1825 - Dockside Warehouse

No one country has ever dominated global trade as Britain did in the mid-19th century. By then something like a quarter of the total international trade was passing through Britain's seaports, and over 40 per cent of the world's entire output of manufactured goods came from the UK. Docks and wharves were lined by warehouses, many of them dealing with specific commodities. Most were plain and functional, with little attempt at decoration. With the container revolution, however, many modern ports have done away with conventional warehouses. The dockside is simply a flat area used for stacking containers. Giant cranes lift the 'boxes' from the ships and load them directly on to waiting trucks. What uses could disused dockside buildings be put to today?

Vast acreages of docks were established in cities such as London, Southampton, Cardiff and Glasgow, while Liverpool hardly existed until it was developed in the 19th century into the principal west coast port for the transatlantic trade. Small coastal towns shared in the economic boom as new harbour facilities were established to handle a specific local trade, such as coal at Goole in Yorkshire, china clay at Par in Cornwall or slate at Porthmadog in Gwynedd. Many bulk cargoes were shipped around the coast to other ports but today these practices have almost entirely vanished. Containerisation and the roll-on/roll-off ferry have redefined the patterns of port work, and most of Britain's once-bustling docklands are now disused - at least, for their intended purpose. The warehouse shown here is typical of the more traditional kind built in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, with brick or stone walls and timber floors supported on wooden beams. Cargoes needed to be loaded and unloaded with the minimum of handling, and the simple wall crane was used to hoist goods directly to the upper floors from barges and lighters - there is no actual quay in this instance. Muscle power was cheap then, and the hand crane might have been the only piece of machinery in the building. Many similar warehouses survive around the country, their modest bulk suggesting the size of vessel that was handled by such ports in their heyday. There was obviously an upper limit to the structural strength of timber and so the truly massive warehouses that were built for, say, London's St Katharine's Dock or the Albert Dock in Liverpool (both, incidentally, the subject of extensive redevelopment programmes in recent years) would have had a fireproof cast-iron framework and stone-flagged floors capable of taking immense weights. Here, by contrast, is a purely industrial, entirely functional style of building.

 

1805 - Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

1875 - Signal Box