Banqueting Hall & Gash finally Empty! Progress in the New Tunnel…

Banqueting Hall & Gash finally Empty

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The newly emptied Gash, leading down into the Banqueting Hall

Amazing progress has been made in the Banqueting Hall as you will have read. We first started digging out this subterranean chamber under Joseph Williamson’s house in June 2017.

We were delighted, but once again strangely saddened just as we were when we finished Paddington, to finally finish digging out the Banqueting Hall and Gash. Digging under Williamson’s house has been a priority and something we have worked hard to be able to do for many years.

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The view down the Gash from the very top in the tight section looking down to Banqueting Hall and the Trench.

Now when you visit the Banqueting Hall, you step around the corner from the Sandstone Arch and into the Gash. The newly uncovered bedrock floor in the Gash slopes quite steeply downward. Descending down through the tight squeeze you will remember if you have visited before, widening at the bottom.

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The Trench, below the floor of the Banqueting Hall, with the Gash heding to the left and the New Tunnel on the far side.

This slope in the Gash brings you right down, into the Trench that we found recently. Therfore you are now much lower, looking up into the Banqueting Hall, below the bedrock floor of the chamber. It is quite a view…

In the next few weeks or so, we will be concentrating on putting, safe steps down the steep sloped floor of the Gash replacing the temporary duck boards that the diggers have in place now. This will make accessing the Banqueting Hall much safer for visitors.

The last three artefacts to be found whilst digging out the Gash and the Banqueting Hall were these two nice complete bottles and the very last Artefact being a the Clay Pipe below.

The New Rock Cut Tunnel Progress update.

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The Gash can be seen leading off to the Left, up the steep slope towards the SandStone Arch. whilst on the right is the New Tunnel.

We have also started the slow process of breaking through the brick wall that blocks the the newly discovered Rock Cut Tunnel through the Chamber wall. Whilst we have a long way to go removing this wall, due to its thickness, we have managed to make a hole on the right hand side.

This small hole has so far enabled us to confirm a few things. The tunnel does as expected seem to lead into another passage or chamber. Though just like Paddington and the Banqueting Hall it does seem to have a lot of infill of the same type as we have already seen elsewhere dumped inside.

Amazingly we discovered our first artefact from just inside this chamber within the infill. The find is a nice small and simple but complete bottle. We will add a Photo of the bottle when available.

So it seems that this chamber has been used for dumping, with the usual artefacts (Victorian rubbish) that we have grown accustomed to finding within.

As we continue to progress through this tunnel and into the next section of subterranean chambers, our journey of discovery looks set to continue.

Stay tuned…

New Artefacts Page

Progress has continued well on Level 4 in the last few weeks. So much so, that we have had to redesign the staircase from Level 3, down into Level 4. This is so we can continue digging deeper in the Gypsum Chamber.

From the start of excavating the infill from the Gypsum Chamber, this area has proved to be very rich in finds. In the last few weeks this has continued to be the case, there is a find uncovered in nearly every inch of the black ash. It is amazing and very exciting to watch the diggers as they progress. They often have to use gardening trowels and other small tools in the removal of the ash. Of course, many of these finds are fragments of long broken items, however, we do find the most amazing pieces that are either complete or near complete coming out, which is unbelievable given the age of these pieces and the fact that that they have been buried under many tones of infill for, in excess of 100 years.

We have now added an artefact page and gallery to the site, here you will find photographs of the many and varied finds that we have found at Paddington over the years. This page will grow as more of the artefacts get photographed. Check out the artefacts, here.

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Sunflower Inkwell
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A Rare Soyer’s bottle
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Front of 1871 Gold Sovereign

Meet Mr. Williamson: what he looked like, what he said …

Williamson aged 50. On the reverse he has written 'This is a good likeness of me when I was half-seas over'
Williamson aged 50. On the reverse he has written ‘This is a good likeness of me when I was half-seas over’   (Access courtesy Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool.  Photo copyright FoWT)

Look into those eyes.  What was in his mind?  What was his motivation?  This is Joseph Williamson aged 50 in 1819, at the peak of his tunneling exploits.  At this point he was successful and rich and had scores of men on his books, all digging caverns and passages, building arches and walls in a complex, chaotic frenzy of construction.

Challenge him and he’ll tell you that employing those men keeps them out of mischief. Scoff at the idea and he’ll ask you what good you’ve ever done to help your fellow man.  He’ll tell you proudly that he gives the men a mug of ale every day but only because they work all the harder for it.

According to an 1837 article in the magazine ‘The Rambler’, an acquaintance met Williamson in Liverpool and challenged him over his scruffy state of dress. Williamson replied ‘What does it matter? – everybody knows me here’. Later, the same two men met in London and, faced with the same challenge, Williamson replied ‘What does it matter? – no-one knows me here’.

