I love a tea towel with a story, a tea towel from which you can learn, that has history stamped across it and one that brings back memories: this one certainly hits that brief. I bought this tea towel at Albert Dock Village, from Albert Dock Trading (as depicted on the tea towel) on the same visit to Liverpool when I purchased my two Beatles tea towels, but what different memories!
The Albert Docks, opened in 1846 by Prince Albert, were a complex of dock buildings and warehouses. They were the first such structure to be built in Britain from cast iron, bricks and stone – no structural wood – hence it was the first non-combustible warehouse system in the world. It was the first docking system to use hydraulic cranes. In mid-1800’s, Liverpool was an extremely busy port, handling cargo of brandy, cotton, tea, silk, tobacco and sugar; all things from the Americas. Hence it has a strong link with slavery.
During the Second World War, the Albert Docks were requistioned by the Admiralty as a base for the boats of the British Atlantic Fleet. Liverpool suffered aid raids during this period and the Albert Docks themselves were damaged during the major air raids in May 1941. While business did recover after the war, there was a gradual downturn in trading. There were the dock strikes in 1960’s and 1970’s and eventually the Albert Docks closed in 1972. For nearly 10 years the docks were allowed to rot, until the Merseyside Development Corporation was set up in 1981. A huge amount of investment was created and the whole Albert Docks area became the centre for a lot of activity e.g. the International Garden Festival took place in 1984 regenerating a wide area of land (see Tea Towel Blog on Stoke-on-Trent Garden Festival 1986); Tate Liverpool opened in 1988; the Beatles Museum, the only museum in the world entirely dedicated to the Beatles opened in 1990; Liverpool became the European City of Culture in 2008.
The Albert Docks now has the largest collection of Grade I Listed buildings in UK and is a vital component of the UNESCO World Heritage Maritme Mercantile City Status for Liverpool. It is also the most visited multi-use attraction in UK outside London. The Albert Docks are home to the Merseyside Maritime Museum, the Beatles Story, Tate Liverpool together with range of eateries, and shops.
For me, the great memory of my visit to the Albert Docks is the third floor of the Merseyside Maritime Museum; a Maritme Museum is not usually my cup of tea but on the third floor is the International Slavery Museum which was opened in 2007 to coincide with the bi-centenary of the 1807 Slave Trade Act, abolishing the Slave Trade, not slavery per se. I defy anyone not to be enthralled, captivated, horrified and moved by this museum. It is beautifully laid out in three permanent exhibitions: Life in West Africa because the museum is mainly about the movement of Black Africans from West Africa to the Americas and Europe. It illustrates the lives of the people who ended up in slavery – teachers, farmers, religious leaders, whole families – and the sort of life they were torn from. The second exhibition is called Enslavement and the Middle Passage which is the story of what happened to those enslaved, including oral histories and tales of the journey to another continent and the degradation people endured. There are over 400 annotated songs about slavery and a collection of African music. The third gallery is called Legacy and is about the continued fight for freedom all over the world. The Freedom and Enslavement Wall has words of a number of people from Martin Luther King to anonymous quotations. There is a shrine to the enslaved and an area set aside for quiet contemplation and reflection.
Some of the memorabilia from slavery is horrific, the tales awful and yet it is something we have to hear and learn about; unless you understand the past you can never hope for a better future. We are all part of the history of slavery, because we are all part of history. It is a beautiful museum, somewhat harrowing but certainly very moving.
This tea towel is a silk screen, printed on Lancashire cotton, with scenes from the Albert Docks. I like the picture where you look down an alleyway and at the end you see the Liver Building with the Liver Bird on top of it. I always wondered what the Liver Bird was; it is supposedly a cormorant holding a branch of laver in its mouth. There is some debate about the history of the Liver Bird; this one was built in 1911 but there are records dating back to 1350, showing the seal of early Liverpool as a cormorant. When we were at the Albert Docks we could always see the Liver Bird wherever we looked; it was a good way to orient ourselves if we ever got lost.
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