The Liverpool Link...

The Extension to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal

A supplement to the Canalscape eBook and website by Cyril J Wood



Historically, Liverpool Docks were a trans-shipment point for cargo inward bound from all parts of the planet. Cargo was unloaded from sea-going ships into barges and narrowboats for distribution throughout England's inland waterways network via the Stanley Dock Branch. Domestically produced goods were delivered to Liverpool Docks via the same route and were loaded into ships for delivery to distant countries as well as more local coastal destinations.

An engraving of Liverpool Docks in 1887

(Image - Liverpool Records Office)

In later years this traffic was distributed not by canal boats but by rail and later by road. The need for building land at the Pier Head necessitated the in-filling of George's Dock and Basin which contained the navigable connection between the North and South Docks. Consequently, in 1898 George's Dock and Basin were in-filled and the land reclaimed to accommodate construction of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board building with the Cunard and Liver buildings following within the next ten years, thus completely severing the navigable link between the North and South Docks.

Liverpool's Pier Head prior to construction of the Liverpool Docks Link

(Photograph -

The original Liverpool terminus of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal was in Pall Mall, a mile or so past the entrance to the Stanley Dock branch and the Tate and Lyle sugar refinery (where the Eldonian Village is situated today). At Pall Mall there there was a junction with a branch running close to the old Exchange Station whilst the main line of the canal carried on in an easterly direction beneath Old Hall Street, ending not very far from Prince’s Dock which is the dock nearest to the Liver Building at the Pier Head. Over the years, the main line of the canal has been nibbled away and in-filled. In 1987 the remainder of the route was in-filled back to the current main line terminus at the Eldonian Village Basin.

Narrowboats braving the River Mersey in front of the Pier Head

With the upsurge of leisure canal boating, more and more narrowboats and other types of canal craft  were wishing to visit Liverpool's Albert Dock and the South Docks complex. To do this they would have to cruise down the Leeds and Liverpool Stanley Dock Branch, cruise a mile or so downstream through the interconnected docks to Langton Dock where they would enter the River Mersey. They would then cruise upstream, past the Pier Head (the narrowest part of the river where the tidal race was at its strongest) before entering the South Docks at Canning Half-Tide Dock, adjacent to the Albert Dock. There was obviously a need for a safer and more direct route for craft not best suited to fast-running, tidal waters.

Eldonian Village - the present day terminus of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal's Main Line

The owner and administrator of Liverpool Docks was originally the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, later to become the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. On the 22nd September 2005 Peel Holdings… the owners of the Bridgewater and Manchester Ship Canals, the Trafford Centre, Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport and many other major property developments, bought the docks system. British Waterways (now the Canal and River Trust) first proposed to take over Liverpool Docks in 2000 and at that time the possibility of a new canal to link the North and South Docks known as the Liverpool Docks Link was first mentioned. In July of 2003 British Waterways eventually took over ownership and responsibility for the South (non-commercial) Docks Complex and threw their full weight behind the proposed waterway.

A panoramic photograph of Stanley Dock taken from the bascule bridge

Three plans for the link were unveiled. The first plan utilised an additional river wall constructed outside the existing wall where the new canal would run alongside the River Mersey in much the same way as the Manchester Ship Canal does between Eastham and Runcorn. The second plan utilised a route through the Northern and Central Docks to a boat lift which would elevate craft onto a high level aqueduct running alongside the Strand behind the Three Graces… the Liver, Cunard and Mersey Docks and Harbour Company buildings. This aqueduct would utilise the same route as the Overhead Railway which was tragically scrapped during the 1950’s. Another lift at the end of the aqueduct would drop craft down into Canning Dock. The third plan also utilised a route through the Northern and Central Docks via two locks, three tunnels and three cuttings at the Pier Head before entering Canning Basin. All three plans would connect the Northern, Central and Southern Docks which have been isolated from each other since 1898. Prior to this date, as previously mentioned, there was a navigable channel connecting Prince’s Dock to George’s Basin and George's Dock which in turn made a connection to Canning Basin. This channel was severed when the George's Basin and Dock were in-filled in order to free-up space for the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Building. Within the next ten years the Cunard Building and Liver Buildings were constructed on the site of George's Dock. Rather than completely in-fill the basin and dock the foundations of the "Three Graces" as these iconic buildings have come to be known were laid on the bed of the dock and arched galleries supporting Brunswick Street and Water Street which are located between them. Prior to construction of the link, parts of this channel could still be seen (at Prince's Dock and Canning Basin) but the new link does not use any of the original channel.

