The eye at White delf and the Wapping tunnel

When Thomas Talbot Bury visited in Liverpool in 1831, he sketched not only the new railway for his famous Ackermann prints but also St James's cemetery (in the old usage) for ladies journal La Belle Assemblée. The better known of the two cemetery prints shows a man pointing at the tomb of Mr Huskisson, the Liverpool MP who died on the opening day of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in September the previous year. A public subscription was raised to provide a mausoleum and statue but this came into effect only in 1834 for the mausoleum and 1836 for the statue. An additional melancholy feature not mentioned by the journal is that the cemetery, if not the grave, would have been visible to George Stephenson from his house on Upper Parliament Street.

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Fig: St James's cemetery in 1831 by Thomas Talbot Bury. Hope Street above left with inclined planes and catacombs. Stephenson's house on Upper Parliament Street is third from left in distance. The lodge on far right is part of Foster's design and extant. The man in the centre is pointing at Huskisson's grave.

The cemetery, along with the earlier non-denominational Necropolis, was a significant innovation and mentioned in contemporary guidebooks to the city. Legend has it that Mrs Huskisson visited it prior to the opening of the railway. It would become invaluable with the cholera pandemics that would commence from 1832.

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Fig: Same artist, this time looking towards Hope Street with unfinished Gambier Terrace (possibly by Foster) and, beyond, St Bride's (by Rowlands). Part of the Oratory (mortuary chapel) by Foster to right.

The Mount Quarry and gardens

The cemetery was created to a design by Corporation Surveyor John Foster Jnr when the quarry became exhausted of stone in 1825. However, the quarry situated on a roughly north-south ridge above Liverpool had been active since Norman times and is believed to have been the source of stone for Liverpool castle. In Stuart times there were prosecutions for unauthorised removal of stone. In late Georgian times streets to the east would have been laid out but largely unbuilt with the ridge itself flanked by windmills on either side. In 1767 mayor Thomas Johnson established a public garden and walk at the top of what became known as Mount Sion as a means of generating employment during a harsh winter. With wonderful views of Wales and Cheshire, it became a popular spot for recreation and a bowling green and tavern/coffee shop were established nearby.

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Fig: The Mount by Troughton in Corry's The History of Liverpool, 1810. Nightime scene but probably looking north towards Duke Street across the ridge with the original quarry on the right. The gardens were closed on Sundays which suggests that they were fenced as seen here. Maps (see below) suggest the possible presence of a large house, again as seen here to the right.

The site only became known as St James's Quarry when the church of that name opened off Parliament Street in 1775 (the church also had its own graveyard). In 1800 permission was given for the quarry to be connected to the docks by a "railed road" with wagons taking stone down Parliament Street for use or onward distribution. Unfortunately little is known of its operation and much stone destined for the city was also carted down Duke Street on the opposite side of the ridge.

The British Geological Survey has published a useful analysis of building stone in Liverpool. The stone from the quarry is known as Toxteth Park sandstone. While yellow and soft when first cut, it hardens subsequently and the strong yellow colour diminishes on working. It was used for construction of many of Liverpool's docks, churches and other prominent public buildings such as the Exchange. Curiously it was not used for buildings now on the site such as the Oratory, the mortuary chapel. This as well as the nearby Custom House were made of Storeton stone from the Wirral. Movement of stone from the quarries there took as long as three weeks just to reach the coastal jetty with significant cost in terms of damage to roads. Eventually, as at Liverpool and Helsby, a tramway was established, now long gone.

The small quarries

When the quarry east of the mount was about to run out of stone, two smaller quarries were established to the west off Rathbone Street. Two letters in proceedings of the Liverpool Geological Society provide some useful context. The quarries were operated from Rathbone Street by John Tomkinson Snr and a Mr L(e)atham. Excavation took place from Rathbone Street and reached a maximum depth of 50 feet under the Mount. Notable product included stone for Great George Street Congregational Chapel (the Blackie). The pillars at the front of the church were placed on trolleys in the quarry and lowered by rope down the street under gravity.

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Fig: Undated map, probably c1825, showing the small stone quarry now on opposite side of mount (the adjacent parcel on Washington Street may have been the site of the second quarry). The original quarry was in the blank area below the ropery on Hope Street. The windmills originally on either side of the ridge are no longer evident. Duke Street is just off the map on the left.

It is conceivable that Crown Street station (probably built 1828-9) also used stone from this quarry. The Moorish Arch looks a similar colour in Bury's print but was actually brick and stucco, stone being in short supply when construction commenced in 1829 (it was still unfinished at the opening).

The White Delf eye

The 1826 tender document for the Wapping tunnel (which carried freight down to the docks) mentions the White Delf and I suspect this is the northernmost of the two small quarries. It seems unlikely that the old and new quarries were connected as the letters make it clear that the new quarries were served by Rathbone Street and worked progressively from there. However, the old quarry has three tunnels and my guess is that one may have played a subsidiary role in excavation of the Wapping tunnel. Tunnel numbering is consistent with that used on the St James's Cemetery website.

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Fig: Rough OpenSim model of small quarry with eye in quarry and horse gin on land parcel on Duke Street. Grey track leads to tunnel 3 (red) under St James's Row and perhaps then into tunnel 3 under the mount. The position of the Oratory is marked by the windmill although this would likely have been demolished by this stage. Although the quarry is shown fully excavated, it continued to operate for some years subsequently (it is absent from Gage's 1836 map) so this is unlikely. The present-day cathedral is off to the right.

