Art in the docks

On a bright crisp late February morning I had a wander around the Twelves Quays area.

The ‘four bridges’ crossing of the docks between Birkenhead and Wallasey has been closed for some time whilst the Council’s contractors replace the aging bridge structures and renew the highway.

Close to the Wirral Met College Wirral Waters campus a public art installation has been put into place. Three double sided panels contain artwork commissioned by local Wirral Methodist Housing Association with a grant from the Arts Council of England and assistance from Peel Holdings who own the dock estate.

The art project called ‘And the River flows on’ involved professional artists led by Robin Woolston helping a number of groups in the community develop their artistic skills to paint images that tell the story of the history of Birkenhead Docks.

The area where the art panels have been installed is still derelict and undeveloped. The panels sit on land adjacent to the new college building.

The college on Tower Road opened in September 2015, with approximately 35,000 square feet (3,300 square metres) of space. It provides courses focusing on construction. Students were involved in every stage of the development which won a Royal Institute of British Architecture award in 2016.


The Museum of Liverpool

We went to have a look around the museum where you can explore how the port, its people and their creative and sporting history have shaped the city.

The museum opened on 19 July 2011 in a purpose-built landmark building on Liverpool’s famous waterfront. The design concept for the building was developed by Danish architect 3XN and Manchester-based architect AEW were later commissioned to deliver the detailed design. It has won many awards, including the Council of Europe Museum Prize for 2013.

The Museum of Liverpool replaced the older Museum of Liverpool Life which closed in 2006. The original museum was housed in the old Pilotage and Salvage Association buildings on Liverpool’s waterfront, in between the Albert Dock and Pier Head. The new modern designed building now houses most of the original museum’s exhibits on a site close by.

National Museums Liverpool (who run seven facilities across Merseyside including the Museum of Liverpool) say that is the largest newly-built national museum in the UK for more than 100 years. The Museum quote a range of interesting facts about the building.

It occupies an area 110 metres long by 60 metres wide and at its tallest point it is 26 metres high and that makes it longer than the pitches at either Anfield or Goodison Park, more than twice as wide as the Titanic, and as tall as five Liver Building Liver birds placed end to end.

The museum’s frame is constructed with 2,100 tonnes of steel – equivalent to 270 double decker buses. The 1,500 square metres of glazing offer striking views of the city, especially from the 8 metres high by 28 metres wide picture windows at each end of the building. The museum is clad in 5,700 square metres of natural Jura stone, which if laid out flat would cover a football pitch. 7,500 cubic metres of concrete and 20 tonnes of bolts have been used in the construction. And 20,000 cubic metres of soil – equivalent to eight Olympic swimming pools – have been excavated from the site.

It is certainly a strikingly modern building.

The Museum displays are divided into four main themes:

  • The Great Port,
  • Global City,
  • People’s Republic, and
  • Wondrous Place

These are located in four large gallery spaces over three floors. On the ground floor, displays look at the city’s urban and technological evolution which includes the Industrial Revolution and the changes in the British Empire, and how these changes have impacted the city’s economic development.

The second floor looks at Liverpool’s strong identity through examining the social history of the city, from settlement in the area from Neolithic times to the present day, migration, and the various communities and cultures which contribute to the city’s diversity.

There are many highlights. I’ve noted some of these below.

Ben Johnson was commissioned to create The Liverpool Cityscape for the Capital of Culture year in 2008. He started the painting in 2005 and completed it during a public residency at the Walker Art Gallery in early 2008. It was originally displayed at the Walker as part of the exhibition ‘Ben Johnson’s Liverpool Cityscape 2008’ before moving to its permanent home in the Museum of Liverpool’s Skylight gallery.

The Liverpool Overhead Railway gallery tells the remarkable story of the first electric elevated railway in the world. The Overhead Railway was built in 1893 to ease congestion along seven miles of Liverpool’s docks. It was known as the ‘dockers’ umbrella’ as it also provided shelter from the rain. In the gallery you can climb into a carriage, which is fixed at the exact height of the original railway at 4.8m (16 feet) above the ground. The railway was eventually pulled down in the late 1950s.

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway ‘Lion’ is an early steam locomotive which is on display in the Great Port exhibition on the ground floor of the Museum. In 2007 Lion, was moved by road from Manchester to Liverpool after being on loan to Manchester while the new museum was under construction. Some conservation work took place prior to it taking pride of place in the new museum. It starred three films the most notable being the 1953 film ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’.

There is an enormous model of Sir Edwin Lutyens’ 1930’s design for Liverpool’s Catholic Cathedral in the museum. It is one of the most elaborate architectural models ever built in Britain. It represents the ambitious plan to build the world’s second largest cathedral, and it would have had the world’s largest dome, with a diameter of 168 feet (51 m). It was however far too costly and was abandoned with only the crypt complete. Eventually the present more modern Cathedral was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd with construction starting in 1962 with completion in less than five years in1967.

There are a range of exhibits displaying Liverpool Life over the ages. The social and community history collections include objects of local, national and international importance reflecting the changing history of the city and the diverse stories and experiences of Liverpool people. They include popular culture and entertainment, working life, labour history, politics and public health. The museum also has a large collection of oral history interviews and filmed video histories from local people with stories to tell.

Football is an important aspect of life in Liverpool. Liverpool Football Club Museum and The Everton Collection have both lent the museum an array of memorabilia. And there are exhibits from Merseyside’s other team Tranmere Rovers.

Whilst ‘The Beatles Story’ museum elsewhere in the Albert Dock has a large display to experience, the Beatles show at the Museum of Liverpool tells part of the story of the Fab Four in Liverpool which was the birthplace of a musical and cultural revolution that swept the globe.

At the time of our visit there was a special exhibition showing local music legends Gerry and the Pacemakers.

I took a number of images from the day, but there is much to see and experience and it will be worth re-visiting the museum to take it all in.

No hands o’clock

The hands have been taken off one of the clock faces on the Royal Liver Building for the first time since they were installed. The hands of the south-facing clock were taken off in October last year with the clock having been stopped earlier because it was losing time. I was recently visiting the Museum of Liverpool and took some photos of the strange sight of the clock without hands.

Workmen had abseiled down the famous clock to take off the minute hand and then they returned to take away the hour hand the following day. The mechanism behind has also been stripped back as there appears to be some issues with the bearings and the owners of the building didn’t want it to get worse.

These particular hands have never been taken off since they were put up 100 years ago. The hands and the clock mechanism have been taken to a specialist clock repair firm in the Cumbria.

The Royal Liver Building was bought for £48m in February 2017 by international property group Corestate which includes Farhad Moshiri majority shareholder of Everton FC. The company have ambitious plans to upgrade the building which provides prime office space in the city.

The Cumbria Clock Company says it is quite a challenge to repair Liverpool’s iconic Royal Liver Building clock. The clock faces are the largest in the UK and the minute hand alone is 14ft (4m) long. Both hands weigh 5 hundred weights (0.25 of a metric tonne) The clock is being repaired at their base in Dacre near Penrith.

The two clock towers form the high point of the Liver building, taking it to over 300 feet in height. The four clocks have a diameter of seven and a half metres and this made them the largest clock faces in the country, being larger than those on Big Ben in London, which are only 6.9 metres. Their size enabled sailors on the River Mersey to see what time it was as they entered port.

The original clocks were made by Gent & Co of Leicester, the faces of which are made up of separate 27 sections. The clocks were started on 22nd June 1911 at 1.40pm, the precise time George V was crowned. The clocks are electrically powered and are controlled electronically from the Greenwich Observatory. The building was opened officially on 19th July 1911 by Lord Sheffield. Electric chimes were added to the clocks in 1953 in memory of Royal Liver staff who had been killed in the two world wars.

Blog Stats for 2017

It’s end of year and as usual I reflect on what I’ve published on this blog during the last twelve months. I’ve uploaded ten new blogs during the year.

This year saw 9,828 views with 6,802 separate visitors from 83 different countries coming to the blog site.

The Top Ten countries viewing my blog were in order of views:

  • UK 6,481
  • USA 2,114
  • Australia 236
  • Spain 100
  • Germany 92
  • France 91
  • Russia 51
  • Canada 49
  • Netherlands 49
  • Italy 37

The most visiting postings during 2017 in order of popularity were:

  • Home page
  • On Four Bridges
  • The Welsh Streets Part 2
  • On Bidston Hill
  • Liverpool Anglican Cathedral
  • Littlewoods Building on Edge Lane Liverpool
  • About Wirral
  • The Hillsborough Monument Memorial
  • Birkenhead Tunnel Flyovers
  • Birkenhead Tunnel

I’ve uploaded 118 posts since I started the blog in March 2012 with 46,777 total views and 27,365 separate visitors during this time.

I will end by saying thank you to everyone who has taken the time to follow my blogs and photographs during the last twelve months and look forward to seeing you in the forthcoming year.

Best wishes to you all for 2018.

Fog on the Mersey

I took a few pictures of the River Mersey from Birkenhead just before the Christmas break. An early morning fog was burned off by the sun on both the Liverpool and Wirral riverbanks, but it refused to fade away over the river itself and by lunchtime it made for an eerie sight. The blanket of fog made the famous skyline of the city appear to be built on a low-level cloud.

The City’s two cathedrals, St John’s Tower and the both the old and new old Royal Liverpool hospital buildings can be seen clearly. However, the Albert Dock and Pierhead are under the mist, with only the top of the Echo Arena and BT Convention Centre to be seen. The rest of the City is in bright sunshine.

Just another day on the river and with apologies to the Geordie band Lindisfarne who sang about the Fog on the Tyne… the fog on the Mersey is all mine, all mine, the fog on the Mersey is all mine.

A trip over the Mersey Gateway Bridge

I took a trip over the new Mersey Gateway Bridge which opened to traffic after midnight on the morning of Saturday 14th October. It is a new six lane toll bridge over the River Mersey between the towns of Runcorn and Widnes. It also takes traffic over the Manchester Ship Canal which links Liverpool to Salford. My article about a trip down the Manchester Ship Canal from 31 May 2017 has some images of the new Mersey Gateway Bridge during its construction phase.

The Mersey Gateway Project was a major civil engineering scheme to build a cable-stayed bridge with three pylons at 2.3km long with a river span of 1km. The main bridge deck is made from reinforced concrete and the spans are supported by steel cable stays attached to pylons rising up to between 80 and 125m above the river bed. It also included the construction of a 9.2 kilometre road network connecting the new bridge to the main motorway network.

It was built to relieve the congested and ageing Silver Jubilee Bridge. However, in order to pay for the new bridge both the new Mersey Gateway Bridge and the Silver Jubilee Bridge are subject to a £2 toll charge each way. The Silver Jubilee Bridge is currently closed for refurbishment following the opening of the new bridge.

The Mersey Gateway Crossings Board Ltd was set up to deliver the project working closely with the Merseylink consortium, which was appointed as the project company responsible for the building and operation of the bridge over the next 30 years. The £1.86 billion lifetime cost of the new bridge includes the design, build, finance, operation and maintenance of the project through to 2044. The majority of the funding comes from the tolls paid by road users, but there is also a contribution from the UK Government. The build element of the costs is £600m.

The construction used 127,415 cubic metres of concrete, had more than 1,000 people working on the site at peak times and took 1,200 days from start to finish of the construction phase. However, the project took over 23 years from inception when in 1994 the Mersey Gateway Project was set up to develop a new bridge over the River Mersey. In 2006 the Government gave outline approval to the project with funding being agreed in 2011 and a tendering process commenced to appoint a suitable construction consortia. This culminated in 2013 with the Merseylink Consortium being appointed as the preferred bidder for the project with work starting in 2014. The consortium including funders, infra structure and construction companies from Australia, Britain, Spain and Korea.

The bridge is expected to be paid off in 25 years at which point it has been promised that a review on tolls would be conducted. However there has been a mixed response to the new crossing with some people welcoming the new bridge but many others are unhappy at the daily toll costs.

Protests have been staged opposing the decision to implement tolls on both crossings. Campaigners say that the extra transport costs will have a detrimental effect on the area and the local economy.

It is however a very impressive structure to drive over and it certainly does cut the congestion that was associated with the previous single crossing over the Jubilee Bridge.

A walk to Hilbre Island

I’ve mentioned Hilbre Island in a number of blogs in the past and I posted about a walk to Little Eye way back on 5 May 2014 but I’ve not written a blog about walking out to Hilbre Island.

Armed with my pocket camera rather than full photographic kit we walked the two or so miles out from the beach at West Kirby and the same distance back again whilst the tide was out.

For September it was an overcast day but the rain kept away. On a summer day, up to 500 people can make the walk out to Hilbre Island. Given the changing tides some get the timing wrong and require the help of the local lifeboat crew.

There are a group of three islands just off the West Kirby coast.  Hilbre Island is the largest of the group at approximately 11.5 acres or 4.7 hectares in area.  It is two miles out from West Kirby or one mile from Red Rocks off Hoylake up the coast but there is no safe route across the sands from Red Rocks.  The safe route is to head to Little Eye from West Kirby Sailing School, then across to Middle Eye and onto Hilbre.  The sands are not safe outside of this path.

Middle Eye or in older sources ‘Middle Island’ and on Ordnance Survey maps it is shown as ‘Little Hilbre’ is the second island.  It is about 3 acres or 1.2 hectares in size.  The third island is Little Eye and this is much smaller being a rocky outcrop.  Hilbre and Middle Eye are less than a hundred yards apart.  All three islands are formed of red Bunter sandstone.

Hilbre Island is one of 43 tidal islands that can be reached on foot from the mainland of Great Britain when the tide is out.  Others include The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, in Northumberland, and St Michael’s Mount, in Cornwall.  The islands here are thought to have been occupied on and off since the Stone Age. Several finds of Stone and Bronze Age items and Roman pottery items were discovered in 1926.

Hilbre Island’s name derives from the dedication of a medieval chapel built on the island to St. Hildeburgh, an Anglo-Saxon holy woman, after which it became known as Hildeburgheye or Hildeburgh’s island.  Hildeburgh is said to have lived on Hilbre Island in the 7th century as an anchorite (a religious recluse).  The 19th-century St Hildeburgh’s Church in Hoylake, built nearby on the mainland, is named for her.

Hilbre Island may have been a hermitage before the Norman invasion or at least a place of pilgrimage based around the tradition of St Hildeburgh.  In about 1080 a church for Benedictine monks was established on Hilbre Island as a dependency of Chester Cathedral.

The area was part of the lands of the Norman lord Robert of Rhuddlan and he gave the islands to an abbey in Normandy, who then passed responsibility onto the Abbey of St. Werburgh in Chester.

The island became a common place for pilgrimage in the 13th and 14th centuries and upon the dissolution of the monasteries two monks were allowed to remain on the island, as they maintained a beacon for shipping in the river mouth as Chester and Parkgate were busy ports. The last monk left the island in about 1550, as it was no longer considered a sanctuary, having become a centre for commerce and a busy trading port itself.  In 1692 a small factory was set up to refine rock salt. There was also a ‘beer house’, The Seagull Inn, during the 1800s and with the commercial activity a custom house was established on the island to collect taxes on the goods traded.  However with the silting up of the River Dee trade switched to ports on the River Mersey and the commerce and trade vanished from the island leading to the closure of the inn in the 1830s. Part of the structure of this building remains incorporated into what was the custodian’s residence.


