Industrial Archaeology: The 19th Century Birkenhead Docks in the mid-late 1980s

I found these photos the other day in an old file and thought that they ought to be shared.  I cannot remember the exact date, but it was somewhere in the mid to late 1980s when Jack Edwards, who ran the Cavendish Enterprise Agency in Birkenhead, gave me the most brilliant work experience opportunity after I left university, one of the best times of my life.  Up until that time, my work experience consisted of digging up archaeological sites around Britain, and Cavendish was a real insight into another world. There were so many superb projects.  Jack noticed that I photographed anything that came my way, so one of the projects that he set me was to take photographs of the derelict Birkenhead docks and its wharves.  This was pre-digital,  all slide and print film.  It was always a bit of an anxious moment when photographs came back from the film processors, to find out whether they were any good.  I have resisted the temptation to tweak them in Photoshop.

Jack was collecting tram rails at the time, in the yard at Cavendish, because there was a lot of conversation about restoring the docks along the lines of the Albert Dock in Liverpool, and he thought that it would be terrific to run replica trams through it.  When I went to the docks, my beloved Nikon in hand, I took the incumbent boyfriend with me, on the grounds that the derelict docks were probably not the best place to be wandering around alone, but we encountered no-one.  Not merely derelict, but deserted.  The photographs were never used for anything,  although Jack loved them, but I am so glad that he sent me to take them, because this is something that no-one will ever see again.  A moment in time, captured.

Jack was my Dad’s great friend, and thanks to my ruthless custom of gate-crashing their many lunches, he became a lifelong friend of mine too.  We lost Jack last year.  In the tornado of questions that I failed to ask him over the many happy and boozy lunches, one of the big ones was – Jack, what on earth did you do with all those tram rails?


2 thoughts on “Industrial Archaeology: The 19th Century Birkenhead Docks in the mid-late 1980s

  1. William Byrnes

    Its always the same. The sense of the enterprise, self confidence and commitment which went into creating these tragic relics. The sense of a different outlook and a different civilisation. I remember your reaction to the visit. It was an even bigger shock for me when I returned .. There was a period after the war when Liverpool and Birkenhead were thriving with activity, and still self confident. I remember them well. I could not have imagined these places deserted . No one but a woman, a Nikon and a transient boyfriend. What does not appear in your pictures is the suffering, though you would have to be very obtuse not to intuit it. The docklands, and the factories built on the raw materials which came through them, were full of people. They were, and felt, abandoned too. WB.



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