Around Georges Dock Gates

George’s Dock

George’s Dock was a dock on the River Mersey which was connected to Canning Dock to the south and George’s Basin to the north.  It was opened in 1771 having been designed and built by Henry Berry and expanded by John Foster Senior.  Canning Dock is still used as part of the Albert Dock development today however in 1899 the George’s Dock and the adjoining George’s Basin were filled in to create what is now the Pier Head, to provide one central place for Liverpool Docks’ offices, which up until then had been scattered across the city.  The site now contains the ‘three graces’ of the Port of Liverpool Building, the Cunard Building and the Liver Building as well as the Pier head where the Mersey Ferries continue to arrive from Birkenhead and Seacombe across the river.


A section of the original George’s Dock wall is still visible in the basement of the Cunard Building which stands on the site but the most visible remnant of George’s Dock to passersby is the street name sign on the wall between the Strand and outside the Church of Our Lady and Saint Nicholas.


More recently excavation work has seen a £22 million extension of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal on the site of the former George’s basin at the Pier head. The canal extension provides a further 1.4 miles of navigable waterway to the canal which was completed in March 2009.


Simpson Fountain

On the corner of the Strand and Chapel Street built into the Georges Dock Gates wall below the Church of Our Lady and Saint Nicholas is the Simpson Fountain.


William Shaw Simpson was a well known character in Liverpool, known as a person willing to help anyone. He was born in Lancaster in 1829.  He owned a refreshment stall on the Princes landing stage of the ferries on the river Mersey which he ran from 1857 until his death.

On a number of occasions he placed a large bowl outside his cafe to collect money for various charities dedicated to the alleviation of distress of the poor including striking South Wales miners and families affected by the famine in Ireland.  Because of the number of passengers using the ferries he raised thousands of pounds. The bowl became famous and was known as the ‘Simpson bowl’.


He was a teetotaller and ran his cafe as a temperance cafe. He also tried to be elected as a member of parliament on a number of occasions, but was narrowly defeated on each occassion.

William Simpson died in 1883 of a ‘stoppage of the bowels’.  At his funeral the crowds lining the roads along the funeral procession were so great that traffic was suspended, and there was a crowd of around two thousand at the Smithdown Lane cemetery where he was buried.

After the funeral it was agreed to erect a memorial drinking fountain to him, being paid for by public subscription. The fountain was designed in a gothic style by sculptor Mr. Rogerson and architect Mr. Thomas Cox.  In the middle of the fountain is a large bronze medallion showing the head of William Simpson.  There are four lions on top of the fountain supporting shields. Originally the shields were going to have carvings on them, but this was never carried out.


The fountain was erected against the outside wall of the grounds of St. Nicholas Church about half a mile from the site of his cafe and was unveiled in July 1885 by Sir James A Picton. The fountain is a grade II listed building through English Heritage.

Simpson’s Refreshment and Luggage Rooms survived through to October 1940 and were run by William Simpson’s daughters.  But the cafe ceased to be a paying proposition and the Simpsons relinquished their tenancy and the building was removed.

Church of Our Lady and Saint Nicholas

Behind the Georges Dock Gates wall which houses the Simpson Fountain lies the Church of Our Lady and Saint Nicholas.

It is the Anglican parish church of Liverpool and is known as the ‘sailor’s church’.  The church is situated close to the River Mersey opposite to the current Pier Head.  The site is said to have been a place of worship since at least 1257.  The Chapel of St Nicholas  who is the Patron Saint of Sailors, was built on the site of the small stone chapel known as St Mary del Quay which was built around 1257.  In 1355 St Mary del Quay was determined to be too small for the growing borough of Liverpool.


The Church of Our Lady and Saint Nicholas is a Grade II listed building and is still an active parish church in the diocese of Liverpool. The church was from 1813 to 1868 the tallest building in Liverpool at 53 metres high.  It was surpassed by the Welsh Presbyterian Church in Toxteth which was built in 1868.

The new chapel dedicated to St Mary and St Nicholas was under construction for more than a century.  In 1361 a plague hit the town and the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry licensed the burial ground and the chapel was consecrated the following year. The church has been developed in various forms since the fourteenth century and between 1673 and 1718, the building was extended piecemeal, and galleries were built to seat the increasing population of Liverpool with a spire being added in 1746.


