Lecture Series Two - Structural Engineering

29 Minutes
The construction and history of Albert Dock
Appraisal Conclusions
Restoration contract details
How Albert Dock was built
The case of the Kasbah – The campaign to save Grimbsy Docks
Saving Stanley
The heritage significance of Stanley Dock
Heritage designations
The rise
The restoration
A catalyst for regeneration

This event was organised by The Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) Lancashire and Cheshire Branch, and the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) NW Branch.

Albert Dock on Liverpool’s waterfront is one of the UK’s most popular visitor attractions. It comprises the UK’s largest group of Grade I listed buildings and forms an integral part of Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City, a Unesco world heritage site. But for most of the second half of the twentieth century Albert Dock lay neglected and under threat of demolition.

The story of how Albert Dock was rescued and brought back to use is told in a series of professional lecture events that will run for five years up to 2021, when the 175th anniversary of its opening in 1846 will be celebrated.

Ten half-yearly lecture events will focus on different aspects of this exemplary heritage-led regeneration project that saw the redundant, bomb damaged Albert Dock transformed into a successful cultural and commercial hub.

The lectures will consider the contribution made by built environment professionals to Albert Dock’s regeneration and to its ongoing development. They will explore how the influential Merseyside Development Corporation project inspired other waterside and post-industrial regeneration projects not only in the UK but also across the world.

The second of Interpro’s Albert Dock anniversary lecture events took place at Tate Liverpool on 23rd March 2017. The theme was structural engineering and heritage, and was sponsored by the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) and the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC). Three speakers shared their experiences of rescue and renovation work, at Albert Dock and in other places.

Anthony Clarke, a technical director at Curtins Consulting, gave a detailed account of the structural appraisal and renovation of the Albert Dock warehouses and the Dock Traffic Office that his company undertook in the 1980s. Clarke was a member of the original team commissioned by Merseyside Development Corporation between 1982 and 1983. He discussed the different types of cast iron columns and beams and also the testing of the floors, roofs and the timber piles of the buildings and the dock walls. He then addressed the different stages of the restoration work and its particular challenges. He also gave some fascinating insights, gleaned from his personal research, into Jesse Hartley’s innovative approach to building Albert Dock.

John Hinchliffe, director of Hinchliffe Heritage and former world heritage officer for Liverpool City Council, discussed the rescue and restoration of Stanley Dock, the largest brick warehouse in the world and another of Jesse Hartley’s monumental constructions on the Liverpool waterfront. But first, he enlivened proceedings with his poetic homage to Hartley, a fellow Yorkshireman. Hinchliffe’s presentation covered Stanley Dock’s heritage significance, its innovations and the part it played in Liverpool’s tobacco industry. He also discussed its decline and years of neglect and the various valiant attempts to bring it back to life, and its eventual transformation into a hotel in 2014.

Henrietta Billings, a director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, presented a comparative case study of at risk buildings in different parts of the country that her organisation has been involved with. She focused on Grimsby Docks and its unique Kasbah area of historic docks and streets. She discussed the failures as well as the successes, and explained how her organisation can help with the legal processes involved in protecting heritage buildings.

The construction and history of Albert Dock Anthony Clarke BSc CEng FIStructE MICE CARE, Technical Director, Curtins Consulting

The construction of the historic south docks in the 1840s changed Liverpool forever and transformed it into an international port recognised all over the world. The Grade I listed Albert Dock, at the northern end of the south docks, is now a UNESCO world heritage site.

The Merseyside Development Corporation (MDC) was formed in 1982 following the Toxteth riots of the previous year. Its main development aim was to regenerate the dockland areas including Albert Dock. Curtins was tasked with appraising the condition of the buildings; establishing the most effective repairs to enable a specification to be developed for use in all the buildings; and commenting on the feasibility of converting the warehouses.

Insensitive alterations had been made to the building and its condition appeared to be poor. The brickwork was heavily stained and severely cracked from years of neglect. The external iron had severe corrosion and Second World War bomb damage had not been repaired.

Internally the condition was variable. At the lower floors the structure was dry where the rainwater had not penetrated. Corrosion was limited and the masonry was reasonable. At the third floor, however, the masonry was saturated and hart’s tongue fern was growing across much of the floor surface. The situation was even worse at the fourth floor, where structural movement of the walls and roof had caused a column to fall. Within the Dock Traffic Office, the balconies had failed and much of the timber was in poor condition.

Figure 1: Section through a typical warehouse.

On section, the warehouse walls reduce in thickness by half a brick at each level. At 2.4m, the dock wall is much thicker. On the dockside elevation, there are elliptical arches at each crane bay recess. Vertical slots had been used to allow goods to be taken straight out of the ship’s hull and into the upper floors. These were bonded warehouses with extreme security, of course.