The islands were bought in 1856 by the Trustees of the Liverpool Docks, which later became known as the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board.  Hilbre Island Lighthouse was constructed here in 1927 it is a white 3m high steel tower surmounted by a red lantern which since 1995 is solar powered.  The islands were sold to Hoylake Council in 1945 for £2,500, passing to Wirral Borough Council on its formation in 1974.

Hilbre used to have a Wirral Council Countryside Warden who lived on the island but in January 2011 it was announced that there would be no permanent ranger. Wirral Council said that they had had difficulty finding a ranger prepared to live without mains electricity or running water on the island. The ranger service now visits each day by Land Rover.

There are however a few houses, some of which are privately owned on the island.  There are also some interesting buildings like the decaying lifeboat station and the old telegraph station.  The ruined redbrick former Lifeboat Station was built in 1849; it was a quicker option than the previous method of dragging the boat over the sands from Hoylake.  It is said that the crew ran or rode on horseback from Hoylake before rowing out to rescue stricken sailors.  The last launch from here was in 1939.  Much of the slipway is still in place but the power of the sea has shifted numerous stones a few hundred yards.  The Telegraph Station has now been made into an interperatative centre.  Another interesting development was an exclusive gentlemen’s club who leased a house on the island in the late 19th century and named themselves the ‘Hilbre Club’.

The most southerly building on the island is the Hilbre Bird Observatory, from which birds are continuously monitored as part of a national network of observatories and ringing stations.  Terns, gulls, egrets, shelducks, herons, Manx shearwaters, rock pipits, peregrine falcons, gannets, oyster catchers have all been spotted here.

As well as birds the island is famous for its seals.  A colony of Atlantic grey seals swim around the northern tip of the island.  There is a regular count of the number of seals with their numbers increasing steadily over decades.  In recent years a peak count of over 825 was recorded on June 24th 2010.  The increase is mainly because the Dee Estuary is now very clean, so there is an abundance of food.  There is also plenty of space on the sandbanks particularly the nearby Hoyle Bank for the seals to haul out and bask in the sun.  At high tide they swim around catching fish and at low tide they haul themselves onto a sandbank or onto Hilbre when all the visitors have gone. Not having my DSLR camera and lens I struggled to get close up shots of the seals.

The Hilbre Islands Local Nature Reserve is within the Dee Estuary which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Protection Area, a ‘Ramsar’ Site which is a Wetland of International Importance and a candidate EU Special Area of Conservation.  As such the islands are protected by law to conserve their wildlife and geology.

Whilst the islands and surrounding foreshores are the freehold property of Wirral Council who manage the site, a group called the Friends of Hilbre ( was formed in 2001 to help the Council maintain the islands.  The Friends of Hilbre amongst other things promote the conservation, protection and improvement of the physical and natural environment of Hilbre Islands Local Nature Reserve for the benefit of the public.

Local yachting clubs have held “Commodore’s Day” visits to the Hoyle Bank sand bank just off from Hilbre island.  This usually involves the crews of several yachts going onto the sands and enjoying various activities: football, cricket and even barbecues.  This causes the seals to flee abandoning their rest period which could be detrimental to their health.  The Friends of Hilbre are seeking a way to resolve this issue with the Council’s Rangers’ department.

The island along with the West Kirby and Hoylake coast has been awarded Green Flag status for 2017/18.  Apparently Wirral has more of these flags than any other UK county.  The Green Flag is the national standard for publicly accessible parks and green spaces.  Set up in 1996, this scheme recognises and rewards green spaces in England and Wales which achieve the standards set.

Ending on a note from the world of showbiz, Hilbre island featured prominently in the 2013 BBC films crime drama ‘Blood’ which featured Hollywood stars Paul Bettany and Stephen Graham.  The film was shot in Wirral where the director, Nick Murphy, grew up. He located much of the action to Hilbre island where as a kid he had thought it would be a good place to bury a body!  The island provides a brooding back drop to the dark crime thriller.