Dingle Station, Park Road c.1910
The terminus for Liverpool Overhead Railway at Dingle
Two recent events prompted me to post this blog. On July 25th, the BBC reported a tunnel had collapsed in the Dingle and people in nearby streets had been evacuated. At the same time, I received a copy of The Times for February 6th 1893 from www.historic-newspapers.co.uk with a full account of the opening of Liverpool Overhead Railway by the Marquis of Salisbury – a coincidence I could hardly fail to avoid blogging about.
It is ironic that the Overhead Railway started (or finished) its route underground at Dingle station on Park Road and doubly ironic that the only surviving section is down below street level. In 1901, Dingle station was the scene of the Overhead’s worst disaster when an electrical fire on board an incoming train got out of control and, fanned by the tunnel draught, quickly engulfed the terminus. Six people died and such was the devastation that the station was closed for more than a year. Sometime after the Overhead closed in 1956, the disused tunnel was taken over by a car repair company and used to store dozens of cars. There are quite a few interesting photographs of the tunnel on the internet such as http://www.forgottenrelics.co.uk/tunnels/gallery/dingle.html. The extent of the collapse of the tunnel has not been reported but it would be a great shame if this last relic of an important part of the city’s history is not repaired and made safe for future generations.
I also acquired another newspaper from www.historic-newspapers.co.uk – an account in The Times again in February 1830 reporting the ‘Dreadful Accident to Mr Huskisson’ the first victim of the railway age: ‘Mr Huskisson, who was in a weak state of body, and was a little lame of one leg, either fell down in the agitation of the moment, or, which seems more probable, was, by the sweep of the door, knocked down on the road. He fell on his face, in the vacant space between the two lines. His left leg, which was extended, touched the rail on which the Rocket moved and one of the wheels catching it ran obliquely up the limb as high as the thigh, mangling, or rather smashing it in a shocking manner.’ They don’t report like that today in The Times!
This is a difficult subject to photograph: the strong shadows cast by the Overhead Railway competing with the bright sunshine bouncing off the cobbles with a tram emerging out of the darkness. The large exhibition print is titled “On the Seventh Day” and is a lovely evocation of a quiet day at Pier Head. Sad to think that, within two years, both the trams and the Overhead would be consigned to history.
Strand Street c1958
Aerial View, 1952
In previous posts, I have referred to the Dock Road, or in this case Strand Street as this stretch was more formally named. My April 21st post about The Trawler showed one of the last pubs on this street before it was demolished. In the top photograph, it can just be made out next to the building with an advert for Golden Stream Tea. In mid-shot is the same cabin (selling Senior Service cigarettes) that appeared in the April 12th post about the Overhead Railway. Originally, the kiosk was part of the James Street station. Only the railway lines under the Overhead are left – which must date the photograph to about 1958.
The position of the photograph is made clearer from the 1952 aerial photograph. The block of buildings can be seen in the bottom right hand corner, with James Street to the left of it (and the White Star building standing in isolation). The street after James Street (just before The Trawler) is Red Cross Street – one of the old ‘lost streets’ of the docks. Elsewhere, in the aerial photograph, one can see the concentration of dock buildings around Canning Dock, the remains of the Goree Piazzas and, in the distance the Three Sisters (the chimneys of Clarence Dock power station). How the city has changed in 50 years!
My recent posting on the Gaumont cinema, which I erroneously attributed to Camden Street (the suggestion is that it was The Savoy in Brougham Terrace) brought home to me the ease with which errors can be made and, if not corrected, become established facts. When I started publishing books, I soon realised that there were people out there with specialist knowledge on every subject you could name – but especially transport. Known unkindly as ‘rivet counters’, this body of men (they always are) have a detailed knowledge of their subject that would do a Mastermind contestant proud. A book I published with the Museum (The Liners of Liverpool) made a small number of mistakes, such as ship sailing to the wrong port, that immediately diminished its value as a reference book. So for today’s posting I am going to put up a disclaimer that all the information is from a highly reputable expert.
The line below the Overhead serviced the docks and was operated by British Rail. The locomotive is a 0-4-0 saddle tank shunter, nicknamed a ‘Pug’. Their short wheelbase made them ideal for the sharp curves of the dockland lines. Imagine, today, allowing a train to run freely where pedestrians could cross without any barriers or restrictions. I am not sure when the dock railway ceased to operate – but I am certain I am going to find out very quickly.
A depressing image for anyone who cares about Liverpool’s history. The Overhead Railway officially closed on December 30th 1956. Subsequent rescues failed and, in September 1957, the dismantlers moved in.
The photograph was probably taken at the beginning of the demolition process – although it might have been as late as 1958.
The cigarette booth is still trading but the scene is a melancholy one (the Goree Piazzas are in the background awaiting their fate). As I have mentioned before, the fate of the Railway was probably inevitable. Its original function of servicing the docks no longer was viable when set against the rapid growth of car ownership. Tourism was not an option and the cost of repairing the whole line was prohibitive. The 1950s was not a time for sentiment – the vision was of a shiny new city of concrete and steel with rapid transit road systems based on the American model. The Overhead was the past and although the campaign to save it was vociferous, no solution other than demolition could be found.
Liverpool Overhead Railway photographed from Strand Street. The last vestiges of the Goree warehouses can be seen in the centre of the road (the road splits into The Goree, which was between the Pier Head buildings and the Goree warehouses – and The Strand, which was the road to the other side of the warehouses).
The effects or war damage are still very much evident. the White Star building is being restored on the far right and beyond, on The Strand, work is about to commence on the modern offices to replace those destroyed in the Blitz. For the politicians and planners, war damage had opened an opportunity to upgrade worn-out infrastructure with cohesive plans for linked up roads suitable for the growing shift to motor cars and for the zoning of business, retail and industry in specific areas (away from the Victorian laissez-faire approach to development). With hindsight, much of this thinking can be criticised but, at the time, the mood was for regenerating and modernising our towns and cities along American lines, with bright new civic centres, industrial estates, dual carriageways and high rise living.
The fate of the Overhead Railway was slightly more complex. It had been repaired after the war but it faced a total replacement of its tracks because of a design fault in the original structure (the lines had been laid on cast-iron cylinders which had seriously corroded over the sixty years of the railway). With dwindling revenues resulting from the fall-off in demand from shrinking dock activities, the railway company decided it was no longer a commercially feasible prospect and closed it down the year after this photograph was taken.
Just a brief post to add some missing images of lost buildings. The photographs supplement the previous posts and give a better idea of why I have included these buildings in my blog. They are
Canada Dock hydraulic tower (photographed 1875)
Kent Square c1935
Goree and Overhead Railway 1947
Cotton Exchange 1907