The original circular columns and the beams are all cast iron. The tie rods and the whole of the roof are wrought iron. The ironwork within the building is unconventional. The columns are arranged on a 5.7m x 3.6m grid and have socket and spigot connections. The spine brickwork wall is load bearing. A skewback angle was set into the wall to provide the springing for the arches. It also neatly accommodated the change in wall thickness. These “inverted Y” beams span simply between the columns and bear onto the column capitals. There is no physical connection, but a strip of lead between the two castings allows for some “bedding in”.

The floors are masonry arches with shallow rise that span between the inverted Y beams. As all arches create a thrust, tie rods have been installed at 1.4m centres between the Y beams and are fixed with wedges into the beams’ webs. Bonded ribs, half a brick thick, occur on the top face of the arch at approximately 1.4m centres. “In-floor ties” are set within the spandrel fill zone of the floor arches. At each external wall and the spine wall, the tie is anchored into the masonry using a large rectangular plate. The ties overlap on the cross walls. With the tie bars in place, the whole of the arch was then covered with a partially “cement”-bound spandrel fill. This was covered by a screed and 20mm thick quarry tiles on top.

Figure 2: The floor arch extrados and tie rods

There are five types of column:

1. a 1200mm diameter cast iron column on the quayside edge

2. two 1200mm diameter granite columns installed in the infill zone at the quayside edge

3. a 700mm diameter line of cast iron columns located at the shop glazing

4. isolated 300-400mm diameter cast iron columns with integral capitals at all floors except the ground level.

5. the isolated columns at the mezzanine floors span double height and have a mid-height capital casting. (Not all blocks have mezzanine floors; many are later additions.)

Figure 3 shows the section through the half brick barrel vault.

Figure 3: Section through a floor beam

The beam is this shape so that it is parallel with the arch bedding at the support. The internal tie rods overlap on the web at the knuckle point and are wedged in place before the arch is built. There was much corrosion of these tie rods. Condensation clearly ran down the arch intrados and accumulated at the tie rod position. Corrosion set in and caused the bar to rust. Many tie rods had to be replaced in all warehouses.

The other reason for the shape is to suit the compressive and tensile stresses. Cast iron is ten times stronger in compression than it is in tension. So, in a beam situation, there needs to be ten times more strength in the bottom of the beam than in the top. This shape fulfils this requirement. The beam is also precambered.

The construction of the ground floor is different. It comprises sandstone arches that are 1.6m deep. There are no under-arch ties. The stone is 225mm thick. On section, the beam must be wider to suit the stone. The beams have a deep precamber.

A third type of beam, known as the inverted Vee, spans The Colonnades and some of the riverside elevations. This is also precambered and bears onto the skewback angle.

Another iron component is the “bond bar”.

This is a 100mm x 25mm bar that runs around the full perimeter and the spine wall. In the 1700s, it was common to use timber bond beams to enable a reasonable height of brickwork to be constructed in one day. These bond beams overcame the problem of the soft lime mortars compressing with weight. But as Albert Dock was designed as a fireproof warehouse, Hartley used ironwork rather than timber. Where there are corner joints, these have forged connections.

All this ironwork can be seen in the main stairwell at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, where it has been left on show.

The foundations were investigated with deep trial pits. The isolated columns are supported on masonry piers with a circular granite capstone. The pier is hexagonal: an equilateral triangular shape with cut-off corners. There are four timber piles under each, which were found to be beech and elm, both good native species with high resistance to decay.

The external walls and the dock walls are supported on lines of staggered piles. The dock wall pile “cut off” must be lower to suit the silt level in the basin. Non-destructive tests were carried out on the piles to establish the length and condition. Validation tests were undertaken. Timber baulks of known length were used to calibrate the equipment. The piles were shown to be 300-400mm diameter tree trunks with the bark and branches stripped, turned upside down and driven into the clay. It is not known how the piles were driven. James Nasmyth’s steam pile driver was not invented until the 1850s, after Albert Dock was constructed. Hartley probably used an A frame with a pulley wheel and ratchet. Horses or men would pull the weight up and allow it to drop onto a “dolly” on top of the pile. Hartley experimented with different weights and heights of drop.

The piles to the warehouses were in good condition with only 4-5mm of surface softening. A pile driven and fully immersed in solid clay or placed entirely under water will survive without decay. But a pile placed so that the tidal water will move up and down the shaft will decay over time from microbacterial action. The Dock Traffic Office had high piles and the whole building had to be underpinned.


