The Tobacco Warehouse

The tobacco warehouse looms large on the skyline of Liverpool, I can see it from my house as though it were just around the corner, though its a good half hour walk down the Liverpoool-Leeds canal. Built in 1901 it was touted at the time as the largest building in the world in terms of area, and still today remains the largest brick warehouse in the world. A monument to the working class, who carried 27 million bricks on their backs to construct this monster.

Me and our Lilly decided we wanted to see our forefathers legacy for ourselves and went for a look around. After being told it was permanently shut we had geared ourselves up for scaling walls and climbing through tiny broken windows, relishing an adventure, pumped and ready we set off down the canal. 

The canal itself is an amazing feat of engineering, built by the sweat and blood of the Irish navvies it stretches from the dock all the way to Leeds, though all I’ve ever seen down there are hostile geese, abandoned trolleys and kids who want a spliff in peace, away from the mithering of Kirkdale’s cuntstables. I often imagine, as I walk it, the hustle and bustle of years gone by, when the dock thrived and Liverpool along with it. Sad to see the labour of those good men so easily forgotten.

We came up onto the Dock Road, and there she stood. 80,000 panes of glass and 8,000 tons of steel. We cased the place looking for an in, trying walls for footholds and peering through gates. Lilly had fucked off some door to door sales job in favour of our mission, and had turned up in full office wear. “Not for me that shit, all talking about penthouses and how much they earn. I’m a working class barmaid, that’s where I belong” she said as she stuck her dolly shoe into another gap in the brick. That’s my fucking girl.

We weren’t getting anywhere, but we were only halfway round so we carried on along the perimeter, noting a wooden pallet we might make use of for a boost if need be later. We came up on the Stanley Dock and discovered to our amusement the gate was wide open, so we crept in dodging the diggers and chip van, past the rum warehouse (sadly dry as a bone) and into the open mouth of our new playground.

Now began a game of ‘dodge the workie’ as we could hear from the clangs and scuffs echoing around this mammoth warehouse that there were definitely people there, though the place was so enormous I doubt we’d have found them if we’d tried. There was scaffolding everywhere, and great holes cut into the floor so that you could see all the way up to the roof through twelve floors, though trying made you dizzy. Bits of pipes and pulleys remained here and there, and the floor was covered in piles of black dust. “This used to be the old market” said Lil, which I supposed accounted for the weird bric-a-brac piled into side rooms. I didn’t come for that, and neither did Lil, so we carried on toward the back looking for some stairs.

We found none, but we did try shimmying up the girders to reach what was left of the fire escape, to no avail. Not girls to be beaten we went back to the entrance and slowly climbed down the dirt ramp into the dark of the basement below. There we finally found the steep narrow staircase to the top, and so we climbed. It was hard going, and we were knackered by the time we got to level 5, but the glimpse of a steel toed boot disappearing through a doorway gave us a moment to pause and giggle before we crept further. Each floor was an expanse of concrete, with huge pillars dotted throughout. Here and there we saw construction machinery, a glove, a boot, a once hi-viz jacket now blackened hanging on the scaffold. 

I wondered how they got those huge machines up there, and how they ever planned to get them back out, it almost looked as though the building was built around them, though I was sure even Black & Dekker had not made diggers like these in 1901. My suspicions were confirmed when we discovered great wooden ramps poking out of giant holes they’d smashed into the floor.

Up, up, up we climbed forever until finally the stairs stopped by another now familiar fire hose box. Now only a thin metal ladder remained on the wall, and the noise of the workmen below pushed us up, hand over hand into the tiny room which housed the generator. Lilly was made up to see a tiny door that led out to the roof, and we wasted no time scrambling through it. We made sure to stick to the wall as we had already seen on the floor below the roof was made of wooden beams covered in slate and we didnt fancy hitting the concrete like a pound of strawberry jam.

The view from the roof was beautiful. The city of Liverpool spread out before us, the ships slept quietly in the docks and the Mersey sparkled in the afternoon sun. We sat on the wall and watched a man sweep the rum factory through a hole in the roof and marvelled at the many generations of workers who had passed through those gates. For a hundred years this had been our turf, the bread and butter of Liverpool’s working class, the pride of Stanley Dock. How many children had been fed by the labour in this yard, how many homes warmed, how many nicknames coined?

And what of it now? The dockers are gone, the crates are empty, the yard is silent but for the scrape of scaffold on concrete. 100 years this has been a bastion of the working class. Our ancestors slaved through blood, sweat and tears every day here – most saw this place more than their own homes and children. They were proud, they worked hard, and no matter who held the yard or sat in the police box, this place was theirs. And now?

Now they’re building flats.

Luxury dockside apartments, with a communal garden hollowed from its heart and cafes and retail outlets on the ground floor. The rum warehouse next door already proudly displays a sign for a new Titanic Hotel. 100 years we worked this warehouse, and by the time they’re finished with it not a working class man or woman will be able to afford to come here again. I had to come and see it, to feel the cool brick and read the old signs before they fill it with the grotesque, butcher it and flog it to the rich.

It breaks my heart. We built this city from the ground up, and every day there are less places we are welcome. Always more, more, more for the rich. More shiny floors, more floor to ceiling glass, more revolving doors and snotty concierges. More spikes on the floor in doorways, more empty streets and boarded up windows.

This is not natural progression, this is an ever widening class divide. They prosper, build, profit and expand. We starve, struggle, work and die. At every turn they take what is ours and replace it with something they know we can never have.

Now we’re not even welcome to sleep on their steps. This is suffocation, degradation, humiliation, extermination. Like vermin we are pushed out, into the street, into the sewer. This is the very essence of class war.

I am working class. This is a tobacco warehouse, the biggest in the world. The door is wide open, and I can never come here again.



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