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Williamson Tunnels

Extract from a 1950s Ordnance Survey map of Liverpool, with the location of Williamson's Tunnels outlined

The Williamson Tunnels are the maze-like remains of the work of Joseph Williamson under the streets of east central Liverpool (see map, left), constructed in the early part of the 19th Century. Williamson had bought land on Mason Street on which to build houses. In the years following his purchase, he employed a number of men to dig tunnels, build vaults and construct arches through the sandstone outcrop, until the area bounded by Mason Street, Grinfield Street, Smithdown Lane and Paddington was riddled with underground excavations.

There are a number of theories put forward as to why Williamson built these structures. The most popular explanation, and that put forward by Williamson himself, is that he wished to employ local the local poor, rather than give handouts with “the attendant curse of stifled self respect”.

The tunnels have never disappeared entirely from publc consciousness, but since the early 1990s interest in the remains has grown. The Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre presents the site to the public, and the Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels carry out investigations (including excavation and survey) on the site and campaigns for its protection.

Further Reading

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. John V Catherall #

    I was first told about these tunnels last week in a pub in Wales and was surprised to watch a TV clip showing them later in the week, where can I learn more about these?

    I would love to visit some time too.

    We live in Preston but was born on The Wirral and worked in Liverpool from 1961

    Many thanks

    John V Catherall

    March 18, 2013
    • Hi John,

      Yes, these are a fascinating bit of Liverpool’s hidden history! Apart from visiting them in person, which is by far the best way of finding out what little we understand about Joseph Williamson and his works, there is a book on the topic, called The Mole of Edge Hill, available on Lulu and elsewhere. I’ve not read it myself, so can’t vouch for its content, but there’s not a lot else out there. The other option is looking in the many general Liverpool history books out there, which pretty much all mention the Tunnels in one way or another.

      Regards,
      Martin

      March 18, 2013

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