The River Mersey, Liverpool and its hidden history and secret sites

Mersey Explorer Tour


There are cities and there are cities, and then, there are cities by rivers whose stories unfold in watery detail, and then, there is Liverpool, where the regal river Mersey has helped to shape Liverpool’s distinctive, irreverent and humorous personality. 

The River Mersey is 110 km long, with its source near Manchester, and its mouth at Liverpool  Bay, where it empties into the Irish Sea, with the Atlantic beyond and America, the land of opportunity and dreams of a better life for many emigrants fleeing Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. 

The River Mersey is one of Liverpool’s great attractions, with its stunning waterfront buildings, riverside warehouses and walking & cycling routes that escort you along its meandering course, where you can catch glimpses of nature at some of its hidden spots that are dotted along the River Mersey’s estuarial banks. 

The River Mersey and Liverpool in the early days

The river Mersey and Liverpool

Liverpool has a relatively modern history. Before 1715 it was a back water in the great scheme of things.

The riverside city of Liverpool was founded in 1207 by King John when he signed Letters of Patent on 28th August proclaiming Liverpool as a free borough.

Up until that point Liverpool had been a small fishing and farming settlement on the banks of the River Mersey.

The River Mersey’s natural pool, a sheltered natural harbour off the tidal Liverpool River, was the ideal site for a strategic safe harbour and defensive castle from which to launch coastal raids into nearby Ireland or defend itself from incursions coming from across the Irish Sea. 

The creation of the world first commercial wet dock in 1715, when the tidal natural pool was effectively dammed transformed Liverpool’s fortunes and it never looked back for over 200 years. 

Seven miles of docks and warehouses were built along the banks of the River Mersey, turning Liverpool into one of the world’s great entreports, with the peoples of the world flowing in and out of the city on the River Mersey’s tides together with imports such as Tobacco, cotton and sugar and exports such as porcelain from Wedgwood works in Stoke on Trent and other manufactures to supply the burgeoning British Empire. 

The River Mersey and The Story of Emigration

Liverpool Mersey River

The River Mersey is the liquid history of Liverpool and the wider world.

Between 1830 and 1930 it is estimated that 9 million people passed through Liverpool aboard an ocean- going liner to the New World and a new life. The story of emigration is rooted in the River Mersey and classic ocean Lines, like Cunard and the White Star Line who made the port of Liverpool their home port. 

Today the ocean liners have long since departed, replaced by cruise liners who regularly call into the River Mersey bringing thousands of passengers who enjoy Liverpool its, musical heritage and its amazing riverside waterfront. 

Great Ships that were built and broken up on the Banks of the River Mersey

Mauretania build on Liverpool river Mersey

Many great ships have been built by the banks of the River Mersey, at Cammel Laird one of the iconic names of British ship building.

The famous shipyard on the Birkenhead side of the River Mersey has forged ships for the Royal Navy including HMS Ark Royal and ships for the confederate states during the American Civil War including the CSS Alabama.

Other notable ships be launched into the River Mersey, include the passenger liner, RMS Mauretania (not to be mistaken for the first Mauretania built on the river Tyne), the largest ship ever built in an English shipyard till that point and more recently the polar research vessel, RRS Sir David Attenborough, known affectionately as Boaty McBoatface to some! 

Liverpool and A Ferry Cross the Mersey

Liverpool Tours Mersey Ferry

Liverpool is a very musical city.

The city is known around the world because of the musical exploits of the Beatles, perhaps Liverpool’s most celebrated export but ask any Scouser as Liverpudlians are affectionately known and they will evoke the words of one their favourite songs that remind them of home and their beloved River Mersey.  

Jerry Marsden’s 1964 hit “Ferry Cross The Mersey” sums up neatly what people feel about their home city. Buy them a few beers in one of Liverpool’s great traditional pubs and they might sing it to you! Or you can always take the ferry cross the Mersey yourself and you can be sure to hear the song beating in your ear drums as you embark and disembark from your cruise on the River Mersey. 

And don’t forget, you can always enjoy one of our fab Beatles tours!

Beauty Spots Along the River Mersey

Along the Liverpool river Mersey

There are plenty of beauty spots along the banks of the River Mersey where you can pause to take a breath and admire the views across the River Mersey to Liverpool.

Many of these places are set within beautiful natural settings that echo to the footprint of Liverpool’s past.

