Liverpool is full of hidden gems that you would never even think existed in the city and Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels is one of them.

Winner of the Hidden Gem Award at the Liverpool City Region Tourism Awards 2019, the voluntary team have been working hard over the last decade to reveal Williamson’s underground secrets. 

We went along to the tunnels in the Edge Hill area of Liverpool to experience for ourselves the mysteries of the site Joseph Williamson created in the 1800s. So, if you’re thinking of visiting, we have put together everything you need to know about the tunnels and what to expect when you’re down there!


First of all - a bit of background on The Williamson Tunnels. 


The tunnels, which are situated in the Edge Hill district of Liverpool by Mason Street and Smithdown Lane are a few hundred meters from the city’s landmark Metropolitan Cathedral. Most people say the tunnels were built by Williamson himself but in fact, it was the hundreds of workers he employed who created the tunnels and chambers in the early decades of the 1800s. 

The reason as to why the tunnels were built is still largely unknown but the explanation often given surrounds Willaimson’s goodwill and gestures. It is said that having come from humble beginnings, Williamson, a rich retired merchant, was touched by the poverty surrounding the Edge Hill district and offered construction labour to the unemployed as a gesture of generosity. This theory has become so wound up in folklore over the years it is taken by many as the truth today. 

                                                                                  © Chris Iles – Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels

There are also all sorts of rumours as to what the tunnels were used for; from transporting goods, to religious reasons and even a refuge from an Armageddon - but unfortunately it’s unlikely we’ll ever find out their true purpose. 

Other than the tunnels, Williamson also built a lot of large houses on Mason Street with some of their cellars and walls still remaining around the tunnels today. 

In terms of the tunnels’ current existence, many of the larger ones at the back of Mason Street houses were demolished before the 1900s and some were destroyed by building work over the decades but a large portion of them are still accessible. It is said that the frequent practise of tipping the rubble from demolished buildings into the tunnels underneath actually preserved the remaining tunnels and stopped them from becoming flattened.

                                                                                   © Chris Iles – Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels

This rubble is what the volunteers at Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels have spent the last few years removing to uncover all the hidden treasures in the tunnels. 

The excavations have uncovered tunnels in various sizes from the so called ‘banqueting hall’ that is about 64 feet long, 14 feet wide and 27 feet high to tunnels that are 4 feet wide and 6 feet tall. The known tunnels are all within the confines of a 300 metre-wide rectangle of land and with no comprehensive map known to exist, it is impossible to say just how far the tunnels go. 

                                                                                    © Chris Iles – Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels


What can you expect when you visit the tunnels.


Friends of Willimason’s Tunnels run a couple of different tours and vary depending on if you are a member of their organisation.

For Non Members you can visit the amazing four storey Chambers of Paddington which was discovered by the team in 1999. Volunteers emptied tonnes of rubble from within the Cathedral like space to uncover the site’s deepest chamber at 60 ft below ground level! 

You’ll enter into the tunnels through a trapdoor in the floor and work your way further and further down into the caverns. Not only will you get to see the structural engineering of the tunnels, there are also hundreds of artefacts on display along the way. The artefacts, which range from everything such as china ware to glass bottles and household items, help tell the story of the area over the decades. 

                                                                                     © Chris Iles – Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels

For the Extended Member's tour you will get the tour of Paddington Tunnels along with a tour of the newly evacuated basement of Joseph Williamson’s House and his subterranean world. You will get to see the “Wine Bins”, “Sandstone Arch”, “Gash”, the famous “Banqueting Hall” and the new edition of the “Boiler Room”. 

                                                                                     © Chris Iles – Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels


Each tour lasts around an hour and you will be provided with a high visibility jacket and a hard hat for health and safety reasons. Flat and comfortable shoes are also vital for the tour as some of the floors can be slippery. 

All the tours are free of charge and are run by the Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels expert volunteers but donations are always welcome. Donations mean the team can keep doing their amazing work to continue preserving this important piece of Liverpool’s history. 

For more information head over to their website: williamsontunnels.com


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This blog post has been written by Sophie Shields, Digitial Marketing Assistant for Marketing Liverpool.

Sophie is from Liverpool, loves all things music, particularly the local music scene and Liverpool FC.

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