St James' Cemetery.  Liverpool



There are three tunnels leading into (or from) St' James's Cemetery.   The first one is the tunnel virtually every visitor will use.   It is about 10 feet wide and 12 feet high and follows a downward slope from just to the left of the main Cathedral entrance.   It has been called a 'natural arch' by some Ordnance Survey maps.   This may or may not be true.   Certainly the chisel marks which are plainly evident on the walls and roof point to the fact that this tunnel has been 'worked'.   Maybe the tunnel is 'natural' but the need was felt to widen it in years gone by.  

Today the tunnel walls are decorated by gravestones which were movedClick to enlarge (37174 bytes) during the transformation to a public garden.   The floor has been re-worked to provide a better grip during wet weather.   The visitor is recommended to pay close attention to the walls of this tunnel,  you will find the initials of long dead stonemasons carved into the sandstone, together with the dates.   Look out for J.F.P 1856.

Because of the winding nature of the path leading to this tunnel, it is unlikely to have been used for little else than pedestrian traffic.   This tunnel features in some early drawings of the Cemetery.   In 1832 it was described as 

"Lighted by only one opening to the surface of the ground, rendering the subterranean passage sufficiently sombre and frightful to inspire the legendry muse with many a rich fireside tale of fairies, sprites and hobgoblins, which, according to the chronicles of those gone by times, performed their nightly vigils on, or near this spot, to the great terror of every schoolboy and nursery-maid who had the temerity to venture through this darksome way"

At the bottom of the path leading from this tunnel the normal course is to bear to the right and to the open space beyond.   If instead, you were to turnClick to enlarge (29521 bytes) to the left, you would find an unkempt corner of the cemetery.   Here the graves are still laid out as they were.   Looking back you would see an arch, and the entrance to a bricked up tunnel.   This tunnel is wider than the first, some 4 meters.   This would suggest that it was used for the transportation of heavy, difficult loads.   Possibly this was the early Quarrymen's route out of the Quarry with their loads of stone.   This tunnel caused a problem during the 1960's when the Anglican Cathedral was nearing completion.   In his book The Building of Liverpool Cathedral, Peter Kennerly writes; 

"The preparation of the foundations for the West Front was hampered by the presence underground of an old collapsed tunnel, which had been excavated in the eighteenth century to give access to the quarry."

Just to the right of where this picture was taken, there is a very concentrated amount of 18th century graffiti.   Could this indicate that the workers of the day spent idle time here?   Could they have been waiting for a cart to return through the tunnel so it could be loaded with more stone?

Click to Enlarge (33554 bytes) Engineers drilled several boreholes to determine how far this tunnel stretched.   The diagram on the right shows the results.  The floor of the tunnel is filled with sand and shale and is completely blocked off after 150 feet (picture to the left)   At the beginning of the tunnel there are two blast walls, reputed to have been built to give protection to stained glass windows from the cathedral, which were stored there during the Second World War.   Thanks are due to Liverpool Cathedral for providing me with these  images. tunneldiagram.jpg (55801 bytes)

 Click to Enlarge(32617 bytes)The print below hangs in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and is by Robert Irving Barrow.   Printed about 1830 it is worth close examination.   To the right, the Oratory stands overlooking the North end of the Cemetery.   Just below this two sextons can be seen, one of them holding a pickaxe, testimony to the hard sandstone floor that they had to excavate.   At the bottom right of this picture, we can see the tunnel discussed in the previous pictures.   In this print it is boarded up, but still has a door.  

It is difficult to imagine where this tunnel went to.   Its direction seems to lead it under St James Mount towards Parliament Street, but no record of the other end exists.

AlClick to Enlarge (52254 bytes)most facing this tunnel, hidden among trees and ivy, lies a second tunnel.  This is bricked off with blocks of distinctive yellow sandstone,  there is a small  gap at the top and through this we can see how the roof is very well dressed.  It is bricked off after about 20 yards or so, but it is clear that this tunnel was designed for more than carting stone.    If you re-examine the print by Barrow you can see a funeral procession entering the cemetery.   You can clearly see that a path leads past the first tunnel and into the corner of the cemetery.   As there are sheer sandstone cliffs here, the only place that this path can lead, is to this tunnel.   So therefore it is safe to assume that this tunnel was used for hearse traffic.   It emerged at the junction of Rodney St, St. James St and Duke St. Close to the home of a Dr. Gill.   According to Brooke in 1853:

"The tunnel had two 'eyes' to admit light and air, and on each side over the entrance was the figure of a Lion carved in stone" 


tunnel2.jpg (29327 bytes)

A photograph taken by Marc Williams down the hearse traffic tunnel.   The high quality brickwork in the roof can clearly be seen. this is contrasted with the poor quality brickwork at the other end of the tunnel.   I hope to have some better photo's soon.

Click Here to find out about Marc's exploration of the tunnel.

This is an OS map from 1906, used for clarity,  I have added two lines which plot the approximate directions the two tunnels take.   The red line is the Quarry traffic tunnel, and the blue is the Hearse traffic tunnel.   Close examination will reveal that layout of the paths in this corner of the cemetery support the use of both tunnels.

Interestingly, two separate prints by TM Baynes dated  1836 give a clear view of the North end of the quarry and they do not show any tunnels apart from the pedestrian access tunnel.   Click Here to see one of those prints.


Click to enlarge (81803 bytes)
tunneldest.jpg (53224 bytes) An aerial view of the cathedral under construction, from about 1965.  I have enlarged the bottom left hand corner to show, what I believe to be, the entrance to the hearse access tunnel.  Although difficult to confirm, it does match in with all the evidence: 80 - 100 yards long, running to the junction of Rodney St, St James Rd and Duke St and emerging near to the home of a Dr Gill on the corner.   If you have any other images of this area then please mail me.

There is evidence to suggest that these last two tunnels were not excavated as tunnels as such, rather that they were parts of the old quarry backfilled.   I believe that the quarry started out as a large trench cut into the sandstone between the present Rodney St and mid-St James's Mount.   As work progressed it became apparent that better quality stone lay to the East.

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