Atlantic Pavilion is supported by piers and walls built off the bedrock. Edward Pavilion is similarly supported, but on clay. The remainder of the buildings are piled. The east end of the Merseyside Maritime Museum had a piled raft, where weaker ground necessitated a retrofit. Alterations in the 1850s created an inverted arch around the column pier and across the base. The masonry wrapped up the column and around the bases and then across the underside of the floor beam. The basement level masonry had to be repaired using spray concrete.

The roof is made entirely of wrought iron with plates on slender trusses. Eaves ties take out the thrust. The truss bearings sit onto a flat iron wall plate.

Appraisal Conclusions

The appraisal found:

1. significant differential settlement between walls and isolated columns

2. floor beams overstressed to modern British Standard recommendations

3. roof structure unbraced and members overstressed to modern British Standard recommendations

4. top floor walls leaning up to 150mm in 3100mm

5. extensive cracking of the masonry caused by the bond bar.

A comprehensive series of full-scale load tests were undertaken to prove that structural elements were compliant with current British Standards. Timber piles, floor beams and roof structure were all tested. A steel triangular frame was fixed on the foundation so that it mobilised the reaction of the two adjacent columns. This additional load is required to resist the applied jack load. Three pile tests were carried out and the results were good, with 4-5mm movement in total. In effect, the pile had just been pushed further into the clay as there was no recovery. The tests proved that underpinning was not required.

Floor beams were load tested for an imposed floor load of 5kN/m2. The test showed that the predicted overstress in the cast iron was not critical. The precamber on the beams is clearly assisting in supporting the load.

The initial test on a single roof truss failed in deflection. The second test passed by using two trusses acting compositely with the wrought iron sheeting. The movement of the perimeter external walls, however, remained a critical issue. Strengthening the wrought iron sheeting enabled the roof to act as a diaphragm spanning the full length of that part of the building. The bottom two sheets were removed and replaced with steel plate welded along the seams. The combination of the repairs and the tests proved that the original roof structures on Tate Liverpool’s gallery and the Merseyside Maritime Museum building were satisfactory. The developer on the other warehouses considered this too great a risk and removed the original roof. The restored and strengthened roof is working well 32 years later.

The restoration of the dock buildings was undertaken in two stages. The initial contract was to stabilise the structure, make it watertight, safe and secure. The second stage was the conversion to its final use. Four different organisations undertook the works, with funding from MDC: the Tate trustees took the northern end of Block C on The Colonnades; Merseyside County Council converted Block D for the Merseyside Maritime Museum; and the Dock Traffic Office was converted for ITV’s Granada Television studio.

The remaining buildings were stabilised by the newly formed Albert Dock Company. Conversion to the final use was by different organisations including Littlewoods and Britannia Hotels.

Curtins was responsible for the work on the Merseyside Maritime Museum and Tate Liverpool and also acted on behalf of MDC for overseeing the restoration and stabilisation of the other buildings. The conversion was split between various companies, with Curtins also acting for Littlewoods on the Atlantic Pavilion and the top floor apartments to The Colonnades. Tarmac Construction (now Carillion) was the contractor for all the warehouses.

Restoration contract details

Repairing the damaged brickwork was perhaps the largest element of the works. All the masonry was blast cleaned and the cracked masonry either rebuilt or repaired by resin injection. The embedded bond bar was the biggest challenge as it had caused extensive fracturing of the masonry. It would have been too costly to remove so various trials were assessed to see how it could be retained without significant long-term damage.

Iron corrodes when both oxygen and moisture are present in the brickwork. The chosen solution was undertaken by Balvac. Injection nipples were installed onto inlet and outlet tubing formed over five bed joints centred on the bar. A polymer-modified resin was injected under pressure from the external face and a suction applied to the inner tubes. In this way, the resin filled the cracks and was then drawn around the iron to encapsulate the bar. Other areas of damage were simply rebuilt.

Overloading on several of the granite capstones on the isolated column foundations meant they had failed beyond repair. Heavy temporary works were therefore required to support the weight of the structure above while removing and replacing the stone.

Civil engineering works were also underway. Albert, Canning and Salthouse docks were dredged. Many of the dock walls and bridges were damaged. The walls at Canning Half Tide Dock were partially rebuilt and the Hartley Bridge was restored. The programme required the first phase of restoration and stabilisation to be completed in time for the Tall Ships’ Race in July 1984.

The conversion of an old warehouse into a modern art gallery provides a good example of the work undertaken. There were four main contracts at Tate Liverpool, all completed by Tarmac Construction, as were the rest of the warehouses. The initial contract stabilised the building, which then underwent some serious structural surgery to create the design by James Stirling Michael Wilford and Associates. Two further contracts followed to convert undeveloped areas from the first phase.

