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History of The Cunard

Liverpool’s Pier Head is arguably one of the most famous landmarks in Liverpool and it’s no surprise when it’s home to some of the city’s most iconic buildings.

The Three Graces are made up of a trio of beautiful grand buildings; the Royal Liver Building, Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building. Prominent from across the city as well as over the water in the Wirral and on a good day, Wales, these majestic buildings have been around since the early 1900’s.

The Pier Head itself, historically known as George’s Pier Head, was built in 1771 yet by the 1890’s it lay essentially redundant. As a dock, it was too small and shallow for any of the commercial ships to use and with two other docks on the city’s waterfront, it became more and more unused.

Being owned by a number of different bodies, there were frequent disagreements over the docks use and future which meant its commercial offering was often ignored and eventually led to the dock’s desertion.

However, in 1896, the two bodies who had control over the Pier Head began talks in order to give the dock a new lease of life. The majority of the site was owned by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and a small proportion of the area was held by the Corporation of the City of Liverpool. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board set out to persuade the Corporation to allow them to purchase the remaining site off them.

Three Graces Liverpool

After two years of discussions and negotiations, a deal was made for the sum of £277,399.

The first of the Three Graces to be constructed was the Port of Liverpool Building, which was opened in 1907. Purpose built as the headquarters for the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, this magnificent building was earmarked from the very beginning for the board to use as their headquarters and was designed by Sir Arnold Thornley and FB Hobbs.

The second of the Three Graces to be built was the Royal Liver Building which is possibly the most recognised of the trio. Designed by architect Walter Aubrey Thomas, this building was again purpose built for the Royal Liver Friendly Society. The gothic-inspired building is topped with two beautiful clock towers, which are both adorned with 25 ft clock faces which look both towards the city and out across the river Mersey. This is to ensure that both those in Liverpool and sailors can tell the time with ease.

These two clock towers are further adorned with the widely recognised symbol of Liverpool, two Liver Birds who like the clocks face towards the city and river Mersey. Legend has it that of the mythical creatures, one of which is male and the other female, the female looking out to sea, watching for the seamen to return safely home, while the male is looking towards the city to protect & watch over the seaman’s families.

the third and final grace is that of the Cunard Building which was completed in 1917 and was home to the Cunard Steamship Company. Build in the style of an Italian palace with Greek Revival details, the building with its stunning exterior sits in the middle of the other two buildings.

Credit: National Museums Liverpool

All Three Graces are listed; the Port of Liverpool Building is a Grade II* listed, the Royal Liver Building is Grade I listed and the Cunard Building is Grade II* listed.

As well as being the home the city’s most historic landmarks, theses three buildings help to make up one of the most recognised skylines in the world.

The Pier Head is furthermore part of the Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City UNESCO World Heritage Site of which it was recognised in 2004.

Every day the Three Graces are flocked to by visitors, tourists and locals alike who come to admire the sensational beauty which radiates from these remarkable buildings.

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