Williamson Tunnels, Liverpool

Williamson Tunnels


22 August 2012

Edge Hill, Liverpool

SJ 36362 90130; 53.40412°N, 2.95867°W


In 1805, wealthy tobacco merchant Joseph Williamson acquired a plot of land in Liverpool’s Edge Hill district, which at that time was a largely undeveloped outcrop of hard, red sandstone. Williamson built a number of houses with large gardens there, for which he reclaimed land by building brick vaults over former quarry workings. What started as a reclamation project was to end with his death in 1840 with a vast network of cut-and-cover tunnels and caverns.

Beyond the philanthropic ends — the enterprise kept hundreds of poor workers in gainful employment — the actual purpose of the resulting extensive underground system is something of a mystery. During his lifetime, Williamson was very secretive about the tunnels, and since his death there has been much debate over the matter.

The tunnels were later used for dumping rubbish and as cesspits. Some of the properties above had rubbish chutes in their basements emptying into the tunnels. Many are still blocked by rubble tipped into the tunnels as buildings were demolished over the years. However, in 2002, after a lot of excavation and renovation work, a small section of the network was opened up to the public as the Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre, located in the former Lord Mayor’s Stable Yard. The Centre is run by the Joseph Williamson Society, which was founded in 1989.

Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre;
Williamson Tunnels – are they really quarries? (Edge Hill University);
Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels;
Williamson Tunnels (Wikipedia);

Other posts about Liverpool

Brick barrel vaulting

Some of the earthenware and glass artefacts recovered from the rubbish tipped into the tunnels over the years

Ceramic pots and broken shards


Brick-vaulted tunnel

Sandstone-block vaulting

Brick-vaulted ceiling above walls cut into the sandstone bedrock. The sloping groove on the lower right is a drainage channel.

Entrance to the Heritage Centre in the former Lord Mayor’s Stable Yard on Smithdown Lane


8 thoughts on “Williamson Tunnels, Liverpool

  1. I admit, when I go out on my own little photo shoots, I always ask, “What would Graham do?” Then I come home and realize as I look at the photos, “Nope, not what he’d do.” That’s good, because it’s me and not you. But when I ask myself that, I tend to look at things in ways that are different than how I normally look at them. I really enjoy your series photos because they always tell a story. I love the broken pottery, but I love even more that I know where it is located! You provide context where each photo adds to the story.

Share your thoughts...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s