The Williamson Tunnels has always been on our radar, and why wouldn’t it? A subterranean labyrinth, built by a lunatic philanthropist, forgotten for decades, now opened up to the public? It’s a fairytale story, of the type with which Liverpool is rife.
So, we went along, secure in the knowledge that we were in for a treat. A rainy day, some spooky tunnels hinting at some bizarre scouse Victoriana – what’s not to like?
The tunnels are accessed via a visitor’s centre on the way out to Edge Lane. It’s a strange part of Liverpool, once the city’s boundary, now something of a no-man’s land between the city centre and Kensington. There can’t be much passing trade.
But it’s here, or near her, that the eponymous Williamson – the Mole of Edge Hill – lived over 100 years ago. It’s a guided tour. That’s good, we think, a bit of background and colour.
The Williamson story is a fascinating one. Was he a vainglorious meglomaniac? Or was one the city’s biggest ever benefactors with an eccentric edge? He did, after all, provide employment for thousands of hungry and desperate men.
There’s a bit of a Robin Hood edge to the story, but it’s not clear how much of it is fact, and how much conjecture. There’s a spot of detail about the life of the working classes at the time, too, which adds a bit of depth.
The guide is knowledgeable and friendly, but there’s a whiff of the school trip about it. SevenStreets was looking for a clipboard and bulldog clip before long, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
But, in more ways than one, there’s not a lot to it. The tunnels aren’t anywhere near as wide-ranging one might be led to believe. And, without wanting to sound like a grumpy old website, there’s not a huge amount to see.
The tunnels are impressive in that they are there, and the artifacts recovered from the tunnels are a intriguing snapshot into the lives of the people who dug out the tunnels.
But there’s quite a lot of information lacking to form a comprehensive picture of exactly what was going on here, just as there’s only a small percentage of the original tunnels available to explore.
Not of this should diminish the truly remarkable stories of the Williamson Tunnels’ existence, nor the efforts of the volunteers dedicated to excavating and maintaining the tunnels.
The whole site has a pleasing vibrancy that sets it at odds with the surrounding area, and SevenStreets is happy that it’s there at all.
But we were left wishing for more, and hoping that another rich benefactor comes along to help restore these remarkable structures to as much of their former glory as possible.
Images by markandlaura, DJB/JWS