Inspection of the old map above shows the location (centre) of the missing link between Princes and Canning Docks

This poor quality photograph taken prior to the construction of the Cunard and Liver

Buildings shows George's Dock in relation to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Building

One of the galleries beneath Brunswick Street showing the original dock bed bottom left

After a consultation period the third plan was settled upon, plans finalised and funding sought. The scheme was given the go ahead in 2005 after the necessary funding had been obtained. The projected cost of the link was £17 million for one and a half miles of waterway. This was to be paid for by £7.5m from the European Regeneration Funding, £1.7m from English Regeneration Funding and £7.5m from North-West Regeneration Funding. The total cost makes the link... at approximately £10m per mile, the most expensive canal per mile ever built in Britain. Construction work commenced in May 2006.

Description of the Route

The entrance to the Stanley Dock Branch

Stanley Dock Branch Top Lock

In detail, the route of the Liverpool Docks Link is as follows… On descending the locks on the existing Stanley Dock Branch, Stanley Dock itself is entered via a short tunnel beneath Great Howard Street. Stanley Dock is the only Liverpool dock to be completely constructed inland… the remainder being mainly built on reclaimed land. The dock is surrounded by warehouses... the Stanley Warehouse on the right is reminiscent of the Albert Dock buildings and the Tobacco Warehouse on the left is said to be the largest brick-built building in the World as well as the largest tobacco warehouse in the World. This building is now mainly unused but there was a heritage market on the ground floor every weekend. The Heritage Market has now ceased and the location is now a prime site for property developers. The scale and strength of construction epitomises the work of Jesse Hartley... the main architect and construction engineer of the Liverpool Docks system. The area is also used as locations for many motion pictures including the Sherlock Holmes series (not the BBC TV series starring Benedict Cumberbatch) starring Robert Downey Jr.

The Stanley Dock Branch

Stanley Dock Branch Bottom Lock and entrance to Great Howard Street Tunnel

Leaving Stanley Dock

Stanley Dock is exited beneath a large (by canal standards) bascule (lift) bridge which has navigable headroom for canal craft without being lifted. This leads to Collingwood and, via a disused barge lock to Salisbury Dock. The existing barge lock from Salisbury Dock to the river, adjacent to Jesse Hartley’s Octagonal Clock Tower is to be rebuilt allowing an alternative river access for larger craft. A left turn into Trafalgar Dock is made and the two Clarence Graving (dry) Docks passed on the left.

Passing Jesse Hartley's Octagonal Clock Tower in Collingwood Dock

An aerial view of the North Docks surrounding Stanley Dock and the new canal route

(Photograph - British Waterways)

Adjacent to the graving docks was once located the Clarence Dock Power Station with its three tall chimneys christened locally as “The Three Ugly Sisters” which were landmarks that could be seen for many miles around. The power station was built on part of of the in-filled Clarence Dock and part of Trafalgar Dock was in-filled using the debris from the eventual demolition of the power station and the “Three Ugly Sisters” or the "Cricket Wickets" as they were sometimes referred to. It is here that the new portion of the waterway commences. When the dock was in-filled a five foot wide feeder culvert was retained and this feeder has been increased in width to thirty three feet to allow for navigation and renamed the Central Docks Channel. This channel runs beneath Bridge AA and into West Waterloo Dock with South Waterloo Dock running parallel to it.

Central Docks Channel aka Sid's Ditch which connects Clarence to West Waterloo Docks under construction...

(Photograph -

... and the completed channel

The sign at the Entrance to "Sid's Ditch"

Residential building developments lining East Waterloo Dock

Passing into Waterloo Dock

The new Bridge AA "narrows" connecting Victoria to West Waterloo Docks under construction

After this is Prince's Half Tide Dock and the route ducks below the new Prince's Dock Causeway - Bridge BB and then into Prince's Dock. After cruising two thirds of this dock is the futuristic Prince's Dock Foot Bridge - Bridge CC, which has had to have been raised to allow for an eight foot navigational air draft.

Entering Prince's Dock

Prince's Dock looking north towards West Waterloo Dock

Two views of the futuristic Prince's Dock Footbridge CC prior to it being raised to give eight feet navigational headroom

Prince's Dock Footbridge CC illuminated at night

Looking towards the site of the new lock from adjacent to the footbridge over a partially drained Prince's Dock

The new lock that lowers craft out of Prince's Dock with the raised footbridge in the background

Waiting for Prince's Lock

Leeds and Liverpool style lock gates and the channel leading to...

... the entrance to St Nicholas Place Tunnel

The link exits Princes Dock through a lock that lowers the level of the canal about a metre before it ducks beneath the area in front of St Nicholas Place (the location of the in-filled George’s Basin) now known as St Nicholas Tunnel which is two hundred yards long. The Leeds and Liverpool Canal style lock gates look a little out of place in the docks but realistically, one would not expect any other pattern to be used here. There is to be a new building development in front of the historic “Seamen’s Church” of St Nicholas and the Titanic Memorial has been moved to adjacent the Cruise Liner and Manx Ferry Passenger Terminal entrance where the Link emerges into the shallow cutting known as Liver Basin in front of the Liver Building.

This computer-generated image shows the new canal approaching the Pier Head from Prince's Dock

(CGI - British Waterways)

Construction of the St Nicholas Tunnel exit adjacent to the Liver Building

(Photograph -

The Liver Basin in April 2008 with the major construction work nearing completion

(Photograph -

The completed Liver Basin in front of the Liver, Cunard and Mersey Dock and Harbour Board Buildings

The new canal the short Cunard Tunnel and emerges into the cutting in front of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company buildings (the other two of the Three Graces) alongside Canada Boulevard before entering the Museum Tunnel beneath Mann Island (the site of the aborted "Cloud" Fourth Grace plan).

These three photographs illustrate excavation work on the Liver Basin  in front of the Liver Buildings in May 2007

(Photographs - British Waterways Liverpool Link Webcam)

After the Liver Basin the canal enters the Cunard Tunnel...

(Photograph -

...once the excavation work was completed, the Cunard Tunnel could be constructed using reinforced concrete sections...

(Photograph -

...and in February 2008 with the new channel taking shape and tunnel sections being covered over

(Photographs - British Waterways Liverpool Link Webcam)

A map illustrating the layout of the canal at the Pier Head

 (CGI - British Waterways)

Excavation work on the Museum Tunnel leading to Mann Island Basin (left) and Lock (right) in April 2007

After the open cutting the canal enters the Museum Tunnel in front of the Cunard and Mersey Dock Board Buildings. When the waterway emerges from this tunnel it enters the Mann Island Basin adjacent to the Museum of Liverpool and features an open air Amphitheatre. This basin is where craft wait to use the reversible Mann Island Lock.

The completed canal passes between the new Mersey Ferry Terminal (left) and the Three Graces (right)

The Author's narrowboat passing through the Pier Head Channel in 2016

(Photograph - Michael Dawson)

This computer-generated artist's impression of the link illustrates the view towards the Museum of Liverpool...

(CGI - Canal and River Trust)

... and a "real" photograph of the same location

The Museum Tunnel adjacent to the Museum of Liverpool leading to the Mann Island Lock Holding Area and Amphitheatre

A CGI of Mann Island Basin and Amphitheatre beside the Museum of Liverpool...

(CGI - British Waterways)

...and a panoramic photograph of the real thing after the area was opened up in August 2011

The reversible Mann Island Lock possesses dual gates at the Canning Basin end and will either lock up or down depending upon water level in Canning Basin. The level of Canning Half Tide Dock (and hence Canning Basin) can vary due to the river entrance being a single lock gate as against a "proper" lock possessing head and tail gates.

Construction of Mann Island Lock with the framework of the Museum of Liverpool in the background

(Photograph -

Entering Mann Island Lock

Inside Mann Island Lock

Mann Island Lock gives access to Canning Basin...

... which in turn leads to Canning Half-Tide Dock and the Albert Dock entrance on the far right...

... dropping Jesse Hartley's Gate at the entrance to Albert Dock...

... entering Albert Dock...

...and into Albert Dock itself

After entering Canning Basin and passing the Graving Docks the route turns sharp right through the entrance gates to Canning Half-Tide Dock, along the dock to the entrance to Albert Dock on the right. The lock gate that gives access to the River Mersey is straight ahead but there is another, mostly hidden lock gate at the entrance to Albert Dock. This gate is a dropping gate known as Jesse Hartley's Gate. . Once in Albert Dock, it is crossed diagonally and exited beneath the cast iron bridge which gives access to Salthouse Dock. New pontoon moorings were installed in Salthouse Dock.

