The Pier Head, Three Graces
The Pier Head, Three Graces

…Sailors love this Liverpool; and upon voyages to distant parts of the globe, will be continually dilating upon its charms and attractions, and extolling above all other seaports in the world.

Herman Melville, Redburn, 1848

Area 1: The Pier Head

The Pier Head was the focal point of the river when Liverpool was the second city of the British Empire. Its origins date back to the 18th century when the city played a major role in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries it was the point of departure for millions of migrants from Europe to America and elsewhere.

Today its iconic skyline is dominated by a formal arrangement of early 20th-century monumental buildings – the Three Graces:

  • The Royal Liver Building
  • The Cunard Building
  • The Port of Liverpool Building

The Royal Liver Building (1908-1911) Grade I listed

The head offices of the Royal Liver Friendly Society were designed by Aubrey Thomas. It is notable as one of Britain’s first multi-storey reinforced concrete framed buildings. The clock towers are mounted with two massive copper Liver birds, each 5.5 metres (18 feet) high.

The tale of the two Liver birds, the city’s signature landmark, relates to the city’s maritime heritage. One looks out to watch the city – our people, and the other looks out to sea – our prosperity.

Cunard Building (1913-1916) Grade II* listed

This was built as the offices of the Cunard Shipping Company to the designs of Willink and Thicknesse.  Its proportions give it the form of an Italian palazzo. The sculptural portraits of people from around the world, above the ground floor windows, symbolise the global operations of the company.

Port of Liverpool Building (completed 1907) Grade II* listed

The domed head office of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board was designed by Briggs, Wolstenholme and Thorneley in 1901. Features include cast iron gates and gate piers decorated with maritime symbols and lamp holders in the form of naval monuments.

George’s Dock – Mersey Tunnel Ventilation Building (1931-1934) Grade II listed

This stylized obelisk, reminiscent of ancient Egypt, was designed by Sir Basil Mott and J.A. Brodie, with Herbert J. Rowse, to serve the Mersey Road Tunnel.

Sculptures created by Edmund C.Thompson with George T. Capstick in black basalt of night and day, symbols of the never-closing Mersey Tunnel, sit in the niches either side of the west entrance.

Relief panels depict construction, civil engineering, decoration and architecture.

These buildings, along with other prominent civic and commercial buildings, formed the principal view of the city when approaching by sea – the face that the city projected to the world.