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Birkenhead Docks, 1847

From Illustrated London News, April 10, 1847. Birkenhead Docks

On Monday last a portion of the immense Docks at Birkenhead was opened with the éclat befitting such an important incident, and a vast concourse of persons assembled to witness the ceremony. The works thrown open from but a small part of this magnificent and comprehensive scheme, but what has already been accomplished gives a goodly promise of a speedy completion of a most useful and efficient series of docks, the promoters of which may hope, at no very distant, day, to see them, on account of their extensive usefulness, worthy of being associated in importance with those on the other side of the Mersey. Birkenhead may now be said to have entered into competition, or rather into articles of partnership, with Liverpool, the great north outlet and inlet of our foreign and transatlantic trade. At any rate, it will henceforth divide the palm with Liverpool, and participate in the prosperity and profit derivable from its immense mercantile marine. Birkenhead may fairly be looked upon as of Liverpool lineage and alliance, and as having been literally called into life by that leviathan of trade itself in its effort towards finding an ampler field for the accommodation and convenience of its over-grown trade. Birkenhead will now become a sort of chapel of ease for the redundant commerce of the mother port, and probably there is no port in the kingdom, not excepting Liverpool itself, that presents such grand natural facilities. A few years hence, and Birkenhead will become a second Liverpool, launched upon the Mersey; for time was when, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Liverpool itself, now the entrepôt of all our trade with the Americas and Indies, was simply a fishing village. The same a few years since might be said of Birkenhead. At present it is not even mapped out as a town upon the Mersey....

Both are probably the finest examples on record of the brilliant results of unfettered British enterprise. Anciently the settlement and consolidation of a town was the work of generations; now, thanks to steam, they spring up and prosper with all the rapidity of the famed ice palace of the Queen of Russia. Great advantage may be expected to accrue to the public and frequenters from foreign ports from the generous emulation that will be established between the old and the new ports, and in a few years the northern, no less than the eastern arm of the Mersey, may be expected to be the seat of a crowded and busy community. It will give no insignificant idea of the immenseness of Liverpool, that it extends for three miles along the Mersey, and is upwards of a mile in breadth. Liverpool has for years had at her command a comprehensive and splendid chain of railways, and unsurpassed port facilities. Upon these Birkenhead is only just entering. Monday gave England, in the latter respect, a new point of ingress and egress to the western seas; but Birkenhead will have to wait awhile for the completion of her railways. It is true she has long had one, but this is less than half what she wants. Ere long she will be the very "rosette" of railways, for, in addition to the existing Chester and Birkenhead, she will have the Birkenhead, Lancashire, and Cheshire Junction, operations on which have just been commenced by the contractors in real earnest, and which, in addition to drawing all the commerce of the manufacturing districts of Yorkshire and Lancashire to the Mersey, will give to Birkenhead the mineral trade of Wales, the salt traffic of Cheshire, the immense products of the Potteries, besides having with Holyhead the traffic to Ireland. If Rome was not built in a day, Birkenhead, by a figure of speech, assuredly has been. We have in it a great mercantile community, with all its moral and commercial apparatus springing simultaneously and almost magically into action under the vivyfying power of English enterprise. We have it put in possession, at the same time, of docks for forests of foreign masts, with warehouses for hiving their wares, and with a railway for their transit to inland homes....

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