Stanley dock tobacco warehouse is a UNESCO world heritage site located in Liverpool, England. Facing the Stanley dock planned in the 1840s, multiple warehouses were constructed around 1848 to 1855 before building the flagship tobacco warehouse built-in 1901. The other structures served for storing other commodities like wine, while the tobacco warehouse matured wood and imported crops. It is a Grade II listed building, meaning it is protected and any alterations, from retrofitting a material to structural changes require approval from the local authority. 

The rise of Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse

While London was the financial capital of England during colonial times, Liverpool was in a close second. Its water network, canals, docks and rivers helped trade using boats and carriers. Its strategic location improved in the north and provided better access to ship routes, including the Americas via the trans-Atlantic corridor. 

After the 1850s, when all the warehouses adjoining the Stanley dock were completely functional, the Stanley dock tobacco warehouse served as one the economic lifelines of the surrounding area, Merseyside. At the time of construction, Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse was the world’s largest brick building. Spanning an area 1,50,000 sqm, the boost in infrastructure provided maritime traffic that ensured massive business.

Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse by Anthony George Lyster: World's largest brick warehouse - Sheet1
Construction timeline of the warehouses_©stanleydock(dot)com

Multiple docks built in the Victorian era were .5 miles deep and 7 miles long on the Merseyside. They were at the centre of the urban sprawl in Liverpool. The expansion of the city from 1835 through 1895 was exemplary to the maritime economy. The docks controlled import and export by dealing with a plethora of goods. But after the construction of the warehouse, tobacco became the primary trade commodity. Each dock had an exclusive trade item which it received in surplus. Some dealt with jewels, silk, ivory, spices and grains. It was known for its history of hosting the bustling trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 19th century.

Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse by Anthony George Lyster: World's largest brick warehouse - Sheet2
View from collingwood dock_©Stanleydock(dot)com

The architectural marvel and its slow death

Brick and stone were the construction materials available in the period, cast iron and steel were slowly favoured more for their resilience against fire. Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse marked a milestone in the timeline of brick buildings. It was designed by Engineer Jesse Hartley, who worked on other Liverpool docks like the Albert Dock. The warehouse stands 14 floors tall of 38m height, uses 27 million bricks, 30000 panes of glass and 8000 tons of steel. It could store up to 70000 hogsheads of tobacco, each one weighing around 453 kg. Some manufacturers stored their goods for durations ranging up to 15 years. 

Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse by Anthony George Lyster: World's largest brick warehouse - Sheet3
current photograph of the warehouse_©Matthews goodman(dot)co(dot)uk

During WW2, Liverpool withstood immense damage from the sustained bombing of the Germans. Most of it survived. But the real blow was the inability to adapt to the innovation after the 1950s, revolutionised by the container and the cargo ship which carried hundreds of it. The business conducted in Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse (and the older docks) was reduced due to the invention of cargo ships. The Stanley Dock, in particular, was more susceptible to this as the ships arriving at the dock had to pass through the Collingwood dock which added more constraints for the incoming vessels. 

Merseyside, which was packed with the colonial era docks which had no area to expand and retrofit to the current needs of the market. This led to a decay of infrastructure, added to the question of structural integrity. Many docks along river Mersey succumbed to the same result, while the maritime economy moved to the south of urban fabric where ports were compatible with container ship technology, migrating people from colonial towns to other parts of Liverpool and England for jobs, furthering the neglect of the historically important structures.

Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse by Anthony George Lyster: World's largest brick warehouse - Sheet4
Dilapidated warehouse before restoration_©28dayslater(dot)co(dot)uk

The metamorphosis of Stanley Docks and the Merseyside

In the year 2003, the city council in Liverpool was nominated for conservation status for the six dock regions of Mersey, including Stanley Dock along with its multiple warehouses adjoining it. ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites) and UNESCO declared them world heritage sites in 2004, stating that the Liverpool docks were innovators in docking technology and marked a global impact on the maritime economy by being a key cultural hub in the British empire.

Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse by Anthony George Lyster: World's largest brick warehouse - Sheet5
Locating the warehouse after liverpool waters_©Tobaccowarehouse(dot)co(dot)uk

In the 2010s, the Liverpool government planned to develop the derelict docks into useful infrastructure to boost the economy. It led to a lot of proposals for the Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse involving retrofitting and new construction in the old docks region, the first proposals were scrapped for non-compliance of planning in regards to the historical preservation. 

Liverpool city council has now drafted a master plan for the whole of the city, of which Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse comes in the Liverpool waters zone is a 500 million pound development spreading over 60 hectares, dubbed Ten Streets for the Ten ideologies the development would be based on. 

The Stanley Docks and the Tobacco Warehouse is being refurbished with 25 million pounds into a mixed-use real estate. It will become a creative hub for the city, incorporating people from the fields like creative and digital technology, music studios, offices, light and general studios. The Stanley Docks Tobacco Warehouse will house 335 units of duplex apartments facing the waterfront, the northern warehouse into a star hotel inspired by RMS Titanic and open restaurants, cultural activities and other spaces like music festivals will occupy the dockside and earmarked land of the Liverpool Waters project. 

Once completed, it will improve the economy of Merseyside, making Liverpool the trans-Atlantic economic prowess it once was.



Vignesh Esakkinathan is a final year architecture student from chennai. He blogs about climate change and productivity with the hopes to become an architectural journalist. When he's not playing cricket, you can see him philosophising life at his rooftop.

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