So completely has Liverpool ONE reshaped our city’s geography that it’s hard to believe Paradise Street doesn’t end at the Sony Centre. But, underneath the newly chiseled granite, the old city streets still stubbornly remain. And, such is our desire to reinvent ourselves every generation or so, precious little of our history ever rests in peace.
In fact, it’s not just the old streets you’re walking above. In one spot, you’re actually standing on the resting place of giants…
See, there is a slice of Paradise, on the other side of the John Lewis car park. And, on a sunny Summer’s afternoon, it’s potentially even closer to heaven than stroking a new iPad in the Apple store.
For here, at the busy interchange between Park Lane and Liver Street, is the triangular patch of land where Paradise Street begins.
It was here that one of the city’s greatest ever churches once stood. And where one of the city’s most benevolent eccentrics has his final resting place.
St Thomas’ Church, consecrated in 1750, towered 258 feet above the world’s first wet dock, just over the road in Park Lane.
On the Ides of March 1757, a violent gale knocked the top forty two feet off – and, in 1822 the spire was dismantled completely. But the church (with a congregation of over 1,000) was still faithfully attended by its parishoners: including amongst them The King of Edge Hill, Joseph Williamson. And it was in St Thomas’ cramped city-centre graveyard, in 1840, that Williamson was laid to rest.
Tobacco magnate, philanthropist and incurable tunnel builder, Williamson was buried in the family vault belonging to the Tate family (another family whose name looms large over the city).
The man tunnelled up to his death, giving gainful employment to thousands left jobless after the Napoleonic Wars. His parish church, alas, didn’t last as long as his subterranean exploits – it was finally demolished in 1911.
Many of the graves were removed, but the Tate vault remained. And remains to this day.
During the Paradise Street development in 2005 the vault was discovered in an archaeological dig. This was the first genuine proof that the final resting place of one of our city’s most eccentric, and unorthodox businessmen remained: although quite why it was covered over with a car-park, in the 1920s, is hard to fathom.
“After decades of Chinese whispers and folklore regarding whether or not the King of Edge Hill was buried on the site of the old St. Thomas’s Church grave yard, his grave was indeed found intact,” says the Friends of Williamson Tunnels who, together with developers, Grosvenor, set to work to design an build a fitting memorial garden.
“The garden will eventually boast a large information plaque which will mention Joseph Williamson and some of the others who will remain buried underneath the area. We’re supplying the wording for the plaque to the designers, and we’re looking forward to it becoming a peaceful haven just outside the busy centre of Liverpool,” says the Friends.
SevenStreets has heard a rumour that the original gates of the Sailor’s Home (the only remaining fragments from this fabled, long-lost Liverpool landmark) are to be returned to the city – from their current home in Smethwick, Birmingham. The gates feature the first ever cast Liver Birds.
So, tread carefully. For, just a couple of feet below this beautifully serene spot, with its driftwood, lavender and maritime plants, lies a man who’s been known to tunnel himself out of the trickiest of underground situations…