
the chairman was also selected from among the
members of the committee by the council. The
Act also provided that the proceedings of the dock
committee could only be overridden by a majority
of two-thirds of the council, and only at the meeting
of the council immediately following that of the
committee. By an Act of 1851 (fn. 4) the number of
the committee was raised to twenty-four, half of
whom were to be dock ratepayers, while the chairman was to be elected by the committee itself. But
the power of revision still remained with the Town
Council. Outside of both council and committee
there had been from the first an independent body
of auditors, numbering nine under the Act of 1708, (fn. 5)
and appointed in equal groups by the corporation,
the justices of the county of Lancaster, and the justices of the county of Chester. An Act of 1734 (fn. 6)
raised the number to twelve, four nominated by the
council, eight by the dock ratepayers. By an Act
of 1841 (fn. 7) the mayor, the chairman of the dock
committee, and the senior borough magistrate, were
appointed revisers of rates.
Even with these safeguards, however, and even
though the council was now a representative elected
body, dissatisfaction was felt with this system of administration, which identified the interests of the
dock estate with those of the municipality. This expressed itself in controversies on the rating of the
dock estate, and in the agitation for the Act of 1851,
which was originally an attempt to alter the constitution of the dock committee so as to leave the
council only the mere shadow of control, but which
was amended to the effect already described. It also
lowered the voting franchise for dock ratepayers.
But the strongest opposition came from the merchants
of Manchester and the railway companies, which resented the traditional charges for town dues; this
went so far that a society was founded in Manchester
called 'The Society to secure the right appropriation
of the Liverpool Town Dues.' In 1857 they promoted a Bill, based upon the recommendations of the
Commissioners of the Board of Trade, who had in
1853 reported in favour of the appointment of independent bodies of conservators for the regulation
of public harbours, and of the transference to them
of all dues levied by municipal corporations. The
Town Council fought the Bill with all its power,
especially objecting to the confiscation of its traditional town dues; but eventually withdrew its opposition in consideration of a payment of £1,500,000
for the loss of the town dues, and of certain other
modifications. By the Act thus passed (fn. 8) the Mersey
Docks and Harbour Board was constituted, and took
over the control both of the Liverpool and of the
Birkenhead Docks, and the right of collecting not
only dock dues but also the ancient traditional town
dues. The board has continued to collect the town
dues, despite the fact that opposition to these dues
was one of the principal causes of its establishment.
The board consists of twenty-eight members, four of
whom are nominated by the Mersey Conservancy Commissioners (the First Lord of the Admiralty, the President of the Board of Trade, and the Chancellor of the
Duchy of Lancaster); while the other twenty-four
are elected by all persons paying rates on ships or
goods to the amount of not less than £10 per
annum. Members of the board must be resident
within 10 miles of the boundary of the borough or
port of Liverpool, and must have paid rates on ships
or goods to the amount of not less than £25 per
annum. The office of Chairman of the Dock Board
is commonly regarded as the most honourable at the
disposal of Liverpool citizens.
The history of the actual dock estate may be
conveniently divided into three periods, (fn. 9) corresponding to the periods in the history of its governing
I. Between 1709 and 1825, when the docks were
under the direct control of the corporation, the following wet docks were opened:—
1. Old Dock, opened 31 August 1715; closed
31 August 1826.
2. Salthouse Dock, opened 1753; altered 1842; enlarged 1855.
3. George's Dock, opened 1771; enlarged 1825;
4. King's Dock, opened 1788; closed 1906, the
name being preserved for two new branches of
the Wapping Dock.
5. Queen's Dock, opened 1796; enlarged 1816;
deepened and half-tide dock added 1856, and
closed 1905; enlarged 1901; branches added
1901, 1905; altered 1906.
6. Union Dock, opened 1816; thrown into Coburg
7. Prince's Dock, opened 1821; half-tide dock
The total area of wet docks in 1825 amounted
to 46 acres 3,179 sq. yds.; the lineal quayage to a
little over 2 miles. The dock dues paid in the
same year amounted to £130,911. It may be
noted that the first London Dock was not opened
II. Between 1825 and 1857, when the docks were
under the control of the Dock Committee, the Old
Dock was closed (1826), and the following new docks
1. Canning Dock, opened 1829; previously a basin
known as the Dry Dock, opened 1753; enlarged 1842.
2. Clarence Docks, &c., opened 1830; enlarged
3. Brunswick Docks, opened 1832; enlarged 1848,
1858, 1889; branch dock added 1878;
4. Waterloo Dock, opened 1834; reconstructed as
E. and W. Waterloo Docks, 1868.
5. Victoria Dock, opened 1836; altered 1848.
6. Trafalgar Dock, opened 1836.
7. Coburg Dock, opened 1840; altered from
Brunswick Basin; enlarged 1858; altered
8. Toxteth Dock, opened 1842; closed to make
way for new works, 1884.
9. Canning Half-tide Dock, opened 1844.
10. Harrington Dock (bought), opened 1844; closed
to make way for new works 1879.