On plan, there is a band of lift shafts and staircases running parallel with the spine wall. These are needed to allow visitors and staff to gain independent access around the building. This alteration created a vertical slot running the height of the building. The in-floor ties had to pass through this slot and some clashed with the stairwells. The ties could not be removed so they were diverted by removing the spandrel fill on top of the adjacent arch and replacing it with reinforced concrete. The relocated tie rod was formed in an area away from the stairwell and is embedded in the concrete. The plan displacement causes stresses to be built up along the splay joining the bars. The reinforced arch then acts as a deep diaphragm beam (on plan) and transfers these stresses back to the existing structure.

The building is heavily serviced with mechanical and electrical equipment located in plant rooms at basement level, third floor and a small amount at roof level.

How Albert Dock was built

The person responsible for the design and construction of Albert Dock was the Liverpool Dock Engineer Jesse Hartley. He took up this role in 1824 despite having no previous experience of dock engineering. He had worked in his father’s business as a bridge builder and this may explain why so much of Albert Dock is based on masonry or iron arches. He continued in this role until his death in 1860.

Hartley developed his plans for Albert Dock in the first couple of years of his appointment, and chose number five of six options as the preferred scheme.

I have undertaken private research on these buildings and some of my findings are shared here. In 1982 I had assumed that the Albert Dock was built on land reclaimed from the River Mersey. This approach had been used in the 1700s when the original dock wall was moved from the edge of the Strand outwards into the river. Hartley’s own plan of the docks from 1825 shows that two thirds of the whole dock area was built on land and not on the river. A temporary dam was required to allow construction of the river wall and The Colonnades block. Another drawing shows the alterations to the entrance gates into Canning Dock. The entrance was made wider and deepened. He achieved this using inverted arches supported on timber piles that were driven 26 feet into the clay below. The drawing refers to a “stank”, which is an old English word meaning cofferdam, a temporary earth dam probably with a clay core. It is reasonable to assume that Hartley used the same method to build the new river wall.

The following findings have been deduced from various records including the Minutes of the Dock Committee.

a. In my view two activities would have determined the critical path on this project: the construction of the river wall, which had to have the cofferdam in place, and the construction of the warehouses.

b. The timber piling would probably have been the most critical sub-activity.

c. The 1830s arrangement of boat builders’ yards and slipways are shown on a Hartley plan. He would have sealed the entrance into Canning Dock from the river and then drained the docks. The slipway and yards would have then been cleared.

d. The dock minutes show that Hartley started work on the southeast warehouse. The rock is at its shallowest level here so it did not require any piling. It also left a band of ground in place so he could work safely without fear of the excavations flooding.

e. I suggest that the excavation arisings would have been used for the cofferdam. He did not need to import material but could simply transfer it by horse and cart to tip it into the Mersey and work his way along the riverbank. The records indicate that the navvies bulk-excavated the ground 24 hours a day, seven days a week for nearly a year.

f. With the cofferdam in place he could then commence his piling of the river wall followed by the piles to The Colonnades. These two structures probably required two thirds of the piling works, so the activity would have had to start early.

g. Records indicate that by May 1843 he had the river wall and Block A nearly complete, with two and a half years still to run on the contract.

h. I believe that he then moved to Block E as this did not require any timber piling either. He would then have piled and constructed Block B and D. Block C followed on from the river wall.

Figure 4: Site layout

i. There were two horse inclines; one located down below the former Trentham Street and the other to the side of two large stockpiles for timber and masonry. Interestingly the plan also shows a workshop and engine shed. This would have been required for the forging of the tie rods and bond bar connections. I believe that the piles must have been driven by hand using a combination of horse power and many men tugging on ropes attached to a pulley on an A frame. Considering that 14,000 piles were used, this must have been an extremely labour-intensive activity.


It is amazing to think that one man designed, planned and supervised the building of all the work on the south docks. Hartley completed the full construction of Albert Dock and the river wall in the same time that it took to repair and refurbish the same buildings in the 1980s.

In addition to Albert Dock, he constructed major warehouses at Wapping, Waterloo, Nelson and Stanley docks, together with the Victoria Tower next to Salisbury Dock. Liverpool owes a great deal to Hartley for this fantastic legacy that today is a world-class tourism destination.

The case of the Kasbah – The campaign to save Grimbsy Docks Henrietta Billings Director, SAVE Britain’s Heritage

SAVE is a national campaigning charity that gives advice to planning authorities across the UK on heritage matters and supports local groups and members of the public who are concerned about the demolition of historic buildings where they live.

From the modest Welsh streets (condemned terraced housing in Toxteth, Liverpool) to the magnificent Wentworth Woodhouse, Europe’s largest privately-owned house near Rotherham in Yorkshire, SAVE has a long history of campaigning for buildings under threat.

