Visiting Liverpool’s biggest secret: WilliamsonTunnels

Sometimes the best attractions in a city are those which are those, which are not as well known. Liverpool is a city full of culture; with award-winning museums, theatres, entertainment venues and incredible architecture.

However, if you dare venture out of the city a little, toward the suburb of Edge Hill, you will come across an unknown treasure – The Williamson Tunnels (or Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre)

What is so special about a bunch of tunnels?

If you care to read on, I shall explain

Where are the Williamson Tunnels?

The Tunnels are a 20-minute walk from Liverpool Lime Street station. There is a brown heritage sign pointing them out to you on the road, as you approach them.

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However, this is where you could easily get lost. Just up from where this picture was taken is a lane off to the left, called Smithdown Lane, which is full of student housing.

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Once here, you will walk about 100 yards, and just off to the right is the entrance to the tunnels. It is very unassuming, and you would think it was a derilict building. Only a small sign indicating that you are in the correct place.

Williamson's Tunnels, Liverpool
Williamson’s Tunnels, Liverpool

There is a small gift shop to the left as you enter the yard (known as the old stable yard). The entrance is through a set of green doors.

I was initially unsure if I was in the correct place, or if it indeed was open. It was, and a young volunteer appeared shortly after, so as I could buy a ticket for admission (though no actual tickets are issued)

The reception area at Williamson's Tunnels, where you can purchase a ticket for admission.
The reception area at Williamson Tunnels, where you can purchase a ticket for admission.

How much is a ticket to the tunnels?

The price of admission to the tunnels is £4.50 for an adult, £3 for a child and £4 if you are a student or senior citizen. There are also family admission prices if you travel as one.

NB: Cash is preferred, but there is a Paypal machine so you can make card payments, but this is not always reliable 

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Tour times 

A guided tour of the tunnel will last approximately 45 minutes (which is a bargain for the price!) Tours start at 10am, which the last tour being admitted 1 hour before closing at 5pm.

The cafe 

As I was a little early for the next tour, I took a seat in the small cafe area and had a drink (hot chocolate for £1), whilst reading up on information about the tunnels.

Drinking hot chocolate in the cafe at Williamson's Tunnels, Liverpool.
Drinking hot chocolate in the cafe at Williamson Tunnels, Liverpool.

It was then that I learned that the tunnels were staffed solely by volunteers and friends of the society (Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels, est. 1996), and that it is a registered charity that receives no funding.

Touring the tunnels / History 

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At the entry point of the tunnels at Smithdown lane, which is still being explored to this day.

Our group gathered in the reception/foyer area, and were introduced to our tour guide, given hard hats, and were ready to enter the tunnels.

The Tunnels were built under the direction of a wealthy and eccentric businessman called Joesph Williamson, in between 1805 and 1840. He had acquired some land in the Edge Hill area, where he built rather eccentric houses, which had no real plans or rational design. Underneath these houses, Williamson instructed his employed workers to create the tunnels, often moving some rubble from place to place.

There is no hard evidence about why these tunnels may have been built. One theory is that Williamson had feared the end of the World, and so wanted to have somewhere he, and his friends and family could shelter. Williamson, however has been known to have reported that, the tunnel construction was to enable employment of the poor.

As you enter the tunnels, you’ll note that (particularly in Winter) it is very mild, with a constant temperature of 18 degrees having been recorded all year round. There is light running all the way through, but your guide will have a small torch, for pointing out other key areas in the tunnels.

Williamson's Tunnels, Liverpool
Williamson Tunnels, Liverpool

During the tour, we were shown a map of the area that the tunnels covered. The tunnels vary in size, between 70 feet long and 25 feet wide, to the smaller tunnels of just 4 feet long and 6 feet wide. We were told that there are some brave people that volunteer to explore the tunnels, and fit themselves in some incredibly small spaces.

Along the way you will see some carved out areas, which zig-zag along the wall; presumed to be for the drainage of water. There are also sections made for rubbish chutes, and perfectly formed archways. They really are a bit of a wonder.

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When the tunnels were first explored in the early 1990s, much of what was found was blocked by a lot of rubble, which to this day is still being cleared. So the hope is that in the future, there will be much more to discover.

Along the tunnels, there are also a number of artefacts found during excavation, including plates, glass jars, pans and bottles – perhaps Williamson was stocking up for the end of the World down there?

Artefacts found in Williamson's tunnels, Liverpool
Artefacts found in Williamson tunnels, Liverpool

Toward the exit of the tunnels are a number of newspaper clippings, some from the era of Williamson. At the time, a lot of the public felt the tunnels were a bit of a nuisance, given that it led to offensive water being held in these areas, as well as the fact that there appeared to be no purpose to them.

There are also some original photos, from Williamson’s era, as well as more up to date ones from recent excavations in the tunnels.

The Williamson Tunnels was certainly a different experience and one which is not widely known about. Similar to the underground cities in Goreme, Turkey.

Amazing to think of what could lie underneath a city. 

If you’re in Liverpool, don’t miss out on this unique place to visit. 

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