There is Eastham ferry. The earliest ferries operating from Eastham to Liverpool dating from the Middle Ages were run by monks, by 1816 paddle steamers were ferrying people across the River Mersey to Eastham.

In 1846 the whole area was transformed when Thomas Stanley, the owner of the ferry built the Ferry Hotel and not long after some pleasure gardens which attracted thousands of day trippers from Liverpool.

Blondin, the famous tight rope walker was the principal act in 1894 and is remembered locally for wheeling a local boy across a high wire in a wheelbarrow. Today the ferry has long gone but the remnants of the pier remains where you stand and get amazing views down the River Mersey to Liverpool on the distant horizon.

The pleasure grounds today are a country park and if you look hard enough you will still find the Bear pit that was part of the zoo that was enclosed within the pleasure grounds and formed part of the Victorians day out across the River Mersey.

Stunning Vantage Points on the River Mersey

Liverpool Sighseeing Tour

There are plenty of stunning vantage points along the River Mersey which afford amazing views across the river to the world-famous Liverpool Waterfront, some with an interesting back story, like The Port Sunlight River Park.

The park was created on an old land fill site and today offers scenic walks above the banks of the River Mersey, with its elevated paths affording stunning views across to the iconic Liverpool Waterfront and down the Mersey river estuary where you can see its famous sand banks and mud flats at low tide, home to large populations of water birds. 

For a close up and personal view of the amazing Liverpool waterfront hop on the famous Mersey Ferry at Seacombe.

The views are amazing as you stand on the jetty waiting for you ferry to ferry you across the River Mersey to Liverpool. 

Liverpool River Mersey and its quirky History

Quirky history of Liverpool river Mersey

The River Mersey has a long and illustrious history some of which is of a quirky disposition.

As well as being famous for building ships – ships were also broken up on the banks of the River Mersey, notably the SS Great Eastern which was wrecked at New Ferry with a wrecking ball.  

The Great Eastern was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and was the largest ship ever built up to 1858 when she was launched, she could carry 4,000 passengers. She ended her days sailing up and down the River Mersey advertising Lewis’s department store before being scrapped between 1889 and 1890. It took 18 months to complete the job.

The flagpole outside Anfield, Liverpool Football Club’s famous stadium is in fact the upper mast from the Great Eastern wreck. 

The last act of the American Civil war took place on the estuary of the River Mersey in 1865 when the confederal flag was hauled down from the CSS Shenandoah and surrendered to Captain James Paynter of HMS Donegal.

Liverpool actively built ships for the confederate states during the American Civil War because of its commercial interest in keeping the cotton trade flowing, the foundation of the city’ wealth and prosperity. 

Liverpool River Mersey Highlight: Royal Albert Dock

Liverpool Tours

There are many great places to visit near The River Mersey, but if you have limited time be sure to visit, The Royal Albert Dock.

Opened in 1846 by Prince Albert it was the world’s first brick-built warehouse which meant it was fireproof. The previously wooden built structures were a great fire hazard to Liverpool’s merchants.

Within 40 years of being built the Royal Albert Dock as it is known today was largely redundant as the age of sail had given way to the age of steam and the larger ships that now sailed down the River Mersey were too large to get through the lock gates into the dock. 

Today the Royal Albert Dock is a great place to witness Liverpool’s regeneration down by the River Mersey, with the old dock complex housing bars and restaurants surrounded by wonderful museums and art galleries such as Tate Liverpool and of course the wonderful Mersey Maritime Museum which tells the story of Liverpool and the River Mersey in comprehensive and colourful detail. 

Liverpool Cruise Terminal in the heart of it all

Liverpool Shore Excursions

Arriving by cruise ship into Liverpool? You’ll definitely be seeing much of the river Mersey on your arrival and departure. And, let’s be honest, where better to begin your Liverpool river Mersey journey than right in the heart of it all?

The Liverpool Cruise Terminal is in the heart of the historic Liverpool Waterfront, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best waterfronts to enjoy today.

Explore The Beatles Statue, the wonderful Museum of Liverpool or historic museums in the Royal Albert Dock, mentioned before. Experience fabulous restaurants and an easy walk into the city centre.

Arriving by ship is amazing and why not culminate that visit with one of our tailored walking tours along this famous riverside & waterfront.



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