The short version recounted in most books is that in 1836 Liverpool Crown Street station became a coal yard once it no longer served passengers. The longer version is a little more involved. As ever, there is a fair amount of surmise and interpretation in what follows.
As early as 1831 it looked as though Crown Street's days were numbered. Not only was the station too small and well outside the city centre but letters were being published by the Liverpool Mercury newspaper complaining of the "sea of mud and filth" it generated. This presumably derived from the increase in horse-drawn traffic in the vicinity, the omnibus service, carters and hackney cabs, as well as movement of cattle, pigs and sheep from the docks.
Of course, it was not simply the operation of the passenger service as there were two areas of similar size next to the station, namely the goods yard (normally called Millfield Station) and the workshops for erecting and maintaining wagons and carriages (often called Gray's Yard). Both would generate their own traffic and, of course, Crown Street traffic would itself switch to carrying freight rather than passengers. It seems unlikely that the "sea of mud and filth" abated.
Nevertheless, by 1831 the company had decided to move its passenger operations to the present-day Edge Hill station with a tunnel down to the centre of Liverpool terminating in a grand new station on the site of the former Lime Street cattle market. This immensely ambitious project was successfully completed and the new stations opened in 1836.
But what happened to Crown Street?
Readily available information is scarce but we can make some guesses based on maps and a report from the Liverpool & North-Western Railway Company (L&NWR) dated 1849 (following a series of amalgamations, the L&NWR now ran Crown Street). The report identifies a number of specific actions that could be taken to promote coal traffic into and exports from Liverpool. Among the recommendations was to clear the old cattle station so that track could be run directly into the coal yards north of the former station.
The coal yards
Although Millfield carried a significant volume of coal, the major proprietors were to have their own yards to the north. These included pit owners such as William Hulton of Hulton and Richard Evans of Haydock. Movement of wagons in that direction took a somewhat circuitous route, presumably as they needed to use the cable system driven by the engines in the Moorish Arch. The train (minus locomotive) was drawn up into the station through the 1829 Stephenson tunnel and wagons were then shifted individually via turnplates onto a branch heading to the yards to the north. Presumably much of the motive power was provided by horses. Although the company only had two for its own use by 1849, the maps show many of the coal proprietors had significant stabling in their yard.
The cattle station
By 1836, however, there was also a need to herd cattle from Ireland onto purpose-designed wagons for shipment to Manchester. Given that the 1849 report stated this cattle station had to be removed to revise the track layout, the most likely location was the site of the former Railway Offices.
Two additional sidings and a set of four turnplates were installed so that trucks could be shifted from the cable-driven middle track emanating from the Stephenson tunnel to the new sidings. The site of the former station building was occupied by a series of seven loading pens.
My guess would be that cattle were driven up the hill from the docks and entered through the gate by the entrance block. There was probably a wall there to keep the animals off the track. The cattle then crossed the new track extension going into the northern coal yards. It would be feasible to block these routes with wagons as there were adjacent turnplates. The cattle could then enter a collecting area (sheds or stables there originally had been removed) before being fed into the loading pens adjacent to the track. One constraint appears to have been the location of points midway along this siding such that only three wagons could be sent towards the tunnel at a time.
There was also a further set of pens at the end of the two tracks, possibly holding pens for large or mixed loads or, alternatively, used for end-loading onto wagons on the second parallel siding. Another possibility is that the two railway companies with a presence at Crown Street, the Liverpool & Manchester and Grand Junction, had separate but colocated facilities.
The question as to whether the shell of the old station building was used for some of the loading pens is moot although there is a good match for the location of the station and the rear walls of the pens. In any case, reuse of materials from the former station would seem logical.
Construction of the coal yards to the north likely required some excavation and they did not become operable until the respective collieries (Hulton and Haydock) were themselves connected to the main L&MR line from Manchester in 1831. Coal proprietors also used Millfield although the process was equally laborious until the second tunnel was opened (and which ran into Millfield) in 1849. Unlike the Stephenson tunnel, this could be worked by locomotives.
As mentioned previously, the wagons were laboriously turned one at a time onto the northern extension even after the second tunnel was opened in 1846. The cattle station was basically blocking a more direct route to the northern yards.
In 1849 the L&NWR northern Goods Manager Braithwaite Poole compiled a report recommending an increased emphasis on coal. The manner in which this was enacted is unclear but the end-result was movement of agricultural traffic to the extreme north of the yard, demolition of the cattle station and formation of an extension that curved from the new tunnel through the site of the cattle station and down the centre of the northern yards to the new agricultural depot. Millfield was to be given over exclusively to coal and the now-redundant buildings in Gray's Yard demolished. Gray's Yard had initially expanded in 1836 but after the merger with the GJR in 1837 the works were moved to Brickfield station and subsequently to Crewe in 1843 following formation of the L&NWR.
Poole was subsequently and arguably somewhat harshly dismissed by the L&NWR. His plans, however, enabled Crown Street to continue to operate successfully until space became an issue and further expansion then took place at the new Edge Hill station. Crown Street itself closed in 1972 and is now a public park.
[1/5/17: map added and some minor updates]
[16/5/17: added comment re shared use of cattle station]