WILLIAMSON ‘TUNNELS’, EDGE HILL, LIVERPOOL: AN EXAMPLE OF GEORGIAN AND EARLY VICTORIAN QUARRY RESTORATION

Gerald Lucas, David Bridson, Timothy Jones

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Abstract

The Williamson ‘tunnels’ are a hidden labyrinth of around 15 ‘tunnels’ cut into Permo-Triassic sandstone in what is now a suburb of Liverpool. At the time of Williamson it was frontier land between the sprawling urban mass of the growing city and the countryside. Joseph Williamson (1769-1840) was an affluent tobacco merchant residing in Edge Hill during Liverpool’s heyday as a commercial port. Edge Hill at the time was an undeveloped sandstone outcrop overlooking the bustle of Liverpool city and was under pressure from advancing urban development. The location was ideal for constructing shipping merchant properties as there was a clear view of the docks. There are a number of theories for the origin and purpose of the Williamson ‘tunnels’. Some suggest they were constructed to store smuggled contraband from the port or as a refuge for a religious cult who believed the end of the world was nigh. Others suggest that Williamson was philanthropic and used his wealth to employ demobbed Napoleonic War soldiers to no real purpose other than to provide them with paid labour by digging ‘tunnels’ to nowhere. The authors posit that the ‘tunnels’ were wildcat sandstone slot quarries providing dimension stones for some of the buildings of the expanding and rich mercantile Liverpool and that Williamson saw an opportunity to develop land on the scarred hill. He did this by building a system of arches that covered the slots and which then provided the foundation for urban dwellings and gardens. In effect his business acumen produced one of the earliest and most profitable forms of quarry restoration. Subsequently, these restored quarries have acted as the sites of dwellings, rubbish depositories, shadows of intrigue, drains and more recently as a tourist attraction in the form of the Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre. The authors have reviewed the evidence for their origin and dispute that they were the burrowings of a philanthropist, instead arguing that they were dimension stone quarries that were restored to good land by a novel technique.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-23
JournalProceedings of the 17th Extractive Industry Geology Conference
Volume17
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Jan 2014

Keywords

  • QuarryQuarry RestorationGISLiverpoolLiverpool History

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