SAVE does not receive government funding and it differs from other national organisations in that it works alongside architects and developers to find viable alternatives to demolition.

One of SAVE’s most widely known cases in recent years is probably the rescue of the Victorian Smithfield Market in Farringdon, London. An unlisted part of the wider 19th century market complex was threatened with demolition from plans by developer Henderson Global Investors. The proposed office scheme, initially permitted by the City of London, would have gutted almost all of the General Market and nearby Fish Market interiors which SAVE and The Victorian Society considered to be the most important features of the buildings.

Following a public inquiry in 2014, both the Planning Inspector and the Secretary of State rejected the proposals, and the buildings were saved. Since then, in a major step forward for the future of the site, the Museum of London has announced plans to move into the buildings – giving them a sustainable long term future.

At Grimsby on the Lincolnshire coast, SAVE has been involved in a longstanding campaign to save the historic docks – owned by Associated British Ports (ABP). A major element of their campaign has been to try and persuade the company to take a longer term perspective on the heritage it owns.

Grimsby is almost exactly on the opposite side of the UK from Liverpool, facing the North Sea in Lincolnshire. Like Liverpool, it was a major port in the 19th century that has suffered post-industrial decline in the second half of the 20th century, particularly after the Icelandic Cod Wars.

At one point Grimsby was the most important fishing port in the world, and its historic docks has a small but significant collection of 19th century streets and buildings in the much larger dock area. This area that SAVE is involved with is known as the Kasbah.

The Kasbah is regarded as unique by Historic England because it tells the story of Britain’s fishing trade through the 19th and 20th centuries. Many of the buildings were operational until the 1970s and 80s. The area’s streets and buildings are on a much smaller scale than those at Albert Dock and other dock complexes in Liverpool, but its historic context includes the Grade I listed Dock Tower and the Grade II* listed Great Grimsby Ice Factory. The elaborate shop front of the 19th century fishing gear shop Tom Taylor & Sons is another rare survival.

Although the streets and buildings in this area are in urgent need of repair and investment – many of the buildings are derelict – there are more than eight listed buildings in the Kasbah – an indication of its nationally significant history.

The Dock Tower now stands in isolation but it was once surrounded by dockside buildings and all the bustle of the fishing trade centred on the principal road in the Kasbah – Fish Dock Road. The Great Grimsby Ice Factory is derelict and on the ‘heritage at risk’ registers of the World Monuments Fund and Historic England. The factory ceased operations in 1990 but some of its interiors are intact, with huge girders, a beautiful cast iron staircase and much of its internal workings still visible. But parts of the building are now open to the elements with huge gaping holes in the roof.

Further along Fish Dock Road, the Cosalt buildings were a stretch of unlisted industrial warehouses, shops, offices and factories from the 19th and early 20th centuries. These buildings, which comprised one whole side of the road, were an important element of the historic dock and the Kasbah – and although unlisted, they stood opposite three individually Grade II listed buildings. The Cosalt buildings were earmarked for demolition by ABP under the prior approval process meaning the proposals did not require full planning permission.

SAVE, along with Historic England, the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, World Monuments Fund, The Victorian Society, the Great Grimsby Ice Factory Trust and the Grimsby Traditional Fish Smokers Group, objected strongly to the plans and a petition to save the buildings was launched. The campaign was covered extensively in the national press, including in The Times, The Guardian, The Observer and Private Eye.

But despite the widespread concern, in May 2016 North East Lincolnshire Council granted permission for demolition. SAVE’s subsequent judicial review of the decision was rejected by the High Court, and although SAVE continued to appeal to the building owners to re-think their plans, they were demolished in 2016.

Now, as a result of SAVE’s campaign, the future of the remaining buildings and streets in the Kasbah may be brighter. ABP has told SAVE it takes its heritage responsibilities seriously and has announced that it is looking at options for an investment strategy for the remaining buildings. At the same time the council is keen to showcase more of Grimsby’s heritage and SAVE is hopeful that it will come forward soon with a new conservation area covering the Kasbah.

The Kasbah constitutes a very different scenario from Albert Dock, but they are both historically very important places, nationally well known, and have rich collections of historic buildings. The Albert Dock proves that investing in these buildings as local and regional assets can be successful drivers for regeneration as well as civic pride. SAVE hopes that ABP and the council will seize this opportunity to celebrate their history and forge a new future for the Kasbah.

