Williamson's Tunnels


Useful Information

Location: Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre: Liverpool, Smithdown Lane.
Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels: Meeting point: Joseph Williamson’s House site, Mason Street, Edge Hill, Liverpool, L7 3EW.
Open: Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre: All year Tue-Sun, Hol 10-17, last tour 16. Half-term school holidays daily 10-17, last tour 16.
Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels: All year Wed, Sun 11, 13. All year 2nd Sun of month 11, 12, 13, 14.
[2020]
Fee: Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre: Adults GBP 4.50, Children (5-18) GBP 3, Children (0-5) free, Concessions GBP 4, Family GBP 14.
Groups (10+): discounts, only after appointment.
Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels: free, donations welcome.
[2020]
Classification: SubterraneaEnigmatic Cavern
Light: electric.
Dimension:
Guided tours: Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre: D=45min.
Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels: D=60min.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre: only the cafe, exhibition area and the toilets
Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels: no
Bibliography:
Address: Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre, The Old Stableyard, Smithdown Lane, Liverpool, L7 3EE, Tel: +44-151-709-6868, Fax: +44-151-709-8156. E-mail: contact
Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels (FoWT), 15-17 Chatham Place, Liverpool, L7 3HD, Tel: +44-7906-935-769. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

10-MAR-1769 Joseph Williamson born in Warrington, England.
1780 Joseph Williamson moves to Liverpool, finds work at tobacco and snuff firm of Richard Tate.
1802 marries Richard Tate's daughter, Elizabeth Tate.
1803 buys the firm and builds his mansions in Edge Hill.
1815 Napoleonic Wars end, employs former soldiers for tunneling.
1822 Elizabeth Tate dies and he concentrates on the tunnels.
01-MAY-1840 Joseph Williamson dies.
1840s tunnels used to dump rubbish.
1860s rotting waste covered by demolition rubble and ash from local factories.
1989 Joseph Williamson Society founded.
30-JUN-1996 Joseph Williamson Society incorporated as a private limited company.
25-APR-1997 Joseph Williamson Society acquires charitable status.
1999 Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels excavate Chambers of Paddington.
2002 Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre created by the Joseph Williamson Society, tunnels excavated.

Description

Williamson's Tunnels are located in the center of Liverpool, in an area bordered by Mason Street, Grinfield Street, Smithdown Lane and Paddington. They are named after Joseph Williamson who built them. An although they have some size and are pretty well built, we have no idea why he built them. Being rather wealthy as owner of a tobacco company, he started building the tunnels around 1815, but intensified his work after the death of his wife in 1822.

He sold his tobacco company with great profit and used his money to built houses and terraced gardens in the Edge Hill. The location was very good and so many wealthy people wanted to live there. But the houses were eccentric, with enormous cellars and useless tunnels beneath. Some houses had multi leveled cellers, others had cellars to store 200t of coal. And then he connected the cellars with tunnels.

There are different opinions on the reasons for those underground structures. Some say he was just eccentric, and he loved to tunnel. Others say the Edge Hill area was a quarry before he started to develop it for his buildings. As a result he had numerous huge pits, which he secured by building walls in front of the rock faces and stabilized them with multilayered brick arches. The result were huge underground vaults which provided the stability for the basements of the buildings.

All the tunneling ended immediately, when Williamson died in 1840. The tunnels were now used to dump rubbish, but unfortunately the rotting material was smelling very bad. After about 20 years the smell had become so annoying, the waste had to be buried. Inert material like demolition rubble and ash from local factories was used to conceal the rotting waste. But the tons of material also filled the tunnels and made them inaccessible.

Some years ago a part of the tunnel system was excavated and cleaned, a new Visitors Centre called Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre was created by the Joseph Williamson Society. A small part of the caves was cleaned, the content archaeologically examined and the tunnels developed for public inspection. The entrance building has an impressive architecture with an all glass front and the view on an eccentric tunnel entrance with an arched floor made of bricks. Rather funny is the fact that visitors are equipped with hard hats, probably more for the entertainment of the visitors than for security reasons. We recommend warm clothes and good shoes for the tour.

A rather strange situation is that there are actually two groups who work on the tunnels and guide visitors. There is the Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre, which is a museum with regular tours operated by a society, and there are the Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels, which is a group of volunteers mainly doing excavation works. We think both groups are important, and guess the first is for tourists, the second with limited open hours and the need to make a reservation is for locals. They are in charge of different parts of the tunnels, so the tours are different.