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Former Banana Warehouse in Birkenhead

HISTORY

Work on the dock surrounding the site commenced in 1844 and was finally opened in 1847. The dock was originally intended as an entrance to an arm of the Low Water Basin, but was too small even from the start. In an attempt to secure a political ally, the Birkenhead Dock Trustees named the dock after a former Tory MP for Chester and District who had performed the ceremonial laying of the foundations to the Birkenhead Docks in 1844. In 1873, the dock was exchanged by it’s owners for quayside and water space at a dock in Liverpool. The dock was then leased to the London and North Western, and Great Western Railway Companies. They agreed a 21-year lease at a cost of £15k per year for the first 15 years, with the fee for the final 6 year period based on land valuation.

Work on the building itself commenced in 1873 and was opened in 1874. As part of the lease agreement, the LNWR built the warehouse between the dock and the railway company’s station yard. The LNWR was one of a number including the Great Western Railway Company and the Cheshire Lines Committee which had established rail terminals served by new warehouses on the dock system between 1863 and 1889. Not surprisingly, the style of the building bears a considerable resemblance to the popular railway architecture of the time. Designed by a local architect, the building’s main purpose was as storage and interchange between sea-going vessels and rail wagons for incoming and outgoing goods. The building was commissioned at a cost of between £20k-£25k and was constructed on 3 floors mainly in iron and brick which was popular in later Victorian times. The ground floor compromised a substantially open space with raised platform some 4ft above the main quayside track running along the dock edge. 3 crossings perpendicular to this track allowed wagons to be brought in from the station yard through the building to join the dockside track. Hence goods could be loaded either directly from vessels parked at the quay, under cover of the extended canopies, either into wagons at ground level or hoisted up the building via hydraulic hoists to be loaded into the access bays at first or second floor level. The roof covering would have been in slate and original drawings show a top-lit clerestory light either side of the ridge. The upper floors were lit generally by curved-heat cast iron small pane windows with stone sills. The principal architectural feature of the original building comprised the open colonnade of large circular cast iron columns which supported the quayside wall above ground level and allowed free movement of goods between the dockside and the rail track. For much of it’s existence, the building served as a storage shed for bananas imported from the West Indies. However, some time after the Second World War, the dock had been almost forgotten, used only as a laying up dock for vessels during the winter months. The building soon fell into disrepair and was demolished down to the first floor level, acquiring a flat roof covered with felt and pitch. The building remained in this state for a number of years and was lately used for low grade storage of reclaimed architectural “heritage” materials before passing in the ownership of the Merseyside Development Corporation.

Refurbishment commenced in October 1993 and was completed in March 1994, it was opened 3 months later. The work formed 2 key parts, repair of the building structure and envelope, and conversion and fitting out of the interior. Structural repairs were made to a number of damaged sections of the walls, floors and vaults to correct general wear and tear. The quayside colonnade was revealed by the removal of the temporary corrugated iron and brick closure to the dockside. External brickwork was repaired and repointed, while a new steel framed pitch roof was built, allowing the external walls to be raised, providing an opportunity for first floor accommodation at the upper level. Internal works have provided five large open plan offices overlooking the quayside plus a number of small offices and meeting rooms. There is additional space at mezzanine level at both ends of the building, whilst the upper level remains available in shell format for later conversion.. The building was re-named in 1994 as a tribute to the efforts of the new owners and their funding partners.

WITNESS INTERVIEW

We interviewed a male who reported that an incident had occurred on Monday 9 February 2004 at 8:10pm approx. He had just walked out of the gents toilets on the ground floor making his way back to reception when he saw a tall male figure in a grey suit walk into the lift. Knowing there to be nobody else present in the building, he checked the lift but it hadn’t moved and there was nobody present inside, he then ran to the first floor expecting to see someone in the building but again there was nobody there. There are also a number of second-hand stories that were reported by the interviewee such as the cleaners feel at unease in the east corridor on the first floor and a couple of months ago, one of the cleaners was in the end cubicle of the ladies toilets in this area when she felt someone tug her.

VIGIL - 13 FEBRUARY 2004

The vigil consisted of 12 members of the group plus 2 employees from the building who were interested to see how we carry out our investigations.  The equipment used during the vigil included sound recording both analogue and digital, video recording including standard, digital and infra-red, still photography both digital and conventional, electronic temperature monitoring and personal observation.  Unfortunately, the night was very quiet and there was nothing significant to report.
 
FURTHER INVESTIGATIONS

No further events have since been reported so we asked the client to notify us if ever a further vigil is required.