The History of Birkenhead Docks
There are plans to build docks on the Birkenhead side of the river, there are five main reasons for this:
1).There is plenty of room for growth
2). The surrounding hills shelter Birkenhead from the westerly winds. Liverpool is not protected
3). It has deeper water than Liverpool so bigger ships can use the docks
4). It is only a mile from Liverpool town centre. A new dock at the far end of Liverpool docks would be
several miles away
5). Land is cheaper than on the Liverpool-side of the river
Morpeth & Egerton Docks open after years of planning and political plotting.
The Great Float opens. It has been formed by closing Wallasey Pool and using Egerton Dock as an
entrance. It is planned as a link to other docks that will be built off its quays, but instead will become a
dock in its own right. It will have 110 acres of water and more than four miles of quays. It is split into
East (1851) and West (1860) Floats.
Emigrants are leaving East Float on ships bound for Australia.
Alfred Dock is constructed. With its large river locks it provides good access to the Great Float.
Following the repeal (withdrawal) of the Corn Laws more grain is imported through Birkenhead. There
is a lot of demand for grain from the growing industrial towns of northern England.
Corn warehouses are built on the Great Float. They store imported grain before it is moved on.
Developing countries like North and South America have large areas of land ideal for rearing sheep and
cattle. They have more animals than they use, and so send huge quantities to the growing industrial
towns of Britain on fast steamships. At Birkenhead they are sold to farmers or slaughterhouses.
A large railway network has developed around the Birkenhead docks. It has stations for goods and rail
connections to all the quays. Coal for steamships is brought by rail from South Wales and loaded onto
ships at the Great Float. Morpeth Dock is the site of the one o'clock gun. It is used by ships to set their
Large concrete casements (containers with thick walls) are built at the far end of the West Float. They
are for storing inflammable oil and petrol.
Wallasey Dock opens. It had been the unsuccessful Great Low Water Basin.
Sickness destroys Britain's sheep and cattle. The disease has been imported with foreign animals. It is
now illegal to import animals unless they are slaughtered or quarantined (isolated) in licensed quays.
These are called Foreign Animal Wharves. Lairages, slaughterhouses, chill rooms and meat-stores are
built at Morpeth and Wallasey Docks.
Docks and railways are built in South Wales. Birkenhead is not needed to export Welsh coal anymore.
Birkenhead's oil and petrol trade grows. Storage tanks with pipes connecting them directly to berths
on the West Float are built.
Dockside mills are built. Imported grain can now be processed before it is transported inland. This
reduces transport costs.
The Manchester Ship Canal opens. It joins the Mersey at Eastham (up river from Birkenhead) and was
built to avoid Liverpool.
The imported animal trade is booming. 40-50% of Britain's trade in American sheep and cattle passes
The development of good refrigeration means that frozen meat can be imported rather than live
animals. This is cheaper, easier and more humane. The live animal trade declines.
Vittoria Dock is built between 1905 and 1909. It is used by East Asian traders who want an accessible,
Foot and mouth disease breaks out in Ireland. It is necessary to quarantine live Irish cattle so
Birkenhead's lairages are saved.
Miners' strikes lead to more coal being imported through Birkenhead. Between World Wars I & II
Merseyside is the largest flour-milling centre in Europe [image, new window].
Bidston Dock opens at the end of West Float. It deals in general cargoes [image, new window].
Birkenhead Docks reach their peak of activity. They are handling about 13% of Liverpool's trade.
Vittoria Dock is expanded to take larger ships, especially those from East Asia. Iron ore (for John
Summers' steelworks at Shotton) is handled in large quantities at Bidston Dock.
Birkenhead's main trades are falling. The developing countries (e.g. India) once imported goods from
Birkenhead but have become competitors. European ports are also taking Birkenhead's business.
Many Birkenhead docks are no longer used.
Merseyside Development Corporation is created. It brings new European funds to regenerate
The land at the east end of the Great Float has been developed into 'The Twelve Quays'. It transports
cargo and people between Merseyside and Ireland. This service has moved from the Liverpool side of
the river as the ferries can save an hour on an Irish Sea crossing: they no longer have to travel
through Liverpool's enclosed dock system. It also has a new floating stage that can take two ro-ro
ferries at the same time.
The old Wallasey and Bidston Docks have now been filled. Morpeth and Egerton Docks have been
environmentally improved and their quay sides developed into industry, offices and museums.