The Long Lost Great Tunnel, Discovered…

Anyone who has been on our tours of the “non-public tunnels”, or those of you who have read further into our web site, will know of the Great Tunnel. The tunnel, under the now-demolished Magnet’s warehouse is located next door to Williamson’s House. It was photographed in the 1880’s by a Mr Mudd. He was a well-known railway photographer and was in the area photographing the Lime St to Edge Hill Railway Cutting. The Great Tunnel had been surveyed by military personnel in 1882 and in 1907. A number of artillery and volunteer regiments occupied a barracks on the site, and the tunnel was used for Army manoeuvres for many years. A Little more info on the Great Tunnel can be found Here.

The Great Tunnel
The Great Tunnel (Courtesy National Railway Museum)

We have tried to gain access into the Great Tunnel before, though previous attempts have been unsuccessful. We tried to break through the curtain wall that had been built in front of the Tunnel mouth to the west. It turns out that this wall was extremely thick – more than 6ft thick. Although we managed to get through the wall, we were faced with a further 6 ft. or more of infill.

We have now received permission from Liverpool City Council to explore and locate the tunnels on Magnet’s site at Mason Street. We decided that the best way forward was to get a JCB on site and dig down from the surface to locate the arch from above. This is similar to how we found Paddington, digging down until we found the arched roof through which we gained access to locate the way in from below.

The JCB digging down to locate the Great Tunnel, with Williamson’s House Site on the left.

On the first day with the JCB, we had only been digging down for a little while when we found the top of a brick arch. At this point we were getting near the maximum depth that the JCB could reach. Excitement followed as we broke through the arch, revealing a small brick arched chamber. This was not the Great Tunnel but we were still delighted at the find. We continued to dig further along in the direction to where we believed the Great Tunnel would be, and came across what looked like a brick arched junction, dead in line with the Sandstone Arch. This we are sure would have been the route from the Sandstone Arch through to the Great Tunnel, maybe leading in other directions too. We hope that this route could one day be re-connected through to the Great Tunnel.

The first find of the day, this Brick Arch. You can just see inside this chamber wich turned out to be quite small.
This Brickwork, we think would have formed part of the connection from the “Sandstone Arch” and the “Great Tunnel”.

On the second day of the JCB dig came the big find. In the morning, we didn’t seem to be having much luck in finding clues as to the whereabouts of the Great Tunnel. We were scraping along some bedrock, around 17ft down when the bedrock suddenly dropped at 90°, could this be the end wall of the Tunnel?

The Sandstone in the middle of this photo is bedrock, with a 90° lip at it’s edge. Could this be the the outer Bedrock wall of the Great Tunnel?

Then soon after, as the JCB bucket was scraping out, someone shouted “Bricks!” At first, we were not sure if these were loose or complete bricks forming a greater structure. So we persisted, slowly inching along, until we realised that the brick structure we were looking at resembled an in-situ arch. Was this the long lost arch of the Great Tunnel?

The Brick Arch, still in situ, 17ft down below floor level.

Once we had stabilised a route down to the brickwork, we went down and cleared it a little by hand and looked inside. There we revealed a large arch with lots of stalactites; beneath it this part of the tunnel is pretty full of infill, and we haven’t yet seen the whole width of it. We were delighted and fairly sure that we had in fact found the long hidden Great Tunnel.

Today’s view into the Great Tunnel, looking through the small arch in the photo above

Of course we were very pleased to once more to be featured by the Liverpool Echo and other National Press too:

Liverpool Echo:


Daily Mail:


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