It is a dark, chilly Friday night in early November. Halloween has barely passed, the clocks have just gone back, and there is the subtle scent of sulphur in the air as an intrepid group of paranormal investigators carefully descend into a mysterious subterranean labyrinth on the hunt for ghosts.
According to Ghost at Midnite, Williamson’s Tunnels in Edge Hill is ‘Liverpool’s most haunted location’, a rich hunting-ground for the multitude of spirits who roam the city after dark. One of two sites run by Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels, Mason Street was the scene for Friday’s evening of ghost-hunting with husband and wife team Nigel and Angie Brown. Here’s what happened when La Vida Liverpool tagged along in search of things that go bump in the night…
The Ghost Hunt
The event started with a séance in the ruins of Joseph Williamson’s house We formed a circle and held hands as two of the guides stood in the centre relaying messages and snippets of life stories.The site looks down at the Metropolitan Cathedral just below and the city beyond, a striking vantage point amidst the ruins. The séance drew to a close and we were now ready to go down into the tunnels.
Having never attended anything like this before and seriously sceptical about paranormal matters, I had no idea what to expect. We’d been advised we probably wouldn’t see ghosts or witness any sort of special effects as Ghost at Midnite would not embellish for entertainment: they were conducting investigations. It was at this point it properly dawned on me that we were joining an actual ghost hunt!
Nestled in the slightly warmer, damp space of the tunnel chamber, we were offered a choice of investigating tools including divining rods, K2 meters (to detect paranormal activity), a spirit box (speaks occasional words in a mechanical voice) and an infrared thermometer (to identify cold spots). We assembled in a circle and the lights went out.
What followed was an attempt to detect ‘ghosts’ using a range of methods. Initially, the divining rods were the focus, the ghosts being asked to ‘make the rods cross’ if they were present. Some of the rods, which had green glow-in-the-dark material on their tips, started to move about in the dark. Armed with the infrared thermometer, I tested the temperature from time to time: it fluctuated around 12°C, which surprised me as it had begun to feel very much colder! Talk moved to the subject of child ghosts and some suggestions of names and life stories were made by mediums in the group.
We swapped instruments and I tried the rods, which began to move about of their own accord! Nothing could keep them still, as though something was pulling them around – an unexpected and strangely surreal experience that created a rare ‘ghostly’ moment during an otherwise calm vigil. The guides repeatedly asked the ghosts to light up the K2s; to ‘turn them from green to red’. One device seemed to be responding intermittently. The spirit box continued to churn out words. The night drew on. It was time for a break. We emerged blinking and disorientated from the tunnels out into the relative brightness of the city evening, as the crew ushered us all into a warm portacabin for a much-needed hot drink.
The midnight hour was fast approaching, so we said our goodbyes. I’d half-imagined roaming through the tunnels with an infrared torch hunting ghouls hidden in corners like in Scooby-Doo or even Ghostbusters, but with friendlier intentions, so the more vigil-like arrangement of the event seemed positively prosaic in comparison, and I swear it was much colder than 12°C!
The stalwart spirit-hunters, undeterred by the weather, were heading back underground for another session, waiting it out until the early hours in the hopes of communicating with spirits from the ‘other side’, a dogged degree of dedication in what is truly an extraordinary underground space. The event, conducted in support of the Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels with membership included in the price of the ticket, was a rare chance to explore the city’s mysterious tunnels in the dead of night, and that in itself was quite an experience!
Commissioned in the 1800s by the reclusive and eccentric tobacco merchant Joseph Williamson, the tunnels lay forgotten following his death for over 150 years. Now partially recovered and preserved as a heritage site, these underground chambers provide a fascinating glimpse into a unique piece of Liverpool history.
The complex is made up of ‘miles of underground passages, chambers and caverns hacked out of solid sandstone’. Abandoned in the 1840s, work began on excavating the site in 2005. Since then, many structures have been opened up including the banqueting hall, wine bins and other unusual features. Excavation work is carried out by a team of volunteers and the Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels, which is chaired by TV historian Dan Snow.
Known as possibly ‘the largest underground folly in the world’ the tunnels have attracted national and international interest. The Mole of Edge Hill, as Williamson in known, is also the subject of local folklore, one infamous tale being when he invited city dignitaries to dinner. Upon arrival, they were offered porridge, causing many of the guests to leave in disgust. He called those who remained his true friends, and invited them on to the real lavish feast!
The Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels is a Liverpool-based charity that has been campaigning since 1996 to restore the tunnel system. Membership of the group is available to the general public for a small fee, and provides year-round access to open days at the site and a chance to support this unusual project. As the site is very much a work in progress, open days are limited but you can find out about more on the charity’s website.
As for our paranormal investigation, whether or not there is much that goes bump in the night under Liverpool’s streets, a spot of ghost-hunting during the witching-hour at Williamson’s Tunnels seems a suitably quirky legacy for a project dreamed up by one of Liverpool’s most famous eccentrics!
Find out more about Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels ONLINE
Check out Ghost at Midnite ONLINE
Images Courtesy of Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels and Ghost at Midnite