Hidden History

Joseph Williamson’s Tunnels

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

Joseph Williamson’s Tunnels are the maze-like remains of excavations under Edge Hill. They are the work of Joseph Williamson under the streets of east central Liverpool, constructed in the early part of the 19th Century.

Williamson had bought land on Mason Street on which to build houses. He employed a number of men to dig tunnels, build vaults and construct arches through the sandstone outcrop. Eventually the area bounded by Mason Street, Grinfield Street, Smithdown Lane and Paddington was riddled with underground excavations.

A number of theories exist as to why Williamson built these structures. The most popular explanation is that he wished to employ the local poor, rather than give handouts. Williamson himself lent support to this view, noting how poverty brought with it “the attendant curse of stifled self respect”.

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

Excavations at Joseph Williamson’s Tunnels

Excavation are constantly uncovering new tunnels, which is the wonderful thing about this site. In recent years the Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels have done a lot of work at Williamson’s house on Mason Street.

The house itself is no now more than a shell. For many years it was the site of a garage, and ironically this has helped preservation. The garage owners built a concrete roof over some rooms (the parts now called the Wine Cellars). This has kept them intact, and as the Friends carry on digging, they reveal more untouched brickwork. The site at Paddington, just around the corner from Mason’s House, is also revealing amazing depths.

Further Reading

Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre

Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels

Further Viewing

There is a FoWT YouTube channel. There are new videos regularly; I recommend watching Joseph Williamson’s Great Tunnel, which charts the group’s attempts to find the ‘Holy Grail’ of tunnels.

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