In 1699 Liverpool, now with a population of about 5,000 people, was created as an independent parish with two parish churches and two rectors. Our Lady and St Nicholas (the “Old Church” or “St Nicks”) and the new parish church of St Peter’s (which was located in what is now the Church Street shopping centre) were established as the two parish churches.


Since 1916 Our Lady and St Nicholas has been the sole Parish Church of Liverpool as St Peter’s, was demolished in 1922, having served as pro-cathedral for the Anglican Diocese of Liverpool prior to the building of the current Anglican Cathedral built on St James’s Mount.

On Sunday 11 February 1810, as the bells rang and people were gathering for the morning service, the spire crashed into the nave below, killing 25 people.  The original ring of six bells, dating from 1636–1724, was destroyed in the disaster.  Between 1811 and 1815, a new tower and lantern were built at the north side of the church. The tower was designed by Thomas Harrison of Chester. The last remains of the original chapel of St Mary del Quay, which had been used as a tavern, were demolished.  Within the tower, a new ring of 12 bells was installed.

However after a devastating World War II air raid in December 1940 much of the church was destroyed leaving only the tower and vestry.  Rebuilding began after the war with the foundation stone being laid in 1949 and the rebuilt church was consecrated in October 1952.


In May 1892 a deed was granted laying out the graveyard as an ornamental garden in memory of James Harrison whose shipping company’s offices faced the church yard.  The gardens have acted as a focal point for memorials to those that have lost their lives during the last war.  These include those who died at sea in the Russia Murmansk convoy in 1944-45 and the Arctic campaign of 1941-45.


Probably the most striking memorial in the gardens is the sculpture by local artist Tom Murphy in memory to the citizens of Liverpool and Bootle who lost their lives in the Blitz 1940 to 1942 this was unveiled by the Duke of Edinburgh on 7 July 2000.  Tom Murphy has produced a number of public sculptures in the city.  These include Captain Johnny Walker at the Pierhead, Billy Fury at the Albert Dock, the Moores brothers in Church Street, John Lennon at the airport and Ken Dodd and Bessie Braddock in Lime Street railway station.


It makes a fine shot with the famous Liver Building right behind it.


The bell from TSS Sarpedon is another artefact in the church gardens.  TSS Sarpedon was built in 1923 by Cammell Laird & Co. at Birkenhead with a tonnage of 11,321 (gross registered tonnage).  She was commissioned by the Liverpool based Alfred Holt & Co who ran the Blue Funnel Line and its operating company the Ocean Steamship Co.  One of four sister ships she was built to accommodate 155 First Class passengers after a request from the British Government to provide additional passenger accommodation on cargo vessels on the Far East service.  TSS Sarpedon’s regular ports of call were Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

In 1927 she carried supplies and ammunition to Hong Kong during the second Sino-Japanese war.  She survived WW2 and returned to commercial service on 5th January 1946 when she made the first post war sailing to Australia from Liverpool to Brisbane with 48 passengers. On 5th June 1953 she made her last journey when she arrived at Newport in south Wales where she was broken up by John Cashmore and Co.


I haven’t managed to find out why the ship’s bell of the TSS Sarpedon has found its last resting place in the gardens of Our Lady and St Nicholas church.

The Blue Funnel line made a number of acquisitions and mergers over the years and in 1972 it acquired William Cory, a major shipping agent, and the following year, it changed its name to Ocean Transport & Trading.  However the Blue Funnel Line came to an end in 1986 when the Ocean Transport & Trading company withdrew Overseas Containers Limited and it no longer operated a shipping line. In 1990 it renamed itself Ocean Group a global transport and services company.

HMS Illustrious sails into Liverpool


The Royal Navy warship HMS Illustrious sailed into Liverpool on Thursday 14th February.  The Navy’s last remaining helicopter carrier arrived and berthed at the Liverpool cruise liner terminal for a five-day visit.


I wasn’t able to get to see the carrier’s entry to the River Mersey on Thursday but I’m told that the ship made the traditional ceremonial entry into the city with around 200 members of the 600-strong crew standing in their dress uniform on the flight deck.  “Lusty” as she is affectionately known to her crew had travelled from her home port of Portsmouth for the visit to Liverpool with both a Lynx and a Sea King helicopter on board for the public to take a closer look at.