Williamson in 1828, aged 59. The painting was by his friend and tenant Cornelius Henderson.
Williamson in 1828, aged 59. The painting was by his friend and tenant Cornelius Henderson.

Posing for these portaits saw him don fine attire, but his every day outfit by all accounts was a scruffy coat and hob-nail boots.  From that laconic owl-like face a gruff and intimidating manner would unnerve any stranger venturing near the King of Edge Hill’s domain on Mason Street.  Yet once he knew and trusted you, especially if you were a humble individual and not a suspicious official, he was capable of great kindness.  Many at the time called him the ‘King of Edgehill‘, reflecting how his persona and activities dominated his adopted district, overlooking Liverpool.

Writer James Stonehouse interviewed the Mason Street residents not long after Williamson died.  He learned that: “Mr. Williamson took great delight in this lady’s children and made great pets of them. On her family increasing the lady and her husband frequently asked Williamson to build her an extra room for a nursery, reminding him that as he was always building something, he might as well build them an extra room as anything else. He however, declined until one day the lady sent him a manifesto from the “Queen of Edge-hill,” as he had been accustomed to call her, commanding him to build the room she wanted. Williamson, thereupon, wrote her a reply in the same strain, promising to attend to her commands.

A few mornings after his reply had been received the lady was busy in her bedroom dressing her baby, when she suddenly heard a loud knocking in the house adjoining, and down fell the wall, and amid the falling of bricks and the rising of dust Mr. Williamson himself appeared, accompanied by two joiners, who fitted a door into the opening; while two bricklayers quickly plastered up the walls. Through the door next stepped the landlord. “There, madam, what do you think of this room for a nursery,” he exclaimed, “it is big enough if you had twenty children.”

Mr. Williamson had actually appropriated the drawing-room in his own house to her use. She thanked him, but said he might have given her some warning of what he was going to do, instead of covering her and the baby with dust, but Williamson laughed heartily at his joke, while the lady was glad to get a noble room added to her house without extra rent.”

The King of Edge Hill in his later years, 1838.
The King of Edge Hill in his later years, 1838.

There’s a good heart behind tales like that.  And Stonehouse’s stories, however embellished and Chinese-whispered they may have become over time, boast the unique benefit of stemming from his interviewing the very people who were Williamson’s tenants just a few years earlier.  One likes to think that their experience of him was on balance a good one.

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Special Feature: The underground ‘Banqueting Hall’

It’s one of the most startling features of Williamson’s underground kingdom.  And first-time visitors are usually mesmerised by it.  Despite its name, the Banqueting Hall has no dining tables or chairs, but it does offer a generous serving of size and spectacle.

The Banqueting Hall today
The Banqueting Hall today

65 feet (20 metres) long, the vast chamber was originally dug down from ground level.  Williamson’s men put an arched roof along its full length, then added another level of tunnel on top of that.  So as you climb up the huge slope of rubble that pervades this area like so many parts of the tunnels, you are still a long way underneath the ground surface.

FoWT diggers levelling the slope to the Gothic Arch
FoWT diggers levelling the slope to the Gothic Arch

That floor you can see isn’t the bottom of the chamber at all.  That is a layer of dense rubble, its surface smoothed off by the boots of explorers and visitors over many decades.  How deep?  Probably six feet at its shallowest and 20 feet at its deepest.

Channel 5's 'Underground Britain' in the Banqueting Hall, 2014
Channel 5’s ‘Underground Britain’ in the Banqueting Hall, 2014. (see the film here; fast forward to 34:45)

So why is it called the ‘Banqueting Hall’?  A very old story has it that: On one occasion, Williamson invited a number of friends and well-to-do acquaintances to his house for a meal. He sat them at a ramshackle table and placed in front of them a poor man’s meal of bacon and beans. Most took offence and left. To the remainder he said ‘now I know who my true friends are, follow me…’. He took them through to a banqueting hall and treated them to a feast fit for a King.  Many have thought ever since that the large cavern seen here must have been where that event took place, hence the name.

Coming through the 'gash' into the Banqueting Hall
Coming through the ‘gash’ into the Banqueting Hall

Features of the Hall include a delightful gothic arch high up in the south wall, which offers a tortuous climb up a shaft to the surface.  Also the tall slab-roofed ‘gash’, which visitors descend through in order to arrive in the main hall.

Just as with the Paddington section of the tunnels, we hope and plan to clear and excavate the infill from the Banqueting Hall.  Who knows what passageways and features may lie beneath the deep layers of rubble that have hidden its secrets for so long.