Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Lost Tunnels Buried Deep Beneath the UK


Huge Network of 200 Years Old Tunnels – Beneath Liverpool Street

A huge network of about 200 year old tunnels lies below the Liverpool’s street with no information of its purpose of being there. From all the engineering projects that have been taken place in the industrial centre of Liverpool, like the world’s first steam powered passenger railway, the building of Williamson Tunnels in the early 19th century is the most mysterious.

Joseph Williamson, the patron of the tunnels, a tobacco merchant had been very secretive regarding its purpose and till date no one is sure for what purpose it had been used. Moreover, no one is aware of how many of these tunnels are scattered underfoot below the Edge Hill district of Liverpool in northwest England.

For centuries, the tunnels remained buried and were filled in after locals complained of smell which the caverns could have been used as underground landfills and stuffed with everything from household junk to human waste. An early member of the Friends of Williamson Tunnels – FoWT informed that lot of people had known about the tunnels but it was as far as it went and was left at that. But now they had decided to look for them.

Chambers With Unexpected Depth

In 2001, one summer, Coe together with small group of investigators broke into a suspected tunnel in the Paddington area of Edge Hill and with the help of a digger, make a small hole in the roof of what seemed to be an old cellar, which was the upper level of one of the systems of the tunnel. Coe and a few others carefully went in with the help of a harness.

The chambers seemed to be piled with rubbles so high that walking upright was impossible. However, the explorers were excited when they came across an opening, recalls Coe.There were three different sites in the area that provided access to various sections of the tunnels and excavating them was a difficult task. For the past 15 years, various volunteers dung up twice a week removing more than 120skips of waste material and revealed cellar systems which had been forgotten and some cases of multiple levels of tunnels, some having stone steps leading to deeper caverns.

 Besides these, there are also some debris filled passages splitting off in odd directions and it is not clear how far they are extended or where they eventually lead.One of the regular excavators, Tom Stapledone, a retired television engineer and shopkeeper explains how the early tests with metal rods lurched down in the coke like rubble had portrayed the unexpected depth of the chambers.

Series of Marking on Sandstone – Indicative of Quarrying

He informed that they put a 10ft rod in and did not hit the bottom. Thereafter they put a 15 ft. rod down and yet did not hit the bottom. A 20ft rod eventually hit the solid floor at 19 ft. down.The excavation work was not an easy task. Besides the manpower, the volunteers had to get special permission from the council in order to dig in any new direction and at times it was not granted for safety reasons Stapled on however, was keen on one blocked up tunnel which ran under a street.

 The team suspected that it could lead to other system of underground chambers which are yet to be discovered. As they progressed with their excavation, the volunteers systematically documented any artefact they found. They have so far uncovered ink wells which were once used by school children, bottles which held everything from beer to poison, ceramics from Liverpool’s Royal Infirmary, jam jars, oyster shells, chamber pots, animal bone and various clay pipes.

Besides these, they also found a tapestry of household bric-a-brac which relates the social history of Liverpool of the last two centuries which no other collection can tell.Those who had helped in the excavation of the tunnels have now developed a new and a more or less a more satisfying theory. Bridson informs that a series of markings in the sandstone which according to him could be indicative of quarrying.

Arches – 200 Years Old Continue to be Solid

There are also channels to drain rainwater away from the rock while the men worked, blocks of sandstone which could be known with various niched in the walls where the rigs were one probably installed to help the extraction of stone, used as a building material. Bridson is of the belief that prior to Williamson coming along; these pits in the ground seem to have existed already.

 However, it was Williamson’s idea to develop arches over them and seal them in. Properties could thereafter be built over the reclaimed land which would otherwise be practically valueless. Williamson was much ahead of his time in the case of land reclamation according to Bridson. The work could have quickened the development of the area which without the improvement would have remained unused for years.

Williamson moreover was enterprising in his design and by filling the trenches in would have taken much longer in the early1800s, due to the limitation of transport. Hence he used arches instead and as Bridson observed, he was doing it years before the great railway tunnels and bridges of England were built. He informs that the arches still stand 200 years on with practically no maintenance and apart from the ones that have been ruined; they continue to be solid as the day they were built. Hence Williamson must be aware of what he is doing.

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