Albert Dock is exited beneath a new (in 1986) cast iron bridge leading to Salthouse Dock

New serviced pontoon moorings in Salthouse Dock

The Author's narrowboat moored on pontoon berth S4 in Salthouse Dock

Nocturnal photograph of Salthouse Dock

In this computer-generated image the layout of the new canal in front of the "Three Graces" can be seen as
 can the connection with Canning Basin and Half Tide Dock and Albert Dock on the right of the image

(CGI - British Waterways)

The route leaves Salthouse Dock and passes Duke's Dock. This dock was originally constructed by Francis Egerton - the Third Duke of Bridgewater to accommodate his own barges (known as "Dukers") towed from the Bridgewater Canal terminus at Runcorn (and later along the Manchester Ship Canal). The warehouses have since been demolished and is now the location of the Liverpool Echo Arena and BT Convention Centre. The next dock after Duke's Dock is Wapping, King’s and Queen’s Docks before reaching Coburg Dock and Liverpool Marina which is situated in Brunswick Dock… the last dock in the connected South Docks System. There are additional docks a couple of miles further south at Garston but these are not connected to the main docks system.

Looking down Duke's Dock from Salthouse Dock showing the Liverpool Echo Arena and Conference Centre on the left and Albert Dock on the right


Duke's Dock in the 1930s complete with "Dukers" (Bridgwater barges) and warehouses similar in design to the Middle Warehouse at Castlefield in Manchester

(Photograph - Manchester Ship Canal Company)

By comparison an old photograph showing the Middle Warehouse at Castlefield on the Bridgewater Canal in Manchester...

(Photograph - Bridgewater Canal Company Limited)

...and the Middle Warehouse as it is today

Looking down Duke's Dock in the opposite direction to the first Duke's Dock photograph towards Salthouse Dock

An aerial photograph showing the Liverpool Echo Arena/BT Convention Centre and the Citylands development with the Duke's Dock to the left

(Photograph - Liverpool Echo Arena)

The dock route through King's Dock, leading to Wapping, Queens and Brunswick Docks and Liverpool Marina

Liverpool Marina Entrance

The Liverpool Marina river entrance lock gives access to the river for sea-going craft not wishing to use the link or too wide (or deep drafted) to pass through the locks on the new canal. The entrance lock would also give the adventurous canal boater a more direct route to the Manchester Ship Canal at Eastham on the Wirral Peninsula (further upstream on the opposite bank of the river) at a point where the tidal race is not as fast as it is downstream at the "narrows".


The completed canal featured in the Capital of Culture Celebration in January 2009

(Photograph -

Liverpool achieved the European City of Culture 2008. The legacy of this, plus its many attractions will make it a popular destination for boaters. The Albert Dock is Liverpool’s Premier tourist attraction and is home to the Tate Gallery (the benefactor of which, part-owned the previously mentioned sugar refinery), Liverpool Maritime Museum, the new Museum of Liverpool, the Beatles Story, the Liverpool Echo Arena and the BT Conference Centre.

The Liverpool Echo Arena at night

(Photograph - Liverpool Echo Arena)

Not only does the Albert Dock complex accommodate these attractions but it also contains shops with many types of designer retail outlets in addition to many theme pubs and restaurants. The new Liverpool One shopping centre is "just over the road" and close by is the new Liverpool Terminal Building and Floating Landing Stage of the historic Mersey Ferries, the new Princes Landing Stage Cruise Ship Terminal, the well-established "conventional" shopping area and the city centre with its own attractions such as the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool Museum and St George's Hall not to mention several theatres.

The new Liverpool One shopping centre

The QE2 moored at the new Princes Landing Stage on its farewell voyage in October 2008

Not long before the Liverpool Link was due to open, British Waterways had completed dredging the length of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal that threads its way through the city. They have also provided twenty two floating pontoons in Salthouse Dock to ensure sufficient moorings are available for the large number of boats expected to use the Liverpool Link. These pontoons provide moorings for up to forty four boats and are serviced with water and electricity.

In the Southern Docks is located the large Liverpool Marina which previously concentrated on providing moorings for river and sea going craft. This marina will, with the construction of the Liverpool Docks Link, provide both temporary and permanent moorings for canal boats in addition to the berths currently used by sea-going craft and yachts. The marina is situated in the Brunswick Dock and is surrounded by an up-market housing and business development. More marinas have been constructed locally along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, the nearest being at Scarisbrick.

Liverpool Marina

Construction of the link commenced in May 2006. The majority of the construction works on the new length of canal was completed by the summer of 2008, the major construction work completed with the Pier Head section in front of the Three Graces filled with water (but not navigable) in October 2008 with the West Waterloo Dock section following in December. The canal was not scheduled to be opened for boats until April 2009 due to the close proximity to the Pier Head section to the Museum of Liverpool and the Mersey Ferry Terminal Building construction sites. Health and safety risk assessments deemed the area not to be a safe environment for the large number of visitors anticipated at the opening of the link. On the 20th February 2009 BW's work boat "Aintree" became the first boat to navigate the link prior to the official opening ceremony. The Chief Executive of British Waterways... Robin Evans and Councillor Steve Rotheram... the Lord Mayor of Liverpool performed the opening ceremony aboard the "Pride of Sefton" which was the first boat through the link at the official opening ceremony on Wednesday 25th March 2009. Children from New Park Primary School in Liverpool unveiled a plaque commemorating the opening of the Link.

