I attended the Liverpool University Centre for Archive Studies (LUCAS) 60th anniversary event recently. There was one attendee from the first year of the course, in 1947, and she cut the anniversary cake with one of the recent graduates, which was a nice touch. The weekend was very successful, despite the fact that it rained almost constantly. One of the excursions was to see the Williamson Tunnels. These are the curious creation of an eccentric Victorian gentlelman, a labyrinth of tunnels and caverns constructed in the early 1800’s. Joseph Williamson, a rich merchant, seems to have decided to offer work to local unemployed men to build these tunnels from altruistic motives. But the real reason for building them is not clear, and there is no documentation to tell us.
A group of us archivists were taken round by one of the Friends of the Tunnels. He talked about the bricks used for the tunnels and we suggested that the source of the bricks could be traced – being archivists we were inevitably thinking about possible sources to help put together the history of the tunnels. However, I got the feeling that our guide preferred the sense of mystery to remain, and didn’t really want to know about documentary sources!
You can find out more at http://www.williamsontunnels.com/
We also enjoyed a fascinating talk by Professor John Belchem on the history of Liverpool. He has recently edited a book, Liverpool 800: Culture, Character and History, which charts the history of the city from 1207. One of the points he made that struck me was how Liverpool had built its reputation as a city of commerce and tended to look out to the sea, the source of wealth and status, rather than looking inward to England, which has in some ways been responsible for the sense that Liverpool is rather isolated. When the fortunes of the city started changing for the worse, there was a reluctance within Liverpool to label it as an industrial city, because it still saw itself as a city of commerce and empire, and this meant that when the government was giving out aid to struggling industrial centres, Liverpool was largely by-passed.
As well as excursions and talks, we also took advantage of a table tennis room (croquet was out unfortunately). Margaret Procter, LUCAS Course Director, and I, were the table tennis champions, hence the rather odd picture of us with some garishly coloured ping pong balls!