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Fig: Herdman sketch looking from tunnel 3 into the original quarry. Looking up, Hope Street would be above the rock face in the distance, a windmill to the left (site now occupied by the Oratory) and to the right pleasure gardens (site now largely occupied by the cathedral).

Tunnel 3: The exit to Duke Street

This may be the oldest tunnel and is the setting for the Herdman sketch above. The present site of the Oratory on the left above the quarry was occupied by a windmill as shown in a lithograph from 1821 by S & G Nicholson. Tunnel 3 ran throught to Duke Street and provided reasonably level access to the quarry for carts and workers and also separated quarry traffic from those coming to enjoy the view and gardens on the Mount. Later, as the website suggests, the tunnel may have been used for funeral processions, perhaps where a horse-drawn hearse would be unable to negotiate the narrower tunnel 1 that visitors continue to use to the present day.

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Fig: Tunnel 2 (left) heading on the skew under the mount and tunnel 3 (right, behind tree) heading to Duke Street. Note that the ground level now is much higher than in 1830.

However, the tunnel may have had another use in the meantime, namely to remove spoil from the eye at White Delf. The land parcels on Duke Street appear to have been preserved on the edge of the new quarry and the vacant central parcel may have been the exit point for tunnel 3 from the original quarry.

The eye was in the quarry and 30 feet above the intended tunnel roof. However, one possibility is that some of the material excavated from the tunnel was removed from the site on a light railway that ran through tunnel 3 and into the large quarry where it was used for construction of the catacombs or landscaping of the new cemetery. Accordingly, the lifting machinery (probably a horse gin) may also have been located on the Duke Street parcel.

Under the conditions of the tender the Liverpool & Manchester Railway (L&MR) company was required to provide both the lifting machinery and railed access for the removal of stone and spoil. We know that stone from the tunnel was of inferior quality as contracts had to be renegotiated on the basis of diminished value (tunnel contractors had the rights to the stone). Of course, for other uses the stone and spoil could simply have been carted via Rathbone Street or, if the parcel was used, Duke Street. Use of the parcel may also have reduced interference with normal operation of the remainder of the quarry.

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Fig: The Oratory by John Foster Jnr. To the right could these be the two buildings at the top of Duke Street between which Tunnel 3 may have emerged?.

Tunnel 2: Under the mount

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Fig: Tunnel 1 (above) for access on foot to the gardens/former cemetery and tunnel 2 (below), skewed and leading under the mount.

According to the cemetery website (citing the book "The Building of Liverpool Cathedral"), Tunnel 2 was built in the C18 to provide access to the quarry. It is not visible in the Nicholson lithograph although it may be obscured by an outcrop of rock. Its exit point is, however, unknown although it appears to have an upward slope and may have emerged onto a terrace, now landscaped, partway up the mount and facing the Huskisson mausoleum. This seems not especially useful unless perhaps there was a site office or residence there. The precarious walkway in the Herdman sketch may have had a similar destination and, as maps and Troughton's sketch show, there was at least one building on the Mount and later a terrace called Mount View with subsidiary burial plots beyond.

Plans on the cemetery website seem to suggest that the tunnel originally followed a channel in the rock, the later brick-built tunnel being subsequently covered with spoil. During construction of the cemetery and Wapping tunnel it may have provided access a useful tipping point for spoil brought through Tunnel 2. The possibility of a continuous tramway up to the terrace would explain the pronounced skew towards the exit from Tunnel 2.

The Wapping tunnel was completed in 1828 and the cemetery opened in early 1830 (Huskisson was not the first burial).

The role of John Foster Jnr

Corporation surveyor Foster was the lynchpin of Liverpool's development during this period. He was architect both of the cemetery and the nearby Custom House. Although best known for classical designs such as the Oratory, he was also appointed by the L&MR as engineer with immediate responsibility for the entire Wapping tunnel (the actual work was done by contractors). This was, however, a post he held for only a short time, his resignation coinciding with the arrival of the very young Joseph Locke as his immediate superior. While there is some suggestion that he may have seen this as an insult, it is just as likely that he had too many other projects underway to be able to give sufficient attention to issues concerning the Wapping tunnel.

The present day

If the hypothesis above is correct, the exit from Tunnel 2 onto Duke Street would nowadays be under the LIPA primary school and the eye possibly in its courtyard to the rear. Both tunnels supposedly supporting the light railway are now bricked up.

Aerial photographs from 1949 show how exploiting the small quarry levelled that part of the hillside; by 1836 it was the site of a cooperage but now it is landscaped and occupied by student accommodation. The eye (and quarry) are on the opposite side of Rathbone Street from the ventilation shaft introduced in the late 1890s to permit working of the Wapping tunnel by locomotives. Rathbone Street, named for the family of philanthropic merchants, has itself disappeared.

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Fig: The flattened area to the bottom left is presumably the floor of the small quarry. The Anglican cathedral can be seen under construction on the right and the Oratory overlooking the cemetery is top right. Rathbone Street runs diagonally across bottom left, Duke Street is on the far side of the quarry. Thanks to Britain from Above for the 1949 image which has been cropped to highlight the pertinent area.

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Fig: Arrows show plausible exit point for tunnel 3 and associated gate from St James' cemetery as of 1924. The ornaments atop either side of the gate are likely carved lions. Thanks to Britain from Above for the 1924 image which has been cropped to highlight the pertinent area. (Updated: 20/10/18)

The cemetery finally closed to burials in 1936 by which time almost 58000 burials had taken place. It became a public garden c.1962 and present-day visitors to the Anglican cathedral on the mount above may also follow a path via Tunnel 1 through the rock down to the gardens below.