The opening ceremony performed by the Chief Executive of British Waterways... Robin Evans

 and Councillor Steve Rotheram... the current Lord Mayor of Liverpool

The plaque commemorating the opening of the Liverpool Link

Narrowboats from Mersey Motor Boat Club leaving Mann Island Lock after the opening ceremony

Even though the Link had been officially opened, craft were not allowed through it until after Easter when some of the construction work besides the new Mersey Ferries Terminal was nearing completion and construction work surrounding Mann Island Holding Basin and lock had reached a stage where canal traffic could pass in safety.

James May preparing to cross the Meccano Bridge erected across the Liverpool Link for the BBC2 TV series "Toy Stories"

(Photograph - Howard Davies)

On 8th August 2009 television personality James May crossed the new canal on a 23 metre long Meccano bridge constructed by engineering students from Liverpool University using over 100,00 Meccano pieces. The temporary bridge, which is a combination of bascule and swinging components, was erected in front of the Liver Building on Liverpool's historic Pier Head for the BBC2 TV series "Toy Stories" which makes life-sized comparisons between toys and real-life objects. With Frank Hornby's (now demolished) Binns Road "Factory of Dreams" in Liverpool being the birthplace and home of Meccano (as well as Hornby Dublo Model Trains and Dinky Toys) for over seventy years it seemed fitting to construct the bridge within the city. James was originally going to drive across the bridge in a car but he later declined saying that the bridge was built in the wrong scale!

 James May... the the presenter of "Toy Stories" crossing the Meccano bridge

(Photograph - Howard Davies)

Since the Link was opened, additional pontoons have been installed in the Albert Dock to accommodate the first Liverpool Boat Show in April 2011. Unfortunately, the Boat Show was cancelled a few months before it was due to take place with the financial recession being blamed for many exhibitors pulling out and the organisers going into liquidation. In the end a down-scaled event renamed Spring on the Waterfront, Liverpool, took place over the weekend of the Royal Wedding (28th April 2011) and lasted for nine days. In addition to the Historic Narrowboats and other canal-related activities the event incorporated a Sea Shanty Festival, Tall Ships and other maritime attractions.

Historic narrowboats in Salthouse Dock at the 2011 Liverpool Boat Show

The continuation of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal’s route to its new terminus will give the canal an added focus and a more readily identifiable terminus to the canal. Projected forecasts envisage up to fifty boats per day using the Link during the annual Mersey River Festival and at the height of the canal boating season which equates to approximately 4500 boats per year. The dock complex will also be used as a location for large boat gatherings, rallies and even a Liverpool Boat Show which, in turn, will all boost the amount of traffic on the canal below Wigan. The new route also includes restoration of Salisbury Dock Barge Lock adjacent to Jesse Hartley's Octagonal Clock Tower (currently disused). This would provide an additional entrance to the river for larger craft not able to cruise through the new canal. This would alleviate the need for craft wishing to enter the river having to cruise north through the commercially used North Docks to the (previously used) Langton Dock river entrance a mile upstream of Stanley Dock. Here craft would lock down into one of the busiest (commercially) sections of the river and “double back” into the third fastest tidal current in Europe… which you must agree is not an ideal environment for narrowboats and other canal craft. There is usually a long waiting list of boats waiting to navigate the link. The total cost of the link was twenty two million pounds and with the high number of canal boats using the link plus when the Liverpool Boat Show finally gets off the ground, hopefully using the Albert and surrounding docks as a location for this event, this has proved to be money well spent!

A panoramic nocturnal photograph of Salthouse Dock


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nb Squirrel
Canals on Screen
Canalscape Photography
Canalscape Gallery
Photography in One
The History of Lymm Cruising Club
The Duke's Cut - The Bridgewater Canal
The Big Ditch - Manchester's Ship Canal
Shroppie - The Shropshire Union Canal System
The Manchester and Salford Junction Canal
Mersey Connections
Wonders of the Waterways
2011 Gardner Engine Rally Report
Foreign Forays - Canals of the World
Worsley Canal Heritage Walk
Castlefield Canal Heritage Walk

nb Total Eclipse

Don't Call it a Barge
Canis Canalus

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Updated 25/03/2017