On Saturday and Sunday the public were allowed to go on guided tours of the ship and I went along on Saturday morning and queued with hundreds of others in an orderly line on Princes Parade.




The Town Crier of the City Of Liverpool and the Royal Marines band were around for the day to brighten the wait in the queue.



The vessel is a light aircraft carrier weighing around 22,000 tonnes and is now a dedicated helicopter and commando carrier.  It is 686 ft (209 m) long and has a beam (width at the waterline) of 118 ft (36 m) and a draught (the depth of a loaded vessel in the water from the level of the waterline to the lowest point of the hull) of 25 ft (7.6 m).  It has an operating range of 5,000 nautical miles and has a crew of 685 Royal Navy crew and 366 Fleet Air Arm.



HMS Illustrious is the second of three Invincible-class light aircraft carriers built for the Royal Navy in the late 1970s and early 1980s being a sister ship to the famous but now decommissioned Ark Royal and Invincible, which both visited Liverpool several times for major Royal Navy and city events.  She is the fifth warship and second aircraft carrier to bear the name ‘Illustrious’.



The carrier was built at Swan Hunter’s shipyard on the on the River Tyne in 1976 and launched in 1978.  However the commissioning of Illustrious was not completed until after the Falklands Conflict in 1982.  It did see active service being deployed to Iraq and Bosnia in the 1990s and to Sierra Leone in 2000.  An extensive re-fit in 2002 prevented her from involvement in the 2003 Iraq War, but she was repaired in time to assist British citizens trapped by the 2006 Lebanon War.



In the 1970s the Sea Harrier was developed for use by the Royal Navy on Invincible-class aircraft carriers like Illustrious.   The Harriers have vertical/short takeoff and landing capability and were well suited to operational use from the Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier fleet.  However following the retirement of the fixed-wing Harrier II aircraft in 2010 Illustrious now operates as one of two Royal Navy helicopter carriers.  It has capacity of up to 22 helicopters with the combination of Chinook; Apache; Merlin; Lynx and Sea King.  Before their retirement, HMS Illustrious could operate up to 22 Sea Harriers/ Harrier II fixed wing planes.




Following the Government’s 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the decision was made to retain HMS Ocean rather than Illustrious for the longer term.  HMS Ocean is not an aircraft carrier but is an amphibious assault ship with a landing platform for helicopter and is the sole member of her class.  In May 2011 Illustrious underwent a £40 million refit to take on the helicopter carrier role while HMS Ocean undergoes a planned refit, due for completion by 2014.



Illustrious is the oldest ship in the Royal Navy’s active fleet and it is envisaged that she will be withdrawn from service in 2014 after 32 years’ service once HMS Ocean’s refit is completed.  She will not be replaced until HMS Queen Elizabeth a new ‘super carrier’ is commissioned in 2016. The UK Ministry of Defence announced on 10 September 2012 that once she is decommissioned, Illustrious will be preserved for the nation.




HMS Illustrious last visited Liverpool in 2009 for the Fleet Air Arm’s celebrations to mark 100 years of naval aviation.  On that occasion more than 8,000 people took the opportunity to go aboard each day and get a unique insight into life in the Royal Navy. It seemed like a similar number went on board on this visit and estimates suggest some 11,000 people visited the ship over this weekend.



The visitors could stroll along the deck of the carrier and take in the views of the Pierhead and watch the other ships in the Mersey including the Belfast Ferry leaving from Twelve Quays across the river in Birkenhead.

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This could be HMS Illustrious last visit to Liverpool before it is decommissioned in 2014. Although there is a possibility that she could visit again over the weekend of May 24 to 27, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic.  The Royal Navy has a long-standing association with the city of Liverpool and will be involved in helping the city commemorate the 70th anniversary.



HMS Illustrious left the city this evening to return to sea to take up her next operational duties.

Chinese New Year in Liverpool

On Saturday and Sunday the oldest Chinese community in Europe, in Liverpool, celebrated the Chinese New Year.


