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Albert Dock, Liverpool

The Albert Dock is a complex of dock buildings and warehouses in Liverpool, England. Designed by Jesse Hartley and Philip Hardwick, it was opened in 1846, and was the first structure in Britain to be built from cast iron, brick and stone, with no structural wood. As a result, it was the first non-combustible warehouse system in the world. At the time of its construction the Albert Dock was considered a revolutionary docking system because ships were loaded and unloaded directly from/to the warehouses. Two years after it opened it was modified to feature the world’s first hydraulic cranes. Due to its open yet secure design, the Albert Dock became a popular store for valuable cargoes such as brandy, cotton, tea, silk, tobacco, ivory andsugar. However, despite the Albert Dock’s advanced design, the rapid development of shipping technology meant that within 50 years, larger, more open docks were required, although it remained a valuable store for cargo.

The enclosed design of the Albert Dock and the direct loading and unloading of goods from warehouses meant that the complex was more secure than other docks within Liverpool. As a result it became a popular store for valuable cargoes including brandy, cotton, tea, silk, tobacco, ivory and sugar. At the same time their openness to natural light and well ventilated stores meant natural goods such as hemp or sugar could be kept fresher, for longer.The dock came to dominate Liverpool’s far eastern trade, with over 90% of the city’s silk imports from China coming through it and more generally half of all the far eastern trade income. Despite the great prosperity the dock afforded the city, within 20 years of its construction the Albert Dock was beginning to struggle. Designed and constructed to handle sailing ships of up to 1000 tonnes, by the turn of the century only 7% of ships into the Port of Liverpool were sailing vessels.The development of steam ships in the later 19th century meant that soon the dock simply wasn’t large enough, as its narrow entrances prevented larger vessels from entering it.Its lack of quayside was also becoming an issue. Generally steamships could be loaded and unloaded far quicker than sailing ships, and in a cruel twist of irony, the dockside warehouses that had once made the Albert Dock so attractive, were now hindering its future development.Nonetheless the Albert Dock remained an integral part of the dock system in Liverpool and in 1878 the pump house was built as part of redevelopment that saw the majority of the cranes converted to hydraulic use, whilst in 1899, part of the north stack was converted to allow for ice production and cold storage. By the 1920s virtually all commercial shipping activity had ceased at the dock, although its warehouses did remain in use for the storage of goods transported by barge, road or rail.The onset of World War II in 1939 saw the Albert Dock being ‘requisitioned’ by the Admiralty and used as base for the British Atlantic fleet including submarines, small warships and landing craft. During the war the dock was struck on several occasions including a bombing raid in 1940 that damaged ships within it, and more destructively during the May Blitz of 1941 when German bombing caused extensive damage to the south west stack. By the end of the war almost 15% of the Albert Dock’s floor space was out of use because of bomb damage.

In the aftermath of the war, the financial problems of the owners and the general decline of docking in the city meant that the future of the Albert Dock was uncertain. Numerous plans were developed for the re-use of the buildings but none came to fruition and in 1972 the dock was finally closed. Having lain derelict for nearly ten years, the redevelopment of the dock began in 1981, when the Merseyside Development Corporation was set up, with the Albert Dock being officially re-opened in 1988.

The Albert Dock was officially re-opened in 1988 by Prince Charles,the great, great, great grandson of Prince Albert, the man who had originally opened the docks. It was timed to coincide with the opening of the newly finished Tate Liverpool, which was dubbed the ‘Tate of the north’ and at the time the only one outside of London. The decision to locate a Tate gallery in Liverpool was seen as a major success for the city, as it made Liverpool home to the National Collection of modern art in the North of England. In 1988 ITV’s new morning television show This Morning, hosted by Richard and Judy, began broadcasting from a studio inside the Albert Dock. As part of the show weather presenter Fred Talbot used a floating map of the British Isles to report the forecast. Two years later in 1990 The Beatles Story museum opened, the only Beatles themed visitor attraction in the world, providing yet another draw to the Albert Dock. Throughout the 1990s development continued including a new hotel and the conversion of vacant space for use by larger companies such as Telewest (Now Virgin Media). Finally in 2003, some 22 years after the renovation of the Albert Dock started, the last remaining undeveloped space was brought into use with the opening of a new Premier Lodge hotel in the Britannia Pavilion.

Today the Albert Dock is one of Liverpool’s most important tourist attractions and a vital component of the city’s UNESCO world heritage Maritime Mercantile City. As well as being the number one tourist attraction in Liverpool, the Albert Dock is also the most visited multi-use attraction in the United Kingdom outside of London, with in excess of four million visitors per year. Amongst the many attractions at the Albert Dock are the Merseyside Maritime Museum, the Beatles Story and the Tate Liverpool. There are also two hotels within the Albert Dock: a Holiday Inn and Premier Lodge both located in the Britannia Pavilion. All the five warehouses around the dock, referred to as A, B, C, D and E, are Grade I listed buildings. Also listed Grade I is the former dock traffic office. Other buildings around the dock are listed Grade II; they are the former hydraulic pumping station, and the swing bridge leading from the dock towards the Pierhead. As at June 2009 Albert Dock’s north-side car park and entrance from Mann Island is closed off and is a building site to build a new museum.

In the aftermath of the dock’s regeneration in the 1980s a policy had been adopted to try and attract retailers into the newly created premises within. However, after many years of struggling to compete with other major shopping areas in the city, the Albert Dock Company Ltd announced in 2007 a shift into attracting more bars and restaurants.

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