From Herculaneum to City Quay

This week we helped Sarah move into her new apartment in City Quay.  Where? City Quay is a new dockland residential development on the site of the old Herculaneum Dock. It was situated at the southern end of the Liverpool dock system, connected to the north to Harrington Dock.

The dock was named after the Herculaneum Pottery Company that occupied the site between 1793 and 1841. The pottery made creamware and pearlware pottery as well as bone china porcelain.  The company engaged about forty men from the Staffordshire potteries.  Just as Wedgwood in Staffordshire had called his new colony ‘Etruria’, the Liverpool company christened theirs ‘Herculaneum’.  The company must have done a good trade with America, because there are many pieces bearing American designs and emblems, such as the Portland (Maine) Observatory Pitcher from 1807 (below).

Portland Observatory Pitcher 1807

In 1800 the pottery was considerably enlarged, and again in 1806. The pottery finally ceased operation in 1841.  One of the reasons cited for its early demise was the rapid development of the Staffordshire Potteries. Today, earthenware, creamware and china from the Herculaneum pottery is much sought-after by collectors.

The painting below first appeared in Lancashire Illustrated, Series of Views: from original drawings by S. Austin & William Henry Pyne, published in 1831. The painting is entitled ‘Liverpool from the Mersey No.IV’, and shows the Herculaneum pottery at the extreme right, directly above the buoy and with a whisp of smoke rising from it. The authors add a description of the scene which incudes this sentence:

“The view is terminated by the Herculaneum Pottery, which competes with the great manufacturies of Staffordshire…”

And here’s a better view of the pottery by Herdman in 1825, from the Dingle shore to the south.

From 1767, a tidal basin in the area that would become the dock had been used for unloading. The view below shows the area in 1825.

In 1864, a new dock designed by George Fosbery Lyster was blasted from the foreshore, providing two graving docks. This dock opened in 1866.  In 1876, a third graving dock was added. It is this dock that now forms the central water feature of City Quay.

From 1873 the dock handled petroleum and specialist casemates were built to store this and other volatile cargo within the sandstone cliffs above.

The casemates at Herculaneum Dock. They were used to store dangerous materials like petroleum
The casemates at Herculaneum Dock. They were used to store dangerous materials like petroleum

These casemates remain a feature of City Quay today, forming the base of the sandstone cliff that separates the development from Grafton Street above.  In all 63 casemates remain.

The dock continued to handle these materials until oil handling was transferred across the river to Tranmere Oil Terminal and Stanlow Oil Refinery in the 20th century. During 1881 the dock facility was enlarged further and a fourth graving dock was constructed in 1902. The photo below shows the Herculaneum in 1903, while the map shows the layout of the docks in 1909.

Coal being unloaded from a steamer at Herculaneum Dock
Coal being unloaded from a steamer at Herculaneum Dock

Herculaneum Dock was formerly served by its own station on the Liverpool Overhead Railway. The original Herculaneum Dock station opened as the southern terminus of the Liverpool Overhead Railway in 1893. The scenes below are from the 1950s.

The station (and railway) closed on 30 December 1956.

In 1972, Herculaneum Dock closed and was filled in during the 1980s. The area south of the dock contained a tank farm; this was reclaimed for the Liverpool Garden Festival and residential properties. The two photos below show the infill in progress in 1982.

In 2004, the site was bought by national property developer David McLean Homes and a riverside residential development, called City Quay was built on the dock.  It opened in 2008.

A feature of the site are the Dingle Steps which lead up to Grafton Street.

Near the foot of the steps is a mural representing scenes from the working class and trade union history of Liverpool.  The mural is about 40 feet in length and about 12 feet high. It was painted by Alan Murray, of Artworks Liverpool, along with several young people from the Dingle and Toxteth.  The left, central and right sections of the mural are shown below.

Click on the image below to view a high resolution image of the complete mural.

In April 2007, the Liverpool Daily Post reported that residents of the streets directly above the proposed development were protesting about plans to build a 12-storey tower block on the site, putting an end to residents’ uninterrupted views of the Welsh mountains and glorious sunsets.

Hundreds of people in the Shorefields area, around Grafton Street, have signed a petition in a bid to block plans for a new homes scheme on Herculaneum Dock.  Their own terraced houses are on top of a rock cliff face, giving residents uninterrupted views across the Mersey towards Wales.   They claim the scheme by Liverpool development company City Quay will ruin their grandstand view of stunning scenery.

City Quay want to build 218 homes, retail and leisure schemes and a 228-space car park on the last remaining undeveloped area of the dock.  The development, which will climb to 12 storeys, is being recommended for approval at next Tuesday’s meeting of Liverpool Planning Committee.

Originally, a 20-storey tower block was proposed, but that scheme was withdrawn.  Following a public consultation exercise, the height of the scheme has been reduced by almost 20ft. Hundreds of residents in the area, including people in Elswick Street, made famous by television’s Bread series, were asked for their comments.

What’s interesting and significant is the way that developments like this are changing the social composition of the area, drawing in a large number of young professionals.  The social boundary is particularly marked here in a vertical sense: roughly a hundred feet above are the terraced streets of working class Dingle – Liverpool 8. Somehow Quay City has acquired an L3 postcode.

See also

  • Stories of Steps: local stories of the Herculaeum Steps collected by The Creative Communities initiative (pdf)

10 thoughts on “From Herculaneum to City Quay

  1. rebuild the overhead railway as a tourist attraction,a mono rail woudnt be to exspensive

  2. I’d obviously looked at this before, when writing about Alan Murray’s painting on previous walks. This time I’ve actually read it all and am now much better informed about the history of the pottery and the dock.

    And yes, in coming down the Docker’s Steps you descend a full five postal districts. It’s a marvel.

  3. The Herculaneum Dock was given the lame excuse to be filled in as car parking for the Garden Festival site. That was one expensive temporary car park for sure. The history of Liverpool from the start has been one of reclaiming land for speculative purposes.

    The port was formed by filling in most of the original Pool. We have it now with Everton FC, backed a buffoon mayor, wanting to fill in Bramley Moor Dock, which is in a World Heritage Zone. The water spaces should left alone. Many, like Harrington and Toxteth Docks can be reinstated once housing is planned for this area.

  4. Dates are little bit wrong on new development.
    My partner bought apartment in City Quay and was living there in 2004, therefore David Mcclean must have acquired the land prior to 2004 and City Quay was in fact opened 2004 not 2008.

  5. All the historical dock sites have the L3 postcode so a long thin area running along the Mersey is given the L3 code. Even the Albert dock is L3 and I thought it was L1.

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