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.
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.