There are numerous tunnels and catacombs worth visiting in Liverpool, the city itself was built on top of sandstone, which has been quarried for centuries. The tunnels of Joseph Williamson are perhaps the most famous example of early nineteenth century subterranean archaeology in Liverpool at the moment, but there are also forgotten cellars in abandoned halls and catacombs underneath gothic churches that are also worth visiting. Here are three of my favourite historical underground sites in Liverpool.
There are three main sites at the moment that give access to the tunnels; the Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels based on Mason Street and in Paddington, and the Heritage site which is based on Smithdown Lane. These photos here are taken from the Paddington site, which is effectively a series of cellars that was constructed by Williamson sometime in the early nineteenth century, the cellars being constructed on an open sandstone quarry on four levels. The brick work is beautifully done, and Williamson’s attention to detail can be seen in every aspect of the work; from the vaulted brick ceilings to the archways. The cellar was part of Williamson’s overall grand design as there is a connecting tunnel – now blocked off – that can be found at the top level of the cellar. Walking through this underground folly is akin to wandering through the mind of a genius, and is well worth visiting.
The Catacombs of St. John’s Church, Knotty Ash
St. John’s Church in Knotty Ash, Liverpool, is a beautiful Gothic church built between 1834-6,and has some interesting Masonic features; there is a stained glass window which displays three Masonic scenes, and the memorial stone of John Gladstone, the son of prominent local Freemason Robertson Gladstone can be found in the church yard. The catacombs themselves are to be found beneath the church, and the brick work certainly reflects a similar style in places to the tunnels of Joseph Williamson. There are family vaults in the catacombs, and some lead coffins can be glimpsed at through rusting Victorian cast iron ‘shutters’. There is also an old soldier buried in his full uniform.
The Cellar of Woolton Hall
Woolton Hall was built in the early eighteenth century and later became the home for the Ashton family – Nicholas Ashton being a wealthy Liverpool merchant and investor. The hall then passed through a number of owners, until a local Freemason John Hibbert purchased the hall in 1980 and it became used for Masonic meetings and events up until 2006. Since then it has been abandoned and is currently up for sale. According to John, there was a tunnel that led from the cellar to a local chapel, a tunnel which is now bricked up. The cellar itself is typical of the large cellar of an eighteenth century manor house, with separate sections that were used for storing food, wine and ale.