The Williamson Tunnels, Liverpool: The bizarre underground system that’s still a mystery, 180 years later

Were they built to survive the end of the world, or for a more mundane purpose? Annunciata Elwes delves into the Williamson Tunnels.

In the early 19th century, tobacco merchant Joseph Williamson started building houses near his home in Liverpool. By the time he died in 1840, one legacy of the ‘King of Edge Hill’ was a labyrinth of mysterious underground tunnels.

Some speculate that he was a religious extremist obsessed with Armageddon; others that he was a philanthropist who simply wished to employ soldiers home from the Napoleonic Wars.

The Williamson Tunnels. Picture by courtesy of the Joseph Williamson Society.

There’s no map and no one yet knows how far the tunnels stretch, but, for decades, the Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels have been clearing rubble.

Visitors can enter through a trapdoor and explore the complex, including a 64ft ‘banqueting hall’ and the triple-decker ‘Paddington Tunnels’.

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