The photograph shows Liverpool waterfront at the height of its economic prosperity. A radically different townscape to the one we are used to, although St Nicholas’s Church and the dome of the Town Hall (on the right above the ferry) are two surviving buildings. Everything else has long since disappeared, from the warehousing lining the dock road to the elegant, colonnaded public baths designed by John Foster and opened in 1828. The baths served their purpose for the best part of 80 years before being demolished to make way for the filling in of George’s Dock to create land for what we now call the Three Graces (the Royal Liver, Cunard and Port of Liverpool buildings). To the right of St Nicholas’s is the Tower Building, which was replaced by W. Aubrey Thomas’s white tile clad building in 1908. Thomas, the architect of the Liver Building created a building with crenelated turrets in an allusion to the original tower.
What is particularly noticeable about the photograph is the height line of the buildings. The scale is modest and in complete contrast to today’s approach of building high. It is interesting to speculate on how the skyline will change in the next century, especially with the potential impact of Peel Holdings’ Liverpool Waters development. It is only when you look at the photographic record that you really understand how much has changed in a relatively short period. After all, in 1785, the Liverpool skyline was unrecognisable from the photograph above.