11. Albert Dock, opened 1845.
12. Salisbury Dock, opened 1848.
13. Collingwood Dock, opened 1848.
14. Stanley Dock, opened 1848; partly filled in
15. Nelson Dock, opened 1848.
16. Bramley Moore Dock, opened 1848.
17. Wellington Docks, opened 1850; half-tide dock
18. Sandon Dock, opened 1851; half-tide dock
added 1901; altered 1906.
19. Manchester Dock (bought), opened 1851.
20. Huskisson Dock, opened 1852; branch docks
added 1861, 1872, 1902; altered 1896, 1897;
21. Wapping Dock and Basin, opened 1855; two
King's Dock branches added 1906.
The water area in 1857 amounted to 192 acres
129 sq. yds., or an increase of over 82 acres in twenty-five years; the lineal quayage was about 15 miles;
and the river-wall, when the Dock Board came into
existence, already extended for just over 5 miles. At
the same time the Dock Committee and the Corporation had acquired the Birkenhead Docks, which do
not fall within the purview of this work. It is clear
that the old Dock Committee did not lack energy.
For the ten years preceding the establishment of the
Dock Board the dock dues averaged nearly £250,000.
It was on the security of these that the capital for the
construction of the docks was raised; and no profits
were used for purposes other than the service of the
III. During the fifty years of the Mersey Docks
and Harbour Board more time and money have been
spent on the enlargement and reconstruction of the
existing system than on the creation of new docks.
The new docks of this period are:—
1. Canada Dock, opened 1858; enlarged 1896;
altered 1903; branches opened 1896, 1903,
2. Brocklebank Dock, opened 1862; known until
1879 as Canada Half-tide Dock; enlarged
3. Herculaneum Dock, opened 1866; enlarged and
branch dock added 1881.
4. Langton Docks, opened 1879.
5. Alexandra Dock (and three branches), opened
6. Harrington Dock, opened 1883. (fn. 10)
7. Hornby Dock (and branch), opened 1884.
8. Toxteth Dock, opened 1888. (fn. 10)
9. Union Dock, opened 1889. (fn. 10)
During the last thirty years, however, the board
has been mainly occupied in reconstructing large sections of the dock system, so as to accord with that remarkable change in the size of vessels resorting to the
port which has brought it about that while the tonnage of the port has since 1880 increased 66 per cent.
the number of vessels has in the same period actually
declined from 10,000 to little over 6,000. (fn. 11) The
new type of gigantic steamships demanded a wholesale
reconstruction of the docks to which they resorted.
The docks have accordingly been grouped in systems,
each adapted to the needs of different kinds of trade,
and each equipped with its appropriate warehouses,
sheds, cranes, graving-docks, &c. The southern system, including the Herculaneum, Toxteth, and Harrington docks, was vastly enlarged between 1881 and
1888; the Canada-Huskisson system, at the north
end, was radically reconstructed between 1890 and
1906, with the result that the largest American liners
now use it in place of the Alexandra-Hornby system,
which at the time of its construction represented
the last word in dock engineering; the BrunswickWapping system, in the south-central region, which
includes some of the oldest of the docks, was completely rearranged, enlarged, and deepened so as to
admit the biggest vessels, between 1900 and 1906.
The accommodation, however, being still inadequate, a large new system of docks is now (1908)
under construction at the extreme north end of
In 1900 the George's Dock, one of the oldest of
the series, which lay between the city and the pierhead, was closed by arrangement between the Dock
Board and the Corporation. Part of its site was
utilized for the magnificent domed building in which
the offices of the Dock Board are now housed; two
of the main shoreward thoroughfares were continued
across the site of the dock direct to the pier-head;
and the main entrance to the city has thus been
materially improved and dignified.
The total water area of the docks (excluding those
on the Cheshire side of the river) now (1908) amounts
to 418 acres 320 yds., and the lineal quayage to
26 miles 1,083 yds. The continuous dock-wall fronts
the river for a distance of 7¼ miles.
In addition to the docks controlled by the Dock
Board, the London and North-Western Railway
has three docks at Garston, now within the limits
of the city, which have a water area of 14 acres
As the period of the Dock Board's administration
has been the period of the rapid development in the
size of ships, which is in no port more marked than
in Liverpool, a large part of the Board's work has
consisted in maintaining a clear channel in the river.
The task of dredging the bar which impedes the
entrance to the river was seriously begun about 1890.
Carried on by dredgers of unusual magnitude and
power, it has cost not far short of half a million of
money during the last fifteen years, but the result has
been to provide a clear deep-water passage, lacking
which Liverpool might have found it impossible to
maintain her control over ocean trade under the new
conditions. No account can here be given of the
other works of the Board, of its vast warehouses, of its
appliances for the disembarkation of cargo, or of the
immense floating stage, 2,478 ft. long, whereby the
landing of passengers at all times is rendered possible
despite the very great rise and fall of the tides in the