In 2014, New Ferry, Port Sunlight Village and Bromborough Pool Village were blessed with the arrival of a new £2.5 million community park with breathtaking views over the River Mersey estuary.
Bromborough Dock, situated on the mouth of the River Dibbin to the south of New Ferry was once the biggest private dock in the world. For over fifty years ocean-going vessels called at Bromborough to deliver raw materials for the factories of Unilever including soap manufacturer Lever Brothers until the dock closed in 1986.
William Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers, had been planning a dock for his factories at Port Sunlight to the north of Bromborough since 1912 and a site was chosen at the mouth of Bromborough Pool as it was far enough up the River Mersey to avoid paying Liverpool dock and harbour dues (fees). It was also deep enough for sea going vessels.
An earlier site at Bromborough Pool had originally been used by the Bebington Cement Works as a small dock to send out stone from the quarries at Storeton on the Wirral. A tramway from the quarries was used to get the stone to Bromborough.
Lever built a small dock and wharf at Bromborough Pool in 1895 which meant that sea-going ships could come right up to the factory at high tide. His need for a larger dock led to the building of Bromborough Dock in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
The Bromborough Dock Act of 1923 gave the go ahead for the dock to be built and the first ship to arrive in February 1931 was the United Africa Company ship SS Nigerian, which brought a cargo of palm kernels from Africa. The dock was officially opened on 17 April 1931 by the President of the Board of Trade when the White Star Line ship Magnetic arrived.
Cargo came on ocean-going ships and Lever Brothers also used its own barges to transfer material which still went to the Liverpool and Birkenhead docks. The barges also went to the Lever Brothers factory at Warrington by using the Manchester Ship Canal. Coasters also came and went from other ports in the country. In the first four years of its operation the dock handled over one million tons of cargo and over 1600 vessels either loaded or unloaded. Bromborough Dock was the biggest private dock in the world at the time and stretched for one and a quarter miles (2km) along the water front.Storage facilities included a tank park to hold oil. The dock had special areas to keep different kinds of cargo and included silos for copra and palm kernels. Vegetable oils and fats were pumped into wagons after arriving by sea and other cargoes included paper for Lever Brother’s printing works, whale oil, sardine oil, resin and tallow (plant oils and animal fats), palm oil and timber.
As well as bringing in cargo some shipping companies such as Blue Funnel used the dock to anchor their vessels in overnight.
The site was important in the Second World War as ships were often unable to use the docks at Liverpool and Birkenhead so they came to Bromborough Dock instead.
The running of the docks was transferred from Lever Brothers to Unilever Merseyside Ltd (later called UML) in 1960. Both Lever Brothers and UML were part of Unilever, a company formed in 1929 when Lever Brothers merged with the Margarine Union, a Dutch company.
Despite reconstruction work in 1971 the dock had a limited future as goods were being transferred by road or rail rather than by sea. It was decided to close the docks and an Act of Parliament allowing this to happen was passed in September 1986.
In the late 1980s, an application was made to turn the former dock and the adjacent silting ponds (constructed during the 1930s and used to dump silt dredged from the Albert Dock in Liverpool) into a major landfill facility. Although local residents fought a spirited campaign to block the plans, and despite Wirral Council's refusal of the application, the decision was over-ruled by the then Conservative government who preferred the Bromborough site to be used rather than the alternative then being suggested near the more tourism-orientated West Kirby.
Tipping operations began in 1991 and ceased in August 2006. During that time, the site and its operations had been acquired by BIFFA who invited local community representatives to get involved in planning for the park of the future. Only the northern end of the site was not tipped on, this being allowed to develop as a pond which is now home to variety of wildlife.
The scheme to turn the tip into a new community park commenced on site in March 2013. The new park, now known as Port Sunlight River Park, opened in Summer 2014 and is a jewel in New Ferry’s green crown – with its breath-taking views over the Mersey estuary.
The park can be accessed from both Bolton Road East, and also via two flights of steps from Shorefields Nature Park to the north.
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