Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Great Float

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The Great Float, is a body of water on the Wirral Peninsula, England, formed from the natural tidal inlet, the Wallasey Pool. It is split into two large docks, East Float and West Float, both part of the Birkenhead Docks complex. The docks run approximately 2 miles (3 km) inland from the River Mersey, dividing the towns of Birkenhead and Wallasey. The Great Float consists of 110 acres of water and more than 4 miles (6 km) of quays.

Birkenhead Docks were designed as an inland system by enclosing the tidal inlet of Wallasey Pool. The construction of a coffer dam enabled land reclamation and excavations to take place. After the establishment of the Great Low Water Basin, Morpeth Dock and Egerton Dock, the Great Float was formed between 1851 and 1860 from most of what remained of Wallasey Pool.

The plans for its construction were originally shown in 1844 in the Liverpool Standard newspaper. Designed by James Meadows Rendel, the scheme was managed by the Birkenhead Dock Co until a financial crisis in 1847.

The docks were taken over by the Liverpool Corporation in 1855.

By 1858, the rights to dock ownership and revenues were transferred to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, based in Liverpool.

Graving docks were built in 1864 and 1877, on the south side of West Float.

Established in 1853, Thomas Brassey's Canada Works was built to the east of the Great Float.

The entrance to the Great Float was originally through the Great Low Water Basin, which was enclosed in 1877 as Wallasey Dock. After this date, access from the river was provided via Alfred Dock and Morpeth Dock.

The Resurgam, one of the first submarines, was tested in the Great Float in 1879.

In the early 20th century, Birkenhead Docks became an important flour milling centre, with numerous companies, including Joseph Rank and Spillers, located on the Great Float's quaysides.

In the 1990s, long after the industry had gone into decline, most of these buildings were demolished. Two large warehouses remain, which have now been converted into residential apartments.

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