I went along on Sunday as the Dragon, Unicorn and Lion Dance Street Parade took place along Nelson Street and Berry Street in Liverpool’s Chinatown.  The event traditionally attracts thousands of people who witness a series of spectacular displays against the backdrop of Europe’s biggest Chinese arch, at the top of Nelson Street.  Unfortunately like many days out in the last twelve months it poured down all day and my lenses had large droplets of water on the filters distorting some of my photographs particularly of the Chinese Arch.



The Chinese calendar is based on the lunar and solar calendars and as such the actual date of the Chinese New Year varies, but it always falls between late January and mid-February.  Each year in the Chinese calendar is represented by one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac.  This the Year of the Snake, falls on Sunday February 10th 2013.



The celebrations also known as the ‘spring festival’ are the most important celebrations in the Chinese calendar.  The spring festival celebrates the start of new life and the season of ploughing and sowing.



It was estimated that around 15,000 people filled the streets around Great George Square to watch the celebrations this year in Liverpool in amongst the heavy rain and smoke from the ear splitting firecrackers that were being let off in the streets.


New Year festivities start on the first day of the lunar month and continue until the fifteenth day when the moon is brightest.  The New Year in Liverpool is a huge festival among the Chinese communities starting with Sunday’s procession and ending with a Lantern Festival on Sunday, 24 February 2013.  The first week is celebrated with visits to friends and family following special traditions designed to bring good luck.



In Great George Square the procession stopped to watch a very noisy firecracker display and there was a special appearance from the ‘Lucky Man’ wearing traditional costume handing out red envelopes to children.



It is a traditional practice to light fireworks and firecrackers and to make as much of a din as possible to chase off the evil spirits. In Great George Square they let off string loads of ear splittingly loud firecrackers.




As the ‘Lucky Man’ led the Dragon, Unicorn and Lion Dance Street Parade along the streets they stopped off at each restaurant where the proprietors would provide lettuce leaves and water for the mythical creatures to devour.  At the Hoi Yin Association on Nelson Street children dangled food out of the first floor window for the lion.  This was accompanied by firecrackers being let off in special cages as they stopped at each restaurant.



I was intrigued by the rituals of the red envelopes, the letting off of fire crackers and the feeding the lion and other creatures.  These rituals go back to ancient China where according to tales and legends, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with the fight against a mythical beast called the Nian who would come on the first day of New Year to eat livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children.  To protect themselves, the villagers would put food in front of their doors at the beginning on New Year’s day. It was believed that after the Nian ate the food they prepared, it wouldn’t attack any more of the villagers.  However the people saw that the Nian was scared away by a little child wearing red.  The villagers then understood that the Nian was afraid of the colour red and so from then on when New Year arrived the villagers would hang red lanterns and red spring scrolls on windows and doors and they would also set off firecrackers to frighten away the mythical beast.  From then on, Nian never came to the village again.



Traditionally, Red envelopes or red packets are passed out during the Chinese New Year’s celebrations, from married couples or the elderly to unmarried juniors and it is common for adults or young couples to give red packets to children.  Red packets usually contain money and following custom; the amount of money is of even numbers, as odd numbers are associated with cash given during funerals  But sometimes chocolate coins are found in the red packets as I’m sure the ‘Lucky Man’ distributed today.  It is custom and polite for children to wish elders a happy new year and a year of happiness, health and good fortune before accepting the red envelope which are then kept under the pillow and slept on for seven days before opening as this symbolizes good luck and fortune.



Within China, regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration of the Chinese New Year vary widely.  Often, the evening preceding Chinese New Year’s Day is an occasion for Chinese families to get together for the annual reunion dinner. It is also traditional for every family to thoroughly cleanse the house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for good incoming luck. Windows and doors will be decorated with red colour paper decorations and poems with the themes of good fortune, happiness, wealth and longevity.



On the streets of Liverpool there were all ages and generations of the local Chinese community.  The first day of the Chinese New Year is also time to honour one’s elders and families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended families, usually their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.



Many performers later on in the day move out of Chinatown and into Bold Street into one of the main shopping areas in Liverpool city centre to perform outside the Chinese-related businesses there.  All along Bold Street the Liverpool Happy Hookers Crochet Group had adorned the lampposts and bollards with brightly coloured snakes.




I headed off back into the city centre to dry off and get warmed up after a very interesting day celebrating the Year of the Snake.