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Jesse Hartley

1780-1860
Pioneering Engineer of Liverpool’s early docks


Hartley was born at Pontefract, Yorkshire.  After he finished his education Hartley followed his father’s trade as Bridge-Master and Mason. It was soon evident that Hartley had a flair for engineering, but it was not until 1824, at the age of 44, when he was appointed dock surveyor and engineer to the port of Liverpool, did Hartley began to fulfil his potential. Before arriving in Liverpool Hartley worked for John Carr a noted architect, he also worked for the Duke of Devonshire in Ireland alongside Thomas Harrison.

Having no experience in constructing docks it came as somewhat of a surprise when he was appointed engineer to the port of Liverpool, beating thirteen rival applicants, several of who were well known engineers.

During his 34 year tenure as engineer, Hartley was responsible for adding no less than 140 acres of wet docks and 10 miles of quay space. Indeed, during his time as engineer to the port, he had either altered or constructed every dock in the Liverpool system.

James Picton described Hartley as: “A man of large build and powerful frame, rough in manner and occasionally rude, using expletives which the angel of mercy would not like to record: sometimes capricious and tyrannical, but occasionally where he was attached, a firm and unswerving friend.   Professionally he had grand ideas and carried them into execution with a strength, solidity and skill which have never been exceeded”. However these may have been the traits of a man who was determined in his undertakings and would not tolerate bad craftsmanship or fools.  The following is a list of docks constructed while Hartley was engineer and surveyor to the port of Liverpool:  Clarence, Brunswick, Waterloo, Victoria, Trafalgar, Albert Canning Half-Tide, Salisbury, Collingwood, Stanley, Nelson,  Bramley-Moore, Wellington Half-Tide, Huskisson and Canada Docks were all constructed to his designs.

Hartley was also involved in several other projects, including the Bolton to Manchester Rail and Canal system. He also oversaw the building of the Dee Bridge following the death of its designer Thomas Harrison.   He was also involved in the Liverpool end of the Leeds-Liverpool canal.

He also constructed some interesting structures, described at the time as “breathtaking, sometimes amusing, always interesting and sometimes beautiful.” These included: the Hydraulic tower in the Canada Dock; the Dock Masters office at Salisbury dock; the Victoria Tower at the entrance to Salisbury dock; the warehouses of Albert Dock; the Dock Masters Office at Clarence Dock; the Dock Masters office at Trafalgar Dock; the gate man’s hut at Canning Island; and the Main Dock Masters office. Hartley also modified Hardwick's design of the Albert Dock Offices. Jesse Hartley died on the 24 August 1860 and was buried in his local parish church of St Mary's, Bootle, Liverpool.

Rob Ainsworth