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Birkenhead Docks

by Ian Collard

Reviewed by John H. Luxton


ISBN: 978-0-7524 4259 4

pp 128

Author: Ian Collard

Published by: Tempus Publishing, Cirencester Road, Chalford, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL6 8PE

Price 12.99

Hydraulic Pumping Station East Float

Duke Street Swing Bridge before the installation of the current Scherzer rolling lift bridge which was installed in the 1930s

Bidston Dock Iron ore Berth

My first introduction to Birkenhead Docks took place in the late 1960s. From time to time on a Sunday my great uncle would take me down to the Pier Head where we would cross the river by ferry to either Seacombe or Woodside and then work through the Birkenhead Dock system to the other ferry terminal and then return to the Pier Head.

Birkenhead Docks were a fascinating place in the late 1960s / early 1970s. Back then my interest really centred on railways rather than ships and my uncle and I would spend hours walking along the various dock railway lines and sidings. The great thing about Birkenhead Docks, unlike Liverpool Docks, was that most of the Dock estate was open and unfenced and one could very much wander at will. Such a contrast to today's security fences and CCTV cameras! 

Our Sunday wanders took us to Morpeth Dock and the old GWR Good Station. By then abandoned, the track however, remained in situ. I recall some old abandoned offices containing all sorts of paperwork blowing in the wind some of which was still headed Great Western Railway some twenty or so years after nationalisation!

Then there were the old cattle runs which lead to the Lairages - these were still intact to the early 70s including the swing bridge across the even then abandoned Morpeth Dock entrance.

Thirty seven years or so ago "Four Bridges" still boasted 4 bridges!  Many of the roads were cobbled, much of the dock railway system was still in use and continued to be so until the late 1980s.

Back then I didn't pay much attention to the ships - though I recall Mersey Ferries and Isle of Man Steam Packet Company vessels laid up for the winter.

Unfortunately, although I was becoming interested in photography by the early 70s I never took a camera on my Sunday rambles through Birkenhead Docks - how I wish I had!

However, Ian Collard's latest book has brought back many memories and has reinforced just how many impressive buildings have been lost in the last three decades.

Studying the pictures in this book, one becomes aware of just how much Birkenhead Docks have changed. Much of this change being during the 1980s and early 1990s when many of the buildings were swept away.

In the last 10 years or so the changes, with the exception of the construction of the Twelve Quays Terminal, have been more subtle, the last of the grain warehouses being currently being converted into flats, the infilling of the Bidston Dock once used to handle the iron ore ships bringing in raw materials for the John Summers Steel Works at Shotton in North Wales.

Ian's book not only focuses on the many interesting ships which have graced Birkenhead Docks from the training ship HMS CONWAY to the Irish Sea's first "Fast Ferry" the Vickers VA-3 "Hovercoach" operated by British United Airways; but also many of the interesting buildings which once graced the Birkenhead Dock estate and the associated dock businesses of Stone Manganese Marine - the propeller manufacturers to Robert Smith Steel.

There is also an overview of the main shipping lines which used Birkenhead Docks as their base including Clan Line, Anchor Lines, Bibby Line and not forgetting the Blue Funnel Line. 

Whilst most of the book is pure nostalgia - the cover is interestingly right up to date. Visible beyond the long sunken bow of the SARSIA in East Float can be seen the ALASKA RAINBOW - the ship which managed to put SEA EXPRESS I out of commission for the 2007 Season.

Your web master has no hesitation in recommending this latest work from Ian Collard - providing as it does so much in terms of photographic and textual coverage of the history of Birkenhead Docks, which always appeared to play second fiddle to those of Liverpool, even though for most of their existence the two groups of docks have shared a common ownership and management.

John H. Luxton

December 09, 2007


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