Trying to hide my annoyance, I asked “where are you mate?” after waiting inside the pub for a friend from Leeds who was half an hour late.
He was on the phone. And he was lost.
I’d told him to meet me in the Coburg on the Dock Road and being a stranger to Liverpool he’d put it on his satnav ‘Dock Road’.
He’d followed the directions exactly and he had indeed arrived smack-bang on the Dock Road. In deepest darkest Garston.
The holdup highlighted an interesting fact we Scousers overlook. Although hundreds of people swear they travel on it every day, and everyone can point to it on a map, ‘the Dock Road’ doesn’t exist. Try a googlemaps search or type ‘Dock Road, Liverpool’ into your satnav. I bet it takes you to Garston.
You’re only technically on The Strand if you’re heading from St Nicholas Church to Albert Dock. If you are going the other way, you’re actually on Goree.
Odd, isn’t it, that a road that’s been at the heart of our city’s development for centuries (and parts of which existed before the city) can be so misunderstood. So hard to get to grips with.
What we commonly call ‘the Dock Road’ is actually a collection of many smaller streets lying end-to-end. The road runs some six miles from Sefton Street in the south to Shore Street in the North (now part of the Freeport).
The roads in order South to North are: Sefton Street, Chaloner Street, Wapping, Strand Street, The Strand, Goree, Georges Dock Gates, New Quay, Bath Street, Waterloo Road, Regent Road and Shore Street.
The oldest of these roads is without question ‘The Strand’. The word ‘strand’ actually comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for shoreline or beach. When Liverpool was that muddy fishing hamlet surrounding the banks of the tidal pool, the Mersey would reach right up to it.
Nowadays The Strand is that stretch of road between Water Street to James Street. Because it had always been there and wasn’t a planned thoroughfare, more just a shoreline stretch of tramped dirt, it was never included in the original ‘Seven Streets’ of the town as they were laid out in 1207.
By the time Liverpool’s first accurate map was published in 1725 both Strand Street and New Key (Quay) were in existence. Remember, this was just after the first dock was built (1715) Liverpool was just about to take off.
By 1765 Goree (pic r) exists behind where the Three Graces now stand. Goree, grimly, takes its name from a slaving fort where the african prisoners were kept before being shipped across the Atlantic. Two massive warehouses were constructed in 1775 on Goree, beneath them ran colonnades which became the handsome Goree Piazzas. Although suffering fire in 1802 they were rebuilt and survived the ravages of WWII only to fall the wrecking ball that was post-war Liverpool.
Also around this the mid 18th century bathing houses had sprung up on the north shore. These eventually led to the creation of the city’s first public baths and another part of the Dock Road – Bath Street.
In the 1760s Liverpool only had three docks and the reclaimed land on which the Pier Head stands was still resolutely the River Mersey. There is yet still no sign of a continuous road running along the docks. Between Pier Head and the Salthouse Dock is a jumble of narrow streets and alleys, clustered around the entrance to the Old Dock. It would only be with the filling in of the old-dock, and the building of the ill-fated Customs House that the ‘Dock Road’ would begin to resemble its modern form.
In 1771 Georges Dock was built, giving rise to the slither of road just outside St Nicholas Churchyard to Water Street being named ‘Georges Dock Gates’ (pic r).
By 1783 the docks had begun stretching southwards and the road along them was being laid out. First to come were the Dukes Dock followed by the Kings and Queens Dock. Interestingly the road running along side the Queens Dock is already known as ‘Wapping Quay’ by 1807. It’s name probably came from Wapping in London, as Liverpool’s claim to Second City of Empire was, by this time, unquestionable.
Sefton Street, running from the bottom of Parliament Street into Toxteth was named after the Earls of Sefton whose family owned most of the land in Toxteth.
To the north of the Pier Head, past Bath Street runs Waterloo Road and Regent Road. These roads date from the same period. Waterloo Road isn’t named after the suburb of the same name but after the Waterloo Dock (1834), named after the famous battle, and Eurovision smash. Possibly not.
Regent road is the longest of all the streets, running nearly three miles to take the Dock Road from Waterloo Dock to Seaforth. The name refers to George IV, Prince Regent whilst his father, the ‘mad King’ clung to power. Suitably enough, Regent Road became the home so many drinking houses and late night ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ given the Prince Regent’s penchant for such things.
It was also home to the infamous Bonkers (once The Regent) – Liverpool’s first ‘fun’ pub (together with ‘Porkers’ just a little further up Regent Road: both prone to staff dancing on the bar, and doing Tom Cruise moves whilst mixing up a Sex On The Docks.)
The Queens dock was well known for its timber shipping from Norway and Sweden, some of the wealthiest timber merchants who owned the land in this area were the Chaloner Family who the street is named after.
At one time, Liverpools ‘Dock Road’ would’ve been one of the busiest thoroughfares in the world. Hundreds of horses would clatter across the damp cobbles, their waggons groaning under the produce of the Empire. Steam-trains puffed and shunted cargo through the heavy traffic, and burrowed their way into tunnels carved into the sandstone ridge behind Derby Road.
Congestion got so bad that they had to build another railway to link the docks together. This new railway would soar 16 feet above the road, designed just for passengers it would be the first electric overhead Railway in the world.
On the pavements costermongers would push barrows of fish and fruit trundling past cattle being driven to-and-from the ships whilst sailors staggered their way from pub-to-pub having spent their leave and nearly all their money. Urchins, dockers, whores, policemen, immigrants, emigrants, clerks, ship-owners, businessmen – all of human life distilled into six miles of damp cobbles.
But time and tide waits for no man and as Liverpools docks began to falter the Dock Road changed. When the ships disappeared so did the people and quickly after the people went the pubs. Liverpool fell out of love with the Dock Road, it became a sort of no-man’s land of ruined warehouses, empty pubs and grass grown paving flags. Perhaps it was a painful reminder of past glories? Its dramatic architecture and engineering were ignored and it fell, like much of the city at the time, into dereliction.
But perhaps the tide is changing? Recent years have seen renewed passion for the road – and the Stanley Dock warehouse is set to be reanimated with apartments, shops and offices, not to mention Peel’s Liverpool Waters behemoth.
It’ll be a long time coming but perhaps one day, ‘The Dock Road’ will earn its rightful place on the map after all.