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In 1700, Liverpool was a small town with a dock that was in danger of silting up. Yet it was a town with prospects: Chester, which had hitherto been the main port in the north-west, was silting up even more. The discovery of the Americas had increased the importance of ports facing the Atlantic, and the citizens of Liverpool decided to capitalise on the situation by building an innovative ‘wet dock’. The dock had massive gates that were opened only at high tide, and so kept the level of water at high-tide level within the dock, which meant that ships could unload straight on to the dockside while still afloat...

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