Saving Stanley John Hinchliffe Director, Hinchliffe Heritage

The Ballad of Stanley Dock

Now listen to me people, there’s a story I would tell,
About a dock called Stanley, you should remember well.
From the mind of Jesse Hartley – a Yorkshireman, not Scouse,
There’s warehouse space aplenty and a hydraulic powerhouse.
The only dock in Liverpool to be excavated from rock,
To link canal and railway into the system of docks.
All brick and stone and iron,
It’s fireproof construction.
Now intervention and conservation are delivering exemplary regeneration.
This is the story of Saving Stanley Dock

By John Hinchliffe – in homage to The Ballad of Ira Hayes by Johnny Cash
Comparisons may be odious, but there are clear similarities between the monumental warehouses of Albert, Stanley and indeed Wapping docks. It’s no surprise as they were all built within twelve years of each other, by the same dock engineer, for the same client, and for the same purpose.

The heritage significance of Stanley Dock

An architecturally important dock and warehouse ensemble

Stanley Dock is further north of the city centre than Albert Dock, and slightly inland, in a rather scruffy area of port-related industry. It may lack the riverside setting that has made Albert Dock the successful tourist attraction it is today, but as with its sibling, it is an architecturally important ensemble in its own right.

Like Albert Dock, Stanley Dock was the creation of Jesse Hartley, Liverpool’s dock engineer from 1824 until his death in 1860. Liverpool’s docks expanded north and south from the Old Dock, which opened in 1715. Stanley Dock was opened in 1848, two years after Albert Dock, and was named after the Stanley family, the Earls of Derby, who owned the land the dock was built on.

Stanley Dock demonstrates the integrity of an evolved bonded dock warehouse system, and was a landmark in the city as early as 1865, long before the Tobacco Warehouse was built, and it’s still a landmark today. Jesse Hartley’s exquisite trademark masonry is one of many reasons it was assessed as having heritage significance.

Part of Liverpool’s historic dock system

Both Albert and Stanley docks are integral components of Liverpool’s superlative collection of historic docks. In 2003, the assessor from ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) for Liverpool’s world heritage site (WHS) nomination recognised that the city had the biggest and most complete system of historic docks anywhere in the world.

Part of Liverpool’s collection of historic warehouses

The warehouses at Stanley Dock are part of the bigger collection of warehouses throughout the city, which comprises many types of warehouse design. There are smaller inland warehouses sometimes attached to merchants’ houses, one remaining example of a canal-side warehouse, the Grade II* listed Tate & Lyle Sugar Silo, and the great Waterloo Warehouse, to name but a few.

The Tobacco Warehouse

Hartley didn’t build everything at Stanley Dock; the large Tobacco Warehouse was added in 1901 by A G Lister with support from Arthur Berrington. But Hartley was responsible for the North and South warehouses, added in 1855, the canals, the locks, the hydraulic pumping station and the security wall as well as the dock itself.

The Grade II listed Tobacco Warehouse is the largest brick warehouse in the world and consists of twenty seven million bricks.

Fireproof construction

All the warehouses at Stanley and Albert docks have fireproof construction of brick, stone and iron, with no timber used in order to reduce the likelihood of fires.

Transport Interchange

When it opened in 1848, Stanley Dock was the first multi-modal transport interchange, and connected the dock with both rail and canal. From the start Hartley created a link from the main Leeds and Liverpool Canal, and even today, barges passing along the canal to Salthouse Dock in the centre have to come through Stanley Dock.

Some of the tracks from the original railway system can still be seen in what’s known as Pneumonia Alley, the unhealthy shaded area between the Tobacco Warehouse and South Warehouse. There were also many turntables on the site, and one can still be seen adjacent to the South Warehouse.

The work of Jesse Hartley

Jesse Hartley was the dock engineer for thirty-six years and influenced Liverpool’s waterfront as we see it today more than any other individual. His achievements, however, are not properly recognised in the city. His grave lies untended in St Mary’s Churchyard in Bootle and needs to be better interpreted and celebrated.

A shard of granite was sent to Hartley as a masonry sample but it is currently hidden away in Calderstones Park. It was originally in Hartley’s garden in Bootle before being moved to his daughter’s garden in Calderstones. Relocated to the riverfront, it would be a fitting memorial to Hartley’s work at the docks.

Early use of hydraulic power

Stanley Dock demonstrates one of the first uses of hydraulic power. Originally there were two hydraulic powerhouses but one was demolished to make way for the Tobacco Warehouse. Stanley Dock is one of the earliest docks in the world to use an accumulator tower and the accumulator weight bin is still on the site. The two towers powered much of the equipment in Stanley Dock, including the lifting gear and the cranes.

Liverpool’s tobacco industry

The size of the Tobacco Warehouse provides evidence of the scale and operation of an industry in Liverpool that started in 1648 with the delivery of 30 tons of tobacco on The Friendship. The whole industry followed on from that for three centuries until it became known as the evil weed.

