It would seem that the prosperity of the Wirral town of Birkenhead's docklands has ebbed and flowed in much the same way as the tide of the river on which they were built.
From the heyday of the industrious holy men who ran it’s twelth century Benedictine priory, to a rapid decline with the abolition of the monasteries.
To rise again by way of the benevolence of Victorian industrialistss, only to find yet more decline by way of Thatcherite, governmental reforms.
And to rise yet again, from the ashes of a global recession, by way of twenty first century visionaries and foreign investors.
Throughout it’s thousand year history, Birkenhead and it’s dockside riverfront, has indeed seen it’s ups and downs, but it would seem that the town’s main industrial stronghold, could well be about to experience another up, at a time when most of the world’s economy is definitely on a downward turn.
Unlike it's larger and more famous neighbour situated on the opposite bank of the River Mersey in Liverpool, whose docks were built along 1,200 acres of the east bank of the river, Birkenhead Docks were constructed on a purpose built float known as the Great Float, an area which covers 110 acres of water, four miles of quaysides and two miles of inland waterways.
The docks were originally formed by way of land reclaimation on and around a natural, tidal inlet known as the Wallasey Pool, during the 1820's. A project which was a feat of engineering excellence for it’s time.
The area was divided into The East Float Dock and the West Float Dock , on an area which divided the two Wirral towns of Birkenhead and Wallasey. The Great Float consisted of graving docks, wet docks, quayside wharves and the vast shipbuilding empire of Birkenhead's first mayor and member of parliament, Victorian benefactor and industrialist John Laird.
Access by road to the area was gained by way of seven road bridges, a former Penny, toll bridge, a wooden road bridge and five hydraulic,swing bridges, also known as bascule bridges, three of which still remain today.
The lock gates of the Great Float were operated by the now, Grade II Listed, Central Hydraulic Tower and Engine House, designed by local, civil engineer Jesse Hartley, which was completed in 1863.
Along with Liverpool Docks, Birkenhead Docks, which is now known as the Liverpool - Birkenhead Ferry Port, is owned and operated by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, whose head office is located in Liverpool's iconic Port of Liverpool Building.
During the 1800's the Birkenhead Docks became synonomous with flour mills, shipbuilding and for being the site of the construction and subsequent trials of the Resurgam II, an early submarine built in 1879 which was designed by local, clergyman George Garrett.
One hundred and fifty years on and the docks are now better known for their busy, purpose built ferry terminal situated at the Twelve Quays development, which is part of a high - tech business park situated on Birkenhead’s Tower Road.
( Address - Birkenhead Ferry Terminal, Twelve Quays, Tower Road, Birkenhead, Wirral. CH41 1FE.)
Two ferry companies use the terminal in Birkenhead, both of which use roll on - roll off - ( RoRo) ferries for both passenger and cargo services on their trans Irish Sea voyages to Belfast, Douglas and Dublin.
The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, which operates two weekly, four hour and fifteen minute crossings to Douglas on the Isle of Man aboard the vessel Ben – my - Chree.
Website - www.steam-packet.com and
Norfolk Lines / Stena Line, now both amalgamated with DFDS Ferries, which operate twelve weekly, seven hour crossings to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland and thirteen weekly, eight hour crossings to Belfast in Northern Ireland, which include both day and night sailings.
Website - www.norfolkline-ferries.co.uk
Birkenhead Great Float.
In 2011 the U.K Investment company, Peel Holdings, had their plans to build a riverside development in Birkenhead accepted. Plans which were eagerly accepted by both the local people and local authority, as well as the country's present, coalition government.
The riverside development will go by the name of Wirral Waters. This vast rejuvenation scheme is part of the much larger Atlantic Gateway Project which also incorporates redevelopment of parts of The Port of Liverpool and the Manchester Ship Canal, which at a cost of fifty billion pounds, is the most expensive urban, rejuvenation plan in British history.
The 4.5 billion pound scheme on Birkenhead’s riverfront will consist of an international trade centre, a waterfront hotel, leisure facilities, shops, bars, restaurants, offices and 15,000 apartments, housed in three, fifty storey towers. All this will be built upon five million square feet of unused dockland space, on land which was once the site of the Cammel Laird shipyard.
Upon completion the skyline of Birkenhead will not only rival that of it’s UNESCO World Heritage Site neighbour across the river in Liverpool, but also the skyline of New York City.
Read my article about the Cammel Laird shipyard -
Title image – Part of Birkenhead’s Great Float, courtesy of Peter Caine, wikimedia commons.