From the south-west corner of Joseph Williamson’s ‘estate’, the junction of Smithdown Lane and Grinfield Street, you would once have peered up at a long range of arches and other striking and unusual structures, all part of Joseph Williamson’s domain. If you’d glanced over the boundary wall you’d most likely have seen scores of workers going about their duties for the King of Edge Hill.
Today near that corner two of those structures are still in place and accessible: the famous Double Tunnel and its neighbour the South Tunnel or Corner Tunnel, both renovated and opened to the public in 2002.
In the latter part of the 1800s, long after Williamson, the local authority’s stables were built here and in various guises operated as a famous part of the neighbourhood until closing in the 1970s and 80s. All that time the Double Tunnel in particular, its unique double-arched portal fully visible above ground, was a striking reminder of the tunnels, despite much of the other Williamson structures here unfortunately being demolished or caved in by different owners of the land.
In the early 2000s, private property developments unfortunately saw most of the old stable buildings knocked down, despite many protests, and replaced by new houses. A few blocks were kept, to house the Heritage Centre which now affords access to the two tunnels.
Underneath the large adjacent car park, once the stable yard, is a long surviving stretch of the legendary ‘Triple Decker’ tunnel, explored from a dug-out part of the South Tunnel but not currently suitable for public access.
In true Williamson style, there are signs of other tunnels branching off the Triple Decker, which tallies with accounts of different passages in this area. Historian James Stonehouse claimed in 1845 to have seen two below-ground ‘houses’ cut out of a crevice in the bedrock near this corner. What a sight that would have been.
Access for photos courtesy of the Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre.