In 1839 the dock engineer Jesse Hartley proposed the building of a radical new dock on the western side of Salthouse Dock - Albert Dock. It was the first in Liverpool to be designed with warehouses, which along with the latest hydraulic machinery would ease the unloading and onward movement of goods arriving from around the world. It was to be unlike any other dock.
Following the passing of an Act of Parliament in 1841 the resident shipbuilders vacated the site (many moving to the Birkenhead side of the river) and work began on the new dock. Hartley used a number of building materials including:
Scottish granite cut at the Dock Trustees' own quarry at Kirkmabreck in Kirkcudbrightshire. This superb stone has helped so many of Hartley's works to stand for 150 years
red sandstone, probably from Runcorn further upstream
bricks made from clay found along much of the old shoreline of north Liverpool
the mortar (cement) that held it all together was made to a careful recipe which Hartley seems to have tried to keep secret: limestone from North Wales, water, sea sand and furnace ashes. It was very strong and water resistant
iron, which in combination with brick made for a fire proof building
In 1845 the Albert Dock opened. It covered about seven and a half acres (about 3 football pitches), had cost £721,756 to build (about £41 million today) and could welcome sailing ships of between 500-1000 ton cargo capacity. The warehouses were not complete at this time, and were still unfinished at the official opening on 30 July 1846. Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort, was guest of honour at a lavish party to mark the occasion.
The proximity of the simple yet functional warehouses, which still encircle the dock today, allowed the rapid unloading and turn around of ships, and provided security for valuable cargoes. They were bonded which meant that import tax became payable only when the goods were ready to leave the warehouse, by which time the owner had sold the goods and raised the necessary funds. This also meant that customs men did not have to be on site when the cargo arrived.
Many of the goods brought to the warehouses were plant products like hemp, cotton, sugar and jute that only grew at certain times of the year. Traders could store them at the Albert Dock's warehouses and release them slowly over the year. Good natural light and ventilation on the top floors kept goods fresh. This stockpiling helped to reduce the seasonal differences in supply and price.
The Albert Dock proved very popular. Valuable cargoes such as brandy, tea, cotton, silk tobacco and sugar were unloaded from ships which then moved to Salthouse Dock to load up with export goods. The incoming cargo was moved from the warehouses to other towns and cities in Britain, often on local coastal ships. However, even in these early days the dock itself was proving too small and entrance was difficult, especially for paddle steamers which could not get through the dock gates.