Watching the boats go by

Museum of Liverpool & Mersey Ferry terminal, Pier Head, Liverpool

Museum of Liverpool & Mersey Ferry terminal, Pier Head, Liverpool

Pier Head is the starting-point for the “ferry across the Mersey” and was, in times gone by, the terminus for most Liverpool trams, which gyrated round a series of loops like a Hornby train-set, and latterly for the bus services that replaced them.

The area was, until the late nineteenth century, St George’s Dock, which was filled in to provide a transport interchange between the trams and the ferries, and to provide sites for three statement buildings that asserted Liverpool’s grandeur to river passengers.

It became an often bleak plaza, across which ferry passengers tramped to a functional ferry building, above which was a Chinese restaurant, the Shanghai Palace, with quite the best views of ships and ferries moving about the river, overshadowed on the landward side by the bulk of the “Three Graces”, from north to south the Royal Liver Building (1908-10), the Cunard Building (1913-20) and the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board Offices (1903-7).

In January 2006 the floating pier of the ferry terminal ignominiously sank:

Now, in the wake of the Capital of Culture excitements, Pier Head has been transformed.

The ferry building has been replaced by a very grand, modern structure with a display-area, a shop of Beatles memorabilia and an oriental restaurant.  Designed by the Belfast-based Hamilton Architects, it has divided opinion [,] and received the unequivocal accolade of the Carbuncle Cup 2009 [].

At the southern end, at Mann Island, once a notoriously rough area of taverns between two further now-vanished docks, Manchester Dock and Chester Basin, stands the new Museum of Liverpool, designed by the Danish practice 3XN and the Manchester architects AEW and due to open in early 2011.  [For descriptions and discussion see and (both of which require registration).]

The most startling innovation of all is the Leeds & Liverpool Canal Link, which gives narrow boats access to the Albert Dock for the first time.  Originally, the canal terminated at Stanley Dock in the midst of the north docks:  this link, running in a cutting in front of the Three Graces and tunnelling under the new Museum, is illustrated at

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

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