The Mole of Edge Hill
Beneath the streets of Edge Hill in Liverpool exist an extensive network of tunnels. This labyrinth was constructed by one Joseph Williamson who has come to be known as ‘The Mole of Edge Hill’.
Little is known of Williamson’s early life. He is thought to have been born in Warrington in 1769 and moved to Liverpool at about 11 years of age to seek his fortune. He found work with the tobacco firm of Richard Tate and having risen through the ranks, and become a successful businessman in his own right, married the boss’s daughter, Elizabeth, in 1802.
Around 1805 he built a number of properties in Mason Street, the gardens and orchards behind them supported by brick arches on the sandstone outcrop above Smithdown Lane.
He then turned his attention to extending these arches underground – an endeavour which continued until his death in 1840. Quite why he did this is unclear.
The favoured explanation is that it was a philanthropic act. Struck by the unemployment and poverty of those living in the area, in particular that experienced by the returning soldiers from the Napoleonic Wars, he sought to improve their plight by providing them with paid employment rather than charity.
A competing explanation is that Williamson, a deeply religious man, became involved with one of the extremist religious sects, common in Liverpool at the time, and constructed the labyrinth as a place in which he and his fellow believers could escape Armageddon.
Or, it may be quite simply that following the death of his wife, Elizabeth, he became obsessed with the tunnelling as it provided him with some kind of solace.
Williamson’s true motives for constructing the underground folly are presently unclear but the historical research and restoration of the tunnels being conducted by the ‘Joseph Williamson Society’ and ‘Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels’ may shed more light upon the mystery surrounding the man and his dark subterranean kingdom.
BBC News (2002), The enigma of Liverpool’s labyrinth
Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels (2002), The Story