The tobacco was moved around the Tobacco Warehouse by an early type of forklift truck. It had to be stored for up to three years while it cured and during this time the merchants hoped that its value would go up. Pallet-loads of registers of bonds that record the sales were found in the warehouses.

Every now and again the tobacco had to be sampled to see if it was ready, so it must have been a great frustration to the warehousemen that smoking was strictly prohibited within the warehouse.

Security of the Tobacco Warehouse

There was £320m worth of tobacco in the Tobacco Warehouse and the high boundary wall and gateways reflect the need to provide security against the theft of these valuable goods. The wall and great gate piers guarding the entrance and every door on Stanley Dock was double padlocked. The warehouseman held the key for one lock and the other was held by the customs man.

The American connection

Most of the tobacco in Stanley Dock came from America and Liverpool retained this American connection throughout World War Two when it was used as an American base. Drawings and graffiti on the walls are evidence of their stay. Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady of the United States at the time, also visited Stanley Dock.

Social history

Cultural heritage is about more than bricks and mortar; it’s about bricks and mortals. Plans of the dock from 1864 show the notorious court housing that existed right alongside Stanley Warehouse on Saltney Street. The many pubs shown on street corners, and the gents’ urinal built into the wall of Stanley Dock form part of the social history of the area.


Heritage designations

Most of the buildings at Stanley Dock are listed buildings and all of them are in the Stanley Dock Conservation Area. The outstanding universal value of Albert Dock and Stanley Dock, as defined by Unesco, was key to Liverpool’s inscription as a world heritage site, which states:

“Liverpool is the supreme example of a commercial port at the time of Britain’s greatest global influence.”


Despite the significance and the designations, however, Stanley Dock fell into decline after its industrial working life ceased. Storage of tobacco ceased in 1985, and the dock and its warehouses have been mostly unused and unmaintained ever since. There was a heritage market, which helped bring in some money for maintenance and security, but this too closed down in 2011.

Because of its historic authenticity and integrity it has found favour as a venue for film sets since then, doubling as a Birmingham pub for the TV crime drama Peaky Blinders, for example. In the 1990s it was also a nightclub called the Hard Dock Café.

Rum continued to be stored in the North Warehouse until 2013. Ships brought the rum into Collingwood Dock and it was pumped through pipes over Regent Road.

But the North Warehouse was in poor condition and on Historic England’s Buildings at Risk register, along with the whole ensemble, which was severely at risk due to lack of use and maintenance.

Other damage saw the west parapet of the North Warehouse collapse and there was also a major collapse of a tall wall near the hydraulic powerhouse in the early 2000s. The basement of the North Warehouse was flooded and many of the Yorkstone flags were stolen. There was even a cannabis farm found in the basement of the South Warehouse!

In the 1980s it was Albert Dock whose future was very much on the brink, and its restoration has made it an international icon of heritage-led regeneration. For twenty years it remained isolated from the city centre on the far side of the Dock Road, however. It wasn’t until the construction of Liverpool One, the development of Mann Island and the building of the Echo Arena at King’s Dock that this has been rectified and it has become better connected into the city’s fabric. It is now a great success with over four million visitors a year who are attracted in particular to the anchor tenants, Tate Liverpool and the Merseyside Maritime Museum.

The rise

Stanley Dock’s turn has now come, and although it has been described as the biggest adaptive reuse challenge in Europe, there has been crucial proactive planning and a flexible attitude to potential new uses and interventions. Liverpool City Council sanctioned emergency works to prevent the collapse of the south elevation of the North Warehouse in 2007.

Ambitious schemes came and went. One was approved in 2004 and another in 2007, which involved creating a huge atrium through the middle of the Tobacco Warehouse. But nothing happened. Stanley Dock was still derelict and disused in 2010 and it seemed that a sustainable solution could not be found.

Then Irish developer Harcourt acquired the site that year and came forward with its own schemes for all three of the principal buildings. Eventually those permissions were granted. The first building project was the new Titanic Hotel in the North Warehouse. Harcourt is the owner of the tourist attraction Titanic Belfast, so there was a clear opportunity for cross-promotion.

The initial plan was to demolish the 1950s Rum Warehouse inside the complex, but Harcourt decided it had potential for creating a conference centre, so that has now also been saved.

The restoration

As with the restoration of Albert Dock, the works for Stanley Dock have been undertaken in accordance with some key conservation principles, agreed from the start, which were essentially about retaining as much of the historic fabric and character as possible. Stanley Dock’s restoration flowed from these principles.

Work started in January 2013 and one of the first tasks was to put a new concrete floor across each level, tied into the external walls. The original structure and floors were similar to those at Albert Dock, namely cast iron columns and beams with brick-vaulted ceilings supporting the screed floor above, with transverse outer edges to prevent outward spread.

Because much of the roof had to be removed, the tops of the external walls were given a temporary restraint. A ring beam was placed around the upper floors and a new roof structure was inserted, but the old roof structure was retained as an archaeological resource. The lost west parapet was rebuilt.

There was no evidence that Stanley Dock had the same stressed steel roof as Albert Dock, so the replacement was a very different kind of structure.

The only major intervention was the creation of a vertical lift shaft, which revealed an inverted ‘Y’ beam similar to those at Albert Dock. One or two localised structural issues were soon resolved. A small glazed canopy at the front entrance of the hotel was the only external intervention. The one hundred and sixty seven windows were inspected and those that were capable of repair were taken out and sent to a foundry in Wolverhampton for renovation before being reinstated in the building.

The relationship of the warehouse to the dock was re-established by taking down a later brick wall that had separated them. Because of the solid floors, it was decided to put the services in the barrel vault ceiling. This was covered over with a suspended ceiling that was partly pulled back to retain a view of the cast iron beams.

The interior design celebrates the maritime heritage of the building and of Liverpool and retains the industrial aesthetic. Less visible but equally important work included a new drainage system throughout the yard, which meant that all the setts had to be relaid.

All this work happened within eighteen months. The Titanic Hotel and Rum Warehouse conference centre opened in June 2014 and the hotel rooms are purportedly the biggest in the city.

A revised scheme for 538 apartments for the Tobacco Warehouse was approved in April 2016. By taking out parts of alternate floors to create a double height level and a mezzanine level further in, the issue of the low floor to ceiling heights has been overcome. Light has been allowed into the centre of the building by the creation of three atria from the top to the first floor.

The creation of the atria has revealed the diminishing courses of the walls as in the other warehouses. Demolition of listed buildings is of course a bad thing, but in this case partial demolition has been good because it has revealed the frame and structure of the Tobacco Warehouse and it’s exciting to see it all taking place as the atria are created.

Original drawings show how the structure is different from Albert Dock and other Hartley warehouses. The Tobacco Warehouse has cast iron columns wrapped in fireproof cement, with primary beams resting on the columns and secondary beams resting on the principal beams. These beams are steel, not iron, and show an important transition from the complete cast iron frame to the steel frame of buildings such as the Royal Insurance Building in Dale Street.

There were six compartments in the Tobacco Warehouse. The roof structure in two of them have ‘north-light roofs’ that keep a constant level of light, but the other four have more conventional hipped roofs.

Because the roof had been taken off, the walls had to be maintained in stable condition, so temporary restraints were put in place to enable the framework for a new 12th floor and 13th floor penthouse level to be tied in and stabilised to the outer wall.

Surveys of the high-level terracotta decoration were undertaken. This is in poor condition but it is exquisite and extravagant work for a warehouse. There is much detail that can’t be seen at ground level, for example the ‘MDHB 1899’ lettering on hopper heads at the 12th floor. The restoration of this terracotta is being investigated.

The South Warehouse has received planning consent for an apart-hotel. This means taking out some of the later infilled brickwork in the ground floor colonnade that originally fronted onto the water.

A catalyst for regeneration

Stanley Dock remains a little isolated from the city centre and it is hoped that the Harcourt development will be a catalyst for the regeneration of the wider area. Peel’s Liverpool Waters scheme would connect Stanley Dock to the river and the Ten Streets project aims to provide a link back to the city centre.

At the heart of this, the three magnificently restored buildings of Stanley Dock will constitute another icon of heritage-led regeneration that may even start to challenge Albert Dock for that title!


One man designed, planned and supervised the building of all the construction on the south docks, and this lecture event celebrated Jesse Hartley’s originality and the structural integrity of his work. As Anthony Clarke pointed out, Hartley completed the Albert Dock and the river wall in the same time that it took to repair and refurbish the same buildings in the 1980s.

As well as Albert Dock, Hartley’s achievements included major warehouses at Wapping, Waterloo, Nelson and Stanley docks, and because of their survival, Liverpool has a wonderful legacy that continues to provide a catalyst for regeneration a century and a half later. Albert Dock is a world-class tourism destination and Stanley Dock’s restoration, the Peel’s Liverpool Waters scheme and the Ten Streets project aim to extend this heritage-led regeneration ethos further along Liverpool’s historic waterfront and beyond the city centre.

Retaining the historic fabric of an area is not always the easy option for local authorities and landowners who are often under complex pressures, but these three presentations have shown that where there is the political will, historic buildings can and do find creative and innovative new uses and bring economic regeneration to an area. Moreover, the new inhabitants then become ambassadors for protecting and cherishing their heritage.